…and other news from the wondrous world of religion.
• David Hooker, an associate art professor at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal-arts school near Chicago, has been sprinkling layer after layer of fine debris from the school’s vacuum cleaners over a 5-foot ceramic likeness of a crucified Christ. The resulting sculpture symbolizes death and resurrection. Says Hooker, “Literally, this dirt contains skin cells from the community. The idea is that our bodies are now connected to the body of Christ.” Wheaton President Philip Ryken is an admirer. He believes that Hooker’s work stands for the things that are “disappointing and even dirty about us” — but he finds the sculpture reassuring because “God loves us in spite of our sins.” Well, sir, if you say so, we won’t argue. Let us just note that religion in art sure has its vagaries. Taking a photo of a crucifix submerged in urine: decades of Christian hissy fits. Covering Christ in dead skin cells: applause and reverence.
• Every 12 years, up to 80 million Hindus travel to Allahabad, India, for the months-long Maha Kumbh Mela festival. According to National Geographic, “some take advantage of the swirling crowds to abandon elderly relatives.” Says one human-rights activist who has helped the forlorn and abandoned, and who wishes to remain anonymous: “Old people have become useless, [relatives] don’t want to look after them, so they leave them and go.” A local social worker added that it happens mostly to elderly widows. She estimates that dozens of old people are deliberately abandoned during the holy gathering. They are often untraveled and illiterate, and consequently don’t know exactly where they’re from, making reunions unlikely.
• A Muslim barber in Lahore, Pakistan, accused a Christian young man of blaspheming the prophet Mohammed. Soon, a bloodthirsty mob assembled, and 150 families had to abandon their homes to save their skins. Police investigated and found the barber had made up the blasphemy allegation. [UPDATE: The mob torched upwards of 100 houses and everything in them. Photos here.]
• A religious school in Israel fired a female teacher for becoming pregnant through in-vitro fertilization, claiming that such a pregnancy is an affront to Torah family values. The judiciary, however, told the school to stuff it. Tel Aviv Labor Court (ha — labor!) ordered school authorities to compensate the young mother for the loss of her job. The judges ruled that “the right to be a parent, the freedom to work, and human dignity and liberty” trumped the religious concerns of the school.
• Another faith-related labor dispute recently occurred in England. A British residential-care worker whose contract stipulated she would occasionally have to work on Sundays refused to do so on religious grounds, and was ultimately fired. She promptly filed against her former employer for religious discrimination. The Employment Appeal Tribunal that heard the case argued that lots of her co-religionists work on Sunday without complaining; and that even so, the employer had made every reasonable accommodation to allow the worker to practice her faith. Consequently, the complaint was dismissed.
• This very website is most likely a purveyor of illegal anti-religious hate — at least according to Indian police. Cops have set their sights on Facebook blasphemers, noting that “While many of these posts are pictures that depict gods and religious figures in a bad light, there are even status updates that mock at the religious texts.” Mocking religion is a crime in India. A police unit referred to as the “state hi-tech crime inquiry cell” is demanding that Facebook release the identities of the apparently pseudonymous critics.
• Police in Bangladesh arrested eight members of a radical Muslim student organization, after uncovering the group’s plot to assassinate 10 religious leaders. Those targeted are also Muslims, but of a slightly more liberal variety.