Tag: Religion

The End of Church? Physical Barriers to Oneness Eroding

Will church transform in American life?

Will church transform in American life?

Two separate and seemingly unrelated articles on religion from the Huffington Post newsletter in my inbox reinforced a conclusion I’ve been talking and writing about for a good many years. Namely, that my generation or, perhaps, the next, may well be the last in which the majority of people in the United States attended church with any regularity.

This would represent a change of monumental proportion. It would impact literally every aspect of our society and culture. Particularly if, in the process, the widely accepted sanctity of Sunday as a day of rest and worship were to get finally dismissed, as it has been about to do for the last several decades, the shifts involved could be literally felt everywhere.

The first article from HuffPo to reinforce this idea was a seemingly random collection of polling data on religiously related subjects. Among other things, this data reveals that fully 1/3 of Americans under the age of 35 today characterize themselves as “nones”, that is as religiously unaffiliated, making them the second-largest “group” of Americans when categorized by religious preference. Other relevant highlights:

  • The “importance” of religion has declined from 70% to 56% in the past 50 or more years.
  • Self-described church membership is off by 10% (70-60) from the 50’s and 60’s.
  • About 40% of American adults are members of different faith traditions than that of their parents. (This number is probably much higher if inter-Protestant breakdowns were recognized.)
  • Faith-sharing online is becoming commonplace with 61% of Millennials reporting they have seen someone share their faith over the Net.

The only statistic that appears to contradict this trend of fragmenting and decentralization in the American religious experience is the vastly increased prevalence of the so-called “megachurch.” Pollsters define that term to mean, “those with a charismatic senior minister, an active social outreach ministry and at least 2,000 people attending every weekend.” These organizations now number at least 1,600, up from a mere handful in the 60’s.

The Pope and a “More Universal” Church

pope_francis_wavingThe other post that caused me to pause was about Pope Francis’ comments on his recently published mega-teaching on Love in which he said, among other things, that the Catholic Church must become less dogmatically rule-based and more willing and able to take many concerns on a case-by-case basis.

He tipped his hand to this position when, after the second of two conferences (synods) he called to discuss and debate the issues at the heart of his 260-page Apostolic Exhortation entitled “The Joy of Love,” he made the following distinctly undogmatic observation:

“What seems normal for a bishop on one continent, is considered strange and almost scandalous — almost! — for a bishop from another … what for some is freedom of conscience is for others simply confusion.”

Near the beginning of the Exhortation itself, Pope Francis sets this new tone firmly in place:

“Not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium.”

It may be relevant — and it’s at least interesting in the context — to note that the word “catholic” had as its original meaning, “universal.” This latest document and his related comments appear to be attempts to bring his followers into a bigger tent and to attract new followers and members who have been put off by the church’s long history of dogmatism and rigid, ideological behavior.

So How Do These Connect?

Both of these developments seem to me to represent the breaking-down of borders and barriers between religions and between those of a religious persuasion and those of a more generally spiritual nature. If we are to have any chance of increasing the global awareness of the Truth of Oneness, we must expect to find ways to blur and eventually erase these distinctions, not necessarily in socio-political terms but in theocratic contexts. In other words, we need to ease the psychological barriers that currently hinder sincere desires to bridge those walls that come about because of the clear distinctions we tend to want to draw between, most famously and egregiously, various branches of Protestantism.

The doctrinal and credal differences among Protestant denominations are often so small when examined in the bright light of ecumenicalism that they disappear into insignificance if not invisibility. It appears that the American public in general and the Roman Catholic Church broadly may be being led in a direction that will shatter those barriers over the course of time.

One likely consequence of this path to Oneness is the emergence of new forms of worship that transcend brick-and-mortar places dedicated primarily or solely to the religious experience of followers. I don’t know what this looks like; perhaps we will see a return to the pattern of the first century CE when early followers of the Jesus branch of Judaism that later became Christianity met in peoples’ homes. Perhaps virtual gatherings will replace some or all of today’s physical meetings. I can see a combination of those two providing an easily-followed pattern for future “gatherings of the Saints”.

Regardless of the impact on church-going and the existence of churches, I must say that as a Oneness believer and teacher, I am overjoyed at these developments and others like them and welcome them with open arms!


Happy PI Day, Einstein!

Today was Pi Day, the day marked by nerds and mathical folks because the important mathematical constant pi has a value of 3.14. So March 14 = 3/14. Get it?

Anyway, it’s also the birthday of the most famous physicist in the history of the world, Albert Einstein, who was born on this date in 1879.

Albert Einstein at Age 25

Albert Einstein at Age 25

Dr. Einstein was something of a prodigy. At age 26, in 1905, he had what many of his biographers have described as a Miracle Year. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Zurich that year and also published four of his most important and influential papers on the photoelectric effect, Brownian motion, special relativity, and the equivalence of mass and energy. These established him as a pre-eminent theoretical physicist.

