April 17, 2014
Pope Francis’s Challenge to the Evangelical-Catholic Coalition

Social issues have brought about a surprising alliance between Protestant evangelicals and Catholic bishops—but the pontiff’s focus on economic justice could complicate matters.
Read more. [Image: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters]

Pope Francis’s Challenge to the Evangelical-Catholic Coalition

Social issues have brought about a surprising alliance between Protestant evangelicals and Catholic bishops—but the pontiff’s focus on economic justice could complicate matters.

Read more. [Image: Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters]

April 15, 2014
If a Student Says Homosexuality Is a Sin, Is It Bullying?

What right should students have to talk about God in homework, assemblies, club meetings, and graduation speeches? This is the question at stake in a new law in Tennessee and other states across the country. On Thursday, Governor Bill Haslam signed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, which affirms that religious students should have the same free-speech rights as secular ones. At first, this might seem uncontroversial; religious expression has always been protected by the First Amendment. So why did two Republican state legislators feel the need to write the bill?
"Christian conservative groups have for many years been frustrated by what they see as a hostile environment for religion in public schools," said Charles Haynes, the Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum. "They are convinced—with some justification—that there’s a lot more that public schools can be doing to protect religious expression."
In Tennessee, legislators pointed to one case in particular as the motivation for creating the bill. In October, a teacher told a Memphis fifth grader that she couldn’t write about God in an essay about “her idol.” In defiance, ten-year-old Erin Shead wrote two essays—both about the Almighty, although only one was about Michael Jackson—and her mom sought legal help. The elementary schooler was later allowed to turn in her God essay (and earned a score of 100%, as local news organizations dutifully reported at the time).
Read more. [Image: Reuters]

If a Student Says Homosexuality Is a Sin, Is It Bullying?

What right should students have to talk about God in homework, assemblies, club meetings, and graduation speeches? This is the question at stake in a new law in Tennessee and other states across the country. On Thursday, Governor Bill Haslam signed the Religious Viewpoints Anti-Discrimination Act, which affirms that religious students should have the same free-speech rights as secular ones. At first, this might seem uncontroversial; religious expression has always been protected by the First Amendment. So why did two Republican state legislators feel the need to write the bill?

"Christian conservative groups have for many years been frustrated by what they see as a hostile environment for religion in public schools," said Charles Haynes, the Director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum. "They are convinced—with some justification—that there’s a lot more that public schools can be doing to protect religious expression."

In Tennessee, legislators pointed to one case in particular as the motivation for creating the bill. In October, a teacher told a Memphis fifth grader that she couldn’t write about God in an essay about “her idol.” In defiance, ten-year-old Erin Shead wrote two essays—both about the Almighty, although only one was about Michael Jackson—and her mom sought legal help. The elementary schooler was later allowed to turn in her God essay (and earned a score of 100%, as local news organizations dutifully reported at the time).

Read more. [Image: Reuters]

April 14, 2014
Passover, the Jewish Holiday for Gentiles

Passover is a festival of questions, many of which can be summed up by the single query: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Here’s one answer: It’s the Jewish festival that non-Jews love to observe.
The seder, the ceremonial feast held on the first two nights of Passover, is one of the most intricate rituals in the Jewish calendar, kicking off an eight-day stretch of complicated and demanding dietary restrictions. The initial meal, which ranges from eating bitter herbs to reciting Talmudic passages in a foreign language, usually lasts for several hours—and dinner isn’t served until more than halfway through.
The festival commemorates the exodus from Egypt, a key step in the formation of the Jewish people. The seder is not just a retelling of the story, like the weekly Torah readings in synagogue; it’s an invitation for Jews to relive the liberation from slavery as if they had actually been there in Egypt, to teach the narrative to the next generation, and to claim the history of their people as part of their own individual identities. In other words, Passover does not seem like the most obvious festival for outsider participation.
And yet every spring, non-kosher restaurants, churches and student organizations around the U.S.—not to mention Jewish homes—invite non-Jews to relive the Israelites’ exodus from bondage. Even the White House has held a seder since 2008. What is it about Passover that speaks to non-Jews and entices them to participate in what is, at least in its traditional format, a multi-hour Hebrew service over a meal with no bread? Surely an option like the recent festival of Purim—where the law stipulates dressing in costume, swapping food baskets and drinking to oblivion—would be a more appealing choice?
Read more. [Image: Pete Souza/Reuters]

Passover, the Jewish Holiday for Gentiles

Passover is a festival of questions, many of which can be summed up by the single query: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Here’s one answer: It’s the Jewish festival that non-Jews love to observe.

The seder, the ceremonial feast held on the first two nights of Passover, is one of the most intricate rituals in the Jewish calendar, kicking off an eight-day stretch of complicated and demanding dietary restrictions. The initial meal, which ranges from eating bitter herbs to reciting Talmudic passages in a foreign language, usually lasts for several hours—and dinner isn’t served until more than halfway through.

The festival commemorates the exodus from Egypt, a key step in the formation of the Jewish people. The seder is not just a retelling of the story, like the weekly Torah readings in synagogue; it’s an invitation for Jews to relive the liberation from slavery as if they had actually been there in Egypt, to teach the narrative to the next generation, and to claim the history of their people as part of their own individual identities. In other words, Passover does not seem like the most obvious festival for outsider participation.

And yet every spring, non-kosher restaurants, churches and student organizations around the U.S.—not to mention Jewish homes—invite non-Jews to relive the Israelites’ exodus from bondage. Even the White House has held a seder since 2008. What is it about Passover that speaks to non-Jews and entices them to participate in what is, at least in its traditional format, a multi-hour Hebrew service over a meal with no bread? Surely an option like the recent festival of Purim—where the law stipulates dressing in costume, swapping food baskets and drinking to oblivion—would be a more appealing choice?

Read more. [Image: Pete Souza/Reuters]

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Filed under: Passover Seder Religion Judaism 
March 14, 2014
The Intellectual Snobbery of Conspicuous Atheism

Beyond the argument that faith in God is irrational—and therefore illegitimate.
Read more. [Image: Waiting for the Word/The Atlantic]

The Intellectual Snobbery of Conspicuous Atheism

Beyond the argument that faith in God is irrational—and therefore illegitimate.

Read more. [Image: Waiting for the Word/The Atlantic]

March 6, 2014
The Gospel of Buzzfeed

Take a quiz about what to give up for Lent; find your relationship with God in 8 clicks or less.
Read more. [Image: Buzzfeed]

The Gospel of Buzzfeed

Take a quiz about what to give up for Lent; find your relationship with God in 8 clicks or less.

Read more. [Image: Buzzfeed]

February 4, 2014
Paul's Powerpoint to the Corinthians

February 4, 2014
The United States of Agnostics

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]

The United States of Agnostics

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]

February 4, 2014
Who Are the Satanists Designing an Idol for the Oklahoma Capitol? 

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]

Who Are the Satanists Designing an Idol for the Oklahoma Capitol?

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]

January 28, 2014
The Public School Where Prayer is Everywhere

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]

The Public School Where Prayer is Everywhere

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]

January 28, 2014
The U.S. Puts ‘Moderate’ Restrictions on Religious Freedom

"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]

The U.S. Puts ‘Moderate’ Restrictions on Religious Freedom

"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]

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