According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Snippets of Thoughts - Uncertainty and Doubt





UNCERTAINTY

For those living in a Christian faith full of doubt and uncertainty please know this is ok. The essence of faith in many cases is simply not knowing, not being sure. It affords the disbeliever (or unbeliever) time to look around, investigate, pray, worship, cry out, ache, share a broken heart with God, or simply learn to live in a new spiritual tension that doesn't require answers from God but perhaps better questions from us.

Too many Christians, it seems, require certainty and absolutes to assure their faith. When done it becomes a closed faith living with static pictures of an unseen, fantasy world. But doubt and uncertainty can be good things. These elements demand an openness to the hard questions of life which may never be answered as fully as we wish. It allows us to breathe again while paradoxically finding reassurance in the face of not knowing.

If we turn to the Scriptures many of the biblical figures we read of were led by God through a difficult time of personal unknowing, uncertain, even a doubting faith. A kind of faith which must allow for uncertainty while believing (or trusting) God enough to keep pressing forward.

It is said wisdom comes through experience. Faith then, is like wisdom. It needs "travel time in our lives" in order for it to take root.

R.E. Slater
March 24, 2016





Snippets of Thoughts - Evolution





EVOLUTION

For those still struggling with the topic of creational evolution below will be found some current conversations and reflections on evolution and the bible from many of the authors we have quoted or have read here at Relevancy22 through a recently published book.

For myself, it's a no-brainer. I've already crossed over to the dark side. There are no doubts, no regrets, no losses. Curiously, the only major thing that did happen - besides horrifying my friends and family to the point that they believe me to have lost my faith... ("I did not") was that I discovered a much larger God. A God whom I couldn't define, systematize, place in a theological box, or presume to know the indefatigable One of deep mystery, love, and redemption.

As a result, along the right side of my blog site here are topical listings of subjects. Scrolling down to the "Science section" will discover several hundreds of articles on biblical evolution. There is also an excellent series conducted by Peter Enns who interviewed many of his friends and acquaintances on when the "faith of their youth grew up" when they could no longer look at the bible as they once did through fundamental or evangelical interpretations. The link to these interviews can be found here (21 in all if I remember right) - "Faith Transitions - aha Moments" in Scholars lives.

The latest book below does something similar along the lines of exploring evolution over against a depiction of the bible as teaching "instantaneous creation" [known by several names such as Intelligent Design, Young Earth Creation (YEC), or Old Earth Creation]. For many Christians they receive their direction of Scripture from the pulpits of the church, but for those who really yearn to make creationism even more real through denial of evolution and misinterpretation of the mythology of creation (Gen 1-11, which includes the Great Flood) than creational apologeticist Ken Ham has several biblical theme parks to be explored to resettle any uncertainty. One is built upon the Intelligent Design Concept and the other - not too far away - can be found in a Noah's Ark theme park (currently being built as of this date) to shore up the lagging faith of the literal bible (flat-earth) reading crowd.

Of course, there are also the big budget movies one might consume in living technicolor depicting what the created world, or Egypt, or Jesus, might have looked liked or gone through in their day. Or, like me, you could wander into the Royale Tyrrell Dinosaur Museum in Alberta, Canada, and walk through the massive exhibits amazed at the many real (not casted) acres of dinosaur skeletons while listening to a pre-Cambrian show of how all this came together.


Now, not that I would turn down a good ice cream cone or a gooey coney dog at a biblical theme park. Nor enjoy any less the fellowship of my blessed, more-fundamentally-minded, brethren seeking solace and encouragement through Ken Ham's 3D theme park efforts. But, the reality is, there is no contest or question about cosmological, geological, or biological evolution. It just is. You may pay your money to the theme parks, buy the books against evolution, and go see exhibits, and discussions with your bible study group, but no amount of posturing can deny the scientific veracity of evolution. And it is ridiculous to try despite the efforts of many.

Why? Because once you cross this "artificial" chasm between the bible and God your faith becomes larger than one can ever imagine. Rather than losing your faith to Darwin, you may join with Darwin and many other Christian scientists working alongside scientists of every persuasion. The bible comes more alive, the standard pat answers of our previous theology blows up and must be reworked, and a wonderful element of faith comes into our lives helping us to see people all around us again (the church's mission field of ministry to all). People needing our loving care, service, and help, rather than being bludgeoned with (correct) knowledge first and (church-sanctioned) works later.

