Religion

Vishal Arora 10-16-2012
RNS photo by Vishal Arora

Two Bhatanese students carry the national flag. RNS photo by Vishal Arora

NEW DELHI — Political leaders in the tiny Buddhist nation of Bhutan have announced a nearly six-month ban on all public religious activities ahead of the upcoming elections, citing the Himalayan nation's constitution that says “religion shall remain above politics.”

A notification by the Election Commission of Bhutan asks people's "prayers and blessings" for the second parliamentary election, expected in June 2013. But it also states that religious institutions and clergy "shall not hold, conduct, organize or host" any public activity from Jan. 1 until the election.

The ban comes a year after the country's religious affairs ministry identified Buddhist and Hindu clergy who should be barred from voting to keep a clear distinction between religion and politics.

Tripp Hudgins 10-15-2012
Photo: Leap of faith, Matthew Williams-Ellis / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Leap of faith, Matthew Williams-Ellis / Shutterstock.com

[The "nones"] recite history and Christian leadership's collusion with the agents of empire-building and warfare. Then they say something like, “I'd rather live like Jesus than be a Christian.”

They see the Church as the rich young man and they wonder if anyone actually follows Jesus anymore.

Of course, this is not the only demographic shift at work in the religious life of the world.

There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than there are in England.
More Presbyterians in Ghana than in Scotland. ..
More Baptists in Southeast Asia than in the Southeastern United States.
More Christians go to church in China than in Europe.
In 1900, 71 percent of the world's Christians were in Western Europe. By 2000 that percentage dropped below twenty percent in some European nations.

Here's the real kicker: these are not problems to fix. They are simply realities to be faced.

Editor's Note: Brandon Hook tells his story of why he'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.

 

Phil Haslanger 10-11-2012
Photo: Young woman near church doors, Lisa A / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Young woman near church doors, Lisa A / Shutterstock.com

OK, church folks. Fasten your seat belts. But don’t hunker down.

There’s a new study out this week that shows that one-in-five Americans has no religious affiliation. Not Baptist, not Catholic, not Lutheran, not Jewish, not Muslim. 

For those of us in the world of organized religion, this just adds more data to a trend we have seen accelerating over the last decade.

In 2007, about 15 percent of the adult population in the U.S. described itself as unaffiliated with any religion. In a comparable survey done this summer and released on Tuesday by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life, the number hit 20 percent.  And if you just focus on those under 30, the religiously unaffiliated constitute one third of that group.

Among those of us who are professional religious types, this is the kind of data that can prompt a lot of gloomy introspection about relevance and a lot of finger pointing at those who are not interested in the same kinds of religious expression that we are. 

Let me suggest there’s a less gloomy and less judgmental way to think about this data.

Melissa Otterbein 10-10-2012
Loch Raven Reservoir, Timonium. Photo by Melissa Otterbein

Loch Raven Reservoir, Timonium. Photo by Melissa Otterbein

Editor's Note:  Melissa Otterbein 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.

A "recovering Evangelical," author Melissa identifies with the "nones" after church experiences in the non-denominational Church, Lutheran Church, Church of God, United Church of Christ, and the kind of Church that happens when you have hour-long conversations with people who are materially poor yet rich in spirit. Each of these "Churches" (and those not mentioned) depict Christ in beautiful ways, she believes, but feels that solely identifying with a denominational designation hasn't seemed to fully capture her faith experience. Though "none" might seem like a shocking response to "which religious tradition do you closely identify with?" it's one that, "offers freedom in Christ that brings me to closer to the Kingdom of God in the here and now."

I am tired of explaining away my faith.

I am tired of defending, “proving,” withholding my true feelings for fear of religious retaliation.
I’m tired of watching some people argue their faith, trying to “win people to Christ” with their cogent, convincing “answers.”
I’m tired of watching Jesus be sold, marketed, put on display.

