July 22nd, 2014
08:53 AM ET
Opinion by Craig Detweiler, Special to CNN
(CNN) - It is understandable why Breanna Mitchell’s sunny tweet from Auschwitz as “PrincessBMM” would spark a viral outcry.
A tour of a concentration camp, where so many Jews lost their lives, may move us to take photos or post responses - but few would include smiles, or selfies.
But Mitchell is not the first teenager to generate Internet outrage by her response to the Holocaust.
When Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House last year, he wrote in the museum guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully, she would have been a Belieber.”
While many have ripped into Mitchell and Bieber for their insensitivity, I don’t think they intended to be disrespectful to the dead.
Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices (mobiquity!), adolescent mistakes and hard lessons that used to be learned in private can quickly devolve into public drubbings.
This is what happens when new technologies clash with ancient understandings of the sacred. The problem is so pervasive that a Tumblr site, “Selfies at Serious Places” is dedicated to such faux pas.
We have very few spaces that our culture considers sacred, where an association with the divine results in a feeling of awe or reverence. Death may seem especially abstract to young people who haven’t been shown how to grieve, mourn or respect the dead.
So how might we help the emerging generation to develop a digital decorum that accounts for sacred spaces? Can we incorporate electronic ethics into religious instruction?
June 12th, 2014
08:42 PM ET
Opinion by Mark Goldfeder, special to CNN
(CNN) - To the team of researchers, Eugene Goostman seemed like a nice Jewish boy from Odessa, Ukraine.
In fact, he was a computer.
In convincing some of the researchers that Goostman was real, the computer program became the first to pass the Turing Test for artificial intelligence.
The Turing Test, named for British mathematician Alan Turing, is often thought of as the benchmark test for true machine intelligence. Since 1950, thousands of scientific teams have tried to create something capable of passing, but none has succeeded.
That is, until Saturday – and, appropriately for the Goostman advance, our brave new world can learn a bit from Jewish history.
April 17th, 2014
08:00 AM ET
Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNNFollow @CandidaMoss
(CNN) - It’s that time of year again: the time when chocolate comes in pastels, cherry blossoms start to bloom and well-marketed religion exposés are released to the world.
In other words, it’s Easter.
Among the rash of sensationalist stories we can expect through the season, the annual “Easter was stolen from the pagans” refrain has sprouted again just in time for Holy Week.
Don’t believe the hype.
Perhaps most misinformed theory that rolls around the Internet this time of year is that Easter was originally a celebration of the ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess Ishtar.
This idea is grounded in the shared concept of new life and similar-sounding words Easter/Ishtar. There’s no linguistic connection, however. Ishtar is Akkadian and Easter is likely to be Anglo-Saxon.
Just because words in different languages sound the same doesn’t mean they are related. In Swedish, the word “kiss” means urine.
But the biggest issue for Christians is the claim that Jesus’ resurrection - the faith’s central tenet - might have pagan roots.
November 25th, 2013
12:47 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - Break out the menurkeys and sweet potato latkes, people, it's time to celebrate Thanksgivukkah, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
A calendrical quirk brings the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving together this Thursday for the first time since 1888. Scientists say the confluence won't occur again for another 70,000 years, give or take a millennium.
Dana Gitell, a 37-year-old marketing manager for a Jewish nonprofit in Massachusetts, is the mind behind the mashup "Thanksgivukkah."
(If you think that's a mouthful, her other ideas were "Thanksgiving-ukkah" and "Hanukkahgiving," both of which caused our spellchecker to sputter and die.)
But with the right portmanteau in place, the Thanksgivukkah idea caught fire faster than a deep-fried turkey.
November 6th, 2013
12:18 PM ET
By Bill Mears and Daniel Burke, CNN
WASHINGTON (CNN) - Should prayers to God open government meetings?
That's the controversial question a divided Supreme Court debated on Wednesday.
At oral arguments about whether public prayers at a New York town's board meetings are permissible, the high court took a broad look at the country's church-state history and even the Supreme Court's own traditions.
Two local women sued officials in Greece, New York, objecting that monthly Town Board public sessions have opened with invocations they say have been overwhelmingly Christian.
But the case's implications extend far beyond upstate New York and could have widespread consequences, according to constitutional scholars.
"This is going to affect communities across the country," said Charles C. Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center.
The frequent court battles over public prayers, Ten Commandment memorials and holiday displays might strike some Americans as silly, but they touch on deep questions about national identity to reach back to the Founding Fathers, Haynes said.
"It's a long struggle in our country about self-definition and what our country was founded to be. That's why we keep circling back to these emotional and highly divisive questions."
At Wednesday's oral arguments, the court's conservative majority appeared to have the votes to allow the public prayers to continue in some form, but both sides expressed concerns about the level of judicial and government oversight over prayers presented by members of a particular faith.
