TIME Religion

After Hobby Lobby: A Single-Payer Health Care Solution?

Perhaps both sides could agree it may be a way forward

Now that the initial shouting and—at times—vitriol from both sides has subsided after Monday’s Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case, it’s time to take a sober look at what the ruling says about the future of health care reform in the United States. The majority’s ruling was an imperfect solution to a complicated case involving the reach of religious liberty to exempt organizations from providing certain medical benefits that they find morally objectionable to their employees. The fact that these medical benefits were almost exclusively offered to women makes this decision all the more difficult to accept for some.

But at its core, the case reveals something else as well. It brings to the forefront something we’ve all known for sometime: that Obamacare—for all the good it’s done in increasing access to quality and affordable healthcare—is a messy law. It asks employees to be at the whim of its employers’ objectives and mission for what health care benefits they receive. It also asks employers to at times reject its deepest convictions in order to provide certain benefits to its employees.

This isn’t sustainable. A person’s access to quality healthcare shouldn’t depend on who their boss is. And an employer shouldn’t be heavily fined if they don’t compromise their religious convictions in providing healthcare for their staff.

President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a monumental first step in achieving a just and equitable American health care system that seeks first to serve those on the margins of society. But as we look towards the future, it’s necessary to consider major alterations or even alternatives to Obamacare to continue to advance healthcare reform.

For those of us who value both universal access to quality healthcare and the strong American tradition of protecting religious liberty, there might be a solution in a single-payer system.

A single-payer system overturns an unsound principle of Obamacare: relying too heavily on private organizations to deliver the public good of healthcare. When you require private organizations to enforce what the government believes ought to be public policy, you open yourself to a myriad of legal and ethical qualms. How can you expect organizations as diverse as Hobby Lobby, the Little Sisters of the Poor and the American Atheists to agree on what health care benefits are appropriate for their employees?

Amidst all the fuss this week over the Supreme Court ruling, both sides actually agreed on one thing: they disliked the accommodation provided by the Obama Administration for religious organizations. Religious groups argue the exemption is too narrow and doesn’t protect the autonomy of some organizations to practice their convictions. Women’s groups argue that the current accommodation unfairly denies women working for religious groups access to birth control, which is a basic benefit in any healthcare plan.

A single-payer public health care option eliminates such complications. No matter who your boss is or what business you work for, you get access to the healthcare you need. And employers will not be forced to compromise their religious beliefs while providing the public good of healthcare.

And let’s be clear, if you have something that is both supported by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Planned Parenthood, you might be onto a plan that proves the angel Gabriel right: nothing is impossible with God.

Fred Rotondaro is the chair of Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good. He helped lead national Catholic outreach for President Obama’s re-election campaign.
TIME Religion

Immigration Reform Has Some Dry Bones

A message for immigration reform is found in a Biblical prophecy

Immigration reform appears to be dead in this Congress. According to recent reports, Speaker Boehner told President Obama that the House would not take action on immigration legislation this year. This is a moral failure of leadership.

The resounding message from the Republican House leadership is that politics is more important than the suffering of families. In the end, the thousands of stories that evangelical Christians have brought to Republicans don’t matter to them. There is no other conclusion to be drawn.

President Obama responded with an announcement that his Administration will take executive action to attempt to fix some of the inhumane consequences of this horrible system and “try to help relieve the suffering” as faith leaders asked him to do in a meeting at the White House this week. Republicans will likely decry his efforts as “overreach” and claim he is failing to enforce the existing law. But obstructionism on the part of the Republican-controlled House, instead of addressing the moral failures of a broken system, is shameful. The fact that this President has deported a record number of people renders these protests both cynical and dishonest. If those who refused the moral opportunity to fix this broken system now oppose the President’s efforts to protect suffering families and people, many of us in the faith community will say back to them, “How dare you, and shame on you.” And many of us will be at the President’s side and have his back.

This development is deeply discouraging for the vast majority of Americans who support common sense immigration and for the leaders within the evangelical community, like myself, who have invested years urging Washington to act. While there are lessons we should learn and new strategies to formulate, it is important to recognize that we have not been defeated.

