Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Here is another excellent post by Paul McCain.  Very informative.

“Since the time when the church entered the stream of history, it has appeared to the world as a complicated enigma, a riddle without a solution. Here are some of the questions. What is the distinct character of the church of Jesus Christ? What place does it occupy in history? How can the church’s claims be rationalized and what are proper responses to them? At what point can the question of what the church is be broached? Government officials in every country and state where the church is found have to face the question of what the church is. We are not the first ones to ask these questions. Since the time of Justin [ca. 100-ca.165] and Clement [ca. 100], of Celsus[1] [d. ca. 200] and Porphyrus[2] [ca. 232-ca. 303], philosophers have had to face them. Various modern scholarly disciplines, including historical research, psychology, sociology and the scientific study of religion [Religionswissenschaft], have examined the phenomena associated with the church in an attempt to provide a definition. So far no government has found an answer to the question of what the church is and it seems unlikely that any scientific discipline will have more success. “Their conclusions in defining the church conflict with each other.” What is the reason for their failure to come up with an answer? The answer obviously lies in the simple fact that there are no real analogous organizations which can serve as a standard or norm to which the church can be compared. Since comparisons are necessary in making definitions, it is impossible to define the church. The discipline of comparative religions, as the name indicates, compares the church with other religions. Its claims for revelation can be placed along side the beliefs and teachings of the other great world religions. The methods used in the history of religions and sociology can be used in placing the earliest forms of Christianity along side of Hellenistic Gnostic cults. This can be expanded to make other comparisons. A Catholic Church in its development can be compared with the “people” of Islam. The same comparison can be made between the social forms which have appeared in Christian history and the corresponding Asiatic world religions which appeared at that time. Recognizable parallels are easy to come by. It takes a bit of daring to take standards of the school of the history of religions, which are so obviously human conceptions, and then to use them in examining the phenomena associated with the church. At first glance such a scholarly approach holds out the promise of providing a definition of the church and what its essence is. This approach promises to deliver more than it actually does and soon proves to be deceptive. While for some phenomena connected with Christianity, some parallels can be found, for others there is neither an explanation nor a comparison. In what is beyond explanation, where there are no parallels in the history of religion (comparative religions) or in how religious associations are structured, the mystery of the church’s essence is hidden. One way out of the dilemma of explaining why the unique phenomena of the church are beyond explanation is to take refuge in the Latin axiom: “Individuum est ineffabile [What is distinctive or unique is beyond definition].” Unique individuality is not uncommon to history. This still leaves the problem of finding an answer for an historical definition, since the unique individuality of something living – like the church – cannot be so easily explained. Florenski[3] once said that the inability to come to a definition of what the church is demonstrates its living character. Looking for the answer of what makes the church the church simply goes beyond the limits of the scientific study of the history of religions and examining the structure of other human organizations. It must be conceded from the start that if the church is constituted by what its members believe, its rituals and its organizational structure, then the church should be studied along with other religious organizations which also have statements of what they believe and which have rituals. This approach leads to only one conclusion: the church’s essence is then not really distinctive. In this case the Christian church is only a peculiar or idiosyncratic historical phenomenon, as defined by the history of religions. But another such phenomenon resembling the church simply does not exist. The church has no parallels. There are no Jewish, Parsee (followers of Zoroaster), Manichean, Mohammedan or Buddhist churches. There is no church of Mithra. For the church is the body of Christ. She is not only called, but really is the body of Christ. She is the people of God in the same way that she is temple of the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as the body of Mohammed or of Buddha, or a body of Serpis or Mithra. Only under the presupposition that Jesus Christ is really the Son of God, who for the sake of us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was really made man,[4] can the church be the church. The church is church only because what the ancient creed says about the person of Jesus Christ, his birth, his death, his resurrection and his ascension, is really true. If all these things were not true, to drag up an old saying, these things are no more or less significant than any other good story. In this case the church, as we understand it, simply does not exist. The church has no other response for explaining the reason for the world’s failure to understand what she really is than by pointing out that the world does not believe in Christ. What the church believes about herself is dependent on what she believes about Jesus. If non-Christians know nothing of the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, how could they possibly recognize his actual and personal presence in the world through the church? Does the church have a way of proclaiming the mystery of her existence in the world other than by proclaiming the presence of her exalted Lord? What the church is can only be shown by confessing Christ. Woe to the church, which seeks a way other than confessing Christ to gain the world’s attention. Ecumenical Council for Practical Christianity.”

