Archives For Wall Street Journal

Just a few selected quotes to start off your day.

“Mythology and folklore have become this thing that is sort of archaic, like the “old” stories. But good movies are constantly updating these classic stories and these classic scenarios. Our idea of what a hero is and what a hero does is an important barometer for where the world is and where our culture is. When you watch how Western heroes evolve over the period when Westerns were really important, you can track culture through the way that that hero changes from 1950 to 1970, when they sort of stopped being made. ET is an incredible folk hero to me, and that was a really interesting moment when we realized this type of being can be a hero. It says something about how people should behave and what it is to be good. That’s the thing about a folk tale: It is always addressing incredibly key issues about how you should live and what the right thing to do is, which is really what I’m the most interested in—like the questions that religion takes on. And I think that, for those of us that aren’t religious, we need, or I need, art that stimulates the same kind of thinking about what it is to be a mensch, or a good man, things like that.”Benh Zeitlin, director and co-writer of the film “Beasts of the Southern Wild,” out now in select theaters. Zeitlin is the son of folklorists Amanda Dargan and Steve Zeitlin.

“[The video for 'Seekir'] definitely wasn’t a parody. I am infinitely curious about the pop world. It’s something that has always felt so foreign and far away from me. But that sort of feeling of inaccessibility tantalizes me. I wanted to try my hand at it. I would love to be a popstar if I felt like it didn’t have to involve extreme psychological manipulation of consumers. But I think the whole point of being a pop star is to be an icon, to be this unreachable ideal for people to either lust over or look up to and try to become themselves. And they will buy whatever they can to get closer to that. Buy, buy, buy. It’s easy for that seat of power to be abused and mishandled. Anyway, I will do the best I can to be my own sort of pop icon. Pop can be a beautiful, seductive band aid for society, but it doesn’t have to be. The whole video for ‘Seekir’ is based on Gurdijeff movements which promote discrete cosmic truths and knowledge of self-awareness.” –  Zola Jesus (Nika Danilova) , discussing the video for her song Seekir, from her 2011 album “Conatus.”

“Visitors to Rome overwhelmed by all it has to offer—”the abundance of its pasts” in the words of the poet Rilke—can find relief with a stop at the Pantheon. Embodying the city’s pagan and Christian identities, the Pantheon is Rome in microcosm. Built in the second century by the Emperor Hadrian as a temple to all the Roman gods, it is the only major work of Roman Imperial architecture still intact. It owes its survival to having been consecrated a Christian church (Santa Maria ad Martyres) in the seventh century, which placed it under papal protection. [...]  The oculus is many things. It is the Pantheon’s basic design module. It is an act of consummate architectural audacity. Most of all, however, it is a portal to the heavens. The round disc of sunlight it admits draws our thoughts out and away from our immediate surroundings to the motion of the planets, and invites us to think of ourselves not as members of a particular faith, city or country, but as part of the whole cosmos.”Eric Gibson, Wall Street Journal Editor, on the Pantheon in Rome.

That’s all for now, have a great day!

As the United States faces its worst housing market crisis in history, some are starting to rely on services outside the usual bankers, inspectors, and Realtors in order to ensure they are getting the best deal when buying or selling a home. The Wall Street Journal profiles the rise of spiritual house cleansing services, focusing on Salem, Massachusetts, and local Witches Lori Bruno and Christian Day.

“The foreclosure crisis has helped resurrect an ancient tradition: the house cleansing. Buyers such as Mr. Barletta are turning to witches, psychics, priests and feng shui consultants, among others, to bless or exorcise dwellings. Sellers, too, are adopting the trend to help move a property stuck on the market. [...] Mr. Barletta heard about the pair [Bruno and Day] through his real-estate agent after his offer on the home was accepted. “I’m a spiritual person,” he says. “I just wanted to remove the negative energy first.” [...] [Salem real-estate agent Janet Andrews] Howcroft attributes recent requests for house blessings in part to the economic picture here. She counted at least eight transactions last year that involved a house cleansing, compared to the occasional request in prior years.”