As of today, can we say that evolution has ended? Nope. It always is. And it is continuing apace as our species works very hard at bringing about another major extinction event in an era begun to be described as the Anthropocene Age. An age caused by the industrial use of fossil fuels along with their harmful affects on the earth. How do these fossil fuels harm the earth? They create an overproduction of CO2 gas which has warmed up the planet 10X beyond the last extinction event, thus changing the currents in the air, the oceans, the salinity of the salt water, the melting of all earth's glaciers, the loss of animal species, the loss of rangeland for those species to thrive, and overall affected climate change itself.

However, when we're all dead and gone guess what? Somehow life will live on. The atmosphere may be toxic but no matter. Evolutionary theory says "life will somehow survive." As example, the early earth was covered in noxious methane gases. Bacterias of every form thrived in this gaseous environment, both on land and in the primordial oceans. And then something strange happened. The earth changed the way it behaved and over hundreds of millions of years a lethal gas known as oxygen became the dominant gas of life which drove the Cambrian Explosion. (I've got several articles on these subjects too if you google relevancy22 + "Cambrian explosion" or "primordial oxygen").

In conclusion, below is a new book recently released by Biologos, a Christian evolutionary website, which provides the stories of people searching for answers when confronted by science and wishing to take the bible and their faith seriously. It would be well worth the read for many churches. Peace.

R.E. Slater
March 24, 2016


http://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=5290



How I Changed My Mind About Evolution

Evangelicals Reflect on Faith and Science

BioLogos Books on Science and Christianity
Edited by Kathryn Applegate and J.B. Stump


Perhaps no topic appears as potentially threatening to evangelicals as evolution. The very idea seems to exclude God from the creation the book of Genesis celebrates.
Yet many evangelicals have come to accept the conclusions of science while still holding to a vigorous belief in God and the Bible. How did they make this journey? How did they come to embrace both evolution and faith?
Here are stories from a community of people who love Jesus and honor the authority of the Bible, but who also agree with what science says about the cosmos, our planet and the life that so abundantly fills it.
Among the contributors are
Scientists such as
  • Francis Collins
  • Deborah Haarsma
  • Denis Lamoureux
Pastors such as
  • John Ortberg
  • Ken Fong
  • Laura Truax
Biblical scholars such as
  • N. T. Wright
  • Scot McKnight
  • Tremper Longman III
Theologians and philosophers such as
  • James K. A. Smith
  • Amos Yong
  • Oliver Crisp


Friday, March 18, 2016

A Short History of Relevancy22: The Reason for Its Creation




I am reminded again of God's wonder and grace and of the difficulty the church has in grasping these deep truths of God's nature and message as I watch and listen to the 2015-2016 American presidential elections play out across the media soundstages. My heart truly aches to hear the orcish, rascist division rising from the pulpits of these "self-proclaimed leaders" of the United States denouncing the rights and liberties granted each American citizen under the United States Constitution and its first 10 Amendments knows as the Bill of Rights as many of these candidates speak of walls, wars, division, and economic ruin.

But it is not simply the speakers of these words that amaze me but the ready acceptance of the American evangelical church and its fellowships which so readily accept so many unwise and ungracious words. To me, it is the church that stands at fault for not discerning the harm these politicians do to unbinding the many decades of hurt and destruction America has endured or shown to others, whether domestic or internationally. The postmodern 21st century should have learned by now that if we wish to be different from the history of the past that watchwords like "love, togetherness, coalitions, cooperation, listening, respect, thoughtfulness" should be readily on our lips, hearts, hands, and feet. If not, we are doomed to repeat the ills and harms of the past (and probably worse) which have been amply demonstrated by the many brigand bands of thugs, oppressors, and madmen, so far these first several years since the start of the millennium.

