Why did he stab the cabbie?

The story of Michael Enright, the Putnam County guy who allegedly stabbed a Muslim cab driver yesterday, will draw national attention for some time.

At least until we have some idea why he did it.

The cabbie, Ahmed H. Sharif, has made clear that he believes he was stabbed because he is a Muslim.

Just got a press release announcing that a coalition of Muslim groups on Monday at the National Press Club in D.C. will release a “public service announcement” that responds to the Great Mosque Controversy and the cabbie stabbing.

It says: “The PSA will showcase American Muslims of diverse ages and backgrounds responding to the fears and concerns many Americans may have about Islam and Muslims.”

The producer of the PSA, a fellow by the name of David Hawa, says: “I think people need to hear from the average American Muslim about who we are and where we stand. This PSA will give me and other American Muslims the opportunity to talk directly to the American public –  free of any fear that politics or agendas are driving the discussion.”

Two other “Islam-related” notes:

1. In case you missed it, while I was on vacation, the Pew Forum released a poll showing that 18 percent of Americans believe President Obama is a Muslim. Only 34 percent of adults say he is a Christian.

Wow.

From the release:

*****

According to the survey, nearly one-in-five Americans (18%) now say Obama is a Muslim — an increase from 11% in March 2009. Only about one-third of adults (34%) say Obama is a Christian, a sharp decrease from 48% in 2009. Fully 43% say they do not know what Obama’s religion is. The survey was completed in early August, before Obama’s recent comments about the proposed construction of a mosque near the site of the former World Trade Center.

The belief that Obama is a Muslim has increased most sharply among Republicans (up 14 points since 2009), especially conservative Republicans (up 16 points). But the number of independents who say Obama is a Muslim has also increased significantly (up eight points). There has been little change in the number of Democrats who say Obama is a Muslim, but fewer Democrats today say he is a Christian (down nine points since 2009).

*****

2. Politico has a story about a group of American imams visiting the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps.

The group stopped to pray at Dachau. An organizer said: “All of the tourists stopped in their tracks. I don’t think anyone has ever seen anything like it.”

Photo: (New York Taxi Worker Alliance)

Forgetting the flames

Do you believe in hell?

Fifty nine percent of Americans do, according to a poll by the Pew Forum. But 74 percent believe in heaven.

In 2001, 71 percent believed in hell, according to a Gallup poll back then.

What explains the drop in hell belief? I have no idea.

A recent article on the phenomenon by my friend Charles Honey for Religion News Service included this:

*****

It was easier to believe in hell 20 years ago when missionaries tried to convert people in far-flung places, (Mike) Wittmer (professor of systematic theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary) says. In today’s global village, many live next to good, non-Christian neighbors and wonder why an all-powerful, loving God wouldn’t eventually empty out hell, Wittmer says.

“I’ve noticed in the last five years how that view is making inroads even in conservative churches, whereas five years ago it wasn’t even uttered or discussed,” he adds.

Americans’ optimism and tolerance for diversity complements a growing view of God as benevolent, not judgmental, other experts say.

“They believe everyone has an equal chance, at this life and the next,” said Alan Segal, a professor of religion at Barnard College and the author of “Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion.”

“So hell is disappearing, absolutely.”

*****

Another RNS article asked pastors how they teach about hell these days.

Here’s a snippet:

*****
“I think it’s such a difficult and important biblical topic,” said Kurt Selles, director of the Global Center at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. “There’s a big change that’s taken place as far as evangelicals not wanting to be as exclusive.”

At the recent annual Beeson Pastors School, Selles led two workshops to discuss “Whatever happened to hell?” He asked how many of the pastors had ever preached a sermon on hell. Nobody had, he said.

“I think it’s something people want to avoid,” he said. “I understand why. It’s a difficult topic.”

Catching up after a week ‘away’

I’m back from my week-long furlough.

It’s always good to get some down time (but it’s better with a paycheck).

I’ve gone through my 1,088 new emails and am ready, I think, to refocus on religion news.

What did I miss?

Over in Connecticut, a bizarre bill that would have changed the structure of Catholic parishes apparently caused quite a stir before dying a quick death.

The idea was to force Catholic parishes to be financially accountable by forcing pastors to report to boards of directors.

The authors of the bill must have missed those lessons in grade school, high school and college about the Constitution. They might want to take a peek at the document at some point in their political careers, no?

Anyway, thousands of Connecticut Catholics rallied in Hartford to oppose the bill, which was quickly pulled. (ADD: A reader notes that the bill could be revived at some point.)

What else?

Cardinal Egan, in a radio interview, suggested that the Catholic Church might consider opening the priesthood to married men. “I think it has to be looked at,” he said.

Huh?

Apparently, Egan has been influenced by the lack of vocations to the priesthood in New York. Okay, but isn’t this a strange time to be bringing up such a weighty matter that has long been debated by lay Catholics?

Interesting that Egan noted that priests in the Eastern Catholic churches are allowed to be married. I’ve heard this argument made countless times by “progressive” Catholics. Now I can only wonder if Egan, in the waning days of his tenure, will follow up his radio interview with a more elaborate explanation of his position on this much-debated question (check out some of the comments on this David Gibson blog post).

What else?

The Pew Forum finds that church attendance has NOT increased during the recession.

And the recession continues. St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in White Plains has had to evict a food pantry after 27 years. The church is running a deficit and needs to find a tenant who can pay.

I wrote my last FaithBeat column about a ministry at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Yorktown Heights that has been helping job seekers for 20 years. I went to a meeting attended by some 50 people who are out of work.

On a happier note, tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day.

Cardinal Egan will get a send-off of sorts, as he waves to parade-goers from the steps of St. Patrick’s for the last time as archbishop.

And the parade will be dedicated to the Sisters of Charity, who are celebrating their 200th anniversary of serving New York’s poor.

Are you a theistic evolutionist?

Yes, Darwin’s 200th birthday has passed, but the “conflict” between faith and science has not (I’m pretty sure).

I wrote my FaithBeat column Saturday about the easy-to-miss phenomenon of religious folks embracing, or at least acknowledging, the theory of evolution. Of course, we should all know that this is the case, but science-deniers and God-deniers get a disproportionate amount of attention, don’t they?

I should note that the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has a good overview on the history and current status of the Big Conflict. They even have a glossary of terms, which includes:

*****

Social Darwinism – A belief that Darwin’s evolutionary theory can be applied to human society and that groups of people, just like life in the wild, are subject to “survival of the fittest.” The now discredited idea influenced many social theories and movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, from laissez-faire capitalism to various eugenics movements.

*****

Additionally, religion writer Mark Pinsky has a great story in the Harvard Divinity Bulletin about evangelical Christian scientists who embrace what he calls theistic evolution — “a God-created, billions-years-old universe.”

And some evangelicals, he writes, are embracing a form of environmentalism called — are you ready? — creation care.

Pinsky writes:

What happens in the minds of evangelical researchers who may find their religious faith and the scientific method in conflict? Some, like John Polkinghorne, a particle physicist, dismiss the question, saying, where research is concerned, there is no connection between his science and his faith. “I can’t tell the difference in research in physics done by a religious believer and that done by an atheist.” But he added, “If you see the world as a divine creation, that’s a further motive to explore its order.”

Thanks to USA TODAY’S Cathy Lynn Grossman for making me aware of Mark’s article.