FaithWorld

“No religion” segment of U.S. population profiled

At the “Values Voter Summit” of conservative Christian activists I attended last week in Washington, more than one participant lamented the “secularization” of America.

That will come as a surprise perhaps to more than one foreign reader of this blog, given America’s famously high rates of religiosity which set it apart from much of the rest of the developed world. And the evangelical tradition which much of the U.S. “religious right” comes from has been fast growing in recent decades.

spire1But Americans who claim no religion are fast growing and Trinity College in Hartford offers a detailed portrait of this group in a new report released this week called “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”

The 1990s was the decade of the “secular boom.” Regarding the percentage of adult Americans who claim no religious affiliation, the researchers found that it had grown from 8.2 percent in 1990 to 14.2 percent in 2001 and to 15 percent in 2008. The growth of the Nones is a national phenomenon. They are the only group that increased in every state and region of the country during the past 18 years,” the report says.

“Who exactly are the Nones? “None” is not a movement, but a label for a diverse group of people who do not identify with any of the myriad of religious options in the American religious marketplace – the irreligious, the unreligious, the anti-religious, and the anti-clerical. Some believe in God; some do not. Some may participate occasionally in religious rituals; others never will. Nones are easily misunderstood. On the one hand, only a small minority are atheists. On the other hand, it is also not correct to describe them as “unchurched” or “unaffiliated” on the assumption that they are mainly theists and religious searchers who are temporarily between congregations. Yet another incorrect assumption is that large proportions of Nones are anti-rationalist proponents of New Age and supernatural ideas,” it says.

U.S. conservative Christians rally against Obama agenda

U.S. conservative Christians, a key base for the out-of-power Republican Party, gathered in Washington on Friday to rally the faithful against President Barack Obama’s agenda, including his top domestic priority of healthcare reform.

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Obama’s falling poll numbers and what they depict as his ultra-liberal views on abortion rights, healthcare and climate change are galvanizing a group that could prove vital to Republican prospects of taking back control of Congress in the 2010 congressional elections or the White House in 2012.

Conservative activists see exploitable opportunities in Obama’s policies and performance that also can stir more centrist voters, such as suspicions of “big government” and the almost uniquely American skepticism of global warming that prevails in much of the heartland.

“The Evolution of God” — a purpose-driven history?

U.S. author Robert Wright traces the history of God and suggests that it might all point to the unfolding of something divine, though perhaps not in the sense that most people of faith would envision.

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In his just published “The Evolution of God,” Wright takes his readers on a thought-provoking journey through the spiritual beliefs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the development of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You can see my interview with Wright here.

Wright’s engaging book covers a lot of ground and it certainly raises many questions that may be of interest to readers of this blog. I’m just going to throw a few of them out here — trust me, there could be many, many more.

from India Insight:

The Mormons in India

– Sonya Fatah writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

Their voices rang out, echoing in the nearby passageway. "Count your many blessings," they sang. "Name them one by one. Count your many blessings. See what God hath done." And so, the women, some 25 of them, members of the Sisters Committee at one of the six churches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in New Delhi, closed their Sunday post-service meeting.

"Let us all work together so we can have a temple here,” urged the chair of the meeting, eliciting head nods and verbal assents all round.

Religion, poverty and strife: what comes first?

An uprising by a radical Islamic sect in northern Nigeria may ostensibly have been about religion, but such bloodletting will recur unless underlying issues of poverty, unemployment and education are addressed.

West African Islam is overwhelmingly moderate and northern Nigeria is home to a powerful political elite, yet militant cleric Mohammed Yusuf was able to establish a cult-like following. Yusuf’s sect, Boko Haram, wanted sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation. Its name means “Western education is sinful”.

But the support Yusuf drummed up — from illiterate youths to professionals who quit jobs and families to join him — came as much from frustration with what is seen as a corrupt and self-serving political establishment as from pure religious fervour.

Oldest Christian Bible made whole again online

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The surviving parts of the world’s oldest Christian Bible were reunited online on Monday, generating excitement among biblical scholars still striving to unlock its mysteries. The Codex Sinaiticus was hand written by four scribes in Greek on animal hide, known as vellum, in the mid-fourth century around the time of the Roman emperor Constantine the Great who embraced Christianity.

