November 24, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


God and Mr. Lincoln (Joseph Bottum, 11/21/18, American Mind)

And what was Lincoln's theological imagination? In the Second Inaugural, he expresses a profound thought about how providence could have allowed slavery to come into existence and then initiate its abolition. The Civil War's slaughter was punishment for both sides for their part in that story.

What Lincoln saw was the humility necessary to live in a world with God. The war proved not a triumphant march to glorious and bloodless victory but proof that Americans were that most theologically-fraught of beings: an almost-chosen people. God's power belongs solely to God, and we must be tentative and aware of our own sins, even while pressing determinedly toward victory. Only thus can Lincoln ask from us his great peroration: malice toward none, charity toward all.

Lincoln chose his words carefully and theologically. In First Corinthians 5:8, Paul speaks of the "leaven of malice," and "leaven" here is a perfect word for what malice does, in Lincoln's sense of the word: it inflates disagreement and bloats every judgment. For this Thanksgiving, like the one in 1863, there remains the deep meaning worth remembering when we contemplate our political opponents: not malice, but charity.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Religious groups with immigrant members grew fastest over past decade (Yonat Shimron, 11/11/22, (RNS)

The study finds that the Catholic Church in the U.S. is the largest religious body, with 61 million adherents in more than 19,000 churches, comprising close to 19% of the U.S. population. That's a modest growth of 2 million adherents from 2010, when the church had nearly 59 million adherents. 

Sociologist who worked on the census said growth is almost entirely made up of Hispanic immigrants.

"If you took away the Hispanic population in the Catholic Church, it would look as bad as mainline denominations," said Scott Thumma, director of the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, who counted independent churches for the census. (Mainline denominations, such as Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian, have been declining for more than 50 years.)

Perhaps the most striking growth was among Muslims. The number of Muslims who participate in mosque prayer increased from 2.6 million in 2010 to 4.5 million in 2020, a 75% increase. (Pew Research estimates there were 3.85 million Muslims in the U.S. in 2020, but those numbers do not include children.)

That growth is due mainly to immigration, said Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic Studies at the University of Kentucky, who collected the data for Muslims. Higher birth rates may be a secondary reason.

Bagby estimated the number of U.S. mosques at 2,771, a jump of 871 mosques in just a decade.

He suggested Muslims may be in a kind of golden age in the U.S. They are younger than the American population overall, and the Boomers among them are financially well off and able to contribute to the construction of new mosques. (First-generation mosques were often in retrofitted churches or warehouses.)

Mosques, Bagby said, "have mellowed and matured and become more moderate in their understanding of Islam and that has also been an attraction," he said. "Many Muslims who had kept away feel more comfortable coming."

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


Watching 'Casablanca' on its 80th anniversary, we remain in awe of its simplicity - and profound depth (Ben McCann, Nov 24, 2022, MercatorNet)

Casablanca's clearest theme is that neutrality - whether in war or in love - is difficult to maintain.

At the outset, Rick is staunchly apolitical: he is jaded, unmoved by the refugee crisis unfolding around him.

But we also learn Rick has been involved in political causes, supporting losing sides against the Fascists in Spain and Ethiopia. The film traces that ambivalence through Bogart's masterful performance. His cynicism gradually softens once Ilsa turns up, and his animosity to the Nazi chief Strasser grows.

This political about-face comes to a head in one of the greatest scenes in Hollywood cinema: the singing of La Marseillaise at Rick's Café in full defiance of the Nazi officers belting out a German anthem.

It is a deeply patriotic and uplifting scene, and reminds us of cinema's power to engage us, move us and make us cheer.

It also turns the night-club into a microcosm for the war, with it multinational clientele and the competing strands of partisanship, neutrality, aggression and political commitment.

For an America wary of entering the European theatre, scenes like this reminded audiences of the need to fight injustice, intolerance and belligerence.

...detail the brotherhood between two men.

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


The American Spirit of Gratitude (MIKE COTÉ, NOVEMBER 24, 2022, Ordinary Times)

Thanksgiving is perhaps the quintessential American holiday; we have feasting, we have football, we have family and friends, and we have gratitude. The last line item on that list may seem odd to associate with 'Americanness' as much as the others, but it fits in just fine. In fact, it is deeply embedded in American history, dating back to the colonial era, before the founding of the United States. The strong focus on thankfulness - to the point of dedicating a whole holiday to it - is peculiarly American, but can feel at odds with the classic stereotype of Americans as self-absorbed and entitled. In this case, the stereotype is dead wrong; gratitude is an American tradition that dovetails perfectly with our historic national culture of self-reliance, risk-seeking, and innovation.