Law and Gospel (December 1936). Hermann Sasse, Erlangen. Translated by David P. Scaer

[1] Celsus was a second century pagan philosopher. His attack on Christianity is the oldest of which portions survive. It is known to us from “Contra Celsum” by Origen which is a third century work which preserves 90% of Celsus’ original work, “Alaqh~ Logo~” or “True Word.” ODCC p. 311. MH

[2] Neoplatonist philosopher, perhaps once a Christian by definitely no longer so by the persecution of Decius in 250. Studied philosophy at Athens and was convinced of Neoplatonism by Plotinus, whom he met in Rome in 262. Studied popular religion and took a particularly negative attitude toward Christianity. He pointed out alleged inconsistencies in the Gospels and attacked the O.T. Refutations were presented by St. Methodius of Olympus, Eusebius of Ceasarea, Apollinarius of Laodicia, and others. ODCC p. 1309. MH

[3] George Florovsky 1893-1979, Russian theologian. From 1926 professor of Patristics at the Orthodox Theological Institute of St. Sergius in Paris and later Professor of Dogmatics. Came to the U.S. in 1948, professor and dean at St. Vladimier’s Seminary (1948-1955) and Professor of Eastern Church History at Harvard Divinity School (1956-1964), and Visiting Professor at Princeton from 1964. Played a leading part in the ecumenical movement from 1937 serving regularly as a delegate at assemblies of the Faith and Order movement and of the World Council of Churches. ODCC p. 620. MH

[4] Reference to the second article of the Nicene Creed. MH

“Gesetz und Evangelium.” Oekumenischen Rat Fuer Praktisches Christentum. Forschungsabteilung. Vertraulich Kirch, Dezember 1936. Unpublished paper. Feuerhahn Bibliography no. 36-02. This paper was written in preparation for the upcoming Faith and Order Conference at Edinburgh (1937). Sasse was at this time under prohibition of travel, as he had been when he attended a Faith and Order committee meeting in London at Archbishop Temple’s residence earlier in the year. He was also deeply involved into the open schism in the Confessing Church. The pressures he was facing at the time of this publication were enormous. The entire article will appear soon in “The Lonely Way” vol. 3, from C.P.H. MH


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You’ve heard about the so-called “pastor” down in Florida who plans to burn the Qu’ran this Saturday. First, the guy is a publicity hound and his tiny little sect, consisting of no more than fifty members, are infamous in the Gainsville area for pulling stunts. The “academy” he runs down there is, to say the least, weird. You can read their “rules” here. PastorMichael Walther had these excellent thoughts on the issue of burning the Qur’an:

“The announcement by a pastor in Florida to burn the Qur’an in a public protest has raised concerns by many. Foremost among the concerns is that radical Muslims will use the event and the images it generates as propaganda to incite violence against Christians.

“The violent activities of radical Muslims, the rampant religious intolerance in Muslim countries, and the hair-trigger sensitivity to any criticism of Islam frustrates many non-Muslims. But will it serve any purpose to use their own tactics? Absolutely not!

“The rising tide of Islam could not be possible without God’s allowance. Before we fall into the temptation to “fight fire with fire,” we need to think of our basic Christian principles. Christianity is not a religion that relies on physical force or violent protests. Christianity moves forward on the proclamation of God’s word of grace in Jesus and deeds of mercy done for the sake of our neighbors.

“Luther and his countrymen faced a much worse situation with the invasion of the Muslim Turks in the 1500s. Luther considered this invasion nothing less than punishment from God for a church and a society that had drifted from God’s word. He called the church to repentance and to renewal through the word of God. Could the American Christian church and culture stand a little reforming? I certainly think so!

“And what did he think about the Qur’an? Luther called for its publication and encouraged Christians to read it! He knew that side by side, the Bible would overwhelm the Qur’an with its truth and with its message of salvation.”

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1_61_100609_stonehengeLONDON —  Researchers say a new find near the famous Stonehenge monument shows the religious significance of the site.

The smaller prehistoric site is being called “Bluehenge” because of the color of the stones that were placed there thousands of years ago but have since disappeared. All that is left are the holes made when the stones were put in place.

An artist’s impression of the stone circle as it would have looked in prehistoric times was released Tuesday.

Researchers believe the newly discovered stone circle and the larger Stonehenge circle may mark a “domain of the dead” that was linked to the “domain of the living” by the River Avon.

Experts say the stones were incorporated into the circle in about 2,500 B.C.

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Faced with a harsh job market and inspired to action by the recent spate of white-collar crimes, students nationwide are flocking to graduate programs in religious education, often in record numbers. Many of the nation’s divinity schools, including top programs at Harvard and Yale, have posted increases of 10 percent and higher for applicants to their fall incoming classes — returns that would draw the envy of any bearish investor.

“The admission pool definitely spiked in this last year, and the economy probably is part of it,” said Harold Attridge, dean of Yale Divinity School, where a 13 percent increase in applications has led to the largest applicant pool in the school’s history.

A similar trend has been observed at Harvard Divinity School, where applications for the fall semester are up 11 percent, according to Jonathan Beasley, communications officer for HDS.

