Category Archives: religion

Public displays

Not of affection, but of religion. I stumbled on the recent hubbub over an American football player, Tim Tebow, who likes to pray a lot during a game. A fan decided his pose was one for the internet meme world, and started a hilarious website called “Tebowing” where people pose in the same style (like “The Thinker”). Now part of the joke is that you are doing this while everyone else around you is doing their normal thing… like playing a football game, or in the case of the internet meme people, a wide variety of things to various degrees of hilarity.

The problem is, at the moment there is a contingent of the American public and press who are pretty upset about the fact that two players in last week’s opposing side also struck the Tebowing pose when they had managed to get on the right side of defensive plays where Tebow was humiliated. See articles here and here. The quarterback himself seems to be generally in good spirits about the entire thing, and is not the one criticizing the opposing players.

Now I, as I said, find this amusing and was hoping to find a friend to join in the fun and do some photographs in front of major English landmarks to submit to the site. I have a few ideas as to which of my American-in-the-UK friends might be up for this sort of chicanery! But I also have really strong feelings about the entire phenomenon. Whenever religious expression supposedly involves very public actions, I cringe a bit. I consider religion or spirituality to be a very personal thing. I consider prayer, especially, to be a very personal thing. So this kneeling in the end zone thing is something that I would typically consider affectatious and for the benefit of the observers, not related to the spiritual interior of the person putting on the show. But interestingly enough, in America, and especially in American football, this is a widely accepted practice. This is one of those places where I’m more comfortable in my local environment than in my native one. Maybe I really am becoming European.

Britain and the Burqa

Two weeks ago, when travelling on the tube in London, I saw a girl wearing a niqab (face covering veil) in person for the first time. (For the pictorial explanation of face-covering veils, such as the niqab and burqa, and headscarves, such as the hijab, the BBC has a great slideshow, linked in this article.) The girl was travelling in a group of three, with two young gentlemen, and they had clearly all been out shopping. They got on the tube and the boys indicated for the girl to sit down while they remained standing close by even though there were free seats on either side of her plus others in the tube car. They rode the tube for only a few stops and all got off together, carrying their high street shopping bags.

The issue of facial veiling has been a hot topic across Europe of late. The grounds for a ban range all the way from public security to women’s rights. France recently passed the first stages of legislation to ban face-covering attire in public, and there has been a pretty serious debate raging in Britain on the same topic. Various voices have called face covering “against the British way of life” while others have said banning face-covering would be “un-British”. Not being British, I have a hard time reading into the nuances of what “British” means in these competing contexts–clearly everyone wants things not to be “un-British” but people are having a hard time defining what exactly that means since the argument is being used on both sides of the debate.

David Mitchell published a rather screechy commentary on the topic today in the Observer. (Seriously, Mr. Mitchell, do you not have an editor there at ye olde Guardian corp. to fix errors of grammar like saying “I should not of done this!” when you mean “I should not have done this!”) His view seems to be that of the “banning the veil would be un-British” sort and he has some pretty harsh commentary for the large (his number) 67% of Brits that support such a ban.

Before I go any farther, let me first comment on the repeated statements from the Tory MP trying to forward veil-banning legislation, that people just don’t cover their faces in public in Britain because it affects their ability to communicate. Without coming down on either side of this debate, I could not help but giggle at the fact that face covering only seems to be extreme in Britain because the climate is so darned mild. Back in Minnesota, come January or thereabouts, all people male and female tend to cover their faces in public due to necessity:

I don’t know why the young dear is not wearing MITTENS, however–normally that would be a requirement when a face-scarf was also required!

Of course, people in Minnesota also routinely wear balaclavas (a.k.a. ski masks) for the same warmth-inducing purposes. And I’m just using Minnesota as an example, there are many other places around the world where people are accustomed to extremely cold weather and where the only exposed skin on display is right around the eyes.

My point overall (and I do have one) is that covering one’s face is not universally considered to be a threatening thing; there are many of us quite accustomed to only being able to see someone’s eyes when they are out and about. And yes, I recognize that it’s different talking about frostbite avoidance and religious modesty. So does the facial veil on a muslim woman make me uncomfortable? Yes, but only in the context of the way it is associated with the separateness of women, such as the episode I described at the beginning of this post, in which the girl was set apart from her male companions and left to sit alone while they chatted to each other. And in this context, just as in many other difficult debates, I think a ban would be too inflammatory, and is the wrong way to bring about positive social change. But it’s going to be an interesting few months watching this one play out here in the UK.