The WSJ article notes that foreclosures have been booming in Salem, and that house prices are dropping as a result. With the occult an everyday part of Salem’s culture, it makes sense that Witches would be employed. Since house cleansing traditions can be found in most religious faiths, there doesn’t seem to be much of a backlash against this new boom in the practice. The WSJ points out that neither Bruno, nor another local Witch who provides this service charge for it, with Bruno saying she doesn’t “want to live off people’s sadness.” That definitely isn’t a universal attitude among house-cleansers, and many are seeing opportunity for growth in this crisis.

“Elsewhere, others are viewing the rituals as a real business opportunity. Austin, Texas-based feng shui consultant Logynn B. Northrhip is teaming up with Scottsdale, Ariz., real-estate agent Jason Goldberg to offer a package of services to create better vibes in a home, either before sale or after purchase. The two met at a yoga retreat.”

Ever since the current recession hit, there’s been several news outlets who have done some variation of the “psychics do well in hard times” meme. This seems to be the latest permutation. Whether this new (or at least newly lucrative) industry continues once the housing market stabilizes remains to be seen. For now, whether they like it or not, Bruno and Day have become the faces of this trend. No doubt their phones/e-mails are going to be seeing some interesting messages in the weeks ahead.

Just a few quick notes for you this Sunday.

Wiccans in Livingston Parish: A local NBC affiliate in Louisiana interviews Wiccan priestess Maeven Eller in the aftermath of local uproar over a Pagan festival being held at Gryphon’s Nest Campground in Livingston Parish. In the interview, Eller stresses that Wiccans aren’t a group of evil people looking to destroy the town with their wickedness.

“Residents of Livingston Parish, Louisiana say they don’t want an upcoming pagan festival to take place near the town of Killian. One woman wants to set the “spell-casting” and “devil-worshipping” rumors straight. Self-described Wiccan priestess Maeven Eller says the beliefs of her religion are far from evil, and promises nothing harmful will take place at the festival.”

It’s nice to see some sympathetic local coverage, though I really wish journalists would get over the “self-described” epithet when talking about Pagan clergy. Can you imagine the trouble if they referred to a local evangelical leader as a “self-described” pastor? Here’s hoping the upcoming festival is as uneventful as the recent fundraiser that was held.

Interview with Stephen Prothero: I realize that religion professor Stephen Prothero, author of the new book “God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World–and Why Their Differences Matter”, has been somewhat divisive amongst my readership, but I think both critics and supporters might enjoy listening to this short interview with him on the State of Belief radio show/podcast.

This weekend on State of Belief, Boston University professor Stephen Prothero critiques the premise that all the world’s religions are essentially the same.  He joins host Welton Gaddy to discuss his new book, God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — And Why Their Differences Matter.

You can download the whole program, here. Or you can subscribe to State of Belief’s podcast.

The End of the WASPs? The Wall Street Journal, prompted by the looming reality of a Protestant Christian-free Supreme Court of the United Sates, examines the decline of America’s Protestant Establishment (aka the white anglo-saxon protestants, or WASPs) and what that might mean for our future.

“The Protestant downfall can be attributed many things: the deregulation of markets, globalization, the rise of technology, the primacy of education and skills over family connections. Yet many also point to the shifting dynamics of the faith itself, with mainline Protestantism giving way to the more fire-and-brimstone brands of Evangelicals in recent decades. The Episcopal Church, usually seen as the church of the Establishment, has seen some of the most pronounced declines in recent years.”

The article also points out that Hindus and Jews are shifting the demographics of affluence away from the Protestant standard of generations past. Meanwhile, Diana Butler Bass at Beliefnet heaves a great sigh for the quiet passing of Protestant cultural dominance.

“I will miss the fact that there will be no one with Protestant sensibilities on the court, no one who understands the nuances of one of America’s oldest and most traditional religions–and the religion that deeply shaped American culture and law … I can’t help but think that losing the lived memory of American Protestantism will be a loss for all of us indeed.”

I think the various “virtues” that are ascribed to Protestants by the Wall Street Journal and Bass are a bit over-stated, and not as exclusive as some would be led to believe (I even agree with Rod Dreher that this isn’t a big deal). But I do think this yet another sign of us moving into a post-Christian America, one where Christianity, specifically Protestant Christianity, is just one voice among many, and not the driving cultural force it once was.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!