Today at Iowa Dept. of Classics: Dr. James McKeown (Univ. Wisconsin-Madison) lectures on “Medicine and Superstition in the Ancient World”

Do not miss today’s University of Iowa Department of Classics Colloquium lecture, “Medicine and Superstition in the Ancient World” by James McKeown, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin – Madison.

The lecture will take place on Thursday, April 17, 2014 from 5:00 – 6:00 PM in 302 Schaeffer Hall on the campus of the University of Iowa.

Medicine and Superstition in the Ancient World by James McKeown

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An Observation on Religious Argumentation

Listening to people argue about religion is often like watching two drunks argue about which is the best sports team, with two glaring differences: drunks can bring actual evidence in the form of measurable statistics to back up their arguments, and drunks can prove their teams exist.

Religious People Arguing

You’re BOTH doing it wrong.

On Faith, Freedom of Expression, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s Statement in Response to the Protests in Egypt and Libya

Yesterday, Egypt’s ruling party, the Muslim Brotherhood, released a stern condemnation of a low-budget, poorly produced attempt at religious satire uploaded to YouTube by a coward hiding behind an alias. The Muslim Brotherhood also expressed disapproval of the vicious retaliatory protests that have led to the murder of four American diplomats in Libya, including the U.S. Ambassador, encouraging somewhat ambiguously:

“All Muslims to uphold and apply Quranic principles and emulate the Messenger of Allah.”

I understand the Egyptian government’s frustration. Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood’s proposed solution only exacerbates the underlying problem that is quickly coming to the forefront in Egypt and around the world:

“We denounce abuse of all Messengers of God, Prophets and Apostles, and condemn this heinous crime. We further call for criminalization of assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions.”

The solution proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood is the prohibition of criticism (which they define as “assaults on the sanctities of all heavenly religions”) of all religions. However, categorizing criticism of any religion as “abuse” and as “heinous crimes” is not a viable solution in a free society. In fact, it would only serve to resurrect the totalitarian suppression of freedom of thought and expression that they experienced under Hosni Mubarak.

All individuals – both those who express faith in various deities and those choosing to adhere to no religion – should have the freedom to debate, criticize, and yes, joke and satirize all forms of ideology, including economic, political, and yes, religious.

The United States of America is founded upon this fundamental principle – the freedom of expression – as well as the freedom to worship or not worship any god we so choose. Freedom of expression lies at the heart of any free society. To exempt religion from this free expression, and to demand that no religious figure ever be criticized, rejected, satirized, or even questioned is little more than an attempt to exploit this horrific tragedy – the murder of American diplomats by Islamic protestors resulting from their anger over an insulting film on YouTube – to elevate Islam to a state that stands above criticism.

As a scholar and a professor of religious studies, I reject any attempt to quell the critical inquiry of any religion, including Christianity and Islam. While the parody of a religious figure may be considered an insult to some and a foolish act in poor taste to others, the solution is never, ever violence coupled with a call for the criminalization of the critique of religion.

Simply put, truly free citizens of any state should have the freedom to practice and profess the religion of their choice, but should not have the power to criminalize those who do not profess their religious faith.

The statement released by the Islamic Brotherhood further stated:

“Certainly, such attacks against sanctities do not fall under the freedom of opinion or thought. They are crimes and assaults against Muslim sanctities, and must not be tolerated by the countries where they are produced or launched, since they are also detrimental to the interests of those countries in dealings with the peoples of the Muslim world.”

The new definition of "religious persecution".

The new definition of “religious persecution”.

Evidently, the Muslim Brotherhood differentiates between freedom of thought and opinion regarding politics, economics, and perhaps where to eat dinner, and the freedom to critique, satirize, and even denounce certain religious beliefs and practices. This assumed privileged status of religion in Islamic countries is similar to the misguided assumption made by Christians in the United States. We must remember that there is a distinct difference between “religious persecution” and the challenging of the privileged status a particular religion enjoys in a given country, be it Christianity in the U.S. or Islam in Egypt.

The critique, ridicule, or rejection of a religious belief or ideology is no different than the critique, ridicule, or rejection of an economic or political belief or ideology: all involve the freedom to accept or reject in thought, word, or practice any position held within them. Religion cannot possess a privileged status above other forms of expression simply because someone else might find it offensive. Likewise, one religion should not enjoy exemption from critique over another religion in any country.

"Religious offense" is apparently a relative designation.

“Religious offense” is apparently a relative designation.

