Did a ‘faith instinct’ help humankind survive?

The notion that we are hard-wired to have faith has gotten a lot of mileage the past few years.

It’s the melding of faith and science into one, big…something.

thumbs_headshotNYT science writer Nicholas Wade, who writes often on evolution, has a new book called The Faith Instinct that makes that case that natural selection — the bane of many people of faith — has actually fostered the religious impulse.

He’ll speak next Monday (Dec. 7) at St. Theresa’s Roman Catholic Church in Briarcliff Manor. I have lauded the church’s speaker series many times.

Wade will speak at 7:30 p.m. Free and open to all. He replaces, by the way, Jonathan Alter, who will be rescheduled next year.

A description of the book from Wades’ website looks like this:


The Faith Instinct presents a novel approach to religion. It explores the evolutionary origins of religious behavior in early humans, and traces the cultural development of religion from its origins up until to the present day.

The book does not challenge the central belief of either atheists or people of faith, since it offers no opinion as to whether or not God exists. It’s about religious behavior and its value to the first human societies and their successors.

Based on evidence from anthropologists’ studies of religion, and new findings from genetics and archaeology, The Faith Instinct concludes that religious behavior was favored by natural selection because of the survival advantage it conferred on early human groups.

The religion of early peoples, who lived as hunters and gatherers, underwent a profound cultural transformation as the hunter gatherers formed the first settled societies. The form of religious observance shifted from all-night communal dances, to the spring and harvest festivals of early agricultural societies, to the forms of religion more familiar today. The Faith Instinct retraces the historical context in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam arose, and analyzes how religion has retained many of its ancient roles even in modern secular societies.

Maine’s gay-marriage vote was a national Catholic fight

Fifty Catholic dioceses contributed money to the Diocese of Portland, Maine, to aid its fight against a gay marriage law.

It worked. The law was wiped off the books by voters in a Nov. 3 referendum, 53% to 47%.

According to National Catholic Reporter and the Portland Press Herald, financial records from the state of Maine show that the 50 dioceses contributed over $550,000.

Overall, some $7 million was raised by both sides in an all-out dogfight over gay marriage.

The Portland Diocese contributed $286,000 to Stand For Marriage Maine, that group that was seeking to repeal the same-sex law. NCR writes:


After Portland, Maine, the largest diocesan contributors were the Philadelphia archdiocese and Phoenix diocese, each giving $50,000. The sees of Newark, N.J., St. Louis, Mo., and Youngstown, Ohio, each contributed $10,000. The Diocesan Assistance Fund of Providence, R.I., gave $10,000.00.

Contributing $5,000 were the dioceses of Arlington, Va., Rockford, Ill., Crookston, Minn., and Pittsburgh, Pa. The Roman Catholic Foundation in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Inc. donated $2,500.

Contributing $2,000 were the diocese of Portland, Ore., Jefferson City, Mo., Savannah, Ga., and the archdiocese of New Orleans.


Many more kicked in $1,000 or $500.

bishopmalonePortland Bishop Richard Malone sent an appeal for help during the summer to his fellow bishops across the country.

Donna Farrell, spokeswoman for the Arch of Philadelphia, told NCR why her archdiocese sent aid up to Portland: “As part of the universal church, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia responds to various requests for donations which come from outside the diocese, in order to advance the mission of the church by promoting and defending the teaching of Christ.”

Christmas fun just ‘secular’ for some interfaith families

How’s this for a new spin on the “December dilemma” that faces interfaith families at holiday time?

More Christian-Jewish interfaith families that are raising their children Jewish are choosing to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday, according to an annual survey from InterfaithFamily.com.

christmas_tree_75Edmund Case, CEO of InterfaithFamily.com, says: “We are seeing an increasing normalization of interfaith couples raising Jewish children and participating in Christmas. But these families by very large measure see their Christmas celebrations as entirely secular in nature and not confusing to their children’s Jewish identity.”

Of interfaith families raising children Jewish who were surveyed, all plan to celebrate Hanukkah at home and 48% plan to celebrate Christmas at home. 79% plan to celebrate Christmas at the home of a relative.

81% of families said they believe that their Christmas celebrations do not affect their children’s Jewish identity.

A press release notes: “Some observers of intermarriage have cast a skeptical eye on interfaith families raising Jewish children participating in Christmas activities, arguing that interfaith families can’t impart a strong Jewish identity to their children and celebrate Christmas. The results of InterfaithFamily.com’s surveys suggest that they are doing so.”

‘Under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s’

Just checking in after finally crawling out of my sick bed.

