Tag Archives: America

The End? (from “Forward”)

Published Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Have We Reached the End of Traditional Religion?
Jews and Christians Alike Are Straying From Affiliation

By Jay Michaelson

Changing Church: ‘The Catholic Church seems to be doubling down on its most conservative teachings. You know something’s changing when Rush Limbaugh calls the pope a Communist,’ writes Jay Michaelson.

Maybe the Christian Right is right. For almost 40 years now, they’ve been warning us that we’ve entered the wilderness, that traditional religion is being eroded. Did 2013 prove them right?

Item One: the Rise of the Nones. This phenomenon — nearly 20% of Americans listing “none” as their religious affiliation — was first documented in 2012, but only in 2013 did it emerge as a demographic and political fact, impacting how we vote, how we live and what we think about political issues. Strikingly, there are more and more Nones the younger the demographic sample gets. Among 18- to 29-year-olds, 32% are Nones.

Item Two, or perhaps One-A, is the Pew Research Center’s survey of American Jews, which showed that 20% of American Jews (there’s that number again) consider themselves “Jews of no religion,” and that their non-religious Judaism is not a deep or sticky enough of an identity to be sustainable.

Third, even among non-Nones (Somes?), religious affiliation appears to be growing more polarized: There are now more fundamentalists, more liberal-to-atheists and fewer mainliners in between. Denominationally, this means fewer Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, Conservative Jews and Reform Jews — and more evangelicals, Pentecostals, ultra-Orthodox and non-denominationals.

Mega-churches are spreading — it’ll be interesting to see whether charismatic forms of Judaism will mimic their success — and old-line churches are dwindling. It seems that the center cannot hold.

And then there’s the Pope. Under Benedict XVI, who resigned amid swirling rumors of sexual and financial scandals in the Vatican, the Catholic Church seemed to be entering a second Counter-Reformation, doubling down on its most conservative teachings and, by way of enormous “charitable” organizations, working to eviscerate legal protections for women and sexual minorities.

Now, Pope Francis tells us he won’t judge gay people, that the church is too obsessed with sexuality and that untrammeled capitalism is immoral.

You know something’s changing when Rush Limbaugh calls the pope a Communist.

Finally, even among those who still profess religious belief, the LGBT equality movement has caused a striking moderation in views. Staying with the Catholic Church for a moment, over 60% of church-going Catholics in America support same-sex marriage (compared to over 80% of Jews), which is above the national average. Even younger Evangelicals, galvanized around the Emerging Church movement, are beginning to say “live and let live” when it comes to gays, although they remain as staunchly anti-abortion as ever. Taboos are falling.

And at the same time, the influence of the so-called Christian Right is at a low point. Think about it: A few years ago, when we talked about conservative Republicans, we talked about the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council. Now, we talk about the Tea Party. Yes, many Tea Partiers are just warmed-over Christian Rightists. But the rhetoric is different, the issues are different and the churchmen aren’t calling the shots.

Clearly, no one factor explains all of these disparate trends. We still don’t know why Americans are becoming more like Europeans when it comes to matters of (un-)belief: secular culture, science, the excesses of “bad religion,” interfaith marriages and so on. It may just be a matter of survey respondents feeling more comfortable saying “None.”

Nor do we really know what the future holds, for Jews or anyone else. We can speculate that the growth in secularism and the concomitant growth in fundamentalism are related — but which is the horse and which is the cart?

It does seem, though, that 2013 was a year in which traditional religious affiliation underwent significant change. Is this the dawning of a new, liberal age, in which America finally starts to look a little more like the rest of the Western world?

Don’t count on it. American religion is nothing if not resilient. It is malleable enough to change with the times, and if anyone ever does declare war on Christmas, they will lose. We remain a weirdly religious country.

There are signs of innovation and renewal, too — forms of religion which focus on the pastoral and the personal, rather than the dogmatic. And these values are timeless. No matter how shopworn and threadbare our religious language sometimes becomes, the mystery and tragedy of human experience still remains — and so religion endures. Remember, even that famous sermon about losing one’s religion begins, “Oh, life, it’s bigger — it’s bigger than you…”

Jay Michaelson is a contributing editor to the Forward.