In a well-known passage in the Old Testament, the prophet Ezekiel describes a valley of dry bones. The imagery is clear: death and destruction have won. Then Ezekiel, following God’s commands, begins to prophesy. The bones start connecting, tendons forms, and skin begins to cover them again. Life is breathed back into them. Resurrection has occurred. Hope has triumphed over despair.

This is the reality for immigration reform. Reform will happen. Too many Americans support it, in all our political parties, for politicians to ignore them for much longer. There is enough agreement on the necessary changes—including reforming the visa process, addressing questions about the future flow of immigrant labor, and providing a legal way to become members of our society for the millions of hard working and law-abiding people who have made the U.S. their home—that the policy debate is largely over. It would provide a desperately needed boost to our economy and help secure our borders, goals both parties claim to share.

The question is not whether immigration reform will pass but how many more people will suffer before it does. The answer from John Boehner and the House – at least for now – seems to be that many millions will continue to suffer. That means countless more families will be broken up, parents and children will be living in the shadows of society, and the lives of so many will continue to be jeopardized every day. The thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America highlight the humanitarian crisis being perpetuated by the status quo. An orderly, smart, and humane immigration system could have helped here.

That the outcome of this legislative irresponsibility will be a set of limited actions taken by a constitutionally constrained President, and a continuation of failed policies is worthy of our deepest lament.

Some of the most powerful people in the country will spend the next days, weeks, and months laying blame in order to avoid the public holding them responsible. I hope and believe we are smart enough to see through this ridiculous veneer. The bottom line is that immigration reform failed because an extreme wing of the Republican Party held their leadership hostage out of political and racial fear—and their party leader didn’t have the moral courage to stand up to them. Few others will say that so frankly and succinctly. As a Christian I believe that truth has a liberating power. Those who have blocked immigration reform should be held accountable—and many Hispanic and Christian voters are vowing to do that.

We see the human costs of this moral failure on a daily basis. This is why the faith community will be working tirelessly to breathe life into the dry bones of immigration reform. We are not going away, and we will surround the politicians with our prayerful presence until this destructive immigration system is fixed and healed.

Jim Wallis is president of Sojourners. His book, The UnCommon Good is available in stores.

TIME health

How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD Is Saving My Life

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IUD Jonathan Kantor—Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I had no intentions of writing about the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case. I tweeted my friend Laura Ortberg Turner’s short post on it, because I share her opinions and she wrote with good humor and admirable economy. I expected to leave it at that.

But while reading friends’ Facebook conversations, I noticed two troubling trends in some Christian responses to the Supreme Court ruling. The first trend was simple inaccuracy, as people argued that the case was primarily about Hobby Lobby not wanting to fund contraceptives that cause abortions. First, many would argue that this is not actually what the case was primarily about (for one take on what it was about, read Paul Horwitz’s New York Times op ed). Second, that contraceptives such as “morning after” pills and IUDs prevent implantation of fertilized embryos and thus cause abortion is simply not true. I’m not even going to link to evidence that these and other contraceptives interfere with ovulation or fertilization, not implantation, because it’s so easy to find that it would take me longer to copy and paste links than it would take you to find and read them on your own. (If you want something more fun to read than dry data, check out this post from my colleague the Slacktivist, who points out that fertilization doesn’t occur during or immediately after intercourse. Taking a pill such as Plan B in the day or two after having unprotected intercourse doesn’t abort an implanted fertilized egg; at that point, a fertilized egg most likely doesn’t exist, as sperm are still swimming around refusing to ask for directions. Rather, such medications prevent or delay ovulation or inhibit fertilization.)

The second, and to me more viscerally troubling, trend among some Christians rejoicing in Hobby Lobby’s victory was the characterization of the court’s decision as a dismissal of whiny women who want someone else to pay so they can have lots and lots of sex without worry, because they can have as many abortions-via-contraception as they need.

