Category Archives: Religion and Society

Coverage of the Pussy Riot Trial and Imprisonment from the Christian Think-tank Ekklesia

This is an overview of the Pussy Riot trial and imprisonment from the British Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which leans to the left theologically and politically. The article makes two points which haven’t been highlighted by most of the other media:

 In the performance, the musicians walked into the cathedral, donned brightly-colored balaclavas and began to gesticulate and dance in front of the altar. Their actions were filmed as a video and set to music with the lyrics “O Birthgiver of God, Get Rid of Putin” and an expletive as a refrain.

 

The video went viral, shocking many Russians and infuriating the Kremlin and the Orthodox hierarchy, but also setting off a debate in the church about the role of forgiveness and mercy in Orthodoxy.

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Two opinion pieces from the Moscow Times about the Pussy Riot Verdict

The Moscow Times has two very good opinion pieces about the verdict against Pussy Riot last Friday. This very good one from Garry Kasparov (former World Chess Champion) is in contrast to the blog post I linked to yesterday about the verdict. Kasparov says:

Despite whispers of leniency, I never doubted that a conviction and prison term would result. Not because they violated anything in the Criminal Code, which, as of this writing, is still freely available on the Internet. No, Pussy Riot’s actions were hateful toward religion only in breaking the First Commandment of today’s Russia, “Thou shalt not take Putin’s name in vain.”

Yulia Latynina uses the verdict against the band to draw a contrast between the civil religion and idolatry of Partriarch Kirill and Vladimir Putin (Homo Orthodoxus – “Human Orthodoxy”) and the Christianity of genuine Russian Orthodoxy:

The Pussy Riot case is a useful case study to understand the religious views of a large segment of Russia’s Orthodox Christian community, a group I will call “Homo Orthodoxus.”

First, this belief holds that God does not forgive. A typical example: During a recent demonstration against Pussy Riot, an Orthodox activist screamed “God does not forgive, and to claim otherwise is blasphemy,” while beating a female supporter of the punk group. This unforgiving nature is such an important characteristic of God for the Homo Orthodoxus believers that they hold it in a category apart from the direct commandments of Christ.

Despite evidence of the presence of an oppressive police state in Russia night now, it’s great to see the presence of an articulate civil society in that country too.

A reminder to always question the media

This post from Eastern Orthodox Blog Get Religion about the media coverage of P***y Riot’s protest flashmob song at Christ our Saviour Russian Orthodox Church, and the band’s subsequent conviction, shows the need to regularly question the perspective of our regular media outlets.

The author of this post claims that it was “unbalanced and inaccurate journalism for the mainstream American press, in story after story, to essentially ignore the details of what the protesters said and did and where they did it”.

Note: neither the author nor I am not supportive of the two-year sentence handed down by the Russian judiciary for this act – even the Russian Orthodox Church has questioned the severity of the punishment. But this may be the unintended consequence of well-intentioned laws designed to discourage religious hate speech against, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians …

Ten Happiest Jobs

Last week, Scot McKnight at Jesus Creed, drew attention to this Forbes article on the Ten Happiest Jobs.

At the top of the list of the happiest vocations were clergy. I mentioned this to a friend of mine, who snidely commented, “Yeah, I suppose talking to your imaginary friend would make you happy.”

I said, “Do you have a clue about what clergy do? They often see people at their most vulnerable and they make a difference. It’s a helping profession where you can help someone going through a divorce, a family experiencing grief or someone suffering from depression. It’s also a job full of social interaction. And studies show this affects job satisfaction the most.”

The articles links to Todd May, who argues in an opinion piece for the New York Times that “A meaningful life must, in some sense then, feel worthwhile.  The person living the life must be engaged by it.  A life of commitment to causes that are generally defined as worthy — like feeding and clothing the poor or ministering to the ill — but that do not move the person participating in them will lack meaningfulness in this sense. However, for a life to be meaningful, it must also be worthwhile. Engagement in a life of tiddlywinks does not rise to the level of a meaningful life, no matter how gripped one might be by the game.” This is why those jobs with better pay and higher social status are less likely to produce happiness than lower status jobs such as clergy.

