Ten Commendments

More questions about demographics: Who bothers to remember the Sabbath, these days?

More questions about demographics: Who bothers to remember the Sabbath, these days?

Longtime GetReligion readers know that I have always been interested in demographic questions and their impact on religious life in America and around the world. As the old saying goes, "Demographics are destiny." I have been known, from time to time, to add another "D" into that equation, producing something like, "Doctrine and demographics are destiny."

Say what? All I am saying is that you can often see connections between what people believe, in terms of doctrine, and the size and shape of their families and religious communities. Why do some parishes have more children (and priests) than others? Why is Orthodox Judaism growing in many cities while liberal forms of the faith are not?

These kinds of questions were at the heart of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), which centered on a few statistics in a new poll commissioned by the national edition of The Deseret News. While one poll is never definitive, there were numbers in this one that stood out for me, raising questions I explored this week in my "On Religion" column for the Universal syndicate.

In particular, I was interested in what might be evidence of a change in one of the most stable religion statistics in the American marketplace. That led to this overture:

In the days after Sept. 11, 2001, many news reports claimed that stunned Americans were seeking solace in sanctuary pews and in private rites of faith.
But then the Gallup Poll came out, with its familiar question asking if people had recently attended worship services. The number who had, which has hovered between 38 percent and the low 40s for a generation or two, had risen to 47 percent -- a marginal increase. By mid-November, the Gallup number returned to 42 percent.

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Gee whiz! American media shelve one of the Ten Commandments

Gee whiz!  American media shelve one of the Ten Commandments

The Bible’s celebrated Ten Commandments are back in the news yet again, as Oklahoma’s Supreme Court orders removal of a monument reproducing them from the state capitol. and legislators piously order up a referendum on whether citizens want to restore the words by removing a church-state separation clause from the state constitution.

Recall the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court head-scratcher that upheld a Ten Commandments display in Texas while outlawing another one in Kentucky? Not to mention that the justices’ own courtroom displays a frieze of Moses as the lawgiver holding the sacred tablets. (Muslims have asked the Court to sandblast away the similar frieze honoring Muhammad because their religion forbids visual representations of the Prophet.)

All very confusing.

Separationists protest that the early commandments require reverence toward God, a strictly religious matter, before the Decalogue turns to corrosive temporal deeds like adultery, murder, thievery, deceit, and envy. Perhaps Five Commandments would pass secular scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the American media are playing an interesting role in the commandments contretemps. By both carelessness and calculation, they have consistently undermined one tenet as though there are only Nine Commandments. Is the Religion Guy irredeemably old-fashioned to point out this one?

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Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

BRAD’S QUESTION:

Why don’t Catholics have a problem with the graven images that surround them in church?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Brad is obviously Protestant in his cultural outlook. That is, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches encourage religious art in church, seen as aids to devotion.

Protestants’ policies vary (as on most things!) but they broadly unite with Judaism in limiting visual images in worship settings to avoid any association with idolatry. Some Protestants prohibit all art in sanctuaries. Others allow abstractions and symbols but not human or animal forms. Some may depict Jesus Christ or saints, typically in stained glass, rarely in statues, and never as the objects of veneration. Further, some forbid flags in church to prevent idolatry toward the nation.

The discussion begins with this from the Bible’s venerable Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8 and summarized elsewhere, e.g. Leviticus 16:1). “Graven image” means a stature or carving, while “any likeness” covers any and all visual representations.

Jewish scholars say the ban applies to art only in worship contexts due to the “bow down” and “serve” phrasing along with the immediately preceding statement that “you shall have no other gods before me.”

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Beating a Dead Sea horse: Seeking intellectual diversity at The New York Times

Beating a Dead Sea horse: Seeking intellectual diversity at The New York Times

Once again, let's return to the pages of that famous -- some would say infamous -- 2005 self-study done of The New York Times entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust," which followed one of that newsroom's most spectacular series of editorial disasters, ever.

Toward the end of its report, the "Credibility Group" tip-toed into a crucial minefield, asking if the world's most prestigious newsroom had focused on many different kinds of diversity -- except for intellectual and cultural diversity (which are rather crucial forms of diversity, if you stop and think about it).

What does this have to do with Moses? Wait for it.

People who care about what happens at The New York Times -- which mean anyone who cares about journalism and public discourse in America -- will remember some of the following summary quotes, including this one with obvious relevance to GetReligion:

Our news coverage needs to embrace unorthodox views and contrarian opinions and to portray lives both more radical and more conservative than those most of us experience. We need to listen carefully to colleagues who are at home in realms that are not familiar to most of us.
We should increase our coverage of religion in America and focus on new ways to give it greater attention, such as expanding the Saturday report beyond the religion column.

In other words, cultural diversity matters and can affect crucial news beats -- with religion being the most obvious.

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