The Washington Post does a fine job here, starting with the myth that Christmas is the most important Christian holiday.
Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times wrote of President Obama’s discussion of his Christianity on Tuesday in Albuquerque:
“I’m a Christian by choice,” the president said. “My family, frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew but she didn’t raise me in the church, so I came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead. Being my brothers and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me, and I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes and we achieve salvation through the grace of God.”
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was the window Uffe Schjødt used to peer into the brains of 20 Pentecostalists and 20 non-believers listening to 18 different recorded prayers.
Andy Coghlan of New Scientist writes:
The volunteers were told that six of the prayers were read by a non-Christian, six by an ordinary Christian and six by a healer. In fact, all were read by ordinary Christians.
Among the devout, parts of the brain which play important roles in vigilance and skepticism tended to be markedly less active when they were listening to prayers by someone identified as [but who was not] a Christian with healing powers.
Asked about the speakers, Pentacostalists verified the fMRI findings by giving their highest rankings to speakers identified as Christians with healing powers [note the graph at right]. Thus suggesting, as Schjødt observed, that Pentacostalists effectively handed themselves over to those merely identified as Christian healers.
These observations point to an important mechanism of authority that may facilitate charismatic influence, a mechanism which is likely to be present in other interpersonal interactions as well.
Simply that we imperil ourselves and others when we allow our protective vigilance and skepticism to be turned off.
Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) Professor Bruce Waltke was forced to resign because he observed that faith and evolutionary science are compatible in a video in which he said, according to a reconstruction of his remarks by USA Today:
If the data is overwhelmingly in favor of evolution, to deny that reality will make us a cult … some odd group that is not really interacting with the world. And rightly so, because we are not using our gifts and trusting God’s Providence that brought us to this point of our awareness.
His remarks had to be reconstructed because Waltke was apparently driven by the “culture of fear” which pervades the evangelical community to ask the BioLogos Foundation, which had posted the video as part of their advocacy of science’s compatibility with faith, to take it down. And they did, yet Waltke was still compelled to resign.
The reaction is a surprise in part because Waltke isn’t otherwise a liberal, as Tony Cartledge explains:
Waltke is by most measures a very conservative scholar. Though he accepts a theistic version of evolution (acknowledging the reality of evolution while trusting that God guided the process), he also believes in an inerrant Bible and a literal Adam and Eve. But even that is too big a stretch for the most ardent inerrantists, leading to RTS’s over-the-top response.
Perhaps Waltke’s use of the word “cult” was the step too far.
If so, the reaction to his comments gives it legs.
[H/T: Tony Cartledge]
Which Christians? Gary Laderman, professor and chairperson of the Department of Religion at Emory University, writes at Religion Dispatches:
Same-sex marriage, euthanasia, immigration, race relations…the list of topics that demonstrate the vast and often heavily contested views of Christians goes on and on. Indeed, it’s much easier to talk about how Christians differ than to identify just what they all agree on, and that may be the point. Perhaps all agree about the life and teaching of Jesus? Or that the New Testament is God’s revealed word? Any investigation beneath the surface of these possibilities would reveal the impossibility of consensus. Just take a quick glance at conservative responses to Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity to get a feeling for the way this debate takes place in real time.
We may despair of a valid, modern definition, yet still find, sometimes, people who are gently clear about what they believe. Yet launch no inquisitions.
Ruth Gledhill writes:
It comes to something when even [atheist, secular humanists, skeptic and scientific rationalist] Richard Dawkins is defending Christianity. He told me yesterday why he had mixed feelings about a putative end to Christianity:
“There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse.”
Historian Gary Ferngren writes in his book Medicine and Health Care in Early Christianity:
Christians of the first five centuries held views regarding the use of medicine and the healing of disease that did not differ appreciably from those that were widely taken for granted in the Graeco-Roman world.
Those views underlie Christians’ development of “the world’s first health-care system,” writes Rob Moll in his Christianity Today review of the book. That was a reflection of the Christian belief that love of God requires love of fellow man and that is reflected in charity.
As a result of these theological beliefs, Christians developed a robust system for caring for the poor, the ill, widows and orphans, and other members of society in need of care. When the plague struck, this system provided an opportunity for churches to quickly expand and care for those outside the church.
The best way to provide care to everyone in the country may be up for debate. We may argue over whether to prefer new regulation of insurers and health care providers or a government-run plan. The need to provide care for the poor, however, was settled centuries ago.
Read the entire review here.
The irony, though, is that even as the country becomes more secular, American politics are likely to remain shot through with aggressive piety. What we’re seeing is not a northern European-style mellowing, but an increasing polarisation. In his recent book Society without God: What the Least Religious Nations Can Tell Us About Contentment, the sociologist Phil Zuckerman described the secularised countries of Scandinavia as places where religion is regarded with “benign indifference”. There’s consensus instead of culture war. That’s not what’s happening in the United States. Instead, the centre is falling out.
According to the American Religious Identification Survey, Christianity is losing ground in the United States, but evangelical Christianity is not. Just over a third of Americans are still born-again. Meanwhile, the mainline churches, beacons of progressive, rationalistic faith – the kind that could potentially act as a bridge between religious and non-religious Americans – are shrinking. “These trends … suggest a movement towards more conservative beliefs and particularly to a more ‘evangelical’ outlook among Christians,” write the report’s authors.
Peace is not at hand.
What seems more likely is that “weak” Christians – those who are not affiliated very tightly if at all – feel more comfortable identifying as such. That’s the number that’s doubled since ’91.
It is interesting that the rate of growth in self-disaffiliations, skeptcisim or whatever mixture of sentiments it is, has slowed. Yet the percent who self-identify as atheists or agnostics has grown dramatically.
All of which typically has no simple, synoptic demographic meaning. The data, like the human behavior it attempts to measure, is always complex and messy. But since ’91 it hasn’t indicated a revival, of any kind.
More like a slow falling away and acceptance of the attendant labels.
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson lists 27 specific grievances against Great Britain. And since the DOI can be considered the official “note of divorce” from the Mother Country, it is natural for us to assume that these grievances lie at the very heart of the Revolution. After all, the DOI was accepted by the Continental Congress as THE official document in which facts were “submitted to a candid world.”
Reviewing the DOI grievance by grievance, American Creation found exactly none about religion and no plain references to Christianity.
Please read it all.