Sunday, January 31, 2010

New Journal: Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue

I was pleased to learn of a new evangelical journal addressing the important topic of interreligious dialogue. It is called, appropriately enough, Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue. The first issue can be downloaded at this link. I'm still working my way through this first issue, but it appropriately begins within the evangelical fold in addressing the why of dialogue. The question on the lead article is "Mission and Dialogue? Is it possible to be an evangelical and engage in dialogue?". I would answer a hearty "yes" to these questions, that it is indeed possible to have evangelical commitments and yet also be supportive of a broad and robust form of dialogue that cannot be reduced to little more than a subtle form of evangelism. I wish this new journal well and hope that I can work with them in collaborative and cooperative ventures.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future

An article in Religion Dispatches made me aware of a book that should be on the reading list for those interested in contemporary religious movements. The article involves responses by Bron Taylor to questions on his book Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future (University of California Press, 2009). The book's description:
"In this innovative and deeply felt work, Bron Taylor examines the evolution of "green religions" in North America and beyond: spiritual practices that hold nature as sacred and have in many cases replaced traditional religions. Tracing a wide range of groups--radical environmental activists, lifestyle-focused bioregionalists, surfers, new-agers involved in "ecopsychology," and groups that hold scientific narratives as sacred--Taylor addresses a central theoretical question: How can environmentally oriented, spiritually motivated individuals and movements be understood as religious when many of them reject religious and supernatural worldviews? The "dark" of the title further expands this idea by emphasizing the depth of believers' passion and also suggesting a potential shadow side: besides uplifting and inspiring, such religion might mislead, deceive, or in some cases precipitate violence. This book provides a fascinating global tour of the green religious phenomenon, enabling readers to evaluate its worldwide emergence and to assess its role in a critically important religious revolution."
In answering the question in the interview as to what sparked his interest in the topic for this book Taylor writes:
"I have long been interested in grassroots social and environmental movements, and whether and to what extent religious perceptions and moral values motivates their participants. When working on an earlier book, Ecological Resistance Movements, I began to see that ideas that found fertile ground within grassroots environmental movements around the world were becoming increasingly influential. As I traveled around the world in the subsequent years, I encountered a fascinating and diverse set of examples that convinced me that something new and critically important was emerging that could decisively reshape the political, environmental, and religious landscape. I called this phenomena Dark Green Religion, and by this I mean religious (or religion-resembling) beliefs and practices that consider nature to be sacred and worthy of reverent care, and non-human organisms to be kin and as having intrinsic value."
When Taylor is asked what he wants his readers to take away from the book, in part he says:
"Religion and environmental ethics were transformed forever when on November 24, 1859, Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published. It shattered traditional religious explanations for the fecundity and diversity of the biosphere. Where this cognitive shift has been made, traditional religions with their beliefs in non-material divine beings are in decline. The desire for a spiritually meaningful understanding of the cosmos, however, did not wither away, and new forms of spirituality have been filling the cultural niches previously occupied by conventional religions. I argue that the forms I document in Dark Green Religion are much more likely to survive than longstanding religions, which involved beliefs in invisible, non-material beings. This is because most contemporary nature spiritualities are sensory (based on what we perceive with our senses, sometimes enhanced by clever gadgets), and thus sensible. They also tend to promote ecologically adaptive behaviors, which enhances the survival prospects of their carriers, and thus their own long-term survival prospects."
A few observations are in order for contemporary students of religion.

First, as Taylor reminds us, religion is not always defined by belief in a divine being.

Second, this Dark Green Religion dovetails with Gordon Lynch's discussion about progressive spirituality in his book The New Spirituality: An Introduction to Progressive Belief in the Twenty-first Century (I.B. Tauris, 2007).

Third, the discussion of this religious nature spirituality lends credibility to conservatives who have argued there is often a religious dimension to many facets of the environmental movement.

Fourth, in terms of popular culture, such sentiments may also be seen underlying the science fiction/fantasy film Avatar, which has resonated with audiences for this and other reasons.