About five years ago I began writing of the changes going on within the secularized, modern evangelical church and during this time decided to create a blog site named Relevancy22 designating it as a place where I might critique both my self and the (fundamental or conservative) evangelical doctrines I had learned and held so dearly to me. In essence, I wished to help today's evangelical church to distinguish its movement away from the orthodox gospel of Christ. To do this I used feedback from evangelical organizations associated with the magazine "Christianity Today" listening to their attitudes and interpretations of the bible to provide to me apt examples of what Christianity should not be doing in messaging the gospel of Christ to the world's many cultural movements. And yet, sadly, this year's political results have shown the truth I and others had feared were occurring long years ago as poll after poll rolled out showing that evangelicalism's spirit of grace and mercy had subtly changed to one seeking political power and right (otherwise known as dominionism or Christian Reconstructionism).

After six months of critiquing my background and bringing my (yesteryear's) seminary education up-to-date from some 25 years ago (one which had been shelved while conducting ministries both within the church and community, raising a family, and building a consulting and technology business), I decided to changed my task to one of crafting from criticizing the church to a more positive message of what a progressive, postmodern church might look like. Why? Mostly because I could not find that needful prophetic voice in my evangelical community, nor among my local contacts. At the time it felt very absent and for me, personally, an extremely lonely time of being cut off from a progressive kindred fellowship (which now, looking back, was kinda there though well hidden and inaccessible).

So as I wrote, my purpose became one of trying to positively influence the evangelical doctrines I grew up with. And as I did I knew I would have to go beyond my fellowship's boundary lands by removing unbiblical dogmas and folklores (as example, those more commonly-held doctrines by the Reformed church which are held as biblically sanctioned - when in fact they are not). Instead, those church teachings had become shibboleths for evangelics to identify one another by (sic, labels we would self-righteously use to ironically warn brethren of "unbiblical" doctrine ahead and so, not listen to the prophetic voices God had raised up to cry in their own wildernesses of pain and passion. And yet, this latter result became a grave mistake in consequence for the evangelical church).

As such, this next effort took another three more dedicated years of 1) re-engaging with science in its various streams; 2) discerning conflicts and disconnects between religion and faith; 3) distinguishing the differing movements of process theology of which subset I chose the open and relational tone as its vernacular; 4) of replacing systematic studies of God with a more open and fluid narratival approach to the Indescribable One; and, most importantly, 5) examining what a new biblical hermeneutic must have in its DNA vs the popular literal (flat) reading-and-interpretation of the bible and Christ's gospel. I did this exhaustively - but not definitely - so that others may pick up these streams of thought and further my - and many other's - efforts, as they were able or interested to do so in their respective circumstances, disciplines, or personal passions.

My final effort was to 6) recreate a philosophical foundation for a progressive, postmodern, post-secular, post-Christian Orthodoxy utilizing elements of Continental Philosophy (as versus Western Analytical thought) and Radical Theology (which I learned is a much more philosophical discipline than it is a theological one). Unfortunately, this material is vast and deep, and will take more than a few years to sort out even as its own disciplines are evolving from script-to-script across a plethora of authors, thinkers, and ideologs.

However, the heart of my endeavor was to lift Jesus up, using Him as the interpretive center of the bible (both in the OT and NT) while sharing His love and service to humanity as our luminary guidepost to Spirit-filled empowerment of our Almighty God's missional gospel. To center all postmodern orthodoxy (teaching) on postmodern orthopraxy (living, doing) - meaning that, we hold a culturally relevant faith connected to the classical past but a living faith that is dynamic and open. One charged with strength in weakness by putting faith into practice. How? By exercising faith's works of serving, sacrificing, and loving all people whomever they are, wherever they are, and whatever they are doing. Knowing that God's church is culled from the remnants of humanity. Not from the self-proclaimed institutionalized church of bricks-and-mortar which seek power and influence on this earth, but from the unseen and hidden living church of God. And that we should never deny God's plain work regardless its source and blessing. Nor His wonders and grace. But to embrace all as brethren and sisters who stand against even our friends and family who might wave another allegiance than to Christ alone.

Peace and blessings,

R.E. Slater
March 18, 2016

*My apologies for my absence these several months but I have been gravely ill and am still struggling to recover to health. In addition, I had become overly active two years ago across local, country, regional, and state government lines working on all things related to land, water, open spaces, air, energy, and food. My chief antigonist has been an infection that came about through a massively invasive prosthetic surgery to correct a growing debilitation which I had been enduring for years. As consequence, I am now dealing with the pain and trouble this stubborn infection is causing me which has greatly disrupted my routines and responsibilities.