Though Attridge identified declining job prospects as a potential motivator for students to continue their education, he pointed to a crop of contemporary moral and religious issues as a key influence on students seeking study religion.

Among those relatively new issues are global climate change and “gross immorality in the financial sector,” Attridge said, which may have inspired students to take a more spiritualapproach toward community service.

“There are questions about whether the fundamental moral fiber of the country is corroded,” Attridge said.

The explanation resonates strongly with Stephen Blackmer, who will begin studying for a master of divinity at YDS this fall. Blackmer, 53, had worked in conservation and sustainable development for nearly 30 years before answering a call to join the ministry.

Blackmer said his experience has taught him that the main obstacle to slowing climate change is not technological or economic, but spiritual.

“Climate change is in effect a spiritual problem, because we’ve developed the technologies to protect the world from climate change, but not the wisdom to use them,” he said.

Blackmer, who said he hopes to join an “environmental ministry” after graduating, said the slumping economy made his decision to attend divinity school easier.

“If things were going gangbusters and there were opportunities all over the place, I might not have looked to the ministry at this time,” Blackmer said.

But for other students, the impact of the economy has been more direct. Smoot Carter, 23, will enroll at YDS right out of college after rejections from business schools stymied his career plans. He hopes that after his two-year program, he’ll be able to pursue a career in public service.

“The reason I applied to divinity school was because the market wasn’t providing the opportunities to enter into the business field, while at the same time the business schools were pursuing students with more experience,” Carter said. “I was kind of stuck in the middle.”

Like Blackmer, Carter said the economy ripened a desire he had to pursue a religious education, which had been an interest of his for some time but had not been considered a serious option.

“This is the only time in my life when I feel I can pursue theological or spiritual studies,” Carter said. “The market has directed me toward pursuing opportunities like this.”

Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the 253-member Association of Theological Schools, said stories like Carter’s and Blackmer’s are becoming more common. He drew a parallel between the current economic downturn and recent crises such as the dot-com bust and the attacks of Sept. 11, which were also followed by increased applications to divinity schools.

“When the economy crashes as hard as it did, it invites a lot of people to ask, ‘Are our values in the right place? Do I give myself to the pursuit of money, or do I give myself to the pursuit of moral values?'” Aleshire said.

Though Attridge called the increased interest in divinity school “a very encouraging sign,” the record number of applicants was followed by the highest matriculation rate at YDS in decades, leading to over-enrollment by about 10 percent for the incoming class.

“It’s going to be tight, but we’ll make it,” Attridge said.

Still, Attridge and Aleshire take a positive outlook to the future of theological education, and both said they expect the applications to continue to rise.

“We’re at a cultural moment when there’s a lot of concern about the common good,” Aleshire said. “Religion is a social force.”

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I am 'deeply religious.'

I am 'deeply religious.'

What do you think about the following article?  Are the ‘deeply religious’ more likely to fight?  I found this article on foxnews.com


Terminally ill patients who are deeply religious often get aggressive treatment in their final days, even though palliative care might be easier for them, researchers said this week.

A look at 345 cancer patients found that those who relied on religion to cope with the illness the most were more likely to get life-prolonging care in their last week than those with a lower levels of coping through faith, said Dr. Andrea Phelps and colleagues at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. (more…)

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images2I found this today at foxnews.com.  Enjoy!

The brain of every human being, from believers to atheists, has been revealed to contain at least three “god spots”, all linked to religious beliefs and thoughts.

A team of U.S. researchers has obtained strong evidence that religiosity is managed by the same parts of the brain that are used every day to interpret other people’s moods and intentions and to analyze experiences.

Moreover, the spots exist in the brains of ordinary people, not just those whose extraordinary religious experiences have been triggered by brain injury or neurological conditions like epilepsy.

Scientists, philosophers and theologians have long argued about whether religious belief is a biological or a sociological phenomenon. Britain’s controversial evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins contends that religion is essentially a cultural virus, spread from brain to brain.

Others argue that it arises from the structure of the brain itself.

The new findings by researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland – obtained by non-invasive brain scans of 26 Americans – have gone far to resolving the debate.

Jordan Grafman and his colleagues wrote in the U.S. journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that the evolution of the brain networks that handle religious thoughts “was likely driven by their primary roles in social (thinking), language and logical reasoning”.

According to University of NSW evolutionary biologist Rob Brooks, the study shows that religion taps into existing parts of the brain that evolved to handle complex social interactions.

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090308-religion-vlg-10pwidecA wide-ranging study on American religious life found that the Roman Catholic population has been shifting out of the Northeast to the Southwest, the percentage of Christians in the nation has declined and more people say they have no religion at all.

Fifteen percent of respondents said they had no religion, an increase from 14.2 percent in 2001 and 8.2 percent in 1990, according to the American Religious Identification Survey. (more…)

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