Scriptures

What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

What should college grads, and high school grads, know about world religions?

THE QUESTION:

What should U.S. college graduates, and high school graduates, know about religion?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A Gallup poll for the Bible Literacy Project 15 years ago found only about a third of U.S. teen-agers knew about Islam’s holy month of Ramadan or that the Quran is the religion’s holy book. The youths generally did better on Christian questions, though only a third could identify the significance of the “road to Damascus” and a tenth couldn’t say what Easter is.

The Religion Guy guesses that, if anything, teens in 2019 would do worse, due to the increase of religiously unaffiliated “nones” in the younger generation. Meanwhile, religious illiteracy becomes a more important problem for cohesion and understanding among the American people as diversity reaches beyond the Protestant-Catholic-Jew triad of times past.

Concerned about this, the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (established by the late industrialist, a Congregational preacher’s kid) sought help from the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of some 8,000 college-level religion teachers. The result was a three-year study that concluded Oct. 3 with the release of “AAR Religious Literacy Guidelines: What U.S. College Graduates Need to Understand about Religion.” Click here for the .pdf document.

What we do not get in this AAR booklet is answers to the question The Guy poses above, what information people should know by the time they have earned a two-year or a four-year degree. That’s not surprising, given the complexity of the field of religion.

Instead, we’re informed on what grads need to “understand.” Two major points from the AAR team are that religion is central for every human culture that has ever existed, and that therefore people need to have a good grasp of reliable, non-sectarian information in this field. It distinguishes academic study of religion, which is “descriptive,” from the “prescriptive” education that people receive from their faith groups.

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Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) officially announced details Oct. 6 on a major archaeological project in northern Israel south of Haifa near present-day Harish. The inland En Esur site has remains of a town that covered 160 acres, indicating that an estimated 6,000 residents lived there in the Early Bronze Age 5,000 years ago.

This remarkably early date for such a large settlement is an unprecedented find not only within Israel but for the entire region. Without later technological developments, that’s about as big as a municipality could have been. Not only that. The archaeologists found another settlement lying underneath En Esur that dates back 7,000 years. These towns were strategically located along an ancient trade route and with access to fresh-water springs.

The IAA team reports that the Bronze Age settlement demonstrates careful urban planning, with streets, drainage and public spaces that included a notable temple with a sizable basin that contains burned animal bones signaling ritual sacrifices, a town square, storage facilities and a mausoleum. There are many figurines, showing artistic culture and a possible religious purpose. Tools on the site are identified as Egyptian. Huge stone blocks for construction were somehow hauled from a quarry a half-mile away.

The site has long been known, but was only excavated in earnest starting in 2017 by a team led by Itai Elad, Yitzhak Paz and Dina Shalem. Work was funded by Netivei Israel, the transport infrastructure firm that is building a highway interchange at the site. Some 5,000 students volunteered to help with the massive archaeological dig.

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Chaput-Martin feud a case study in news media misrepresentation of Catholic teachings

Chaput-Martin feud a case study in news media misrepresentation of Catholic teachings

Who is made a cardinal — and who isn’t — can sometimes be loaded with intrigue. It’s why the Vatican (and much of the Catholic church) is covered more like a political institution (akin to the White House and Congress) and less like it’s part of a global religion. It is this dangerous tendency, largely on the part of the secular press, to reduce most theological positions to political ones that has fueled divisions within the Catholic church during the era of Pope Francis.

For everyday Catholics, the ties to the Vatican are religious, not political. Like Mecca for Muslims and Jerusalem for Jews (and Muslims), Rome is a place of pilgrimage and prayer. Everyday Catholics don’t concern themselves with the backroom politics. The consistory of this past Saturday (where Pope Francis “created” 13 new cardinals) wasn’t a part of Mass or discussion among parishioners in my church the past few weeks. The attitude generally seems to be that these cardinals don’t really affect our lives.

Or do they?

They do. Those chosen to take part in the Amazon Synod taking place at the Vatican starting this week are a good example of this. These men not only elect the next pope, they also guide the flock in their particular metropolitan areas. They help set the agenda. They can influence local and national politics. In other words, they are a big deal. And most metropolitan newspapers, large and small, in this country cover them that way. This is big news, no matter how your define that.

It wasn’t lost on The New York Times, who was giddy in this news story about Pope Francis’ legacy that ran on the eve of the consistory. Add to that this fawning opinion piece posted to the website on the same day under the headline “Pope Francis Is Fearless.” The subhead, on the newspaper’s website, read like this: “His papacy has been a consistent rebuke to American culture-war Christianity in politics.”

This takes us to Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia and why who will replace him matters. It’s the best example of the fight currently going on between those on the doctrinal left and right.

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Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

Wink and nod: What was a black girl doing at Karen Pence's 'Christian' school anyway?