Dark Green Religion will help readers understand such sentiments, and gain a greater sense of a movement that will likely continue to exert broad influence. Chapter one can be read here as a preview.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Interview at Sacred Tribes Journal: Miguel De La Torre on Haiti, It's People and Religion

A new interview is now available at Sacred Tribes Journal with Miguel De La Torre, Associate Professor of Social Ethics at Iliff School of Theology. Dr. De La Torre has researched, written, and lectured on a number of topics, including the Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, as well as social ethics and biblical interpretation from the perspective of marginalized peoples. I interview him at Sacred Tribes Journal on the topic of Haiti, it's people and its religious expressions. Here is an excerpt:

John Morehead: Although America has invested a lot of money in Haiti over the years and through various presidential administrations, they know very little about the nation. Many assume it is largely a nation which practices voodoo when in fact it has a large Christian population. Can you paint a portrait of Haitian religious expression?

Miguel De La Torre: Before I address the religious aspects I’d like to discuss America’s investment in Haiti. We need to be aware that America from very early on never really wanted to see Haiti succeed. When the Haitian slaves overthrew their slave owner masters, this was really the first democracy in the Caribbean that was established. The democracy in the United States was leery of having a Haitian democracy. People like Thomas Jefferson were very concerned that a nation of free black people, run by free black people might be a bad inspiration for his personal black slaves and those in the South. There has always been this desire to make sure the Haitian people did not succeed because if they were to succeed as a country then that would begin to undermine the mythology of white supremacy. This was active in the time of Jefferson, up to the Civil War, and after the Civil War. So there has always been this relationship with Haiti where we did not want to see it be successful. Saying that, the other thing we need to keep in mind is that the United States has throughout the last century had Haiti as part of its gunboat diplomacy as well as a good neighbor policy. Both tend to appropriate the resources of Haiti for the economic benefit of the United States. I want to emphasize this relationship between the two countries for the last couple of centuries that has not always been positive for the Haitian people.

As to the religiosity of Haiti, it’s naïve to say that all Haitians are practitioners of voodoo. It would be the same as saying all Americans are Protestants. It’s a very simplistic, naïve understanding. There is a strong presence of the Catholic Church, of Protestants and evangelicals including missionaries, of Pentecostals, also of African traditions, and a hybridity of all these traditions. Those in most Caribbean nations do not necessarily conform to just one religion. It is common to be a member of more than one tradition. So when I was growing up in New York City I went to Catholic school and at night we practiced Santeria, and there didn’t seem to be a disconnect in my mind or that of the other practitioners.

Read the entire interview here.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Pat Robertson and Haitian 'Devil Pact': Insert Foot in Mouth, Rinse, and Repeat

Various media outlets are reporting the statement of Pat Robertson that the horrific earthquake that has devastated Haiti is the alleged result of a pact with the devil by the island nation. One wonders how Haiti's large Christian population figures into this equation, or if Robertson is aware of that factor.

This is but the latest statement by Robertson and other television evangelists who claim to know the mind of the divine on natural disasters and acts of terror, including claims that Hurricane Katrina, South Asian tsunamis, and the 9/11 attacks were the result of God's judgment. Robertson's latest statement may be something of self-fulfilling prophecy in that earlier this month he predicted divine judgment, but in this case the object of God's wrath was to be America.

As a Christian I am embarrassed by such statements that are associated with my faith and Christians. I repudiate them and am thankful that there is a new generation of evangelicals who do not share such sentiments, and a new group of Christian scholars pursuing more profitable and productive understandings of cultures and religions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Publishers Weekly mentions Halos & Avatars

Halos & Avatars has come to the attention of Publishers Weekly, and they like it. The reference to virtual communities may refer to my chapter. Here's the mention:

Halos and Avatars: Playing Video Games with God Edited by Craig Detweiler. Westminster John Knox, $19.95 paper (241p) ISBN 978-0-664-23277-1

Rather than write off as childish one of the most influential popular culture phenomena ever, Detweiler (Into the Dark: Seeing the Sacred in the Top Films of the 21st Century) assembles a savvy group of experts to explore the spiritual and theological implications of video gaming. Those not familiar with the contemporary scene will be amazed to discover how far video games have evolved since the days of Pac Man and Space Invaders. Video games, as a number of these scholars point out, have integrated a narrative aspect that is fascinating and complex—the characters have literally become three-dimensional. Some of the other important issues raised include the power of gaming to build virtual communities, the ways games can help children develop virtues, and the myriad ways religion is portrayed. Especially compelling is an examination of how Muslims are characterized in games. These essayists are fans who lovingly approach and reproach video games, and they earnestly hope that all who pick up a joystick will reflect on the spiritual possibilities. (Feb.)