Can reading help us to become better people?

I have a confession: sometimes when I’ve finished a really good novel, I miss the characters badly. I worry about what’s going to happen to those whose fates are left mysterious; I grieve for those who have suffered or died, I rejoice over marriages and babies and feel and think all sorts of things about people who don’t actually exist.

But of course, there’s nothing unusual in that confession; it’s the thing that keeps us turning pages — immersing ourselves in an imaginary world and caring deeply about the people that live there, and what happens to them. If we didn’t care, we wouldn’t continue reading. And the best books, I think, are those that make us care the most deeply.

Belle and I, just doing a little reading together.

Belle and I, just doing a little reading together.

People have debated the value and potential of stories — particularly the fictional kind — for millennia. Plato felt that his ideal republic should exclude poets because of their extraordinary power over the imagination, and a great many parents and teachers have spent a great deal of time fretting over the effect certain books might have on kids.

Yet even as people have struggled to make sense of what feels like a need for stories that simply aren’t true, we can’t seem to stop ourselves. And most of us have a sense that reading is somehow good for us, even if we don’t know exactly why. That, too, is an argument that goes back a long way, although it has become less popular of late.

{from my most recent post at iBelieve. Continue reading here.}

About that bill in Arizona…and what other implications it might have had

“The Sinner Series.” Photo courtesy Bernt Rostad via Flickr Creative Commons. - See more at: http://rachelmariestone.religionnews.com/2014/02/26/sb1062-arizona-religious-freedom-law-gay-gluttony/#sthash.j8JjtyH1.dpuf

“The Sinner Series.” Photo courtesy Bernt Rostad via Flickr Creative Commons.

I grew up in a Baptist church that didn’t condone the use of alcohol. But it was also located in an area where tourism was a key industry, which meant that a lot of young (and not-so-young) people were employed in restaurants. Restaurants that served alcohol.

Different people in my religious circles had different opinions on the subject, but I can remember more than one conversation ending with the acknowledgement that almost anything could be construed to violate certain Christian beliefs.

You could be a librarian and have to check out offensive, anti-Christian books.

You could be a city clerk and have to issue marriage licenses to people who were divorced.

You could be a cashier and have to sell condoms to unmarried people.

{Continue reading at Religion News Service.}

*updated* Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has vetoed the bill.

Clothing sizes are arbitrary. Stop fretting over them.

The dress was too small, so I wouldn’t buy it. It came in a larger size, but I wasn’t about to wear that size—in my mind, it was “too big.”

We’ve all been there, inordinately focused on the size number on the label. Women have fretted about their sizes—and how sizes differ from brand to brand and garment to garment—since standardized sizing was created. One reason the current sizing system exists is to prevent women from having to admit their objective measurements and weight to salespeople.

Photo courtesy Taz via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo courtesy Taz via Flickr Creative Commons

Recently, the tabloids reported that reality star Kim Kardashian, who gave birth last June and has since lost 70 pounds—is losing yet more weight. She works out for three hours a day and subsists on grilled fish and steamed vegetables because, says a friend, “She’s desperate to be a size-0 bride” for her upcoming wedding to rapper Kanye West. The couple hopes that the wedding will be featured in Vogue.

A relatively recent invention, size zero has become a topic of controversy with some people, including British model Katie Green, who’s calling for its abolishment. A contemporary size zero, “depending on brand and style, fits measurements of chest-stomach-hips from 30-22-32 inches to 33-25-35 inches.” In 1995, a person with those measurements would’ve worn a size 2. Remarkably, in 1958, similar measurements corresponded to a size 8—the smallest size then available. Today, sizes such as double zero exist. Perplexingly, some labels (such as former Spice Girl Victoria Beckham’s) even offer negative sizes.

{from my most recent post at Christianity Today’s her.meneutics}

Why does animal suffering hurts so much?

 

I’ve encountered a lot of sad animal stories — in books, on the web, and in real life — recently, and I’ve mused over why I find them so distressing in a recent post for Religion News Service.

A friend, commenting there, noted that one of the reasons animal suffering may break our hearts so much is because animals are so very innocent; so very dependent. It reminded me of This American Life host Ira Glass’s rationale for why he cares for his incredibly high-maintenance dog, Piney.

Graeme&Molly

Here is a bit of my RNS post:

“The peaceable kingdom of God includes a vision of animals living happily with and among people:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. (Isaiah 11:6)

and

And in that day will I make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, and with the fowls of heaven, and with the creeping things of the ground: and I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely. (Hosea 2:18)

Part of human longing for home — a longing that often looks a lot like faith — seems to include the hope that not just we, but our animals, too, will find a place beyond suffering, beyond fear, beyond death itself.”

{Read more here.}

 

Maybe there shouldn’t be a religious exemption to vaccinations.

I’ve written on vaccination before, and, no surprise, raised no small amount of ire each time. Recently, I’ve been wondering about the “religious exemption” that many parents abuse in order to excuse their kids from vaccines. Aside from the casual abuse of the idea of religious freedom (here expanded to “something I don’t believe in”), avoiding vaccinations means essentially drafting off of those who have them. Why doesn’t your unvaccinated kid get measles, mumps, rubella, diptheria, pertussis, or polio? Because those diseases have been largely eradicated through vaccination.

But that’s not the same as the disease being gone altogether. I can tell you that the polio virus is a plane ride away. Measles and pertussis are even closer than that.

I’m only kind of jesting when I say that those who vehemently oppose vaccines ought to test their convictions by spending a few weeks with their kids in a remote village in, oh, Rwanda, where polio, measles, rubella, typhoid, meningitis, and yellow fever — all vaccine-preventable — are still endemic.

As I wrote in a recent post at Religion News Service,

Someone may object that the government has no right to tell anyone to get an injection at all. To which I can only say, if that’s the kind of society you’d like to have, you can certainly find places in this world that will accommodate you, such as the country in which I currently live. The only problem? Without the herd immunity afforded you by living in a population that’s mostly vaccinated, you’d be at significant risk for contracting measles, typhoid, polio, yellow fever and other diseases largely conquered in the US…thanks, in no small part, to vaccines.

That might be the truer test of faith and convictions.

{see also my friend Ellen’s piece on the “fetal cell” objection to vaccinations}