I can’t believe this point needs to be made, but contraceptives are actually not used solely, or even primarily, by women who want to have lots and lots of sex without getting pregnant. Contraception isn’t a mere “Get Out of Jail Free” card for the promiscuous. It’s a tool that can promote health—physical, psychological, individual, communal, and global. Propagating the idea that medications to halt infections, ameliorate mental illness, and prolong men’s erections are reasonable tools to promote health (and therefore covered by insurance, regardless of your employer’s opinions about the germ theory, the causes of depression, or erections), but contraceptives are a personal choice so that women can give their out-of-control libidos a regular workout without worry is, indeed, an act of aggression toward and dismissal of women.

Contraceptives don’t merely prevent pregnancy for women having lots, or even a little, sex. They support women’s physical, psychological, and emotional health. I’m not just talking about women taking birth control pills for conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome or painful periods, or women whose circumstances dictate that a pregnancy could kill her or push her family more deeply into dire poverty.

I’m talking about me.

I have had an IUD for just more than eight years. I consider my IUD to be saving my life. I don’t mean that exactly literally, but I do mean it seriously. My IUD protects my sanity and my fragile physical health to such an extent that I consider it necessary to my, and my family’s, health and well-being.

I got my first IUD (I’m now on my second) three months after my third child was born. We didn’t want any more children. Underneath that simple statement are deep, jagged layers of anxiety, pain, and even terror—anxiety, pain, and terror that my IUD, which prevents pregnancy regardless of the timing of intercourse or my memory or the repair history of the condom factory’s equipment, almost entirely ameliorates.

Because of my IUD, I hardly get periods anymore. This is convenient, but it’s far more than that. My periods were horrible, painful, long, irregularly constant (as in, I would sometimes bleed all but three or four days a month), copious, clotty, hideous things. I am deeply grateful for the reproductive goings-on behind even my horrible periods, because they allowed me to conceive and carry three children. I am also deeply grateful to no longer have my vision narrow to a pinpoint in the throes of menstrual cramps or bleed out of my vagina more days of the month than not. (Sorry to be graphic, but I want you to understand from what sort of captivity I’ve been freed.)

More important, because of my IUD, I carry no anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy. My desire not to have another baby is not just because we have three beautiful kids and that feels like enough, just right. I don’t want another baby because I’m convinced that carrying and giving birth to another baby would damage me, and secondarily our entire family, in deep, perhaps irreparable ways.

There’s this:

During my third baby’s c-section birth, the doctors had a lot of trouble getting my epidural in properly. I had epidurals with my first two children; the first was straightforward, the second less so. But the third was a nightmare. They were poking needles into my spine for 15 or 20 minutes, each time producing a painful burst of shock-like sensations up and down my spine. I endured silently, expecting that soon I’d be numb from the ribs down and ready to meet our son.

Except when they began cutting my abdomen, I could feel it, enough to produce both pain and panic. At that point, there was nothing to do about the epidural. The anesthesiologist, in my husbands words, began “throwing” meds into my IV and the mask over my nose, including nitrous oxide and various other cocktails. The point, the anesthesiologist explained, wasn’t to erase the pain. Nothing could really do that. The point was to make me loopy enough that I wasn’t fully engaged with the fact of my abdomen being sliced open without adequate anesthesia.

While I made it through the ordeal (obviously), I became shaky and agitated any time I thought about it. The thought of having another baby—another epidural, another c-section—didn’t just make me weary. It made me (makes me) panic.

And there’s this:

I tore cartilage in my knee toward the end of that third pregnancy. Who knows if that sped along my inevitable march toward arthritis or not? I do know that the injury, which occurred because of the extra weight I was carrying on my already precarious joints, was the beginning of something life changing. I no longer have much cartilage left in either knee, and take powerful opioids so I can function as a mother, wife, homeowner, and writer despite pain and impairment. I know, literally in my bones, that I could not carry another pregnancy without at least exacerbating the pain, and at most, permanently worsening the condition of my joints. I would also have to go without my medication for the duration, which would involve unpleasant withdrawal and worsened pain. And when it was all over, I suspect my ability to care for a new baby, three other children and our household, to cook and clean and walk the dog and take the kids sledding, would be either diminished or destroyed.

