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?
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.
“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.
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.
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.
Editor’s Note: At 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 27, 2004, when I was the religion reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, I met then-State Sen. Barack Obama at Café Baci, a small coffee shop at 330 S. Michigan Avenue in Chicago, for an interview about his faith. Our conversation took place a few days after he’d clinched the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate seat that he eventually won, and four months before he’d be formally introduced to the rest of the nation during his famous keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Conventio.
We spoke for more than an hour. He came alone. He answered everything I asked without notes or hesitation. The profile of Obama that grew from the interview at Cafe Baci became the first in a series in the Sun-Times called “The God Factor,” which would eventually became my first book, The God Factor: Inside the Spiritual Lives of Public People, in which Obama and 31 other high-profile “culture shapers” — including Bono of U2, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, the author Anne Rice and President George W. Bush's speechwriter Michael Gerson — are profiled.
Because of the seemingly evergreen interest in President Obama’s faith and spiritual predilections, and because that 2004 interview remains the longest and most in-depth he’s granted publicly about his faith, I thought it might be helpful to share the transcript of our conversation — uncut and in its entirety — here on God’s Politics.
~ Cathleen Falsani
Imagine a Catholic Church that stopped catering to its tiny cadre of old male bishops and heard instead the cries of its people. Or a fundamentalist movement that stopped defending its franchise by nonsensical attacks on evolution and modernity, and instead took Scripture seriously.
Imagine a conservative Christian movement that dropped its relentless assault on women's rights and instead sought a fresh vision of family and values. Or a progressive movement that listened to people, rather than lecturing them.
Too many "providers" — in politics, business and religion — come across as having a low opinion of their constituents. People tend to be good judges of what matters to them. Voters know this recession better than their would-be leaders seem to know it. Believers seem to take their faith more seriously than those institutions that seek to enroll them as members.
"I have found great beauty in religion and religion has shown me great beauty in myself and in the world," Tripp says, as he reflects on the 11 years since he's had a drink. "I'm still not sure I know what being beloved means. Somehow we forget that we are beloved....Today is the 11th anniversary of the day I was told who I was. It's a good day."
The GOP presidential race gets "rickrolled." Obama's "Komen moment"? Vatican holds unprecendented service of repentance for clergy sex abuse, while in the U.S. a bishop reitres and promptly recants his previous apology. Dickens remembered as a Christian believer and in South Carolina "I Believe" license plates go on sale. In Iran, thousands of women are trained as "ninjas" and we give you archival video of "Nunjas." That and more inside the blog...
Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus is a true Internet phenomenon, garnering more than 18 million views and sparking a global debate.
As with most internet phenomena, the viral video has given birth to dozens of similar videos from folks around the world, each adding a different (sometimes serious, sometimes not) perspective to the debates.
Whilst none has had quite the same impact as the original in terms of millions of hits, clicks and media coverage, there are conversation starters aplenty in many of these intriguing (and entertaining) videos.
See a roundup of some of the most interesting responses inside the blog...
When I talk about myself in relationship to atheists I often sound like a post-civil-rights white person trying to minimize the gap between myself and another group.
I don’t have anything personally against atheists.
Some of my best friends are atheists.
I even like Ricky Gervais. He’s an atheist, you know.
All of this aside, I have tried in vain over the years to understand atheism. I’ve written about it several times, and whenever I do, I get a bucket of responses from atheists.
Are you a Christian who spends a lot of time online? Then perhaps you've heard of Jeff Bethke. Bethke, aka bball1989, is a spoken word poet whose rhymes and videos are capturing the attention of thousands of Christians across the web.
His latest video is going viral among online Christian communities. Provocatively titled “Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus,” the poem is a unique fusion of prophetic criticism, personal testimony, and a call to action.
Cee Lo Green got himself in some pop-culture hot water on New Years Eve when he changed the lyrics to John Lennon's "Imagine." You would think he was changing the Bible or something, but no, it was much worse. He changed the lyrics to a John Lennon song. "No religions" became "all religions" and all hell broke loose....
