Hinduism

What do Tulsi Gabbard, Stehekin and the Science of Identity Foundation have in common?

What do Tulsi Gabbard, Stehekin and the Science of Identity Foundation have in common?

Stehekin is a unique and lovely spot in central Washington state that’s very hard to get to, as it can only be reached by foot, boat or plane. It’s at the end of the lovely 55-mile-long Lake Chelan and about 95 people live there year-round.

So how does this isolated spot become a religion story involving Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu to be elected to Congress and one in a crowded field of Democrats vying for president?

I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Civil Beat, a website in Honolulu, but they came up with a pretty interesting story on this lady and went so far as to send a reporter to Washington state to try to track the story down. It begins:

STEHEKIN, Wash. — Deep in the Washington state wilderness, a highly paid political consultant is raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars from U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign.

It’s the kind of money usually spent on national name-brand political operatives with bustling offices and large staffs based in Washington, D.C., or New York.

But few people in the business have ever heard of Kris Robinson, the owner of Northwest Digital, a web design and internet marketing firm working for Gabbard’s campaign. His company address is a P.O. box here in Stehekin, a remote village in the Northern Cascades mountains that’s famous for its isolation.

After explaining how truly out-of-the-way this place is,

Yet in the first six months of 2019, federal campaign finance records show Gabbard paid Robinson and his company more than $259,000…Robinson is one of her top vendors.

Then the religion angle pops up.

Like her, he has ties to an obscure religious sect called the Science of Identity Foundation that’s based in Kailua and run by a reclusive guru whose devotees have displayed political ambitions. …

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Two female Indian journalists were sacked after trashing Hinduism on Twitter

Two female Indian journalists were sacked after trashing Hinduism on Twitter

What is the one religious group that has it out for Netflix and National Public Radio, is trashing the “liberal media” and does battle on Twitter?

All your guesses are probably wrong.

This is a complex story, so let’s take this one step at a time.

NPR’s New Delhi-based producer was recently forced out after making bizarre remarks on Twitter about Hindus. The IBTimes tells what happened next.

National Public Radio (NPR) producer Furkan Khan came under a lot of criticism on Twitter after she made a remark saying that giving up Hinduism could solve all the problems of Hindus.

"If Indians give up Hinduism, they will also be solving most of their problems what with all the piss drinking and dung worshipping," she tweeted.

Khan was called out on Twitter and criticized for her "bigotry" and "Hinduphobia". NPR too distanced itself from the controversy as they termed her statement as "unacceptable" and said it did not reflect their views.

“[NPR] regrets the unacceptable tweet by New Delhi producer Furkan Khan. This comment does not reflect the views of NPR journalists and is a violation of our ethical standards. She has publicly apologized for her tweet and has resigned from NPR,” a statement released by the radio said. …

Let’s look at this as journalism, for a moment. The tweets are what they are. But something is missing here.

What frustrating episode caused this woman to lash out? And what is Khan’s religious point of view? The article doesn’t say.

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Praying to plants: Twitter explodes when Union Seminary holds one of its interfaith rites

Praying to plants: Twitter explodes when Union Seminary holds one of its interfaith rites

Yes, this was click-bait heaven.

Yes, this was an oh-so-typical Twitter storm.

Yes, this was a perfect example of a “conservative story,” in a niche-news era in which social-media choirs — conservative in this case — send up clouds of laughs, jeers and gasps of alleged shock in response to some online signal.

I am referring, of course, to that climate-change confession service that happened at Union Theological Seminary, which has long been a Manhattan Maypole for the doctrinal dances that incarnate liberal Protestant trends in America.

It’s important to note that the spark for this theological fire was an official tweet from seminary leaders. Here is the top of a Washington Examiner story about the result:

Students at Union Theological Seminary prayed to a display of plants set up in the chapel of the school, prompting the institution to issue a statement explaining the practice as many on social media mocked them.

"Today in chapel, we confessed to plants," the nation's oldest independent seminary declared Tuesday on Twitter. "Together, we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor. What do you confess to the plants in your life?"

The ceremony, which is part of professor Claudio Carvalhaes’ class “Extractivism: A Ritual/Liturgical Response,” drew ridicule from many on Twitter, some of whom accused the seminary and students of having lost their minds.

OK, let’s pause for a moment to ask a journalism question: Would there have been a different response if this event have inspired a front page, or Sunday magazine, feature at The New York Times?

What kind of story? A serious news piece could have focused on (a) worship trends on the revived religious left, (b) this seminary’s attempt to find financial stability through interfaith theological education, (c) the history of Neo-pantheistic Gaia liturgies in New York (personal 1993 flashback here) linked to environmental theology and/or (d) all of the above.

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Kosher sort-of shrimp and cheeseburgers: Do plant-based foods violate spirit of biblical law?

Kosher sort-of shrimp and cheeseburgers: Do plant-based foods violate spirit of biblical law?

Back in my Rocky Mountain days, in the 1980s, I heard an Orthodox rabbi give a fascinating talk with a title that went something like this: “The quest for the kosher cheeseburger.”