Sights of Singapore

When I was in Singapore previously, I was far west of the main part of town. This trip I am in the centre, if centre-east, and exploring a completely new set of neighborhoods. I love the fact that signs in Singapore are written in 4 languages. I love the fact that the MRT makes getting around town so simple. And I love the fact that this is, aside from the heat and humidity, a really walkable town, with many sights to just stumble upon. This set of photos still mostly relates to things I saw on Sunday, when I had free time, as opposed to yesterday or today, when I had work time occupying most daylight hours.

I spent quite a bit of time Sunday wandering through Chinatown

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At this point I realized that, although only purchased for my last trip here two years ago, my guidebook is sorely out of date. Such is the speed of “progress” and construction in Singapore. I stumbled on a Buddhist temple that simply did not exist in my guidebook:

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The temple was devoted to a relic of Buddha’s tooth. I stayed long enough to find the zodiac statue for my birth year (for sale for S$88!)

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I then spent a happy couple of hours in the Asian Civilisations Museum (their spelling, not mine!) where it was (lucky for me!) the last day of a special exhibition on the Kangxi Emperor.

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We have a family friend who has written a book on Chinese rank badges, and it felt really funny to be looking at such things without his guidance. I’m pretty sure the specimens there in the museum were outstanding, but I really needed some expert commentary. And dang it, they did not have his book in the museum shop, even though they clearly should have. Oh well. Singapore is proving to be great fun, and now I can start to plan my next return trip (this time next year) with a lot more information and local knowledge than I had when I arrived here on Saturday. Two more full days here and then off to the airport for the next leg of my adventure. But hey, really, how can it compare to this: what beats the sight of a gigantic spitting Merlion?

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End of an era?

While most of the world worries about banking, headlines in these parts are about the proposed constitutional reform that will eliminate the requirements that the monarch be an Anglican. More specifically:

Downing Street has drawn up plans to end the 300-year-old exclusion of Catholics from the throne. The requirement that the succession automatically pass to a male would also be reformed, making it possible for a first born daughter of Prince William to become his heir.

Exciting stuff, right? It’s so hard for an American to understand the whole state-mandated religion in the first place. And don’t even get my republican self started on the monarchy. Or the awkwardness that occurs when I’m at a dinner event and people start toasting the queen… Well, at least photos of Prince Wills are more attractive than those of Hank Paulson…


This is for the people back in the American midwest. For those all a-flutter with “Expelled” (regardless of the factual inaccuracies portrayed in the context of tenure) let’s review the methods of science and hypotheses. The origin of life on this planet is not a falsifiable hypothesis. You cannot prove God created life. Nor can you prove it wasn’t created. You cannot prove life formed spontaneously from a primordial soup. Nor can you prove it didn’t. You can, however, “create” (ha ha) life from a primordial soup by trying to reproduce the conditions under which life was formed. You then produce evidence–not proof–that life could have begun that way.  We deal a lot in likelihood in science, it’s easy to disprove, hard if not impossible to prove.  Unless you witness a supreme being starting a new Universe, you do not have the same option to try and reproduce conditions for creation or ID. Intelligent design and other similar thoughts are assertions, not hypotheses, because they cannot be disproven. However, most scientists (yours truly included) believe that if (and that’s a big IF) life can be made from non-life in the lab, that lends strong support to the idea that life could have begun that way. Not DID begin that way, but could. It’s not proof and it does not fall within a strict definition of a scientific hypothesis, but it’s actually as good as it gets for much of the fields like paleontology where also you have to surmise based on evidence. (And this is where the Physicists tend to take a dim view of biological sciences, unwarranted in my opinion but it’s out there.  It’s the level of uncertainty in the likelihood of the remaining circumstance that causes trouble.)

There is a difference here. This is not belief vs belief. This does carry a distinction, although subtle, and not quite the religion vs science absolutes that liberal people like to portray (nor the religion vs religion-like science that the happy-clappies like to claim). Therefore the people asserting ID are philosophers (note you cannot prove something is too complicated to have been made by natural processes) and there are some other people using scientific techniques in a “what if” exploratory sort of manner to see if they can shed some light on the problem. I’m guessing that in this and many lifetimes, it will be as elusive as the Higgs boson and for good reasons. Hmmm maybe the biologists and physicists aren’t that different after all…


I was going to title this post “Potpourri” since the second definition as “a miscellaneous collection” was appropriate.   However, I then realized that my midwestern sensibilities would be more appropriately represented by the term hotdish, which is also a pretty miscellaneous collection of ingredients thrown together and stirred.  That’s about all I’m capable of right now, no gourmet cooking.  I’ve been so busy that I’ve run out of clean silverware for the second time in the last few months.  I’m right now drinking coffee in which the milk was stirred in with a fork.  Fortunately, today is Saturday and my catch-up day.  This will be a hotdish of work, laundry, dishes, errands, and yes, a few happy minutes blogging.  It’s always clear I’m busy when nothing gets written for a while.

