Notebook > Religion
David Goldberg
David Ebener/EPA/Landov
David Goldberg

Cutting in

Religion | German officials enter religious sphere, prosecute rabbi over circumcision

Issue: "Dead heat," Sept. 22, 2012

In Germany, officials have pressed charges against a Jewish rabbi for performing circumcisions. The action comes in the wake of a court ruling in Cologne that banned all circumcisions but those done for "medical" reasons. After the ruling, a physician filed a complaint against Rabbi David Goldberg, who serves as a mohel (a ritual circumciser) for the Jewish community of Hof, in northern Bavaria. The 64-year-old Goldberg says he has performed more than 3,000 circumcisions on infant boys, procedures which are required under Jewish (and Muslim) ceremonial law.

The German court ruled that when medically unnecessary, circumcision represents a "severe and irreversible interference into physical integrity." Many Jewish, Muslim, and Christian leaders have argued that prosecuting Goldberg represents a major violation of religious liberty. Activists in San Francisco also attempted to ban religious circumcisions in a citywide vote in 2011, but a judge forbade the initiative, noting that state law prevented localities from regulating healthcare providers.

Princeton University professor Robert George, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, has called on Americans to defend Jews' right to maintain the practice, saying that banning religious circumcision is, "in effect, to forbid Jews from being Jews."

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Megachurch high

By Thomas Kidd

Eric Kayne/Houston Chronicle/AP

A new study by University of Washington sociologists suggests that worship at megachurches may induce a drug-like spiritual "high" which helps explain these congregations' success. Scientists note that large gatherings around shared experiences, from concerts to football games, can trigger physiological reactions and feelings of joy and transcendence. They say that the brain releases a specific chemical, oxytocin, at higher rates during such events. The study indicates that worshipping at megachurches can have similar effects. Professor James Wellman, one of the co-authors, says that megachurch attendees whom they interviewed recounted experiences of "unalloyed joy over and over again." That's why the authors say that the feeling of going to a megachurch is "like a drug."

I asked Wellman whether the authors acknowledged the possibility that something more spiritually significant was happening at megachurch services than at non-religious events. He told me that, when writing as a scholar, he chooses to remain neutral on such questions. Personally, however, he has no problem with the notion that God might be stirring the participants and their physiological reaction. Wellman, who is also an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) youth minister at a relatively small church, sees no reason that God "wouldn't use the physiology of the body to enthuse participants, it only makes sense."

After Bell

By Thomas Kidd

Kent Dobson
Hollyn Johnson/Grand Rapids Press/Landov
Kent Dobson

After months of uncertainty following the departure of its controversial pastor Rob Bell, Mars Hill Bible Church has named Kent Dobson as its new senior minister. Dobson is familiar to the Grandville, Mich., church, having served as an early worship director, and an occasional guest speaker since Bell left. Dobson has recently taught religion at Grand Rapids Christian Schools, but in 2008 he resigned from a teaching position at NorthPointe Christian Schools of Grand Rapids. This move followed his appearance in a Discovery Channel program, Jesus: The Missing History, which raised questions about the place of Jesus' birth, and whether the Gnostic "gospels" contained some truths.

Bell ignited a furor in 2011 with the publication of Love Wins, in which he implied that because of God's unfailing love, no person would spend eternity in hell. Since leaving Mars Hill in October, Bell has been working on television and book projects in the Los Angeles area. He recently announced a $500 two-day seminar in Laguna Beach where pastors and others could learn from Bell, take surfing lessons, and "be reminded that we signed up for a revolution," as Bell puts it on his website.

Thomas Kidd
Thomas Kidd

Thomas is a professor of history at Baylor University and a senior fellow at Baylor's Institute for Studies of Religion. His most recent book is Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Follow Thomas on Twitter @ThomasSKidd.

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