In search of religion without a license

Karl Marx thought of religion as the opiate of the masses, but it is his offspring who have become intoxicated on the suppression of religion.

Take Belarus, for example.  The former Soviet “Republic” seems anything less than a free society these days.  Its president, Alexander Lukashenko, is known in some circles as Europe’s last great dictator, and is no friend to religious freedom.

Belarus’ government required in 2002 that all religious activity be registered — a practice not unlike the one in place during the Soviet regime.  Registration is, of course, much more than just giving a name and an email address.  Registration creates lists, and to be on a list in a country that leans Marxist is not a good thing.  It didn’t take long for violations of this law to pop up.

The past few weeks haven’t improved upon this track record:

Belarus has imposed a fine of more than two months’ average wages on a Baptist who “organised choir singing and conducted conversations on religious topics” outside Ushachi public market, Forum 18 News Service has learnt. After a plain clothes policeman told a group of Baptists from outside the area to stop, Vladimir Burshtyn replied that they were not disturbing public order and cited religious freedom guarantees in Belarus’ Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The fine is, to Forum 18’s knowledge, the highest yet imposed on Baptists for unregistered religious activity. Higher fines have been imposed on members of other communities. Olga Karchevskaya, an official who witnessed the incident, defended the state’s response and the Religion Law’s restrictions because “we need to know who’s coming to us – they could be destructive or acting against people’s interests.” In a separate incident, a Baptist congregation’s worship in Osipovichi was interrupted by officials, and the congregation’s deacon was fined about two week’s average wages for leading an unregistered religious community.

The wall has come down, the “bear” has been put to rest. Perhaps, however, some remnants of the Cold War weren’t quite as thawed as we thought…

Is the internet messing with our minds?

Nicholas Carr is right on target with his suggestion that the internet may be changing the way we think. In a provocative, must-read piece in the current issue of The Atlantic, Carr argues that the fast-paced bite-sized world of internet reading is not innocuous:

…Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going-so far as I can tell-but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I’ve noticed this in my own reading habits. After being immersed in a world of blogs and RSS feeds, I find it difficult to switch back to book-reading mode. It’s almost as if I have to ease into long-form literature by reading a magazine article or something brief.

What to do about it, I’m unsure. In a few years will I be able to read anything longer than Twitter post or a Facebook status update?

The phenomenon does reveal the truth that reading is a habit that must be practiced to be well maintained. It also shows that those who do maintain the ability to read long works may soon possess a skill set that puts them in a league of their own.

Sunday Drive

Given the price of gasoline these days, driving at high speeds on a Sunday afternoon is out of the question. But thanks to the wonders of YouTube, we can all live vicariously.

First, the greatest movie car chase of all time, from the 1968 film Bullitt. Steve McQueen, in his 1968 390 CID V8 Ford Mustang, is followed by two crooks in a black 1968 Dodge Charger. He quickly turns the tables on them, and the chase commences. When the music stops, the engines roar, and it’s time to hang on. Read the details of the car chase here, and watch the clip below:

Since we’re competing with the Europeans for the price at the pump, I’m reminded of another high-speed driving flick called C’était un rendez-vous. Shrouded in mystery, this 9 minute film is a high speed morning ride through the city of Paris at dawn — shot in a single take:

Drive safely…