Meet the Nones: Spiritual But Not Religious

Editor's Note: Sojourners has launched this new blog series to help shed light on the nation's latest "religious" affiliation. Go HERE to read their stories. Or EMAIL US to share your own.

PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has wrapped up its three-part new mini-series on the rise of the unaffiliated. Go HERE to read more about this week's episode.

Watch None of the Above: Religious Implications on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Woman Crusades to Save Sister’s Life, End the Death Penalty

Victoria Ann Thorpe protests against the death penalty outside of a Spokane mall

Victoria Ann Thorpe protests against the death penalty outside of a Spokane mall.

SPOKANE, Wash. -- They stood in front of a shopping mall, shackled together, heads down, nameplates dangling around their necks, bearing the names of men and women who have died on America’s death row.

Cal Brown.

Teresa Lewis.

Cameron Todd Willingham.

Behind them, stood Victoria Ann Thorpe, dark makeup painted on her cheeks and a sign painted to look like blood stains waving above her head: “Their blood is on our hands.”

Somehow, despite Thorpe’s gory exterior, she’s approachable.

“Would you like information on the death penalty?” she asks shoppers as they exit the mall, unable to avert their eyes from the scene in front of them. She hands them a clipboard and one by one, they fill out postcards showing their support to abolish the death penalty in Washington. The cards will later be sent to state lawmakers. The group has also protested at Gonzaga University and so far has collected more than 200 signatures.

Thorpe, along with the Safe and Just Alternatives organization and The Inland Northwest Death Penalty Abolition Group, is seeking to pass a state law to replace the death penalty in Washington state with life without parole.

Activists Say Religion Key to Combating Female Genital Mutilation

Demonstration against young marriage and female circumcision in Africa.

Demonstration against young marriage and female circumcision in Africa.

BOSTON -- The one thing that Afrah Farah will tell you about her genital cutting experience is that it happened. She doesn’t want to say how old she was, where it happened, or who was or wasn't with her.

Yet, despite the painful memories that the experience evokes and her concerns about people's reactions, Farah, said she knows she has to speak out.

“It’s basically a traumatizing experience. It’s traumatizing for every young girl that goes through that. It’s something that sticks in your memory, and physically,” said Farah, a Somali immigrant who came to the Boston area by way of Kuwait and Germany in 2007, and now works as a drug developer in a Massachusetts laboratory.

“There are millions of people who are affiliated with this procedure -- parents, grandparents, people in the community -- and to label them all as bad people or barbaric, that’s wrong. You will push them away. To solve a problem like this, you need to approach people with respect.”

Because of its severity and prevalence, female genital mutilation (FGM, or "cutting") is arguably one of the most important human rights issues in the world. It’s also become increasingly important in the U.S. as the number of immigrants from countries where it is practiced grows.

Study: Muslims and Hindus Less Likely to Have Premarital Sex

 North-Central India, XI century A.D., Sandstone

North-Central India, XI century A.D., Sandstone

With their “True Love Waits” jewelry, conferences and T-shirts, Christians may be the face of the abstinence movement, but Muslims and Hindus are more likely to abstain from premarital sex.

That's the conclusion of a new study in the American Sociological Review, which also found that Muslims and Hindus -- at least in the developing world -- are more likely than Christians and Jews to refrain from extramarital sex.

“All major world religions discourage sex outside of marriage, but they are not all equally effective in shaping behavior,” said Amy Adamczyk of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, who co-authored the study with John Jay doctoral student Brittany E. Hayes.

Drawing on the Demographic and Health Surveys funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, the study included data from 31 developing nations collected between 2000 and 2008. The authors focused on individuals' responses to questions on religious affiliation, marital status, and sexual behavior outside of marriage.

Adamczyk said the study evolved from another study she was doing that found countries with large Muslim populations have very low rates of HIV and AIDS. "I was trying to figure out why that would be,” she said. One reason she considered was lower rates of sex outside of marriage.

DNA Experiment Yields Great Promise, High Ethical Risks

 Graphic courtesy Oregon Health and Science University via RNS.

Graphic courtesy Oregon Health and Science University via RNS.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Future generations could be stripped of mutations such as hereditary blindness or maternal diabetes, after a breakthrough study at Oregon Health & Science University.

But the new technique is also one short step from genetic design of future generations, said Marcy Darnovksy of the California-based Center for Genetics and Society. "These powerful new technologies have a whole bunch of wonderful and appropriate uses – and a number of ways they can be misused.

The researchers, led by OHSU biologist Shoukhrat Mitalipov, modified unfertilized eggs for the first time, a technique that offers great promise as well as ethical pitfalls. Such research is banned in many countries.

Three years ago, the Russian-born Mitalipov made headlines with experiments that created monkeys with genetic material from three parents. Now, his team has done it with human cells, setting the stage for possible experiments with humans.