I might someday, even without another pregnancy and another baby, need a wheelchair for mobility, hired help for cleaning and cooking, or other aids. While I don’t relish those possibilities, I will make those decisions when the time comes. But I have reason to believe, and a tenacious hope, that such decisions are still years down the road.

Really, what it comes down to is this:

If I were to become pregnant again, there is enormous potential for another harrowing birth and permanent damage to my body and ability to do the things that I love, want, and need to do. That potential means that I would seriously consider having an abortion.

I don’t know if I would or not. But I know the question would be an open one. I know I don’t want to face that decision. I know that a tiny boomerang of hormone-infused plastic ensures that I haven’t had to, and won’t have to, make such a decision.

This is why I feel like my IUD is saving my sanity, my family, my life.

Our health insurance paid for both of my IUDs (they are replaced every five years), at a cost of $500 – $1,000 a pop for the device itself, insertion, and follow-up. If our insurance didn’t cover it, most likely we would have chosen a less expensive birth control method—one requiring more regular involvement, one feeling less sure.

That wouldn’t be a tragedy. I know that. But it would deal a real blow to my health.

That blow would largely take the form of much more anxiety around having another baby. As a Christian, a believer in God’s word made flesh, I understand health as incorporating body and mind and spirit. The state of our bodies dictates the state of mind and spirit, and vice versa. This is why I feel like my IUD, by protecting me and my family from the potentially ruinous consequences of another pregnancy as well as the deep worry about that happening in the first place, is saving my life.

Some Christians’ rejoicing in the Hobby Lobby decision is based on bad science about how contraception works. And some of it arises from graceless, inaccurate assumptions about why low-cost contraception isn’t merely a choice or a convenience for many women—including monogamous, responsible, married women like me—but a necessity. Contraception can be a life- and sanity-saver for women who want to be good stewards of the bodies and minds and spirits—our own and our families’—that God has entrusted to us. That’s something a so-called “Christian” employer might consider good.

Ellen is the author of ‘No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction’.

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TIME China

China Bans Ramadan Fasting for Officials, Students in Restive Northwest

Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar
Ethnic Uighur men walk outside a mosque in Kashgar, Xinjiang province, on Aug. 3, 2011. Carlos Barria—Reuters

Xinjiang's ethnic Uighur Muslims have been subject to an "anti-terrorism" crackdown after a spate of deadly attacks

Several government departments in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region have banned students and civil servants from fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Statements posted on school and government websites said the sure-to-be-unpopular policy was aimed at protecting students and stopping government offices from being used to promote religion, reports the Associated Press.

This is not the first instance of Chinese officials trying to curtail religious freedom among Xinjiang’s ethnic Uighur Muslims, but it comes at a particularly delicate time. A series of brutal attacks by what China says are religious extremists has spurred a year-long anti-terrorism crackdown in Xinjiang, including mass arrests and trials, cash awards for information and random searches.

Critics counter that the chief concern is not links to global terrorism, but widespread dissatisfaction with Chinese rule. A Muslim people that take their cultural and linguistic cues from Central Asia, Xinjiang’s Uighurs say they have been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants from the Han heartland to the east. They also complain of discrimination in the job market, limits on free expression and restriction on their right to pray, dress — and now, fast — as they so choose.

[AP]

TIME Religion

The Theology of the Fourth of July

Amid all the fireworks and barbecue smoke this July 4, consider pausing for a moment to reflect on the one our founding fathers called the Creator.

July 4 is a religious holiday. For this insight, thank John F. Kennedy.

On July 4, 1946, Kennedy — then 29 years old, the Democratic nominee for a Massachusetts Congressional seat, and still a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve — was the featured speaker at the City of Boston’s Independence Day celebration. He spoke at Faneuil Hall, the red-brick building where long ago the colonists had gathered to protest taxes imposed by King George III and his Parliament.