An Interview with God






An Interview With God





Sunday, March 13, 2016

Choosing the Author Over the Bible Helps the Church See People






We have to talk about race to fix economic inequality.
Posted by Demos on Saturday, March 12, 2016








by John Edgerton
February 19, 2016

"John, of course, had not yet been thrown into prison." - John 3:22-36

The Bible is chock full of asides, little comments intended to clear up confusion, or clue the reader into some important info we might otherwise be overlooking. From the ever-present "selah" of the Psalms to the deeply weird "let the reader understand . . . " of Mark 13, the Bible assumes that we might well be missing the point.

"Wait, wasn't John arrested by Herod? Wait, the Temple has already been destroyed, so why hasn't Jesus returned? Wait, wasn't I supposed to selah back there?"

To its earliest readers, the Bible was not a divinely inspired, inerrant document. All we need to do is read the Bible to know that. The way the Bible is written, it assumes that people are going to have some questions. It assumes people will be "thinking along," pondering the meaning of the Bible's words and—indeed—questioning whether they are true. 

That's why I believe Bible study is the best medicine for fundamentalism.

During Lent, Christians study the Bible deeply in order to gain a deeper relationship with the Word of God. The Word of God, of course, meaning Jesus.

If the Bible becomes an object of worship, then we replace the living Christ with dead letters. And without the living Christ, it is possible to wind up with a faith that denigrates the poor, the unorthodox, the outsider, women, sexual minorities, and hungry children. You know, all the people Jesus loved to be around.

Prayer

Living God, may I be filled with so much love for scripture that I always ask hard questions, and may I be filled with so much love for Christ that I never accept any substitute for the Word of God.




About the Author
John Edgerton is Associate Pastor
at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts.



Fight Racism by Brave New Films





Thursday, March 10, 2016

12 Famous Scientists On The Possibility Of God


"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious."


by Carol Kuruvilla, Religion Associate Editor
The Huffington Post
February 2, 2016

When President Barack Obama nominated the Christian geneticist Francis Collins to head the National Institutes of Health in 2009, some American scientistsquestioned whether someone who professed a strong belief in God was qualified to lead the largest biomedical research agency in the world
This argument -- that scientific inquiry is essentially incompatible with religious belief -- has been gaining traction in some circles in recent years. In fact, according to a 2009 Pew Research Center survey, American scientists are about half as likelyas the general public to believe in God or a higher, universal power. Still, the survey found that the percentage of scientists that believe in some form of a deity or power was higher than you may think -- 51 percent.  
Scientists throughout history have relied on data and observations to make sense of the world. But there are still some really big questions about the universe that science can't easily explain: Where did matter come from? What is consciousness? And what makes us human?
Where did matter come from? What is consciousness? And what makes us human?
In the past, this quest for understanding has given scientists both past and present plenty of opportunities for experiencing wonder and awe. That's because at their core, both science and religion require some kind of leap of faith -- whether it's belief in multiverses or belief in a personal God. 
In chronological order, here's a glimpse into what some of the world's greatest scientists thought about the possibility of a higher power.
  • 1 Galileo Galilei (1564 - 1642)
    CREDIT IMAGNO VIA GETTY IMAGES
    The astronomer and scientist Galileo Galilei was famously convicted of heresy by the Roman Catholic Church for supporting the theory that the planets revolved around the sun. In private letters, he confirmed that his beliefs hadn't changed.

    Writing to the Grand Duchess Christina of Tuscany, Galileo criticized philosophers of his time who blindly valued Biblical authority over scientific evidence.

    "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with senses, reason and intellect has intended us to forego their use and by some other means to give us knowledge which we can attain by them. He would not require us to deny sense and reason in physical matters which are set before our eyes and minds by direct experience or necessary demonstrations."
  • 2 Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)
    CREDIT STOCK MONTAGE VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Known as the founder of the scientific method, Sir Francis Bacon believed that gathering and analyzing data in an organized way was essential to scientific progress. An Anglican, Bacon believed in the existence of God. 

