The Graying of the Priesthood, Continued

Pope Francis's visit to the U.S. this week is generating reams of breathless, anticipatory coverage. But all the media excitement can't change that there are severe, long-run problems for the church that are already having an impact, and that a papal red-carpet tour isn't going to fix.One of those big problems is the aging and dwindling of the priesthood. Simply stated, priests and nuns are growing old and dying, and there's nowhere near enough new recruits to replace them. I've written … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: August 8

• Niloy Neel, a Bangladeshi atheist writer, is brutally murdered in his own home by Islamists. He's the fourth secularist writer in Bangladesh to be assassinated this year, while the government continues to sit on its hands and do nothing.• Prayer can't fight the Ebola virus. But science can.• Today in "why are LGBT people still Catholic" news: a director of religious education at a Catholic school was fired for being a lesbian, and unaccountably seems surprised by it. … [Read more...]

The Pope’s Laudato: So Close And Yet So Far


Pope Francis has issued an encyclical, Laudato Si, which warns about the grave danger of climate change and calls on Catholics to take urgent action to combat it. Lest I be accused of ignoring something actually good that religion has done, here are my thoughts.I'm glad for this statement, I really am, and I want to say that without hesitation. Climate change is the greatest threat looming over human civilization, and it's heartening to see anyone with influence speak out about it. I've … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: May 31

• Rabbis in a British branch of ultra-Orthodox Judaism forbid women from driving - and threaten to expel their children from school if they're caught violating the ban.• The horrific news keeps coming out of Bangladesh, as Islamists circulate a hit list of secular writers whom they want to kill.• "As the country becomes less religious, it is also becoming more socially liberal."• The number-two Vatican official says that Ireland's legalization of same-sex marriage … [Read more...]

Ireland Says Yes to Equality


Last week, Ireland held a referendum on whether to legalize same-sex marriage, and the good guys won a landslide victory:Some 62% of the Irish Republic's electorate voted in favour of gay marriage. The result means that a republic once dominated by the Catholic church ignored the instructions of its cardinals and bishops. The huge Yes vote marks another milestone in Ireland's journey towards a more liberal, secular society.Ireland isn't the first country to enact marriage equality, … [Read more...]

Why Do Many Christians Still Literally Believe in Demons and Satan?


This article was originally published on AlterNet.If there's anywhere in the U.S. where you'd expect aggressively conservative, domineering religion to be a relic of the past, it's tolerant and culturally liberal Massachusetts. But even in that blue enclave, the theocratic impulse is still surprisingly powerful. We found this out when a student group at Harvard University, the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club, ignited a furor by announcing that they were planning an educational … [Read more...]

No, Belief in Satan Doesn’t Make Us Moral


One of the new writers at the rebooted New Republic, Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig, wrote a column titled Pope Francis's Populist War on the Devil. It begins this way:Pope Francis isn't engaged only in earthly battles. He's also waging a cosmic war against the power of evil, a crusade that has garnered considerably less press than his comments on, say, climate change or homosexuality. For Francis, as for scores of faithful Christians, this struggle isn't abstract. It has genuine agents, real … [Read more...]

Marriage Is Suffering and Suffering Is Good: A Catholic View


Last week, I wrote about the crushing burden of fear and guilt about sex that women labor under in Orthodox Judaism. Taught to fear pleasure, to shun knowledge and to regard their own bodies as sinful vessels, they often end up in loveless and unhappy marriages, trapped by religious rules that bar them from happiness and affection.But I don't want to give the impression that Judaism is the only religion which has irrational, anti-humanistic rules about sex, and Catholicism has some uniquely … [Read more...]

An Honest Look at Catholicism’s Decline


I came across an essay by Peter Daly, a Catholic priest, that I wanted to address: "An attempt to answer the question: Where are the young adults?" It's notable for being the frankest admission I've seen from a Catholic of the demographic crisis the church is facing, as well as a bracingly honest study of the causes.Daly begins with a statement of the problem:Everywhere from Boston to Minneapolis, Catholic churches have closed or been consolidated into regional clusters. The chief … [Read more...]

When the Pope Excuses Violence

Last week, Pope Francis made some startling remarks about the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo. Speaking to journalists, he not only said that freedom of speech shouldn't include the right to ridicule religion, but that if anyone does ridicule religion, violence is an appropriate response!Asked about the attack that killed 12 people at the offices of Charlie Hebdo - targeted because it had printed depictions of the prophet Muhammad - he said: "One cannot provoke, one cannot insult other … [Read more...]