Archive | Religion

Why I Envy Atheists

Brideshead mansion

Brideshead mansion

 

 

 

 

Note: I originally published this post several years ago on this blog. But when I recently re-watched Brideshead Revisited with my son, I realized that my feelings hadn’t changed so I am sharing it with you again:

Every so often you read a book or watch a film that you need to put down or look away from because it cuts too close to the bone.

So it was for me the other night when my husband and I finally finished watching the 1981 British television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, an 11 episode meditation on privilege, family, religion and sexuality, all set in England between the Wars.

Most people – even those who haven’t read the book or seen the series – use “Brideshead” as shorthand for the flamboyant excesses of the British aristocracy on its last legs. And make no mistake, there’s no shortage of champagne flutes, dinner jackets and preposterously polite banter. In short, it’s the kind of thing that Americans tend to lap up. (See: Upstairs, DownstairsGosford Park and most recently, Downton Abbey.)

Read the rest of this post over at Thrive

 

Image: Castle Howard, Yorkshire by Nick Garrod via Flickr

Catholic Church, Please Be Quiet

If you’ll excuse my bluntness, I’d like to send the Catholic hierarchy a quick and pointed message: Please be quiet.

I’m referring, of course, to the explosive and ongoing battle that’s erupted over whether or not faith-based institutions – such as universities, charities and hospitals – should be required to make contraceptives available to their employees for free as part of their employer health-care plans.

In a year when a presidential election was supposed to be all about jobs, it’s somehow — as Anne Taylor Fleming noted recently in Politico — ended up being about the female body instead.

On Friday, after several days of severe criticism from the Catholic Church, Republican congressional leaders, all four Republican candidates for president and even some liberals, President Obama released a compromise measure that would shift the requirement to provide free, preventative birth control to the insurers of such institutions.

But, apparently, that’s not enough for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which still finds this latest compromise “unacceptable.”

 

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Icon: St. John Maximovitch, Archbishop of San Francisco by rosefirerising via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Do Atheists Need ‘A Cathedral Of Their Own?’

This just in, from the Department of “Can you imagine this happening in the United States?” Two prominent atheists – popular philosopher Alain de Botton and popular science author Richard Dawkins – are sparring over the wisdom of erecting a “temple for atheists” in London.

No, but seriously folks.

In his latest book, Religion For Atheists, De Botton argues that even atheists have a soft-spot for the sort of grandiose architecture commonly associated with churches, mosques and temples. He has thus raised some 500,000 British pounds (approximately $786,000) to construct what he refers to as a “secular space for contemplation” in the heart of the city’s financial district. Although many in the West have little time for organized religion, they still have feel nostalgic for its “consoling, subtle or just charming rituals,” as he put it in an interview with a columnist at The Daily Telegraph.

In part, de Botton is motivated by a desire to counter what he sees as the “destructive beliefs” about atheism put forward by scholars like Richard Dawkins and the late journalist Christopher Hitchens, whom he sees as criticizing religion without offering anything more inspirational in its place. De Botton wants, instead, to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: Atheists by yoshinari via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Why I Envy Atheists

Every so often you read a book or watch a film that you need to put down or look away from because it cuts too close to the bone.

So it was for me the other night when my husband and I finally finished watching the 1981 British television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s novel, Brideshead Revisited, an 11 episode meditation on privilege, family, religion and sexuality, all set in England between the Wars.

Most people – even those who haven’t read the book or seen the series – use  “Brideshead” as shorthand for the flamboyant excesses of the British aristocracy on its last legs. And make no mistake, there’s no shortage of champagne flutes, dinner jackets and preposterously polite banter. In short, it’s the kind of thing that Americans tend to lap up. (See: Upstairs, Downstairs, Gosford Park and most recently, Downton Abbey.)

The actors are to die for. The series launched Jeremy Irons’ career and also features outstanding performances by Diana Quick, Anthony Andrews, Lawrence Olivier and more. Plus, any film that dwells on extensive bouts of family conflict, alcoholism and unspoken homo-eroticism? I’m there.

So that was all well and good. But as the series wore on, it became increasingly clear that this wasn’t just another voyeuristic journey into the heart of Oxbridge-bred England. Rather, it was essentially a protracted tale of one family’s inexorable, inter-generational and self-destructive struggle with Catholicism.

I’ve written before about my own personal struggles with my family’s faith. How my husband and I have tried, through the years, to reconcile my religious Catholic upbringing with his cultural Jewish identity. And how that has led me to become, begrudgingly, over time, a sort of reluctant secularist.

What Brideshead Revisited added to that equation was the pain and guilt that goes along with that decision. I wanted desperately, as I watched, to identify with Charles Ryder, the protagonist of the story. He is the stoic, eternally rational hero who can’t quite fathom why this otherwise well-educated and cultured family in which he has become enmeshed – The Flytes – is so hopelessly caught up in their Roman Catholic faith.

Instead, I ended up identifying with Julia, his beloved, who tries her very best to leave her religion (and thus, to some extent, her family) by embracing Charles (and divorce and modernity) and the skepticism it implies. In the end, however, it’s too much for her and she can’t quite bring herself to do it. It breaks her heart, but she chooses the Church over her true love. It is her destiny.

I won’t do that. I left the church long ago and save a few masses here and there and the occasional compunction to pray on airplanes, I don’t think I’ll ever go back to Catholicism. Or any other religion, for that matter.  Even Judaism.

