April 01 - 07, 2007

This column will provide links to, plus quotes and summaries of, on-line articles that might be of interest to the Infidel community. Because theinfidels.org is concerned with educational issues, the articles selected will help to inform and enlighten readers as well as entertain them. In order to conform to "fair use practices," only small segments of the articles will be quoted. One caveat: to read the entire linked article, readers may have to subscribe to on-line versions of newspapers or magazines.

"Disenfrancisement" is a theme of the first three newspaper stories cited in this week's columm. They concern the Nation of Islam, Somolian immigrants in Minneapolis, and an "emerging church" for "the scum of the earth." We have to wonder what role religion plays in helping and hurting those who are often at the margins of our culture. The newspapers cited are The Boston Globe (twice) and The Chicago Tribune.

IN LATE February in Detroit, Louis Farrakhan, longtime head of the Nation of Islam, gave what was advertised as his final major public address. One sensed it was the end of an era as one of the last great lions of the black nation turned to face the sunset of life. This event has profound implications not just for his organization, but for the future of the black underclass and for black America as a whole.

To some, Farrakhan's importance is far from self-evident, and his legacy is quite simple: anti-Semitism and bigotry. Yet Farrakhan, not unlike black America, is a much more complex phenomenon. Over the years, Farrakhan more than any other well-known leader has been more willing to engage the issues of poverty and violent crime. His farewell creates a leadership vacuum. It also raises a critical question for political activists, black church leadership, and domestic policymakers : What are we to do with millions of young black men in poor, violent, hyper-segregated neighborhoods in all of our major cities? The recent upsurge in violent crime in Boston and other cities demonstrates that the situation is urgent.

Read the full story here...

MINNEAPOLIS -- "Get over it!" urged the posting on an online bulletin board. "You are in America, act like an American!"

The anger was directed at Somalian immigrants who have roiled this city by declaring certain jobs offensive to their Muslim faith. Many Somalian cabdrivers -- who dominate the airport taxi business -- refuse to transport passengers carrying alcohol. Some Somalian cashiers will not handle pork products; instead, they've begun asking customers to scan their own bacon.

To the immigrants, it's a question of religious freedom -- and protecting themselves from sin.
"This is not something we are choosing to do. It's part of our religion," said cabdriver King Osman, 37. "It's forbidden to carry drink. Forbidden!"

Read the complete Story here...

DENVER -- The people who worship with Pastor Mike Sares at this rented space are mostly young, many of them students, some clean cut, some a little raggedy. More than a few of the 300 congregants have grappled with depression, abortion, drugs and homelessness. Some wrestle with their demons still -- and at this church they talk openly about it.

They call themselves Scum of the Earth. [...]

Scum takes a domestic-missionary approach. Sares submerses himself in his flock's culture rather than wishing they would be more like him. Services -- held at 7 p.m. on Sundays -- give way to impromptu gatherings at coffee shops. Bible studies feature poker and the irreverent newspaper "The Onion."

Scum is influenced by the large number of artists, musicians and other creative types who prefer the unconventional. Scum, Sares said, is a church for "the left-out and right-brained."

And while Scum may be unique in its attract-the-fringes approach, it's not alone among groups with their own ideas about how to do church. Simmering disaffection with the mainstream evangelical movement has spurred the growth of the "emerging church movement"....

Read the whole Tribune article here...

A change of pace: Here is a long letter to the editor, published in the Dallas Morning News, from a female theist who is supportive of Pete Stark's coming out as a nontheist. The woman's husband, by the way, is an "unwavering atheist":

Congressman Pete Stark of California made national news earlier this month simply by confessing his atheism.
I'm sorry. What? The fact that a man doesn't believe in God is news? Well, in a country where 55 percent of the people wouldn't vote for such a man (according to a recent Gallup poll), I suppose it is.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm Jewish, and personally, I'm all for God. I pray, I keep kosher, I'm a believer born. My relationship with the Divine plays an enormous role in my life.

But my husband – not so much. Eran is an unwavering atheist. [...]

