Richard Ostling

Next in the Sexual Revolution news: movement to legalize polygamy and 'polyamory'

Next in the Sexual Revolution news: movement to legalize polygamy and 'polyamory'

It didn’t take long. 

Four days after the U.S. Supreme Court’s epochal 5-4 decision to legalize gay marriage nationwide, a Montana threesome applied for a polygamous marriage license. If denied, the trio intends to file suit to topple the law against bigamy. Husband Nathan Collier was featured on “Sister Wives,” so “reality TV” now meets legal and political reality.

More significant was a July 21 op-ed piece in The New York Times, that influential arbiter of acceptable discourse and the future agenda for America's cultural left. University of Chicago law professor William Baude, a “contributing opinion writer” for the paper, wrote, “If there is no magic power in opposite sexes when it comes to marriage, is there any magic power in the number two?” To him, “there is a very good argument” that “polyamorous relationships should be next.”

Baude was a former clerk for Chief Justice John Roberts, who warned against precisely that possibility in his opinion for the court’s four dissenters. Baude observes that tacticians needed to downplay the polygamy aspect that could have harmed the same-sex marriage cause, but with the Supreme Court victory this next step can be proposed candidly.

The savvy Washington Post had a solid polygamy analysis soon after the Court’s ruling.

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Gee whiz! American media shelve one of the Ten Commandments

Gee whiz!  American media shelve one of the Ten Commandments

The Bible’s celebrated Ten Commandments are back in the news yet again, as Oklahoma’s Supreme Court orders removal of a monument reproducing them from the state capitol. and legislators piously order up a referendum on whether citizens want to restore the words by removing a church-state separation clause from the state constitution.

Recall the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court head-scratcher that upheld a Ten Commandments display in Texas while outlawing another one in Kentucky? Not to mention that the justices’ own courtroom displays a frieze of Moses as the lawgiver holding the sacred tablets. (Muslims have asked the Court to sandblast away the similar frieze honoring Muhammad because their religion forbids visual representations of the Prophet.)

All very confusing.

Separationists protest that the early commandments require reverence toward God, a strictly religious matter, before the Decalogue turns to corrosive temporal deeds like adultery, murder, thievery, deceit, and envy. Perhaps Five Commandments would pass secular scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the American media are playing an interesting role in the commandments contretemps. By both carelessness and calculation, they have consistently undermined one tenet as though there are only Nine Commandments. Is the Religion Guy irredeemably old-fashioned to point out this one?

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Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Religion reporters should look beyond their ghetto for story themes, and here’s a good one: Why does science lag so notably in the Muslim world, and what can be done about it?

That question was raised by assistant editor Ross Pomeroy at www.realclearscience.com. Some religionistas may recall his 2012 piece for biologos.org titled “Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific.”

The latest Pomeroy headline is equally controversial: “Can Islam Come Back to the Light of Science?” He presents data to highlight the problem, which is far broader than simply Mideast sheiks flying to London or New York for medical treatments:

In 2005, Harvard University alone produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking nations combined. The Muslim population of 1.6 billion has produced only two Nobel Prize-winners in chemistry and physics in history, and both moved to the West to work.

Now, Jews are outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims globally yet boast 79 such Nobel laureates. The 57 nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation spend less than a percent of their collective gross domestic product on research and development, a third of the global average; Israel spends 4.4 percent.

What went wrong?

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Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

  Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

“Thumbsuckers” (think pieces) about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to nationalize same-sex marriage will be flowing forth for some time to come. In the early batch, one article from Religion News Service stands out. The writer is the invariably interesting Tobin Grant, a Southern Illinois University political scientist.

Thanks to the massive sample in the 2007 “Religious Landscape Survey” from  Pew Research, Grant could access detailed breakdowns on beliefs within  dozens of specific U.S. religious groups.

Note: Pew conducted a similar survey in 2014 and reporters should be alert for updated results on marriage attitudes that are likely to appear later this year. Also note: Perhaps Grant himself takes the liberal view on these matters since his RNS page posts a response to the conservative Gospel Coalition from Matthew Vines, whose recent book offers "the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships."

Grant’s analysis of the Pew data has two aspects.

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Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?

Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?

VALERIE’S QUESTION:

Do God’s laws apply to Gentiles, including foods that should not be eaten, i.e. pigs, fish without scales?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Valerie raises a broad topic but focuses on the ritually prohibited foods in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) as listed in Leviticus 11 and  Deuteronomy 14.

For traditional Jews, kosher observance involves both obedience to God and identity with their people and heritage across thousands of years. However, Judaism does not call upon non-Jews (“Gentiles”) to do the same (more below on what behavior it does expect). In addition to the listings, biblical commandments against eating blood lead to kosher slaughtering methods and draining and salting of meats. Also, the biblical law against boiling a goat in mother’s milk was later extended to bar meals that mix meat and dairy products.

Christianity from the start did not apply these food laws to Gentiles, as shown in two key New Testament passages. It’s generally assumed that Jesus, as a faithful Jew, would have observed the common dietary practices. However, in the Gospel of Mark 7:14-19, Jesus teaches, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” Here Jesus is making a general point about the sinfulness of the human heart, but Mark adds an editorial comment on one way the earliest Christians understood his words: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Jesus’ implicit message turns explicit in the Book of Acts chapter 10, which depicts the Christian conversion of the Roman soldier Cornelius.