Freedom of expression must be preserved regardless of the subject matter, and regardless of the (over)sensitivity of those who might disagree with the expressed speech. This is especially true in nations that engage in vilifying other religious groups. It is patently hypocritical for the leaders of a government to insist that their religion be respected at all times, while arguing that the consistent denigration of another government with different religious beliefs (let’s say Israel for example) is perfectly legitimate. Perhaps this rational disconnect explains the puzzling, yet carefully worded portion of the Muslim Brotherhood’s statement that read:

The West has passed and imposed laws that punish those who deny or express dissident views on the Holocaust or question the number of Jews killed by Hitler, a topic which is purely historical, not a sacred doctrine.

One either believes in the freedom of thought, speech, and expression of political and religious beliefs, or one does not. One cannot argue that Islam (or Christianity or Judaism for that matter) are somehow uniquely exempt from another individual’s freedom to express thoughts and speech against them. Despite the fact that the creator of this low budget, miserable attempt at religious parody was cowardly enough to hide behind a pseudonym, his right to express his speech on YouTube – however foolish – must be protected. (However, if he forged, criminally impersonated, or stole the identity of another individual, or engaged in internet activity after being convicted of a crime and ordered not to do so, then obviously this is a criminal act. However, none of this has been alleged against the man hiding behind the alias ‘Sam Bacile’.)

The Muslim Brotherhood tepidly implied that Muslims should restrain their outrage at sleights against Islam to “peaceful and legal” means:

“The peoples and governments of the Muslim world have every right to condemn, with all peaceful and legal means, this new violation and heinous attack, and to take appropriate action to deter repeats of such acts of barbaric aggression.”

Any believer in the freedom of speech must understand the misguided nature of this statement, as it characterizes the production of a low budget film as a “heinous attack” and equates it with “acts of barbaric aggression”. The murder of diplomats is a “heinous attack” and an “act of barbaric aggression”. On the contrary, the production of a film is the exercise of one’s freedom to create an admittedly dreadful attempt at a Mel Brooks style, comically offensive parody and call it art. No one was killed in the production of this sloppily-made internet movie. The fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, as the representative leaders of Egypt, are even paying attention to this film as the impetus for anything other than the desperate need for acting lessons and courses in video and sound production demonstrates their inability to grasp the fundamental aspects of freedom of expression.

The Muslim Brotherhood concluded their statement with the following:

“While we reject and condemn the bloodshed and violent response to that abuse and the incredible tolerance certain countries show towards it, we cannot ignore the fact that these countries never made a move regarding the abuse until after the strong reaction seen across the Muslim world.”

They continue:

“Those who insult the sanctities wish to poison budding relations between the peoples, to disrupt the efforts to build bridges between civilizations, and to sow discord between the peoples.”

Again, if the Muslim Brotherhood continues to equate the verbal or acted criticism via parody of a deeply held belief as an “act of aggression”, then we should not hold out much hope for a truly democratic, truly free Egypt under the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood. If insulting the tenets of a religious faith can somehow be construed as a legitimate reason for bloodshed – whether officially endorsed by the government or not – then we cannot consider any person, group, or government adhering to such an unbalanced system of justice in any way “free”.

Perhaps the most telling (and certainly most discouraging) comment came at the heart of the statement, as the Muslim Brotherhood attempted to, in a sense, excuse, or at least defend the response of the riotous Egyptian crowds:

“Thus hurting the feelings of one and a half billion Muslims cannot be tolerated…”

The fact is, they must. Hurt feelings must be tolerated if the ideal of the freedom of expression in a free, democratically elected state is going to survive. All peoples – including Christians in the United States and Muslims in Arab nations – must learn that insults are one of the unfortunate byproducts of the freedom of expression. Those who have chosen to live in free nations simply cannot afford to be overly sensitive to perceived sleights – especially to their religion – as others have the right to freely express their disapproval of beliefs held by others.

Unfortunately, in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, there are often those who seek out occasions to respond aggressively to simple words spoken against their religion. They seek out opportunities to take offense at religious criticism with the hopes of gaining a political advantage over those with whom they happen to disagree. And while no one wants to live in a world full of insults and negativity, we cannot discard our fundamental freedom of expression simply to preserve the overly-sensitive, politically opportunistic few who seek to elevate their religious beliefs above others’ freedom to express disapproval.

The newly elected leadership in Egypt has a profound decision to make. Does it retreat to the fascist, totalitarian dictates of the Mubarak regime, which suppressed the voices of millions who simply wanted their protests to be heard without fear of reprisal, or does it embrace the democratic freedoms that allowed Egypt to elect its first democratically elected president, even though it may mean having to tolerate dissenting opinions, critiques, parodies, and yes, even insults in the process of preserving the freedom of ideological, economic, and religious expression that are the hallmarks of great societies?