Big news this week was that Heathrow Terminal 4 messed up its baggage handling system and caused chaos.  Or really, that should have been big news but it somehow didn’t seem to rate in the British media.  The story was buried on the “UK” page of the BBC.   I have to guess that that’s because the problem was just a computer glitch, not terrorist activity.  But the way that BA and the BAA chose to handle it was nothing short of bizarre.  I know because I got a first hand account from a friend who got caught in the chaos.  He arrived at Heathrow after having checked in online only to be told he could not check his bag and his options were to re-book for another day or ship the bag.  He chose the latter, but stood in line for more than 90 minutes to get it sorted out and was a very unhappy traveler.  I was aghast for several reasons:

  1. there was no notification in advance.  I’m sorry, when you do online check-in and the baggage system is down, it should tell you this when it asks you how many bags you have to check!
  2. BA/BAA didn’t help with the alternative arrangements.  The 90 minute line was for the excess baggage company kiosk, who did not have enough staff on to handle the problem.
  3. The thing was completely classist.  If you were travelling first or business class, they would still take your checked bags.  The restriction was only for the cheaper tickets.
  4. How is there no back-up system in place?  If a computer goes down, the entire system just stops?  There’s no mechanism for bringing in extra staff and doing a manual, Ryan-air style system?

It makes me scared for the upcoming T5 opening.  One can imagine that this is even more reliant on computer systems, and that in the switchover there is an even greater likelihood of bugs in the system.  Thus perhaps I’m no longer so glad that Northwest has switched the direct Minneapolis flights to Heathrow from Gatwick!

I recently had the opportunity to see the Archbishop of Canterbury speak in person, which was very interesting.  I was very impressed with his speaking style although I certainly did not agree with everything he said.  At least the calls for his head seem to have died down after the recent furor, and he can go back to the business of leading the Anglican church.  He used one of my favorite words that I don’t remember hearing in the states, “natter“.

An interesting article here suggests that Britain is in a loop of despair from which it will be hard to recover.   The fact that the manufacturing infrastructure has more-or-less completely disappeared is a real problem for small businesses trying to make their mark.

The fake British citizenship quiz here (date of 21 Feb.) is priceless.

That’s it, time to get back to the coal face.  Happy Saturday, can you believe Feb. 2008 is almost over?

The Archbishop’s storm in a teacup

The Archbishop of Canterbury has caused a lot of trouble by saying something sensible.  Meanwhile, the British press (even the BBC) is acting like its normal hysterical tabloid self and turning it into an even bigger storm in a teacup.  Let’s recap.  Rowan Williams commented,

Dr Williams told BBC Radio 4 on Thursday that he believed the adoption of some Sharia law in the UK seemed “unavoidable”.’

And the crazy people started yelling.  Oh yes, and don’t forget that Sharia law is ALREADY allowed as a dispute resolution mechanism outside the normal courts here in the UK:

Under English law, people may devise their own way to settle a dispute in front of an agreed third party as long as both sides agree to the process.

Muslim Sharia courts and Orthodox Jewish courts which already exist in the UK come into this category.’

So why is everyone up in arms?  Why?  Hello???  A few sensible comments have been uttered:

‘Catholic leader Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said he was “saddened” by the way the archbishop had been misunderstood.

“I think he did raise a point of considerable interest and concern at the moment, namely, the rights of a religious groups within secular state.

“Everyone in Britain must obey the law and therefore the question of how one can be a loyal British citizen and a faithful member of a religious group is a very pertinent question,”‘

But for the most part, most of what is going on here is absolute nonsense.  There are calls for him to resign, statement that he has lost the world’s faith in the Anglican church, etc.  Of course, there was this gem of a quote in the BBC article, from a Lord Carey:

“There can be no exceptions to the laws of our land which have been so painfully honed by the struggle for democracy and human rights.’

That I loved.  Living in the UK as an expat, you are a second class citizen in many ways.  The government is adding to the burden, with things like required registration/ID cards for foreigners, and there’s always my favorite “must ask the home office for permission to marry” bit.  So I’m not sure I’d go with the “finely honed democracy and civil rights” part of that, I think this is where xenophobic Britain has a lot of work to do.  And of course I’m white and American, with a good job and so my experiences here are only the tip of the iceburg compared with what many other immigrants and visitors must face.

Regardless, I urge the British press to stop the fear-mongering, I urge “respected church leaders” to stop yammering about this one.  Sharia law is already here, it is finding a niche within British civil law, and Dr Williams was being quite sensible in noting this and wondering whether it would someday have an expanded role.

