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A free floating commentary on culture, politics, economics, and religion based on a passionate commitment to the truth and a desire graciously to refute that which is contrary to it….
"He must hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it."
--Titus 1:9, Revised Standard Version
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While the Tory leadership may still sometime say that Britain is a Christian country and send out copies of the King James Bible to schools, there is little sense of a religious underpinning to current Tory thinking. If David Cameron has sought to hark back to a pre-Thatcherite tradition of Tory paternalism, he has done so without reference to its Anglican roots. Indeed, the confusion surrounding his ‘Big Society’ agenda may in part be down to its secular articulation (especially odd given that faith groups are expected to do so much of the work).
Until recently, this secularisation had gone unnoticed, concealed under the broader process of Cameron’s modernisation of the party, but the pushing through of gay marriage has changed all that. If the debate reveals anything, it is that the tables have turned; the Conservative party appears to have out-liberalised the Church of England. Cameron’s argument that gay marriage is an inherently Conservative idea is a legitimate one (which certainly reflects popular opinion, including Christian) but he has found it difficult to sell to those ‘swivel-eyed loons’, the Tory rank and file. They feel at odds with the party leadership in a way that many once felt at odds with the bishops. It is no wonder that many are now converting to Ukip.
Gay marriage may be seen by some as representative of the divorce of the Tory party from its Christian principles but, more importantly, it suggests that the gulf between its leadership and the grass roots may be religious as much as political.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism
We are all searching for meaning in our lives, regardless of our beliefs or lack thereof.
In the past few weeks, I have attended or read about four completely different events about the act of seeking and my mind is reeling. This is not unusual when you are working on a religion Web site such as On Faith. There are days when I feel schizophrenic: participating in religious events, being on panels, giving speeches, doing interviews, writing pieces or reading submissions for the site. I always try to identify with the person who is writing or speaking or to whom I am listening or watching. The whole point of starting On Faith was to learn about faith, to understand the different beliefs and the people who do not adhere to any religion. I am totally pluralistic in my approach.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Multiculturalism, pluralism Psychology Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology
The Church of England has criticised the National Secular Society’s call for Christian ritual to have no role in the Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph, dismissing the organisation as “rather sad”.
In the lead up to today’s commemoration service, Norman Bonney, a director of the National Secular Society, argued that the Cenotaph was created as a secular memorial and should be treated as such.
But the Church’s director of communications, Rev Arun Arora has hit back at Bonney’s proposal. He said: “It is both misjudged and misguided for the National Secular Society to attempt to politicise Remembrance Sunday for their own ends.”
Read it all.
It's not just a fling or a phase for them. It's an identity. They want to show that polyamory can be a viable alternative to monogamy, even for middle-class, suburban families with children, jobs and house notes.
"We're not trying to say that monogamy is bad," said Billy Holder, a 36-year-old carpenter who works at a university in Atlanta. "We're trying to promote the fact that everyone has a right to develop a relationship structure that works for them."
Read it all (my emphasis).
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine History Marriage & Family Psychology Sexuality --Polyamory * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
My father, who died earlier this year at the ripe old age of 90, had a life that was as varied as it was long.
He served in the Italian campaign in the Second World War, then became an Anglican clergyman, a fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge, and subsequently dean of St John’s Cathedral, Hong Kong. For 21 years he was principal of Morley College, an institute of adult education, in London, and finally director of a large charitable foundation. In his retirement he returned to his first love, church history, completing a project on Restoration church courts that he had put aside 30 years previously and ending his career with seven entries on Restoration Anglican divines for the Dictionary of National Biography, which was published in his 81st year. (“Not my period” he would always declare stoutly when asked a question about a historical event that fell outside the late 17th century, although in fact he wrote what is still a standard history of the movement for Christian unity.)
At the age of 85 he was awarded the rare degree of doctor of divinity by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a ceremony at Lambeth Palace at which Rowan Williams preached a fire-breathing sermon on the threat of secularism, little knowing that my father had long ceased to be a believer.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary England / UK Europe * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism
In certain parts of America, the word fiancé does not mean what it used to. I first became aware of this when I was reporting a story in a small town in Wisconsin a couple of years ago and “Bug” Smith, a 50-year-old man who worked as a machinist introduced me to his “fiancée.” I was about to say “Congratulations!” but something stopped me. Their union did not have the air of expectant change about it. From their domestic surroundings, it looked like they lived basically as a married couple already, his boots next to hers by the front door, pictures of kids above the mantel. I later found out they’d been living together for 15 years and had two children.
ince then I have come across this phenomenon dozens of times, almost always in working-class couples, and usually younger ones. Someone will introduce me to his or her fiancé. But what they mean is more like my “steady lady” or my “steady man.” It could mean the person they are living with, or the father or mother of their child. It could also just mean the person they’ve been dating for a long time....
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Children Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Men Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality Women * Economics, Politics Economy Personal Finance * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
(Please note that this is a follow up to this article posted on the blog September 22--KSH).
A Methodist minister who resigned her pulpit last year after deciding that she was no longer a believer, and who was recently hired by a humanist group based at Harvard to help build congregations of nonbelievers throughout the country, has acknowledged fabricating aspects of her educational background.
The former minister, Teresa MacBain, whose crisis of faith was described in the On Religion column last Saturday, claimed she had earned a master of divinity degree from Duke University.
She had also listed that degree in the résumé she submitted to the Humanist Community at Harvard in the course of being hired as director of its Humanist Community Project. In addition, she had made references to the degree in previous public statements, some of which were reported online.
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch Education Media Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Ethics / Moral Theology Seminary / Theological Education
Professor Stephen Hawking has predicted that it could be possible to preserve a mind as powerful as his on a computer - but not with technology existing today....
Prof Hawking was speaking after the premiere of a new biopic about his life, which he narrates himself, at the Cambridge Film Festival.
Asked about whether a person's consciousness can live on after they die, he said: "I think the brain is like a programme in the mind, which is like a computer, so it's theoretically possible to copy the brain onto a computer and so provide a form of life after death.
"However, this is way beyond out present capabilities. I think the conventional afterlife is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark."
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Health & Medicine History Religion & Culture Science & Technology * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Eschatology
The invitations are in the mail. Jennifer Beltz and T.J. Gurski of Commerce Township, Mich., are defying the odds — they’re taking the plunge a second time.
“When I got divorced, I said, ‘I’m never getting married again,” says Beltz, 41, who works in marketing.
That sentiment seems to be quite common among those jaded by a failed first union: A new analysis of federal data provided exclusively to USA TODAY shows the USA’s remarriage rate has dropped 40 percent over the past 20 years.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family Psychology Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Pastoral Theology
Christians have become more tolerant of pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and abortion over the past 30 years, as society becomes more liberal, the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey suggests.
The 30th BSA survey, published on Tuesday by NatCen Social Research, is based on detailed interviews with a representative sample of 3000 people in 2012. Such interviews have been carried out since 1983, examining public views on society, politics, and morality.
When the first BSA survey was published in 1983, 28 per cent of those surveyed thought that sex outside marriage was "always" or "mostly" wrong, and 42 per cent thought it "not wrong at all". In 2012, only 11 per cent of those surveyed thought that pre-marital sex was "always" or "mostly" wrong, and 65 per cent thought it was "not wrong at all".
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Culture-Watch Marriage & Family Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology Theology: Scripture
In his new book, Dawkins relates for the first time the full story of his schoolboy break-out as an atheist. In the chapel at Oundle, he helped lead a small insurgency of boys who refused to kneel. The school’s headmaster was in Oxford on the day that the young Dawkins took his university entrance exam and drove him back. During this lift, Dawkins writes, the headmaster ‘discreetly raised the subject of my rebellion against Christianity. It was a revelation,’ he says, ‘to talk to a decent, humane, intelligent Christian, embodying Anglicanism at its tolerant best.’
I ask him about this. ‘I’m kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition,’ he admits, ‘for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don’t believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy, as I do… I suppose I’m a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.’ Would he ever go into a church? ‘Well yes, maybe I would.’
But at this point he turns it back around again. I try to clarify my own views to him. ‘You would feel deprived if there weren’t any churches?’ he asks. ‘Yes,’ I respond. He mulls this before replying. ‘I would feel deprived in the same spirit of the English cricket match that I mentioned, that is close to my heart. Yes, I would feel a loss there. I would feel an aesthetic loss. I would miss church bells, that kind of thing.’
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture Science & Technology * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Atheism Secularism
If Jason Heap has his way, he’ll trade his Oxford tweeds for the crisp whites of a newly minted U.S. Navy chaplain.
This is my chance to give back to my country,” said Heap, 38. “I want to use my skills on behalf of our people in the service. Hopefully, the Navy will see where I can be useful.”
But Heap’s goal is not assured. He fits the requirements— with master’s degrees from both Brite Divinity School and Oxford University. His paperwork is complete. He passed the physical tests and has been interviewed by a Navy chaplain. The only thing he does not have is an endorsement from a religious organization approved by the Navy.
Read it all.
Is "secularization" little more than a self-congratulatory tale that modern-day atheists like to tell, or do we live in a secular age after all?
