Religion, Testamentary Documents, & End-of-Life Decisions

Wendy S. Goffe, an attorney in trusts and estates at Graham & Dunn PC in Seattle, has published Should I Stay or Should I Go? What Religion Says About Pulling the Plug,  a short piece detailing the ways in which religious convictions can affect end-of-life decisions.  The article addresses the potential religious obstacles that arise when, say, a believer drafts a living will.  For example, to insist doctors  not resort to extraordinary measures may or may not be religiously permissible. (How the title’s reference to The Clash’s hit single—a song describing confusion in a romantic relationship—from their 1982 album Combat Rock, informs this topic is a small mystery.)

The article also addresses the religious dilemmas that might face bereaved families whose loved ones have not left behind clear instructions as to what to do should they become brain dead, or even how to dispose of their bodies in the event of death—an often religiously fraught question.  Absent clear direction, families may be powerless to make the decisions they know the injured person would have preferred—or that, according to their own beliefs, they would prefer.  Even more complications can arise when end-of-life issues encounter religious belief—some of these are detailed in the abstract, which follows the jump.  Likewise, you can read the article in its entirety at here.

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McCants, “Founding Gods, Inventing Nations”

Here is a fascinating book that covers a great deal of chronological territory by William F. McCants (Johns Hopkins), Founding Gods, Inventing Nations: Conquest and Culture Myths From Antiquity to Islam (Princeton UP 2011) about the relationship between religion and cultural formation.  It looks really terrific.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

From the dawn of writing in Sumer to the sunset of the Islamic empire, Founding Gods, Inventing Nations traces four thousand years of speculation on the origins of civilization. Investigating a vast range of primary sources, some of which are translated here for the first time, and focusing on the dynamic influence of the Greek, Roman, and Arab conquests of the Near East, William McCants looks at the ways the conquerors and those they conquered reshaped their myths of civilization’s origins in response to the social and political consequences of empire.

The Greek and Roman conquests brought with them a learned culture that competed with that of native elites. The conquering Arabs, in contrast, had no learned culture, which led to three hundred years of Muslim competition over the cultural orientation of Islam, a contest reflected in the culture myths of that time. What we know today as Islamic culture is the product of this contest, whose protagonists drew heavily on the lore of non-Arab and pagan antiquity.

McCants argues that authors in all three periods did not write about civilization’s origins solely out of pure antiquarian interest–they also sought to address the social and political tensions of the day. The strategies they employed and the postcolonial dilemmas they confronted provide invaluable context for understanding how authors today use myth and history to locate themselves in the confusing aftermath of empire.

Wuthnow, “Red State Religion”

From the well-known sociologist of religion, Robert Wuthnow, comes this new book, Red State Religion: Faith and Politics in America’s Heartland (Princeton UP 2011).  The book looks like an interesting examination of the interaction of religion and politics in the state of Kansas, and potentially much more illuminating than other tendentious accounts.  The publisher’s description follows.  — MOD

No state has voted Republican more consistently or widely or for longer than Kansas. To understand red state politics, Kansas is the place. It is also the place to understand red state religion. The Kansas Board of Education has repeatedly challenged the teaching of evolution, Kansas voters overwhelmingly passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage, the state is a hotbed of antiabortion protest–and churches have been involved in all of these efforts. Yet in 1867 suffragist Lucy Stone could plausibly proclaim that, in the cause of universal suffrage, “Kansas leads the world!” How did Kansas go from being a progressive state to one of the most conservative?

In Red State Religion, Robert Wuthnow tells the story of religiously motivated political activism in Kansas from territorial days to the present. He examines how faith mixed with politics as both ordinary Kansans and leaders such as John Brown, Carrie Nation, William Allen White, and Dwight Eisenhower struggled over the pivotal issues of their times, from slavery and Prohibition to populism and anti-communism. Beyond providing surprising new explanations of why Kansas became a conservative stronghold, the book sheds new light on the role of religion in red states across the Midwest and the United States. Contrary to recent influential accounts, Wuthnow argues that Kansas conservatism is largely pragmatic, not ideological, and that religion in the state has less to do with politics and contentious moral activism than with relationships between neighbors, friends, and fellow churchgoers.

This is an important book for anyone who wants to understand the role of religion in American political conservatism.

Catholic Bishops Focus on Religious Liberty

Here is a story that should be of some  interest to those who work on and think about religious liberty.  The story, notwithstanding various slanted statements in it (the bishops did not “reorder their priorities” between the 1980s and the 1990s, all of a sudden deciding that abortion was very important to them) as well as several rhetorical lowlights (using words like “ire” and so on to describe what are religious beliefs, suggesting that Catholic beliefs have been strategically “recast” in certain ways), seems at least accurately to report a new focus of the bishops on questions of religious liberty.

The piece is another indication that John Allen had it exactly right.

No More “Back of the Bus” in Israel

From Reuters yesterday, an article about a recent protest against segregated seating on public buses in Jerusalem. A group of women entered Bus No. 56 through the front door and sat in the front seats. The problem is that No. 56 runs through an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood that frowns on the public mixing of the sexes. In fact, until very recently, women on Bus No. 56 were told to enter through the rear door and sit in the back. Only this year, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that women traveling on public buses cannot be told to sit in the back, and signs now say that people have a right to sit wherever they want. Segregation continues, however. Whatever secular law requires, many ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem — and not only men, according to the article — believe that the Torah forbids the mixing of men and women on buses; other Torah experts dispute this. The author draws on the protest to highlight the increasingly bitter divide between secular and religious Jews in Israel. – MLM

Albert on the Establishment Clause and the Separation of Powers

Richard Albert (Boston College) has posted a new article, The Separation of Higher Powers, on SSRN. The abstract follows. — MLM

The very first words of the very first amendment to the United States Constitution continue to frustrate the quest for constitutional clarity. The Bill of Right’s Establishment Clause commands in plain terms that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” but the legal interpretation and political implications of the Clause remain contested today as ever before. What may government require of religion? What may religion demand of government? How much of its independence must religion cede to government? And how closely may government collaborate with religion? These enduring questions admit of no definitive answers, at least not without an organizing logic that can bring coherence and purpose to the Establishment Clause. In this Article, I suggest that the concept of the separation of powers can help do just that. Using separation of powers theory, I construct a framework for clarifying the meaning of the Establishment Clause, giving political actors guidance for crafting policy pursuant to it, and making predictable its interpretation in courts.