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Religion

Big in India

Big in India

Hugeness has been one of the more flamboyant features of the Modi government’s tenure

The afterglow of this communion extends into the final, much-anticipated delight: a “cultural boat ride” promising “ten thousand years of Indian Culture in ten minutes.” This air-conditioned funfair ride begins, appropriately enough, on the mythic “banks of the Saraswati” (a now unknown or extinct river celebrated in the Vedas) festooned with tableaux of ten-thousand-year-old “Vedic” agriculture, Vedic universities, Vedic bazaars, Vedic elections and even the “first conference on embryology.” Never mind that the prevailing historical consensus is that the earliest Vedic “texts” (they were originally orally transmitted) are little more than 3,500 years old. Further downriver, things get weirder as we witness the Indic invention of everything from plastic surgery to the airplane.

Jesus, Etc.

Jesus, Etc.

On Benedetta

Within the first two minutes of Benedetta’s prologue—in which its namesake’s younger incarnation compels a bird to shit in the eye of a potential assailant—it’s clear that Verhoeven is in his comfort zone; if the movie doesn’t necessarily push beyond those confines, it confirms them as a uniquely spacious and fertile patch of cinematic terrain, where provocation and pleasure get intertwined on a molecular level and nearly every line cuts two ways, as a statement of principles and a sick joke.

The Earth Dreams in Ritual

The Earth Dreams in Ritual

I’m developing an intimate relationship to weeds

What was I doing on Zoom? Everyone was outside. Doing the Corona Waltz: six-foot radius, smile, nod, little bow. It was at that point that I started to dream with the planet. I noticed weeds for the first time, as if they were long-lost little friends. Weeds also live in liminal space: ignored, trampled on, not even seen. And yet they grow together, egalitarian, in resilient communist clusters.

The Evangelical Mind

Yet because of the movement’s own internal contradictions, the evangelical goal of perfect replication has proven impossible. As parents, evangelicals incite their children to take personal ownership of Christianity, but demand that their children conform to their own understanding of the faith. They claim to want us to have an authentic, spontaneous religious experience, yet relentlessly manipulate our emotions.

The Political Theology of Trump

The Political Theology of Trump

What looks like hypocrisy is the surest possible evidence that God is in control

Only a pagan ruler who knows nothing of the God of Israel—and who was in fact just as happy to finance the building of pagan abominations as part of a general policy of restoring the local religious observances his predecessors had uprooted—can restore the righteous remnant to the Promised Land. Why not raise up a Jewish military hero to repeat the gesture of Moses and demand that the Persians let his people go? Why not have the mighty emperor convert to Judaism and decide to rebuild the Temple as an act of praise to God? The answer is that humans still have too much opportunity to take credit for the outcome, whereas the use of an ignorant, pagan ruler makes the divine agency unmistakable from the Israelite perspective. How could it be more clear that God is really controlling events when his purpose is fulfilled without the involvement of any conscious human intention?

Italy’s Christian Colony

Italy’s Christian Colony

The Lega and the myth of the Celtic origins of northern Italy

At one of his final campaign events in Milan, in a crowded Piazza del Duomo, Salvini brought out a rosary and copies of the Italian Constitution and the Gospels. These were his closing remarks: “I undertake and swear to be loyal to my people, to 60 million Italians, to serve them with honesty and courage. I swear to apply the Italian Constitution, unknown to many, and I swear to do so respecting the teachings contained in these sacred Gospels . . . Let’s go govern and take back our splendid country!” The stunt was rebuked by various Catholic officials, including the archbishop of Milan. In news articles and blogs, people debated whether the act was a blasphemous use of Christian symbolism. Salvini was called a “living oxymoron” and some observers issued the familiar injunction that Christ was a Middle Eastern migrant. Even the extreme fundamentalist Mario Adinolfi wanted to impress upon Salvini that the Gospels and rosary were not ampoules.

The Battle of Mythologies

The Battle of Mythologies

Padmaavat, protest, Bollywood, and Indian national narrative

The Padmaavat protests are remarkable chiefly for the scale of their success. All kinds of groups have protested Bollywood for offending their religious or cultural sensibilities—many for good reason—but its most faithful enemies have always have been Hindu fascists. They have hated and feared the spell the movies cast over Hindi-speaking India, because no other enterprise, save electoral democracy itself, has had more spectacular success in creating a national—and a nationalist—imagination. For its part, the movie business has always been extremely faithful to its duty as the keeper of an Indian dream. When the nation broke away from the British empire in 1947, the roaring business of Bombay commercial cinema was held together by two things: the business acumen of Partition refugees, and an undivided language—the blend of Hindi and Urdu kept alive by progressive writers and actors.

Converts to Abortion Rights

Converts to Abortion Rights

Dr. Willie Parker’s new book attempts the unusual and difficult task of reconciling support for abortion rights and abiding religious belief.

The word “conversion” fits the abortion-rights cause awkwardly. There is no progressive equivalent to Priests for Life, a website cataloging the stories of sidewalk protesters-turned-Planned Parenthood donors. Abortion rights were, in the beginning, a public health issue. Opponents started framing the cause in moral terms—something that defenders were at pains to avoid. The president of the Association for the Study of Abortion, Jimmye Kimmey, is credited for coming up with the phrase “pro-choice” in 1972. She preferred, she wrote in a memo, because “what we are concerned with is, to repeat, the woman’s right to choose—not with her right (or anyone else’s right) to make a judgment about whether that choice is morally licit.”