We must watch how the Muslim Brotherhood responds to criticism – both of their authority and of Islam. Should they choose to ignore petty insults made by anonymous cowards on the internet and focus upon leading a great nation with dignity and honor and fairness toward all peoples, then they will be lauded now and throughout history as evidence that democratically elected Islamic political parties can successfully lead a modern, secular state. But, should they continue to incite violence and condemn any and all who would critique their rule, their economic policies, or their religion, then they will simply be remembered as one more failed Islamic regime that was more concerned with defending the honor of their religion than they were with conducting the official business of the state and overseeing the benevolent government of its people.

The choice is theirs. And the American government’s response should depend upon this choice. Should the Muslim Brotherhood choose to defend the freedom of expression, then Egypt should continue to enjoy the privilege of strong U.S. support as true allies, and the financial support that comes with it. But should the Muslim Brotherhood choose Islamic fundamentalism and to defend a religion against petty insults at the expense of freedom of expression and fundamental rules of diplomacy, then the U.S. must consider treating Egypt as any other totalitarian religious regime and withdraw its political, military, and financial support.


Dr. Robert R. Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. He earned his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at UCLA. He presently teaches a course on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam and also teaches courses on the History of Jerusalem and Mythology of Otherworldly Journeys.

Congrats to Elaine Pagels: NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers List

Dr. Elaine Pagels

Dr. Elaine Pagels

Hearty congratulations are in order to Princeton University’s Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion, Dr. Elaine Pagels, for making the NY Times Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers List for her new book, Revelations (Viking, $27.95), which debuted at #10. This book explores the original context and meaning of the biblical Book of Revelation.

It is good to see a popular book by a reputable scholar break into the bestsellers list, as books in my favorite subjects of religious studies, science, technology, the history of the Middle East, and archaeology have been largely absent from the bestsellers list as of late. In fact, a look at the nonfiction hardcover bestsellers list over the past month demonstrates just how few works there have been in these fields (especially religious studies and archaeology):

REVELATIONS by Elaine Pagels

NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 25, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House)
3. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
4. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
5. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
6. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
7. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
10. REVELATIONS, by Elaine Pagels. (Viking) (religious studies)
11. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
12. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg. (Grove)
13. BECOMING CHINA’S BITCH, by Peter D. Kiernan. (Turner Publishing)
14. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
15. HOUSE OF STONE, by Anthony Shadid. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (history of Middle East)
16. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
17. THE PEOPLE’S MONEY, by Scott Rasmussen (Threshold Editions)
18. COMING APART, by Charles Murray (Crown Forum)
19. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
20. SPACE CHRONICLES, by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Norton) (science)
21. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford (Random House)
22. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
23. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
24. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba (St. Martin’s)
25. OUTLAW PLATOON, by Sean Parnell with John R. Bruning (Morrow)
26. DON’T PUT ME IN, COACH, by Mark Titus (Doubleday)
27. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
28. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
29. RELIGION FOR ATHEISTS, by Alain De Botton (Pantheon) (religion and atheism)
30. TURING’S CATHEDRAL, by George Dyson (Pantheon) (technology)
31. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
32. THE MAN WITHOUT A FACE, by Masha Gessen (Riverhead)
33. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
34. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
35. WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL?, by Jeanette Winterson (Grove/Atlantic)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 18, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
3. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
4. THE POWER OF HABIT, by Charles Duhigg. (Random House)
5. BECOMING CHINA’S BITCH, by Peter D. Kiernan. (Turner Publishing)
6. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
7. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
8. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
9. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
10. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
11. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
12. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
13. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
14. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
15. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
16. HOUSE OF STONE, by Anthony Shadid. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) (history of Middle East)
17. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max (Blue Heeler Books)
18. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
19. SPACE CHRONICLES, by Neil Degrasse Tyson (Norton) (science)
20. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
21. OUTLAW PLATOON, by Sean Parnell with John R. Bruning (Morrow)
22. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
23. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba (St. Martin’s)
24. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster)
25. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
26. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
27. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler (Free Press)
28. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
29. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth (Harper/HarperCollins)
30. ENEMIES, by Tim Weiner (Random House)
31. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
32. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
33. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
34. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)
35. IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME?, by Mindy Kaling (Crown Archetype)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 11, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins, $26.99.)
2. ABUNDANCE, by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler. (Free Press)
3. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. INDIVISIBLE, by James Robison and Jay W. Richards. (FaithWords) (religion and conservative politics)
6. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
7. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
8. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
9. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
10. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
11. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
12. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
13. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
14. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
15. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
16. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
17. WHILE AMERICA SLEEPS, by Russ Feingold (Crown)
18. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker (HarperCollins)
19. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
20. EISENHOWER IN WAR AND PEACE, by Jean Edward Smith (Random House)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction March 4, 2012:

1. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
2. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
3. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
6. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
7. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
10. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
11. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
12. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker. (HarperCollins)
13. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
14. THAT WOMAN, by Anne Sebba. (St. Martin’s, $27.99.)
15. ALL THERE IS, by Dave Isay. (Penguin Press, $24.95.)
16. UNORTHODOX, by Deborah Feldman. (Simon & Schuster) (religion)
17. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad (Simon & Schuster)
18. MOB DAUGHTER, by Karen Gravano with Lisa Pulitzer (St. Martin’s)
19. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth (Harper/HarperCollins)
20. ENEMIES, by Tim Weiner (Random House)
21. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
22. FULL SERVICE, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg (Grove)
23. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
24. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
25. FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, by RoseMarie Terenzio (Gallery Books)
26. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
27. HIDING FROM REALITY, by Taylor Armstrong (Gallery Books)
28. THE MAGIC ROOM, by Jeffrey Zaslow (Gotham)
29. THE WORLD AMERICA MADE, by Robert Kagan (Knopf)
30. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
31. AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL, by Ben Carson with Candy Carson (Zondervan)
32. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
33. JACK KENNEDY, by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster)
34. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
35. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)


NY Times Bestseller Hardcover Nonfiction February 26, 2012:

1. AMERITOPIA, by Mark R. Levin. (Threshold Editions)
2. HILARITY ENSUES, by Tucker Max. (Blue Heeler Books)
3. AMERICAN SNIPER, by Chris Kyle with Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice. (Morrow/HarperCollins)
4. STEVE JOBS, by Walter Isaacson. (Simon & Schuster) (technology)
5. KILLING LINCOLN, by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard. (Holt)
6. QUIET, by Susan Cain. (Crown)
7. ONCE UPON A SECRET, by Mimi Alford. (Random House)
8. BRINGING UP BÉBÉ, by Pamela Druckerman. (Penguin Press)
9. BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS, by Katherine Boo. (Random House)
10. UNBROKEN, by Laura Hillenbrand. (Random House)
11. THROUGH MY EYES, by Tim Tebow with Nathan Whitaker. (HarperCollins)
12. THINKING, FAST AND SLOW, by Daniel Kahneman. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
13. COMING APART, by Charles Murray. (Crown Forum)
14. THE SCIENCE OF YOGA, by William J. Broad. (Simon & Schuster)
15. ALI IN WONDERLAND, by Ali Wentworth. (Harper/HarperCollins)
16. ALL THERE IS, by Dave Isay. (Penguin Press)
17. ELIZABETH THE QUEEN, by Sally Bedell Smith (Random House)
18. FAIRY TALE INTERRUPTED, by RoseMarie Terenzio (Gallery Books)
19. STRATEGIC VISION, by Zbigniew Brzezinski (Basic)
20. HIDING FROM REALITY, by Taylor Armstrong (Gallery Books)
21. IN THE GARDEN OF BEASTS, by Erik Larson (Crown)
22. CATHERINE THE GREAT, by Robert K. Massie (Random House)
23. GREEDY BASTARDS, by Dylan Ratigan (Simon & Schuster)
24. DA VINCI’S GHOST, by Toby Lester (Free Press)
25. HOW TO BE BLACK, by Baratunde Thurston (Harper)
26. A UNIVERSE FROM NOTHING, by Lawrence M. Krauss (Free Press) (science)
27. BOOMERANG, by Michael Lewis (Norton)
28. THE OBAMAS, by Jodi Kantor (Little, Brown)
29. HEAVEN IS FOR REAL, by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson) (spirituality)
30. JACK KENNEDY, by Chris Matthews (Simon & Schuster)
31. KISSES FROM KATIE, by Katie Davis with Beth Clark (Howard)
32. THE OPERATORS, by Michael Hastings (Blue Rider)
33. ALL IN, by Paula Broadwell with Vernon Loeb (Penguin Press)
34. BEING GEORGE WASHINGTON, by Glenn Beck and Kevin Balfe (Threshold Editions/Mercury Radio Arts)
35. INSIDE APPLE, by Adam Lashinsky (Business Plus) (technology)

So congrats again to Dr. Pagels, and thank you for your contributions to religious studies scholarship!

rest in peace christopher hitchens

Rest in peace, Christopher Hitchens. Thank you for making us all think a little harder about what we know, what we believe, and the difference between the two. Thank you for your intellect, your wit, and your commitment to the pursuit and defense of knowledge. May you rest in peace.