I’m equally fascinated by Einstein’s deep understanding of religion and religiosity. While not religious in the traditional sense, Einstein, if he were alive today, would probably easily accept the label, “spiritual but not religious.” He actually co-authored the book Einstein on Cosmic Religions and Other Opinions and Aphorisms with George Bernard Shaw. He also wrote a famous article for the New York Times Magazine entitled “Science and Religion” which was later collected into my favorite volume of Einstein thought, Ideas and Opinions.

Anyway, I love the coincidence of Pi and Einstein’s birthday.

News Flash: Pope Infallible When Supported by Two-Thirds of Bishops!

I’m not a Catholic but I have studied church history and fundamental Christian theology more extensively than most non-academics. So I was surprised today when the special Synod on the Family called by Pope Francis refused to grant him the two-thirds supermajority he needed to get his specified language on gay rights and unmarried Catholic couples living together into a final document.

pope_francis_wavingI have always been under the impression that the Pope is infallible in matters of doctrine. Yet this document was clearly described as an attempt to “restate Church doctrine” on a number of family-related issues. So in my apparent naivete, I expected the Pope would simply announce, in an encyclical, the new doctrine, and, voila!, the church’s official belief would change In my lifetime, I know Popes have used that power (for example on the whole fish-on-Friday thing).

But because the revised document — even with some very watered-down language on gays that supplanted what the Pope really wanted — could only muster 118 of the required 127 votes to adopt the document, the Roman Catholic Church continues operating out of 16th Century ignorance on topics of increasing importance to its followers.

Little wonder that the Church continues to fade in its influence. The most recent Pew Research polling found that just over 1/4 of self-identified Catholics considered themselves “strong” supporters of Church doctrine.

Corporations Holding Religious Beliefs is a ‘Laughable’ Idea

corps_people_executeLegal scholar David Cay Johnson takes the Hobby Lobby case apart bit by irrational bit in a column today on Al Jazeera America. He concludes with this statement:

if we could resurrect the framers, they would surely find the idea that a corporation has First Amendment religious rights laughable. We should too.

A corporation cannot attend church, pray to a deity, be baptized or otherwise initiated, or engage in dozens of other practices of religion that a human being can. Johnson makes a clear and useful distinction between viewing corporations as “people” (a mistake of legal language that should have long since been corrected) and viewing them as “human beings,” which they clearly are not.

There were posters and bumper stickers during the 2012 Presidential campaign in which GOP nominee Mitt Romney was fond of saying, “Corporations are people, my friend.” They conveyed some variation of:  “I’ll believe corporations are people as soon as Texas executes one.”



AP Has Strange Notions of What Constitutes Religious News

My primary base news source online is the Associated Press. I use their iPad app every morning to grab the highlights of what’s going on in the world and find them, for the most part, to be pretty good judges of what’s important and decently objective in their reporting. I also use Google News almost daily as well.

ap_logoOne of my main news interest categories is religion and spirituality. When it comes to this topic, however, AP is bewilderingly bizarre in its selection of news it categorizes. Most of the time, the stories it publishes in this subject area are religious violence pieces. But other news pieces it shares as religious are just…not.

Take today’s coverage. Here’s a list of the stories, in the order they appear:

  1. Shiites on procession kill 7 Sunnis in Pakistan. Religious violence
  2. NYC commissioner: Mayoral candidates pandered. The story is about the police commissioner accusing politicians of pandering on the city’s stop-and-frisk law. The religious angle is tangential at best, incidental in all likelihood.
  3. Pope out with cold, cancels morning audiences. OK, you can question whether that’s news, but at least it’s got a religious angle.
  4. Filipino sailors struggle for news of home. Not a single religious mention, reference or relevant idea.
  5. Egypt’s ousted president in solitary confinement. Huh? The fact that Morsi is a Muslim isn’t a main feature of the piece and if every story about a person doing something or having something done to him was religious if he or she has a religion is, obviously, ludicrous.
  6. Attacks against Shiites in Iraq kill at least 41. Religious-based violence again.
  7. Pope shuns presidential escort for state visit. Again, news? But at least it has a slightly religious angle.
  8. Officials: Suicide bomber targets Shiites marking religious ritual in eastern Iraq, killing 22. Religious-based violence. One more time.
  9. Catholic fringe disrupts Kristallnacht ceremony. Good religious tie-in. One of Pope Francis’ favorite events being disrupted by members of his church.
  10. Vatican to put St. Peter relics on display. Again, decent religious tie-in.
  11. Flannery O’Connor prayer journal published. Good religious piece on famed writer’s personal struggle with religion.
  12. Euroskeptic leaders unite, aim for parliament bloc. No religious connection other than that one of the parties, in addition to being anti-EU, is also anti-Islam.
  13. Bishops elect Louisville archbishop new president. Legitimate religious news.
  14. Kosovo Muslin leaders to youths: Don’t go to Syria. Marginally religious, more political, but at least it’s not a stretch.
  15. Triple bombing kills 8 Shiites in eastern Iraq. More violence.
  16. Buddhists in Myanmar protest OIC’s visit. Not violence this time but conflict between Buddhists and Muslims. Again, not clear how much is actually religious and how much political.
  17. Despite ruling, Egypt holds off on ending curfew. Absolutely political. No real religious tie-in.
  18. Biden to push immigration at naturalization event. Nope, no religion here, folks. Just move along.