Not all of it has withstood the ravages of time, but the pages that have include the whole of the New Testament and the earliest surviving copy of the Gospels written at different times after Christ’s death by the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The Bible’s remaining 800 pages and fragments — it was originally some 1400 pages long — also contain half of a copy of the Old Testament. The other half has been lost.

Read our full story here. And consult the Codex here. (Photo: Part of the Codex Sinaiticus at the British Library in London 3 July 2009/Kieran Doherty)

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At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses Muslims’ argument to Muslims

pope-dome-outsideAt Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, Pope Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue. The need for interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them stand out. (Photo: Pope at Dome of the Rock, 12 May 2009/Israeli govt. handout)

In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the pope said reason shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.” Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of God and love of neighbour. Since we’ve reported extensively about that initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially quite cautious about it. Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God were so different. Vatican officials sounded different after three days of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their argument to other Muslims.

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to build bridges to his Muslim audience. Speaking at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.” He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.” The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the three persons in one God as Christians understand it. Centuries of Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way). If the detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is possible, that would still be major progress.

The scientist who leaves room for spirituality

bde-11 (Photos: Bernard d’Espagnat, 13 March 2009/Charles Platiau)

The German philosopher Immanuel Kant once wrote that he “had to deny knowledge to make room for faith.” The French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat hasn’t denied knowledge in his long career developing the philosophy that won him this year’s $1.42 million Templeton Prize. He was pursuing knowledge to better understand what we can know about the ultimate reality of the world. But just like his philosophy echoes that of Kant’s with its conviction that there are limits on knowing reality, his work leaves some room — he would say for spirituality — by saying that human intuitions like art, music and spirituality can help us go further when science searching to understand the world reaches the end of its tether.

D’Espagnat’s prize was announced at UNESCO in Paris on Monday. The quantum physics at the core of his work presents baffling insights about reality, but his philosophical conclusions from them sound like common sense. Science is an amazing discipline that opens vast areas of knowledge but cannot go all the way to explaining ultimate reality. There’s a mystery at the core of our existence that we can get a little closer to through the untestable but undeniable intuitions we have. That “little closer” still leaves a large black hole in our knowledge, but it is more than we have if we only rely on empirical science.

As often happens in cases like this, d’Espagnat was available for embargoed interviews several days before the prize was announced. I had the pleasure of meeting him on Friday at the Lutetia, a five-star hotel only a short bike ride from my more modest digs in Paris. Now 87 years old, d’Espagnat can look back on a long and illustrious career as a senior physicist at the CERN laboratory in Geneva, professor at the University of Paris (at its science hub in the suburb of Orsay) and guest lecturer at universities and conferences abroad. His latest book in English, On Physics and Philosophy, came out in the United States in 2006.

German Turks join the party in pre-Lenten carnival

(Photo: Carnival revelers parade in Düsseldorf, 4 Feb 2008/Ina Fassbender)

Germany’s pre-Lenten carnival festivities got underway on Thursday with an official Turkish carnival association is joining in the fun this year for the first time.

Long sidelined from the usually raucous celebrations, an annual highpoint in Catholic areas such as the Rhineland, Bavaria and Black Forest, residents of Turkish origin in the city of Dortmund have created their own “Guild of Fools”. That means they can have their own float in Monday’s big procession, a troupe of dancers and a symbolic “prince and princess couple”.

“We set up our own association because many Turks in Germany have enjoyed carnival over the years. As an official guild, we want to enable Turks living in Germany to join in,” says the 1st Turkish Guild of Fools Dortmund 09 on their website.

from UK News:

‘Wake-up’ to intolerance against Christians, archbishop says

The Church of England fought back this week against the "seeming intolerance and illiberality" aimed at their faith by public bodies.

Often seen as a peacemaker in a multi-faith Britain, church leaders and priests said it was time to give more voice to their own religion.

Recently, the media has been dotted with stories about Christians being ostracised in their workplace because of their faith.