    In an essay on atheism, Bacon wrote:

    "God never wrought miracle to convince atheism, because his ordinary works convince it. It is true, that a little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism; but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion. For while the mind of man looketh upon second causes scattered, it may sometimes rest in them, and go no further; but when it beholdeth the chain of them, confederate and linked together, it must needs fly to Providence and Deity."
  • 3 Charles Darwin (1809 - 1882)
    CREDIT IMAGNO VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Charles Darwin is best known for his theory of evolution. On the question of God, Darwin admitted in letters to friends that his feelings often fluctuated. He had a hard time believing that an omnipotent God would have created a world filled with so much suffering. But at the same time, he wasn't content to conclude that this "wonderful universe" was the result of "brute force." If he pressed for a label, hewrote that the term "agnostic" would fit him best.
     
    In an 1873 letter to Dutch writer Nicolaas Dirk Doedes, Darwin wrote: 

    "I may say that the impossibility of conceiving that this grand and wondrous universe, with our conscious selves, arose through chance, seems to me the chief argument for the existence of God; but whether this is an argument of real value, I have never been able to decide. I am aware that if we admit a first cause, the mind still craves to know whence it came and how it arose. Nor can I overlook the difficulty from the immense amount of suffering through the world. I am, also, induced to defer to a certain extent to the judgment of the many able men who have fully believed in God; but here again I see how poor an argument this is. The safest conclusion seems to be that the whole subject is beyond the scope of man's intellect; but man can do his duty."
  • 4 Maria Mitchell (1818 - 1889)
    NYPL/SCIENCE SOURCE VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Maria Mitchell was America's first female astronomer and the first woman to be named to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She was born into a Quaker family, but began to question her denomination's teachings in her twenties. She was eventually disowned from membership and for the rest of her life, didn't put much importance on church doctrines or attendance. Instead, she was a religious seeker who pursued a simpler sort of faith. 

    After hearing a minister preach about the dangers of science, Mitchell wrote

    "Scientific investigations, pushed on and on, will reveal new ways in which God works, and bring us deeper revelations of the wholly unknown."
  • 5 Marie Curie (1867 - 1934)
    SCIENCE SOURCE via Getty Images
    Marie Curie, a physicist, was brought up in the Catholic faith, but reportedly became agnostic in her teens. She went on to become the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. Both Marie and her husband Pierre Curie did not follow any specific religion.

    She is quoted as saying:

    "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less."
  • 6 Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)
    SCIENCE SOURCE VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Albert Einstein, one of the most well-known physicists of the 20th century, was born into a secular Jewish family. As an adult, he tried to avoid religious labels, rejecting the idea of a "personal God," but at the same time, separating himself from"fanatical atheists" whom he believed were unable to hear "the music of the spheres." 
    In a 1954 essay for NPR, Einstein wrote:

    "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with the awareness of — and glimpse into — the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basics of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive."
  • 7 Rosalind Franklin (1920 - 1958)
    UNIVERSAL HISTORY ARCHIVE VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Rosalind Franklin, who helped pioneer the use of X-ray diffraction, was born into a Jewish family in London. In letters to her father, Franklin made it clear that she seriously doubted the existence of an all powerful creator, or life after death.

    When her father accused her of making science her religion, Franklin told him that she had a different definition of faith:

    "In my view, all that is necessary for faith is the belief that by doing our best we shall come nearer to success and that success in our aims (the improvement of the lot of mankind, present and future) is worth attaining. Anyone able to believe in all that religion implies obviously must have such faith, but I maintain that faith in this world is perfectly possible without faith in another world...I see no reason to believe that a creator of protoplasm or primeval matter, if such there be, has any reason to be interested in our insignificant race in a tiny corner of the universe, and still less in us, as still more insignificant individuals." 
  • 8 Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996)
    MICKEY ADAIR VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Astronomer Carl Sagan is best known for hosting the TV series "Cosmos." Herejected the label of "atheist" because he was open to the possibility that science would perhaps one day find compelling evidence to prove God. Nevertheless, he thought that the likelihood of that happening was very small. Instead, Sagan talked about "spirituality" as something that happens within the realm of material world, when humans encounter nature and are filled with awe.