I’m tired of watching certain people try to convince the world why their God is the right God.
I’m tired of listening to people deify their Bible by retorting this verse and that verse when our God is so much bigger than the sole medium of Genesis-Revelation.
I’m tired of platitudes about the Word and faith and sin and grace that I’ve heard over and over again; for every time I hear these trite remarks, I question if we’ve lost the unadulterated beauty behind such venerable passages.

Sandi Villarreal 10-09-2012
Photo illustration, Ciaran Griffin / Getty Images

Photo illustration, Ciaran Griffin / Getty Images

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

Which religious tradition do you most closely identify with?

  • Protestant
  • Catholic
  • Mormon
  • Muslim
  • Jewish
  • Orthodox
  • Other Faith
  • Unaffiliated

Given these options — or even if you throw in a few more like Buddhist, Hindu, Agnostic — I would choose “Unaffiliated.” That puts me into a category with one-in-five other Americans, and one-in-three millennials, aptly named the “nones.” 

In that vein, I introduce our new blog series: Meet the Nones. Through this series, I hope to encourage discussion, debate, and elucidate the full picture of what it means to be losing your religion in America.

Editor's Note: Would you like to share your story on this topic? Email us HERE.

 
Sandi Villarreal 10-09-2012
Traditional worship space, Christy Thompson /Shutterstock.com

Traditional worship space, Christy Thompson /Shutterstock.com

One-in-five adults in the United States — and a third of adults under 30 — say they have no religious affiliation. The numbers are out in a new report called “’Nones’ on the Rise,” put out by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. That 20 percent of the population is up from 15 percent just five years ago.

But while our church membership rolls may be shrinking, “unaffiliated doesn’t necessarily mean wholly secular,” said senior researcher Cary Funk at the Religion Newswriters Association Conference in Bethesda, Md., on Saturday. 

In fact, two-thirds of the 46 million Americans self-identifying as having no religion also say they believe in God. And 21 percent of them say they pray every day. A large portion of this group — 37 percent — say they consider themselves “spiritual but not religious.”

The increase in disaffiliation goes hand-in-hand with an overall lack of trust in American institutions across the board, from the government to the news media, and now, to our houses of worship.

The “nones” overwhelmingly say religious institutions are too concerned with money and power, and 67 percent say they both focus too much on rules and are too involved in politics. 

Bob Smietana 10-04-2012
 RNS photo by Steven S. Harman/The Tennessean

Members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church. RNS photo by Steven S. Harman/The Tennessean

 

For Nathan De Lee, going to church as a kid was an ordeal.

De Lee, a Unitarian Universalist, grew up in rural Kansas, where members of his faith were few and far between. Attending services meant an overnight trip to Kansas City, Mo., where the nearest Unitarian Universalist congregation was.

Today, getting to church is easy for De Lee, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University. He's a regular in the choir on Sundays at First Unitarian Universalist Church in Nashville, which has a congregation of about 500.

De Lee is one of a growing number of Unitarian Universalists, a group of people who believe in organized religion but are skeptical about doctrine. The denomination grew nationally by 15.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Jeanie Groh 10-03-2012
RNS photo by Pictorial Evidence via Wikimedia Commons

Church of Scientology "Big Blue" building in Los Angeles. RNS photo by Pictorial Evidence via Wikimedia Commons

WASHINGTON — Most Americans do not believe Scientology is a real religion, according to a recent poll by 60 Minutes and Vanity Fair.

The survey, conducted by CBS News, found that 70 percent of Americans say that Scientology is not a true religion; 13 percent believe it is; and 18 percent either don’t know or don’t care.

Out of the more than 1,000 people polled, Christian Americans were even more likely to question Scientology’s status as a religion — 79 percent of evangelicals, 74 percent of Protestants and 72 percent of Catholics surveyed responded that they did not think Scientology is a religion.

L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction author, established Scientology in 1952, and the Church of Scientology has been acknowledged as a religion in the United States since 1993. Scientology is known for its celebrity followers, such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

RNS photo by Ronda Churchill

Amy Davis Roth's homemade ceramic line called "Surlyramics" is shown during The Amazing Meeting convention. RNS photo

Hester Prynne would be so proud.

