Thursday, September 20, 2012

Religion in the Economist

Among the more interesting journals about religion that I read on a weekly basis, none is more insightful and provoking than the British Economist. First published in 1843, its original purpose still graces the masthead: " take part in 'a severe contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress.'" Given this nineteenth-century liberal, modernist aim, one might think "religion" and even "theology" would be relegated in its pages to the wrong side of that "severe contest." Not so. Or, at least, not always. Perhaps in a way not foreseen in the mid-1800s, "religions" have persisted into the present. Whereas less than a century before the magazine's founding, David Hume confidently predicted that "within 300 years" most all religions would cease to exist within modern, scientific societies, such has not been the case. If anything, a well-educated business person today needs more knowledge of the world's religions and their impact on societies and regions than was the case in Hume's eighteenth century. Careful reporting on human beings, their hopes and fears, their beliefs and behaviors, cannot avoid the long shadow of "religion" and even "theology." The faith-dimension to many of the most troubling of problems in the contemporary world cannot be avoided: the growing gap between rich and the poor, the population explosion, ongoing violent conflicts between different racial, cultural, and religious groups (the arming of which no one seems able to stop), the global environmental crisis.The list could go on. So it is not surprising that "religion" and even "theology" appear in such a secular-minded magazine as the Economist.

Witness this week's edition (Sep 15, 2012). Beyond the several pages devoted to Muslim rage and violence in response to a vile, online anti-Muslim film made by a Coptic-American Christian, attention was given to:

(1) two letters to the editor on "atheism" (in response to an earlier article on "growing disbelief" in America). One of the letter writers wrote, "I can't imagine how belief or unbelief in a god would made any difference in my life. I'll still try to treat my fellow man and woman like I'd like them to treat me. It really is possible to try to be good without the aid of an organized religion or belief in the supernatural." But did you invent the notion of "treating your fellow man and woman as you'd like them to treat you?" And how well are you doing at that? What if you are not the only judge of your behavior?

(2) no easy choices in Syria, now that the death toll is approaching 30,000 and the refugee count ten times that amount;

(3) religious differences among the Syrian rebels and how that is complicating their resistance;

(4) moral-religious issues relating to women's health care and their impact on the US presidential election;

(5) gay marriage ballot measures in several US states;

(6) the lack of much debate about foreign policy between the two US candidates (the editorial makes reference to Pres. Obama's failed "ambitious plan" to "reach out to Muslims" so as "to reduce the antagonism of Muslims toward the West and Israel");

(7) the growth of private universities in Brazil, some of which are Roman Catholic;

(8) the Haqqani network that is straining US-Pakistani relations;

(9) the heated election for mayor of Jakarta (Muslim-Christian tensions in Indonesia);

(10) the new moderate Islamist president of Somalia;

(11) the elections in the Netherlands (Christian Democrat setback; anti-Muslim politics);

(12) Peddling religion in Turkey (relationship between Muslim theology and modern sciences);

(13) Angela Merkel's (Lutheran?) austerity in the euro crisis;

 (14) moves among British Tories toward better relations with gays (which is upsetting to conservative Christians);

(15) the pros and cons of circumcision (and controversy surrounding communities that want to ban the religious practice);

(16) reinventing Bach (review of a new book about how modern musical technology has allowed Bach's music to be reinvented by its interpreters);

(17) a review of the book, "And Man Created God: Kings, Cults, and Conquests at the Time of Jesus" (a review that would have been better had it paid closer attention to the work on Jesus by Albert Schweitzer, who is mentioned in the earlier review on the Bach book);

(18) an obituary of peace-maker, Roger Fisher, whose knowledge of the world religions was central to his work as "a fixer."

This was not an atypical week. When time is limited, one is hard-pressed to find better analysis of global events, including their religious dimensions than this weekly newspaper.

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