Category Archives: faith

Globally, Women Are More Likely Than Men to be Religious, Pew Research Center Data Says


Women are more likely to be religious, and among atheists, women are the minority, according to recent data from the Pew Research Center.

The first two of these three graphics are based upon surveys of men and women, ages 20 or older, in 192 countries:
 
Women more likely than men to be affiliated
 
Women make up the majority of Christians, Jews, Buddhists, and an unidentified selection of smaller religious groups:
 
Religiously affiliated more likely to be female
 
The United States is sometimes maligned as a religious, patriarchal nation. To the maligners: Why are so many patriarchs atheists and so many matriarchs believers? No one in the U.S. makes a free adult get out of bed on a Sunday morning, and no one makes a free adult hold faith-in-a-higher-power as a background belief. See the graphic below, and consider the population numbers and cultural diversity represented by the listed nations:
 
Atheists more likely to be men in several countries

Should You Perceive Meaning in Nature?


If humans can manipulate some aspect of nature—in other words, if humans find a way to perform godlike miracles with the building blocks of, say, biology—does that mean whatever’s manipulable has no meaning? And, implicitly, has no divine origin? Along those lines, I recently found a quotation from one of the Inklings, and I thought the idea was worth wrestling with.

In the 1970s, Owen Barfield—a close friend of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien— wrote: “Amid all the menacing signs that surround us in the middle of this twentieth century, perhaps the one which fills thoughtful people with the greatest sense of forboding is the growing sense of meaninglessness. It is this which underlies most of the other threats. How is it that the more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it?”

Isolate the assumption in that question and convert it into a statement: “The more able man becomes to manipulate the world to his advantage, the less he can perceive any meaning in it.”

I’m inclined to agree, probably because I’ve read enough of Lewis to get an inevitable splash of Barfield, but how true is that statement, really? Is it true often enough, generally enough?

Probably, but then why?

Maybe the more “we” (some group within the human race) find nature manipulable, the more we assume its value is reducible. In other words, maybe humans once assumed nature was set by God in some inviolable way, and when we realized we could manipulate it, suddenly nature seemed violable, therefore less valuable, less absolute, less a reflection of divinity.

The more it can be manipulated, we assume (perhaps unconsciously), the less it must be a creation of a divine power, and if something has less value, it seems to mean less (the way value is applied and understood and designated is a lot to think about). If some divinity made nature, why would mere mortals be able to mess with it?

But along those lines, the ability to manipulate is not a simple either-or situation. It has matters of degree. Should our ability to manipulate nature (a big, abstract ability) be any more surprising than our ability to make a salad from wild vegetables? To make a shelter from trees and branches?

But then there’s that popular Internet meme: “The sciences can tell you how to clone a T-Rex. The humanities can tell you why that might not be a good idea.”

At any rate, I’m not sure Barfield was precisely correct in the above quotation. It could be that, on a popular level, certain assumptions about nature, science, and progress became “viral” before the Internet was part of our daily lives. (Late evangelical thinker Francis Schaeffer, decades before the Internet, once suggested that Americans get their opinions like they catch cold viruses—they’re not sure where they got those opinions, but they certainly got them.) So certain assumptions—and maybe inclinations of attitude—made Western people less likely to perceive meaning, but maybe not less able. Not less able, just less inclined.

Furthermore, whether from a metaphysical point of view or a naturalistic point of view, wouldn’t nature have to be meaningful?

Donald Trump as faith healer and televangelist


I should, and I will, skip an attempt at the underlying meaning behind 33 percent of South Carolina evangelicals voting for Donald Trump.

Instead, I’ll repeat part of Sarah Posner’s plausible analysis on the Washington Post‘s Acts of Faith blog.

“Trump is arguably the candidate most resembling a televangelist.

“For many evangelicals, Pentecostals and charismatic Christians, magical thinking has found its expression through the prosperity gospel, much to the consternation of Christians who consider it a heresy and a fraud. A uniquely American contribution to the evolution of Christianity in the modern age, the prosperity gospel teaches that God wants believers to be rich.

“It’s also called the health and wealth gospel: Its adherents believe that God blesses the faithful with great wealth, keeps their health robust and cures the faithful of every malady. Successful televangelists boast of revelations received directly from God and of their ability to produce miracles….

“Despite countless exposés of prosperity televangelists’ excesses — including Creflo Dollar’s pleas for his followers to fund his $60 million Gulfstream airplane, Benny Hinn’s phony faith healings, and Kenneth Copeland’s luxurious homes, cars and planes — televangelism still thrives in America. It is, according to the scholar Kate Bowler, who wrote a book about it, ‘one of the most popular forms of American Christianity.’ It has permeated evangelical culture, through television, megachurches, conferences and books that are found not just in Christian bookstores but also at the checkout line at supermarkets and in airports…..

