Category : Religion & Culture

National virtual service for Palm Sunday to be led by the Bishop of Manchester

Christians are to be encouraged to make their own paper or card ‘palm’ crosses and display these in their windows in a national virtual church service for Palm Sunday to be broadcast by the Church of England.

The Bishop of Manchester, David Walker, will put a paper ‘palm’ cross in the window of his Salford home in a national service he will lead for Palm Sunday, marking the start of Holy Week and Easter.

The Holy Communion service will be broadcast at 9am on the Church of England’s Facebook page and Church of England website, with readings from the Archdeacon of Manchester, Karen Lund and prayers by Lucy Hargraves from St Peter’s Church in Bolton. All three record contributions from their own homes in keeping with the rules on physical distancing.

In his sermon, Bishop David will speak of the strength and mutual support from the crowd that he addressed in Manchester city centre following the Manchester Arena attack in 2017

At a time when gatherings are no longer permitted in order to stop the spread of coronavirus, he said support and comfort was being drawn from events such as virtual church services and campaigns such as #ClapForCarers to thank NHS staff and key workers.

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Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Health & Medicine, Holy Week, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(RU) Richard Ostling–After The COVID-19 Lockdown, Churches Will Need To Be Strategic To Recover

The news media have a huge responsibility to report right now on both the raging health dangers and the economic damage caused by The Great Lockdown.

However, “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” will — someday — be mere bad memories and America will be able to fully assess the carnage. And, meanwhile, if there’s anything that should send people down on their knees in prayer it’s COVID-19.

But with few exceptions, Americans can only do this as individuals and families because of the massive halt of worship services. Here’s an arresting thought from political scientist Ryan Burge: “This coming weekend may represent the fewest people engaging in corporate worship in the last two millennia.”

David Crary of The Associated Press (a former reporting team colleague of mine) has taken an early look at what religion is facing.

The bottom line: America’s churches “are bracing for a painful drop in weekly contributions and possible cutbacks in program and staff.”

It’s not too soon for American religion, and thus religion writers, to carefully consider not only this month’s ministry challenges but whether after this emergency ends online worship may substantially undercut in-person attendance, and whether contributions will be able to rebound.

Regarding attendance, the aforementioned Burge looks at past data to predict that folks who never attend worship now are unlikely to return after this crisis. Nor are faithful attenders going to fade away. He recommends that Virus Era pastors pay special attention to reassuring and helping those in the middle, the occasional attenders who might step up participation.

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture

(Church Times) Philip Williamson–A History of Prayer amidst Wars, famines+pandemics

National acts of special worship could be either particular prayers or whole church services. Until the 1850s, the services were for use on special fast or thanksgiving days. These were usually ordered by royal proclamation, for observance by the whole population. As they were often appointed for weekdays, all work was suspended as on Sundays.

In England and Wales, and in Ireland, these prayers and services involved departures from the Book of Common Prayer. New texts were supplied by special forms of prayer, long series of which are often found in parish records.

The original rationale for these occasions was provided by the conceptions of “special providences” and divine judgements, drawn especially from Old Testament examples of afflictions suffered under the kings of Israel. Dislocations in the natural world as well as in human affairs were seen as God’s punishments for the collective sins of the kingdom, to be assuaged by simultaneous penitence, petitionary prayers, and promises of repentance.

A preface in the forms of prayer used during plague epidemics in the 16th and 17th centuries declared:

We be taught by many and sundry examples of holy Scriptures, that upon occasion of particular punishments, afflictions, and perils, which God of his most just judgement has some times sent among his people to show his wrath against sin, and to call his people to repentance and to the redress of their lives: the godly have been provoked and stirred up to more fervency and diligence in prayer, fasting, and alms deeds, to a more deep consideration of their consciences, to ponder their unthankfulness and forgetfulness of God’s merciful benefits towards them, with craving of pardon for the time past, and to ask his assistance for the time to come to live more godly, and so to be defended and delivered from all further perils & dangers. . . (1563)

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Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Natural Disasters: Earthquakes, Tornadoes, Hurricanes, etc., Religion & Culture, Spirituality/Prayer

(PRC) Many Americans are praying and staying away from normal religious services in response to coronavirus

More than half of U.S. adults say they have prayed for an end to the spread of the coronavirus. Evangelical Protestants are among the most likely to say they have prayed for an end to the virus (82% say they’ve done so). A similar share of adherents of the historically black Protestant tradition (79%) say they have done the same. Two-thirds of Catholics (68%) and mainline Protestants (65%) also say they have prayed for an end to the outbreak.