Eberstadt thinks it's the latter, and in this she surely is correct. In his book A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor makes the point well with a question: "Why is it so hard to believe in God (in many milieux) in the modern West, while in 1500 it was virtually impossible not to?" Eberstadt wisely points to the work of historian Eamon Duffy, whose book The Stripping of the Altars shows in great detail how medieval Englishmen, even if they weren't always to be found in church on Sundays, lived in a world in which Christianity defined their everyday lives and filled their imaginative horizons. We just don't live in that world anymore—for us, it's entirely possible to go to school, find a mate, engage in politics, take part in cultural life, and listen to popular music, all without having to confront God in anything but a peripheral way.
So, Eberstadt has good reason to say that the West has "lost God" in some way. But she's not careful enough in spelling out what that means—for, as she herself makes clear, the secularization of the European social imagination that historians like Duffy detail is perfectly compatible with a rise in church attendance. In fact, that's basically what happened, until church attendance started to drop off in the 20th century. Explaining what happened requires telling a story that can account for this complexity, and that's where Eberstadt falls short.
Read it all.
After France's first same-sex marriage, and a vote in the UK Parliament which puts England and Wales on course for gay weddings next summer, two US Supreme Court rulings expected soon could hasten the advance of same-sex marriage across the Atlantic. But some gay people remain opposed. Why?
"It's demonstrably not the same as heterosexual marriage - the religious and social significance of a gay wedding ceremony simply isn't the same."
Jonathan Soroff lives in liberal Massachusetts with his male partner, Sam. He doesn't fit the common stereotype of an opponent of gay marriage.
But like half of his friends, he does not believe that couples of the same gender should marry.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture Sexuality --Civil Unions & Partnerships * International News & Commentary America/U.S.A. England / UK Europe * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology
Listen to it all (mp3 file).
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal * Culture-Watch Globalization Multiculturalism, pluralism Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Inter-Faith Relations Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Apologetics
Human Beings do not just make killer apps. We are killer apes. We are nasty, aggressive, violent, rapacious hominids, what John Gray calls in his widely read 2002 book, Straw Dogs, homo rapiens. But wait, it gets worse. We are a killer species with a metaphysical longing, ceaselessly trying to find some meaning to life, which invariably drives us into the arms of religion. Today’s metaphysics is called “liberal humanism,” with a quasi-religious faith in progress, the power of reason and the perfectibility of humankind. The quintessential contemporary liberal humanists are those Obamaists, with their grotesque endless conversations about engagement in the world and their conviction that history has two sides, right and wrong, and they are naturally on the right side of it.
Gray’s most acute loathing is for the idea of progress, which has been his target in a number of books, and which is continued in the rather uneventful first 80 pages or so of The Silence of Animals. He allows that progress in the realm of science is a fact. (And also a good: as Thomas De Quincey remarked, a quarter of human misery results from toothache, so the discovery of anesthetic dentistry is a fine thing.) But faith in progress, Gray argues, is a superstition we should do without. He cites, among others, Conrad on colonialism in the Congo and Koestler on Soviet Communism (the Cold War continues to cast a long shadow over Gray’s writing) as evidence of the sheer perniciousness of a belief in progress. He contends, contra Descartes, that human irrationality is the thing most evenly shared in the world. To deny reality in order to sustain faith in a delusion is properly human. For Gray, the liberal humanist’s assurance in the reality of progress is a barely secularized version of the Christian belief in Providence.
Read it all.
As the Prime Minister knows, I am very suspicious that behind the plans to change the nature of marriage, which will be debated in the House of Lords within the next two months there lurks an aggressive secularist and relativist approach towards an institution that has glued society together for time immemorial. By dividing marriage into religious and civil the government threatens the church and state link which they purport to support. But they also threaten to empty marriage of its fundamental religious and civil meaning as an institution orientated towards the upbringing of children.
If this is not enough, the legislation fails to provide any protection for religious believers in employment who cannot subscribe in conscience to the new meaning of marriage. There will be no exemptions for believers who are registrars who can expect to be sacked if theycannot, in all conscience, support same-sex marriage. Strong legal opinion also suggests that Christian teachers, who are required to teach about marriage, may face disciplinary action if they cannot express agreement with the new politically-correct orthodoxy.
The danger I believe that the government is courting with its approach both to marriage and religious freedom, is the alienation of a large minority of people who only a few years ago would have been considered pillars of the community.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Church of England (CoE) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History * Culture-Watch History Law & Legal Issues Marriage & Family Multiculturalism, pluralism Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary England / UK * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism
We are becoming a society in which “choice” and self-defined identities trump once-common values and traditional beliefs. But contrary to the rhetoric of its defenders, this shift is not a simple advance for freedom. The privileging of “choice” above all else in fact requires re-engineering the human person and society as a whole, and this will inevitably involve a great deal of coercion.
Wesley J. SmithThis shift, if it didn’t begin with Roe v. Wade, could be said to have been dramatically accelerated by it. Despite continuing opposition by over 50 percent of the American people, abortion is now universally available, in some places through the ninth month. Two states have legalized assisted suicide for the terminally ill—once strictly prohibited by the Hippocratic Oath. Now, some doctors actively collaborate in lethally overdosing their patients.
Advocacy for legalizing “after birth” abortion—e.g., infanticide—as a natural extension of the abortion right is growing more prominent, and not just among acolytes of Princeton’s Peter Singer. A Florida Planned Parenthood representative, opposing a bill that would require medical treatment for an infant who survives abortion, said the choice to care for the child should be a private one made between a mother and her doctor.
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch Children History Law & Legal Issues Life Ethics Philosophy Psychology Religion & Culture Science & Technology Young Adults * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Anthropology Ethics / Moral Theology
“Last week’s article on falling patterns of membership and church attendance in Scotland’s churches gave the other side of other story. Secularisation is merciless in its effect on churches. It will erode to vanishing point churches which operate in traditional ways and cannot adapt. It challenges the mindset of ‘as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be.’ But I believe that secularisation also presents a positive challenge for churches. It encourages us to develop church communities of new quality - disciples who are deeply engaged with their faith and not just of members who belong. It will be good for churches and good for faith.
“Let me surprise you first by saying that I am a supporter of secular society. My family roots are in the beginnings of what has become the Irish Republic. In the early years of the last century, Ireland was what some have called a confessional or theocratic state. The Catholic Church exercised an undue influence on the way in which government approached matters of social and moral legislation. The modern secular state is a safer place - it allows space for a proper separation of legislature, judiciary and church. In my view, there is then room for a proper relationship between church and state. The state should be the guardian and protector of religious freedom but it should not defer to religion.
“Last week’s article treated secularisation as if it was a single phenomenon. But it’s much more subtle and complex than that. It is actually a sort of ‘double whammy’ - let me explain what I mean.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Anglican Provinces Scottish Episcopal Church * Culture-Watch Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary England / UK --Scotland * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism
It is more reasonable to me, as it is to any atheist, to believe in things that are in accord with what we know are natural laws, than to believe in things that contradict them....[but] unless you’re raised atheist, people become atheists just as I did, by thinking about the same things Augustine thought about. Certainly one of the first things I thought about as a maturing child was “Why is there polio? Why are there diseases?” If there is a good God why are there these things? The answer of the religious person is “God has a plan we don’t understand.” That wasn’t enough for me. There are people who don’t know anything about science. One of the reasons I recommend Richard Dawkins’s book, The God Delusion, is that basically he explains the relationship between science and atheism. But I don’t think people are really persuaded into atheism by books or by debates or anything like that. I think people become atheists because they think about the world around them. They start to search out books because they ask questions. In general, people don’t become atheists at a late age, in their 50s. All of the atheists I know became atheists fairly early on. They became atheists in their adolescence or in their 20s because these are the ages at which you’re maturing, your brain is maturing, and you’re beginning to ask questions. If religion doesn’t do it for you, if, in fact, religion, as it does for me, contradicts any rational idea of how to live, then you become an atheist, or whatever you want to call it – an agnostic, a freethinker.
Read it all.
(Please note the article to which this responds was posted here on the blog last week--KSH).
The ’60s secularizing and “modernizing” that orders went through, discarding habits, common prayer life and so on, were a strategic error for which many orders today have paid the price: drastically shrinking numbers and remaining members who are in their 70s and older.
But some traditional Dominican communities, male and female, are seeing a significant uptick in their applications from younger people. The same can be said for some branches of Franciscan friars and sisters. I don’t think that this is an accident.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal Episcopal Church (TEC) * Christian Life / Church Life Church History Parish Ministry Ministry of the Ordained * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Other Faiths Secularism
In Marseille, on the southern coast, “conversions have increased at an incredible pace in the last three years,” said Abderrahmane Ghoul, the imam of the major mosque of Marseille and the president of the local branch of the French Council of the Muslim Faith. Mr. Ghoul signed about 130 conversion certificates in 2012.
Hassen Chalghoumi, the moderate imam of Drancy, another suburb near Paris, says he thinks conversions have also been propelled by France’s official secularism, which he says breeds spiritual emptiness.
“Secularism has become antireligious,” Mr. Chalghoumi said. “Therefore, it has created an opposite phenomenon. It has allowed people to discover Islam.”
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Filed under: * Culture-Watch History Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Politics in General * International News & Commentary Europe France * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Islam Secularism
Every year in America, 2.5 million people die. In 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, 42 percent were cremated, according to the funeral directors association. That's double the rate of just 15 years ago. In some states, largely in the West, the cremation rate tops 70 percent. In Washington, it's 72 percent; in Nevada, almost 74 percent. (The lowest rate of cremation... is Mississippi's, at 15.7 percent.)