I’ve had something — Swine flu? — since Thursday. Whatever it is, don’t get it.

I don’t have any idea what’s been going on, but a few emails about the Manhattan Declaration caught my attention.

Looks like it could open a new round of the Culture Wars.

It’s a no-sense, strongly worded statement from Catholic, Orthodox and evangelical leaders that basically says they will give no ground when it comes to abortion, marriage and religious liberty.

The statement urges nothing less than civil disobedience if it comes to that.

You should read it for yourself. But here’s a piece:


Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense. In this declaration we affirm: 1) the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of every human being as a creature fashioned in the very image of God, possessing inherent rights of equal dignity and life; 2) marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, ordained by God from the creation, and historically understood by believers and non­believers alike, to be the most basic institution in society and; 3) religious liberty, which is grounded in the character of God, the example of Christ, and the inherent freedom and dignity of human beings created in the divine image.

We are Christians who have joined together across historic lines of ecclesial differences to affirm our right—and, more importantly, to embrace our obligation—to speak and act in defense of these truths. We pledge to each other, and to our fellow believers, that no power on earth, be it cultural or political, will intimidate us into silence or acquiescence. It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season. May God help us not to fail in that duty.


And here’s the sword-waving close:


Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo­destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti­life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

Religious leaders in support of gay marriage: The list

The Empire State Pride Agenda has released a list of more than 700 clergy and lay leaders who support gay marriage in New York.

They divided the list by region: Buffalo, Albany, Central NY, Hudson Valley and the Catskills, Long Island, NYC and Rochester/Finger Lakes.

Since they went through the trouble, here are the signees from the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, who seem to include a lot of folks from around here (the statement they signed says “We, the undersigned, urge the New York State Legislature to protect families in New York State by extending marriage to same-sex couples”):