Roughly one-third of Jews (35%) say they have prayed to end the virus. Religious “nones” – especially self-described atheists and agnostics – are less likely than those who identify with a religion to say they have prayed for an end to the outbreak, though 36% of those who describe their religion as “nothing in particular” say they have prayed about the virus.

Fully 86% of people who pray every day say they have prayed specifically about the virus, as have two-thirds of those who say they pray on a weekly basis. Half of those who say they pray a few times a month report having prayed about the coronavirus, as have 15% of those who generally seldom or never pray.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(Anglican Diocese of SC) South Carolina Supreme Court denies Petition for Writ of Prohibition by The Episcopal Church

The South Carolina Supreme Court announced yesterday that it has denied the Petition for a Writ of Prohibition submitted on February 21st by The Episcopal Church (TEC) and The Episcopal Church in South Carolina (TECSC), which sought to prevent Judge Edgar W. Dickson from ruling on the Diocese’s and parishes motion to clarify the Supreme Court’s earlier ruling. If granted, the petition would have prevented Judge Dickson from ruling on the case as he has indicated he was about to do. The Supreme Court’s order succinctly states: “Petitioners seek a Writ of Prohibition to prevent the circuit court from clarifying this Court’s decision in Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of S.C. v. Episcopal Church, 412 S.C. 211, 806 S.E. 2d 82 (2017). The petition is denied.”

This ruling by the Supreme Court allows Judge Dickson to proceed with clarifying the Court’s earlier August 2017 ruling, which was comprised of five separate opinions. That situation is unprecedented in the history of the court. This open-ended denial of the petition by the Supreme Court places no restrictions upon the appropriateness of Judge Dickson’s work in interpreting the meaning of the original ruling.

Ironically, this ruling comes almost exactly a year after TEC and TECSC filed a similar Petition with the high court for a Writ of Mandamus meant to force Judge Dickson to rule in the case. The Mandamus Petition asked the Supreme Court to require the Circuit Court to interpret the Supreme Court’s August 2, 2017 ruling favorably for TEC and TECSC. That petition was also denied by the Supreme Court in July of last year.

As before, the Prohibition Petition was an attempt to end run Judge Dickson’s exercise of his discretion in interpreting the August 2, 2017 decision in a manner that may differ from TEC and TECSC’s interpretation.

The Anglican Diocese of South Carolina welcomes this decision by the South Carolina Supreme Court affirming that the Circuit Court is the proper venue to resolve the many uncertain issues arising from the August 2, 2017 decision.

The Rev. Marcus Kaiser, President of the diocesan Standing Committee observed, “In this time, our focus is on caring for our people and praying for a world deeply rocked by the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, we are profoundly grateful that the Supreme Court has denied the request for a Writ of Prohibition, and hope this ruling helps move things along. We pray for Judge Dickson and the complex issues he has to deal with, even as we continue to focus on concerns far more pressing to most people.”

The brief in support of the motion by the Diocese to dismiss this Petition can be found on the Diocesan website, along with further background on the earlier Petition for Mandamus. The August 2, 2017, ruling by the Supreme Court may also be found here.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * South Carolina, Ethics / Moral Theology, Law & Legal Issues, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship, TEC Conflicts: South Carolina

(CT) Most Pastors Bracing for Months of Socially Distant Ministry

A new survey by Barna Research found over the course of just a week, most church leaders went from thinking they’d be back to meeting as usual in late or March or April (52%), to projecting the changes would extend to May or longer (68%).

“There is this realism that’s setting in,” said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president.

But while most pastors are realistic, they’re also optimistic, according to Kinnaman. “One of the cool things about pastors we’ve learned over the years is that they are by job description and by disposition more upbeat, positive, hope-filled people,” he said. “So they are often pretty capable of putting a good face in a tough situation, and they, like other leaders, are going to face a lot of tough decisions in the coming weeks as the crisis continues.”

Though most had already called off normal activities at church, pastors also implemented swift changes in policies around smaller group meetings over the past several days.

The percentage who still allow the church building to be used for “small meetings and gatherings” has dropped by about half (from 18% to 8%), according to Barna’s Church Pulse survey, hearing from 434 Protestant senior pastors and executive pastors in the US. A plurality say the church staff will be working remotely for the foreseeable future (up from 25% to 40%).

Read it all.

Posted in --Social Networking, Blogging & the Internet, Health & Medicine, Ministry of the Ordained, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(9 Marks) Colton Corter–4 Reflections after Listening to 18 Hours of Sermons in America’s Biggest Churches

1. The gospel at best assumed; most of the time, it’s entirely absent.

Let me begin with the most important observation: in 36 sermons, the good news of Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection was unclear 36 times. Often, some or all of these facets of the Christian gospel were left out. “No gospel” became a common note. (Here’s an answer to the question you’re probably asking: What content is necessary in order to communicate the gospel?)