His thesis: If the result of this quest is a cheeseburger — mixing meat with a milk product — then it’s not kosher. If you end up with something that is kosher, then it isn’t a real cheeseburger. So what’s the point?

The Orthodox rabbi was using the “kosher cheeseburger” as a symbol of the efforts that many Jews make to blur the line between assimilating into what can, at times, be a hostile culture and following the traditions of their ancient faith. Can modern Jewish believers create a golden cheeseburger and eat it, too?

This is an essentially spiritual question, but it’s a question that takes on a whole new meaning with the explosion of attention now being given to plant-based meat substitutes (note the blitz of ads for Burger King’s new Impossible Whooper).

The Washington Post business team recently covered this trend and did a fine job of digging into these religious questions, starting with the headline: “Shalt thou eat an Impossible Burger? Religious doctrine scrambles to catch up to new food technology.” It’s rare to see scripture in a business lede, but this one was right on point — focusing on on a symbolic food that is totally out of bounds in Jewish tradition.

You think a kosher cheeseburger is a wild idea? How about kosher shrimp?

Leviticus 11 contains a zoo’s worth of animals. The hyrax and the monitor lizard. The katydid is there, as is the gecko. And it ends: “You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.”

Dietary restrictions are woven into religious texts, the Old Testament and the New, the Koran, the Vedas and the Upanishads. Some are mercifully practical, as in the law of necessity in Islamic jurisprudence: “That which is necessary makes the forbidden permissible.”

Now, Tyson executives are seeking certification from various agencies declaring their plant-based shrimp both kosher and halal. The team at the Post business desk identified the religion ghost in that equation and produced this solid thesis statement:

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Covering Rep. Gabbard’s American path to Hinduism, including some complex, tricky details

Covering Rep. Gabbard’s American path to Hinduism, including some complex, tricky details

Most clickbait is so flatly manipulative that I find it easy to resist, but there is the occasional instance when a headline like “Tulsi Gabbard Had a Very Strange Childhood” when I think, “OK, convince me.” 

Kerry Howley does a lot of convincing in her nearly 7,000-word essay, published in the recent edition of The American Prospect. My impressions of Rep. Gabbard, who represents the Second Congressional District of Hawaii, are from the headlines: She’s of Samoan heritage, she’s a Hindu and she stood against Sen. Kamala Harris’ efforts to depict a nominee’s involvement in the Knights of Columbus as a theocratic threat to the American judicial system. 

As Howley shows in her reporting, Gabbard self-identifies as Hindu although the group in which she grew up — the Science of Identity — does not claim a Hindu identity. Like many other movements that repackage Hinduism for Americans, Science of Identity offers Eastern theology (teachings from the Bhagavad Gita), a passionate leader with an exotic adopted name (Chris Butler becomes Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa) and homemade variations on the life of faith (Howley quotes an aunt of Gabbard’s who calls Butler’s group the ‘alt-right of the Hare Krishna movement’ ”).

In this respect, Gabbard is Hindu in the same way that Arlo Guthrie was Hindu when he became a disciple of Guru Ma (Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati).

Gabbard’s father led his family into the movement before she was born, and she has stayed in relationship with it throughout her life.

Gabbard moved leftward in her perspectives on abortion and same-sex couples after she volunteered for military service and worked with a medical unit north of Baghdad. As Howley describes it:

When she returned, her positions on social issues eventually fell a bit more in line with the party; she said that living in a theocracy had changed her, and she no longer believed the state should dictate the romantic or reproductive lives of its citizens.

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Seattle Times story on 'Undoing Whiteness' yoga class is tone deaf on what yoga is all about

Seattle Times story on 'Undoing Whiteness' yoga class is tone deaf on what yoga is all about

Just when you think it can’t get any more ‘woke’ here in the great Pacific Northwest, a Seattle Times piece created lots of outrage last week by profiling a yoga teacher offering a class on “undoing whiteness.”

What was problematic wasn’t just the topic of the class, but also the reporter’s brazen use of his platform to lecture white readers on their racist backgrounds.

Naturally this got some online reaction. You know things are heating up when the Times cuts off comments at 89, saying it was due to the “sensitive nature of this topic.”

Is there a religion angle here? That’s a controversial topic, as well. Tmatt reminded us here that while yoga is rooted in a spiritual practice based on Hindu tenets, the media keeps on stripping it of religious content.

That definitely happened here.

Laura Humpf braced herself for fresh salvos of death threats, rage-soaked slurs and indictments of “reverse racism” from media provocateurs.

The Seattle yoga instructor had endured it before, four years ago, after putting out word about a class for people of color only, at her studio.

She was slammed by critics for being exclusionary and promoting likely illegal segregation, but was doing neither, says Humpf. This is racial caucusing, and she sees the time-honored technique of voluntarily congregating by race to oppose racism as a way to dismantle a white-supremacist pathology found in everyday society.

This spring, Humpf publicized an “Undoing Whiteness” yoga class at Rainier Beach Yoga, geared toward white people wishing to “unpack the harmful ways white supremacy is embedded” in their “body, mind and heart.” Along with providing a contemplative space, the class would dissect the “pathology of whiteness” — an obliviousness to the batch of privileges society grants white skin — and how it operates in daily life.

