The unchurched and non-religious still pray

Church attendance and other marks of religious observance are in decline, but a new study has found that people–including the non-religious–are still praying.  In fact, 57% of Americans say they pray every day, and 75% pray once a week or more.  This would seem to indicate a shift away from corporate religion to privatized religion.  See details after the jump.

Question:  From a Christian perspective, is the persistence of prayer, even as church attendance declines, a good thing, in the sense of better than nothing, or a sign of spiritual sensibility despite it all?  Or, as Joe Carter argues, is it a bad thing? [Read more...]

Not secularism but pluralism

Several decades ago, sociologists were writing about how modernization was accompanied by the rise of secularism.  Today, so-called “secularization theory” has been abandoned, including by its former advocates such as Peter Berger.  I came across a trenchant quote from him that defines the new issues.  From Eboo Patel in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

The 1960s-era academics who advanced secularization theory confessed their errors long ago. As the sociologist Peter Berger told The Economist in 2007, “We made a category mistake. We thought the relationship was between modernization and secularization. In fact it was between modernization and pluralism.”

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Liberal and Illiberal Atheists

The London Guardian has published a fascinating in-depth article about atheism, its history and its different varieties.  The author, John Gray, is himself an atheist, but he subjects what he calls today’s “evangelical atheists” to a withering critique.  He especially criticizes the notion assumed  by so many “new atheists” that if we just get rid of religion, the rise of science will bring “liberal” values–freedom, equality, human dignity, universal benevolence, etc.   Gray shows that there is no way to get from science alone to moral values of any kind, and certainly not liberal values.

In fact, atheists, historically, have often held “illiberal” values.  For example, mainstream atheists before World War II tended to be social darwinists, with a strong strain of eugenics and racist biology.  Then there is Soviet atheism, which rejected individual freedom, and the atheism of Friedrich Nietzsche, who critiqued liberal values as deriving from Christianity, hating them both.  I would add that prominent strain today beloved by many conservatives, the atheism of Ayn Rand, with her “virtue of selfishness.”  Gray does say that of course he and his fellow atheists can be moral, but the question is, what morality are they to follow?  And science, he says, won’t give an answer.  Read an excerpt and follow the link after the jump. [Read more...]

The worst book ever written about Jesus?

Gonzo archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici has published a new book:   The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.  The reviewer in The Los Angeles Times, no less (not some conservative Christian), calls it “perhaps the worst book ever written about Jesus.”  From Anthony Le Donne:

Here are some of the claims that Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson make: (1) a 6th century text that never once refers to Jesus or Mary Magdalene is secretly about Jesus, Mary, and their children; (2) the character “Joseph” named in this text represents Jesus, Apollo, Helios, Mithras, and a Roman emperor simultaneously; (3) Mary Magdalene was not Jewish and was, moreover, a priestess of Artemis; (4) when Jesus refers to the Queen of Sheba (Matt 12:42), he is speaking of Mary in code; (5) Jesus — not a peasant, but a powerful figure in the world of Roman politics — was the victim of not one but two assassination attempts, both of which he survived; (6) the Roman general Germanicus was the second threat to Jesus, but a Roman prefect named Sejanus saved him, Mary, and their children; and (7) the wine of the Last Supper symbolized Mary’s menstrual blood. As you will see below, this is only a small sampling of this book’s originality.

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Magic, science, & religion

Charles Lane discusses the big dietary reversal on cholesterol, in the course of which he recounts a hilarious scene in Woody Allen’s movie Sleeper and cites anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski on the way people tend to confuse science with religion (they put their faith in it) and magic (it can do anything), making it really disorienting when science changes.  Go to the link for the joke, but I quote the anthropology part after the jump.
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If religious liberty is THE political issue for Christians. . .

My post on Russell Moore’s contention that religious liberty needs to be THE political issue for Christians in the upcoming elections is approaching 500 comments, and the discussion–despite a few fights that broke out–has been quite good.  But there are some misconceptions I want to address and some implications that I want us to think about. [Read more...]