I don’t mean to say various elements of the gospel weren’t occasionally mentioned; they were. Todd Mullins (Christ Fellowship Church) mentions in his sermon series, “What Do You See Next?, that faith is believing in what Jesus did for you—carrying the cross, rising from the dead, etc. But none of those elements are articulated or explained. It’s unclear exactly why we need Jesus to do anything for us. Furthermore, it’s unclear exactly what he did by doing the things Mullins mentions. Isolated phrases here and there without much reference to how the Bible puts them together was the norm.

In his sermon, “The Robe of Righteousness,” Robert Morris (Gateway Church) provides a happy exception. He mentions the doctrine of imputation, stating that we aren’t worthy of God and are in need of a “balancing (of our) . . . account.” Morris goes on to say that in the gospel we get Jesus’ assets while Jesus receives our debts. That’s as close to the gospel that any of these sermons gets—and even in this instance, the true things Morris mentions are isolated from the rest of the truths that make up the gospel message. (Neither God’s holy judgment, sin, nor repentance is mentioned.)

But here’s what’s even more disheartening: in his next sermon, Morris says the Jesus who accomplished all this for us “lays down all his divinity” (“The Ring of Authority). Conspicuously missing from Morris’ explanation of what he calls “substitutionary, propitiatory, blood-bought salvation” is the response one must have to this message in order to be saved, which leads us to our next observation.

2. Repentance rarely comes across as something urgent and necessary; instead, it’s either optional or not worth mentioning at all.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Christology, Preaching / Homiletics, Religion & Culture, Soteriology, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(Item) Despite virtual services, Sumter South Carolina members still backing churches financially

Churches have had to adjust to the demands brought forth by the threat of the coronavirus. Along with having to livestream services with no congregations via social media, churches are having to find ways to make the opportunity of giving available to their congregations.

Many of the local churches are offering newfangled methods for their congregants to give as well as some of the tried-and-true methods.

“We’ve been very intentional about pushing people toward online giving,” said Joseph James, the pastor at Trinity United Methodist Church at 226 W. Liberty St. “We also have a giving app (on iPhones) that is available that we’re asking people to be using.”

James also pointed out that the older members of his congregation send their tithes and offerings through the mail.

“A large part of our congregation is 60 and over, and they are very conscientious about their giving,” he said.

Read it all.

Posted in * South Carolina, Blogging & the Internet, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(WSJ) Robert Nicholson–A Coronavirus Great Awakening?

Could a plague of biblical proportions be America’s best hope for religious revival? As the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, there is reason to think so.

Three-quarters of a century has dimmed the memory of that gruesome conflict and its terrible consequences: tens of millions killed, great cities bombed to rubble, Europe and Asia stricken by hunger and poverty. Those who survived the war had to grapple with the kinds of profound questions that only arise in the aftermath of calamity. Gazing at the ruins from his window at Cambridge University, British historian Herbert Butterfield chose to make sense of it by turning to the Hebrew Bible.

“The power of the Old Testament teaching on history—perhaps the point at which the ancient Jews were most original, breaking away from the religious thought of the other peoples around them—lay precisely in the region of truths which sprang from a reflection on catastrophe and cataclysm,” Butterfield wrote in “Christianity and History” (1949). “It is almost impossible properly to appreciate the higher developments in the historical reflection of the Old Testament except in another age which has experienced (or has found itself confronted with) colossal cataclysm.”

Americans, chastened by the horrors of war, turned to faith in search of truth and meaning….

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Eschatology, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture

(AI) Archbishop Kaziimba’s pastoral letter asking Ugandans to work from home

Dear Bishops, Clergy, and Christians,

Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Even in the time of coronavirus and COVID-19, all blessings flow from God and we offer praise to Him because He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13.8) and His mercies never come to an end (Lamentations 3.22).

Today, 25th March, the Ministry of Health has reported five more confirmed cases of coronavirus in Uganda, bringing the total of confirmed cases to fourteen. Yesterday, 24th March, His Excellency, the President of Uganda, addressed the nation and reminded all of us that Uganda can defeat the enemy of coronavirus if all Ugandans will focus on three things:

Distance yourself from people who are coughing or sneezing and reduce all non-essential travel;
Wash your hands often with soap and water;
Do not touch your eyes, nose and mouth with your hands….

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Posted in Church of Uganda, Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Uganda

Latest letter from C of E’s Archbishops on how to Proceed given the pandemic and the Government’s instructions

Following the Prime Minister’s announcement last night, it is imperative that for the health of the nation and in order for the National Health Service itself to manage the increase in those
requiring medical help, the Church of England strictly observes the new guidelines on staying at home and only making journeys that are absolutely necessary, such as shopping for essential
items and to take daily exercise.

