The mobile phone footage shows 19-year-old Muskan Khan riding a scooter into the yellow-walled compound of her college campus in Mandhya, a city in Karnataka in south-west India, on 8 February. She parks it, steps off. Around her, a jumpy, agitated crowd of young men dressed in matching saffron-coloured scarves are caught in the throes of a tirade: ‘Jai Shri Ram,’ they chant, spinning the cloth above their heads, as though punctuating the chorus of a pop song. Khan has to walk past the boys to enter the college building. They charge at her, taunt her, demand she take off her hijab. She punches the air, her body tilting, face crinkled in a frown, and declares: ‘Allahu akbar.’
Father Brian McKevitt delivered the homily at Knock Basilica in County Mayo on Sunday. The service was billed as an All Ireland Act of Reparation, a communal act of repentance on behalf of those of us who voted Yes in the referendum on 25 May. Ireland, Fr McKevitt said, has become a ‘pro-choice’ society, where people have decided that either God does not exist or is irrelevant, and are making their own decisions about what is right or wrong. ‘I will go to Mass on Sunday, if I choose,’ he said. ‘I will stay with my spouse, if I choose. I will look after my children, if I choose. I will marry a person of the same sex, if I choose. I will even end the life of an unborn child, if I choose.’
In Granada late on Good Friday I watched a paso or float of the Mater Dolorosa making its ponderous way towards the cathedral. The life-size statue was dressed in a black and silver robe. She was swaying gently from side to side and looked like a beautiful beetle with the many legs of the men carrying her (the cuadrilla) sticking out from the black curtain underneath her. Their load was so heavy that they had to stop and swap out for a fresh crew every few hundred metres. The float was accompanied by a marching band, candle bearers, incense-bearers, the women wearing mantillas and black lace, the teenagers in chorister’s robes. Around the float were the nazarenos or penitentes who wear caperuzas – tall, tapering hooded masks – and often carry wooden crosses. The similarity to Klu Klux Klan garb is coincidental; the nazarenos’ hoods point symbolically towards the heavens.
Every morning the postman delivers a sack of new books to the LRB office. The bulk of them turn out to be either books about religion or self-help books, which may say something about the apocalyptic mood of the publishing industry. The categories often overlap, as in The Truth Within by Gavin Flood, ‘a history of inwardness in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism’: religion can put you in touch with ‘a deeper, more fundamental, more authentic self’. The rest of this week's religious haul includes the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies and a collection of essays on Habermas and religion. There’s less variation in the self-help books, as the genre creeps forwards fad by fad. Pace Flood, the new hot topic is outwardness: help yourself by understanding others.
The Sunday Assembly, ‘a godless congregation for all’, is expanding. It was founded in January by two stand-up comics, Pippa Evans and Sanderson Jones, and sells itself as ‘all the best bits of church, but with no religion and awesome pop songs’. Alain de Botton has accused them of nicking the idea from him.
The Russian Orthodox Church is on holy war footing. The ‘sacrilege’ of Pussy Riot is no isolated incident, Patriarch Kirill says, but part of a wave of attacks on the church, ranging from accusations of financial irregularity to seemingly random acts of vandalism against church property. The attack on the church is not just anti-religious, according to pro-Kremlin media, but part of a larger geopolitical campaign by America to destabilise Russia.
In 2009, Elmer and Chastity Weebles, a Christian couple from Hackensaugh, New Hampshire, had their infant son marked with the stigmata of Christ. During the operation the feet and hands of eight-day-old Mercey Weebles were impaled with ordinary kitchen skewers by a medically unqualified pastor known to the Weebleses. Secularists lobbied to have the couple arraigned on charges of assault. But the DA’s office declined to file charges against the Weebleses, arguing that to do so would violate the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. The NH attorneys were backed by Deputy Governor Dirk Lopov-Iacioppa, touted as a future presidential hopeful, who proclaimed: ‘I do not want Hackensaugh to be the only county in the United States in which Christians cannot practise their rites.’
Chris Christie is very fat. That wasn’t the problem, as he contemplated running for president on the Republican ticket: 75 per cent of Americans are overweight, if not quite that overweight. Governor Christie is also Roman Catholic, and that is a problem, a very considerable problem, as regards his electability nationally. You can be certain his religious affiliation was in the mix as he sat down with his people this week and made his decision not to declare himself as a candidate.
Apparently the last pope, John Paul II, didn’t much care for the term ‘Popemobile’, which lacks the gravitas of the sedia gestatoria, the flunkey-borne sedan chair, flanked by white ostrich plumes, used for bearing popes on public show until the start of Karol Wojtyła’s pontificate in 1978. Presumably the term was formed by analogy with the Batmobile, used by the Caped Crusader for his forays into Gotham City’s dark underbelly, there to do battle with the Penguin, the Joker and other badhats.
I don't often find myself agreeing with the Archbishop of Canterbury. On reading his remarks about Irish Catholicism ('an institution so deeply bound into the life of a society... suddenly losing all credibility – that's not just a problem for the Church, it's a problem for everybody in Ireland'), I was transported back to my Catholic boyhood when, before a rugby game against an Anglican school, our Christian Brother teachers would warm us up with stories of Catholics being burnt at the stake by the Prots, with the coup de grace being 'and since this is a Protestant school we're playing at, don't leave any valuables in the changing room.' I can only imagine the depths of chagrin within the Church right now at having an Anglican divine dilate upon the Church's moral failings.
The recent spate of attacks on churches in Malaysia, following a court ruling allowing Christians to use the word ‘Allah’ for their god, has surprised many outsiders who thought the country was relatively tolerant. But for decades, even as Malaysia’s government portrayed the country as a racially harmonious society, non-Malays have quietly chafed at discrimination against them. Following race riots in 1969, the government launched an affirmative action initiative known as the New Economic Policy. It was intended to redistribute wealth from ethnic Chinese, who make up about 25 per cent of the population but historically ran much of the country’s business, to ethnic Malays, who comprise about 65 per cent. Most of the rest of the population are ethnic Indians.