Whether a criminal converts to Islam or Christianity

James Holmes, who dressed up like the Joker and killed 12 people at the Batman movie (and who faces the death penalty if he is convicted), has converted to Islam.  Robert Spencer explores what that means as opposed to a conversion to Christianity:

The debate over James Holmes’s sanity has raged hotly ever since he murdered twelve people and wounded 58 in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, in July 2012. But now the controversy can be laid to rest: Holmes is sane. The clearest indication of his sanity came last week, when the Daily Mail reported that he had converted to Islam.

The Mail reported that Holmes is apparently quite devout: he has grown a lavish beard, eats only halal food, prays the obligatory five daily prayers, and studies the Qur’an for hours every day.

Holmes’s conversion reveals that instead of being unaware of what he did, or utterly remorseless, as one might expect of a psychotic or a sociopath, the murders must trouble him a great deal. For it is souls that are troubled — intellectually, morally, spiritually, psychologically — who cast about for some solution to what troubles them, and often find it in religious conversion.

But it is what Holmes converted to that is significant. [Read more…]

Unorganized religion

Michael Gerson discusses the 20% of Americans who describe their religion as “none.”  It isn’t that the “Nones” (not to be confused with “nuns”) don’t believe in God, necessarily.  64% of them do.  They just don’t want to affiliate with any “organized religion.”

The statistics about “Nones” probably don’t include the number of self-described Christians who feel the same way.  I know of some who haven’t found a church they can agree with or that is up to their high standards.  So they don’t go to church at all.  After all, with their “me-and-Jesus” theology, why do they need a church?  But they do.

The good news is that 40% of those raised as “Nones” drop out of their non-religion to join an actual religious institution.  Hey, isn’t that about the same drop out rate, according to one measure, for young people raised in churches? [Read more…]

“We must save our gods”

In church on Palm Sunday, our pastor gave another powerful sermon, with a great missionary story:

“Where are their gods? . . . Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection!”  [Deuteronomy 32:37-38]

Those are the words of God through Moses to the people of Israel on the border of the Promised Land about the gods of the Canaanites. They reminded me of a story I once heard from a missionary who visited my church in New York. He was working somewhere in the far east, I don’t remember exactly where, when an earthquake struck. The people, of course, were very frightened and running out of their houses. But then, he said, something very strange happened. They started rushing back into their crumbling, tottering houses. He couldn’t figure out why, so he stopped one of the people and asked what was going on. And this was the answer he got: We have to save our gods. They were risking their lives to save their gods which were sitting on the shelves and altars of their collapsing homes.

What a starkly different picture we hear today and this Holy Week. The one, true God doesn’t need saving – we are the ones who need saving! And it is the one, true God who rushes into our crumbling, tottering world to save us. [Read more…]

The Unitarian controversy over polyamory

Most churches and theological traditions have their controversies, spats, factions, and schisms.  Unfortunately, that is to be expected among groups of people with strong beliefs.  One would think, though, that Unitarian Universalists would be relatively immune from internal controversies over doctrine, morality, or practice.  After all, Unitarians can believe anything, everything, or nothing at all.

But there is contention among Unitarians over the definition of marriage and whether the denomination should support the legalization of and perform weddings for those who have previously been denied that right.  Not gay marriage–Unitarians have signed on to that years ago–but polyamory.  (Not to be confused with polygamy, a relationship that is “poly,” to use the favored term, may include two men and three women or any other combination of multiple partnes.) [Read more…]

Different kinds of atheists

John Gray, author of The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths, is a different kind of atheist.  He is friendly to religion, thinks progress is a myth, and is skeptical of humanist ideals like freedom and knowledge.

This should remind us that just as there are different religions and different theologies within a religion, there are different sects of atheists:  libertarian atheists, Marxist atheists, scientific determinist atheists, existentialist atheists, humanist atheists, Nietzschean atheists, etc., etc.

So when we meet an atheist, we should ask, “what kind of atheist are you?”  Or, “what god do you not believe in?”  We Christians might not believe in that kind of god either.  In fact, the Romans persecuted Christians on the grounds that they were “atheists”; that is, they did not believe in the gods of the cultural pantheon. [Read more…]

Secular prayer

Most legislative bodies in this country begin with a prayer, whether by an official chaplain as in the United States Congress or by visiting clergy, who are allowed to pray according to their traditions.  But in Maryland, the House of Representatives has the politicians themselves saying the prayers, according to strict guidelines that require the prayers to be inclusive and not addressed to any particular deity.  In the word of one representative, they are “secular prayers.” [Read more…]


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