    In his book, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark, Saganwrites:

    "Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality. When we recognize our place in an immensity of light years and in the passage of ages, when we grasp the intricacy, beauty and subtlety of life, then that soaring feeling, that sense of elation and humility combined, is surely spiritual."
  • 9 Stephen Hawking (Born 1942)
    KARWAI TANG VIA GETTY IMAGES
    After years of hinting at it, physicist Stephen Hawking confirmed to the press in 2014 that he was an atheist. Hawkings doesn't believe in a heaven or an afterlife and says that the miracles of religion "aren't compatible" with science.

    In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, Hawking said

    "Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation."
  • 10 Venkatraman Ramakrishnan (Born 1952)
    OLIVIER MORIN VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Venkatraman Ramakrishnan was born in an ancient town in Tamil Nadu, India, that is known for its famous temple dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva. A physicist and molecular biologist, Ramakrishnan was awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research on ribosomes. While many Hindus consider astrology to be an important Vedic science and schedule life events around the movements of the stars, Ramakrishnan has spoken out against this practice in the past. He believes astrology evolved from humans' desire to search for "patterns, generalize and believe.

    In an interview with the Hindustan Times, he said: 

    "There is no scientific basis for how movement of planets and stars can influence our fate. There is no reason for time of birth to influence events years later. The predictions made are either obvious or shown to be random ... A culture based on superstitions will do worse than one based on scientific knowledge and rational thoughts.”
  • 11 Neil deGrasse Tyson (Born 1958)
    FOX VIA GETTY IMAGES
    Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist and a popular television science expert. He told The Huffington Post thathe isn't convinced by religious arguments about the existence of a "Judeo-Christian" god that is all-powerful and all-good, especially when he observes the death and suffering caused by natural disasters. Still, he told Big Think that while he's often "claimed by atheists," he's actually more of an agnostic.

    In Death By Black Hole, a collection of science essays, Tyson writes:

    "So you're made of detritus [from exploded stars]. Get over it. Or better yet, celebrate it. After all, what nobler thought can one cherish than that the universe lives within us all?"
  • 12 Francis Collins (Born 1960)
    Bloomberg via Getty Images
    Francis Collins is the director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In a 2007 book about the intersection between science and faith, Collins described how heconverted from atheism to Christianity and attempts to argue that the idea of a Christian God is compatible with Darwin's theory of evolution.

    In an essay for CNN, Collins writes

    "I have found there is a wonderful harmony in the complementary truths of science and faith. The God of the Bible is also the God of the genome. God can be found in the cathedral or in the laboratory. By investigating God's majestic and awesome creation, science can actually be a means of worship."

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Meet the ‘Nones,’ the Democratic Party’s biggest faith constituency


Joe and Betsy Stone, part of the estimated 23 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans,
together at their home in Springfield, Va. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)


Meet the ‘Nones,’ the
Democratic Party’s biggest faith constituency

February 29, 2016

Joe Stone is part of an enormous but invisible voting constituency.

A “troubled atheist,” the retired Virginia accountant calls himself spiritual, celebrates Christmas and defines religious as the need to “do good.” He says organized religion — Christianity as well as Islam — has “gone off the deep end” and political candidates who emphasize the rightness of a certain faith turn him off. At the same time, Stone calls himself “religiously open-minded.”

When Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told a New Hampshire town hall last month that religion is a way of saying all people are connected, Stone agreed. “He is speaking directly to me,” he said.

Stone is part of a massive group of Americans who reject any label or affiliation to describe their faith. At 23 percent of the U.S. population, this left-leaning group called “Nones” are the Democratic parallel to the GOP’s white evangelicals — except without organization, PACs, leadership and a clear agenda. They do, however, have one big expectation of political candidates: Be ethical, and go light on the God talk.

The Nones’ impact will be tested on Super Tuesday, when multiple states with large unaffiliated populations hold contests: Virginia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Vermont and Colorado. So far, Sanders has a large edge among Nones.


A huge group that skews under 40, white and non-immigrant, the Nones want politicians to tone it down not because they’ve made some final determination about God — the vast majority are believers — but because they are fed up with religious institutions they see as corrupt and discriminatory. And in the process, they are rewriting the country’s political discourse on morality.

