Erasmus

Religion and public policy

  • The peace of Jerusalem

    Followers of Jesus fail to agree about his homeland

    by ERASMUS

    HUNDREDS of millions of followers of Jesus Christ are about to celebrate the annual feast of Pentecost, which celebrates an event in Jerusalem roughly 2,000 years ago, when it is believed that cultural and ethnic barriers were miraculously overcome. The festival, which falls on May 20th in this year’s western Christian calendar and a week later in the Orthodox one, commemorates what many regard as the establishment of the Christian church.

  • Atheist churches

    The elusive phenomenon of churches without God

    by H.G. and ERASMUS | SEATTLE

    ONE recent Sunday, about 40 people turned up at their regular gathering place, a community centre in Seattle, and soon found themselves pondering an ethical dilemma: would it ever be right to punch a Nazi? The dicussion was led by a husband-and-wife team, who pointed out that hurting people was usually a bad idea, but that it might sometimes be the only way to protect the innocent. “In a world as imperfect as this one, sometimes the choice is between a number of terrible ideas,” suggested the husband, Mickey Phoenix.

  • Cross communication

    Bavaria is the latest place where the church and Christian politicians are at odds

    by ERASMUS

    AS ERASMUS has already noted, there are places all over Europe where right-of-centre politicians are sounding a clarion call of Christian nativism while progressive Christian clerics are pulling in the other direction, urging tolerance and respect for diversity. The latest locus of this surreal standoff is the German region of Bavaria, which has for centuries been a bastion of Teutonic Catholicism.

    Markus Söder, the newish Bavarian premier, has decreed that from June 1st a crucifix must be displayed in all offices of the regional government. He described the decision as a “commitment to Bavarian identity and culture” which was not explicitly doctrinal.

  • Orthodoxy and capitalism

    In religion and economics, cause and effect are very hard to prove

    by ERASMUS

    RELIGIOUS determinism, or the idea that particular forms of belief and worship lead to particular forms of political and economic behaviour, is always a fascinating field for dabbling. Indeed one might even say that such determinism is itself a form of religion, if that is defined as a system of thought which offers compelling answers to questions that might otherwise be shadowy and elusive. Recently there has been a little wave of discussion about religious determinism in the e-commentariat.

    It began with a working paper for the World Bank by two economists with Bulgarian roots: the country’s former finance minister, Simeon Djankov, and Elena Nikolova of University College London.

  • Religion and medicine

    The pope’s role in the plight of Alfie Evans was regrettable

    by ERASMUS

    IT CANNOT happen very often that, in an agonising saga that concerns a desperately sick little child, the Catholic bishops of the boy’s home city and country line up on one side of an argument, with the pope, apparently, on the other, along with two other European governments.

    Nor does it often occur that a British judge, adjudicating on such a delicate and painful case, becomes so exasperated with the self-appointed advocates of the child that he calls one of them “fanatical and deluded.”   

  • Balancing act

    A court ruling makes it harder for faith-based employers to discriminate

    by ERASMUS

    IT IS a problem that arises in every liberal democracy that upholds liberty of belief (and hence, the freedom of religious bodies to manage their own affairs) while also aiming to defend citizens, including job-seekers, from unfair discrimination. As part of their entitlement to run their own show, faith groups often claim some exemption from equality laws when they are recruiting people.

    To take an extreme case, it would run counter to common sense if a church were judicially obliged to appoint a militant atheist as a priest, even if that candidate was well qualified on paper. But how generous should those exceptions be? 

  • Syria, Islam and Christianity

    The West’s bombing of Syria meets some approval from Muslims

    by ERASMUS

    ON THE streets of west European cities, secular leftists, politically active Muslims and radically minded Christians (a rarefied constituency, but they do exist) have often found themselves marching and chanting together. It happened in the run-up to the Anglo-American attack on Saddam Hussein in 2003, when the core organisers of some of the largest street demonstrations seen in Britain included the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB), both small groups with a gift for mobilising huge crowds.

  • Buddhism in America

    An Asian religion gains popularity in the New World

    by H.G. AND ERASMUS | SEATTLE

    Chris Nyambura was raised Catholic but over the past six months he has started calling himself Buddhist. Aged 23, he is a graduate student in chemical engineering. Like many of his generation, especially on the American West Coast, he appreciates the emphasis on mental development and self-help in the spiritual practice he has chosen.

    He belongs to a group of people who turn up every Sunday evening for guided meditation sessions in a small, brightly lit studio in downtown Seattle.