Our church buildings must now be closed not only for public worship, but for private prayer as well and this includes the priest or lay person offering prayer in church on their own. A notice
explaining this should be put on the church door (please find template attached). We must take a lead in showing our communities how we must behave in order to slow down the spread of
the Coronavirus.

Read it all.

Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Archbishop of York John Sentamu, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Health & Medicine, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

(AP) As offerings dwindle, some churches fear for their future

As in-person worship services are canceled or downsized amid the coronavirus outbreak, some churches across the U.S. are bracing for a painful drop in weekly contributions and possible cutbacks in programs and staff.

One church leader, Bishop Paul Egensteiner of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s Metropolitan New York Synod, said some of the 190 churches in his region were unlikely to survive because of a two-pronged financial hit. Their offerings are dwindling, and they are losing income from tenants such as preschools which can no longer afford to rent church venues.

“As much as I’d like to help them, everybody’s reserves are taking a hit because of the stock market,” Egensteiner said,

At Friendship Baptist Church in Baltimore, a mostly African American congregation of about 1,100, the Rev. Alvin Gwynn Sr. bucked the cancellation trend by holding services last Sunday. But attendance was down by about 50%, and Gwynn said the day’s offering netted about $5,000 compared to a normal intake of about $15,000.

“It cuts into our ministry,” he said. “If this keeps up, we can’t fund all our outreach to help other people.”

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Economy, Health & Medicine, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Parish Ministry, Personal Finance, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(WSJ) Tevi Troy–A Minyan in the Time of Social Distancing

Losing a parent is always difficult, especially as important financial and religious arrangements must be made during a time of intense grief. A global pandemic doesn’t help. But when my mother died on March 3, my family still had no idea how difficult it would be to stay safe while still honoring her in the Jewish tradition.

The Jewish response to death is communal. The local community comes together to support the mourners, who open up their home for a week of shiva. During this time the kaddish, or Jewish prayer for the dead, is recited at services three times a day. The mourner then may leave the home but remains obligated to say the kaddish three times daily for 11 months. According to Jewish law, these obligations must be fulfilled in the presence of a minyan, or prayer quorum of 10 men over the age of 13.

The current coronavirus crisis creates a challenge for those wishing to adhere to these Jewish mourning customs, especially in light of Judaism’s prioritization of public and individual health over ritual obligation. In Maryland, where I live, synagogues closed their doors last weekend to services and other community activities. In New Jersey, communities could not have communal prayer services in the home or even outdoors. In the interest of safety, similar changes are occurring throughout the country.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Children, Death / Burial / Funerals, Judaism, Marriage & Family, Religion & Culture

(Reuters) ‘There are no funerals:’ Death in quarantine leaves nowhere to grieve

Struck down by coronavirus at the age of 83, the long life of Alfredo Visioli ended with a short ceremony at a graveyard near Cremona, his hometown in northern Italy.

“They buried him like that, without a funeral, without his loved ones, with just a blessing from the priest,” said his granddaughter Marta Manfredi who couldn’t attend. Like most of the old man’s family – like most of Italy – she was confined to her home.

“When all this is over,” she vows, “we will give him a real funeral.”

Read it all.

Posted in Death / Burial / Funerals, Health & Medicine, Italy, Religion & Culture

(Atlantic) NIH Director: ‘We’re on an Exponential Curve’–Francis Collins speaks about the coronavirus, his faith, and an unusual friendship.

I asked Collins whether that means we seem to be tracking with what happened in Italy.

“Right,” Collins told me. “If you look at the curve of new cases being diagnosed over the course of the last month, just look at the curve of what happened in Italy, and then look at our curve in the U.S., and you say if you go back eight days from today, they had about the same number of cases that we have today—that is, slightly over 2,000. And then if we follow that same track, then eight days from [March 22], we would be having the same kind of incredible crisis that they are facing.” (The New York Times described the catastrophe befalling Italy: “The coronavirus epidemic raging through Italy has already left streets empty and shops shuttered as 60 million Italians are essentially under house arrest. There are the exhausted doctors and nurses toiling day and night to keep people alive. There are children hanging drawings of rainbows from their windows and families singing from their balconies. But the ultimate metric of pandemics and plagues is the bodies they leave behind. In Italy, with the oldest population in Europe, the toll has been heavy, with more than 2,100 deaths, the most outside of China. On Monday alone, more than 300 people died.”)