The American ethos of thankfulness is just as rooted in our history as is the pioneering spirit and willingness to accept risks in search of a better life. The very first European settlers in what became the United States came here with nothing but what they could carry with them across the stormy Atlantic towards - what was, for them - the great unknown. These colonists - whether they were French fur traders, Dutch merchant-adventurers, Spanish Jesuits, or the English Puritans we associate with Thanksgiving - all took unbelievable risks in leaving their whole world behind to journey into a land as full of promise as it was danger. They wagered their lives on the seaworthiness of their ships, the skill of their crews, and their luck with the weather. They gambled it all on where to land their vessels and disembark, where to set up initial settlements, how to gather crucial resources necessary to sustain life, and how they dealt with the Native inhabitants with whom they interacted. These choices and chances determined whether their settlement would survive, thrive, or fail before the first winter was out.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Italy's Government Is Stuffed With the Far Right (Ben Munster, NOVEMBER 24, 2022, Foreign Policy)

Just before Halloween, around 3,000 young Italians gathered in an abandoned warehouse on the outskirts of the northern city of Modena. For two days straight, they partied hard, blasting heavy techno deep into the morning--until locals tipped off the authorities. As dawn broke on the third day, a battalion of black-uniformed riot police swept in. The officers took names, rifled through cars and backpacks for drugs, and impounded a 150,000 euro ($155,000) sound system.

That same weekend, not far from Modena, another group assembled for a very different kind of celebration. Dressed in black and holding aloft a tricolor Italian flag, 2,000 travelers marched through the small town of Predappio, in the Emilia-Romagna region, to commemorate the centenary of the March on Rome by Benito Mussolini. Predappio was the birthplace of the dictator and has long been a pilgrimage site for his followers--even though fascist demonstrations are theoretically illegal in Italy. But unlike at the rave, the officers present just stood there, observing.

The weekend triggered a forceful response from Italy's interior minister, Matteo Piantedosi, recently appointed by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, who ascended to power in September at the head of a far-right coalition with links to Mussolini-era fascism. In a series of speeches and comments to the press, Piantedosi took a hard line against certain gatherings involving 50 people or more, describing them as "invasions" led by meddling "foreigners." He debuted a tough new bill, pledging to punish organizers and promoters with up to 10,000 euros ($10,400) in damages and six years in prison.

The penalty would apply, of course, solely to the illegal raves. The illegal fascist march that occurred simultaneously was a "farce," Piantedosi said--but it "wasn't comparable."

The new law was seen by the opposition as grossly disproportionate, evidence of a pernicious double standard. But it was also a reflection of the difficult balance that the Meloni government has had to strike in its attempts to mediate between two conflicting goals. On the one hand, it must play to its base by pursuing culture war propaganda victories--targeting migrants and young partygoers, for instance.

On the other hand, it must keep international opinion onside. Meloni's initial solution has been to stow her more overtly hard-line allies at the margins of government while stocking key ministries with supposedly moderate officials who will stick to the establishment line on fiscal policy and Ukraine. But this is an illusion: Almost all hail from the far right.

Why did you think MAGA love her?

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Concerns for India's religious minorities after Supreme Court calls for action against Hindu conversion (Christianity Today, 24 November 2022)

Human rights and religious liberty campaigners are sounding the alarm after India's Supreme Court called on the government to act against supposed "fraudulent religious conversion".

India's highest court in the land said last week that forced conversions were "a danger to national security".

Responding to the court order, the Coalition for Minority Rights in India said in a submission to the UN that changing religion is neither "dangerous" nor "fraudulent".

It warned that India's religious minorities are "...on the edge of a precipice as their rights and freedoms have eroded in the face of a growing violent majoritarian ideology". 

"We deplore last week's ruling," a spokesperson for the coalition said.

"It decries 'fraudulent religious conversion' as a 'nationwide problem' with no facts or data to support such allegations.

"We are worried that in the light of this, the government of India will undermine religious freedom even further."

Met one Nationalism you've met them all.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


The Science of Giving Thanks to God: A growing body of research backs the benefits of divine gratefulness, in good times and bad. (PETER C. HILL AND ROBERT A. EMMONS, NOVEMBER 21, 2022, Christianity Today)

 New projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation have theologians, philosophers, and psychologists like us exploring gratitude to our supreme benefactor.

Already, these researchers have discovered that believers who experience and express gratitude to God report feeling more hope, higher satisfaction, more optimism, fewer depression episodes, and greater stress recovery. Their studies suggest that gratitude to God magnifies and amplifies the effects of gratitude toward other people.