The I-35 Connection

I stumbled onto the most amazing video this weekend while mindlessly surfing to try and unwind from waaaay too many hours working. The Minneapolis connection was irresistible even though the story is nothing but bizarre. Here we have the theory, by a group of fundamentalist Christians in Texas, suggesting that the I-35(W) bridge collapse last summer in Minneapolis is actually related to a prophesy in the bible, book of Isaiah, chapter 35. The text of the verse is here (verse 8):

A highway will be there, a roadway, And it will be called the Highway of Holiness. The unclean will not travel on it, But it will be for him who walks that way, And fools will not wander on it.

They claim that since it’s Isaiah 35 this “highway of holiness” is interstate 35 (I-35). Ummm. Okay, I’m not sure I see it. But let’s see what they’re talking about. They say since I-35 is the “highway of holiness,” they want to purify the length of it, including things like shutting down strip clubs. They have a whole website here. called “Light the Highway” and apparently from the video this means standing on the side of the freeway in small groups and doing some old fashioned “yes Jesus” wild prayerful yelling and screaming. I particularly liked the section on the website consisting of “prophecies for I-35” along with the cobbled together, more or less random listing of reasons why this particular interstate requires “intercession”–including the Minneapolis bridge collapse. The scientist in me reads their story (here, related to the video above) and wonders whether their list of tragedies along I-35 really is a statistical aberration–I’m guessing not. I’m guessing, just a gut instinct here, that along the full length of any 1000+ mile stretch of interstate in the US, passing through a number of large cities and towns, you could find a comparable list of bad things that have happened over the years. What can I say, this is the sort of ‘logic’ that earns American Christian fundamentalists well-deserved ridicule. Of course, they’re in Texas, a well-known breeding ground for illogical thought.

Comments on American Christianity

I stumbled on this in the blogosphere today: 

and found it terribly interesting… apparently I am not the only person around who wonders if the Christian church in the US is somehow going in a different direction from (a) the rest of the west, (b) the rest of the world and (c) the rest of recorded history.

Politics and the church

An AP article yesterday, “Religion looms large over 2008 race,” reminds us that in the US, where there is supposed to be separation of church and state, the line of this separation is getting blurred. The issue of religion is increasingly important in the presidential race, and things have changed fast since the 1960s when last the issue was substantially discussed in the Kennedy context, although interestingly and in stark contrast, apparently not much discussion occurred when Mitt Romney’s father ran for office.

Living in the UK, I find that people are really surprised and unaware of the possibility of religious “one issue voters”. I will not comment further than to say that choosing a candidate for any office solely on the basis of a pro-life/pro-choice stance seems extremely short-sighted and makes a mockery of the democratic process. Then again, a good friend of mine confessed once that she votes for any female candidate above any other candidate. Another one issue voting strategy… perhaps one that I support a bit myself, but regardless, perhaps not embracing the true spirit of the democratic process.

I have commented previously that I find there exists a sort of peer pressure when it comes to the expression of religious feeling in the US. I suspect this same sort of peer pressure is influencing the words of the presidential candidates:

All the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls have been grilled on their religious beliefs. Most seem eager to talk publicly about their faith as they actively court religious voters.

Democratic Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton emphasizes her Methodist upbringing and says her faith helped her repair her marriage.

Chief rival Sen. Barack Obama frequently uses the language of religion and proclaims a “personal relationship” with Jesus Christ. The Illinois Democrat – whose middle name is “Hussein” – scoffs at suggestions of Muslim leanings because he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia. He is a member of the United Church of Christ.

In the most recent Democratic debate, a pastor in a YouTube video asked Democrat John Edwards to defend his use of religion to deny gay marriage. The former North Carolina senator – a Methodist – talked about his faith and his “enormous conflict” over the issue

Republican Sen. John McCain, an Episcopalian, says, “I do believe that we are unique and that God loves us.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, an ordained Baptist minister, emphasizes his belief that “God created the heavens and the earth. To me, it’s pretty simple.”

The interesting exception to this rule of religious blather is Giuliani, but look at the revealing way in which the AP writer explores this:

Unlike the others, former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a divorced Roman Catholic who favors abortion rights, sidesteps such questions, claiming one’s relationship with God is a private matter. But he attended Catholic schools and at one point considered being a priest.

The AP writer actually appears to be trying to infuse religion where Giuliani has tried to keep it out. This is part of what’s wrong with America! As for me, I’m with Giuliani. All of this showboating and showcasing ones supposedly personal faith makes me queasy. If faith is an important part of your life, you won’t feel the need to go around telling that to any reporter who is within hearing distance. Clearly the candidates are doing so because they feel that this is turning into another single issue on which voters will turn, and that is really a damning verdict on the greater American populace.