Suffice it to say that people were put out. They defended Lennon's unchangeable artistic canon. Green's supporters suggested that all art can be reinterpreted...even John Lennon's. Personally, I didn't find it offensive at all. Instead, I thought it was a thoughtful (if momentary) update to the iconic pop song. Given the religious strife in the world, expressing a love for humanity through all the world's religion was generous and very appropriate for a New Year celebration.
Alas, no. We're beset by fundamentalisms of all kinds (Lennonists?) and on all sides in this nation of ours. We're sufficiently afraid of religiosity that we've turned anti-religiosity into a religion and musicians become gods and their three minute songs become scripture...unchangeable holy writ.
We're afraid and that fear strips us of our compassion.
It’s been a bad year, and the 2012 election year looks to be even worse.
Don’t get me wrong — there were many good and even wonderful things about 2011. I can point to weddings, great things in our family lives, wonderful moments with our children, acts of courage in our local and our global communities, and heroic accomplishments by people of faith and others of good will.
But when it comes to politics and to the media, 2011 was an abysmal year.
Washington is a dysfunctional place where we make the most important decisions about how our public resources should be allocated amidst artificial deadlines set entirely by ideological politics instead of the common good. Rational, thoughtful ideas for reducing the national deficit (while at the same time protecting our vital social safety nets and producing needed jobs) have been replaced by the politics of blame and fear.
And winning — at seemingly any cost — has trumped governing. To disagree with the opposition isn’t enough. Now politicians and pundits feel compelled to destroy their opponents’ character, integrity, patriotism, and even attack their faith.
It's that time of the year again, the joyful season when Jeff, my iTunes DJ, starts spinning holiday music when I choose "random" from the play options on my keyboard.
I almost always have headphones on with music playing as I work each day, and the surprise of what Jeff, as I call him, comes up with — especially when he reaches into the way-back machine for sonic fodder — is a daily delight.
Oh joy! It's long been one of my favorite unconventional Christmas songs but I'd forgotten about its many charms until I was taking my first sip of coffee today.
The song, which appears on David's 2006 album Vista, is a take on the Natvity story seen through David's remarkably creative, often childlike sensibilities. Here's a taste of the lyrics:
Few will chose to follow
Out of all the star invites
Most will hide safe inside
With the lantern turned up bright
Waiting for a miracle
One of the highlights of the fall for me was undertaking a kind of Occupy Tourism. I was spending most of my time on the move, working to build the broad coalition that eventually won at least a temporary victory against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta. In almost every city I visited, I tried to stop by the local encampment, in part because Occupiers were among our most reliable allies, and in part because it was so much fun.
I’ve gotten to speak through the human microphone in lower Manhattan and tour the D.C. campsite just a few blocks from the White House. But I’ve also gotten to sign the copies of my books in the library tent at Occupy Boston (a quiet tent, staffed by honest-to-God librarians from Boston Public Library, with everything arranged by subject). I even made it to foreign occupations—standing beneath a giant stone lion in the grand Vancouver encampment. Happiest occupation goes to San Luis Obispo, California, where I got a hug from a fellow with a huge “Free Hugs” sign. The most chic, not surprising, was Santa Fe, New Mexico, where they arranged not only a campfire for my talk, but a rising full moon in the desert sky.
It’s time to invite the Occupy Movement to church!
And Thanksgiving is the perfect occasion. Have some of the young protesters — the “99ers” as they’re becoming known — from this rapidly growing movement over for a big holiday dinner!
Our faith communities and organizations should swing their doors wide and greet the Occupiers with open arms, offering them a feast to say “thank you” for having the courage to raise the very religious and biblical issue of growing inequality in our society.
One year of prison costs more than one year at Princeton. Capitalism and social justice. OpEd: The values discussion we're not having. 'One Day's Wages' fights poverty two years on. Government aid helped cut U.S. poverty nearly in half. Religion-friendly democracy and democracy-friendly religion. And Newt Gingrich says God forgave him.
On Sunday morning (11/6), Sojourners CEO Jim Wallis appeared on CNN's "State of the Union," with American Values president Gary Bauer and host Candy Crowley to discuss how religion will affect the 2012 General Election.
On the blog, view video of Jim's appearance, in two parts.