Friday, June 1, 2012

Picadilly, Indian food, and religious freedom

Thursday, May 31


Today was a pretty good one. I got up and got my journal entry from yesterday typed up before I got showered and changed so I could leave to the meeting. I was in charge this week, and we met at Trafalgar Square below the Nelson Column, and from there we walked to the Picadilly Circus and walked around the neighborhood for a bit. The wide boulevards had been brilliantly arrayed with hanging British flags hung from wires across the streets at about fifty foot intervals, preparations for the Diamond Jubilee that would commence tomorrow and continue until Tuesday. The area is decorated enough as it is, and in our half-hour walk around the area I saw at least seven or eight different threatres showing musicals and plays like Thriller, Les Miserables, The 39 Steps, and Chariots of Fire. We wound our way back through a side street that was part of Chinatown—the entire street was lined with Chinese restaurants, and every window sported silver spits where various types of meat, chicken, and seafood hung shining with oil. It was a very mouthwatering spectacle, but I couldn't see prices and none of us were particularly in the mood for chinese. We dropped by a gigantic, five-floor bookstore that Natalie (the creative writer in the group) was extremely fond of, but after finding only a few spots to sit down inside, we decided to go sit on the steps below the statued fountain in the middle of the square. We talked about our highs and lows, and I was pleased to hear how everyone was doing—I would say it was our most cheerful meeting so far. I led a short discussion about personal organization of a field study, and although I don't think I did a great job (if I could do it again I would do it very differently...), I feel like it was still useful.

When we were finished we went a found a pretty decent Indian restaurant that had a lunch special going on for only 5 pounds. I think we surprised the rest of the customers in the restaurant by how much we talked and laughed together while we were there ;)

We all had things to do afterward, so I made my way home and got my scripture study done. I got thoroughly distracted by the news afterwards, but to be honest there are a half a million interesting things that are going on in the world.

Of greatest note was a religious conference in the United States where representatives from almost every large religion was present: Catholics, Mainline Christian, Protestant, Evangelical, Jewish, and LDS. The topic being discussed was the threat to religious freedom in the public square that has been made in recent years. Most worrying have been subtle moves in government hat have threatened the validity of religious arguments as a legitimate basis for rational decision-making in the public square, an argument highlighted by a statement made by President Obama in 2009 where he asserted that noone can know with “certainty” what God asks of us. This development is especially interesting to me in light of the interview that I conducted yesterday with Richard. In the opinion of many people that he knows and interacts with there simply isn't a place for religion in the modern world. People with religious beliefs are considered old-fashioned, and many religious teachings are considered ridiculous. Those that follow them are seen as “blind followers”. Richard also spoke about prevalent negative stereotypes that exist for Pentacostals and hardliners in Christian churches, and how for many people mentioning those religions conjures up images of people speaking in tongues and writhing on the floor or refusing to read Harry Potter books because they have spells in them. Then there are the well-documented incidents of sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and Richard mentioned some people he talked to on his mission who had gone to Catholic schools when they were younger and had been beaten by the Catholic nuns. Today, they wanted nothing more to do with religion. All of these arguments and stereotypes become very convincing, especially in the face of some very convincing rhetoric from the other side about gay marriage and “fairness”, or evolution and the scientific explanation for the universe. In the wake of all this, it makes sense why religion is in decline in Europe and will most likely continue to decline in the years to come.

-Ben

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