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religion

Ramy Youssef at the 2017 MPAC Media Awards

Actor and comedian Ramy Youssef pulled off an incredible feat in his March 30, 2024 Saturday Night Live appearance, mixing religion, politics and humor in a way that disarmed and united people. Some people are calling it one of the best SNL monologues ever, and it's genuinely impressive to watch.

How often have you seen someone manage to talk about religion, prayer, the upcoming election, and something like the bombardment of Palestine in a way that isn't offensive, obnoxious, or overwrought and that's also funny? Never, right?

Youssef somehow did all of that in an 8-minute stand-up comedy routine that was equal parts warm, genuine, heartfelt and humorous.


He started off talking about it being a holy weekend, with Ramadan, Easter and Beyoncé's "Cowboy Carter" album dropping. "There's just so many religions celebrating at once," he quipped. "I'm doing the Ramadan one," he added.

Youssef is a Muslim and he shared that one of the things people don't always know about Muslims is how loving they are. After some giggle-worthy examples, he pointed out that there's "all this division, but it's not where you think it is." He spoke about his fear as a Muslim who speaks Arabic in rural upstate New York, yet made it funny. He referenced the Biden campaign in a way that poked fun of identity politics. He celebrated the idea of having a transgender woman president, but what really got people talking was how he ended his monologue.

To wrap it up, he took a more serious—and yet still somehow funny—turn towards prayer for the suffering of the people of Palestine, the hostages in both Palestine and Israel along with his friend's divorce and dog. It's truly a masterclass delivering meaningful commentary with smart, relatable humor.

Watch:

People on YouTube are raving about it.

"Ramy proving you can be irreverent and funny while also spreading love instead of hate," wrote one commenter.

"Ya know.... comedy about religion is touchy.... and he nailed it. Nice work, sir," wrote another.

"Gave me chills. The silence when people realized the depth...and Ramy's generosity in bringing us back with Mr. Bojangles...*perfection*," shared another.

"I have nothing but heart emojis for this man," shared another.

Some people said the monologue brought tears to their eyes. Others remarked at how impressive it was that he covered so many topics that would normally have people gunning for him, but his endearing manner and calm, tactful delivery tempered negative reactions to those topics.

Youssef played a role in the Oscar-nominated "Poor Things" film and had an award-winning special on Hulu, but many SNL watchers still weren't familiar with him. "Don’t know who that guy is, but he performed like standup like a vet. Very impressive. Congrats to him," wrote one person. "No idea who this kid is but I'm impressed.. owning that stage is no small feat. Kid did great," wrote another. (Youssef is 33, so not really a kid by most measurements, but still.)

It's a very narrow line to walk to successfully pull off either religious or political humor, especially in a time of high tensions, so the fact that he nailed both with near flawless balance is really something.

You can follow Ramy Youssef on Instagram.


Arnold Schwarzenegger in São Paulo, Brazil, 2019.

At 75, Arnold Schwarzenegger is thinking about the big questions of life. He opened up about his thoughts on the afterlife in a conversation with his “Twins” co-star Danny DeVito for Interview Magazine.

Devito asked “The Terminator” star, “What's in the future for us?" and he gave a thoughtful answer to a question that philosophers, scientists and religious leaders have grappled with since the dawn of humanity.

"It reminds me of Howard Stern's question to me. 'Tell me, governor, what happens to us when we die?' I said, 'Nothing. You're 6 feet under,'” he told DeVito.

"I said, 'We don't know what happens with the soul and all this spiritual stuff that I'm not an expert in, but I know that the body as we see each other now, we will never see each other again like that,'" continued Schwarzenegger.


Schwarzenegger admitted that he’s not comfortable with the topic of death but thinks the notion of a heaven is a “fantasy.”

"When people talk about, 'I will see them again in heaven,' it sounds so good, but the reality is that we won't see each other again after we're gone. That's the sad part. I know people feel comfortable with death, but I don't,'" he said.

Instead, the bodybuilder has created his own concept of heaven.