So here’s my informal tally:

  • 18 total stories
  • 5 on violence and conflict
  • 7 with no or almost no religious connection
  • So 1/3 of the coverage is legitimately about religion or has a legitimate religious angle. Of those, all are about Catholics and Catholicism.

My conclusion: the AP needs a real religion editor.


Can We Bridge the “Values Gap” Between Democrats and “Kansas”?

This piece on truthout by Ira Chernus is one of the clearest discussions I’ve read about the values gap between the Democratic Party and those who seem like they should vote for it but continue in election after election to vote “against their economic interests.” It is also woefully blind to the facts on the ground.

I do not completely agree with Mr. Chernus. But his core point is solid. Conservatives take the positions they do out of fear and a strongly felt need to be protected. The economy is important but not determinative. Faced with a choice between an economic policy they aren’t sure will be helpful and an economic policy that may help but which increases risk of further erosion of their core values, these voters opt for economic uncertainty and even oppression. Stated simply, the fear of and resistance to change are more powerful than near-term economic issues.

Where I part company with Mr. Chernus is in his assessment that the Democrats therefore need to find ways to respond to these fears, to stop allowing the Republican Party to co-opt the key symbols of resistance to change — which he says are God and country (Christianity’s cross and the American flag). He denies that this requires the Left to move right but in that assessment he’s wrong.

I think he actually knows he’s wrong there. He goes to great lengths to describe ways the Left could integrate some of these views into its positions but along the way he also has to admit that doing so would result in a message so mixed that it might well be indecipherable to all but the most ardent political junkie.

For example, I can’t see the Left responding meaningfully to the conservative position of “My country right or wrong” with the rallying cry Mr. Chernus suggests, “My country should right its wrongs.” President Obama tried the mildest form of mea culpas on foreign policy in his first days in office and he’s still be excoriated for making an “Apology Tour.”

Still, it may well be that Mr. Chernus has pointed us in a direction that could lead to some fruitful dialog that wouldn’t end in violence or recriminations. And that is a valuable contribution to an increasingly strained national discourse.

Interfaith Cities in U.S. Ranked

Huffington Post today has a slide show showing the top 52 cities in the United States ranked by the degree of interfaith diversity.

I was intrigued to find Detroit ranked #1 on the list. San Francisco was #5. Sacramento #6, Los Angeles #15 and San Jose #29, coming in even behind Salt Lake City.

The cities are ranked according to the Simpson's Diversity Index (which I trust is not created by the TV show). For each city, the survey lists the number of Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, "Other Christians" and, interestingly enough, Mormons in their own category.


Ludicrous Charge That Liberals Are Destroying Christianity

The WEEK posted an incredibly stupid article today in which it attributed the loss of religious commitment on the part of American teens to three causes. One of those causes was a perceived liberal attack on religion.

"Christianity is 'the one religion left that can be hated without running afoul of political correctness,'" The WEEK says, quoting Drew Belsky at The American Thinker. 

Poppycock. Speaking as a Christian who is also a Liberal I can tell you the problem lies not with liberal "attacks", which are in reality nothing but alternative and often Scripturally substantiated approaches to teachings, but with the prime cause also identified by The WEEK: Christian churches are turning off young people with their unChristian teachings against diversity and populism.

But the article is just dumb. In fact, I'm finding that almost any time you find an article that starts with a number, like "21 Ways to Cleanse Your System" or "21 Days to Master JavaScript," you're looking at a particularly stupid, dumbed-down attempt to tackle a complex project as if it were a series of small issues. Sometimes it is, but more often, it's not.

Romney, Women and Mormonism

One fact about Mormonism that the media have completely overlooked and that could have a potentially significant negative impact on Mitt Romney’s general election campaign is that in the Mormon Church women are denied access to the priesthood. (That’s the males-only church population that holds every significant office of authority from the top to the bottom of the church.)

I’m a former Mormon and I can tell you that even though many Mormons would argue that they treat their female members with great dignity and respect (and that’s even true in a large swath of the church membership), that does nothing to erase the fact that women are in essence second-class citizens when it comes to church management and leadership. Without a properly practicing Mormon husband, Mormon women are even denied access to the highest degree of the afterlife.

It’s hard to see how a man with the lifelong training and education in a church that does not recognize women’s right or ability to lead the church at any level would be expected to have an egalitarian attitude toward females in his political life and campaigns. And that’s certainly indicative of what we’ve been seeing so far.

I don’t think that the fact that Romney’s a Mormon leader should disqualify him from the office of President but I also don’t think his religious beliefs and  practices, as presented by the church to which he has devoted his life, can be declared off limits for political discourse, either.

(Added After Initial Publication)

After I posed this I recalled that I had posted an article on the subject of Romney’s Mormonism and the Presidency in 2008. I was able to find it here. If you’re interested in the subject, that article provides a broader perspective on the subject rather than focusing on the women’s issue)