The procedure dealt with what's called mitochondrial DNA, the small part of the cell that turns food into energy. Mitochondrial disorders can lead to neuropathy (a type of dementia) and nervous system disorders such as Leigh disease.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature, the OHSU team described successfully transferring DNA from donor cells into other donor cells, fertilizing the eggs to create 13 tiny early embryos of roughly 100 cells each. These pre-embryos, called blastocysts, were converted to embryonic stem cells for future research.

Key to the technique: replacing the defective mitochondrial DNA with healthy genetic material from the egg of a second woman.

Values of a Public Faith (Part 3)

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Paper Boat Creative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: This is part three of a three-part series from Dr. Miroslav Volf an a voice instructing us how to involve our values into our present politcal debates. To read part one go HERE and part two HERE.. From part one:

In this year of presidential elections, I have decided to summarize key values that guide me as I decide for whom to cast my vote. ... 

14. Equality of Nations

Value: No nation represents an exception to the requirements of justice that should govern relations between nations. America should exert its unique international power by doing what is just and should pursue its own interests in concert with other nations of the world. 

Rationale: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12).

Debate: The debate should not be whether America is somehow exceptional (and therefore permitted to do what other nations are not—for instance, carrying out raids on foreign soil in search of terrorists). The debate should, rather, be about what it means for the one remaining superpower to act responsibly in the community of nations.

Question to Ask: At the international level, would the candidate renounce a double moral standard: one for the U.S. and its allies and another for the rest of the world? Even when the candidate considers an American perspective morally superior, will he seek to persuade other nations of the moral rightness of these values rather than imposing them on other nations?

Meet the Nones: Politically Active

Editor's Note: Sojourners has launched this new blog series to help shed light on the nation's latest "religious" affiliation. Go HERE to read their stories. Or EMAIL US to share your own.

PBS Religion & Ethics Newsweekly has launched a new mini-series on the rise of the unaffiliated. Go HERE to read more about this week's epidsode.

Watch None of the Above: Political Implications on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Ethiopian Orthodoxy, Tawahedo, and 'Being Made One'

Illuminated book of scripture at Entos Eyesu told said to date to the 7th century. On the right is St. George.

LAKE TANA, Ethiopia — Spirituality imbues every corner of Ethiopian culture, from its music and dance, to its artwork and even its unrivaled rich-as-the-earth coffee. Home to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world (having adopted Christianity as its official state religion in the 4th century), the sites and sounds of Christendom were ubiquitous wherever we traveled in country this month.

Art and iconography — both ancient and modern — from Ethiopian Orthodoxy (also known as Tawahedo or "being made one" in the Ge'ez language that remains the official language of the Orthodox liturgy here) were ever-present — in shops, restaurants, and hotel lobbies as well as in the myriad churches and monasteries, and the sounds of ancient Christian prayers and the chants of monks filled the air from the capital city of Addis Ababa to the kebeles (or neighborhoods) on the outskirts of Bahir Dar, another major city about 60 km from the Sudanese border.

A Sermon on Hacking Off Our Own Limbs for Jesus

Axe image, /

Axe image, /

Were I one for object lessons I’d have brought a nice sharp axe with me into the pulpit today. Because it’s only once in awhile that we get to hear Jesus talk about brutal self-mutilation as a sign of discipleship.

Growing up I was terrified of those verses in Mark’s Gospel that we just heard – the ones where Jesus suggests that if your hand causes you to sin cut it off, and if your foot causes you to sin hack that off too, and if your eye causes you to sin gauge the sucker out. I remember the summer I was 11 years old when I stole candy from KMart and then hid it in the heat duct in my room.  And I remember hearing this passage soon after that and thinking how my hand had indeed caused me to sin. And then and there I decided to never steal again lest Jesus insist I hack off my own limbs.

The problem, of course, is that my hand has never caused a darn thing.  My eye doesn’t cause me to sin.  My foot can’t be held accountable for my missteps. If you want to find the culprit behind my sin don’t look at my hand. Look at my heart. My poor feet just do what they’re told.

Meet the Nones: Pouring Out Love

Photo: WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

Photo: WIN-Initiative / Getty Images

Editor's Note: Megan Monaghan Rivas tells her story of why she's part of the 20 percent of Americans who identify with "no religion in particular." Find more stories (or share your own) HERE. Read about the study HERE.

There are never really two kinds of people in the world. But for purposes of this post, I’ll posit that there are two kinds of “nones” in the world – “nones” who would be part of a church if they could just find the right one, and “nones” who have no desire to be part of a church even if it matched them perfectly. I place myself in the latter category.

Like many “nones,” I started out as a “some.” I was reared in the Roman Catholic Church and educated in Catholic schools. As luck and the development curve would have it, just after confirmation (at age 14) I started finding out things about the church that I could not stand up and be counted for. The church’s policies concerning women and homosexuals seemed to me to stand in deliberate polar opposition to the Gospel message. And the church is not known for willingness to change from the inside. I didn’t have another 2,000 years to wait. My first “adult” move in the church was to leave it.