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The Spiritual Edge: News roundup for 10.31.14


It’s Halloween! Trick or treating, and parties are the usual ways to celebrate, but a group of Wiccans in San Jose have a different idea, according to the San Jose Mercury News. They’re honoring Samhain, “a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the "darker half" of the year.”


It’s the end of the harvest season and perhaps also America’s honeymoon with meditation. While science still validates the benefits of mindfulness, cynicism is popping up. The cynicism is not necessarily about the tools adopted from Buddhism, but the way they’re being used. “Every religion can get appropriated by the West’s consumerist ideology, and Buddhism is no exception,” writes Shawn Van Valeknburgh in Salon. Valeknburgh criticizes a “surface-level spirituality that is really just materialism in disguise.”  


Speaking of materialism, this piece from NPR highlights the tensions between high tech workers who meditate, and San Franciscans resentful of wealth that is driving up the cost of living. The piece hints at a hypocrisy. Corporate programs at places like Google are teaching workers how to better “listen, connect and observe,” but is it just self-serving? Or will it lead these practitioners to compassion for all?    

Boy George is another famous figure who has switched religious affiliations, in his case from Catholic to Buddhist. In this interview with the Huffington Post, he says he is “Catholic in his complications and Buddhist in his aspirations.” The singer says he does a chanting practice called gongyo every morning and that it changes how he interacts with people.  

An environmental reporter in China named Liu Jiangiang is also finding comfort in Buddhism, according to this piece by Religion and Ethics Newsweekly. Jingiang started out an atheist. After 10 years of reporting on environmental destruction, he turned to Buddhism for deeper wisdom. He’s not alone. According to R&E, millions of Chinese are returning to the religion of their ancestors. The Communist government, which suppressed it for many years, is encouraging what it calls a return to “traditional” culture. It sees religion as a way to deal with the massive environmental problems economic growth has brought, by bringing back fundamental values that promote harmony between humankind and nature.

Okay, enough with Buddhism! Keith Ellison is the first Muslim elected to Congress and the first non-white person chosen by Minnesotans to serve as a representative. In this interview from Interfaith Voices, he talks about growing up Catholic and his passion for social justice that led to his conversion to Islam. He also speaks to common misperceptions about his chosen religion that are fueled by news of extremist terrorists. He says these misperceptions conflict with his understanding of Islam’s principal doctrines.