"To me, heaven is where I put a person who I love dearly, who is kind, who is generous, who made a difference in my life and other people's lives," he said. "I keep them in a spot in my head, like that front row that you have of all of your friends. And you always have a good feeling when you think of them."

There are far-reaching implications for all of humanity if there is no afterlife. But on a personal level, Schwarzenegger’s belief suggests that if we only have a short time on this Earth with one another, and we shouldn’t take it for granted. Plus, the day-to-day relationships we enjoy with our loved ones lose their significance when they are played out in a timeframe that extends throughout eternity.

The finite nature of relationships is why we love our pets so dearly. The moment they enter our lives, we are burdened by the knowledge that they will one day leave. So we savor every cuddle, game of fetch and long walk on a spring day.

On a deeper level, every day beneath a bright, glowing sun matters more with the understanding that this is the only life we get and no paradise awaits on the other side. It suggests that if all of humanity shared Schwarzenegger’s view of things, we’d be more invested in making life better in the here and now versus waiting for something better around the corner. Imagine the paradigm shift if billions of people stopped waiting for their treasures in heaven and instead, began embracing the possibilities of the here and now.

With this perspective and some work, love and courage, humanity could make this world a touch closer to the paradise we pray for on the other side. And if when we die, there is a heaven, all the better.

Identity

Church of England is considering switching to gender-neutral pronouns for God

The church announced that it could be breaking away from its tradition of referring to God as "he."

Canva

The Church of England announced that it was considering adopting more inclusive language when refering to God.

Is God male? Female? Both? Neither? In Christian scripture, the answer is not so cut and dried. God is often referred to as the Heavenly Father who created man in “his” image. At the same time, other parts of the Bible contradict that notion, indicating that God is equal parts masculine and feminine, being the sum total and creator of all things. One could also say that God is neither male nor female, again considering that, in being everything, God is not limited to what distinguishes humans from one another.

It’s because of this nuance that the Church of England announced that it would be considering dropping the use of “he” and “him” and instead adopting gender-neutral pronouns.

According to The Guardian, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield and vice-chair of the commission behind this change, argues that while this breaks traditional teachings, the church had already been “exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years.”

church of england

No specifics of the project have been revealed.

Photo by Cherry Laithang on Unsplash

The project comes in response to Rev. Joanna Stobart, vicar of Ilminster and Whitelackington in Somerset, who asked the synod to provide an “update on the steps being taken to develop more inclusive language” used in prayer, especially for those who "wish to use authorized liturgy and speak of God in a non-gendered way.”

While specifics of this campaign remain unclear, there has already been pushback, particularly at the possibility of removing the term “Our Father” from The Lord’s Prayer. The Telegraph reported that the Rev. Dr. Ian Paul asserted that it would change the messaging to something not "grounded in the scriptures".

“‘Father’ can’t be substituted by ‘Mother’ without changing meaning, nor can it be gender-neutralized to ‘parent’ without loss of meaning,” he said.

Still, a spokesperson for the Church of England countered, “This is nothing new. Christians have recognized since ancient times that God is neither male nor female, yet the variety of ways of addressing and describing God found in scripture has not always been reflected in our worship.” This interest in exploring new language is therefore a way to further align values.

While the concept of using gender-neutral language might be relatively new for English speakers, other languages around the world have used non-gendered pronouns for centuries. English itself is a language comprised of several mother tongues and is constantly evolving—hence why it has so much variety. So perhaps this change is merely an example of what the English language naturally does, what it has always done.

Either way, it’s an interesting example of how language is merely a tool to put a name to that which is intangible—a tool that can change depending on its purpose. In this case, it's being used to define arguably the most intangible thing in the universe.

Democracy

Synagogue sues Florida over abortion ban, saying it violates freedom of religion for Jews

Advocating for abortion access is not the religious argument we usually hear, but it is no less valid than religious arguments against it.

Jewish leaders are explaining that abortion is a religious right.

Debate over legal access to abortion has long been a part of social and political discourse, but increasing state-level restrictions and a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that threatens to overturn five decades of legal precedent have propelled abortion directly into the spotlight once again.