So why the big jump in cremations? There are lots of reasons. One is the softening of the Catholic church's views of the practice. For centuries - until 1963, in fact - the church outlawed it. The church's laws still express a preference for burial. But the outright ban is a thing of the past and now, under some circumstances, bishops can permit a funeral mass with cremated remains present.
Another reason for the rise in cremations is the decline in nuclear families. As more and more Americans live far from hometowns and parents, and as family burial plots have waned in popularity and accessibility, millions have turned to cremation as a practical and cost-effective way to care for a loved one's remains.
Read it all.
Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Children Marriage & Family Religion & Culture * Economics, Politics Economy Consumer/consumer spending Corporations/Corporate Life * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism * Theology Eschatology Pastoral Theology
The Secretary for Relations with States of the Secretariat of State of the Holy See, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti gave an interview to Vatican Radio on Wednesday, in which he discussed the Church’s freedom and institutional autonomy, with reference to four cases decided by the European Court of Human Rights on the 15th of January, and two others still before the Court. With regard to the four cases decided by the Court – only one of which was decided in favour of the complainant – Archbishop Mamberti spoke of the complexity of questions relating to freedom of conscience and religion, in particular in European society marked by the increase of religious diversity and the corresponding hardening of secularism. He discussed the danger posed by a moral relativism that imposes itself as a social norm, and explained that the Church seeks to defend individual freedoms of conscience and religion in all circumstances, especially in the face of such danger.
Archbishop Mamberti addressed the need of respect for freedom of conscience regarding morally controversial subjects, such as abortion or homosexuality, saying that respect for freedom of conscience and religion is a condition for the establishment of a tolerant society in its pluralism. He warned that the erosion of freedom of conscience is symptomatic of a form of pessimism with regard to the capacity of the human conscience to recognize the good and the true. The Archbishop went on to say that it is the Church’s role to remind people that the true source of human freedom is found in the ability of each and every person to distinguish good from evil, and an obligation to act in accord with those determinations.
Read and listen to it all and I see that RNS has an article out on this as well.
Filed under: * Culture-Watch Law & Legal Issues Religion & Culture * International News & Commentary Europe * Religion News & Commentary Other Churches Roman Catholic Pope Benedict XVI Other Faiths Secularism * Theology
...for the past 24 years I have edited Image, a journal that publishes literature and art concerned with the faith traditions of the West. Our instinct when launching the publication was that the narrative of decline was misguided, but we honestly didn't know if we could fill more than a few issues.
Sometimes when you look, you find. Over the years Image has featured many believing writers, including Annie Dillard, Elie Wiesel, Christian Wiman, Marilynne Robinson and Mark Helprin. But these writers of religious faith and others are not hard to find elsewhere. Several prominent American authors—Franz Wright, Mary Karr and Robert Clark—are Catholic converts. Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer last year published "New American Haggadah," a contemporary take on the ritual book used by Jews on Passover.
In short, the myth of secularism triumphant in the literary arts is just that—a myth. Yet making lists of counterexamples does not get at a deeper matter. It has to do with the way that faith takes on different tones and dimensions depending on the culture surrounding it.
Read it all.
Darrel W. Ray, a psychologist in the Kansas City area who runs the Web site The Secular Therapist Project, made a similar point in a recent interview. As someone who was raised as a believing Christian and who holds a master’s degree in theology, he was uniquely able to identify what humanism needs to provide in a time of crisis.
“When people are in a terrible kind of pain — a death that is unexpected, the natural order is taken out of order — you would do anything to take away the pain,” Dr. Ray, 62, said. “And I’m not going to deny that religion does help deal with that first week or two of pain.
“The best we can do as humanists,” he continued, “is to talk about that pain in rational terms with the people who are suffering. We have humanist celebrants, as we call them, but they’re focused on doing weddings. It takes a lot more training to learn how to deal with grief and loss. I don’t see celebrants working in hospice or in hospitals, for example. There are secular people who need pastoral care, but we abdicate it to clergy.”
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Filed under: * Christian Life / Church Life Parish Ministry Death / Burial / Funerals * Culture-Watch Children Life Ethics Religion & Culture Violence * Religion News & Commentary Other Faiths Secularism
In Ghana, where deeply held religious beliefs unite much of the population, a new group has formed around a shared disbelief in religion.
The Humanist Association of Ghana practices a philosophy that is mostly unheard-of in Ghana, which a recent survey ranked as the most religious country in the world. Nonetheless, the group has already made waves in West Africa.
Last weekend, the association hosted humanists from across the region for a conference in the capital of Accra, where attendees listened as speakers discussed the impact humanists could make on West African society. Lecturers talked about how humanists can stand up for gay and lesbian rights and against traditional practices like witch hunts. One talk dealt with whether humanism is compatible with belief in God.
Read it all.
As the assistant humanist chaplain at Harvard University, Chris Stedman coordinates its “Values in Action” program. In his recent book, “Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious,” he tells how he went from a closeted gay evangelical Christian to an “out” atheist, and, eventually, a Humanist.
On the blog NonProphet Status, and now in the book, Stedman calls for atheists and the religious to come together around interfaith work. It is a position that has earned him both strident -- even violent -- condemnation and high praise. Stedman talked with RNS about how and why the religious and atheists should work together.
Read it all.
An atheist group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seems on track to receive nearly $70,000 in student fees for staffing and programming next year, in what appears to be a first for the university and student atheist groups nationally.
The Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics, or AHA as it's called, said it will provide support services for students struggling with doubts about their faiths and offer a safe place where they can discuss religious issues without fear of recrimination.
"Religious groups have been receiving this type of funding for years," said Chris Calvey, president of the organization, which helped stage a three-day Freethought Festival that drew hundreds of nonbelievers and skeptics from around the country to Madison this year.
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Sharing an obligation to spread the good news of salvation in Christ, all Christian communities are challenged by the fact that many people today do not think they need God, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"The spiritual poverty of many of our contemporaries, who no longer perceive the absence of God in their lives as a privation, represents a challenge for all Christians," the pope said Nov. 15 in a meeting with members of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.
Pope Benedict said authentic ecumenical prayer, dialogue and cooperation cannot ignore "the crisis of faith that vast regions of the planet are experiencing," nor can Christians ignore signs that many modern people still feel a need for some kind of spirituality.
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Six students at Cornell University, one at the University of Pennsylvania, and one at Yale took their own lives during the past academic year. One was a noted football player, almost certain to be elected captain. Another was a jokester, great student and kind soul. Two others were from notably affluent communities, Chevy Chase, MD and Boca Raton, FL. So, is this the end result of an academic culture that encourages a nihilistic questioning of all values, a rejection of God, and a moral permissiveness that leads to despair?
Since our [Saint Michael's, Charleston] parish focus this year on “the hurting coast” (from Richmond to Maine) it’s worth pondering the great influence that our well-known public and private academic institutions in the northeast have upon our culture. We will soon have an “All-Ivy Supreme Court”, with seven of the nine justices having degrees from Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Columbia, and Princeton. And guess how many U.S. presidents have had degrees from these same institutions in the 20th century? If you exclude Nixon and Carter, Warren Harding and William Howard Taft, nearly every president of the past century had a degree from one of them – or in a couple of cases from other similar colleges like Amherst and Stanford.
That is both impressive – and troubling. It’s impressive because it signals the ability of these colleges to attract some of the best students. It’s troubling because of the disproportionate influence these institutions have upon the nation....
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The latest numbers suggest that an amazingly high percentage of women today—18.8 percent—complete their childbearing years having had no children. Another 18.5 percent of women finish having had only one child. Together, that’s nearly 40 percent of Americans who go their entire lives having either one child or no children at all.
And it's a big change in behavior from the recent past. There have always been people who lived without having children—either by happenstance or by choice. But for all of American history, the numbers of this cohort were fairly small. In 1970, for instance, just about 8 percent of women completed their childbearing years with no children. (And only about 11 percent of women finished with only one child.) Over the next 40 years, those numbers rose almost without interruption. (The numbers ticked backward only once, in 2002.) This dramatic increase in childlessness—the number more than doubled—took place in just two generations and came at a time when medical advances were drastically improving the odds of infertile couples conceiving.
So what happened?
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Mallon: The greatest thing that I can hope for from this Synod is this pastoral conversion, which means we have to change the very culture of our Churches. The predominant culture of the Churches where I come from and my experience doing this work, is that we have a maintenance culture within our parishes. In the past we had strong Catholic cultures that helped people go to Church and to believe. Usually the only growth we had in parishes was from demographic shifts. We didn't really have to do anything: we just had to schedule Masses and pay the light bills. And for the culture of the time that worked. There was no sense of being missional. Today the culture is toxic, not just neutral. If you do nothing you will be stripped of faith.
We have got to apply new methodology, which means we must move from a maintenance culture to a missional culture. That means addressing the values that we – perhaps even unconsciously – hold as local Churches within parishes. We can be very quick to say "I value this, this, and this." But, it's one thing to say what you value; it's another thing to actually look at how you function as a Church, and what you put your money and resources and time into. By analyzing those, we find out what we truly value.
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According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, American Protestants recently became a minority of the country (48%) for the first time—not just since the American Revolution, but since the establishment of the first English colonies on American soil. Even more notably, the same Pew research revealed that 20% of all Americans now say they are not affiliated with any religion.
At one level, this is a victory for religious pluralism—or, to use the politically correct term, diversity. At another, when one in five Americans has no religious affiliation, it is a commentary on the diminished importance of the moral underpinnings that characterized the United States for most of its existence.
