Looking back on God’s ‘death’

Anyone who spends time in the world of religious ideas hears an occasional reference to the Time magazine you’re looking at.

1101660408_400.jpgIt was 1966 and Time’s cover famously asked “Is God Dead?”

The long article that followed summarized the ideas of numerous theologians who believed that the religious flame was flickering.

The article noted: “Part of the Christian mood today, suggests Christian Atheist William Hamilton, is that faith has become not a possession but a hope.”

I went back recently to the article after reading that Bill Hamilton, the “Christian atheist,” was ailing.

Nancy Haught of Religion News Service visited him at his Portland, Ore., home, where Hamilton, now 83, still lives in a post-God world, sort of. She writes:

He remains a Christian who doesn’t go to church. And faced with his own mortality, he doesn’t think much about God anymore, except when asked.

“The death of God enabled me to understand the world. Looking back, I wouldn’t have gone any other direction. I faced all my worries and questions about death long ago.”

I also came across this interesting profile of Hamilton from the Christian Century, circa 1989.

These days, the TIME magazine story is usually brought up to illustrate a mistake in thinking about God. As in “Look at how religious Americans are…” or “Religion is flourishing around the world…”

But in the last year or two, the article is often cited as a stepping stone for all the atheist authors on the best-seller lists.

Does PCUSA court decision advance ‘gay ordination’ debate?

Presbyterian Church (USA) is one of the mainline Protestant denominations that has been most shaken by debates over homosexuality.

For over a decade, traditionalists and progressives have been at rhetorical war over “Amendment B,” a church law that says that non-married clergy, elders and deacons must be chaste (eliminating non-chaste gays and lesbians from contention).

images1.jpegA good number of presbyteries (the diocese-like, regional bodies of the denomination) have ignored the law. The Hudson River Presbytery, which includes West/Rock/Put and counties further north, is among them.

But now the denomination’s high court has ruled that church bodies cannot simply ignore church laws they disagree with.

In the case, which comes from Pittsburgh, the court said:

It would be an obstruction of constitutional governance to permit examining
bodies to ignore or waive a specific standard that has been adopted by the whole church, such as the “fidelity and chastity� portion of G-6.0106b, or any other similarly specific provision.

But the court also says that it is the responsibility of the presbytery to consider an individual’s qualifications for office:

The ordaining body must examine the candidate individually. The examining body is best suited to make decisions about the candidate’s fitness for office, and factual determinations by examining bodies are entitled to deference by higher governing bodies in any review process.

To see the decision, go here and click on decision 218-10 (Randall Bush, etc.).

So where does this leave things? Traditionalists, like those behind the conservative Presbyterian Layman, will claim victory. But those who have ignored the “fidelity and chastity” amendment will likely continue to find reason to do so.

Religious figures react to animal mistreatment

I’ve been meaning for some time to write something about vegetarians and other animal advocates who operate, at least in part, from a position of faith.

I just haven’t gotten to it.

But I can mention that a small number of religious figures have reacted to the big beef recall — a result of an undercover video from the Humane Society that showed the mistreatment of crippled and sick animals at a California slaughterhouse.

Here’s one example, from the Rev. Dale Kelley of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Alaska:

Watching your video on the incredibly cruel treatment of beef cattle breaks the heart, breaks the spirit and breaks any resistance to working for change. It is truly outrageous how the whole factory farming industry (of all meat animals) is wreaking intense—almost seemingly purposeful—cruelty beyond most people’s ability to even comprehend!

Truly this is NOT how God intended humankind to treat the other creatures with whom we share this planet—and on whom we depend for so much, even beyond food! God obviously loved these beings enough to create them for his/her pleasure from the very beginning. If we want to talk about “sin” in this world, this wanton cruelty nears the very top of the list! Repentance and forsaking such sin is the stuff of which forgiveness and new beginnings is all about!

Here’s the Humane Society video (via CNN, through YouTube):

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Catholic bishops take to YouTube

The NYS Catholic Conference has posted a YouTube video opposing legislation advanced by Gov. Spitzer that the group says would make abortion a “fundamental right,” like freedom of speech or religion.

The lengthy, 9-minute-and-change video, featuring Kathleen Gallagher, director of pro-life activities of the Catholic Conference, is a new approach for the group, which represents the Catholic bishops of New York state.

Here’s the video:

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A Ratzinger foil celebrated today in NYC

An interesting coincidence: Only weeks before Pope Benedict XVI is to visit New York, Union Theological Seminary in NYC is today inaugurating the theologian Paul Knitter as its Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture.

photo503.jpegKnitter, a former Catholic priest, is well known (and quite controversial) for his endorsement of religious pluralism. He won’t say that salvation must come through Christ.

In his 1985 book “No Other Name: A Critical Survey of Christian Attitudes Toward World Religions,” Knitter (that’s him) wrote:

The knowledge that is making religious pluralism a newly experienced reality is not just a knowledge of other religious systems or ideas. It is also, and especially, a knowledge of other religious persons. It is one thing to confront a religious truth in the abstract — on the printed page or in a classroom lecture; it is quite another to see it enfleshed in the life of a friend. That is what is happening in our shrinking world. Not only are ideas migrating, but so are persons. Our neighbors today might be not only Baptists or Jews, but Hindus or Muslims.

Not surprisingly, the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger disagreed. In his 2004 book, “Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions,” the future pope sharply critiqued the views of Knitter and others.