Christopher Hitchens

michigan republican anti-bullying law provides exception for religious bullying

An anti-bullying law in the Michigan State Senate, SB 137, ironically also called “Matt’s Safe School Law” after 14-year old Matt Eppling who committed suicide in 2002 after being bullied, was passed on partisan lines by Michigan Republican senators without a single Democratic vote. And while most anti-bullying laws are to be applauded, the Michigan Republicans passed an amended bill, which contained an insert reading:

“This section does not prohibit a statement of a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction of a school employee, school volunteer, pupil, or a pupil and parent or guardian.”

AMAZINGLY, Michigan Republicans excluded anything said from a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction” from being considered as bullying. An accused bully who claims that his speech emanated from his or her religious beliefs, is by definition in this law, not a bully. That is to say, this Michigan Republican anti-bullying bill contains language that PROTECTS bullying if it is RELIGIOUS bullying, or speech that is uttered from what the bully claims is a “sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction.”

As Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D) said regarding the final version of the bill, it is a “blueprint for bullying.” And I agree. As long as a bully, be it a student, a parent, a school employee, or a school volunteer says that their bullying of a student was part of their religious beliefs or moral convictions, then it’s not really bullying.

And it’s easy to see where this is headed and why the language was inserted. With the debate over same-sex marriage and the church’s view of homosexuality continuing to escalate, Michigan Republicans want to make sure those religious fundamentalists within their constituency are protected from bullying laws when they and/or their children give some young gay student their best Westboro Baptist impression.

The new Michigan law is an outline for precisely how to bully and get away with it. Just claim your hateful and hurtful speech is part of your religious beliefs, and it’s suddenly OK.

Once again, potential religious oppression is exempted from laws that are designed to protect children. You can’t bully children unless you do it in the name of the Lord!

Absolutely disgusting!

 


More:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/03/gretchen-whitmer-michigan-senator-bullying-bill_n_1073928.html

http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2011/11/michigan_republicans_give_anti-bullying_bill_a_mor.php

http://michiganmessenger.com/53702/senate-passes-license-to-bully-legislation

the ‘iranian influence on judaism’ at bible and interpretation

There is an excellent article by Jason M. Silverman (Trinity College Dublin) entitled “Iranian influence on Judaism” at Bible and Interpretation.

It’s a topic of great interest to me, and I’m assigning it as immediate reading to my Mythology of Otherworldly Journeys class here at the University of Iowa, where we are presently discussing potential Zoroastrian influences on Jewish and Christian conceptions of the afterlife. The article (and forthcoming book) will be great resources for the study of Second Temple Judaism.

At one point, Silverman discusses the problem within Biblical Studies of quantifying one culture’s “influence” upon another, especially when the former culture favors oral means of communication:

It is perhaps not surprising in a field centered on the study of a collection of written texts (the Bible) that researchers sometimes assume that all ideas that appear in that collection come from other texts. This assumption can lead to real interpretative difficulties, but it also ignores the many ways in which humans communicate and share concepts. The realm of spoken communication is very important for Iranian influence on Judaism (as it is for the origins of the Hebrew Bible).

When investigating influence, one needs to take into account the ways ideas travel in a world run primarily through spoken language. The search for quotations and direct borrowings from other texts has dominated past research. The direct use of earlier texts—while important—is not the only nor even the most important way in which ideas could be transmitted between peoples and even authors. More nuanced ways of looking for influence are needed. The key, as noted above, is to look for interpretive changes in texts. Once these are identified, one can ask whether or not said changes relate to the cultural milieu of the time, one of which was the Achaemenid Empire.

And Silverman hits the nail on the head when he argues that influence may take the form of adoption, reinterpretation, or rejection of and apologies against another culture’s religious conception:

It bears repeating that the kinds of influence will vary in different instances. In some cases, Iranian texts may have been borrowed and adapted for new Judaean texts. In other cases, existing Judaean concepts may have been reinterpreted in line with Iranian ideas. In still others, Iranian ideas may have been rejected and argued against, perhaps being inverted as a rhetorical strategy. Further, there remains the possibility that biblical texts became re-interpreted after they were written by Jewish and Christian communities, using ideas ultimately derived from Iran.

Do head over to Bible and Interpretation and read the article.

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