Kennedy began by talking not about taxes, or about the British, or about the consent of the governed, but about religion. “The informing spirit of the American character has always been a deep religious sense. Throughout the years, down to the present, a devotion to fundamental religious principles has characterized American though and action,” he said.

For anyone wondering what this had to do with Independence Day, Kennedy made the connection explicit. “Our government was founded on the essential religious idea of integrity of the individual. It was this religious sense which inspired the authors of the Declaration of Independence: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’”

It was a theme that Kennedy would return to during the 1960 presidential campaign, when, in a speech at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, he described the Cold War as “a struggle for supremacy between two conflicting ideologies; freedom under God versus ruthless, Godless tyranny.” And again in his inaugural address, on January 20, 1961, in Washington, D.C., when he said, “The same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.”

Whatever Kennedy’s motives were as a politician for emphasizing this point, on the historical substance he had it absolutely correct. The Declaration of Independence issued from Philadelphia on July 4, 1776, included four separate references to God. In addition to the “endowed by their Creator” line mentioned by JFK in his July 4 speech, there is an opening salute to “the laws of nature’s God,” an appeal to “the Supreme Judge of the World,” and a closing expression of “firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”

A signer of the declaration, Samuel Adams, writing to a friend on July 9, wished the declaration had been issued earlier: “If it had been done nine months ago we might have been justified in the sight of God.”

George Washington, announcing the Declaration of Independence to the troops in a General Order dated July 9, wrote, “The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavour to live, and act, as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country….knowing that now the peace and safety of his Country depends (under God) solely on the success of our arms.”

The theology of the country’s founding has tended to get lost in the decades since Kennedy’s death, to the point where if someone unveiled the document anew today, hard-core separation-of-church-and-state types might even see it as a violation of the First Amendment’s clause prohibiting Congress from establishing a religion. The Declaration’s concept of God-given rights certainly is not without its flaws. God, alas, tends to be quite reticent when it comes to weighing in on disagreements about the definition of rights. Some extremists invoke God’s name while attempting to deprive others of rights. Atheists and agnostics, of whom there are increasing numbers these days, are left out.

For all that, there are some signs that a recovery is brewing of the theology of July 4. The Tea Party movement, after all, is not only a call for smaller government (“taxed enough already”), but also a conscious effort to recall the vision of the founders, of the original Boston Tea Party. Dave Brat, the economics professor who upset Eric Cantor in a recent Republican primary for to represent Virginia’s seventh congressional district, said during his campaign, “a belief in God and the faith of our Founders leads to strong moral fiber. That’s probably the most important ingredient in this country.”

So amid all the fireworks and barbecue smoke this July 4, consider pausing for a moment to reflect on the one our founding fathers called the Creator. As Kennedy realized, the American Revolution — and thus the country we live in today — started with God, and with the Founders’ belief in rights that are his gift to us. Whatever your religious views, or lack of them, if you are an American, it’s at least worth understanding the idea on which our nation was founded.

Ira Stoll, author of Samuel Adams: A Life and JFK, Conservative, is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com.

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 6: Anger Management

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A Muslim boy reads the Koran during the month of Ramadan, Kuala Lumpur, July 30, 2013. Mohd Rasfan—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Once a young man approached the Prophet Muhammad and asked him for some advice. The Prophet replied, “Do not become angry,” and he repeated this three times. On another occasion the Prophet asked his companions, “Do you know who the strong person is?” His companions replied, “The one who is able to wrestle others down.” The Prophet responded, “No, it is the one who is able to control their anger.”

There are so many wisdoms from the Prophet specifically advising against anger — all reflecting the Qur’anic description of the righteous as those who “hold in check their anger” (3:134). The advice is much needed. Indeed, some of the worst actions committed by human beings — from killing to domestic abuse — are, at least partly, a result of unbridled anger. For most of us our anger and its potent manifestations tend to be so much more subtle — from showing someone a cold shoulder to de-friending them on Facebook.

