According to Jacques Berlinerblau, associate professor of Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University, more biblical verses have been invoked by presidents and presidential candidates in the past four years than they have in the previous two or three decades. Berlinerblau posits that our society may be forgetting how to be secular, or what “secularism” even means, and has written a new book entitled “How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom” in order to address the issue. “Weary of religious conservatives urging “defense of marriage” and atheist polemicists decrying the crimes of religion? Sick of pundits who want only to recast American life in their own image? Americans are stuck in an all-or-nothing landscape for religion in public life.
Right now the United States is immersed in a flurry of political wrangling, our two major parties wrapping up, or about to begin, major conventions that they hope will sell their candidate to an increasingly disaffected electorate. For those of us who exist on the margins of America’s tapestry of faith and religion, it can seem doubly alienating. A celebration of what we are not. Certainly there have been inroads, the Republican National Convention invited a Sikh to give an opening invocation (albeit one you could only see on C-SPAN), and the Democratic National Convention has enshrined marriage equality in their national platform, but for the most part these events are exercises in affirming a certain bland, comfortable, (mostly) non-controversial all-American idiom (from different political lenses, to be sure). They are not, despite what activists from both sides desire, moments that dare confront or change the status quo.
At past Faerieworlds, Friday is usually seen as the least busy of the three-day event. People have to work, it’s a shorter day, and many are still arriving. However, this year seemed far, far, larger, and the energy level was high, making me think that we’ll see record-breaking attendances on Saturday and Sunday. Like all opening Fridays at Faerieworlds, it started with a ceremony/ritual led by Emilio and Kelly from Woodland, with help from S.J. Tucker. They did a Lammas invocation, including offerings of fruits and grains, with Donovan and his wife as special guests of honor.
The imposing cross that stands on Mt. Soledad in California was dedicated to “Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” in 1954. For decades it was known as the “Mt. Soledad Easter Cross” and was the site of Christian services (and may even have been a reminder of Christian triumphalism to area Jews). After initial litigation was filed in the late 1980s against the cross standing on public lands, it was dubbed a veteran’s memorial, and expensive “improvements” were made to stress this new role.
“Your right to swing your arm leaves off where my right not to have my nose struck begins.” – John B. Finch, 1882
If you follow religion news these days, you can’t help but be inundated with the current debate over what, exactly, “religious freedom” means, and what its limits are. The most popular manifestation concerns Catholic opposition to new contraception guidelines set forth by the Dept. of Health and Human Services (a topic I’ve covered before), but a large number of enterprising souls have taken this proverbial football and are running as far as they can with it. The most recent effort to “protect” religious freedom comes from a consortium of 66 Republican lawmakers who have written a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta asking for an investigation into “a series of steps signaling hostility towards religious freedom” by the Air Force.