Were there any editors looking over this story before it went to print? The reporter spouts off about “a white-supremacist pathology found in everyday society” as though it’s fact. Why not throw an “alleged” in there?

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Los Angeles Times only cites one side when reporting on the mayor's Jerusalem stance

Los Angeles Times only cites one side when reporting on the mayor's Jerusalem stance

As some of us know, the editors of The Los Angeles Times lack a religion reporter, although it seems like they have other beats covered pretty well.

So when I see a piece on religion, I’m often curious to know what inexperienced staff writer they’ve assigned to the job this time.

This piece — “Garcetti said he backs U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. Now religious groups want an apology” — focuses on the mayor’s visit to Jerusalem, along with his support of President Donald Trump’s move of the U.S. embassy to the Israeli capital. The emphasis, obviously, is on all the flak he got.

Oddly, only Jews who disagreed with him where interviewed for this news story. That’s a journalism problem, right there.

A year after the Trump administration moved the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti waded into the still simmering political controversy, drawing criticism from L.A. religious groups.

“I support the embassy being here,” Garcetti told The Times during his trip to Israel last week with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. “Israel shouldn’t be the only country in the world that can’t determine where its capital will be, but there is usually a process to these things rather than what seems like an overnight, one-sided, partisan move.”

The “one-sided partisan move” was a referral to Trump’s June 1, 2017, embassy decision.

In response, local offices of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Jewish Voice for Peace and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network, among others on the political left on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called on Garcetti to retract his statement of support. The groups also sent the mayor a letter on Sunday.

Political left is correct. The reporter couldn’t have picked a more predictable and partisan crowd. And how much of their respective faith communities do they represent?

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NPR offers a series on what a radically Hindu-ized India will look and feel like

NPR offers a series on what a radically Hindu-ized India will look and feel like

Imagine if the state of Texas decided it didn’t like any reminder of its once proud independent past (it was its own nation from 1836-1845) and decided to rename Houston. Henceforth, the title, which had reflected General Sam Houston, president of the short-lived Texas republic, would become known as Bushville, after the last names of the 41st and 43rd American presidents.

The scenario may sound ridiculous, but this is close to what happened in India recently. Residents of Allahabad, a city in the northeastern part of the country that has roughly the same population as Houston, woke up one day to find out they were living in a place with another name.

NPR, which is running a series this week on how India is redefining itself through the Hindu faith, told how this happened.

Tens of millions of Hindus took a ritual dip in the Ganges River this winter as part of the largest religious festival in the world — the Kumbh Mela. For centuries, the festival has been held in various cities in northern India, including Allahabad.

But when pilgrims arrived this year for the Kumbh Mela, Allahabad had a different name.

Last year, officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party changed the name of Allahabad to Prayagraj — a word that references the Hindu pilgrimage site there. The name Allahabad dated to the 16th century, a legacy of a Muslim ruler, the Mughal Emperor Akbar. "Today, the BJP government has rectified the mistake made by Akbar," a BJP official was quoted as saying when the name was altered.

Name changes for cities aren’t entirely unknown. After all, in 2016, Barrow, Alaska, residents voted to change the name of their municipality back to Utqiagvik, its original Inupiaq name.

But the folks in India are onto something much deeper. This isn’t simply the renaming of Indian cities to reflect pre-British colonial heritage. This is erasing the region’s Islamic history.

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The Easter Sunday massacre: Sri Lanka's complex religious landscape is a challenge

The Easter Sunday massacre: Sri Lanka's complex religious landscape is a challenge

When I first heard news of the bombings of churches and hotels in Sri Lanka, I wondered which group was to blame this time. At first, the government was calling it a terrorist attack by “religious extremists.”

That’s it? Think of it: 290 people dead. That’s five times the amount of Muslims shot by in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, on March 15. And everyone tried to sidestep the identity of the perpetrators?

Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country and hardline Buddhist groups have consistently harassed the minority Christians there. This is a complex situation, as former GetReligionista Ira Rifkin noted in this post last year.

Writing in the Guardian, a Muslim writer points out here that religious Muslim and Christian minorities in Sri Lanka have been sitting ducks for militant Buddhists for a long time. Even after a Methodist church was attacked by Buddhists on Palm Sunday in the northern part of the country, no precautions were taken for Easter celebrations.

But when I heard the attacks were set off by suicide bombers, that brought to mind radicalized Muslims, not Buddhists. The former is known worldwide for its use of suicide bombers. (However, Sri Lanka is the birthplace of the mainly Hindu Tamil Tigers, who pioneered suicide bombings in the 1980s. More on that in a moment.)

As I wrote this Sunday night, no one was saying a word as to which religious group did this. Now, government officials say they believe an “Islamist militant group” is to blame. No group has taken credit for the attacks.

So far, the U.K. press has been more on top of this story than was American media, with the exception of the New York Times, which has turned out some very good pieces in the past 24 hours. First, so I turned to the Guardian:

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