At the country's founding, even skeptics and Deists like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin paid great respect to the morality and values that the vast majority of Americans accepted as God-given standards by which to live. These were standards rooted in Christian belief and teachings. Jefferson, as is well known, was a man of the Enlightenment who was genuinely skeptical about the supernatural claims of Christianity. Even he, however, believed in the need for virtue in national life as an essential ingredient for the safe continuation of the republic.
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Several recent incidents in Berlin have escalated tensions between Muslims, Jews, and the city's secular majority. Over a month ago, a rabbi wearing a kippa, or yarmulke, was beaten by four "Arab-looking" youths after being asked if he and his daughter were Jewish. Public outcry led to a large demonstration in support of Berlin's Jews, including a flash mob of Jews and non-Jews wearing kippot. Tensions escalated days later when a second incident, in which Jewish school girls were harassed by a group of youths that included a girl wearing a head scarf, led to an exchange of harsh words between Jewish and Muslim leaders, though in neither case were the attackers caught or identified definitively. After being advised to urge greater religious tolerance, Muslim leaders denied responsibility for the attacks and pointed out their own experiences of intolerance in the city.
Then on Yom Kippur, two more anti-Semitic incidents took place—the first when a young white man threatened a local Jewish leader and told him to go back where he came from, and the second when a mother and her daughter were forced out of a taxi after telling the "German" driver they were going to synagogue. Diedre Berger of the Berlin office of the American Jewish Committee has now intervened, asking the German government to develop an action plan to combat anti-Semitism.
Meanwhile, a contrasting alliance between Jews and Muslims has formed in the aftermath of a regional court ruling against circumcision.
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Traditional family life in Canada is declining, according to data recently published from the 2011 census.
Census data show that married couples declined as a proportion of all census families between 2006 and 2011. Nevertheless, they still formed the predominant family structure in Canada, accounting for two-thirds of all families, Statistics Canada reported Sept. 19.
The proportion of cohabitating couples and lone-parent families both increased. For the first time, cohabitating couples outnumbered lone-parent families in 2011.
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It is harder than ever to claim, as the Prime Minister does, that Britain is still a Christian country. It was at the time when Baroness Thatcher stood outside No 10 and recited the prayer of St Francis of Assisi, to offer reassurance about her intentions. Two thirds of Brits were Christian then, and phrases such as “where there is discord, may we bring harmony” had wide resonance. Those were the days where friends parted using phrases like “God bless” and hedged future plans with “God willing”. But over the past three decades Britain has been losing its religion at a precipitous rate – as Ed Miliband has worked out.
There was almost no comment, let alone fuss, about the section of the Labour leader’s speech where he proclaimed that he had no religion. This, in itself, is something of a milestone. When Neil Kinnock spoke about his atheism, he was monstered, as if this were evidence of his otherness. In fact, he was at the vanguard of a growing secularist trend. Today religion has become, if anything, a handicap to those governing modern Britain. Tony Blair judged it best to keep quiet about his faith. David Cameron has declared a Christianity-lite, one that comes and goes like “Magic FM in the Chilterns”.
But this week, Ed Miliband wanted to tell the world about his creed. He is not a man for synagogues or churches, he said, but is emphatically a man of faith. “Not a religious faith,” he said, “but a faith none the less. A faith, I believe, many religious people would recognise....”
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The reason given by Christiane Taubira, France’s justice minister: ”Who is to say that a heterosexual couple will bring a child up better than a homosexual couple, that they will guarantee the best conditions for the child's development?” She then reassured critics of the proposed law, “What is certain is that the interest of the child is a major preoccupation for the government.”
If the law goes through, then all references to “mother” and “father” will be erased from the civil code and replaced with the more abstract, cover-all, cover-anything term “parents.”
Let’s focus on that shift to abstraction. It’s more important than you might think, because, as France is now demonstrating, he (or she) who controls the language controls the fundamentally human ability to speak about reality.
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Perhaps it is understandable angry Muslims in the Middle East or Africa would demonstrate outside American diplomatic missions against the apparent circulation of a YouTube video mocking the Prophet Muhammad by a person based in the US. There is no such excuse for Australian Muslims.
Citizens and residents of Australia know we live in a democratic society in which the government does not, and mostly cannot, engage in acts of political and religious censorship. That's why Americans have not been able to get the cheap film deleted from the web. And that's why footage of beheadings of non-believers by Islamist extremists remain on the web.
Some Muslim leaders in Australia have condemned Saturday's violent demonstration in which several members of the NSW Police were injured. Others have not. Whatever the response of Muslims, the incident provides yet more evidence that multiculturalism - after a promising start - has failed. If some Australian Muslims do not understand how democracy works, it's time for a rethink.
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I sat there pondering. I couldn’t help but feel I was caught up in a moment that could be somewhat farcical. If she had said she wanted to leave an area because she didn’t like that there were a group of Asian or Middle Eastern people, it would have been met with shock.
If she had said she was miserable because there were so many homosexual people she would have been heatedly challenged. If she had singled out any other group, even any other religious group, I think it would be seen as being narrow minded and intolerant, and she would have been put in her place.
In contrast, it seemed it was socially acceptable to isolate and attach negative stigma to people involved in the Christian faith. In essence, it was stereotyping and placing prejudice on a group of people without knowing or experiencing them as individuals.
Without getting into the nuts and bolts of whether the area is in fact a bible belt, I have felt uncomfortable about that conversation. It seemed to reinforce a trend, where people with a Christian faith in Australia are free game to be joked about or spoken of negatively in the paper, on the radio and in comic sketches.
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The Archbishop of Canterbury, as he prepares to leave Lambeth Palace, has sought to quell any claims that Christians in this country are suffering persecution. “We have been hearing quite a lot about the dangers of 'aggressive secularism’,” he wrote in the introduction to his new book, “But our problem … is not simply loud voices attacking faith (and certainly not 'persecution’, as some of the more highly coloured apologetic claims)”.
Well, “persecution” is a powerful word, and few would dispute that genuine persecution is happening to Christian minorities in other countries, a plight that Dr Williams has done much to publicise. It seems ludicrous to compare the appalling treatment of the Christian minority in Pakistan or Iraq to slights suffered by Christians in Britain, where Christianity remains the Establishment religion, albeit one with weakening links to the Establishment.
There is, however, something curious and faintly unpleasant happening in Britain: Christianity seems tacitly understood to be the one faith that can safely be ridiculed or denied expression in the workplace. The complexity of that situation has been highlighted by the four British Christians who last week took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights on the grounds that they have been discriminated against at work because of their religion.
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One of Europe’s highest courts is considering a landmark decision on the employment rights of Christians, including two British women who were disciplined for wearing crucifix necklaces at work.
They were among four Christians who this week took their cases to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg claiming workplace discrimination that a former Archbishop of Canterbury says has turned them into victims of a new secular orthodoxy.
The four, all Britons who claim national laws failed to protect them, argue that their employers contravened European human rights legislation that bans religious discrimination and allows “freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
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Christians should leave their religious beliefs at home or accept that a personal expression of faith at work, such as wearing a cross, means they might have to resign and get another job, government lawyers have said.
Landmark cases, brought by four British Christians, including two workers forced out of their jobs after visibly wearing crosses, have been heard today at the European Court of Human Rights
David Cameron, the Prime Minister, has previously pledged to change the law to protect religious expression at work but official legal submissions on Tuesday to Strasbourg human rights judges made a clear “difference between the professional and private sphere”.
James Eadie QC, acting for the government, told the European court that the refusal to allow an NHS nurse and a British Airways worker to visibly wear a crucifix at work “did not prevent either of them practicing religion in private”, which would be protected by human rights law.
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…[Idolatry] has not disappeared; far from it. If there is no need to withdraw the word “God” from idolatrous confusion there is a need to give the word "God" meaning, by denunciation, challenge, and accusation against the veiled, hidden, and secret gods, who besiege and seduce all the more effectively because they do not openly declare themselves as gods.--Jacques Ellul, The New Demons (New York: Seabury Press, 1975 E.T. of the 1973 French original), pp. 227-228 (my emphasis)
It is clear that the task facing Christians and the church differs entirely according to whether we think of ourselves as being in a secularised, social, lay, and grown-up world which is ready to hear a demythologised, rationalised, explicated, and humanised gospel - the world and the gospel being in full and spontaneous harmony because both want to be religionless - or whether we think of ourselves as being in a world inhabited by hidden gods, a world haunted by myths and dreams, throbbing with irrational impulses, swaying from mystique to mystique, a world to which the Christian revelation has once again to play the role of liberator and destroyer of the sacred obsessions in order to liberate man and bring him, not to the self his demons are making him want to be, but to the self his Father wills him to be.'
[Yet] at the mention of a struggle of faith against the modern idols, which are the real ones, I immediately hear indignant protests...
Human rights are becoming a new form of totalitarianism, being used to drive Christians out of public life and even their jobs, European judges will be warned next week.
Laws originally designed to protect basic freedoms are instead being used to strip British society of its Christian foundations while upholding the rights of minorities, they will hear.
The warning, from a prominent Church of England bishop, comes as part of a landmark case on religious freedom in Britain to be heard at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg next week.