Grateful believers aren't just happier because they're better off, either. We see people experiencing gratitude to God in the midst of adversity.

Jason McMartin, a theologian at Biola University, in a paper not yet published, contends that suffering intensifies our encounters with God, reframing the experience of gratitude by expanding our vision of what we can be grateful for, including painful experiences as gifts themselves. Pain is real, but God's grace abounds. Gratitude to God is our response to our suffering meeting God's sovereignty.

Research ratifies this. A study by Joshua Wilt and Julie Exline at Case Western Reserve University found that among theistic believers, gratitude to God for negative events functioned similarly to gratitude for positive events in that both drew one closer to God.

Such findings suggest that when facing difficult life situations, the practice of gratitude to God can be cultivated to counter the natural tendency of prioritizing bad over good. This reframing is not merely a veneer of positive thinking but rather a deep and abiding sense that goodness dwells under the rancor and heartache of daily life.

Social psychologist David Myers has long observed, based on scientific research, that just as we can think ourselves into a way of acting, we can act ourselves into a way of thinking. If we deliberately practice gratitude, our thoughts and feelings often come around.

One idea is keeping a journal listing the blessings that we receive from God along with the lessons learned from our challenges. During times of adversity, we can ask ourselves, How is God present in this challenge? How is this challenge a reflection of God's will for my life? How do I experience God uniquely through this challenge? How does this challenge make me closer to God?

Another practice is to intentionally engage in worship. Of course, this includes weekly corporate worship but may also involve a few moments of private worship throughout the week where gratitude is openly expressed. For example, it is hard to not be grateful, even in the worst of times, when singing hymns such as "How Great Thou Art":

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in--
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin!

Openly expressing such sentiments is yet another way of acting ourselves into being thankful.

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


This Thanksgiving, give thanks for refugees (Darcy Hirsh, 11/23/22, RNS)

In his 1789 Thanksgiving Day proclamation, George Washington wrote of America's "great and various favors" -- economic opportunity, religious freedom and the dignity of equality under the law -- that made this country a place where generations of those same hardscrabble people could overcome obstacles and achieve untold success. He spoke of the importance of giving back, of uniting "to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually." 

This Thanksgiving, that message holds special weight. Since last year, more than 250,000 newcomers have come to the United States and are observing the holiday for the first time.

They are Afghans who escaped the brutality of the Taliban regime and Ukrainians who fled the onslaught of the Russian invasion. They are people from all over the world who, due to religious and political persecution, were forced to flee their homes searching for the same "great and various favors" as my great-grandparents.

And now, they are our neighbors. 

This year, I've seen firsthand not only how communities are stepping up to help newcomers, but how refugees are enriching communities. Working with local Jewish community organizations and partners, my organization, Jewish Federations of North America, in partnership with the Shapiro Foundation, has helped resettle over 2,000 Afghans and Ukrainians through volunteer circles, groups of community members who have come together to divide the responsibilities of resettling a newcomer. 

Since this initiative began, these volunteer circles have helped displaced Afghans and Ukrainians integrate into communities, find housing, start new jobs, enroll their kids in schools and begin the pathway to self-sufficiency in pursuit of the American Dream.

Our hospitality will make our country and our communities stronger.

These displaced individuals are translators, engineers, teachers and caregivers. They are motivated, they are hard workers, they are people who have proven their willingness to face great danger to better their families and overcome immense obstacles. 

That's how refugees have historically molded America into a strong, diverse nation that is a global leader in technology, business, medicine and so much more. They have strengthened the fabric of our communities and helped reinvigorate cities across the country, making contributions through culture, community or the economy.

Many of the great leaders in business, medicine, entertainment, technology, politics and other professions can trace their roots to the refugee story. Former Secretaries of State Madeleine Albright and Henry Kissinger were refugees, as well as Albert Einstein, Salvador Dali, Freddy Mercury and Google co-founder Sergey Brin. 

In 2015 alone, more than 181,000 American entrepreneurs who arrived in this country as refugees generated $4.6 billion in business income. In medicine, international medical graduates -- those who earned their medical licenses and degrees abroad, but who came to the United States to practice -- make up 25% of all U.S. doctors.

This Thanksgiving, we should be grateful not only for what our country has done for refugees, but also for what refugees have done for America. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Stumping for secularism, Lapid says incoming coalition creating a 'halachic state' (CARRIE KELLER-LYNN, 21 November 2022,Times of Israel)

Addressing policies pushed by the religious parties expected to be part of the Likud-headed coalition, Lapid says that in the forming government "yeshiva students will receive more money than IDF soldiers. [Religious Zionism head] Smotrich wants to close soccer matches on Shabbat. A law will be passed to separate men and women in the public sphere."