The red letter “A” that Nathaniel Hawthorne’s heroine was forced to wear as a badge of shame in the classic novel The Scarlet Letter is now proudly chosen by atheists to wear on jewelry made from ceramic, silver, gold, and wood.

Christians have their crosses and crucifixes, Jews their Stars of David, Hindus their oms, and Buddhists their lotuses. Atheists ask, why shouldn’t they and other nonbelievers have their own symbols as well?

“It is the most recognized symbol in our community right now,” said Amy Roth, a Los Angeles atheist who makes ceramic "A" pendants for her “Surlyramics” jewelry line that she sells at atheist conventions and meetings, as well as online.

Rev. Troy Sims 9-24-2012
Constitution illustration, Onur ERSIN / Shutterstock.com

Constitution illustration, Onur ERSIN / Shutterstock.com

We’ve all heard the rhetoric. “We need to take America back for God!”

Why? Supposedly so we can regain some bygone level of ethics or moral standards. Supposedly, if we don’t, God will get tired of us “rebuking” God and remove God’s hand of protection from us. Supposedly, so God won’t test us or judge us or something.

Yet, as Gregory A. Boyd notes in his important book The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church, taking America BACK for God assumes we were at one really belonged to God, followed God, listened to God. Boyd goes on to ask, when was this glorious age in the history of the USA?

Let’s start way back. We’ve been taught that many people migrated to North America for religious freedom. So was this glorious time when some of our forebears imprisoned, tormented, and/or hanged many suspected to be witches? Is that what so many want to take us back to?

The white working class, a potentially rich bloc of voters for Republicans or Democrats, hasn’t settled on Mitt Romney or President Barack Obama, a new study from the Public Religion Research Institute shows.

“These white working class voters are not particularly enamored of either candidate,” said Daniel Cox, PRRI’s research director. “In terms of their favorability, they’re both under 50 percent.” Forty-four percent look favorably upon Obama and 45 percent upon Romney.

Released seven weeks before the election, the August survey found Romney with a double-digit lead over Obama among the white working class, which preferred the GOP candidate 48 to 35 percent.

But Cox points out that the gap narrows to statistical insignificance among women voters in this group, and in the Midwest and West, home of several swing states. The upshot for Romney and Obama?

If they want to woo this group, which makes up 36 percent of the nation according to the study, the campaigns may want to consider other findings of the PRRI poll.

Christian Piatt 9-20-2012

I’ve been reflecting on the recent events in Libya involving the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, and every time, I arrive at a different feeling about it all.

There’s the obvious tragedy of a life unnecessarily lost. By all accounts, Stevens was a humble, passionate man who had invested his life in the betterment of the infrastructure for the Libyan people. He was not, as some dignitaries or diplomats tend to be, resting on his credentials in an easy gig, waiting for retirement. He was living out what he believed in a terribly volatile corner of the world.

Jeanie Groh 9-19-2012
 RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

The largest ivory crucifix in the Philippines hangs in a museum in Manila. RNS photo © Brent Stirton/National Geographic

Since the ban on international trade of ivory in 1989, the ivory black market has been on the rise, and a National Geographic investigation found that demand for religious art pieces carved out of the precious material has played a considerable role.

“No matter where I find ivory, religion is close at hand,” said investigative reporter Bryan Christy, whose article, “Ivory Worship,” is included in the new edition of National Geographic magazine, released Sept. 14.

“Elephant poaching levels are currently at their worst in a decade,” Christy wrote. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) estimates that at least 25,000 elephants were poached in 2011, mostly for their ivory tusks.

Philippine Catholics use ivory to construct crucifixes, figures of the Virgin Mary and other icons. The province of Cebu is particularly known for its ivory renditions of the Santo Nino de Cebu (Holy Child of Cebu), used in worship and celebration.

Jeanie Groh 9-17-2012

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group. 

The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.  