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In the national spotlight Thursday night introducing Mitt Romney as the GOP nominee for president, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) showed all of America why the country’s national motto – In God We Trust – must be abandoned. Exhibiting stunning insensitivity to the millions of Americans who do not profess a belief in any deities, Rubio declared: “Our national motto is In God we Trust, reminding us that faith in our Creator is the most important American value of all.”
Thus, Rubio was brazenly shouting out what many proponents of the religious motto have pubicly denied: the religious wording of the motto validates the idea that only believers are first-class citizens. Nonbelievers, while tolerated by the true believers (sometimes begrudgingly), clearly hold a second-class status.
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The Clergy Project is a magnet for charlatans and cowards who, by their own admission, openly lie to their congregations, hide behind beliefs they do not hold, make common cause with atheists, and still retain their positions and salaries. Is this how atheists and secularists groups intend to further their cause? They are getting publicity from the media to be sure, but do they think it will win them friends?
Ministers struggling honestly with doubts and struggles are in a different category altogether. Doubt will lead to one of two inevitable consequences. Faithful doubt leads to a deeper embrace of the truth, with doubt serving to point us into a deeper knowledge, trust, and understanding of the truth. Pernicious doubt leads to unfaithfulness, unbelief, skepticism, cynicism, and despair. Christians — ministers or otherwise — who are struggling with doubt, need to seek help from the faithful, not the faithless.
Christianity has little to fear from the Clergy Project. Its website reveals it to be a toothless tiger that will attract media attention, and that is about all. The greater danger to the church is a reduction in doctrine that leaves atheism hard to distinguish from belief. And the real forces to fear are those who would counsel such a reduction.
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The Higgs boson has been dubbed the “god particle” much to the dismay of many physicists, including Peter Higgs and Lawrence Krauss. Yet the latter, perhaps unintentionally, gives a new twist to the “god particle” epithet in his Newsweek article: “Humans, with their remarkable tools and their remarkable brains, may have just taken a giant step towards replacing metaphysical speculation with empirically verifiable knowledge. The Higgs particle is now arguably more relevant than God.” Krauss has not taken that giant step himself, since his statement, far from being a statement of science, is another metaphysical speculation — a mixture of hubris and an inadequate concept of God.
What does Krauss mean by “more relevant than God?” Relevant to what? Clearly the Higgs particle is more relevant than God to the question of how the universe works. But not to the question why there is a universe in which particle physics can be done. The internal combustion engine is arguably more relevant than Henry Ford to the question of how a car works, but not for why it exists in the first place. Confusing mechanism and/or law on the one hand and agency on the other, as Krauss does here, is a category mistake easily made by ignoring metaphysics.
Krauss does not seem to realise that his concept of God is one that no intelligent monotheist would accept. His “God” is the soft-target “God of the gaps” of the “I can’t understand it, therefore God did it” variety. As a result, Krauss, like Dawkins and Hawking, regards God as an explanation in competition with scientific explanation. That is as wrong-headed as thinking that an explanation of a Ford car in terms of Henry Ford as inventor and designer competes with an explanation in terms of mechanism and law. God is not a “God of the gaps”, he is God of the whole show.
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In a more rational light, [Jennifer] Aniston's marriage news is great news for her. If she's happy, and presumably she is, that's wonderful. But the reaction to this news, and her life before it, is bad news for us as a group.
What the treatment of the film star reveals is our determination to stick to old-school ideas about sex and gender. The worth of a woman has long been judged by her ability to keep a man. Aniston was supposedly diminished by her failure to keep Pitt and further damaged by her inability to replace him with a shiny new man.
Because she's female, the idea that she might be content being single, dating and living on her own wasn't taken seriously.
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The CofE has refused to countenance any form of official liturgical recognition for civil partnerships; has sought special exemptions from human rights and equalities legislation in order to continue discriminating against openly gay clergy or gay employees; has repeatedly restated its condemnation of all sexual relations outside heterosexual marriage; and has formally debarred even celibate gay clergy from becoming bishops.
Most recently, the bishops of the CofE have set themselves against government proposals to extend civil marriage to include same-sex couples. Their opposition is above all a public and political stance which is intended to maintain ecclesiastical unity, particularly within the Anglican communion. About half the world's Anglicans are African, and the majority of them are in violently homophobic countries whose churches back harsh punishments against homosexuals, right up to the death penalty.
These are the Anglican provinces which the current policy is seeking to appease and keep on board, while the American and Canadian Anglican churches that now openly bless gay unions and consecrate gay bishops are condemned for daring to treat gay people equally.
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Please keep comments on this thread focused on the content of the preface; thank you--KSH.
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When psychology academic Bronwyn Harman, from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia, set out to uncover the truth about childlessness in Australia, she did what many researchers do to get a sample these days. She hit social media in a big way....
Harman's initial results were released last week - she thinks we are seeing explicit trends that society may not have accepted decades ago.
Of the 330 respondents, a little more than three-quarters said they were childless by choice. About one-third of that number (about 70 of those surveyed) said they might have children later. Another third declared they did not feel parental - not maternal, not paternal (men were invited to respond to the survey, too). Of the remaining 70-odd participants, 40 thought children would ruin their lifestyle.
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Faith, in the Christian life, has nothing to do with a subjective belief that does not admit rational justification (not even Kierkegaard quite said that), because faith begins not with the subject of faith but its object—the Trinitarian life of God. It consists not of assent to some proposition but the entrustment of one’s being to God’s providence. Faith does not originate in the individual believer’s own efforts, but is rather a gift of grace to the believer, usually received in baptism, as one means among many of participating in God’s own life.
Far from posing a threat to one’s faith, knowledge reinforces it: the more reason one has to believe in God’s providence, the more readily the believer entrusts himself to God. Faith likewise facilitates a more intimate knowledge of the plans God has set in store for the believer. As recent scholarship has demonstrated, “faith” in the Bible is often better rendered “faithfulness”; one has faith, therefore, less by belief than by piety. Faith is—at least in the order of time—primarily performative and only secondarily reflective. Recall St. Irenaeus’ dictum: “to believe in God is to do his will.”
The naive concept of faith as blind assent arose from an equally naive and philosophically disreputable theory of knowledge, according to which one knows a thing best by detaching oneself from its use and setting aside personal biases in order to form an idea that corresponds to the thing.
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An Episcopal clergyman told me recently that in his 6 years in office, he had never seen the pall used in his parish church. What does that mean? It means that the traditional Anglican funeral, with the coffin present and covered by the pall, has almost ceased to exist. How has this happened? The "new" (1979) Book of Common Prayer clearly calls for the body to be present in the church -- the rubrics (italicized instructions) assume it, with instructions such as "The coffin is to be closed before the service." There is even a special set of prayers to be said (p. 466) as the body is brought into the church to repose before the service.
What has happened in the 30+ intervening years to cause this to change so totally? We now have the ubiquitous memorial service, which as far as I know scarcely existed at all thirty years ago....
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Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, the UK's most senior Roman Catholic, has said secularism seeks to wipe out Christianity as religious intolerance increases.
The cardinal mounted a critical attack on atheism and its attitude to those with religious beliefs, warning: "In the name of tolerance it seems to me tolerance is being abolished."
In an address at Leicester's Anglican Cathedral, he spoke of a "deep unease" in western society.
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[Richard] Holloway’s powerful account [in His book Leaving Alexandria] mirrors the progressive loss of belief which we see across Britain and Europe today, and it comes hard on the heels of Alain de Botton’s latest book Religion for Atheists, which advertises itself with the question “Even if religion isn’t true, can’t we enjoy the best bits?” It assumes that the supernatural claims of religion are false, but suggests that we hang on to the communal ritual and cultural elements. Holloway makes a similar plea when he says “I don’t any longer believe in religion but I want it around, less sure of itself and purged of everything except the miracle of pity”.
These books leave me with the question: Does this work? Can you have the gilt without the gingerbread? Isn’t there something fundamentally dishonest about those wistful atheists who have taken leave of God and who yet continue to use theological concepts and cling on to religious practices?
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The National Day of Reason — or "NDR" in the shorthand of the nontheist community — will also be held May 3, part protest, part celebration and totally godless.
"In times of great conflict and worry, people want to look to a higher power, and I am sympathetic to that," said Paul Fidalgo, communications director at the Center for Inquiry. "But our day puts the focus back on people and what we can do for ourselves. We are trying to make a better world on our own by emphasizing good works and good deeds on the day."
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Tim Sims recently shared some statistics on the lostness of Australia at a recent conference there. Scott Sanders provided these highlights of that research which I'd like to share with you:
"Church" has a negative perception among Aussies due to: church abuse, religious wars, hypocrisy, judgmentalism, and issues around money, as well as being seen as outdated, authoritarian and exclusive. Those not attending church have issues-- real or perceived-- which need to be addressed. The great news is Jesus is still viewed positively by the average Australian.Read it all.
There have been little change in 'Christian' beliefs during the last 50 years: 74% of Australians still believe in God, 53% in heaven, 45% in life after death and interestingly 43% in the resurrection of Jesus. Yet as a church we tend to agree with the media's perception that there is widespread disbelief. The reality is "Australians are very concerned about religion, just not sure that the religion we promote in our churches is the religion of Jesus."
Thousands of people are expect to descend on the Mall in Washington, D.C., on Saturday to celebrate not believing in God. It's being called a sort of "Woodstock for Atheists," a chance for atheists to show their power in numbers and change their image.
The "Reason Rally" could attract up to 30,000 people; organizer David Silverman says it marks a coming-of-age for nonbelievers.
