Bhavya Dore 07-25-2016

In late 1945, after the end of World War II, Kurt Neumann began digging in his garden.

During the previous eight years, under the brown soil, a bunch of documents and photos had lain in repose. He scrubbed off the dirt and unspooled the documents from the oil paper preserving wrapped to protect them. He had survived the war and so had the founding papers of the city’s anti-religion, secularist movement.

Image via REUTERS/Murad Sezer/RNS

Turkish authorities have allowed Hagia Sophia, a World Heritage site, to be used for Ramadan prayers, an act that has enraged Orthodox Christians who say the famed former church and mosque is supposed to be off-limits for any religious ritual.

Prayers for the holy Muslim month were first read at the start of Ramadan on June 8, prompting a swift and pointed response.

Greg Williams 06-07-2016

How to Survive the Apocalypse

The world is falling apart.

Admittedly, the world has always been falling apart—since Christ’s resurrection, we’ve been living in the last age, and the New Testament is full of an apocalyptic expectation—but in our modern world, we seem to be spinning apart even faster. In our pop culture, either “winter is coming” or zombies are. Robots who look just like us are threatening genocide or a perverse “Capitol” is forcing our kids to kill each other. How to Survive the Apocalypse, by Alissa Wilkinson and Rob Joustra, looks at this theme in modern culture and what it might tell us about ourselves.

This is a book written by college professors, and I mean that in the best possible way. They define their terms, keep us engaged, and push us toward engaging the world like the best professors do. And, like all good professors, they are honest about their ideological approach: They are strongly neo-reformed and use Charles Taylor’s opus A Secular Age to interpret the culture that they address.

Indeed, How to Survive the Apocalypse is basically a fleshing out of Taylor’s description of the modern age (and its difference from a pre-modern era) through fictional ends of the world. Wilkinson and Joustra examine individualism and autonomy, a quest for and skepticism of authenticity, and the appropriate source of power (the questions and obsessions that Taylor sees at the root of modernity) through a half-dozen TV and movie apocalypses and dystopias, ranging from The Hunger Games to Her. These questions press all the more in our age, in which we seem to have lost the transcendent.

Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS

Atheists and other freethinkers gathered on the National Mall for their second “Reason Rally” in fewer numbers than organizers had hoped but with evidence of growing political acceptance.

Wearing T-shirts and carrying signs rejecting religion and supporting science, thousands cheered speeches from politicians, scientists, and secular leaders about church-state separation and freedom from religion.

Zaituna Mosque, Tunis. Image via Tom Heneghan / RNS

Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, the most successful Islamist party to emerge from the Arab Spring revolts early in this decade, has renounced political Islam and declared it will operate in the country’s politics as “Muslim democrats.”

A party congress over the weekend in the beach resort of Hammamet voted almost unanimously to drop Ennahda’s traditional religious work and participate in Tunisian politics as a regular political party.

Image via REUTERS/Tony Gentile/RNS

What do the tango, Islam and conscientious objection have in common? They are just three of the references that Pope Francis made in his latest blockbuster interview.

Speaking to the French Catholic newspaper La Croix, Francis reflected on issues affecting the church and society as a whole.

Image via Tyrone Turner / RNS

Not all Americans pray. So the American Humanist Association, among the largest national advocacy groups of nonbelievers and other secularists, wants the first Thursday in May to be recognized by Congress as a National Day of ReasonBut that day is already designated as the National Day of Prayer, with a 65-year history of support from Congress, state and local governments and every sitting president since its inception in 1952.

Image via  /

The vast majority of Americans have prayed for the healing of others and more than 1 in 4 have practiced the laying on of hands, a Baylor University expert reports. “Outside of belief in God, there may be no more ubiquitous religious expression in the U.S. than use of healing prayer,” said Jeff Levin of the university’s Institute for Studies of Religion in an announcement of his findings.

Image via REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/RNS

Burkinis aren’t showing up at the beaches on either side of the English Channel yet, but the thought that the full head-to-ankle swimsuit might catch on among Muslim women in Europe has already sparked lively debates in Britain and France.

Image via REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/RNS

Italy may be the spiritual home of 1.2 billion members of the Catholic Church around the world, but a new poll shows only 50 percent of Italians consider themselves Catholic. The poll, published in the liberal daily L’Unita on March 29, challenges long-held perceptions that Italy is a “Catholic” country, despite the popularity of Pope Francis and the historic role of the Vatican City State in the heart of Rome.

Image via  /

Almost 1,600 years after St. Augustine founded the first Roman Catholic church at Canterbury in 597 C.E., the British people have been told in no uncertain terms that they’re no longer living in a Christian country.

A sensational report released this week by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life, challenges this country’s time–tested moral and public values system. In language that raises eyebrows — and tempers — the report says United Kingdom (U.K.) should cut back the Christian tone of major state occasions and shift toward a “pluralist character.”

Events such as a coronation should be changed to be more inclusive, it said, while the number of bishops in the House of Lords should be cut to make way for leaders of other religions.

Image via Brian Snyder / REUTERS / RNS

Political candidates are facing a new reality: Within the Democratic coalition, there are more religiously unaffiliated voters than belong to any single religious group.

This is a significant change in American politics, where nonbelief has long been a liability.

Survey data show that Americans with no religious affiliation are a growing share of both major political parties. But the trend is particularly strong within the Democratic coalition, where the unaffiliated now represent 28 percent of those voters, according to a new Pew Research study.

Image via Charles Platiau / REUTERS / RNS

The ban on niqabs, which were seen as a symbol of a spread of radical Islamism, has not stopped some Muslim women from wearing them as a badge of defiance toward a society they say does not accept them.

“This is my way of saying ‘no’ to a government that has robbed me of my freedom,” a veiled woman named Leila, who admitted to not being a regularly practicing Muslim before the law was passed, told the Paris daily Le Monde.