“Copeland’s television program is called ‘The Believer’s Voice of Victory.’ Winning. Copeland was one of a roomful of televangelists who laid hands on Trump last year, thanking God ‘for a bold man, a strong man and an obedient man’….

“Trump draws his most significant support from voters who make less than $50,000 a year. He has led them to believe that only a rich, successful entertainer can make America great again. Like a televangelist, Trump’s success is seen as evidence of his prowess, but even more important, of God’s good favor. His supporters seem to believe, too, that he will bring them along for the ride.”

I really like Posner’s idea of affiliation: If I affiliate myself with the prosperity-preaching televangelist, I’ll get close, closer, to the faith I need to succeed. If I affiliate myself with a wealthy businessman, I’ll get close, closer, to the mojo I need to succeed.

And, after reading that, if you ever had any doubt that Kenneth Copeland is a fraud, well, all doubts should now be gone.

I mean, in the context of Posner’s post, Copeland only called Trump “obedient” after receiving a nice donation.

Meanwhile, I’ve been posting a spelling pun on social media today—”Donald Trump: Make America Grate Again”—only to be informed by a former newsroom colleague that an editorial cartoonist got there first. Dang it.

Thoughts for Sunday Morning: The Believer’s Duty, According to Gabriel Marcel


Marcel often helps me do some sorting-out:

We shall understand nothing of the relation between the believer and the non-believer and there is danger of giving the most harmfully pharisaic interpretation of it if we fail to perceive something else which is even more mysterious, namely the symbiosis of belief and disbelief in the same soul. If the believer has any duty at all, it is to become aware of all that is within him of the non-believer.Gabriel Marcel, in “From opinion to faith,” Creative Fidelity

I might break it down this way:

  1. We shall understand nothing of the relation between the believer and the non-believer
  2. if we fail to perceive the co-existence of belief and disbelief in the same soul
  3. and if we fail to perceive that co-existence, we’ll probably be Pharisees, or pharisaic,
  4. so if you or I count ourselves among believers, we should probably get our heads around our own unbelief and our own non-believer tendencies before we consider ourselves too distinct.

‘IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment’ — CBS DC


From IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com:

WASHINGTON (CBSDC) — The IRS is getting pressured to begin cracking down on televangelists following a John Oliver segment on HBO’s “Last Week Tonight.”

Oliver blasted televangelists this past Sunday for what he called “seed faith,” where they tell donors they will reap the rewards by giving money to them.

“They preach something called the prosperity gospel which argues that wealth is a sign of God’s favor and donations will result in wealth coming back to you. That idea sometimes takes the form of seed faith – the notion that donations are seeds that you will one day get to harvest,” Oliver said in the segment.

He continued, “The argument is ‘sow your money into the ground, you will reap returns multiple times over,’ except as an investment you’d be better off burying your money in the actual ground because at least that way there’s a chance your dog may dig it up and give it back to you one day.”

Read the rest at IRS Getting Pressured To Crack Down On Televangelists Following John Oliver’s Segment ‹ Reader — WordPress.com.

Note: In the other half of the article, CBS DC includes a quotation from Ole Anthony. While Anthony is a self-styled watchdog for religious fraud, he has been accused of operating a cult. Please see this excerpt of I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life In A Dallas Cult by Wendy Duncan.

Facts and Doubts


I have doubts based upon indisputable facts, but I do not have indisputable doubts.

Ancient Mystery Religions Prefigured, Possibly Shaped, Elements of Christianity


Ancient mystery religions and other pagan religious practices prefigured and might have even shaped elements of Christianity. Four sources and brief book excerpts support the claim:

(Boldfacing was added to the following excerpts. Italicized sections appear in the originals.)

Meyer & ‘The Ancient Mysteries’

The late Dr. Marvin W. Meyer of Chapman College, writing in the introduction to a 1987 book he edited, The Ancient Mysteries: A Sourcebook — Sacred Texts of the Mystery Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean World:

“The mysteries were secret religious groups composed of individuals who decided, through personal choice, to be initiated into the profound realities of one deity or another….

“The word mystery (mysterion in Greek) derives from the Greek verb myein, ‘to close,’ referring to the closing of the lips or the eyes….

“Closed eyes brought darkness to the prospective initiate both literally and metaphorically, and the opening of the eyes was an act of enlightenment. Just as one of a baby’s first responses to the world is the discovery of light through the opening of the eyes, so the initiate, sometimes described as one reborn, also saw the light….