Collins added this important qualifier: “Now we have a chance to change that, by applying now the most draconian measures on social distancing to try to limit the spread of coronavirus from person to person. But we will not succeed at changing the course from that exponential curve unless there is full national engagement in those commitments to try to reduce spread. I think we’re getting there; certainly in the last few days there seems to be a lot of waking up to just how serious the threat is, but that’s obviously not universal across this large and complicated country.”

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Posted in Health & Medicine, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(RNS) Congregations improvise ways to fight COVID-19’s isolation

On a normal Sunday, most of the 100 people filling the pews of the Rev. Lori Cornell’s congregation fit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s description of those at high risk for COVID-19.

So like the majority of churches in the greater Seattle area, Calvary Lutheran Church of Federal Way has suspended its worship services and is turning to technology not only for its weekly celebration of the Eucharist, but for all the pastoral and social contact an aging congregation depends on church for.

But with social distancing and electronic connections come challenges. Cornell is worried older members of her church may become lonesome.

“They have the potential to feel more isolated than ever, so we’re trying to be really mindful of that,” Cornell said. “My concern is for people whose lives very much count on the church and who find themselves often dependent on other people to get them places they need to go, like Bible study, church and other events.”

Her church’s leadership is using Facebook as a way to stay connected, with plans to post homespun sacred music created by church musicians, and leading video chats throughout the week.

For those not technically savvy, the phone has become an important tool, Cornell said.

Read it all.

Posted in Blogging & the Internet, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(NBC) Americans come together through faith while far apart

Watch it all.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, America/U.S.A., Blogging & the Internet, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(NYT) A Sunday Without Worship: In Crisis, a Nation Asks, ‘What Is Community?

COLUMBIA, MD. — It was Sunday morning, and the vast parking lots of Bridgeway Community Church sat empty.

Instead of greeting thousands of worshipers, volunteers stood in the damp cold, ready to explain to anyone who might not have heard that services are now online only, at least until the threat of Covid-19 has passed.

Inside, the Missions Cafe was closed. The halls no longer resounded with congregants singing or children racing to Sunday school. For a church whose stated mission is to be a multicultural community “where people were sad they had to wait a week to come back,” waiting took on a whole new meaning.

This week, as the coronavirus has spread, one American ritual after another has vanished. March Madness is gone. No more morning gym workouts or lunches with co-workers. No more visits to grandparents in nursing homes. The Boston Marathon, held through war and weather since 1897, was postponed.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Health & Medicine, Liturgy, Music, Worship, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture

Church of England launches Vision for Higher Education

Speaking at the official launch of Faith in Higher Education, the Church of England’s lead bishop for Higher Education, Tim Dakin, who is the Bishop of Winchester, said:

“Higher Education is at a crossroads. Shaping its overall vision is therefore as crucial as the issues of funding and governance and of recognising anew its contribution to social mobility and economic prosperity.

“This Vision is a fresh articulation of what higher education is for: It offers a faith-based hope for humanising higher education: as enriching both the student and common good of all.”

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Education, England / UK, Religion & Culture

(GR) Ryan Burge on unique coronavirus fears in pews of America’s aging ‘mainline’ churches

Several years ago, I spoke to a rather typical group of Episcopalians in a church forum and I would estimate that roughly 75% of the people in the room were over 60 years of age.

I would love to see more nuanced statistics, at this point in time, because I suspect that the gold 36-64 years old band in the middle of that Burge chart leans toward the older end of that niche. Burge notes that the average Episcopalian is 59 years old. There are now three retired United Methodists for every member under the age of 35. More Burge:

Demography is destiny for many of these denominations. They will become dramatically smaller in the next two decades based on attrition alone, whether or not they are hit by COVID-19.

But if the disease can’t be curtailed, it could become a turning point for some of these denominations: Their houses of worship are prime targets for the spread of disease.

This passage hit me hard, as well:

Connection to their fellow members is especially important for older Americans. Data from Pew Research Center indicates that the average 80-year-old spends at least eight hours a day alone, double the time a 40-year-old does. For many of the older generation, the institutions that held society together for them during the formative years have already crumbled. One of the few things that has remained constant for them is their church home, seeing the same people in the same pews every Sunday, taking the bread and drinking from the cup the same way they have done for decades. They need that consistency and community — and COVID-19 might take that away from them.

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Posted in Episcopal Church (TEC), Health & Medicine, Lutheran, Methodist, Parish Ministry, Presbyterian, Religion & Culture

(DM) Church of England to launch a ‘Google Maps for graves’ within five years enabling family historians to search for burial records and locations in an online database

Tim Viney, owner and managing director of Altlantic Geomatics, told MailOnline: ‘Across the country there are thousands of burial grounds, each with important assets, buildings and infrastructure.

