The Modern City: Where Religions and Secularism Live Side by Side

Dissenting both from those who see secularization as an inexorable march in one direction and from those who see a resurgence of religion moving in the opposite direction, Peter Berger argues that one of the defining features of modernity is the ability of religion—in fact, many religions—to exist side by side with various forms of secularism. Take, for instance, a hospital:

Except for a small portion of the world’s population (especially in Western Europe and in the international intelligentsia), the relation between religion and modernity is not a matter of either/or but rather of both/and. . . .

Every hospital is a temple to the spirit of modernity: the therapy dispensed there is to be based exclusively on scientific knowledge, and the most advanced technology is applied in its service. However, the organization of a hospital resembles that of a religious hierarchy. All doctors wear long white robes, and the top doctors, surrounded by acolytes, occasionally descend from the heights and pronounce judgments. Lesser medical personnel, nurses, and technicians wear less sacred uniforms. The patients, upon whom this entire hierarchy is imposed, go around in demeaning clothing. . . . They must wait until sentence is pronounced from on high, they hope a merciful one. . . .

But . . . the hospital, flying the banners of modernity, is also ongoingly invaded by religion. Some of it is on the formal level. Large hospitals in Boston employ a multi-religious group of chaplains. Some are sent in by outside religious bodies, some are actually on the hospital’s own payroll. Both groups very commonly go through a program that began many years ago under the heading “clinical training,” intended to teach aspiring chaplains basic techniques of “counseling” (a kind of psychotherapy 101). . . . [And] chaplains prefer to describe their message as “spirituality,” rather than “religion.”

This allows them to fit more easily into the discourse of the medical hierarchy, including doing entries into patients’ charts—a “spirituality” index being potentially added to all the other data: blood pressure, sugar levels, X-ray pictures, and so on.

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More about: American Religion, Pluralism, Religion, Religion & Holidays, Secularism, Secularization

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times