The Real Taboo: Forget Sex, Let’s Talk About Money (and How Much We’re not Giving)

As the 2012 campaigns are under way, we sociologists are paying close attention to the rhetoric and public responses to the rhetoric. Of particular note are the religious overtones in that rhetoric as the most likely Republican candidate (from what I can tell) is a religious minority (Mormon or Latter-Day Saints) and the Democratic candidate is still viewed as Muslim in some quarters (also a minority religious group). Recently Mitt Romney’s charitable donations were under question and as it turns out he gives a heckuva lotta dough to charity, somewhere on the order of $3 million LAST YEAR ALONE. As the New York Times article shows, that’s a whopping 13.8% of his income that went to charity. For his part, Barack Obama gave 14.2% of his income to charity, which amounts to about $245,000. Its a lot less than Romney’s donation but still, could you imagine letting go of that much money in your account?

This brings me to the bigger point. [Read more...]

A Humorous, Insightful Taxonomy of Sin

We’ve heard of the seven deadly sins, of course, but if we look at all possible pairs of them, we get 21 new possibilities for sin.  Jessica Hagy, at her site Indexed, has done just this, and it gives a new, and humorous, take on the nature of sin.  Enjoy!

Christian-Muslim Dialogue: My Conversation with Islamic Scholar Mohsen Kadivar

Mohsen_KadivarAlthough he is known by many as a political dissident, Islamic scholar Mohsen Kadivar emphasized to me over lunch recently, “I never wanted to get involved in politics. I just wanted to be a scholar of religion.” But when the intelligence service in his home country of Iran killed at least four dissidents accused with apostasy and claimed a fatwa of unknown religious authority to justify the killings, Kadivar objected. In articles he wrote and speeches he delivered at a mosque to several thousands of believers during the holy nights of Ramadan, Kadivar argued that according to the Qur’an and the authentic tradition of the prophet Muhammad “terror is forbidden in Islam.” Punishment, he argued, is only the job of the court, not anyone else. It is not lawful, he argued, to kill dissidents for religious crimes.

Because he was already a well-known scholar by that time, his statements were interpreted as a challenge to the regime’s authority. In punishment for what he wrote, the regime sent him to jail for eighteen months.

“I had lots of time to read while in jail,” he explained, “When I got I had all the notes I needed to write another book where I further argued why Islam should not be used to justify violence. I also argued that in contrast to traditional Islam, where there is no separation between religious law and the civil law, Islam need a reform that would separate religious law from civil law and separate crime and sin.”

I first heard of Mohsen Kadivar, now a visiting professor of religious studies at Duke University, on an NPR interview in early January 2012. Based on his name and biography, I realized [Read more...]

Can Christianity and Sociology Mix? Part 3.

By George Yancey
Part 3 in a series (Read part 1 and 2)

It may not be a surprise that a social scientist can allow his studies to inform his faith. Science is often seen as “truth” while faith is seen as “opinion.” But I do not agree with that viewpoint. I see both science and religion as different, but valid, ways of accumulating knowledge. So if my Christianity can be informed by my sociology then my sociology can be informed by my Christianity.

My sociology often provides me with an understanding of how society, and the individuals in it, works. But my Christianity is helpful about informing me on the nature of humans. It gives me a perspective that I would not necessarily see as a pure social scientist. In fact, I think a lot of social scientists have missed the boat as it comes to understanding the nature of humans. My faith tells me about human depravity. It talks about being born into sin and our innate selfish nature. In contrast to the notion of human depravity is the idea which I see among so many social scientists which is human perfectibility. Many of my colleagues believe that we are not innately depraved and that with enough education and training that we can develop a healthy morality. I guess it makes sense that they would have such a perspective since it allows scholars and educators to gain status as those who will play a key role in perfecting humans and society. But the evidence I see supports the idea that we are born with an innate selfish nature not easily changed through human efforts.

It is rather easy to show that we are born with a selfish or self-centerness in our nature. Ever watch a baby? A baby merely wants more and more. He or she has no concept of giving to others. A baby, as cute as he or she may be, is a great example of human depravity. [Read more...]

What’s the difference between a Pastor and a Priest?

Protestant-Catholic similarities and distinctions have been a theme of mine in several blog posts, and that is the case today as well. I have tried not to be too evangelical about such things, but rather enlightening, because the process of shifting from one to the other has been nothing if not educational. Today’s subject: the difference between Protestant ministers and Catholic priests, as best I can discern it.

The title above is a bit deceiving, because a Catholic priest can be referred to as a pastor, and some Protestant pastors—I’m thinking of the Episcopalians—are referred to as priests. And yes, I know we’re all supposed to be ministers and all that. But you get the drift—I’m talking about pastors as professionals from the near side of the Protestant Reformation and priests as professionals coming from the far side of it. So, after 40 years of observing the former—including 18 years in the home of one—and about 1.5 short years of watching the latter, here’s a list of differences and similarities.

1. Priests are men. Pastors are not necessarily men. (Don’t worry, it gets more interesting than this.)

2. Pastors can marry. Priests cannot marry, although some priests are married (but only if they were married clergy in the Anglican Communion and then converted). Indeed, many evangelical congregations don’t trust unmarried male ministers.  And Catholic congregations would, of course, require a good explanation for a married one.

3. Pastors may have biological children. So may priests. [Read more...]


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