‘These valuable assets, in particular memorials and gravestones, must be maintained, records kept of where they are, what they look like.

‘The estimated 35,000,000 burial records relating to the Church of England burial grounds are a huge resource yet they are currently difficult to access.

‘We are delighted to be working with the Church of England with whom we propose a systematic approach across the country to map their churchyards.

‘Integrating the map with images of the memorials and the historic records will protect the records but also make them accessible online.

‘We are in discussion with potential partners to source investment to facilitate a rapid deployment across the country.

‘This is certainly an exciting and challenging project”

Read it all.

Posted in Church of England (CoE), Death / Burial / Funerals, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology

(Sightings) Russell Johnson–Film Resurrections and the Denial of Death

The interesting question isn’t why so many filmmakers rely on the resurrection trope, but what effect this has on viewers and what this trope says about American culture in the twenty-first century.

In the 1973 book The Denial of Death, anthropologist Ernest Becker argues that human beings across cultures find ways of rejecting the idea that death has the last word. Societies construct myths, develop cultural practices, and invest in collective pursuits to overcome the anxiety about the inevitability of death. Ancient Greek codes of honor, Chinese practices of ancestor-veneration, and the construction of pyramids and ziggurats in the ancient Near East and Mesoamerica are all, according to Becker, instances of the same human psychological impulse to use collective meaning-making to deny the meaninglessness of death.

On Becker’s theory, religious conceptions of reincarnation or the afterlife are not exceptions to a general acceptance of death. Rather, these religious beliefs are particularly clear, codified expressions of the near-universal human phenomenon of rejecting and repressing the finality of death. In the absence of religious convictions, human beings undertake “immortality projects” and construct socially shared “illusions” to meet their psychological needs. Ever since the decline of religion as the unifying structure of meaning in Western societies—Nietzsche’s famous “death of God”—film and other art forms have increasingly facilitated these shared illusions.

We don’t need to agree with Becker’s more sweeping claims to recognize that he’s right about the pervasiveness of the human tendency to deny the finality of death, whether consciously or not. Seen through this lens, the resurrection trope in popular film and television serves a social purpose. Even if many viewers of these films don’t actually believe that people come back to life, repeated exposure to resurrections and pseudo-resurrections functions as a sort of secular ritual of denying death.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, Death / Burial / Funerals, Eschatology, Movies & Television, Religion & Culture

For Her Feast day–(The Conversation) Faith made Harriet Tubman fearless as she rescued slaves

Millions of people voted in an online poll in 2015 to have the face of Harriet Tubman on the US$20 bill. But many might not have known the story of her life as chronicled in a recent film, “Harriet.”

Harriet Tubman worked as a slave, spy and eventually as an abolitionist. What I find most fascinating, as a historian of American slavery, is how belief in God helped Tubman remain fearless, even when she came face to face with many challenges.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Church History, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture

(New Atlantis) Ted Nordhaus–Must Growth Doom the Planet?

For this reason, degrowth offers no guarantee that environmental impacts will decline. This is all the more so as calls for degrowth are frequently coupled with demands for a return to simpler, less technological, and non-synthetic systems for the provision of food and energy and for production of material goods and services. Less affluent economies more dependent upon production systems that use less technology would substantially increase the resource demands associated with consumption, and would erode or even entirely offset the benefits of lower levels of consumption.

Indeed, all over the world, poor populations dependent on low-productivity technologies often require surprisingly large per capita resource footprints to sustain their meager consumption. One 2012 study in PNAS, for instance, found that the average West African requires the same amount of land as the average Northern European to support a diet that is much poorer calorically and offers much less dietary protein.

By contrast, over the last two centuries, a virtuous cycle of rising energy and resource productivity has allowed for unprecedented levels of human wellbeing. With that has come a growing population — not because people are having more children but because life expectancies are much higher. Greater prosperity has brought rising material consumption — not mainly because of conspicuous consumption in the wealthiest societies, but rather the agrarian, energy, and demographic transitions that have allowed much of the global population to escape rural poverty and achieve something approaching modern living standards.

Growing demand for material goods and services by a growing and increasingly affluent global population has increased the pressure on natural resources. But it has also led to innovation that has raised resource productivity. In this way, rising resource productivity has allowed for both continuing economic growth and the increasing environmental efficiency of the global economy.

Reversing those dynamics will not necessarily result in lower resource usage, or lower environmental impacts. Lowering demand for resources could as easily result in less-productive resource use as in reduced pressure on resources. The combination of large post-growth human populations, economic stagnation, and increasingly abundant natural resources might drive human societies toward less-productive technological systems. The end of growth, in this way, may do more harm to the planet than good.

