The poor widow's offering

The New York Times reported on a Berkeley study that showed that rich people are less altruistic than the poor are. The study found that

lower-income people were more generous, charitable, trusting and helpful to others than were those with more wealth. They were more attuned to the needs of others and more committed generally to the values of egalitarianism.
The article goes on to say that
Empathy and compassion appeared to be the key ingredients in the greater generosity of those with lower incomes. And these two traits proved to be in increasingly short supply as people moved up the income spectrum.
When reading about this phenomenon, I am reminded of the story of the poor widow in Luke 21:1-4:
He looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on."

America needs more Muslims

I thought this article, titled "Why America Needs More Muslims", makes a very good point, namely that part of what feeds the anti-Islamic prejudice going on right now is that a lot of Americans don't know any Muslims and thus hold views about Islam based on stereotypes rather than reality. I often wonder how many of those who are so vehemently anti-Muslim, who oppose the building of mosques throughout the US as well as the building of a Muslim cultural center two blocks from Ground Zero, are actually acquainted with even a single Muslim in their personal lives. Familiarity doesn't always erase prejudice, of course, but I can't help but think that it might help to humanize people who are so easily demonized as "the Other".

Reza Aslan on atheist fundamentalism

Reza Aslan (who wrote an excellent history of Islam titled "No god but God") has penned a very nice article for the Washington Post/Newsweek "On Faith" website about the relationship between the New Atheists and religious fundamentalists. He points out that many of the New Atheists are so zealous in their intolerance of religion (thus resembling religious fundamentalists) that in their zeal they have shown themselves to have little in common prior strain of serious philosophical atheism:

It is no exaggeration to describe the movement popularized by the likes of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens as a new and particularly zealous form of fundamentalism--an atheist fundamentalism. The parallels with religious fundamentalism are obvious and startling: the conviction that they are in sole possession of truth (scientific or otherwise), the troubling lack of tolerance for the views of their critics (Dawkins has compared creationists to Holocaust deniers), the insistence on a literalist reading of scripture (more literalist, in fact, than one finds among most religious fundamentalists), the simplistic reductionism of the religious phenomenon, and, perhaps most bizarrely, their overwhelming sense of siege: the belief that they have been oppressed and marginalized by Western societies and are just not going to take it anymore.This is not the philosophical atheism of Feuerbach or Marx, Schopenhauer or Nietzsche (I am not the first to think that the new atheists give atheism a bad name). Neither is it the scientific agnosticism of Thomas Huxley or Herbert Spencer. This is, rather, a caricature of atheism: shallow scholarship mixed with evangelical fervor.
He goes on to point out that a willful and disdainful ignorance of religion seems to be a consistent characteristic of this movement:
The principle error of the new atheists lies in their inability to understand religion outside of its simplistic, exoteric, and absolutist connotations. Indeed, the most prominent characteristic of the new atheism--and what most differentiates it from traditional atheism--is its utter lack of literacy in the subject (religion) it is so desperate to refute. After all, religion is as much a discipline to be studied as it is an expression of faith. (I do not write books about, say, biology because I am not a biologist.) Religion, however it is defined, is occupied with transcendence--by which I mean that which lies beyond the manifest world and towards which consciousness is oriented--and transcendence necessarily encompasses certain theological connotations with which one ought to be familiar to properly critique belief in a god.
The comment about not writing books about biology without knowing something about the topic is particularly apropos. Many of the New Atheists seem to make a virtue out of not knowing anything about that which they condemn so vehemently; the so-called "Courtier's Reply" argument advanced by PZ Myers is an example of this claim that you don't need to know anything about religion to be able to dismiss it out of hand--and the interesting point is that Myers himself is a biologist who does not take kindly to people ignorant of biology making pronouncements about evolution.

Aslan also points out the fallacy of scientism--the belief that science can step out of its own domain and make pronouncements about subjects that do not fall within the scientific purview--which is to say, the human quest for meaning through religious myth and metaphor:
What the new atheists do not do, and what makes them so much like the religious fundamentalists they abhor, is admit that all metaphysical claims--be they about the possibility of a transcendent presence in the universe or the birth of the incarnate God on earth--are ultimately unknowable and, perhaps, beyond the purview of science. That may not be a slogan easily pasted on the side of a bus. But it is the hallmark of the scientific intellect.