But, the problem with leaving anger unresolved is that it can get the best of us and has the potential to become a monster within us. This monster not only has the potential to lash out against others, but it also has the potential to simply make us inwardly miserable. No one likes to be angry. It’s just that some of us have a really hard time controlling this part of the emotional brain. It’s like asking someone not to feel, to become numb. Doing nothing about it, though, is not the solution.

So, here are three pieces of advice from Islam’s spiritual sources that may go a long way in managing anger:

First, the Qur’an advises that when Satan stirs us up with anger, the best course of action is to seek refuge in God (41:36). There is recognition in this that anger comes from a dark and fiery place and that the remembrance of God can bring light and coolness to one’s affairs. You can do this by chanting God’s beautiful names, reciting Qur’an, or anything else that helps you remember the Source of Peace (one of the 99 names of God in Islam).

Secondly, the Prophet Muhammad advised that when we feel angry we should perform ritual washing (wudu) with cold water. Again, the idea is to cool the body and soul from the heat of anger. In the Islamic tradition this means gently washing your hands, rinsing your mouth, sniffing water into your nose, washing your face, arms, head, neck, and feet. All of the outer limbs are renewed and cooled with this practice.

Third, the Prophet advised that if you become angry while standing, then sit down, and if you are sitting down, then lie down. It is a physical motion to temper the rising flames within.

Of course, all of this requires deep self-awareness. Sometimes we don’t even know that we’re angry or how angry we are. This is why Ramadan and fasting are such special times. Fasting facilitates deeper introspection and allows us to hear what is going on inside of ourselves when we’re not so busy with the mundane.

TIME Religion

Ramadan Day 5: ‘You Are What You Eat’

Ramadan in Gaza
Gazaian vendors sell foods being in demand prior to the iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast at the time of sunset during the holy Ramadan month, in Gaza, on July 1, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

In Islamic spirituality, the locus of God’s remembrance is to be found in the metaphysical heart within the human being. Keeping this heart safe, sound and pure as a home for God’s remembrance is of paramount importance. There are seven passageways that must be guarded to this heart: the eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet, stomach and sexual parts.

Like most spiritual and religious traditions, Islam prescribes for its followers a set of dietary laws that govern the passageway of the stomach. These laws can seem arbitrary, but they are, actually, based on a systematic understanding of spirituality and ethics.

To summarize, when it comes to dietary laws – as well as many other aspects of Islamic sacred law – the premise is that everything is permissible unless it isn’t. In other words, permissibility is the assumption, unless scripture or a scripture-based wisdom exists for its impermissibility.

So, the Qur’an makes impermissible the consumption of intoxicants, such as alcohol (2:219 and 5:90), blood (5:3), pork (2:173) and food over which God’s name is not invoked or someone other than God’s name is invoked (6:138).

The impermissibility of intoxicants is based on an ethical principle that the human mind and intellect should be preserved at all times and in all situations in order for the human being to engage in critical moral thought and decision making. How many times do we hear of wrongs that are committed under the influence of alcohol, for example, with often devastatingly tragic consequences? Most people who become intoxicated or addicted to intoxicants never intend to lose their mind – it just happens slowly. As such, any amount of intoxication is impermissible in the sacred law. Spiritually, the mind is one of the key passageways to knowing and contemplating God. So when the mind is altered, one of the passageways to God is also potentially cutoff.

It is impermissible to consume the blood of animals because of the ethical principle to avoid harm. Diseases carried by animals are often found in their blood system, so avoiding consumption of blood is just to prevent physical harm to the human being. Spiritually, the sense is that the taste of blood opens up human’s predatory instincts, which could cause the soul to incline toward aggression and other such undesirable traits.

Pork is impermissible, actually, for quite a similar reason. Islamic dietary law, generally speaking, only allows the consumption of herbivorous animals. The idea, again, is to avoid the characteristics that come with predatory animals. Herbivores, by contrast, tend to be gentle animals, and acquiring gentleness as a character trait is praiseworthy. Pigs are omnivores, meaning they will eat plant and other animals.