Speaking at his Yesh Atid party's Monday faction meeting, Lapid turns to right-wing Likud's more than a million voters and asks, "Is this what you wanted? That's why you voted for Likud?"

"You are going to be a minority in this government. A minority of those serving in the army, a minority of the middle class, a minority of those who believe in a moderate Jewish tradition that welcomes every person," he adds.

Lapid has said that he will sit in the opposition rather than again join hands with Netanyahu, and his party denied reports last week that it was quietly negotiating to form a unity government with Likud to boot out extremist Religious Zionism, Otzma Yehudit, and Noam.

"If someone asks where we will be - we will be here in the Knesset day and night, we will be in the streets, we will be in the town squares, we will be on the bridges. We will not be silent, we will not disappear, we will not give up, we are fighting for the future of our children," he adds.

What part of Political Zionism does he not get?

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


'Gold Hydrogen' Is an Untapped Resource in Depleted Oil Wells (CHRIS BARANIUK, NOV 24, 2022, Wired)

THERE WAS NO prospect of getting any more oil out of the old well. It was just a depleted cavern hiding beneath the sun-baked Texas soil. But then some folks came along and squirted a special liquid into it. They went away for five days, and when they came back it was no longer an oil well. It had transformed into a hydrogen source.

Cemvita Factory, a biotech firm in Texas, had spritzed a carefully selected combination of bacteria and nutrients down the bore hole. Once inside the well, the microbes began breaking down the residual oil hydrocarbons in there--dregs that would be unprofitable to extract--to generate hydrogen and CO2. This field test in July, though small in scale, was a "huge success," says chief business officer Charles Nelson.

Nelson would not comment on what bacteria and nutrients the company is using, but he says his firm aims to produce hydrogen for $1 per kilogram, which would be competitive against other methods of obtaining the fuel. He estimates there are more than 1,000 depleted oil wells dotted around the United States that are suitable for the same kind of microbial treatment: "A lot of these reservoirs are abandoned, they're in the custody of the state, they're orphaned and waiting to be cleaned up." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:43 PM


What are the Jewish roots of Thanksgiving?: For the leader of the Pilgrims, verses from the Hebrew Bible, cited in accordance with the practice of Jewish law - constitutes the original Thanksgiving (STUART HALPERN, NOVEMBER 7, 2022, Jerusalem Post)

As Nick Bunker notes in his Making Haste from Babylon, the Pilgrims carried to our shores a rather surprising companion - Maimonides. Or rather, his compendium of the Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah. Those Pilgrims were led by William Bradford, who would serve as governor of Plymouth Colony. Bradford, historical records show, carried with him an edition of the Bible published in 1618 that contained the annotations of a Puritan scholar named Henry Ainsworth. After their safe passage, Bradford led his fellow new arrivals in thanking God for their survival over the course of the journey by reciting verses from Psalm 107. The Bible he used to do so contained the following note, courtesy of Ainsworth:

"And from this Psalme, and this verse of it, the Hebrues have this Canon; Foure must confess (unto God) The sick, when he is healed; the prisoner when he is released out of bonds; they that goe down to sea, when they are come up (to land); and wayfaring men, when they are come to the inhabited land. And they must make confession before ten men, and two of them wise men, Psal. 107. 32. And the manner of confessing and blessing is thus; He standeth among them and blesseth the Lord, the King eternal, that bounteously rewardeth good things unto sinners, etc. Maimony in Misn. Treat. Of Blessings, chap. 10, sect. 8."

Based on this summary of Maimonides' legal articulation of birkat hagomel, the blessing recited by Jews to this day after they are saved from danger, Bradford saw his compatriots' arrival in America as mirroring the Israelites' journey through the wilderness to the Promised Land - one of the four conditions requiring "confession and blessing." To Bunker, this prayer - verses from the Hebrew Bible, cited in accordance with the practice of Jewish law - constitutes the original Thanksgiving.

There were no Jews on the Mayflower, and only around 2,000 in the colonies during the American Revolution. But even in George Washington's day, the Jewish story informed America's articulation of its gratitude to God. In October 1781 (the day being marked in November was not formally instituted until President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed its celebration in 1863), British Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered to Gen. Washington. Addressing the battle-weary but victorious troops in Yorktown, Virginia, Rev. Israel Evans, one of Washington's favorite military chaplains, delivered a Thanksgiving sermon in which he, too, saw the safety and success of the nascent nation through an Israelite lens. The poem he recited as part of his sermon read:

To him who led in ancient days

The Hebrew tribes, your anthems raise;

The God who spoke from Sinai's hill

Protects his chosen people still.