Experts say the country is just beginning to feel Nones’ political power, in good part because their turnout has been low at about 12 percent — unsurprising for a disproportionately young group. But that is likely to change, with early research suggesting they are not inclined to become more religious as they grow older.

Political scientist David Campbell, who focuses on religion, compared the Nones of today to evangelicals of the 1970s — who grew in number and slowly became a massive, organized political force.

“You might say we are awaiting the emergence of a secular Jerry Falwell,” said Campbell, who chairs the political science department at the University of Notre Dame.

With their socially liberal viewpoints, Nones will pull the Democrats to the left — which is already happening with Sanders, said Mark Rozell, dean of the government and policy school at George Mason University and author of multiple books on religion and politics.

“It will make a profound change in American politics in the long run. Put up a candidate who challenges people’s right to love who they want and make decisions about their own lifestyles, and see what happens among the unaffiliated. A lot of other issues go to the back burner,” Rozell said.

If Sanders or Democratic rival Hillary Clinton start talking too much about religion as the race veers South, among Nones that would be “dangerous,” he said.

‘We need a revolution’

Nones talk about tolerance, fairness, choice and “making the world a better place.” In interviews some describe their worldview as being more authentically holy than people who cite Scripture and denominational labels.

“My girlfriend said, ‘Greta, you’re the best Christian I know that doesn’t go to church,’ ” said Greta Clark, 81, of Youngstown, Ohio, an agnostic who says her religion is “do no wrong.” Stone says he has an answer for Christians who are skeptical of Sanders’s bio: “Wait a minute, Jesus was a Jewish socialist.”

In addition to their skepticism about religious institutions, Nones share anger at secular institutions they feel are immoral, interviews show. Their political priorities include reducing big money’s influence on politics, raising wages and making college affordable. They do not trust government to police personal morality.


“We need a revolution at this point because corruption is so vast,” said Cheryl, a 43-year-old chief financial officer from Atlanta. She spoke on condition that her last name not be used because she said the stigma of being not religious in the South would harm her career and her child. She doesn’t like it when candidates talk about religion, but it bothers her less if it seems like lip service — evidence that they probably won’t apply dogma to public policy. If they’re saying it just to get elected, that’s more okay, she said.

“It doesn’t bother me because I’ve done the same thing, tried to pass,” she said. “I have no idea whether there is a God and I don’t think that’s an answerable question.” Before she got married, however, she put “atheist” in her dating profile instead of “agnostic” only to turn off fundamentalist Christians who might misinterpret her as open to their belief.

Although most evangelicals and Catholics say terrorism is their top voting priority, Nones say theirs is the economy, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll in December.

The major check on Nones’ political power is their lack of group awareness.

“This cohort is as large as evangelicals, but very poorly organized, and they don’t have the discipline or political reflex. But you can’t tell me campaigns aren’t thinking about them, especially the Democrats,” said Jacques Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University sociologist who has written several books about the role of religion in politics. Democrats, he said, have to straddle the Nones, most of whom feel candidates are talking too much about their faith and prayer, and the rest of the Democratic faith coalition — which includes progressive Jews, Catholics and Protestants — “who don’t mind it as long as it doesn’t get overwrought.”

A quarter of President Obama’s voters in 2012 were religiously unaffiliated — by far the largest “faith” group in his coalition. Perhaps in consideration of his religiously independent supporters, the president gave the first inaugural nod in his 2008 address to “nonbelievers.”

At the moment Nones are breaking hard for Sanders, a secular Jew who seems ambivalent about how to portray his faith. He has said he is not religious and chose to spend last Rosh Hashanah — a major Jewish holiday — speaking to evangelicals at Liberty University. When he won in New Hampshire last month, becoming the first American Jew to win a presidential primary, Sanders didn’t mention that fact in his victory speech, instead calling himself the “son of a Polish immigrant.” However, last fall when The Washington Post ran an article entitled: “Bernie Sanders: Our first non-religious president?” the Sanders campaign quickly emailed the reporter to point out a September interview about Pope Francis in which the senator referred to a “belief in God . . . that requires me to do all that I can to follow the Golden Rule.”