The ban was widely criticized in the Muslim world and there is anecdotal evidence that militant Muslims — both from abroad and French recruits to groups such as the Islamic State — see it as one reason to put France high on their hit list.

Yossi Cohen. Image via Michele Chabin/RNS

Yossi Cohen was shocked when city inspectors warned him last month to close his downtown convenience store during the Jewish Sabbath or else be socked with fines.

“For 20 years I’ve been open during Shabbat (the Hebrew for Sabbath) and suddenly the city decides I have to close?” said Cohen, one of eight convenience store owners ordered to shut down from sundown Friday until Saturday night.

“The message is clear: The municipality doesn’t want non-religious people in this city.”

The closure order, which faces a court hearing Sept. 16, was part of a compromise that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently struck with ultra-Orthodox city council members who threatened to block a movie multiplex from opening on the Sabbath in a secular part of the city unless the convenience stores were shut on the Sabbath.

Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Students attend class at the Catholic University of Lyon. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Sunlight slants across a classroom at the Catholic University of Lyon, where the Bible dominates an evening lecture.

The subject may not seem surprising in this ancient city that was once a bastion of French Catholicism and a hub for Christian missionaries. But the dozen or so people jotting notes are not theology students.

One young woman wears a headscarf. A man sports the beard of a devout Muslim. Still others are non-Muslim civil servants working for the local government.

All are enrolled in a program on the French concept of secularism and religious tolerance that is jointly run by two Lyon universities and the city’s Grand Mosque. They’re the unlikely foot soldiers of a national campaign for “Islam a la Francaise.”

The drive has taken on new urgency since January’s terrorist attacks in Paris and the departure of hundreds of French youths to join jihadist movements in the Middle East.

The country’s leftist government has responded with a raft of new measures to fight homegrown extremism.

Richard Dawkins. Image courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons.

Richard Dawkins. Image courtesy RNS/Wikimedia Commons.

It was 2006’s “The God Delusion” that many credit with sparking a growing interest in atheism in the U.S. Along with best-selling books by the other members of the “Four Horsemen” of atheism—the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett—Dawkins’ rising star mirrored the growth of atheism in the last decade.

In 2012, the Pew Research Center found 5.7 percent of Americans identified as either atheists or agnostics, up from 3.7 percent in 2007.

“Richard Dawkins has done a lot to bring atheism to a whole new generation,” said Phil Zuckerman, a sociology professor who studies atheism and who also credits Dawkins with speaking out against the pedophilia scandal within the Catholic Church. “On the other hand, Dawkins seems to embody everything that people dislike about atheists: He is smug, condescending and emits an unpleasant disdainfulness. He doesn’t ever seem to acknowledge the good aspects of religion, only the bad. In that sense, I think he doesn’t help atheism in the PR department.”

One of Dawkins’ biggest missteps came in 2011, when he blasted Rebecca Watson, a young atheist activist who wrote about feeling sexually harassed at a freethought conference. In a now infamous series of comments posted to the blog Pharyngula, Dawkins wrote in a message titled “Dear Muslima,” “Stop whining, will you? ... For goodness sake grow up, or at least grow a thicker skin.”

Ron Csillag 09-13-2013
An image released by the Quebec government showing which religious symbols would

An image released by the Quebec government showing which religious symbols would be banned. Photo via RNS/Quebec government.

Quebec’s government this week introduced its much-discussed Charter of Quebec Values, which would ban “overt and conspicuous” religious symbols worn by government employees.

Pushing the twin ideals of secularism and separation from Canada, the Parti Quebecois’ plan would prohibit public employees from wearing large crosses and crucifixes, Islamic headscarves, Sikh turbans, and Jewish yarmulkes as a way to establish “religious neutrality” in public.

The prohibitions would apply to civil servants, teachers, law enforcement officers, firefighters, doctors, nurses, and public day care employees.

Photo courtesy RNS.

Thousands of atheists and unbelievers gathered Saturday on the National Mall for the Reason Rally. Photo courtesy RNS.

Nearly half of all Americans — 48 percent — say the growing number of nonreligious people is “bad for society,” according to a poll conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

But about the same amount — 50 percent — say the rise in nonreligious people is either a good thing (39 percent), or doesn’t matter (11 percent).

The findings flesh out last year’s Pew Forum survey on the “nones,” the one in five Americans who report no formal religious affiliation. But the results also illustrate the divided reactions to this trend between those who are religious and those who are not. 

Ron Csillag 05-16-2013
Canadian flag image courtesy Alex Indigo via Flickr (

Canadian flag image courtesy Alex Indigo via Flickr (

TORONTO — A new national study shows that while Canada remains overwhelmingly Christian, Canadians are turning their backs on organized religion in ever greater numbers.

Results from the 2011 National Household Survey show that more than two-thirds of Canadians, or some 22 million people, said they were affiliated with a Christian denomination.

At 12.7 million, Roman Catholics were the largest single Christian group, representing 38 percent of Canadians; the second largest was the United Church, representing about 6 percent; while Anglicans were third, representing about 5 percent of the population.

Observers noted that among the survey’s most striking findings is that one in four Canadians, or 7.8 million people, reported they had no religious affiliation at all. That was up sharply from 16.5 percent from the 2001 census, and 12 percent in 1991.


Photo: Mark William Penny /

Photo: Rowan Williams, Mark William Penny /

CANTERBURY, England — New figures from the 2011 Census show that the number of people who identify as Christians in England and Wales has fallen by 4 million over the last 10 years.

The data shows that numbers fell from 37.3 million in 2001 to 33 million last year.

The statistics came as the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, claimed that English cathedral congregations are growing dramatically, challenging the claim made by secularists that the Church of England is fading in Britain.