Writing about Knitter, Ratzinger says:

Yet one thing is clear: the relativist theories, without exception, lead to what is binding upon no one and thus render themselves superfluous; or, on the other hand, they suggest absolute standards in the realm of practice, where in fact absolutes can have no place.

Knitter will get the seminary chair at a 6 p.m. ceremony. According to a seminary release: “Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic and Native American faith traditions will add to the richness and vibrancy of the inauguration ceremony, where Knitter will emphasize the pressing need for the world’s religions to demonstrate that they can be greater instruments of peace than of violence.”

Union Theological Seminary is a key intellectual center for the liberal mainline Protestant world.

You can hear tonight’s ceremony on the seminary website.

Our ‘pope page’

I’m still trying to get used to hearing my voice, but…

LoHud’s “pope page” is up.

popelogo.jpgI’ve spent the past few weeks working on a webpage about Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the states. If you click over, you can see several videos that photographer Mark Vergari and I have made — an “introduction” to the papal visit, a look at Benedict’s life story, a visit to St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers.

Mark and I also spent some time talking about our experiences covering John Paul II.

There are several other features as well that I think are pretty good, such as a list of significant quotations from Ratzinger/Benedict’s speeches and writings over the years. I spent quite a lot of time reading his books and speeches in order to pull out some highlights…

There’s also a pretty neat graphic comparison of John Paul and Benedict by graphic artist Chris Brown.

And you can add your own photos from John Paul’s visits or your own trips to the Vatican.

We’ll be adding plenty of material over the coming weeks.

But, boy, it is hard getting used to hearing my nasal voice…

Two congregations head back to the Gulf

Just about a year ago, I wrote about 53 people from Dobbs Ferry Lutheran Church, Woodlands Community Temple in Greenburgh, Emanuel Lutheran in Pleasantville, and St. Paul’s Lutheran in New City returning from a trip to the Gulf Coast.

They spent a week in Ocean Springs, Miss., helping people nail their lives back together.

tjndc5-5dr0tb524k9q6z2j818_layout.jpgThey painted, put up sheetrock, tore down old, ruined stuff and did whatever they could to help people come back, just a bit, from Hurricane Katrina. That’s them at work last year.

Pete Jones, a member of the vestry at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ocean Springs, told me that the New York contingent had really made a difference.

But they didn’t get enough.

Two days from now, about two dozen members of Woodlands Temple and Dobbs Ferry Lutheran are heading back to the Gulf for more grime and good works.

“We, as members of America’s faith community, need to help get these folks back into their homes,â€? said Rabbi Billy Dreskin of Woodlands Temple. “Jewish teaching has always pointed unarguably in the direction of helping others in need,â€? he continued, “ and our congregation is proud and honored to be among those doing so.â€?

The future (Orthodox) Jewish leadership

If you broke down the leadership of most American Jewish groups, you would certainly find more Conservative and Reform Jews than Orthodox.

The Orthodox world generally has its own infrastructure, which is sort of connected to but separate from the larger communal Jewish universe.

But this may well change.

According to an article in JewishJournal.com about the growing gulf between Orthodox Jews and everyone else:

Orthodox Jews now account for about 9 percent of Jews who affiliate with a synagogue, but they comprise 17 percent of the affiliated population aged 19-25. About 228,000 Orthodox Jews are younger than 18, compared to 155,000 Conservative and 190,000 Reform — Orthodox children, in other words, make up 38 percent of the younger cohort.

stevenbayme.jpegSteven Bayme, the director of the American Jewish Committee’s Department of Contemporary Jewish Life (that’s him), added this:

If you are looking at the next generation of who will be Jewish leaders, in the year 2050, if you are looking at who is going to be sufficiently concerned about Jewish community and Jewish peoplehood activities, one sociologist suggests that 50 percent of that universe of people concerned with Jewish life may be Orthodox.

The article focuses on the AJC’s 2007 Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion. The AJC leadership feels that there is a growing divide between Orthodoxy and other Jews.

One example: 69% of Orthodox Jews say they feel “very close” to Israel, compared to 29% of Conservative Jews and 22% of Reform folks.

Conservative Christians still looking

Can conservative evangelicals live with John McCain as their guy?

The answer, right now, seems to be a lukewarm “maybe.”

tjndc5-5iqdv218s7o15mmqkajz_layout.jpgAn operation called GodTalk.com says that its online poll shows that “Christian conservatives” prefer Barack Obama to McCain (26.3% of the vote to 9.1%).

And the AP’s Eric Gorski is reporting that a Christian activist who was rallying the troops to support a third party candidate if Rudy Giuliani got the GOP nod is taking another look at the idea.

“I’ll be working in other ways to see that we have additional choices as conservatives,� said Bob Fischer, an anti-abortion activist from South Dakota who called a much-publicized meeting of Christian conservative leaders last fall when Rudy (remember him?) was leading the polls.

Here’s the story:

The same conservative Christian activist who called a meeting last fall to discuss backing a third-party candidate to counter a possible Rudy Giuliani candidacy is revisiting the idea as Sen. John McCain closes in on the Republican presidential nomination. Continue reading

Can the swastika be funny?

What funnier subject for a book of cartoons is there than the…swastika?

c_1416556400.jpgCartoonist Sam Gross has just published We Have Ways of Making You Laugh: 120 Funny Swastika Cartoons.

The Jewish Week looks at whether it is appropriate to even make fun of the Nazi symbol.

The book “trivializes [survivors’] history. It traumatizes people,” said the writer Thane Rosenbaum.

Of course, Mel Brooks has done pretty well with making fun of Hitler in The Producers