Religion

Christian Piatt 07-16-2012
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 07-14-2012
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 07-05-2012

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 07-04-2012
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 07-04-2012

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 07-04-2012

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 06-28-2012

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 05-23-2012
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 05-11-2012
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 05-08-2012
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.

Christian Piatt 04-27-2012
Drive Thru, iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

Drive Thru, iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

I talk to folks a lot about what role the church should have in contemporary life in serving people. There’s the trend of “third space” ministry, getting out of the four walls of the church building and meeting people in different, typically “secular” contexts.

One defining trait of postmodern life is the blurring of previous boundaries. Just like work now can go with us beyond the cubicle, people think about faith in different terms than just sitting in a sanctuary on Sunday morning. There are entire ministries that do all of their work online, broadcasting services, or recording them for people to view on demand. There are blogs (like mine) whose authors consider what they do to be a ministry, though not in the typical sense of the word.

Sandi Villarreal 04-19-2012
Jupiterimages/Getty Images

Jupiterimages/Getty Images

One in four young millennials (age 18-24) identify themselves as religiously unaffiliated—up from 11 percent in their childhood. But the distinguishing factor for this age group is that the “unaffiliated” label may stick with them into adulthood and beyond.

“This cohort is so dramatically different—racially, ethnically and religiously—it can’t help but change the character of our country,” Daniel Cox, director of research at Public Religion Research Institute, said at the presentation of the “Millennial Values Survey,” conducted by PRRI and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs.

In the past, young adults have tended to lapse in faith during their college years and twenties, only to return with age and family. Robert Jones, PRRI founder and CEO, said that’s not likely to happen as much with this age group.

“We’ve got to come up with some new measures of religion,” Jones said.

Annalisa Musarra 04-18-2012
Tony Magdaraog/Shutterstock.com

Devotees celebrate the feast of The Black Nazarene in Manila, Philippines. Tony Magdaraog/Shutterstock.com

Belief in God is slowly declining in most countries around the world, according to a new poll, but the truest of the true believers can still be found in developing countries and Catholic societies.

The “Beliefs about God Across Time and Countries” report, released Wednesday (April 18) by researchers at the University of Chicago, found the Philippines to be the country with the highest belief, where 94 percent of Filipinos said they were strong believers who had always believed.

At the opposite end, at just 13 percent, was the former East Germany.

Amanda Greene 04-13-2012
Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 -- his year of conversion.

But he's not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn't call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha'i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen's aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

Jack Palmer 04-04-2012
Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

Alain de Botton. Image via www.alaindebotton.com.

This is not another book that simply critiques religion. In Religion For Atheists: A Non-believer's Guide to the Uses of Religion, Alain de Botton, a noted author on a wide range of themes – from architecture to the works of Proust – examines those engaging and helpful aspects of religion (particularly focusing on Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism) that might, as he puts it, “fruitfully be applied to the problems of secular society.”

Anyone who might be offended by a work that from the outset (indeed on its very first page) asserts that “of course no religions are true in any God-given sense”, is encouraged to steer clear of this book by the author himself.

It is a book that seems to swing between revulsion of religion and the “religious colonization” that atheists are charged to reverse and a recognition that all is not well in the secular world, and that these ills may be somewhat righted by looking toward religion – let me clarify – toward those aspects of religious traditions that de Botton believes are relevant to the world today: community, kindness, education and art, for example.

The very first subject to be tackled is that of community – something that Sojourners knows a little something about (check out Nicole Higgins’ recent review of Wanderlust for some insights) – and what strikes me as interesting is that de Botton’s hypothesis on the loss of community mirrors a phrase often spoken by Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis:

Did we lose our sense of community when we began to privatize our faith?

Emily Goldberg 04-03-2012
Sunrise over New York City. Image via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/HRlswn).

Sunrise over New York City. Image via Wiki Commons (http://bit.ly/HRlswn).

I know that the sun will rise tomorrow.

With all of the scientific facts and astronomical data we are blessed with today, I can expect to wake up tomorrow and see rays of light shining through my window.

There is also no debating time. Our clocks, both digital and internal, continue to tick onward no matter the circumstances. These are inexorable certainties in life. However, these proven facts of our existence are limited. They are not the whole story.

There are things in life we neither can physically see nor explain, and yet we choose to believe anyway.

When our little siblings place their fallen teeth underneath their pillows, hoping to see a winged fairy deliver gifts in return, they are relying entirely on an unproven belief. When students choose universities to attend, they do not know what the outcomes of their decisions will be, nor can they predetermine their futures after school. But they continue to grow and experiment with life anyway.

Even the wisest of theologians and clergy have very few answers to the questions pertaining to God’s existence that enter our minds on a daily basis. All of these situations represent something many of us hold onto so dearly: Faith.

Michael Middaugh 04-02-2012
Crown of thorns hung around Easter cross, Anneka/Shutterstock.com

Crown of thorns hung around Easter cross, Anneka/Shutterstock.com

“When religion ruled the world, they called it the Dark Ages.”

That was the bumper sticker quote I read on the tailgate of a white minivan during my morning’s commute to work. Upon reading, I had so many adverse gut-reactions to this statement.

That’s so closed minded. And, Aside from a few erroneous events, don’t you know how much good Christianity has done for the world? And, I am sure you have all the answers to all the world’s problems then don’t you, Mr. White Minivan? (Amusingly, the sticker on the opposite side of the tailgate read “I think, therefore I don’t listen to Rush Limbaugh,” to which I thought, Meh, fair enough.)

Once I worked through my initial feelings of angst though, I reflected on those words a bit more. I realized maybe he has a point. When religion rules, things generally do not go well for the people practicing it, or for those who are being subjected to the religious standards.

(Church sign image by Mark Lehigh/Shutterstock)

(Church sign image by Mark Lehigh/Shutterstock)

NEW YORK — Did leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention hurt their missionary cause by opting not to change the denomination's name to something a bit more, well, marketable?

Maybe, but as the advertising executives of Madison Avenue here could attest, as tempting as it is to try to solve a missionary slump with a marketing campaign, religious groups — like commercial businesses — should think twice before undergoing a brand overhaul.

After months of deliberations, an SBC task force on Feb. 20 recommended against trying to re-brand the denomination, an idea that has been bandied about for more than a century.

Proponents of a change made a good case: for a denomination that was born in 1845 out of a defense of slavery, the name has since saddled Southern Baptists with a problematic name and historical baggage.

Amanda Greene 02-27-2012
(Image by Laurin Rinder/Shutterstock.)

(Image by Laurin Rinder/Shutterstock.)

WILMINGTON, N.C. — As the only Southern state without a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage, North Carolina is the next battleground, with religious groups on both sides bracing for a high-stakes fight on May 8.

Against a recent string of gay-marriage victories in California, Washington state and Maryland, North Carolinians will be asked to vote on a constitutional amendment on May 8, the same day as the state Republican primary.

Same-sex marriage has been illegal in the Tar Heel State since 1996;  Minnesota also has a marriage amendment planned for a vote in November.

"Marriage between one man and one woman is the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state," the proposed amendment reads.

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