Religion

Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics.

Americans cheered when Aly Raisman of Needham, Mass., won a gold medal on Tuesday in the women’s all-around gymnastics competition, but at least some American Jews likely cheered a little louder.

“For people who are part of a minority, to see one of your own have this international recognition gives you enormous satisfaction and pride,” said Rabbi Keith Stern of Temple Beth Avodah in Newton Centre, Mass., where Raisman has worshipped since childhood. “It lets you say, ‘Look at what we’ve managed to do.’”

Members of minority faiths in the U.S. — Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs — are rooting for U.S. Olympians and also saving a few extra cheers for their co-religionists, both Americans and athletes from other teams. Before they go to bed or when they wake up, they scan lists of medal winners and competition results, looking for names that might sound Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Sikh.

But why?

In a sense, religion isn't supposed to matter in who a fan roots for, said Harold U. Ribalow, author of three books about Jewish athletes, trying to answer that question. But, he added, the evidence was overwhelming that people like to see those from their own groups do well, especially in the root-for-the-underdog world of sports.

QR Blog Editor 7-30-2012

Writing for The Huffington Post, Eric Sapp takes a closer look at a recent Pew Forum poll:

Here's a key point in the poll that didn't get much attention: 82 percent of those who know Obama is Christian say they are comfortable with his religion. So voters are basically twice as comfortable with Obama's faith when they know what it is. This is why faith outreach is so important (but more on that later).

Why does the fact that most voters are not comfortable with Obama's religion matter? More than two-thirds of voters (and seven-in-10 women voters) say they want a president with strong religious beliefs. As one might imagine, these numbers are even higher with religious populations. Eight-in-10 Protestants and three-in-four Catholic voters want a president with strong religious beliefs. And let's be honest, they aren't talking about wanting Obama to have strong Muslim beliefs (so the fact that 17 percent of voters think he's Muslim doesn't add to the plus column)!

Read more of Eric's analysis here

For the second time in less than a year, the Gallup poll reports that a majority of Americans would vote for an atheist for president.

The latest survey, from June, found that 54 percent of those asked said they would vote a “well- qualified” atheist into the Oval Office — the highest percentage since Gallup began asking the question in 1958, when only 18 percent said they would back a nonbeliever.

On the other hand, the survey showed that those who do not believe in God still come in behind every other group polled for, including gays and lesbians (68 percent) and Muslims (58 percent).

Still, an imaginary atheist candidate passed the 50 percent threshold for the first time when Gallup asked the question in August 2011, so the trend is upward.

“We have seen an enormous change over time in the willingness to vote for an atheist,” said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, which reports the numbers in its current newsletter.

“But I think the numbers also remind us that this is a deeply religious country. That doesn’t mean we are all going to church on Sunday, but that having religion in your life is valuable to most Americans and I think that explains the resistance.”

Chris Lisee 7-26-2012

A 600-foot footrace was the only athletic event at the first Olympics, a festival held in 776 B.C. and dedicated to Zeus, the chief Greek god.

For the next millennium, Greeks gathered every four years in Olympia to honor Zeus through sports, sacrifices and hymns. The five-day festival brought the Greek world together in devotion to one deity.

What began in ancient Greece as a festival to honor a single god, Zeus, has now become an almost Olympian task, as organizers of the games navigate dozens of sacred fasts, religious rituals and holy days. 

The London Olympics will try to accommodate religious athletes with 193 chaplains, a prayer room in every venue and a multifaith center in the Olympic Village.

Athletes at the ancient Olympics believed their training honored the gods, and victory was a sign of favor from a deity. As contests like wrestling, boxing, and horse racing were added to the Olympic roster, they supplemented devotional sacrifices, hymns, and ceremonies.

“The idea was that you were training to please Zeus. But part of the festival would be to visit the temple, visit the cult statues, making offerings, celebrating and seeing your family,” said David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona.

The combination of Greek sport and worship led the Roman Emperor Theodosius I, a Christian, to ban the Olympics in 393 A.D.

Brian E. Konkol 7-23-2012

It is difficult to discuss "hard topics" with people with whom I disagree.

When someone supports a political candidate whom I resist, holds to a theological understanding that I find confusing, or when I hear opposing points on climate change, poverty, global economics, human sexuality, etc., it is challenging to listen with a genuinely open ear. 