  • Religion and human rights

    A good Russian is vindicated on the Orthodox church's holy day

    by ERASMUS

    TODAY is Good Friday in the Orthodox Christian calendar. All over the eastern Christian world, from villages in Greece and Romania to cathedrals in Moscow, it is a day of haunting ceremonies that re-enact the death and burial of Jesus. There are chants of deep lamentation, interlaced with quietly confident declarations that mortality has been conquered and life will prevail. This builds up to the noisy, exuberant Resurrection festivities which take place on the night from Saturday to Sunday.  This year, for some rank-and-file Russian Orthodox believers, the story of a just man unfairly accused but ultimately vindicated has even greater poignancy.

  • The Pope and hell

    Why a papal comment about hell triggered a misunderstanding

    by ERASMUS

    ON TUESDAY, two distinguished, elderly gentlemen who live in Rome (one aged 81, the other 93) had a warm meeting at the younger one’s residence. It was the latest in a series of pleasant and stimulating conversations they have enjoyed in recent years. A few days later they seemed to be having a public misunderstanding about hell, or rather about what exactly one of them had said on that subject.

    The interlocutors were Pope Francis and Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the left-wing newspaper La Repubblica who is an avowed non-believer. In keeping with Mr Scalfari’s well-established style, he avoided using notebooks or tape-recorders during his papal chat.

  • Christianity in Europe

    As French Catholics hail a martyr, the faith is fading in Europe

    by ERASMUS

    EVEN in Europe, the world’s least religious continent, a dramatic turn of events can turn a little-known public servant into a posthumous hero hailed as a kind of modern martyr.

    Arnaud Beltrame, a police colonel, died of his injuries over the weekend after voluntarily taking the place of one of the hostages seized by a fanatical Islamist in a small French town. As it happens he was a devout Catholic who devoted much spare time to pilgrimages and helping with religious instruction. He won praise of two different kinds.

  • American diplomacy and religion

    Mike Pompeo’s evangelical zeal could complicate his new diplomatic life

    by ERASMUS

    THE relationship between religion and American diplomacy has never been simple. People who cherish America’s church-state separation like to cite the Tripoli treaty of 1797 between America and the Muslim overlords of North Africa, which assured them that “the government of the USA is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion” and pledged respect for Islam. 

    Conservative American Christians retort that despite that pact, their country went on to fight two tough wars against those Muslim rulers, who were a threat to American merchant ships—though of course religion may not have been a factor. 

  • Orthodoxy, homosexuality and hate

    Gay-rights activists lament the acquittal of a homophobic Greek bishop

    by ERASMUS

    IN MANY parts of Europe, socially conservative religious leaders complain that they cannot express their faiths’ traditional teaching on homosexuality without running the risk of prosecution under equality or hate-crime legislation.

    They cite the case of Ake Green, a Swedish Pentecostalist pastor who was sentenced to a month in jail, later overturned on appeal, after he called homosexuality a “tumour” on society. In Britain, police went through the early stages of a criminal investigation after Sir Iqbal Sacranie, a prominent Muslim leader, called homosexuality “not acceptable” and “harmful”.

  • Maple leaves and mezuzahs

    Understanding Canada’s Jews

    by P.F. and ERASMUS | VANCOUVER

    TO GET a sense of the ambivalence, and also the residual strength, of Jewish identity in Canada, meet Itamar Shani and his business partner Rotem Tal, who run a vegan restaurant in Vancouver. 

    Mr Shani grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household in Israel but proved insufficiently devout to satisfy his family. Mr Tal likes the teachings of Buddhism, but the tattoo on his forearm speaks of the Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), and he wears a Star of David on a beaded necklace. The food they serve may not be classic kosher cuisine but there is plenty of Israeli-style hummus. Their establishment attracts young Jews who are not especially religious but want some connection with their heritage.

  • A point of principle

    Why a Mennonite woman has refused to testify in a death-penalty case

    by ERASMUS

    RELIGIOUS freedom, as it has been defined recently in domestic American affairs, is a cause that mostly attracts conservatives. Its heroes include Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who was jailed after refusing to authorise same-sex marriages, and Jack Phillips, the Colorado baker whose refusal to prepare a cake for a gay wedding is being mulled by the Supreme Court.

    But in the last few days, the cause of liberty of conscience has acquired a champion who will appeal to the political left: Greta Lindecrantz. She is a 67-year-old woman who has gone to jail rather than give evidence in a case where her testimony might make a difference to whether a man is ultimately put to death.

About Erasmus

Notes on the interplay between religion and policy, in the spirit of the Dutch Renaissance humanist and scholar

Advertisement

Advertisement

Products and events


Take our weekly news quiz to stay on top of the headlines


Visit The Economist e-store and you’ll find a range of carefully selected products for business and pleasure, Economist books and diaries, and much more

Advertisement