1. No doubt you’re familiar with the martyrdom of the monks of Tibhirine in Algeria, who were assassinated in 1996 by Jihadists. It is, without question, one of the most inspirational true stories of the past twenty years – regardless of where you’re coming from on the religious spectrum. You may have even heard that the recent film based on the events, Of Gods and Men, was Grand Prix winner at Cannes last year. If that weren’t high enough praise for it shoot to the top of your Netflix queue (when it becomes available on Tuesday 7/5), Andrew Sullivan’s stirring meditation will be, ht MS:

It is rare that a film can credibly reveal faith germinating in and transforming a human soul, and also the dark night of despair and faithlessness that is always never far away.

The movie, moreover, is about our religious war, which is why I hope more Americans see it, even though its factual origins lie long before the conflict tore through the sky in Manhattan. We see the choice between a corrupt government and a resistance of twisted, wicked, murdering theocrats. We see the need to oppose evil, not to mistake it – and yet, crucially, the necessity not to empower it by adopting its own logic of fear. Once you fight Jihadism with Jihadism, religious violence with religious violence, you have merely entered a vortex of self-destruction. You cannot “win” the war that way in the end, although you can snag a few Pyrrhic battles along the way.

What [the leader of the order, Frere] Christian says in… the note he specifically left behind to be read in case he were murdered – is that only hope conquers fear, and that only true faith can conquer false faith….

And outside, he calls the Jihadist leader’s bluff by knowing the real Koran as well as he does. The name of Jesus literally defuses the conflict. This is the moment of hope here – before darkness descends again: a mutual Muslim and Christian reverence for Jesus. From that moment on, the monks’ faltering, doubt-riddled, fear-ridden, gradual decision to risk martyrdom rather than compromise their faith seems to come from almost outside of them, beyond them.

2. A couple of fascinating bits of religious coverage this past week. First, an article on the “feminization” of American Judaism appeared last week on Slate.  And second, Ethics Daily looked at the future of Unitarianism in their piece “Can a Creedless Religion Make It Another 50 Years?,” addressing the frankly absurd lengths that the “church” goes to to avoid verticality – or any mention God:

In trying to be all things to everyone, they say, the association risks becoming nothing to anybody… An internal UUA report from 2005 suggested that more than dreams could die. The whole association could go toes up if members continue to muffle religious discussion, the report said.

‘The consensus of experts from an array of fields—from organizational development to systematic theology—is that to grow effectively, a religious organization needs clearly defined boundaries,’ the report states. ‘And one cannot put even the most permeable boundary around nothing.’

…a lack of defined beliefs has led the UUA to lose 85 percent of its young members, according to several reports, said [Michael] Scott, an active member of his Unitarian Universalist congregation in Rochester, N.Y. ‘Lacking any need to rebel against childhood orthodoxy, they simply drift away; they don’t see the point of what we do here,’ he said.

3. Not being much of a mathematician myself, I was surprised and amused to read about the current ruckus surrounding pi (3.14….). The number has enemies, it would appear, and they’re mobilizing! Specifically, there’s a movement afoot to replace pi with Tau (which is essentially pi x 2) – celebrations in honor of which took place this past Tuesday, aka Tau Day. The BBC reports that this is a religiously charged issue for some, ht CB:

“What’s amazing is the ‘conversion experience’: people find themselves almost violently angry at pi. They feel like they’ve been lied to their whole lives, so it’s amazing how many people express their displeasure with pi in the strongest possible terms – often involving profanity… I don’t condone any actual violence – that would be really bizarre, wouldn’t it?” [says Dr. Michael Hartl, author of The Tau Manifesto].

4. On Slate, Robert Pinsky asks the question, “Why Are William Cowper’s Poems So Witty?”, focusing specifically our great hero’s “Epitaph on a Hare”:

We sometimes criticize someone for “taking himself too seriously.” Cowper’s work presents a sensibility that challenges that notion—or takes it to an extreme, to a point where opposites meet and a comic or ironic detachment accompanies total dread.

5. A bunch of exciting music news to report: The Jayhawks have announced a September release date for their new record (and I promise I’m not making this up), Mockingbird Time…! It also looks like we’ll have a new one from Wilco that month, The Whole Love. I’ll let you guess which one I’m more excited about. Next, a legit-sounding Brian Wilson biopic is officially in the works – though still no word on the Smile Sessions release. The NY Times posted an intriguing review of a recent live show by the always intriguing David Bazan. And finally, in an effort to find a new label, Morrissey premiered three songs from his as-of-yet-unrecorded new album, and the titles (and tunes) find him in vintage form: “People Are The Same Everywhere,” “The Kid’s A Looker,” and “Action Is My Middle Name.”

6. In television, could it be that the folks at Salon are reading Mockingbird?! It could, at least if their article this week Friday Night Lights Lessons: You Are Going To Fail” is any indication, ht KW. Next, in the laugh-or-you’ll-cry department, there’s this. Finally, as I mentioned in the completely rewritten Post-Apocalypto post in the feature slider (plug), Falling Skies does a much better than expected job of making its invasion cliches palatable and even rather fun. Which is nice, cause we need something to tie us over until Breaking Bad starts back up…

7. In movies, what do you do when one of your favorite people works with one of your least favorite? We’ll soon find out – the trailer for the Brad Bird-directed Mission Impossible 4, starring Tom Cruise, hit the web yesterday:

Speaking of trailers (and Pixar), the redemption of Cars 2 might be coming sooner than we’d thought, as the Brave teaser suggests. Last but not least, The Times reports on “Walking In And Walking Right Back Out of ‘The Tree of Life.’”