However, what I have found is that, even if I feel passionate about a particular point of view, when I am able to open up and genuinely listen to others, great things take place throughout the exchange. Through honest and open interaction, an increased level of mutual respect and understanding is achieved, we learn to understand why things are perceived the way they are, and the overall strength of the relationship grows. 

In our current North American climate of political polarization, religious division, and socio-economic seclusion, it is time to have more dialogue on — among other things — dialogue. 

A friend of mine once said, “a true and genuine dialogue only takes place when each person is willing to be ‘converted’ to the other side of the argument.” At first I was skeptical of this remark, as I wondered how I could ever open myself up to being “converted” on certain topics about which I felt strongly. But now I am beginning to see the wisdom in such a statement.

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo via Wylio.

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/5978664560

Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater and a top evangelical school, joined Catholic groups in a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate even as a federal judge’s ruling clouded prospects for such actions.

Wheaton, located west of Chicago, filed the suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., joining Catholic University of America, which launched its suit two months ago. The University of Notre Dame and dozens of other religious organizations, mainly Catholic, have also filed suits in federal courts around the country to overturn the mandate. 

Wheaton is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal advocacy group that has spearheaded many of the challenges to the policy, which will require most employer health insurance plans to provide birth control coverage.

The mandate, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, goes into effect on Aug. 1, but most religious organizations have a year’s grace period while they try to work out an acceptable accommodation with the administration.

Tripp Hudgins 7-17-2012

I haven't written about the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle yet. I think I posted about it on Facebook or Pinterest or somewhere like that. I'm excited by the discovery. Actually, I'm excited by discovery in general. Discovery is good stewardship. This particular discovery is particularly intriguing (Get it? I used "particular" since we're talking about particles! I'm so clever in the morning.).

So, let me begin with a simple prayer. I want to get into this a bit.

God of the moon, God of the sun,
God of the globe, God of the stars,
God of the waters, the land, and the skies,
Who ordained to us the King of promise.

It was Mary fair who went upon her knee,
It was the King of life who went upon her lap,
Darkness and tears were set behind,
And the star of guidance went up early.

Illumed the land, illumed the world,
Illumed doldrum and current,
Grief was laid and joy was raised,
Music was set up with harp and pedal harp.

QR Blog Editor 7-17-2012

The Christian Post reports: 

"A new ABC/Washington Post poll released Monday highlights the differences between Americans who believe racial and religious discriminations are non-issues today versus those who feel racism is a factor in selecting our elected leaders. The poll is timely given that its findings apply to both presidential candidates: incumbent Barack Obama, the first African-American U.S. president, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who if elected would be the first Mormon U.S. president.

According to the poll, 62 percent of non-blacks do not see racial discrimination as a predominant issue in their communities. Among this group, 59 percent favor Romney while 34 percent back Obama.

In March, 42 percent of Americans surveyed said candidates' religious beliefs were important compared to 38 percent in the most recent poll. Political analysts view this as a sign that more Americans are becoming comfortable with Romney's religious beliefs as they learn more about him. Sixty-three percent say a candidate's religion does not matter significantly."
 
Read more here

 

Kent Faulk 7-16-2012
Door-to-door solicitor photo, EdBockStock / Shutterstock.com

Door-to-door solicitor photo, EdBockStock / Shutterstock.com

Seventh-day Adventists have filed a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of two ordinances in an Alabama city that the church says bars it and other religious groups from door-to-door solicitations unless they first register and pay license fees.

The lawsuit was filed after a member of the church's Summer Student Missionary Program was ticketed in June by a police officer for selling books door-to-door without a City of Alabaster permit, the lawsuit states. After the citation, the group suspended its program in Alabaster, which is about 20 miles south of Birmingham.

"The City of Alabaster has enacted two sweeping ordinances that unconstitutionally restrict the exchange of beliefs and religious principles within the Alabaster city limits," the lawsuit states. The ordinances were enacted in 1994.

The lawsuit seeks a court order that declares the ordinances unconstitutional and bars the city from enforcing them.

Christian Piatt 7-16-2012
Image via QuickMeme.com.

Image via QuickMeme.com.

Thanks to Steve Knight for alerting me to this joke, which has become one of my instant favorites. After all, it combines two things I dig: nerd humor and theology (also nerdy).

Yeah, yeah, you may be groaning, but you’re smiling while doing it. Admit it.

There’s plenty of chatter lately about the so-called “God Particle,” recently discovered , with some in the scientific field actually calling it the “goddamn particle,” because (at least as I understand it) the discovery opens up the possibility of something without detectable mass actually giving mass to other particles.

Kind of like: In the beginning there was nothing, and then…

Sound familiar?

Chris Lisee 7-14-2012
The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN. Photo via Wylio (http://bit.ly/MpMJwS)

The Large Hadron Collider/ATLAS at CERN. Photo via Wylio (http://bit.ly/MpMJwS)

The Higgs boson is perhaps better known by its sexier nickname: the "God particle."

But in fact, many scientists, including the physicist for whom it is named, dislike the term.

In 1993 when American physicist Leon Lederman was writing a book on the Higgs boson, he dubbed it "the goddamn particle." An editor suggested "the God particle" instead.

One thing is clear: The July 4 discovery that marked a new chapter in scientific knowledge also reignited debate over the universe’s origins — and the validity of religious faith as scientific knowledge expands.

The Higgs boson explains why particles have mass — and in turn why we exist. Without the boson, the universe would have no physical matter, only energy.

The cosmological implications are hotly debated. Can God fit in a scientific story of creation?

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria.

Smoke billows from Christ the King Catholic Cathedral in Zaria, Nigeria after a suicide bomb attack on June 17. By AFP/Getty.

Ongoing violence in Nigeria has exacerbated tensions between the country's Muslims and Christians. Nigeria has equal numbers of Christians and Muslims, and 92 percent of the country's population says they pray every day, according to a 2010 poll by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Hundreds of Christians and Muslims have died this year alone, including scores killed last weekend (July 7-8) when Muslim militants attacked Christian villages in the nation’s central plateau, where the mostly Muslim north and the mostly Christian south meet.

Read five things you should know about the violence in Nigeria inside the blog...

QR Blog Editor 7-05-2012

FDR Memorial, Washington, D.C. Photo by Orhan Cam/Shutterstock.

CNN.com's John Blake reports:

We elect a president every four years, but perhaps we also elect a high priest.  Ever since George Washington spontaneously added “so help me God” to his inaugural oath, Americans have expected their presidents to believe in, worship and publicly invoke God....

History suggests, however, that piety and presidential performance don’t always match. Some of America’s most religious presidents have been its most brutal. And two of its greatest presidents wouldn’t even be considered Christians today, scholars say.

Consider Abraham Lincoln, who is widely acknowledged as one of the nation’s three greatest presidents, along with Washington and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. But Lincoln, who never joined a church, was not a Christian, says Niels C. Nielsen, author of God in the Obama Era.

“Lincoln believed in an active God, he believed in providence. But if you asked Lincoln if he believed in the deity of Jesus, he would have said no,” Nielsen says.

Or look at Roosevelt, who is virtually a national saint. With his perpetual grin and a cigarette holder perched jauntily in his mouth, he guided the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. His legacy is built on his New Deal, an array of programs that protected the poor and elderly from the abuses of unrestrained capitalism.

But Roosevelt was no saint in his personal life. He rarely talked publicly about his Episcopal faith, preferred golf over church (before he was stricken by polio), and likely cheated on his wife, scholars say.

Read Blake's report — which also examines the faith of Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson and Barack Obama — HERE.

Kay Campbell 7-04-2012
Photo by Michael Sprague via Wylio, http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/20991774

Photo by Michael Sprague via Wylio (http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/20991774)

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. —  When it comes time for family study hour at Chad and Charlotte Tate's home in Huntsville, Ala., Evan, 18 months, is quick to grab her Bible and climb onto her seat at the table.

As Jehovah's Witnesses, the Tates believe it's never too early to help children begin learning the Bible.

"That's one of the things we really like about Jehovah's Witnesses," said Chad Tate, smiling as he watched his son, Tucker, 12, help boost his sister onto the table's bench. "We worship together and we study together as a family."

The small size of Kingdom Hall congregations, which are kept to around 100 members, emphasis on witnessing, and lack of paid clergy have helped Jehovah's Witnesses become one of the fastest growing faiths in the world.

Jehovah's Witnesses now have more than 1.1 million U.S. members and are one of the country's fastest-growing denominations, with personal evangelism required of all members.

Tom Ehrich 7-04-2012

SEATTLE — In 1962, when my younger brother was just four years old, this city perched on the nation's northwest rim held a World's Fair that imagined a glistening future.

Grounded in a vision of science and technology, the Century 21 Exposition foresaw a steady economic expansion and an orderly modernity that would continue 1950s prosperity and stability far into the future.

They got the science and technology right. Seattle is now a world hub for software development and Internet commerce, as well as for the caffeine and jeans-clad lifestyle that fuel young techs.

Stephen Prothero 7-04-2012

During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., I took in two exhibits on Thomas Jefferson at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History: one on slaves at Monticello and the other on the cut-and-paste version of the Gospels known as the Jefferson Bible.

In the first exhibit, I was informed that our third president likely fathered children with his slave Sally Hemings. In the second, I was told that the Jefferson Bible was a "revolutionary document."

This is the sort of stuff that drives David Barton mad. Barton is an evangelical minister and the founder of WallBuilders, a "pro-family" organization dedicated, according to its website, to "presenting America's forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious and constitutional foundation on which America was built." Like many of his fellow travelers on the Christian right, Barton is convinced that his heroes are under attack, and he has no intention of turning the other cheek.

In his new book, The Jefferson Lies, Barton argues that academics have spread a series of falsehoods about Jefferson — that he was a racist, a secularist and an advocate of strict church/state separation. Barton thinks he knows better. His Jefferson, who died (appropriately enough) on July 4, 1826, wasn't just an "American hero." He was an orthodox Christian, too.

Lionized by Glenn Beck and other social conservatives, Barton is a culture warrior driven by desire rather than by evidence. As a result, his writing is more "truthy" than "truthful."

QR Blog Editor 6-28-2012

Stephen Mansfield writes for The Huffington Post:

T"here are other matters that may drive religion to the forefront of the 2012 presidential election. We cannot be certain of all of them now. What Americans ought to know by this time in their history, though, is that religion is seldom far from their politics, seldom much removed from American culture as a whole. The 2012 campaign is likely to illustrate this as much as any presidential election in the nation's history."

Read the author's full list of the key religious issues in the election here

Gregory Damhorst 5-23-2012
Sisters, javarman / Shutterstock.com

Sisters, javarman / Shutterstock.com

The reprimand that came out of the Vatican last month has familiar echoes.

The statement addressing the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR), which represents 80 percent of nuns in the United States, accuses the organization of “serious doctrinal problems” regarding the focus of religious practice, among them, a concern that the Catholic Sisters are too focused on social justice and not enough on voicing the Church’s views on homosexuality or abortion.

For me, the reprimand carries reverberations of similar friction from my undergrad that followed a weeklong retreat on Chicago’s West Side.

Christian Piatt 5-11-2012
Rodin's thinker, Rafael Ramirez Lee / Shutterstock.com

Rodin's thinker, Rafael Ramirez Lee / Shutterstock.com

Amy is incredibly intuitive, and she enjoys a faith that I find sort of mysterious. This extends beyond God to faith in other people too: another quality I tend to lack. When I met her, she was already serving in ministry, while I hadn’t darkened the door of a church in a decade. I got in trouble in church in the first place for doubting and questioning, which seemed to rub up against the more intuitive faith of those in my church at the time.

The message I got was that critical thought and faith simply didn’t mix. But in the more “progressive” mainline churches, I found a space in which such challenging questions were welcome. Small wonder, I guess, that some folks view such denominations and churches as fomenting atheism beneath the cloak of Christianity.

Tripp Hudgins 5-08-2012
Church candles, Hitdelight / Shutterstock.com

Church candles, Hitdelight / Shutterstock.com

This is a response to some of the NPR coverage on pastors who are losing their religion. It's a heartbreaking series. I say that not because people are losing their faith, changing their minds about religion. I'm heartbroken because I'm not hearing about any Christian tradition other than American Fundamentalism. That's Christianity according to mass media and, apparently, according to the men and women who have stepped away from the Church. They believe so strongly in the arguments of Fundamentalism that they cannot imagine another form of Christianity. They cannot imagine another God. They believe that Fundamentalism is the only theology out there. They believe in One God, the Fundamentalist God. So, in breaking with that rhetoric, they have to break with the whole Church.

We who believe something other than American Fundamentalism have failed these people. We have failed again and again to successfully offer the alternatives to Fundamentalism. Instead, we sit in our beautiful neo-gothic buildings or in our hip-coffee shops or under the dome of the Pantokrator and wonder why people do not know us. It's simply crap. If all there were in Christianity was American Fundamentalism, I would be an atheist, too. Perhaps the Fundamentalists have won after all.

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