"We'll look back at the Reason Rally as one of the game-changing events when people started to look at atheism and look at atheists in a different light," Silverman says.
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The head of Perth's Anglican Church has dismissed civil marriage ceremonies as "sentimental fuzz" as new figures reveal more than 70 per cent of WA couples opt for civil celebrants over religious ministers to conduct their nuptials.
The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show just 27 per cent of weddings in WA were conducted by a religious official in 2010 - down more than 2 per cent on the previous year - while 78.2 per cent were overseen by a civil celebrant.
Anglican Archbishop of Perth Roger Herft said the statistics were a sign of the times but true commitment could only be forged in the house of God.
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Alain de Botton, the British pop philosopher whose new book Religion for Atheists has made him the friendly face of modern godlessness....said if you walked into a modern university and asked to study the humanities in order to find meaning in life, “the people in charge would immediately dial the number of the insane asylum, and you would be taken away.”
He said the message of the secular world is that life is simple, and the only people who need help are stupid people who read self-help books.
He set his own views against the “virulent strain” of atheism that sees religion as “not just false but wrong, ridiculous, malign and corrupt,” epitomized by Christopher Hitchens’ claim that “religion poisons everything.”
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A Roman Catholic Bishop in Ireland is being investigated under ‘hate crime’ laws for delivering a homily that upset a humanist.
The Bishop’s unremarkable comments warned of “the arrows of a secular and godless culture” and that only believers “know in general terms that their life will not end in emptiness”.
Humanist John Colgan complained about the remarks to the police. Now prosecutors are investigating the Bishop of Raphoe, Dr Philip Boyce, under Ireland’s ‘incitement to hatred’ laws.
Read it all (another from the long queue of should-have-already-been-posted material).
Over the last hundred years or so, however,...[the] hopeful vision [that secularism promises a neutral public and peaceful space] has not materialized. Rather than seeing greater harmony in secular societies, we have witnessed more community breakdown. We also notice that the greatest losses of life in the twentieth century (Mao Tse-tung: 70 million deaths; Stalin: 20-40 million deaths; Hitler: 11-12 million deaths; Pol Pot: 1-2 million deaths…) have been inspired by secular ideologies, not religious ones. The atrocities that human beings commit against each other continue apace, and secularism is at a loss to know what to say about them. “It is the work of a few rogues” sounds less plausible every time we hear it. The incoherence of secularism also means that it cannot withstand determined pressure groups or totalitarian ideologies.
I believe secularism in the West is really a combination of Christianity and paganism, with the proportions shifting over the years from the former to the latter. Secularism does not supply values of its own but borrows them from Christianity (human rights, care for minorities, freedom of speech, toleration of differences, etc.) or paganism (fascination with astrology and ever more extreme forms of entertainment, lower views of marriage, higher views of other relationships, openness to abortion/infanticide, euthanasia, etc.). Credit is rarely given to these sources, and it is only as the proportion of paganism has increased that the true nature of secularism is becoming more apparent.
Read it all.
The march of secularism means Britain may no longer be a Christian country in just 20 years, a report said yesterday.
If trends continue, the number of non-believers is set to overtake the number of Christians by 2030.
Christianity is losing more than half a million believers every year, while the count of atheists and agnostics is going up by almost 750,000 annually.
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When the central heating broke down at a North London church midway through a snap of icy weather the other day, the vicar offered the faithful a choice: Attend another church for a cozier celebration, or display what he wryly called “muscular Christianity” by worshiping in a side chapel in their own, unheated church.
Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, the muscular, if shivery, Christians seemed to outnumber those who headed for warmer pews — an indication, some might argue, that Britain’s established state religion can draw on doughty reserves in the face of adversity.
It might need to....
Read it all.
(This is the poll mentioned in the preceding post--KSH).
When asked why they think of themselves as Christian, the research found that fewer than three in ten (28%) say one of the reasons is that they believe in the teachings of Christianity. People are much more likely to consider themselves to be Christian because they were christened or baptised into the religion (72%) or because their parents were members of the religion (38%) than because of personal belief.
The research sought to measure a number of Christian practices, including regular reading of the Bible and prayer outside church services, to see how prevalent these were amongst respondents self-identifying as Christian. Among the results, we find that:
The majority (60%) have not read any part of the Bible, independently and from choice, for at least a year....
Read it all.
Many people who describe themselves as Christian have low levels of belief and little or no practice, according to new research.
They identify as Christian because they were Baptised or because their parents were Christian rather than because they believe in the teachings of the Church, according to a poll carried out by Ipsos MORI for the Richard Dawkins Foundation.
The poll, published today, comes the week before Dr Dawkins debates the question of human origins with the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams in Oxford.
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In France, an elderly man is fighting to make a formal break with the Catholic Church. He's taken the church to court over its refusal to let him nullify his baptism, in a case that could have far-reaching effects.
Seventy-one-year-old Rene LeBouvier's parents and his brother are buried in a churchyard in the tiny village of Fleury in northwest France. He himself was baptized in the Romanesque stone church and attended mass here as a boy.
LeBouvier says this rural area is still conservative and very Catholic, but nothing like it used to be. Back then, he says, you couldn't even get credit at the bakery if you didn't go to mass every Sunday....
Read or listen to it all.
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(Please note--the content of this article may not be suitable for some blog readers--KSH).
The invention of sex addiction reflects the culture’s deep-rooted fear that too much sex without commitment is bad for you.
Interestingly, there’s no proof of that. In fact, sex addiction isn’t even an accepted disease among most psychiatric and psychological organizations in the world. The American Psychiatric Association no longer includes it as a pathology in its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. This is largely because there is no consensus even among researchers of exactly what an addiction is – there are as many definitions of addiction as there are treatment centres....
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As a younger man Jobs had visited Japan and become a Zen Buddhist. By contrast with Martin Luther King who “just wanted to do God’s will”, he never did. There was no God in Steve Jobs vision of the universe, just the overwhelming mandate to “become yourself” untrammeled by dogma, or other people’s thinking. To Stanford students in 2005 he said: “Your time is limited…follow your heart and intuition…know what you want to become.” Of course, if this life is all there is, then that will pass about as much muster as any other earth-bound philosophy. “Death doesn’t happen to life,” as a former classmate of mine once said. “Death happens in life.” But all such
att empts to romanticize the hard reality of the grave still cause one to ask: “Is that all there is?”
Read it all (page 5).
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To be a serious Christian in modern Western culture is to be the favoured easy target of every progressive thinker and every half-witted comedian. It is to have your sensibilities and your deepest beliefs on perpetual call for taunts, mockery and desecration. At a time when all progressives preach full volume for inclusivity and sensitivity, for the utmost care in speech when speaking of others with differing views or hues, Christians, as Christians, are under a constant hail of abuse and disregard. There is nothing too low or too vulgar.
Something as inconsequential as a Christmas special, for example, will have — almost as an essential element, it being “Christ’s” birthday after all — something determinedly offensive to Christians. Russell Peters, the Canadian joker, for his special this year has invited Pamela Anderson, pinup queen and soft porn actress, to play the Virgin Mary.
Pamela Anderson as Mary the Immaculate: I know — the wit, the daring, the originality — hell, the bravery of it all....
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Christian faith, but not secular faith, now effectively banned from schools, colleges, and universities, has been relegated to the private and subjective arena. The result is the growing popularity of any who eliminate from Christian faith all that secular trust finds incompatible: miracles, the radical nature of sin and the consequent radical nature of grace, transcendence, holiness, and our human desperate need for God’s initiative action in Jesus.
The consequence of this secular replacement of Christianity over the years is that otherwise educated people can be bereft of any substantial grasp of scripture. One glaring example is Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori who tells us that Marcus Borg “opened the Bible to me.” (Acknowledgements A Wing and a Prayer). The Christian creed’s affirmation, to which she has repeatedly sworn, (but Borg negates) is that Jesus Christ is:
“the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made . . .”Borg has not opened the scripture for Bishop Jefferts Schori but closed its revelation of Jesus’ divinity.
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... it [does not] seem appropriate to call "premodern" one of the most intellectually engaged bishops in Europe in the years before and after Vatican II. Karol Wojtyla was a man who deliberately sought the intellectual companionship of philosophers, theologians, historians, scientists and artists from a wide range of intellectual perspectives; a man who, as both pastor and scholar, displayed a deep human sympathy for those caught in the modern crisis of belief; a man who was an avid reader of contemporary philosophy for more than a half century.
Then there is the record of the pontificate itself. Would a pope with a "premodern" intellectual perspective have written the first papal encyclical on Christian anthropology, making the renovation of Christian humanism the leitmotif and program of his pontificate? It seems unlikely.
Would a "premodern" pope have defended the universality of human rights before the United Nations in 1979 and 1995, while transforming the Catholic Church into perhaps the world's foremost institutional promoter of the democratic project? It seems unlikely.
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There’s something very primitive, and distinctly human about Halloween. For all the modern world’s enlightened thinking and secular commitments, we spend a day tramping around in costumes and decorating our homes, stores, and neighborhoods with trappings of physical death and afterlife.
But what strikes me most is how distinctly earthbound these images of death are. Zombies, ghosts, vampires, wiggling gravestones, animated skeletons, and haunted mirrors all display an afterlife which is, in it’s own way, very understandable. We have turned the dead into extensions of our earthly existence. We are frightened of them, sort of, but only enough to think it’s fun to talk about them and display them, which, I think, means we’re not actually scared at all.