WHILE THE vast majority of American Jews have celebrated Thanksgiving as part of American civil religion over the subsequent two-and-a-half centuries, some rabbinic scholars hesitated to offer a full-throated embrace of the tradition. After all, while the United States proved to be a promised land for millions, the real Jewish national homeland lay to the east.

Thus the renowned rabbinic scholar Rabbi Moshe Feinstein offered no less than four responsa analyzing the permissibility of Jews observing Thanksgiving, eventually concluding it is a simhat reshut, an optional, albeit nonobligatory, festive celebration. Rabbi Yitzchak Hutner took a more prohibitive stance, forbidding marking a holiday based on the Christian calendar. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, on the other hand, is reported to have had a habit of beginning his regular weekly Talmud lecture early in order to travel to his sister's in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

Talmudic debates aside, gratitude is, of course, inherent to the very essence of Judaism itself. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


The Extremely American History of Pecan Pie (ROSSI ANASTOPOULO, NOV 24, 2022, Slate)

Unlike apples (and apple pie), which we so often describe as American, pecans are native to the North American continent, predating the country we call the United States by millennia. They were an important food source for many Indigenous people thousands of years ago. In fact, the nut's name most likely comes from the Algonquin word "paccan," which refers to a nut that needs to be cracked by stone. Like so much else related to Indigenous food origins and their links to what Americans eat today, that history's been pretty much erased.

Pecans were cultivated by white people once they settled on the continent, and there are accounts of Thomas Jefferson growing them at Monticello. He even recommended them to his pal George Washington, who installed them amongst the crops of Mount Vernon. But commercial pecan production would not have taken off without Black ingenuity and innovation. In 1847, an enslaved man known only as Antoine invented a way to graft pecan trees, melding the scion of one pecan tree to the rootstock of another for easy propagation. Introduced on the Oak Alley plantation in Vachery, Louisiana, Antoine's game-changing invention quickly spread across the South, launching lucrative pecan cultivation in states like Georgia and Texas, which would eventually become hot spots for the nut.

Once the commercial pecan market that Antoine made possible sprang up, the nut started to become available everywhere--by 1867 you could find pecans sold in New York markets through the winter and spring. Beyond city markets, pecans were also exhibited at fairs and festivals all over, including the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

As the nut grew more popular, people started to use it more and more in their kitchens. But there are very few accounts of people baking them into pie until the end of the century. In 1886, Harper's Bazaar declared: "Pecan pie is not only delicious, but is capable of being made 'a real state pie,' as an enthusiastic admirer said." Another early recipe, featuring a meringue, was published in 1897 as Texas Pecan Pie in Ladies' Home Journal.

But pecan pie really exploded in the early 1900s. What remained a mostly regionalized dish at the turn of the century, was, by the 1940s, everywhere, with recipes in beloved cookbooks like Joy of Cooking. How?

We owe it all to Karo Corn Syrup.

Posted by orrinj at 9:05 AM


The Pilgrims' rabbi (Jeff Jacoby, November 22, 2022, Arguable)

As for the idea that Thanksgiving is exclusively a Christian tradition, the Pilgrims themselves would have been the first to deny it.

Among the passengers who sailed to America aboard the Mayflower and founded Plymouth in 1620, none would prove as influential as William Bradford, who was elected governor of the colony in 1621 and would serve in that position for close to 30 years.

Like many of his fellow Puritan Christians, Bradford had an absorbing interest in the Hebrew Bible and Jewish religious custom. He perceived a deep affinity between the wanderings of the Pilgrims -- who had fled England to escape religious persecution -- and the ancient Israelites' journey to the Promised Land. Bradford was a disciple of the Puritan scholar Henry Ainsworth, and brought with him on the Mayflower Ainsworth's most important work, "Annotations on the Five Books of Moses," along with his commentary on the Book of Psalms.

As Nick Bunker explains in "Making Haste from Babylon," his acclaimed 2010 history of the Mayflower Pilgrims, Puritans like Ainsworth had a passion "to absorb the wisdom of the Bible from as close to the source as possible." That inspired them to "read with sympathy the rabbis of the Roman Empire, Egypt, and medieval Spain, authors whose books were preserved by the Jews of Germany or Venice." Ainsworth drew on the works of many rabbinic scholars, but he revered above all the towering 12th-century Sephardic Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides, whom he dubbed "the wisest of the Hebrew Rabbins."

It was in reading Ainsworth's commentary on the 107th Psalm -- the opening words of which are "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good" -- that Bradford encountered the Jewish teaching that would became the basis of the Pilgrims' Thanksgiving.

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM