At Patheos.com’s “Peculiar People” blog, Ryan Tobler takes on Ross Douthat’s assertion that Mormonism is one of America’s heretical religions. Should Mormonism be counted among Douthat’s “bad religions,” whose theologies are focused on idolizing their own traditions above shared American values and isolating their membership from participating in advancing the common good? Tobler says no. “Oriented to their own communities and sometimes out of touch with others, Mormons can indeed entertain a sense of self-importance. But unlike others that Douthat arraigns, Mormons are categorically a service-oriented people, a long-known fact that is now on record.”
At CNN’s Belief Blog, Alex Zuckerman reports that George Washington’s famous letter on religious freedom will soon be, once again, on public display. The 1790 letter assured a Jewish congregation in Rhode Island that the government would protect their religious liberty. After 10 years in storage, the private foundation that owns the letter has agreed to loan it to Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History, which will display the letter periodically over the next three years.
Religion News Service’s Lauren Markoe reports on a recently released pamphlet containing guidelines on bullying and religiously motivated free speech in public schools. A project supported by a range of groups, including the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), the American Jewish Committee (AJC), and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), the pamphlet’s intent is to help teachers and students differentiate between acts of unlawful intimidation and acts of speech protected by the First Amendment. One excerpt from the pamphlet reads, “Repeatedly bombarding a fellow student with otherwise protected speech [including proselytizing], even if it ostensibly conveys an idea, can … constitute harassment.”
The New York Times’ Susan Saulny explores the existential quandary that some black Mormons might face at the polling booth come November. With both a Mormon and an African American on the presidential ballot, some black Mormons—a group that up until 1978 was excluded from full membership in the Mormon Church—might feel a sense of mixed loyalties. Saunly found that whomever they vote for—including for Obama—these Mormons’ religious sensibilities will inform their political decisions.
On Wednesday, in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Colin Powell came out in support of gay marriage. “I have no problems with it,” Powell said. “I don’t see any reason not to say that [same-sex couples] should be able to get married under the laws of their state or the laws of the country.”
At The Los Angeles Times, Amro Hassan provides a glimpse into Egypt’s polling stations, which are hosting the first truly contested presidential election in a generation. Several would-be voters have been hospitalized for heat exposure, and some have been treated for injuries resulting from “pushing and shoving” in the long lines that have formed outside schools and other governmental buildings during this two-day long election. Yet Hassan writes, “none of the discomfort accompanying this historic election … is deterring voters.”
Writing in The Boston Review, Michael Sandel poses a seemingly simple question: “are there some things that money should not be able to buy?” There are “the things that money can’t buy, and the things that money can buy but arguably shouldn’t,” he writes, in an article culled from his latest book, What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Sandel explores the world of blood donations and buying pre-written wedding toasts and finds how money can affect how we view things and how “sometimes market values crowd out non-market norms worth caring about.”
Jelani Cobb at The New Yorker criticizes the “Rickett’s Plan,” a proposal for a Republican Super PAC ad, news of which broke last week. The ad, which would have exploited Obama’s connection with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, made use of what Cobb sees as an out-of-date tool: “the Professional Black Friend.” By suggesting the ad employ an “extremely literate, conservative African American” as a spokesperson, the proposal shows its “myopic perspective on race.” Cobb writes: “In an age in which cynicism is the default setting for much of the public, the belief that a single black spokesperson can offer insulation from charges of racism is less than tenable.”
At The New Republic Ed Kilgore sees the campaign as a tug-of-war between Romney and the conservative base. Through November, Romney aims to keep the campaign rhetoric locked onto one key issue: the economy, Kilgore asserts. To Romney’s camp, “this election is purely and simply a referendum on Obama’s economy,” an issue that is “particularly attractive to swing voters.” Pushing back on the Romney campaign are social conservatives, who “want their ideological motivations to be reflected in the Romney campaign’s rhetoric.”
During reporter Isobel Coleman’s visit last week to Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah fired Sheikh Abdel Mohsen Obeikan, “one of the most popular Islamic leaders.” At The Atlantic, Coleman sees the dismissal as a symptom of a larger battle over women’s rights in the country. Many suspect Obeikan was removed over the “internal struggle to define the role of women in society.” Despite King Abdullah’s tight reign, Coleman asserts that “dissent over women’s status in society will remain at the heart of competing visions for the country.”