Professor Berlinerblau

Professor Berlinerblau

Jacques Berlinerblau wastes no ink in his new book trying to flatter his fellow nonbelievers.

"American atheist movements, though fancying themselves a lion, are more like the gimpy little zebra crossing the river full of crocs," he writes in How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.    

Ouch.    

"In terms of both political gains and popular appeal, nonbelievers in the United States have little to show. They are encircled by cunning, swarming [religious] Revivalist adversaries who know how to play the atheist card."    

Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University biblical scholar who teaches a course on secularism, wants to rescue that little zebra. But his plan may be a hard-sell with some atheists — he wants atheist groups to drop their black-and-white opposition to religion and its adherents in order to preserve the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.    

"The gimpy zebra remark was a little goofing on this over-the-top chest-thumping that emerges from Movement Atheists," he said in an interview, referring to atheist organizations with political goals, like American Atheists. "They wildly overestimate their numbers. They tend to overestimate the efficacy of their activism. They underestimate how disciplined and organized their adversaries in the religious right are, too."  

Sandi Villarreal 9-12-2012

Christian leaders asked, and the presidential nominees answered. The poverty rate in America is still at a staggering 15 percent and 46.2 million Americans remain in poverty — what is your plan to address the problem?

The Circle of Protection, composed of Christian leaders from across the religious spectrum, released President Barack Obama's and GOP nominee Mitt Romney's video responses today at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

(VIDEOS from Obama and Romney after the jump.)

Christian Piatt 9-11-2012
Ground Zero on Sept. 20, 2001.

Ground Zero on Sept. 20, 2001.

I was home sick on Sept. 11, 2001. Amy had left for her grad school classes, so I was a little bit annoyed when she burst back in and woke me up.

“Turn on the TV,” she said. “Something bad is happening. Really bad.”

While watching the replayed video of the plane colliding with the first tower, the second tower attack came. And then there were the reports of similar attacks at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania. At that moment, we had no idea when the bad news would stop coming. My first thought was for those loved ones I have in bigger cities, praying that they would not find themselves in harm’s way.

We watched the reports in silence for a few hours, trying to sort out what had just happened. Of course, there were no certainties about the attacks being over, but by now all planes had been grounded, and the American military was on high alert.

“I’m not sure how much more of this I can watch,” I told Amy, realizing it was nearly noon, and I was still sitting on the couch in my underwear. “We should try and do something.”

“Everything is closed,” she said. “Churches will probably have prayer services later, but not until tonight.” The zoo was the only thing we could find that was still operating, so we decided to go spend some time among some less self-destructive animal species. We settled by the gorilla habitat, where one lazy silverback leaned against the other side of the glass, just inches away from us. Though they usually tend to turn their backs to human observers, he was staring right at us. He seemed to be just on the verge of speaking:

What the hell is the matter with you people?

Derek Flood 9-10-2012
Photo: Statue of Jesus on the cross, HUANG Zheng / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Statue of Jesus on the cross, HUANG Zheng / Shutterstock.com

Why did Jesus have to die? Was it to appease a wrathful God's demand for punishment? Does that mean Jesus died to save us from God? How could someone ever truly love or trust a God like that? How can that ever be called "Good News?"

It's questions like these that make so many people want to have nothing to do with Christianity.

Countless people filling our pews have adopted this hurtful view of God and themselves. It has led many to internalize feelings of shame and self-loathing, thinking this is what God desires. Others have lost their faith entirely because of it, unable to worship a God who seems to them to be a moral monster. Faith motivated by fear, threat, and feelings of worthlessness. How could things have gone so wrong? 

When did the good news become bad news?

Christian Piatt 9-10-2012
Courtesy Christian Piatt

Courtesy Christian Piatt

Gotta say I’m a big fan of this church sign at my father-in-law’s church.

It’s time to STOP:

  1. Using faith, Jesus, and the Bible as a political platform;
  2. Cherry-picking from the Gospel based on what polls well;
  3. Claiming Jesus would be so myopic to identify with either of our major political parties;

...

Pages

Subscribe