Hudson Valley & Catskills

The Rev. Patricia Ackerman, Episcopal, Nyack
The Rev. Paul Alcorn, Bedford Presbyterian Church, Bedford
Seminarian Christina Jean Alexis, West Center Congregational Church, Bronxville
Helen F. Andrew, Memorial United Methodist Church, Sleepy Hollow
Leonard Andrew, Memorial United Methodist Church, Sleepy Hollow
Cantor Dana Anesi, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, Chappaqua
Jean-Marie Angelo, Grace Episcopal Church, Mount Vernon
The Rev. Janet L. Avery, Metropolitan Community Church of the Hudson Valley
The Rev. Raymond J. Bagnuolo, Palisades Presbyterian Church, White Plains
The Rev. Edwin D. Baker, Retired, Episcopal, Croton Falls
The Rev. John Barrett, United Church of Christ, Bronxville
Rev. Adam G. Bartholomew, Episcopal, Mount Vernon
Sharon A. Bellamy, Presbyterian, Amsterdam
Hirham Benmira, Presbyterian, Andes
John Bevacqua, Fourth Unitarian Society of Westchester, Mohegan Lake
Margaret E. Borgstede, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
Sandra Borowsky, Orangetown Jewish Center, New City
The Rev. Melissa Boyer Holt, United Methodist Church, Buchanan
Tracy Breneman-Pennas, Unitarian Universalist, Montrose
The Rev. David M. Bryce, First Unitarian Society of Westchester, Hastings-On-Hudson
Rabbi/Cantor Angela Buchdahl, Central Synagogue, Scarsdale
Rev. Karen Burger, United Methodist Church, Carmel
Susan M. Cabrera, King of Kings Lutheran Church, Montgomery
Archbishop Michael Champion, Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Buchanan
Dennis Chorpenning, Bronxville Methodist
Mark Clark, St. Francis Xavier Gay & Lesbian Ministry, Nyack
Frances Colombo, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
Rev. Gary D. Comstock, United Church of Christ, Woodstock
The Rev. Dale Cranston, Episcopal, Suffern
Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson, Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester, Chappaqua
Jason M. Davis, UU Northern Westchester, Chappaqua
The Rev. Susan G. De George, South Presbyterian Church of Dobbs Ferry
Rev. Peter Dennebaum, First Congregational Church, Chappaqua
Christopher J. DiGiorgio, St. John’s Episcopal Church of New Rochelle
Brother James Dowd, Episcopal, West Park
The Rev. Roderic Frohman, Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester
The Rev. Joseph H. Gilmore, South Presbyterian Church of Dobbs Ferry
Rabbi Andrew Gordon, Scarsdale Synagogue-Temples Tremont and Emanu-El
Kathy Green, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
The Rev. Harry C. Green, First Unitarian Society of Rockland County, Pomona
The Rev. Thomas Gregg, Pastor, West Charlton United Presbyterian Church, Amsterdam
The Rev. David Gregory, United Church of Christ, Middletown
George Hermann, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Larchmont
Rose Ann Hermann, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Larchmont
Rev. Anne Herscher, Methodist, Montgomery
The Rev. Rayner W. Hesse, Jr., St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
The Rev. Jean A. F. Holmes, Presbytery of Hudson River, New City
The Rev. Margaret E. Howland, Presbyterian, Yonkers
Rev. Thomas Hughart, Presbyterian, Bedford
Rabbi Jennifer Jaech, Temple Israel of Northen Westchester, Croton-On-Hudson
Chip James, Cherokee, Monroe
Debora J. Jordan, Fourth Unitarian Society of Westchester, Mohegan Lake
David J. Juhren, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
Paul L. Kerlee, Episcopal, Elmsford
Cantor Hayley Kobilinsky, Congregation B’nai Yisrael, Armonk
Leonora A. Kovacs, Church of The Messiah Rhinebeck
Rabbi Douglas Krantz, Congregation B’nai Yisrael, Armonk
Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, Poughkeepsie
Evelyn Lombardi, Episcopal, West Nyack
Linda Lott, Saint John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill, Orangetown Jewish Center, Orangeburg
The Rev. Richard R. McKeon, Zion Episcopal Church, Dobbs Ferry
Marsha Melnick, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Warwick
Carol Mencher, Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains
Susan E. Meyer, Congregation Beth Simchat Torah, Warwick
Rabbi Shira Milgrom, Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains
The Rev. Deb Morra, CSW, Community Unitarian Church at White Plains
The Rev. Daniel M. Morse, First Presbyterian, Middletown
Rabbi Benjamin Newman, Congregation M’vakshe Derekh, Scarsdale
Rev. Thomas Nicoll, St. John’s Church, Larchmont
Rev. James O’Hanlon, Lutheran, Mount Vernon
Rev. Katherine Herron Piazza, St. John’s Church, Larchmont
President Barbara Pollard, Reform Jewish Voice, Scarsdale
The Rev. Cheryl Renn, One Spirit Interfaith, Yonkers
The Rev. William Blake Rider, Christ Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie
Guy Robinson, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
Elizabeth B. Saenger, Jewish (Reform), Mamaroneck
Michael R. Sabatino, Jr., Zion Episcopal Church, Yonkers
Rev. Dawn Sangrey, Fourth Unitarian Society of Westchester
Rabbi David A. Schuck, Pelham Jewish Center
Barbara G. Selbst, Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains
The Rev. Angela M. Skinner, Presbyterian, Yorktown Heights
Rabbi Abigail N. Sosland, Solomon Schechter High School of Westchester
Father James F. Stewart, Benedictine Gronge, Harrison
The Rev. Mary Ellen Summerville, Asbury United Methodist Church, Tuckahoe
The Rev. William Taber, Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester
The Rev. Molly Blythe Teichert, The Presbyterian Church of Mount Kisco
Petra Thombs, Community Unitarian Universalist Church at White Plains
The Rev. Rachel Thompson, Bedford Presbyterian Church
The Rev. Dr. Michael Tino, Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Northern Westchester, Mount Kisco
Denice Tomlinson, Community Unitarian Universalist Church at White Plains
Susan Torres-Bender, Unitarian Universalist, Monroe
Rabbi Gordon Tucker, Temple Israel Center, White Plains
The Rev. Martha E. Vink, New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, Delhi
Rev. Terri Vitale, Interfaith, Mt. Vernon
Robert Voorheis, Zion Episcopal Church, Yonkers
The Rev. Kenneth L. Walsh, Reformed Church in America, Kingston
The Rev. Fr. John B. Warfel, Grace Episcopal Church, Middletown
Rabbi Tom Weiner, Congregation Kol Ami, White Plains
David Weiser, St. John’s Episcopal Church, New Rochelle
Rev. Norman D. White, Pastor, Lutheran, White Plains

Can a cathedral be a secular hall?

Is it okay for public schools to rent out a big Christian church for commencement ceremonies?

The ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State don’t think so.

the-first-cathedralThey’ve asked the Enfield (Conn.) public schools to stop holding graduation at The First Cathedral in Bloomfield, Conn. (north of Hartford), a 120,000-square-foot church that “is steeped in Christian symbols and iconography,” according to an ACLU release.