October 16th, 2013
11:38 AM ET
By Saad Abedine. Hala Gorani and Laura Smith-Spark, CNN
(CNN) - Muslims throughout the world have been marking Eid al-Adha, but in war-torn Syria there is nothing to celebrate. Most people are struggling to meet the most basic of needs: food, water, and shelter.
Their plight has been highlighted by Arabic media reports which cite a fatwa, or religious ruling, by a local imam which allowed people who are desperately hungry to eat dogs and cats.
Eating dog, cat or donkey is forbidden under Islamic dietary laws.
The imam in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in the capital, Damascus, reportedly said at a mosque Friday that dog, cat and donkey meat could be eaten "after reaching a desperate need and the stores of food were inadequate to feed the population under the siege."
Yarmouk has been besieged for months by Syrian government forces seeking to flush out rebel fighters.
During the Eid al-Adha holiday, considered one of Islam's most revered observances, many Muslims around the world sacrifice a sheep and share the meat with the poor. It corresponds with the height of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia that annually draws 2 million Muslims.
Outside Syrian, Muslims held more plentiful Eid al-Adha celebrations.FULL STORY
July 7th, 2011
03:26 PM ET
Editor's note: CNN's Defining America project is exploring the stories behind the numbers to show how places are changing. This week, get to know more about your neighbors all across the country - how they live and love, what they believe in and how they came to call themselves Americans. The week will culminate with a Secret Supper in New York City, and Eatocracy invites you to participate online starting Monday July 11th at 6:30 p.m.
(CNN) - When Kavi and David Moltz tied the knot in summer 2010, the multicultural couple - she's Hindu and he's culturally Jewish - tried to honor both their traditions.
"I had to ride in on a horse ... a giant Clydesdale adorned in Indian raiments," recalls David of the Hindu wedding tradition. "But we gave a nod to my culture, too," he says.
In Hindu culture, friends and musicians playing traditional Indian music accompany the groom's ride to the ceremony. Instead, David had his friends play drums, and he wore a traditional yarmulke and tallith (prayer shawl) that had been his father's and grandfather's.
The evening before, during the Mehndi party in which the bride and members of her party are adorned with henna designs (an impermanent skin ink) on their hands and feet, David wore a traditional Indian suit.Read more on interfaith weddings
June 24th, 2011
01:03 PM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - They didn’t serve on the jury, weren’t plaintiffs in the case, nor did they watch in the courtroom.
But for Native Americans who cleave to rituals passed on by their ancestors, the trial of self-help guru James Arthur Ray mattered.
Ray was convicted Wednesday of negligent homicide in the October 2009 deaths of Kirby Brown, James Shore and Lizbeth Marie Neuman. They died after participating in a sweat lodge ceremony Ray led during his “Spiritual Warrior” retreat outside Sedona, Arizona.
At least 15 other participants fell ill, while 40 emerged from the experience uninjured. Each had paid about $10,000 for the five-day retreat experience.
The case fueled long-held frustrations of Native Americans who say their ancient traditions are being appropriated and exploited by “impersonators.” They resent that what is sacred to them is now seen by some as a death trap.
March 2nd, 2011
09:19 AM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
Growing up on a reservation in lower Saskatchewan, Alvin Manitopyes learned early to respect the sweat lodge. He was 10 when he attended his first sweat ceremony, and for more than 15 years tribe elders instructed him in his people's ways.
He understands the spiritual mandate he was given as a healer to serve as an intermediary between people and the spirit world. He carries with him the ancient ceremonial songs, passed on through generations.
He knows how the natural elements - earth, fire, water and air - work together to cleanse people, inside and out, and create balance. At 55, he has spent more than 20 years conducting ceremonies in sweat lodges, where water is poured over hot lava rocks as part of a purifying ritual.
"If you have the right to do it, then the environment you're creating is a safe place," says Manitopyes, a public health consultant in Calgary, Alberta, who is Plains Cree and Anishnawbe. "But today we have all kinds of people who observe what's going on and think they can do it themselves. … And that's not a safe place to be."
No example of what worries him is clearer than the case of James Arthur Ray, a self-help guru who led a crowded sweat lodge ceremony that left three people dead. Ray faces manslaughter charges for the deaths allegedly tied to his October 2009 "Spiritual Warrior" retreat outside Sedona, Arizona. His trial began this month.
August 30th, 2010
01:20 PM ET
Two young Muslim Americans are taking a cross-country spiritual journey at a fascinating time in the nation’s history.
Just this weekend, conservative commentator Glenn Beck stood before a crowd of hundreds of thousands in the nation's capital and proclaimed that "America today begins to turn back to God."
Hours earlier, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, four construction vehicles used for the groundbreaking of an Islamic mosque were vandalized and damaged in a fire suspected to be arson. The mosque has faced stiff local resistance.
Aman Ali and Bassam Tariq are on Day 19 of their cross-country trip to 30 mosques in 30 states during the holy month of Ramadan. Beginning in New York, they traveled down the East Coast to the South and then onward West, covering thousands of miles and meeting Muslims of all walks of life.
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