But I experience that as a loss. And it’s a painful one.

And that’s why I envy all the atheists I know, who make up about 90% of the people around me, including my husband. They don’t share this anguish. It doesn’t keep them awake at night.

I would love to have that peace of mind.

But I don’t.

And that, my friends, is one price of adulthood. At least mine.

 

Image: IMG_2994 by Franie Frou Frou via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

 

Yom Kippur, The Pope And My Reluctant Secularism

Sometimes the easiest questions are the hardest ones to answer. Like: What religion are you?

I had reason to think about this issue the other day during a routine doctor’s appointment at a local London hospital. As we were winding up, the doctor turned to me and asked: “Oh, yes, and what religion are you? It could be relevant to your treatment.” He was holding a clipboard and a pen, ready to tick the appropriate box on his chart.

I paused, as if he’d asked me the solution to Fermat’s Last Theorem. “Umm . . . well . . . I used to be Catholic.” I heard myself say. “But my husband’s Jewish . . . so I guess . . . um . . .”

The doctor raised his eyebrows. As polite as the Brits tend to be, you can tell when you’ve tried their patience. And I could see that this kind gentleman was thinking: “Honey, just answer the question. I’ve got loads of patients to see in the waiting room and I really don’t need an American confessional right now.”

“I guess I’m nothing,” I told him finally. “Yeah, that’s right. Just tick ‘nothing.’ ” But what I really wanted to say was: “Do you have a box for ‘formerly Christian’? Or perhaps for ‘wanna-be Jewish’?”

Read the rest of this post on www.PoliticsDaily.com

Image: Yalmukes by Bekah Stargazing via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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Mel Gibson As Metaphor For What Ails America

OK. Here’s my guilty summer confession: I can’t get enough of the Mel Gibson scandal.

Let me preface this post by saying that I’m hardly one for celebrity gossip. I have no idea who Justin Bieber is. I don’t care whether Jennifer Aniston wants kids or not. And despite former Politics Daily colleague Emily Miller’s compelling argument for why we should all be taking The National Enquirer more seriously, I can’t stomach tabloids.

Still, when it comes to the ongoing Mel Gibson saga, I can’t look away. And I suspect I’m not alone. And that’s because — Australian accent notwithstanding — Gibson embodies a whole bunch of different ills plaguing America right now, which we’re trying, as a nation, to figure out. And as we do that, Gibson provides a convenient foil for examining our worst fears about ourselves as a country.
Read the rest of this post at www.PoliticsDaily.com

*****

While you’re there, you may also wish to check out my post on the growing trans-Atlantic tension over the BP-Lockerbie hearings this Thursday in the United States Senate.

Image: Mel Gibson by kjd via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Why I Could Not Go Back To Catholicism

An old friend of mine recently posted the following sentence on his Facebook page: “I know this is totally not a PC thing to say, but can someone please explain to me why anyone is still Catholic?”

It’s a fair question. And my Politics Daily colleague, Melinda Henneberger, has one answer. In an honest and moving piece she wrote a few days back, Melinda tells us that she’s as put off as the next person by the current sex abuse scandal roiling the Catholic Church, as well as by the Vatican’s latest attempts to play the victim and point fingers. At the end of the day, though, Melinda is going to hang in there with this Church, because being Catholic is integral to who she is. “In the end,” she writes,”it is not about them.”

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about why I’m not convinced by this argument. I explain why – even if I were contemplating re-entering Christianity – I don’t think I could stomach becoming a Catholic right now, despite being raised in an observant Catholic family. And yes, it has everything to do with the current sex abuse scandal.

Drop on by and have a look.

Image: Pope Benedict XVI in Nazi camp in Brezinzka by miqul via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Interfaith Marriage: A Catholic Contemplates Passover

Passover begins tonight, followed quickly by Easter. As a former Catholic married to a Jew, I hate this time of year. It reminds me — once again — of just how unresolved my husband and I are about the status of religion within our family.

Yesterday, I was over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about how hard this time of year is for those of us in inter-faith marriages.

Have a look

Image: Passover by Ohad* via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Defending Burqas In Adulthood

For those of you who live in Europe – and even those who don’t – you’ll know that headscarves – and now burqas – have been a hot-button political issue in France for awhile now.

Today, a colleague of mine over on PoliticsDaily.com – Bonnie Erbé – wrote a post suggesting why she thinks France should go ahead and ban the burqa…and why The United States should do the same thing.

As with so many issues, my feelings on burqas and headscarves have changed dramatically since living in a country where they are a part of everyday life.

Please come visit me over on PoliticsDaily.com today where I find myself in the unexpected position of…defending the burqa.

Image: Burqa a Meta by fotorita via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Religious Identity in Adulthood: Is It Who You Are Or What You Do?

Last week I posted about my ongoing struggle to forge a religious identity as an adult by borrowing from different faiths.

Today I continue that discussion of religious identity in adulthood – with a particular eye towards Jewish identity – over on PoliticsDaily.com. It’s a question directly raised in a landmark decision by Britain’s Supreme Court, which ruled last Wednesday that it was illegal for a state-funded Jewish school to base its admissions policy on whether or not the applicant’s mother was Jewish.

And so the thorny question arises that bedevils all of us who struggle with religious identity, but particularly Jews:  whether our identity is determined fundamentally by what we do or by our blood.

Have a look and be sure to weigh in…


Image: Metal Menorah by Skyco via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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