Religious Freedom in the Era of Gay Marriage

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Culture Clash

Religious freedom in the United States is in peril, or so I have been led to believe. Over the past few weeks, we have seen three flash points in the so-called “culture wars”, events that have caused conservative Christians and/or just plain conservatives to once again sound the alarm about the growing persecution they face in this country.

First, there was the short-lived controversy surrounding the non-profit international aid group World Vision, a favorite charity of many evangelical Christians (and others), who in turn for paying about a dollar a day receive a picture of a child in an impoverished country and the feeling that they are making a positive difference in the world. (I should stress that I am not anti-World Vision and have been participating in their child sponsorship program for about a decade.)

Within a day of World Vision announcing that, due to the beliefs of several Christian denominations with which they work, they were not going to discriminate against Christians working for their organization who were married to same-sex partners, the evangelical Christian world was in a frenzy, with some people cancelling their donations to the organization. Continue reading

The Deluge: Was Noah’s Flood the Real Deal?

"The Deluge" by Francis Darby, first exhibited in 1840.

“The Deluge” by Francis Darby, first exhibited in 1840.

As the new film Noah is now playing at a cinema near you, and the church I am now attending was divinely predestined to come upon this story in their study of Genesis on exactly the same weekend (I’ve been told it was a mere coincidence), the Flood has been on my mind a bit more than usual of late. When it comes to epic stories, they don’t come much bigger than Noah’s. It is surely one of the tales that inspired the term “biblical proportions”.

Back in 2011, when a tsunami devastated parts of Japan and led to the Fukushima nuclear crisis, I was struck by how, even with all of our modern technology and efforts to bend Mother Nature to our will, we can still be brought to our knees by the most basic substance on our planet. I sat down and wrote the following essay, which I now find to be relevant given the discussions about Noah’s Flood, or as it is often called, the Deluge. Included is an admittedly amateur level analysis of the fossil record and the implications of ancient flood narratives. Continue reading

Greetings from Motown

Dear Readers,

I am currently spending a week in the Detroit area for new job training. This is consuming a substantial amount of my time and energy, so it is unlikely that I will be able to post anything for a little while. Please rest assured that I will be back to the drawing board once I return home. In the mean time, try not to allow the rest of the world to drive you too insane.

Sincerely,

Amy Mantravadi

Iran Needs More Babies

Iran's families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones

Iran’s families are getting smaller. Flickr photo by Adam Jones

 

There are some things in Iran that are not in short supply. You need natural gas? No problem. Looking for some pistachios? They have you covered. Is your floor looking rather unadorned? They can give you a carpet with few rivals. And when it comes to women’s clothing, well, black is the new black.

Unfortunately, there are some items that are less common in Iran, or at least not as plentiful as they would prefer. Airplane parts would be one of them. International trade would be another. Surely some (but likely not all) would prefer that the country had a few more nuclear weapons. However, these deficits may all prove easier to overcome than the one that Iran’s government is currently campaigning against: a lack of babies. Continue reading

The Mountain No One Can Climb

Tibet's Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage site for four different religions. Photo by Wikipedia user Heringf

Tibet’s Mount Kailash, a sacred pilgrimage site for four different religions. Photo by Wikipedia user Heringf

Many of us are familiar with the stirring tune “Climb Every Mountain” from the musical The Sound of Music and its repeated insistence that we shy away from no hilly obstacle. But were you to take the lyrics of this song not as a heartwarming metaphor, but rather as a literal requirement, you would find yourself sadly coming up short. For on planet earth today, there is one mountain that it is not possible for you to climb, and it has nothing to do with your physical capabilities.

Central Asia is home to the world’s tallest mountain range, the Himalayas, which run through multiple countries. They present an incredible challenge to the world’s mountaineers, but even the tallest peak, Mount Everest, has long since been conquered. However, in the region of Tibet within China (I should mention that Tibetans dispute that they should be part of China), just north of the Himalayas, lies one particular mountain that is different from all the rest. If you were to ask permission from the Chinese government to climb it, they would deny your request. At no point in modern history has a person ever reached its summit. Continue reading

The Ukraine Crisis Explained in a Series of Maps

791px-Kyjiv_sofienkathedrale, Wikipedia Elya

The St. Sophia Cathedral complex in Kiev, Ukraine. Photo by Wikipedia user Elya

Ukraine has been in the news quite a bit lately. What began as a series of protests against President Viktor Yanukovych following his decision not to sign a trade deal with the European Union quickly escalated. Eventually, Yanukovych fled the country (or left orderly, depending on who you ask) and was removed from office by an act of parliament. The parliamentary chairman, Oleksandr Turchynov, became the acting president in charge of an interim government.

