Take a quiz about what to give up for Lent; find your relationship with God in 8 clicks or less.
Read more. [Image: Buzzfeed]
We see through a clip art darkly.
Gallup has released new data on religious observance in the United States, with one major takeaway: Nothing much has changed. Since 2008 when the firm started gathering data on this question, roughly the same percentages of respondents have self-identified as religious, somewhat religious, or non-religious.
But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn. It’s pretty easy to guess which states are America’s most religious: The most fervent states are almost all southern, with the notable exception of Mormon Utah. But the geography of the “nones”—people who said that religion wasn’t an important part of their lives and that they rarely or never attend services—is a little more interesting.
Read more. [Image: Gallup/The Atlantic]
A New York-based group has plans to erect a giant statue of Satan next to the Ten Commandments on the statehouse lawn. But the devil is in the details.
Read more. [Image: AP]
A federal lawsuit filed last week in Louisiana contains some of the most startling allegations you will ever see against public school officials accused of unlawfully turning their school into a bastion of Christian belief. In western Louisiana’s Sabine Parish, one family alleges, teachers preach Creationism and mock the theory of evolution, routinely lead their students in Christian prayer, give extra credit for Christian responses to assignments, and actively question or deride the religious beliefs of non-Christian students and parents.
I wrote about the allegations in this case over the weekend for The Daily Beast but return to this story now because it has not yet flowered into the national story it deserves to be. You simply have to read the complaint, and the other court papers, and see the photos, to believe it. This is not a case about a few student-led prayers at graduation or a Christmas display. It is not a case about one odd educator. This is a case that digs down to the foundation of the wall that is supposed to separate church and state.
Read more. [Image: David Goldman/AP Images]
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This is the first line of the first amendment in the United States Constitution; religious freedom was clearly a legal priority of the men who drafted the Bill of Rights. Yet, 225 years later, the Pew Research Center’s Religion and Public Life Project has said the United States places a "moderate" level of restrictions on religious practice compared to the other countries in the world. According to Pew, the U.S. saw a marked increase in hostility toward religion starting in 2009, and this level remained consistent in the following years.
What does this rating actually say about the state of religious freedom in the United States? At first glance, one might assume this is bad news for religious folks in the land of the free, but that may not actually be the case. Especially in comparison with the rest of the world, the United States still has fairly robust protections for spiritual practice.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Spirituality is a big story in politics. Maybe as big a story as religion. It’s been more than a decade since evangelicals helped George W. Bush win the White House, and we’ve gotten used to the idea of the “values voter,” of religion as a political force. But while the evangelical bloc seems to have frayed a bit and liberal mainline religion continues to lose influence, another major religious category is gathering force and deserves politician and pundit attention—the “spiritual but not religious” vote.
A fifth of Americans check “none” on surveys of religious preference. Among the young adults under 30 who helped propel Obama into office, a full third check “none.” Atheist pundits are quick to claim these gains for their own, but that is not the case—nearly 70 percent of “nones” report belief in God or a universal spirit, and 37 percent describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” This may or may not be the story of the decline of “religion,” but it is clearly also the story of the ascent of “spirituality.”
Much ink, film, and many ones and zeros have been spilled on the topic of how to be happy lately. Science has given us some clues, often subdividing “happiness” into smaller parts: the importance of relationships and social connection, the positive effects of optimism. This sort of research gets a lot of attention when it comes out, as unhappy or even just vaguely dissatisfied people clamor for a fix. Maybe if we can unravel all the threads of happiness’s snarled tapestry and see how they fit together, we’ll finally be able to weave our own lives into a reasonable facsimile thereof.
We’ve seen before that perhaps the most important thread—more important than diet or exercise or the easy but often-unfulfilling happiness of a booze-soaked evening—is the feeling that your life means something, that you have purpose. How to get that, of course, is another knot to untangle.
Read more. [Image: thomaswanhoff/flickr]
If you Google the question, “Why do people make New Year’s resolutions?”, you’ll find all sorts of reasons: There’s a psychological appeal in setting goals; the ancient Romans used to offer resolutions to the god Janus, for whom January is named; humans love the feeling of hope, etc.
But there’s another explanation: New Year’s resolutions play a role similar to religious observance in our lives.
Wendy Doniger, a professor at University of Chicago Divinity School, spoke with me about the symmetry between religious rituals and New Year’s traditions. “The idea that you’re suddenly going to change is a magical idea,” she said. “Religions are in charge of magic for most of us. This [idea] gets into the popular culture as well.” She’s using “magic” as a sort of sociological explanation about the role faith and ritual play: Religious belief is predicated on the assumption that there are forces beyond our control or understanding that have an influence on our lives (i.e., magic, if you’re a sociologist; God, if you’re a monotheist).
Although New Year’s traditions aren’t explicitly religious for most people, many of them share the patterns of religious ritual.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
How much of religion was realized under the influence of mind-altering substances?
Read more. [Image: Wikimedia]