While we're accustomed to seeing religious arguments against abortion from Christian organizations, a synagogue in Florida is flipping the script, making the argument that banning abortion actually violates Jewish religious liberty.

In a lawsuit against the Florida government, Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor of Boynton Beach says that the state's pending abortion law, which prohibits abortion after 15 weeks with few exceptions, violates the Jewish teaching that abortion "is required if necessary to protect the health, mental or physical well-being of the woman.” Citing the constitutional right to freedom of religion, the lawsuit states that the act "prohibits Jewish women from practicing their faith free of government intrusion and this violates their privacy rights and religious freedom."

Wow.



The Florida 15-week abortion ban only grants exceptions if the mother's life is at risk, if she is at risk of "irreversible physical impairment" or if the fetus is found to have a fatal abnormality. There are no exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking.

If Jewish law stipulates that access to abortion is required not only for a woman's physical well-being but also her mental well-being, then laws that criminalize such access are violating religious freedom, Congregation L’Dor Va-Dor contends.

Advocating for abortion access is not the religious argument we usually hear, but it is on equal footing with religious arguments against it. (It's worth pointing out that Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Florida abortion act into law not at his office, but rather at a church.)

The synagogue's lawsuit raises the question of which religion takes precedence when it comes to legislation. It also highlights the difference between "This is against my religion, therefore no one can do it" and "This is part of my religious tradition, therefore I legally have a right to access it." The former really has no place in U.S. law, as it violates the traditional separation of church and state, and the latter is a prime example of the purpose of the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

Part of what makes legislating abortion so messy is that the questions at the heart of the debate are actually largely religious in nature. What is the true nature of human life and when does life begin? At what point is a zygote, an embryo, a fetus considered a full human being with the same rights as the rest of us? What is the relationship between a human (or potential human) in the womb and the person whose body is building it? What responsibilities does the person who is building it have toward that life, and what responsibility does society and/or the government have in holding the human accountable for those responsibilities?

These are all legitimate questions that don't have easy, straightforward answers, no matter how simplistic and undernuanced people try to make them. They may be simple questions for some people to answer individually, but collectively? No. We all make those determinations based on different criteria, different beliefs, different values and different understandings of the nature of life. There is no way for "we the people" as a whole to answer those questions definitively.

And the implications of those questions extend far beyond the abortion debate. The Cleveland Clinic states that one-third to a half of pregnancies end in miscarriage before a person even knows they're pregnant. For those who believe that life begins at conception or fertilization, should every death in the womb be considered a tragedy? Should we mourn the loss of lives we carried that we never even knew existed?

There are the slippery slopes that stem from those questions as well. Some religious people may see a miscarriage as God's will, but what if it was caused by something a woman did? What if a miscarriage occurred because of an action taken of her own free will? Is she culpable for that loss using the same logic we use to criminalize abortion? At what point do we start policing women's behaviors—what she eats or drinks, what medications she takes, whether she's around smokers, and so on—at all times in order to protect a life she may potentially be carrying? We're already seeing women being jailed for miscarriages. How far will we go with it?

What about things like child support payments and government benefits? Why we do not expect child support to be paid from the moment a pregnancy is detected? Why do we not give Social Security numbers to Americans in the womb? Why can we not claim a child on our taxes until they are born? If there is genuinely no difference between a life being grown inside a uterus at 12 or 15 or 20 weeks and a life outside a uterus, why does the law treat them differently?

How do we begin to answer these questions when the heart of them always circles back to individual beliefs?

The synagogue's religious freedom argument is compelling for sure, but the bottom line is we shouldn't be legislating on something based on religious beliefs in the first place. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…" That's literally the opening line of the First Amendment of the Constitution. Banning abortion is, in effect, establishing a particular religious belief as law and prohibiting the free exercise of religion for an entire group of people.

At a basic level, abortion is 1) a medical event that entails far too many individual factors that are not the business of the government to judge, and 2) a choice that is determined to be valid or invalid, right or wrong, based largely on individual religious beliefs. Both of those realities are reason enough for legislators, who are neither medical professionals nor religious leaders, to stay out of people's uteruses and leave these incredibly personal medical and religious decisions to the individual.