Which Old Testament?

I am presently writing something that draws heavily on the Old Testament sources. I am also struggling mightily with exactly how to refer to that book. Jews call it the Bible, while Christians speak of the Old Testament. Jews, naturally and reasonably, dislike the latter term because it suggests that their scriptures are outmoded or [Read More…]

New Thought

In my last column, I mentioned the New Thought movement of the early twentieth century, less for its own intrinsic significance, than for the astonishing importance that observers attached to it. Many educated people saw it as the coming world religion, most notably William James. Today, there is a more basic question: what on earth [Read More…]

Which Spiritual Unrest?

I wrote last time about the failings of prophecy in predicting religious futures. Here is a case-study. In his day, Ray Stannard Baker (1870-1946) was an enormously respected writer and journalist, and a highly intelligent observer of American life. He was a mainstay of the muckraking movement and a leading Progressive, who was close to [Read More…]

Histories of the Future

Has anyone ever collected predictions of the future of religion, whether in a book or a website? The most famous are those that predict the vast growth or decline of some faith, projections that prove to be hilariously inaccurate – eg Thomas Jefferson’s view from 1822 that Unitarians would become the dominant religion in the [Read More…]

The Last Crusade?

Whatever happened to America’s crusades? Once upon a time, crusades were an integral part of American rhetoric, indicating a noble or righteous struggle inspired by higher motives. All sorts of political causes were “crusades”, not to mention the overtly military ones. You actually could write an excellent history of American religion and reform through the [Read More…]

Healing Prayer

We hear a lot these days about the growth of the “Nones,” people who refuse to declare an affiliation with any particular religious tradition. Never, though, confuse that caution about affiliation with a rejection of a religious or spiritual world-view. That point is underlined by a recent study by Jeff Levin on “Prevalence and Religious [Read More…]

The Christ-Myth and the Napoleon-Myth

I recently blogged about The Myth of the Mythical Jesus. Among other things, I argued against those who saw Jesus as a repurposed myth – that is, he was borrowed from some earlier Middle Eastern archetype, perhaps a “dying and rising god” figure. And oh my, do these ideas go back a long way. As early [Read More…]

Slings, Arrows and Shakespeare

As you will assuredly have noticed by now, this year marks the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616 (April 23, in fact, which was also his birthday). I have nothing to add to all the high scholarship provoked by the commemoration, but it does give me an opportunity to share my enthusiasm for one [Read More…]

The Myth of the Mythical Jesus

In debates about Christian origins, one tiresome canard is going to come up sporadically, and usually, it’s not worth wasting time on. As I have seen it surface a few times of late, let’s deal with the point here. Briefly, if you are discussing Jesus of Nazareth, you can make any argument you choose to [Read More…]

The Martyresses

I have often blogged about paintings or illustrations, which are excellent ways of illuminating historical attitudes, particularly in matters of religion. Today, I want to do that again but in an unusual way, without actually reproducing the painting directly, and for once, that’s not just about copyright concerns. Aside from its value as a historical [Read More…]