In many ways, it was the perfect “white evangelical” horror story.

So you had an African-American sixth-grader who reported that she was bullied by three boys who taunted her with racial insults and cut off some of her dreadlocks. This took place at a “Christian” school where Karen Pence, as in the wife of Donald Trump’s loyal vice president, has taught off and on for more than a decade.

It’s a story that, in this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), host Todd Wilken and I explored on three levels, as in the three parts of a click-bait equation.

First, there is the story of the accusations of an alleged assault, which turned out not to be true, according to the girl’s family.

That was a tragic local story. What made it a national story?

That’s the second level of this story — the key click-bait link to Trump World. That was especially true in a rather snarky NBC News online report (which even worked in an LGBTQ angle, due to the school’s doctrinal statement on marriage and sex).

But that wasn’t the angle that interested me the most. No, I was interested in the school itself. I imagine that lots of readers much have thought to themselves (I will paraphrase): What in the world is a black girl doing enrolled at the kind of white evangelical Trump-loving alleged Christian school that would Mrs. Mike Pence would be teach at for a dozen years or so?

Thus, I was interested in the following paragraph of factual material that was included in two Washington Post stories about this case:

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Hey Axios: Americans are bitterly divided by news-media brands. Is this about politics, alone?

Hey Axios: Americans are bitterly divided by news-media brands. Is this about politics, alone?

This just in: More and more Americans are making media choices based on their political convictions.

Surprised? Who could be surprised by this news — in an important new Morning Consult poll — after a rising tide of acid in public life that has been getting worse year after year and decade after decade.

But here is the question I want to ask about this new poll, and the Axios report that pointed me to it: Is this trend linked to politics, alone?

Yes, Donald Trump and the whole “fake news” whipping post are important (#DUH). But if journalists dig into the roots of this growing divide at the heart of American public discourse they will hit disputes — many linked to religion and culture — that are much deeper than the shallow ink slick that is the Trump era.

Hold that thought.. Here is the top of the bite-sized, news you can use Axios report:

News media companies make up 12 of the 15 most polarizing brands in America today, according to a new Morning Consult poll provided to Axios media trends expert Sara Fischer.

— CNN and Fox News continue to be the most divisive news companies.

— Why it matters: The gap between how Republicans and Democrats view national media brands like CNN and Fox News continues to widen, according to the polling, which points to an increase in America's polarization.

Between the lines: The gap is being driven by substantial decreases in Republican approval of media brands other than Fox News. 

— The difference between how the two parties viewed CNN grew from a 66-point gap last year to an 80-point gap this year, due to a 12-point drop in net favorability among Republicans, from -13% to -25%.

Hear me say this: It is completely accurate to stress Trump’s role in all of this and for pollsters to push hard with questions about political party identity.

But does anyone doubt that researchers would have seen the same split it they had asked questions about third-trimester abortion, trigger-based speech codes on university campuses, the First Amendment rights of wedding-cake artists, government funding for trans treatments in the U.S. military and dozens of other questions that, for millions of Americans, are directly linked to religious doctrines?

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God's judgement in Times Square, and soon Richmond: Does 'Rumors of War' mean anything?

God's judgement in Times Square, and soon Richmond: Does 'Rumors of War' mean anything?

Under normal circumstances, it’s important to pay attention to the name that an artist carves into a giant work of public art.

In this case, we are talking about a statue — both majestic and ironic — by the African-American artist Kehinde Wiley of New York City. I will let The Washington Post describe that statue in a moment, in this lengthy feature: “With a brass band blaring, artist Kehinde Wiley goes off to war with Confederate statues.”

The key, in this case, is that an African-American artist has made a statement judging the long history of art in the American South that pays tribute to the region’s Civil War heroes and, in the eyes of critics, supports the “Lost Cause ideology” that tries to justify their actions.

I chose that word “judging” carefully, because the artist is making a moral statement on a grand scale. And the name he chose for this statue? He called the statue “Rumors of War.”

My question: Did journalists who covered the unveiling of this statue realize that, with this title, Wiley was adding a very specific note of BIBLICAL judgement with a direct reference to Matthew, chapter 24? I am referring to these famous words of Jesus:

… Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then shall they deliver you up to be afflicted, and shall kill you: and ye shall be hated of all nations for my name's sake.

It would be hard to find a piece of scripture with greater relevance to discussions of a civil war.

But did journalists the Post, and The New York Times, get the point? Remember: We are talking about the NAME of the statue. Here is a quote from the overture in the Post arts-beat feature, describing the event last Friday in Times Square:

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Campaign 2020 question: Do Christians see a difference between cussing and profanity?

Campaign 2020 question: Do Christians see a difference between cussing and profanity?