I would like to read the study and see if there is a break down of the No. 1 job by religion (e.g. Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim), theological tradition within the religion (e.g. mainline, progressive, Evangelical) and gender.  Do these factors affect job satisfaction and rating?

From the Christian pastors I know, I know their job isn’t all happiness. But unlike a lot of other jobs, pastoral ministry is often a role where there is a huge chance for personal growth and change. You can grow into and with your role. This helps to create resilience. For example, a pastor of a church I went to as a teenager was a typical Pentecostal fundamentalist, but after 10 years of pastoral ministry in another place, facing some personal trials, and theological study, he was a changed, chastened person. And a better minister. Studies show that feeling that you are still growing and being challenged in your roles is linked to job satisfaction.

Two recent posts to encourage Christians, and men and women, to read fiction

This post at The Art of Manliness argues men need to read more fiction. “It’s through reading that we gain new perspectives and learn more about ourselves and the world around us.”

Jonathan Gottschall argues at Boston.com that fiction is good for us (and he cites research to support this claim) because “virtually all storytelling, regardless of genre, increases society’s fund of empathy and reinforces an ethic of decency that is deeper than politics.”

Even Evangelicals are encouraging believers to read fiction. The very conservative Calvinist blogger Tim Challies has this interview with the equally conservative Calvinist Russell Moore. Unsurprisingly, Moore tells us what we shouldn’t read – no Fifty Shades of Grey.

At The Gospel Coalition, Leland Ryken, the literature professor from Wheaton College, is leading readers through Albert Camus’ The Stranger. It significant that more conservative Evangelicals are saying the same things as more liberal ones about the value of reading fiction.

Do you agree with Moore, however, that certain books should be off-limits?

HT: Justin Taylor and Scot McKnight

Judge rules against UK Christian hoteliers who refused civil partners

This is an interesting story from the United Kingdom. Two Christian hoteliers have been ordered by a court to pay damages after discriminating against a gay couple.

The hoteliers, Peter and Hazelmary Bull, have a had a long-standing policy at their hotel of banning all unmarried couples from sharing a bed, founded on their Christian beliefs. So to Mr and Mrs Bull it was consistent with that policy to deny Martyn Hall and his civil partner Steven Preddy a room with a shared bed one evening in 2008, since the men were an unmarried couple. At least, that’s what Mr and Mrs Bulls claimed.

The court disagreed. In UK law, the civil partnership of Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy has the same status as a marriage between a man and a woman. Therefore, despite the Bulls’ denial, the Judge Andrew Rutherford supported the claim of Martyn Hall and Steven Preddy that they were discriminated against because they were they gay. “The only conclusion which can be drawn,” the judge said, “is that the refusal to allow them to occupy the double room which they had booked was because of their sexual orientation… and that this is direct discrimination.”

Another consideration in the judge’s verdict was that Peter and Hazelmary Bulls were offering a service to the public by providing hotel accommodation. Everyone who provides services to the public has to do so without discrimination under the law. The Bulls cannot legitimately claim exemption from equality laws that apply to everyone, even if they have a stated policy of only allowing heterosexual couples to share beds. If the court had ruled in the Bulls’ favour, it may have legitimized similar religiously-motivated claims for exemption from the equality laws.

Judge Andrew Rutherford, however, granted the Bulls leave to appeal, noting that his ruling “does affect the human rights of the defendants to manifest their religion and forces them to act in a manner contrary to their deeply and genuinely held beliefs.”  The ruling certainly does seem to do so.

This is a challenging case.  The right to equal treatment under the law has to take precedence over someone’s right to hold beliefs and treat them unequally on the basis of those beliefs.

For different perspectives on this case, see the following:

The Independent

The Guardian

Christiantoday

Ekklesia

HT: Theological Editions