Within a few days, we all started hearing the word “Crimea” a lot as this semi-autonomous section of Ukraine became the center of an ever intensifying standoff between the Russian government led by Vladimir Putin, the new Ukrainian government in Kiev, and other foreign countries such as the United States. The rhetoric seems to get more severe by the day, Putin has received permission from his parliament to take military action in Ukraine to protect “Russian interests” (in addition to the apparent Russian military action already taken in Crimea), the Crimean parliament has voted to become part of Russia and put the issue to a public vote, and the Obama administration is struggling to come up with a proper response. Continue reading

Update: ’12 Years a Slave’ Wins Best Picture at the Oscars

"Twelve Years a Slave" stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (far left) and Lupita Nyong'o (center) with director Steve McQueen (far right) at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Flickr photo by Steve Rhodes

“Twelve Years a Slave” stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (far left) and Lupita Nyong’o (center) with director Steve McQueen (far right) at the Mill Valley Film Festival. Flickr photo by Steve Rhodes

 

I wish to extend my hearty congratulations to those involved with the film 12 Years a Slave after its success at the Academy Awards last night, taking home the trophies for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay. It was a not a clean sweep, and the Academy members rightly wanted to honor another ground breaking film, Gravity, with a slew of technical awards, Best Original Score for Steven Price, and the Best Director prize for Alfonso Cuarón. Interestingly, American Hustle got completely shut out. (A full list of winners can be found here.)

Back in November, after seeing 12 Years a Slave, I wrote a rather extensive analysis of the film.  If you are interested in reading it, click on this link. I have to say, it was refreshing to see for once that the Academy actually chose their Best Picture winner based on merit (at least in my opinion). The voters have a habit of going for feel good sentiment, or movies that seem to praise movie making, while shying away from films that are darker or deal with difficult subject matter. Well, not this year! Perhaps host Ellen DeGeneres was right: the Academy members’ only choices were to choose 12 Years a Slave or look like a bunch of racists.

One final note: the presenters for the Best Director award were Angelina Jolie and living legend Sidney Poitier, who was celebrating the 50th anniversary of his win for Best Actor, the first ever by an African-American. The main rival in this category to eventual winner Cuarón was Steve McQueen, the director of 12 Years a Slave. If McQueen had won, he would have become the first black director to win Hollywood’s top prize, and he would have received the statue from Sidney Poitier. I cannot help but think that this had something to do with the choice of presenter (as they could have easily had Poitier introduce another category), but it was not meant to be.

2014 Oscars Best Dressed List

If it’s the Oscars, you know that I have to be putting together a best dressed list for the ten most beautifully attired females in attendance. In order to avoid copyright violations, I am going to be linking to pictures of the garments in question rather than stealing them and posting them here. Just click on the name of any of these ladies to see what I am talking about.

10. Jennifer Lawrence – A classic red peplum dress; nice and glamorous, though it could have done with some more glitzy jewelry. (It’s the Oscars: if you’re not going to go with the glitz here, then where else?)

9. Naomi Watts – She played Princess Diana this year in a film that was widely panned, but this dress, which looks as if it could have been worn by Di herself, gets an ‘A’ grade from me. Continue reading

The Egyptian Government Cures Aids!

 

On a related note, I have a bridge for sale on the East River in New York City. Act now while supplies last!

Of all the odd things to come out of Egypt, this has to be one of the oddest. When all the best researchers in the world – with their fancy laboratories, millions of dollars in funding, and network of scandalously expensive universities – failed to find a cure for AIDS after more than three decades of attempts, a hapless military regime in a country that has not led the world in scientific research since the Middle Ages has managed to succeed where all others have failed! Not only that, but they have also cured Hepatitis C at the same time!

In a press conference last Saturday, with Defense Minister (and presidential hopeful) Field Marshal Abdel Fattah El-Sisi (pronounced “see see”, not to be confused with the English word “sissy”) in attendance, the head of Egypt’s Cancer Treatment and Screening Center, Maj. Gen. Ibrahim Abdel-Atti, announced to the world the creation of the cleverly named Complete Cure Device (CCD). After all, why bother with fancy medical terminology when you can just call it exactly what it is? Continue reading

Scatter Plot: When Sheep are separated from their Shepherds

Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 AD, early Christian catacomb of Domitilla

Early Christian artwork depicting Christ as the Good Shepherd from the Catacombs of Callixtus in Rome. (circa 200-300 A.D./C.E.)

One of the metaphors that tends to be used over and over again in scripture is that of a shepherd and his sheep. From the words of the 23rd Psalm, which many Christians can quote from memory, to Jesus’ statement that he is the “Good Shepherd”, pastoral imagery is very common throughout the 66 books of the Bible. This makes sense, since ancient Israel was a society that raised a lot of sheep. Indeed, you can still find sheep being raised there today.

As described in the New Testament, Christ is the chief shepherd, the head of the Church, and all believers are sheep. This is not meant to be a particularly favorable comparison, as sheep are rather dumb animals. They need their shepherd to guide them everywhere and keep them out of trouble, providing them with food and protecting them from threats. This is the role that Christ plays for the Church. Continue reading