Death, on the other hand, is truly unknowable and beyond our comprehension....
Read it all.
Let us try to identify the new faces of violence and discord more closely. It seems to me that, in broad strokes, we may distinguish two types of the new forms of violence, which are the very antithesis of each other in terms of their motivation and manifest a number of differences in detail. Firstly there is terrorism, for which in place of a great war there are targeted attacks intended to strike the opponent destructively at key points, with no regard for the lives of innocent human beings, who are cruelly killed or wounded in the process. In the eyes of the perpetrators, the overriding goal of damage to the enemy justifies any form of cruelty. Everything that had been commonly recognized and sanctioned in international law as the limit of violence is overruled. We know that terrorism is often religiously motivated and that the specifically religious character of the attacks is proposed as a justification for the reckless cruelty that considers itself entitled to discard the rules of morality for the sake of the intended "good". In this case, religion does not serve peace, but is used as justification for violence....
If one basic type of violence today is religiously motivated and thus confronts religions with the question as to their true nature and obliges all of us to undergo purification, a second complex type of violence is motivated in precisely the opposite way: as a result of God's absence, his denial and the loss of humanity which goes hand in hand with it. The enemies of religion -- as we said earlier -- see in religion one of the principal sources of violence in the history of humanity and thus they demand that it disappear. But the denial of God has led to much cruelty and to a degree of violence that knows no bounds, which only becomes possible when man no longer recognizes any criterion or any judge above himself, now having only himself to take as a criterion. The horrors of the concentration camps reveal with utter clarity the consequences of God's absence.
Yet I do not intend to speak further here about state-imposed atheism, but rather about the decline of man, which is accompanied by a change in the spiritual climate that occurs imperceptibly and hence is all the more dangerous....
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The traditional model for the mourning of the dead has been set in concrete for millennia. The Anglican model was described 250 years ago in Thomas Gray's Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard. Here he describes death in a small village community where the burial ground is at the centre of village life and where every death has meaning for the community. Ceremonies honed by time helped family members and the community to acknowledge the death and start the process of recovery.
Fast forward a quarter of a millennium and the shape of society is so different. Our communities are huge and contain unknowable amounts of people whose lives and deaths are inconsequential to us. We couldn't give a tinker's cuss about the thousands of Australians who die weekly. As the life expectancy has rocked up into the eighties, most of us who die in the affluent west will do so at a great age in care, invisible to the outside world. We have become less practised at mourning (which is not bad thing). This deskilling of ritual and mourning has been exacerbated as faith has moved from the centre of Australian life. So death is now less frequent and less mourned, for the death of the aged inspires far less grief than the death of the young and the old rituals are now forgotten and seldom rehearsed.
There is a ritualistic vacuum that calls forth both uncertainty and innovation.
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L’Osservatore Romano (English, September 21) reprinted an essay, “God in Madrid,” by the Peruvian novelist and Nobel Prize winner, Mario Vargas Llosa, from the Spanish paper El País about the meaning of the papal visit....
[In the essay Llosa says that] contemporary culture is rather vapid, a kind of “light entertainment.” Within it is a “cabal of incomprehensible and arrogant experts, who have taken refuge in unintelligible jargon, light years from common mortals.” Culture has not replaced religion, particularly that religion originating in revelation....
Most human beings suspect that the answers need a “higher order” of existence to locate the center of their lives. Atheism’s self-satisfied defenders no longer stand on the solid ground they once assumed. Science itself is looking like it has to admit that the origin of the universe lies in some transcendent, extra-cosmic, intelligent source even to explain science....
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Benedict XVI is the embodiment of resistance to the idiocies of today, when the obsession with ratings and sex are more important than any article of faith. But he performs that role with a soft voice and the steadfastness of a deeply religious man. And he binds the loyalty of those people who stand with him in opposition -- some 1.2 billion Catholics in the global Church -- and who are often ridiculed as idiots for doing so. They are true to the words of the apostle Paul: "God hath chosen the foolish things of the world."
In his last Mass before he was elected as pope, Cardinal Ratzinger preached against the "dictatorship of relativism" and the ideology of "anything goes." Today, many observers regard that sermon as a pre-emptive statement of the approach he would take as pope.
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Have you heard the one about the comic who took on the establishment that loves him? Frank Skinner, the comedian, has accused atheists of threatening humanity. Interviewed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Skinner, a practising Catholic, urged fellow believers to stand together against secularists who undermine religion.
Even if it had been Dr Rowan Williams issuing this call to arms, the audience at Canterbury Cathedral would have stopped fanning themselves with their programmes, sat up and taken notice: turning the tables on, rather than turning the other cheek to, atheist bullies represents a sensational departure from the script British Christians have recited for generations.
But the man advocating that we “stop giving in” to atheists is a popular entertainer, the football-loving king of “laddish” humour. The issue is no longer a surprising rethink; it is a breathtaking act of subversion.
Read it all.
Others learned a more lasting lesson from 9/11. Tony Blair seized the opportunity to establish the Tony Blair Foundation “to promote respect and understanding between the major religions.” Without attention to religion, politicians are hamstrung in today’s world. “We in the West tend to see people of religious faith as people to be pushed to one side,” Blair said earlier this year. “That quite aggressive secularism you see in the West does not understand what is happening in the rest of the world.” Blair wants to see religious passion harnessed to “make globalization work,” but he resists secularists’ efforts to use fears of holy terror to bludgeon believers back into their hovels.
Ten years on, all this is now obvious. Resurgent secularism is a blip on the screen, New Atheism a rearguard action in a losing battle. The ferment among Muslims and Christians continues apace, and in some places it will again turn tragically violent. We have no choice but to deal with it. The message of 9/11 was always this: The gods are still back, and they are here to stay.
Read it all.
...[Tammy] Wynette was a forerunner of a trend that has, according to new research, taken root today. One hundred and one family lawyers, interviewed by the consultancy ﬁrm Grant Thornton, concluded that intolerance – that is, boredom – has become the greatest threat to couples staying together. Inﬁdelity, which formerly topped the list of reasons for marriage breakdown, has been surpassed by couples saying they no longer felt in love and had “grown apart”.
As a sign of the times, this appears depressing beyond words. Can we really have reached the stage where an erstwhile commitment to love and to cherish until death do us part has come down to so casual and seemingly frivolous a reason for walking out on the union, and quite possibly children, too? Have the past money-obsessed, self-indulgent decades really created such narcissism that we will not put up with a relationship that doesn’t give us perpetual bliss?
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As the BBC reports, some church leaders in the Netherlands want to transform their small nation into a laboratory for rethinking Christianity — “experimenting with radical new ways of understanding the faith.”
Religious Affairs Correspondent Robert Pigott tells of Rev. Klaas Hendrikse, a minister of the PKN, the mainstream Protestant denomination in the Netherlands. Pastor Hendrikse doesn’t believe in life after death, nor even in God as a supernatural being. He told the BBC that he has “no talent” for believing historic and orthodox doctrines. “God is not a being at all,” he says, but just an experience.
Furthermore, as Pigott reports, “Mr. Hendrikse describes the Bible’s account of Jesus’s life as a mythological story about a man who may never have existed, even if it is a valuable source of wisdom about how to lead a good life.”
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Hagelin finished with classic Billy Graham-type exhortations to ''commit with me to this battle for God's best today . . . to testify that God's design for marriage is perfect, to show that marriage under any other definition is a lie . . . Will you . . . stand for marriage?''
And there you have it. It's all there in a couple of sentences: the presumption of personal access to God's will, the vilification of any other take on that and the arrogated right to impose that judgment not just on your own life, but universally.
It's an elision to do any dictator proud. The logic goes like this: I'm right. Not just right for me, but right, period. You are therefore wrong, period. So you must do what I believe to be right, because anything else amounts to an attack by you on my command of divine truth, and therefore on God.
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The least that can be said is that there are Islamic values which are recognisable by Christians and compatible with those of a Christian culture. This poses an interesting question, directly relevant to the lessons we need to learn from all this. Is Tariq Jahan’s noble behaviour a victory for multiculturalism? Or is it the direct opposite, a refutation of it, a demonstration that it is only by appealing to common values that we can forge a decent society? Melanie Phillips yesterday argued strongly and to me persuasively that multiculturalism has driven us all apart....
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...the particular crisis facing all of us in Australia regarding the transmission of the Gospel in our times is that we are evangelising in the context of secularism. This living a supposed happy life without any reference to God is the real challenge to the faith today. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, our master teacher of the faith, continually draws our attention to the fact of secularism in Western countries.
He expresses the essential challenge in this way (from: Light of the World (2010, p.56)[:]
It is important for us to try to live Christianity and to think as Christians in such way that it incorporates what is good and right about modernity – and at the same time separates and distinguishes itself from what is becoming a counter-religion.”Read it all.
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The C of E’s head of schools strategy, Dr Rob Gwynne, has warned of new attempts to undermine church schools. “There is no doubt that there is a calculated attack by secularists on the traditions and practices of Church of England schools currently supported by legislation,” he said this week.
Dr Gwynne was commenting after secularist peers tabled amendments to the Education Bill, at the committee stage in the House of Lords, which sought to end the statutory status of collective worship and religious education in schools without a religious designation.