THE QUESTION:

A four-letter topic raised by campaign 2020: What does Christianity teach about cussing?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

The vulgar lingo associated with military barracks, so tiresome and over-used in movies, cable TV shows and pop music, is filtering into U.S. politics.

Several candidates this campaign have gone potty-mouth, but it’s a specialty of “Beto” O’Rourke. He dropped the f-bomb in his Texas Senate concession speech last November and promised to “keep it clean” when a perturbed voter complained, only to backslide. His staff has made this a proud trademark, selling $30 T-shirts that display the expletive. Muslim Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib then imitated T-shirt sales to broadcast her own four-syllable obscenity.  O’Rourke also remarked of Donald Trump, “Jesus Christ, of course he’s racist.”

Contra Tlaib, is there a sexist double standard at work? Indiana University’s Michael Adams, the author of “In Praise of Profanity,” thinks filth that may possibly give male candidates a populist appeal will count against female candidates.

O’Rourke emulates Mr. Trump himself, who boasted in 2016 that he never uses the f-word though videotapes tell a different story. Last February, the President reportedly hurled three f-bombs at the nation’s leading Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, during a White House meeting, and later apologized.

A la O’Rourke, the latest Trump hubbub involves the name of God. Most media coverage of a North Carolina rally focused on the President for not lamenting the crowd’s racially tinged “send her back” chants against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a Muslim immigrant. But some of the religious voters he relies upon were upset that he twice uttered “g–d—“ during that appearance. Soon after, he  uttered the same phrase in a talk to all House Republicans.

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Inside Higher Ed adds snark in click-bait shot at Baylor's doctrines on sex and marriage

Inside Higher Ed adds snark in click-bait shot at Baylor's doctrines on sex and marriage

Does anyone remember that post I wrote a week or so ago about the decision at Duke University to push Young Life off campus because of its requirement that its officers affirm the evangelical group’s teachings on LGBTQ issues?

I know that these stories keep popping up every now and then and it’s hard to keep it all straight in your mind.

Journalists often have trouble with the fine details, as well. Lots of editors seem to think these battles focus on random corporate “policies” as opposed to “doctrines” built on centuries of Christian traditions about the Bible, marriage and sex. And here is another crucial detail from that earlier GetReligion post:

Right up front, note this: Duke is a private university and, thus, its leaders have every right to define the doctrines and covenants that govern their campus. That’s true for liberal once-Christian schools as well as many traditional colleges and universities.

This brings us to those jesters in Rice University’s Marching Owl Band (MOB for short). The band’s style? Think Stanford University, only with less musical clout. The MOB motto: “The marching band that NEVER marches!”

MOB performances combine comedy riffs with bits of music. To no one’s surprise, the MOB mocked famously Baptist Baylor University the other day. Here’s the top of the Waco Tribune-Herald report:

The Rice Marching Owl Band (MOB), which describes itself as the university’s “infamously irreverent non-marching marching band,” took a shot at Baylor’s LGBTQ stance Saturday with its esoteric halftime show.

The band formed the outline of a Bear, performed a Star Wars-like lightsaber battle, then ended its routine by spelling out the word “Pride” while students holding rainbow flags joined in and the band played "YMCA" by the Village People. Baylor has been in the news this year for its denial of a charter for LGBTQ student groups, as it “affirms the biblical understanding of sexuality,” according to an official university statement.

Moving on to click-bait land.

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On not sweating due to evangelicalism's 526th death rattle (as discussed in The Atlantic)

On not sweating due to evangelicalism's 526th death rattle (as discussed in The Atlantic)

G.K. Chesterton wrote in The Everlasting Man  (1925): “At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and the Albigensian, with the Humanist sceptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.”

No two sentences better capture my response each time there’s a new essay about evangelicalism facing a new life-threatening crisis, or a report about a trendy ex-evangelical counting evangelicalism as unworthy of allegiance or a former official from either Bush administration who has been sent around the bend by a Donald Trump tweet.

For the sake of clarity: I do not consider evangelicalism the sum total of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. As Alan Jacobs writes in his new essay for The Atlantic, “Evangelical Has Lost Its Meaning,” tthe nondenominational force identified as “evangelicalism” is a “complex and fluid movement dedicated to the renewal of Christianity, largely among Protestants, though its efforts have occasionally reached into Catholicism.”

Jacobs in in pain, and I sympathize, but not enough to share that pain. Writing in The Atlantic, Jacobs grieves what he discerns as evangelicalism’s deep cultural captivity:

By now, God-and-Country believers are so accustomed to voting Republican — and to being disdained or mocked by Democrats — that few of them can remember doing anything else. And God-and-Country Believers are what most Americans, whether religious or not, now think that evangelicals are.

Those white evangelicals who voted for Trump? They and only they are the true evangelicals, no matter what shelves of church-history books say.

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