Many of these teachings are congruent with the idea that “you are what you eat.” So, Muslims are asked to take very seriously what they put in their stomachs. Interestingly, whenever the Qur’an speaks of permissible consumption (halal) it attaches the term pure and wholesome (tayyib) to its permissibility clause – meaning that what we consume should not only meet the test of permissibility, but should also be good and beneficial – spiritually and physically – for us.

As Muslims in America develop the halal standard, I hope that there will be as much emphasis on the wholesomeness of food as there is on its permissibility. And that this will, in turn, be a positive contribution toward the cultural revolution around food in this country.

TIME Religion

Hobby Lobby Turned Roman Catholics Into First-Class Citizens

A few rich and powerful people now have another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives.

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Democracy doesn’t allow two kinds of citizenship and two versions of the law. If you want to live in a country where some citizens have bigger rights, more freedoms, and more powers over the rest, then you don’t want to live in a democracy. You might want to live in America, after Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

Why would anyone be surprised that the erosion of democracy in America would again be accomplished through corporations? Theocrats admire proxy powers while they themselves are still weak, and they like to control strong bodies through manipulable souls. Why wouldn’t corporations be obvious candidates for supporting salvific work in the world? Corporations are not only legal persons, but they became real citizens covered under the Bill of Rights, and now corporations have religious convictions that award them legal privileges that ordinary citizens will never get.

If you thought that a few rich and powerful people needed another way to legally exercise religious control over other people’s private lives, you are rejoicing. If you instead thought that ordinary people need more political freedom from religious oppression, you are dismayed beyond belief.

But you don’t want to make a hasty judgment here, you say. Let a few days pass, while the press and the pundits hypnotize you about how this is supposed to be a narrow ruling on just one issue, and how Christians are lovely people who only want the best for everyone, and how private corporations are somehow now the guardians of freedom. But do try to think about how someone’s else vaster freedoms usually end up forging somebody else’s chains.

Let it sink in, while those legal interpreters mystify you about how corporations are supposedly persons with rights because corporations are owned by people, so the rights of private owners extend to everything the ‘private’ corporation does. Let the fallacy in that way of thinking sink in for a while. A corporation able to exercise remote control over what a women and her doctor can do is really acting ‘privately’?

Let it sink in how five Supreme Court justices – each one is a male Roman Catholic – decided that sanctimonious abhorrence against birth control is legitimate grounds for letting giant corporations control the reproductive lives of women. Do you really think that a private corporation in non-Christian hands would be allowed to make it harder for employees to get basic health care?

After you’ve let this all sink in, be careful where you point the finger of praise, or blame. Yes, Protestant Evangelicalism ensured that five Roman Catholics would get to decide democracy’s fate. But this wasn’t supposed to be Protestantism’s fight. There are Justices who still own neckties older than Protestant opposition to birth control. No, this was a Roman Catholic agenda, and a Roman Catholic victory.

Don’t start making any changes to your insurance plans, Muslim, Sikh, or Hindu corporate owners! Let’s wait to see how much of a precedence has been set. I’d bet that it turns out to be very narrow in one sense: unless your religious conviction fits with the Catholic Hegemony, don’t expect to get your way too. There now are first-class citizens, the rich, powerful corporate owners acknowledged by the Catholic Dominion; and there’s everyone else, whose may not share the same religious opinions.

When you wake up from your pleasant slumbers, dreaming of an America where each individual cannot be controlled by someone else’s religion, let me know. Until then, try not to mutter in your sleep about liberty and democracy and how everything’s still just fine. If you manage to open your eyes, don’t be shocked at people ‘overreacting’, while you yourself appear to be sleepwalking. Don’t speak to me until you are ready to wake up into this new reality, where somebody else’s ideas about God can make our lives harder and more expensive. Don’t even look at me, while nobody is looking at you to figure out how to control your body.

Let all this sink in. If you cling to your faith that America remains a democracy, then you shall get the theocracy you deserve. The priests are already plotting out where you need to kneel next.

John Shook is a professor of science education at the University of Buffalo.

Read more from Patheos:

TIME France

France Can Keep Burqa Ban, European Court Rules

Europe's top rights court has said a ban on wearing Islamic veils doesn't breach any rights

Europe’s main human rights court ruled Tuesday that France’s ban on wearing a full-face veil is permissible, reports CNN.

The European Court of Human Rights said the French ban of garments worn by some Muslim women—the burqa, a garment that envelops the body with a mesh over the face, and the niqab, a veil that covers the face—didn’t breach the European Convention of Human Rights.

A 24-year-old French woman took the case to the court in November because she felt the law restricted her ability to live according to her religion, culture and personal beliefs.

France’s ban of the burqa and the niqab went into effect in April 2011. The law has sparked fierce debate between believers of religious freedom and those who think the veil is both restrictive and contravenes France’s secularism.

The woman, who hasn’t been named, drew upon several articles of the European Convention of Human Rights, which the court was set up to protect. The defendant cited the right to private and family life as well as freedoms of thought, conscience and religion.

She added that no one has required her to wear the burqa and the niqab, nor does she wear them all the time. France charges a fine of 150 euros or $205 for anyone wearing the garments. This fine can be substituted for community service.

[CNN]

TIME 30 Days of Ramadan

Ramadan, Day 4: Eating Haves and Have Nots

PAKISTAN-RELIGION-ISLAM-RAMADAN
A Pakistani Muslim man arranges Iftar food for Muslim devotees before they break their fast during the holy fasting month of Ramadan in Karachi on June 30, 2014. ASIF HASSAN—AFP/Getty Images

The holy month of Ramadan is a time of deep reflection for Muslims worldwide. Over the 30 days of Ramadan, Imam Sohaib Sultan of Princeton University will offer contemplative pieces on contemporary issues drawing from the wisdoms of the Qur’an – the sacred scripture that Muslims revere as the words of God and God’s final revelation to humanity. The Qur’an is at the heart of Muslim faith, ethics, and civilization. These short pieces are meant to inspire thought and conversation.

Recently, a friend offered a social commentary that really stuck with me. He said, “You know there’s something wrong when too many people in the world are dying because of starvation and, at the same time, too many people are dying because of overeating.”

It reminded me of a simple yet quite profound advice in the Qur’an: “O Children of Adam…eat and drink, but not excessively: verily, God does not like the excessive” (7:31). Reflecting on this teaching, the Prophet Muhammad advised: “No human being overfills a vessel worse than the stomach. Sufficient for any child of Adam are some morsels of food to keep their back straight. But, if they must [eat more than this], then let one third be for food, one third for drink and one third for easy breathing.”

Moderation is an oft-repeated virtue in the Qur’anic discourse on living an ethical life. When it comes to our eating habits, it goes beyond our individual ethics to a more communal ethics. When extreme food waste and extreme lack of food coexist as a reality not only in the world but even, often, in the same cities, then we’ve really got to re-think how we eat and how much we eat. For example, the USDA estimates in a 2014 report that around 40% of food in America goes to waste. And, it is also estimated that 50 million Americans (1 in 6, and more than 1 in 5 children) go to sleep hungry everyday.

Of course, the problems as well as the solutions are much more systemic. But the shift in how much we eat and how we treat food needs a cultural revolution. It requires an honest conversation about the epidemic of obesity, on the one hand, and a critique of the “ideal” body type – which is just as much part of the problem – on the other hand. And, it begins with all of us, individually and in our homes, considering how we can reduce food waste and reduce the imbalance between those who have and those who do not have.

Fasting really makes you re-think the role of food in your life. It is a proof for how little we actually need to stay strong and healthy and how our appetites are so much more adjustable than we think. Breaking fast together in community also makes you think. When food is shared, it seems so much more plentiful as a little bit goes a long way when you eat in good company. As the Prophet Muhammad would say, “food for one is enough for food for two, and food for two is enough for food for three” and so on.

Just some food for thought during this month of Ramadan.

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