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Ah, the journalistic beauty — and boredom — of Mormon leadership succession

 Ah, the journalistic beauty — and boredom — of Mormon leadership succession

On the religion beat, it doesn’t get any better than a papal election. The international media go bonkers with speculation on who’s up or down in the cardinals’ secret maneuvering to select the next occupant of Peter’s throne, accompanied by sidebars on the arcane process, and culminating in those twice-daily gatherings in Peter’s square to watch for chemically-induced white smoke.

Analysis of the papabile (“pope-able”) personalities often turns out to be amusingly off-base. (You can forgive the Religion Guy for noting that Time magazine was the only major medium to name John Paul II as a prospect in 1978, because total credit goes not to yours truly as the New York religion writer but to crackerjack correspondents back when the weekly operated a Rome Bureau.)  

By contrast, contemplate the journalistic beauty –- and boredom –- in picking a new head of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon”).  If reporters have the time this week, they can already update their prepared  articles on the man who will take charge upon the death of President Thomas S. Monson, who turns 88 on August 21.

(At the church-owned daily Deseret News, Monson was an ad executive and later general manager of its parent publishing and printing firm. The church operates without professional clergy so that, remarkably, its doctrinal authorities have secular careers minus the academic training in theology expected of the average Protestant parson or Catholic parish priest.)  

 As Godbeat veterans will be well aware, the new president is automatically the man (yes, necessarily a male) with the earliest date of admission into the LDS church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. It’s as though the longest-serving cardinal would always become the next pope.

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What’s ahead for Americans who believe in traditional marriage?

What’s ahead for Americans who believe in traditional marriage?

THE RELIGION GUY ASKS:

With the U.S. Supreme Court’s mandate to legalize same-sex marriage nationwide, what’s ahead for religious believers in traditional man-and-woman marriage alone? (The Guy poses this timely topic now in place of the usual question posted by an online reader.)

THE ANSWER:

The historic June 26 legalization, by a one-vote majority of a deeply divided Supreme Court, demonstrates with stark clarity religion’s declining influence and stature in American culture.

The one aspect is obvious. Traditional marriage belief is firmly taught, with no immediate prospect of change, by the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, most other evangelical Protestants, many “historically black” Protestant churches, conservatives within “mainline” Protestant denominations, Eastern Orthodoxy, Latter-day Saints, Orthodox Judaism, Islam and others.

A massive 2014 Pew Research survey indicates those groups encompass the majority of Americans, something like 140 million adults.

Of course, not all parishioners agree with official doctrine or practice their faith. In a May poll by Pew, the 57 percent of all Americans supporting gay and lesbian marriages tracked closely with the 56 percent among those identifying as Catholic. That contrasted with only 41 percent of black Americans and 27 percent in the nation’s biggest religious bloc, white evangelicals.

The less-noticed aspect is the weakness of religions on the triumphant side, which generally followed the LGBT movement rather than exercising decisive leadership, unlike past church crusades that helped win independence from Britain, abolition of slavery, labor rights, child welfare, social safety nets, women’s vote, alcohol prohibition, civil rights laws, or withdrawal from Vietnam.

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Powers that be at NBC-TV placed a big bet on the Bible, and sorta lost

Powers that be at NBC-TV placed a big bet on the Bible, and sorta lost

What’s the future for quality, religiously themed dramas on U.S. broadcast television? That story theme, which reporters could develop with help from entertainment industry analysts, emerges from the track record  of “A.D.: The Bible Continues.” This NBC miniseries about the birth of Christianity, drawn from  the biblical Book of Acts,  wrapped on June 21.

Broadcasters often relegate religious fare to the Christmas and Easter seasons and the rest of the year may depict devout characters in bit parts that are not always flattering to faith.  However, NBC placed a big bet on a reverential series that was adjudged “handsomely mounted” but “thuddingly earnest” by Variety, the showbiz bible. The first episode ran on Easter Sunday and the programs were then granted another consecutive 11 Sundays in prime time including the May ratings “sweeps.” That’s coveted TV real estate.

NBC’s  innovation made commercial sense, you’d think, given past box-office results and hoped-for viewership among millions upon millions of U.S. churchgoers. Moreover, star producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey had scored an impressive surprise hit on cable TV with their similar 2013 miniseries “The Bible” on the History Channel (jointly owned by ABC-Disney and Hearst).  The first episode drew 13.1 million viewers, others consistently posted above 10 million, and the Easter Sunday conclusion had an audience of 11.7 million. It was the second most popular miniseries the channel has ever carried.

However, NBC’s 2015 outing was a different matter, which probably underscores the difference between cable and broadcast in this era of fragmentation and specialized niche audiences.

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Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

BRAD’S QUESTION:

Why don’t Catholics have a problem with the graven images that surround them in church?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Brad is obviously Protestant in his cultural outlook. That is, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches encourage religious art in church, seen as aids to devotion.

Protestants’ policies vary (as on most things!) but they broadly unite with Judaism in limiting visual images in worship settings to avoid any association with idolatry. Some Protestants prohibit all art in sanctuaries. Others allow abstractions and symbols but not human or animal forms. Some may depict Jesus Christ or saints, typically in stained glass, rarely in statues, and never as the objects of veneration. Further, some forbid flags in church to prevent idolatry toward the nation.

The discussion begins with this from the Bible’s venerable Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8 and summarized elsewhere, e.g. Leviticus 16:1). “Graven image” means a stature or carving, while “any likeness” covers any and all visual representations.

Jewish scholars say the ban applies to art only in worship contexts due to the “bow down” and “serve” phrasing along with the immediately preceding statement that “you shall have no other gods before me.”

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