He's argued with me for 14 years that there's little room in Western culture for nonbelievers – and I say "argued" because, through he's never been anything but supportive of me, I've mostly not taken him seriously. No room? Please. I have spiritual struggle; he gets to eat bacon.

Like a constant drip on rock, however, his comments have begun to wear away my ignorance, and I've had to take notice. Americans hold to an unspoken understanding that is so deeply ingrained, it appears to be natural law. A belief in God, we think, is the well from which all morality springs.

Read the full story here...

On another theme, what follow are two stories that discuss U.S. cultural institutions, one venerable, and the other planned. The Smithsonian Institution, according to the Washington Post, needs to have a secretary who is also a scientist. In the second cited story, from the Los Angeles Times, we hear from a woman attempting to create an inspirational "monument to humanity":

The resignation under fire of Lawrence M. Small, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, completes more than a decade of diminishment that started with the Smithsonian's shift from scientist secretaries to business-oriented secretaries.

Since the Smithsonian's founding in 1846, there have been 11 secretaries. From the first, Joseph Henry, through the ninth, Robert McCormick Adams, who retired in 1994, all were prominent scientists, specializing in physics, natural science, astronomy, paleontology, astrophysics, ornithology, psychology, biology and anthropology. The Smithsonian Board of Regents changed course with the selection of I. Michael Heyman, a law professor and University of California at Berkeley chancellor, primarily chosen for his skills in raising funds, building facilities and managing them. The regents continued with Small, a former executive at Fannie Mae and Citicorp.

Apparently, however, the regents didn't understand the mystique that the scientific knowledge and backgrounds of the previous nine secretaries created with Congress.

Read the full article in the Post here...

Among the towering cranes and the Queen Mary's red smokestacks at the tip of Long Beach lives Karen Tyler Barnes' gigantic daydream.

For seven years, the entrepreneur has labored to realize her fanciful 333-foot-high vision, which she's dubbed the "Monument to Humanity."

Twice as tall as Niagara Falls, the so-called West Coast bookend to the Statue of Liberty would serve as a cross-cultural icon and tourist magnet next to the Port of Long Beach, with an attached think tank tackling some of humankind's most pressing problems.

"I think this is a project whose time has come," said Barnes, founder of Financial News Network, which later merged to become CNBC. "Look at what's happening in the world. We keep putting Band-Aids on things: poverty, hunger, homelessness, education…. We need to find solutions to problems outside of war and violence." [...]

With a missionary's zeal, Barnes cites psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, Albert Einstein and the Dalai Lama as inspirations for the monument. [...]

The monument's visibility as a cultural beacon would help researchers disseminate their findings on such problems as global warming and overpopulation to visitors, governments and corporations, Barnes said. The center would also generate what Barnes calls a "Planet Index," with rankings for such quality-of-life indicators as food supplies, human rights and pollution.

Read the full story here...

Let's conclude with the amusing "chocolate Jesus" story, which has been syndicated by several news services. One of the longer write-ups appeared in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. A fair percentage of the newspaper's readership is likely Catholic; the sculptor, by the way, was raised as a Catholic.

NEW YORK -- A controversial artist outraged New York City Catholics yesterday with plans to display a nude 6-foot chocolate Jesus during Holy Week.

Cosimo Cavallaro's anatomically correct candy Christ, titled "My Sweet Lord," was made from almost 200 pounds of dark chocolate. The sculpture is to be displayed in a street-level window at the Roger Smith Hotel's Lab Gallery starting Monday.

"It's an all-out war on Christianity," fumed William Donohue, a former sociology professor at La Roche College who is now president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. "They wouldn't show a depiction of Martin Luther King Jr. with genitals exposed on Martin Luther King Day, and they wouldn't show Muhammed depicted this way during Ramadan. It's always Christians, and the timing is deliberate."

Mr. Cavallaro, who is best known for slathering both a Hell's Kitchen hotel room and model Twiggy with melted cheese, insisted that the timing was purely coincidental. "The choice of Easter was that there was availability in the gallery now," he said.

Read the complete Post-Gazette article here...

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