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Posted in * Economics, Politics, Anthropology, Ecology, Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Globalization, Religion & Culture

(PCN) Dean’s Beans: Blackburn Cathedral launches new coffee business

Blackburn Cathedral is launching its very own blend of coffee in the latest of its drinks businesses set up to boost its mission and ministry.

Hot on the heels of the first ever cathedral branded gin, Dean’s Beans Coffee has been produced by a local company and will be sold in the cathedral’s cafe.

Like its gin business, it’s hoped the coffee will soon be stocked in supermarkets.

Named in honour of the Dean of Blackburn Very Rev Peter Howell-Jones, Dean’s Beans retails at £5 a 225g bag for both ground and beans.

A tea business is expected to launch later this year too.

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Posted in Church of England (CoE), Economy, England / UK, Parish Ministry, Religion & Culture, Stewardship

(Barna) Signs of Decline & Hope Among Key Metrics of Faith

As we continue to share research in the State of the Church 2020, a year-long project exploring the current challenges and opportunities facing the Church, we aim to shed more light on why Americans’ relationship to churches is changing and help Christians discern a faithful direction forward.

Barna Group has been gathering survey data on the long-term shifts that have occurred in the United States over the last several decades. In this report, we explore data collected among 96,171 surveys over more than 20 years, giving us powerful insight into the changes happening in terms of faith practice, such as church attendance, Bible-reading and prayer. What emerges is a nuanced portrait of people trying to figure out what faith means in the 21st Century and the role of Christianity in their lives. And while key markers of religiosity have diminished overall, there are some signs of steadiness among committed Christians that stand in contrast.

Currently, Just One in Four Americans Is a Practicing Christian
To get a broad view of the role of Christianity in the American Church, as well as those outside of it, let’s start by looking at the manner in which Americans relate to Christianity, using three segments: practicing Christians, non-practicing Christians and those who are not Christians.

Practicing Christians identify as Christian, agree strongly that faith is very important in their lives and have attended church within the past month.
Non-practicing Christians are self-identified Christians who do not qualify as practicing.
Non-Christians are U.S. adults who do not identify as Christian.

The first and perhaps most significant change we’ll explore is that practicing Christians are now a much smaller segment of the entire population. In 2000, 45 percent of all those sampled qualified as practicing Christians. That share has consistently declined over the last 19 years. Now, just one in four Americans (25%) is a practicing Christian. In essence, the share of practicing Christians has nearly dropped in half since 2000.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Religion & Culture, Sociology

(CT) The Possible Decline of the Nones Isn’t a Boost for Evangelicals

However, there is some nuance to the story regarding the religiosity of Gen Z. While the share of Gen Z that identifies as Christian is the smallest of any generation, those who still identify as Protestant or Catholic are incredibly devout. For instance, nearly 6 in 10 evangelical members of Gen Z attend church at least once a week. That’s as high as evangelicals older than 75 and statistically higher than baby boomers and those in Generation X. The same pattern emerges among mainline Protestants and Catholics, as well.

For mainline Protestants, there is no difference in weekly attendance rates between Gen Z and any other generation. For Catholics, the only cohort that attends Mass more than Gen Z is the Silent Generation, those born before 1946. The conclusion is straightforward: Though the share of Gen Z Christians is small, they are deeply committed to their faith.

It’s important to note that these data do not indicate that the overall rate of religious disaffiliation will decrease any time soon. Generational replacement is inevitable. Consider the fact that the Silent Generation, which is 18 percent nones, is decreasing by hundreds of members a day and is being replaced by Gen Z, which is 42 percent religiously unaffiliated.

There is no doubt that the rate will continue to rise, but it may find a plateau in the next few decades. At the same time, the United States will have a much smaller number of Christians, but those who remain will be committed to their faith and attend church regularly.

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Posted in Evangelicals, Religion & Culture, Sociology

(WSJ) Nathan Lewin–The US Supreme Court Justices Punt on Religious Liberty

[Justice Byron] White then rejected the notion that TWA should have to pay “premium wages” to a substitute, wrecking employment opportunities for many religiously observant employees. “To require TWA to bear more than a de minimis cost in order to give Mr. Hardison Saturdays off is an undue hardship,” he wrote. He justified this repudiation of respect for conscience by declaring that if TWA bore any cost whatever, it “would involve unequal treatment of employees on the basis of their religion.” Never mind that any accommodation by definition results in unequal treatment.

Accommodating religious observance usually requires more than “de minimis” cost and inconvenience. By defining religious accommodation as voluntary cost-free etiquette, Justice White empowered bosses to treat an employees’ religion as a mere inconvenience.

