The piety of cosmonauts

Remember when that Russian cosmonaut went up in space and when he came back reported that he didn’t see God?  Things are different now for Russian space travelers. [Read more…]

St. Teresa of Calcutta, saint of darkness

Mother Teresa was canonized on Sunday, officially declared to be a saint.  It isn’t necessary to be a Roman Catholic to appreciate this woman, who ministered to the poor and the dying on the streets of Calcutta.

Her example and the sense of holiness she conveyed persuaded many, such as Malcolm Muggeridge, to become a Christian.  Nevertheless, it is said that she experienced spiritual doubt and depression, a “dark night of the soul” that lasted some 50 years.

She wrote, “If I’m going to be a saint, I’m going to be a saint of darkness, and I’ll be asking from heaven to be the light of those who are in darkness on Earth.”  According to a priest involved with her canonization, she experienced both the physical poverty of the poor and the spiritual poverty of the “unloved, unwanted, uncared for.”

I have heard this period of darkness referred to as evidence that Teresa “was not perfect,” but I think it makes her holiness more believable.  The life of faith is not “perfection,” nor constant joy; rather, it often involves what Luther called “tentatio”–struggle, conflict, agony of conscience–and her descriptions of her depression shows that her faith was in Christ and not her own good works, which she had in such abundance.

In honor of her canonization, I will link and excerpt the speech she made at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994, in which she gave a compelling critique of abortion.  Afterwards, she received a standing ovation, with President and Mrs. Clinton, also on the dais, staying in their seats.

[Read more…]

Spiritual crisis in the white working class

Heroin used to be a problem mainly for the big cities.  Today it is also ravaging rural communities in the American heartland, a cheap alternative to pain pills and crystal meth.  In the white working class, divorce is soaring, marriage rates have been plummeting, and single parents have become the norm.  And this demographic, which used to be the heart and soul of evangelical Christianity, has the lowest rates of church attendance.  From boarded up small towns to rustbelt cities where the factory has closed down, the white working class is in a state of economic, moral, cultural, and spiritual crisis.

This is chronicled in the bestselling Hillbilly Elegy:  A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance, who grew up in a family plagued by all of these dysfunctions, but whose church-going grandparents pulled him out of the mire.

While churches build mega-congregations in the suburbs and concentrate on trying to reach affluent millennials, the truly unchurched who are arguably in most need of evangelism and spiritual care are often ignored, déclassé as they are.

Terry Mattingly interviews Vance on the religious dimensions of the crisis he documents. [Read more…]

The six signs of demonic possession?

Beliefnet has an interview with Father Gary Thomas, a Vatican-certified exorcist that is very interesting, though I’m not sure what I think of it.  After the jump, I give his “six classic signs of demonic possessions,” as well as what he says about how to protect yourself from demons.

Two of the signs are “aversion to the sacred” and “the rolling of the eyes.”  I knew it!  Teenagers who don’t want to go to church and give you that eye-rolling look are possessed by the devil!

But, really, being in thrall to Satan is surely less dramatic than what is described here, a matter of being in bondage to sin and unbelief.  Just as protecting yourself from Satan is also undramatic–go to church, pray, have faith in Christ, etc.–which Father Thomas says, though in terms of Roman Catholic theology.

And yet, I’m not denying that these extreme cases exist.  What do you think?  What is the distinctly Roman Catholic theology in what Father Thomas says? [Read more…]

“The issue will come and find you”

Liberal Baptist theologian and LGBT advocate David Gushee says that there is no middle ground when it comes to acceptance of LGBT rights.  Churches and individuals must either accept them or not, and if they don’t they will face dire consequences.

He says that affirmation of LGBT issues is already mandatory in government, education, medicine, corporations, the entertainment industry, sports, and nonprofits.  The only holdouts are conservative Christians and their institutions, which are digging in and trying to invoke religious liberty.  But if they don’t change their tune, they will be forced to close down or be treated with the same contempt that racists receive today.

Read what he says, excerpted and linked after the jump.  Then read Rod Dreher on Gushee’s threats in his piece We Have Been Warned. [Read more…]

New study on church-going has surprises

Pew Research has released a new study on church-going, including why people leave, how they choose a new congregation, and why people don’t attend.  Read the study here.

The reason lots of people have stopped going to church, it turns out, is not so much that they are rejecting religion in favor of scientific materialism.  Rather, the logistics of getting up on Sunday and organizing themselves and the family for a trip to church is just too difficult.

The main reason people choose a new congregation is not disagreement with the pastor of the old one (a reason given only by 11%), but because they have moved.  The factor that is most influential in choosing a new congregation?  The pastor’s sermons.

There are other surprises:  denominational loyalty is still an important factor; while many people attend church less, almost 25% of Americans are attending church more.

Take a look at the study and then read an analysis of the findings by Emma Green in the Atlantic, excerpted and linked after the jump. [Read more…]