“The development of early agrarian or fertility festivals into the mystery religions involved, first and foremost, the conviction on the part of the worshipers that the cycle of nature related directly to human life. Plants and animals participated in a cycle of death and life, and so also did human beings. Death came to all the divine forces of nature — Kore, Dionysos, Adonis, Attis, Osiris, the Mithraic bull — but finally life was victorious. Kore returned from the realm of Hades; Dionysos vivified his devotees; Adonis rose from the dead; Attis gave an intimation of new life; Osiris reigned as king of the underworld; and the bull provided life for the world

“Ordinarily the mystai [initiates] partook of food and drink in the ritual celebrations, and sometimes they may have become one with the divine by participating in a sacramental meal analogous to the Christian Eucharist….”

MacMullen & Lane: Paganism as mother

In the preface to the 1992 book Paganism and Christianity 100-425 C.E.: A Sourcebook, editors Ramsay MacMullen of Yale University and Eugene Lane of the University of Missouri say:

“The emergence of Christianity from the tangled mass of older religious beliefs, eventually to a position of unchallenged superiority, is surely one of the most important single phenomenon that can be discerned in the closing centuries of the ancient world.”

They go on to say, however, little attention is given to “the body in which Christianity grew.”

They ask, “How about the mother? Will she not help determine the manner in which the child enters the world and, to some extent, its shape and nature?”

Then MacMullen and Lane give this illustration:

“In most regions of St. Paul’s or St. Augustine’s world, attendance at holy places on religious anniversaries was a time for friends and family together to enjoy the meal that followed the sacrifice. That was how reverence was paid to the sanctuaries of saints in the fourth century — not because those attending were still ‘pagan’ (they would have indignantly rejected any such label) but because the ceremony still lacked any distinctively Christian form.”

Placher

William C. Placher, professor at Wabash College, in his 1983 book A History of Christian Theology:

“The mystery cults — some imported, some homegrown in Greece — offered something many Greeks found spiritually more satisfying. Those who joined a mystery cult underwent a secret initiation. There they learned the story of a deity who had died but then risen to new life; and they became somehow united with that deity, so that they too would rise to new life after death. The mysteries offered a personal connection with a deity and a hope beyond death, and the emphasis on membership gave people a sense of belonging in a society where many traditional institutions had collapsed. All this provided Christians with an obvious analogy. Join our fellowship, they could say, and become one with Christ, participating in ceremonies of baptism and the sharing of bread and wine, and you, like Christ, will be raised from the dead.”

Hinson

E. Glenn Hinson of Baptist Theological Seminary in his 1996 book The Early Church:

“Numerous oriental religions thrived in the West when Christianity put in its appearances. The Mysteries of Eleusis, originating several centuries before the Christian era, were patronized by emperors from Octavian on. They used the planting of seed as a symbol of the promise of life that lies beyond death….

“The cult of the Great Mother, a fertility goddess connected with agricultural rites, enjoyed wide currency in the ancient world as far west as the British Isles. Acknowledged in Rome as a legitimate foreign cult in 205 B.C.E., by the time of Augustus it had gained immense popularity. Originally a wild and enthusiastic cult, involving even human sacrifices, it was modified by combination with the cult of Attis. The mythology of a dying and rising god replaced earlier orgiastic rites. A colorful pageantry combined with the promise of immortality to attract many. In time Cybele adopted the taurobolium, a bath in bull’s blood, popularized by Mithra. Symbolically ‘buried’ in a pit covered by a lattice-work of boards, the devotee was said to be purified of sins and raised to new life.

“Isis and Osiris, an ancient Egyptian cult, was introduced to the West by the Ptolemies. Soldiers, sailors, slaves, and popular writers disseminated it all over the empire. Its most attractive features were the myth of a dying and rising god and an appealing liturgy….

“Mithra, a Persian sect that grew out of Zoroastrianism, advanced westward by way of the Roman army during the Flavian era (68-96). Remarkably similar to Christianity in many respects, it turned out to be the strongest competitor, though limited by the fact that the cult excluded women. Like Judaism and Christianity, Mithraism emphasized morality. It viewed life as a perpetual struggle between good and evil, light and darkness, the gods and demons. Mithra, one of the lesser deities in the Zoroastrian hierarchy, identified with human beings in their struggle. Mithraic altars depicted Mithra astride the back of a powerful bull, hurling his dagger into its side as a serpent twines around one of the bull’s legs to lap up the blood spurting from the wound. To underline the importance of morality, Mithraism emphasized judgment. At death anyone stained with evil would be dragged by the emissaries of Ahriman to the depths of hell to suffer indescribable tortures, whereas the pure would ascend to the celestial realm, where the supreme god Ormuzd ruled. En route, Mithra himself would serve as the guide past the seven planetary spheres guarded over by angels. After a general resurrection, Mithra would judge all humanity once and for all and cause fire to consume all wicked spirits. Mithraism developed rites and organization similar to Christianity’s, but, since they were of late origin, most were probably borrowed. The most important right was the taurobolium, which promised immortality.”

#

Again, boldfacing was added to the above excerpts. Italics belong to the originals.