The ALCU has also reached out to four other public high schools in Connecticut that rent out the First Cathedral:  East Hartford High School, South Windsor High School, Windsor High School and the Metropolitan Learning Center Magnet School.

Many high schools have trouble finding facilities large enough for their graduations. These days, many schools limited the number of relatives each student can bring.

So it’s understandable that the First Cathedral is in demand. The church’s website has a whole page on renting the place.

So what’s the ALCU’s beef?

Daniel Mach, Director of Litigation at the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, says: “In our constitutional system, public schools should not be in the business of embracing particular faiths or religious viewpoints. The graduation ceremony is a significant event in the lives of students and their families, and no one should feel like a second-class participant during this important celebration.”

Also at the bishops conference…

As I mentioned in my Tastykakes post earlier today, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is meeting in Baltimore (where the Catholic Church got its start in the U.S.).

The agenda has to do with more than sweet cream (and whatever else Tastykakes are made of).

Cardinal George of Chicago (right), the president of the Bishops posse, opened the gathering yesterday by wondering what life would be like without ordained priests, according to Catholic News Service. He considered the possibility of more authority resting with professors, political leaders and therapists — and didn’t like the picture.

Catholic BishopsOf course, “the church would be deprived of the Eucharist, and her worship would be centered only on the praise and thanksgiving,” he lamented.

Today, the bishops celebrated their influence in keeping health-care reform legislation “abortion neutral.”

“It was a good example of how we as a conference can work together to have a positive influence on legislation,” said Bishop William F. Murphy (left) of Rockville Centre (Long Island) in a report to fellow bishops.

At Cardinal George’s request, the bishops applauded in unison to show their support for Murphy’s statement, according to CNS.

George said the conference would “remain vigilant and involved throughout this entire process to assure that these essential provisions are maintained and included in the final legislation…We will work to persuade the Senate to follow the example of the House and include these critical safeguards in their version of health care reform legislation.”

Interestingly, the left-leaning/progressive National Catholic Reporter reported that George, in his opening address, talked about the need for Catholic colleges, publications and other organizations to more closely align themselves with the bishops’ leadership. He said that Catholic groups that do not do so are “sectarian, less than fully Catholic,” and talked about the bishops strengthening their relationship with Catholic universities and media.

NCR reports that George did not name specific Catholic media, colleges or  other organizations that he had in mind. But he said that “if any institution, including the media, calls itself Catholic,” it is the moral responsibility of a bishop to assure that it is Catholic.

There has been much talk in recent years, both from the Vatican and in the U.S., of Catholic colleges and universities strengthening their Catholic identities.

But how might the bishops reach out to independent Catholic media? NCR is probably itching to find out.

Also, the bishops affirmed today in a pastoral letter that  the church defines marriage as between one man and one woman — and that sex is meant for procreation.

(The bishop in the middle of the picture, by the way, is Archbishop George Niederauer, chair of the bishops’ communications committee.)

Photo: AP/Rob Carr

How many will he eat?

I fancy myself something of a snack cake connoisseur, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a Tastykake.

It is a regional Philadelphia-based snack cake, of several varieties.

Which is why Philadelphia’s Cardinal Justin Rigali bet a box of them in his World Series wager with Archbishop Dolan (who promised bagels and cream cheese).

As this picture shows, Rigali paid up this week at the big meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in Baltimore.


The “kakes” look like this:


Top photo: USCCB

There’s something about Thanksgiving

Tis the season for interfaith get-togethers.

Around Thanksgiving, numerous local groups pull together people from different faiths for a few prayers and snacks. You usually get mostly mainline Protestants and Jews, with a smattering of Catholics and Orthodox Christians and a Muslim or two.

At least that’s the mix in the NY burbs.

The Westchester chapter of the American Jewish Committee will hold its regular Thanksgiving Diversity Breakfast on Thursday at Manhattanville College. This is a unique event, as participants will take turns reading aloud from a special “reader” written by the AJC, which tells the story of how immigrants from many cultures come to the U.S. to share our special freedoms.

I’ve been to several of the breakfasts and it can be a moving experience.

This year, the breakfast will honor Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson of Temple Beth-El of Northern Westchester and Reverend Paul S. Briggs of the Antioch Baptist Church in Bedford Hills, both of whom are very active in interfaith work in their community.

The Peekskill Area Pastors Association will host an inter-religious service next Sunday (Nov. 22) at 5 p.m. at the St. Columbanus Church, 122 Oregon Road, in Cortlandt Manor.

And there will be many others (which I’m sure I will hear about after I post this).