The amendments were debated on Monday, before being withdrawn by their sponsors, Lady Massey, patron of the National Secular Society (NSS). Lord Avebury, an honorary associate of the NSS, moved an amendment that sought to ban the inclusion of a religious element from assemblies unless governors requested it after consultation with parents.
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If Friedrich Nietzsche was the first sincere atheist, it is because he saw that the Almighty is exceedingly good at disguising Himself as something else, and that much so-called secularisation is accordingly bogus. Secular thinking, too, had to be demythified. "God had in fact gone into hiding," Robbins observes, "and now had to be smoked out of various secular terms, from morals and nature and history to man and even grammar." Even Nietzsche's will to power has a suspiciously metaphysical ring to it.
Postmodernism is perhaps best seen as Nietzsche shorn of the metaphysical baggage. Whereas modernism is still haunted by a God-shaped absence, postmodern culture is too young to remember a time when men and women were anguished by the fading spectres of truth, reality, nature, value, meaning, foundations and the like. For postmodern theory, there never was any truth or meaning in the first place, and so mourning its disappearance would be like lamenting that a rabbit can't recite Paradise Lost.
Postmodernism is properly secular, but it pays an immense price for this coming of age - if coming of age it is. It means shelving all the other big questions, too, as hopelessly passé. It also involves the grave error of imagining that all faith or passionate conviction is incipiently dogmatic. It is not only religious belief to which postmodernism is allergic, but belief as such. Advanced capitalism sees no need for the stuff. It is both politically divisive and commercially unnecessary.
Read it all (emphasis mine).
...92 percent of evangelical leaders from the United States who took part in a new Pew Forum survey said they are convinced that secularism is a "major threat" to the health of evangelical Christianity in their land, a threat even greater than materialism, consumerism and the rising tide of sex and violence in popular culture.
In a related question, a majority of U.S. evangelical leaders -- 82 percent -- said they are convinced that their churches are currently losing clout in American life.
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REV. MICHEL BRIERE: The eldest daughter of the Church, that’s what we were called. Today, saying you believe in a religion takes a real identification of faith. Today, the number has really diminished.
[DEBORAH] POTTER: Twenty years ago, about 80 percent of French people described themselves as Catholic. Today, it’s just over half and less than 5 percent—most of them older—regularly go to Mass. Father Briere blames a growing culture of consumerism and a Catholic hierarchy that he says has been too rigid, failing to draw young people into the Church. That’s true across Europe, but France is a special case, a country where religion is widely seen as a source of trouble. If France had an official religion it would be laicite or secularism, a principle that’s enshrined in this country’s constitution and reflects its history of religious wars between Catholics and Protestants, as well as the French Revolution, that basically booted the Catholic Church from power.
That history lives on in French movies and classrooms, where students are taught in gory detail about a 16th-century massacre, when thousands of Protestants [Huguenots] were slaughtered by the Catholic forces of the King. And that history still lies on public display in Paris. These are the bones of Catholic priests killed and mutilated by a revolutionary mob in 1792—small wonder that the French concept of separation of church and state is strikingly different from that in the US, says Jocelyne Cesari, a French political scientist and research fellow at Harvard.
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Colleges and universities have long offered majors in religion or theology. But with more and more people now saying they have no religion, one college has decided to be the first to offer a major in secularism.
Starting this fall, Pitzer College, a small liberal arts institution in Southern California, will inaugurate a department of secular studies. Professors from other departments, including history, philosophy, religion, science and sociology, will teach courses like “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.”
The department was proposed by Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, who describes himself as “culturally Jewish, but agnostic-atheist on questions of deep mystery.” Over the years he grew increasingly intrigued by the growth of secularism in the United States and around the world. He studied and taught in Denmark, one of the world’s most secular countries, and has written several books about atheism.
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Shortly after September 11, 2001, I was in a classroom addressing students at a Midwestern Catholic college, where I was a professor. Reuters News Service had run a story stating that it would not refer to the 9/11 attacks as “terrorist” because one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter. I asked the students if they agreed. They did. I said I assumed then that they did not think the attacks were morally wrong. Their reply was that the attacks were wrong, but not morally wrong. What then did they mean by “wrong,” I asked. Did they mean “psychologically disturbing,” “politically incorrect”?
[This and another] personal experience... serve to illustrate in microcosm the ideological shift that has taken place in the U.S. over the course of the past forty years — a shift toward an ever more pronounced secularism that is depriving us of the moral authority required for integrity and self-government, both personal and corporate.
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At first, “The Good Book: A Humanist Bible” (Walker & Company, $35) looks like the Bible that Christians believe in, politicians take oaths on and the Gideons put in hotel rooms. It is divided into books like Genesis, Lamentations and Proverbs. Each book is organized into chapters and verses. It is written in the stately cadences that signal the presence of important, godly matters.
Begin to read, however, and you immediately see that God is not present. Instead, there are uncredited quotations from Aristotle, Darwin, Swift, Voltaire and hundreds more pre-Christian, anti-Christian or indifferent-to-Christian thinkers, assembled into an alternative genealogy of nature, human origins and ethics. Here are history and wisdom, without the divine attribution. Without any attribution, actually, which is why the Internet is a required study aid.
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A group of religious non-believers at Fort Bragg is pushing for the U.S. military to make sure they get the same treatment as religious groups.
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The story of David Epstein, the Columbia University political scientist and Huffington Post blogger now facing criminal charges of incest, has launched a very interesting discussion. What is fascinating about it, and deeply disturbing, is the inability of some commentators to articulate what is morally wrong about the act of incest. It is almost equally disturbing that a legal argument for a “right” to engage in adult, consensual incest stands on surprisingly firm footing, thanks to precedents the United States Supreme Court has already established in other cases on the “autonomy of the person” under our Constitution....
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News that the Pope has been given a Thought for the Day slot on BBC Radio 4 on Christmas Eve may be a coup for the BBC, but it is a slap in the face for the thousands of clerical abuse victims who are still waiting for justice.
The Pope will be allotted an uninterrupted and unchallenged platform in which to continue to claim that he is the source of all that is good and the enemy of all that is bad. In reality, it is the other way round.
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Little by little, suspicion, forgetfulness and silence fell on the word eternity. Materialism and consumerism did the rest in the opulent society, making it seem inconvenient to still speak of eternity among educated persons. All this had a clear repercussion on the faith of believers, which became, on this point, timid and reticent. When did we hear the last homily on eternal life? Who dares any more to mention eternal life in front of the suffering of an innocent child?
We continue to recite the Creed: "Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi saeculi": "I await the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come," but without giving too much weight to these words. Kierkegaard was right when he wrote: "The beyond has become a joke, such an uncertain need that not only does no one respect it anymore, but no one even expects it, to the point that we are amused even at the thought that there was a time in which this idea transformed the whole of existence."
What is the practical consequence of this eclipse of the idea of eternity? St. Paul refers to those who do not believe in the resurrection from the dead: "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die" (1 Corinthians 15:32). The natural desire to live always, distorted, becomes a desire or frenzy to live well, namely, pleasantly, even at the expense of others, if necessary. The whole earth becomes what Dante said of Italy of his time: "the flower-bed that makes us so ferocious." The horizon of eternity having fallen, human suffering seems doubly and irremediably absurd.
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Poland is still an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nation, still conservative and still religious, especially when compared with its European neighbors. But supporters and critics of the Roman Catholic Church all acknowledge that the society is changing. They agree that church representatives in Poland have lost authority and credibility, and that much of the population is moving toward a more secular view of life, one with a greater separation between church and state, and a rejection of church mandates on individual morality.
“We are considered the European museum of Catholicism, but let me tell you we are no longer,” said Szymon Holownia, program director for Religia TV, a relatively new station that aims to convince Poles that faith can and should be relevant in modern life with programs like a cooking show led by a nun. “The relationship between faith and state is changing; it is changing dramatically in Poland,” Mr. Holownia said. “It is really huge.”
“Twenty years of freedom and religion is evaporating,” he said. “This is the crisis of Christianity in Poland.”
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On paper, I should be a progressive voter. I am an agnostic. I am a woman in my 20s with an Ivy League graduate degree and liberal arts background.
But I'm a conservative. I vote for Republicans because I believe they have the best strategies for where the country should be headed fiscally, militarily and culturally.
Secular conservatives like me are in a bind. We want to work with religious conservatives because we agree with them on most issues. We respect the ethical contributions from many faith traditions, which inspire millions to seek the public good. But we're troubled by the religious right's dominance over the conservative movement, a trend that repels rational, independent-minded folks who see religious zealotry as anathema to the Founding Fathers' pluralistic vision.
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“To me,” Mr. Allen said, “there’s no real difference between a fortune teller or a fortune cookie and any of the organized religions. They’re all equally valid or invalid, really. And equally helpful....”
Q. The ideas of psychic powers and past lives, or at least people who believe in them, are central to your latest film. What got you interested in writing about them?
A. I was interested in the concept of faith in something. This sounds so bleak when I say it, but we need some delusions to keep us going. And the people who successfully delude themselves seem happier than the people who can’t. I’ve known people who have put their faith in religion and in fortune tellers. So it occurred to me that that was a good character for a movie: a woman who everything had failed for her, and all of a sudden, it turned out that a woman telling her fortune was helping her. The problem is, eventually, she’s in for a rude awakening.
Q. What seems more plausible to you, that we’ve existed in past lives, or that there is a God?
A. Neither seems plausible to me. I have a grim, scientific assessment of it. I just feel, what you see is what you get.
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