‘A delicate balance’

Mike McCurry, a communications consultant to candidates and faith groups who served as press secretary to Bill Clinton, said top Democratic advisers to campaigns “just don’t get” the role of faith groups — including the Nones.

“They don’t see it as a political constituency to mobilize,” McCurry said. That said, “it’s a delicate balance. [Nones] want to hear about your values and what gives you a moral stake, but they don’t want an agenda that’s forced down their throat.”

In fact, the Nones are a complex and sometimes contradictory group. They believe in God — but on their own terms. They don’t particularly want to hear about religion, but they aren’t anti-religion.

Clark said she doesn’t believe in confession, doesn’t think she believes in God, considers herself a Christian “in some ways,” thinks candidates shouldn’t mention religion and is disgusted by “houses of worship fancied up with icons and statues, big churches built from poor people’s money.” But she and her husband sent their now-grown sons to Catholic school. To her, the main election issues are things like roads, bridges and clean water. The issue of water contamination “is a disgrace.”

Of Sanders’s statement that religion means “we’re all in this together,” Clark said: “I’ve got to agree with him there. But he has the young people all worked up, they think they’re going to get something for nothing. It don’t work that way.” Of anyone, she said she prefers Sanders, but she is undecided.

Stone sees in Sanders a glimpse of his youth — a time when religion seemed less angry, less divided, when his folks could buy a home in Massachusetts for $8,000, when the system didn’t seem rigged. More recently, he and his wife, Betsy, — both accountants — “retired reluctantly, more or less.” Not that he’s complaining or bitter, and he has lots of positive things to say about religious relatives and pastors he’s known. Stone even regrets a bit not raising his children to be more religious, if only so that when religion and Scripture come up in conversation, they’d be able to more knowledgeably talk — or debate.

Stone sees Sanders as serious about getting money out of politics. He said he trusts Sanders when the senator talks about his spirituality. He even trusts Clinton — a Methodist his age — when he heard her tell an Iowa voter: “I am a person of faith, I am a Christian, I am a Methodist.” But he wishes there was no need for candidates to state their religion.

“I wish we didn’t have to talk about religion in politics. This is not a religious race,” Stone said. He grew up in a big religious family but feels church has become arrogant and intolerant. “We should be a spiritual country, meaning we should endeavor to have a good government in the eyes of whatever God you feel is right, or in the eyes of no God.”


Joe and Betsy Stone, part of the estimated 23 percent of religiously unaffiliated Americans,
are seen in their home in Springfield, Va. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

Christianity has become too broken into sects and intolerant, “it’s split up more,” he said.

“Back then Muslims were peaceful happy people and, for whatever reason, they got angry. Religions have gotten wacky,” Stone said. “Morality comes from another place. It’s a chicken or egg thing. The morality came before the stories” of religion.

‘A bunch of little things’

Alexis Echevarria, 20, calls herself a None because “I don’t want to label myself. I believe in a bunch of little things, other religions,” including the Catholicism to which her family holds fast and in which she was raised. But in recent years she has started questioning some church teachings, doesn’t like labels and sees her peer group in Katy, Tex., outside Houston, as split on religion — half her friends are religious and half are not. She values choice, whether that comes to whether to go to church, accept abortion or homosexuality or to even call yourself a believer.

“I’m open to everything and everyone,” Echevarria said, including candidates who talk, or don’t talk, about their faith. She has heard “very very little” about candidates’ religion, except Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talking about religion and immigration, “which is baloney,” she said.

In truth, she said, she has been paying limited attention to the campaign, except that she knows she likes Sanders for her first-ever presidential vote. The senator’s talk about raising the minimum wage and making college more affordable “would be awesome.”

Her feelings about Sanders reminds her of the ones she had about Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. “Sanders seems like a genuine guy, and so did Romney,” she said.

Asked how she can tell if a candidate is speaking genuinely about their faith, Echevarria’s sunny, non-judgmental vocabulary shifted. “I was told candidates lie,” she said. “I’m guarded with everyone. Open, but guarded.”

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Reseacher Scott Clement contributed to this report.


Michelle Boorstein is the Post’s religion reporter, where she reports on the busy marketplace of American religion.