Justice Thurgood Marshall declared in dissent: “Today’s decision deals a fatal blow to all efforts under Title VII to accommodate work requirements to religious practices.” He concluded that “one of this Nation’s pillars of strength—our hospitality to religious diversity—has been seriously eroded.”

In Patterson v. Walgreen, the drugstore chain claimed that it had accommodated Mr. Patterson’s religious observance by offering him a lower-paying position in which he could observe the sabbath and by allowing him to swap shifts with other employees who wouldn’t have to be paid extra. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch said they were prepared to overrule White’s noxious Hardison declaration. But they believed there were too many technical hurdles in Patterson v. Walgreen to make it “a good vehicle for revisiting Hardison.”

I am an Orthodox Jew, and I’ve been blessed with accommodative employers for nearly all of my professional life. Read it all.

Posted in Corporations/Corporate Life, Labor/Labor Unions/Labor Market, Law & Legal Issues, Religion & Culture, Supreme Court

(1st Things) Wesley Smith–Death On Demand Comes To Germany

…even I never expected full-bore death on demand to arrive in the West for another decade. I was too optimistic. A recent ruling from Germany’s highest court has cast right-to-die incrementalism aside and conjured a fundamental right both to commit suicide and to receive assistance in doing it. Moreover, the decision has explicitly rejected limiting the right to people diagnosed with illnesses or disabilities. As a matter of protecting “the right of personality,” the court decreed that “self-determined death” is a virtually unlimited fundamental liberty that the government must guarantee to protect “autonomy.” In other words, the German people now have the right to kill themselves at any time and for any reason. From the decision (published English version, my emphasis):

The right to a self-determined death is not limited to situations defined by external causes like serious or incurable illnesses, nor does it only apply in certain stages of life or illness. Rather, this right is guaranteed in all stages of a person’s existence. . . . The individual’s decision to end their own life, based on how they personally define quality of life and a meaningful existence, eludes any evaluation on the basis of general values, religious dogmas, societal norms for dealing with life and death, or consideration of objective rationality. It is thus not incumbent upon the individual to further explain or justify their decision; rather their decision must, in principle, be respected by state and society as an act of self-determination.

The court wasn’t done. The right to suicide also includes a right to assist suicide:

The right to take one’s own life also encompasses the freedom to seek and, if offered, utilize assistance provided by third parties for this purpose. . . . Therefore, the constitutional guarantee of the right to suicide corresponds to equally far-reaching constitutional protection extended to the acts carried out by persons rendering suicide assistance.

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Posted in Anthropology, Death / Burial / Funerals, Ethics / Moral Theology, Germany, Health & Medicine, Law & Legal Issues, Life Ethics, Pastoral Theology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(Psephizo) Peter Ould–Do we know what Anglicans think about same-sex marriage?

I could go on, but the point is clear – the poll does not represent what the press release claims it does. It is not a reflection of Church of England members in the pews, it does not show any change in support for same-sex marriage in the past four years and it uses terms with little or no qualification in a manner that misleads the reader as to the meaning of the poll. That most of these issues have been pointed out on a previous occasion but have been ignored by the authors demonstrates a deliberate choice to perpetuate these errors for the sake of a political cause.

I close with a challenge to Jayne Ozanne and her self-referential Foundation. As described above, one very easy way to correct these errors would be to ask at least one extra question around church attendance. If Jayne Ozanne were to repeat the exercise, I will happily fund the asking of this extra question, the wording of which would be determined by a neutral third party to the agreement of both parties. My hypothesis is that by looking at church attendance statistics you would see that (a) the majority of these “Anglicans” are not active church members at all and (b) the active church members would hold statistically significantly different views on the subject to the non-church-attending respondents. In fact, this kind of work has been done before, by Mark Regnerus in the States. What he found was that nominal, non-church-attending respondents were indistinguishable from the general population, not only on this issue but on sexual morality more broadly, whilst it was active, church-attending members who held views on all these issues quite out of step with the wider culture. Were the Ozanne Foundation poll to make this kind of enquiry, and find something similar, then it would be significant—but rather awkward.

Proper academic inquiry, including in the area of quantitative study, is open to further information and to clarification and stratification in this manner. It adds to the body of human knowledge, it helps to deepen our understanding of sociological issues. There is no good reason why the Ozanne Foundation should refuse such an offer unless they were afraid that the results such an extra question would generate would undermine their position, but in the area of academic research that is not a good enough reason not to explore a subject in greater detail.

The challenge is clearly there – the issues with the poll have been on numerous occasions and now a cost free option exists to correct them.

Read it all.

Posted in --Civil Unions & Partnerships, Church of England (CoE), England / UK, Media, Religion & Culture, Sexuality, Sociology