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Even More Cliches

1 Love the sinner, hate the sin. This is a backhanded way to tell someone you love them, at best. It also ignores the command by Jesus not to focus on the splinter in our neighbors’ eyes while a plank remains in our own. Bottom line: we all screw up, and naming others’ sin as noteworthy while remaining silent about your own is arrogant.

2 The Bible clearly says…Two points on this one. First, unless you’re a Biblical scholar who knows the historical and cultural contexts of the scriptures and can read them in their original languages, the Bible isn’t “clear” about much. Yes, we can pick and choose verses that say one thing or another, but by whom was it originally said, and to whom? Cherry-picking scripture to make a point is called proof-texting, and it’s a theological no-no. Second, the Bible can be used to make nearly any point we care to (anyone want to justify slavery?), so let’s not use it as a billy club against each other.

3 God needed another angel in heaven, so He called him/her home. Another well-meaning but insensitive thing to say. This assumes a lot about what the person you’re speaking to believes, and it also ignores the grief they’re going through. The person who died is, well, dead. Focus on the needs of the living right in front of you.

4 Are you saved? I’ve addressed the theological understandings of hell and judgment in other pieces, but regardless of whether you believe in hell, this is a very unattractive thing to say. First, it implies a power/privilege imbalance (ie, “I’m saved, but I’m guessing you’re not based on some assumptions I’m making about you), and it also leaps over the hurdle of personal investment and relationship, straight into the deep waters of personal faith. If you take the time to learn someone’s story, you’ll like learn plenty about what they think and believe in the process. And who knows? You might actually learn something too, rather than just telling others what they should believe.

5 The Lord never gives someone more than they can handle. What about people with mental illness? What about people in war-torn countries who are tortured to death? What about the millions of Jews murdered in the Holocaust? And this also implies that, if really horrible things are happening to you, God “gave” it to you. Is this a test? Am I being punished? Is God just arbitrarily cruel? Just don’t say it.

6 America was founded as a Christian nation. Honestly, I find it hard to believe we are still having this conversation, but here we are. Anyone with a cursory understanding of history understands that we were founded on the principle of religious liberty – not just the liberty to be a Christian – and that many of the founding fathers explicitly were not Christian. Thomas Jefferson, anyone?

7 The Bible says it; I believe it; that settles it. If ever there was a top-shelf conversation killer this is it. You’re not inviting any opinion, response, thought or the like. You’re simply making a claim and telling others to shut up. Also, I’ve yet to meet someone who takes EVERY WORD of the Bible literally. Everyone qualifies something in it, like the parts about keeping kosher, wearing blended fibers, stoning adulterers, tossing your virgin daughters into the hands of an angry mob…you get the point.

8 It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve. This is a little “joke” some Christians use to assert the superiority of opposite-sex unions over same-sex ones. But here’s the thing: if you really believe the first and only two people on the planet at one point were Adam and Eve, who did their kids marry and have babies with? This, my friends, is incest (happened again if you believe Noah’s family members were the only survivors of the great flood). This just demonstrates the selective moral blindness many of us Christian have and seriously compromises our credibility about anything else.

9 Jesus was a Democrat/Republican.Seems to me that, when pressed, Jesus was happy to keep church and state separate. Remember the whole thing about giving to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and giving to God what is God’s? And if we choose to, we can pick and choose anecdotes to support Jesus being a liberal (care for the poor, anti death penalty) or a conservative (challenge government authority, practice sexual purity). Jesus was Jesus, and if it was as simple as pegging him to one of two seriously flawed contemporary forms of government, I can promise you I would not be a Christian.

10 (Insert sin here) is an abomination in the eyes of God. Almost always, when this phrase is invoked, it has something to do with sex or sexuality. Seldom do folks care to mention that divorce and remarriage is in that list of so-called abominations. Also, there are several words translated in English Bibles as ‘abomination,’ many of which don’t imply the sort of exceptionalism that such a word makes us think of today. And while we’re on the thread of things scripture says God “hates,’ let’s consider this from Proverbs:

These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among  brethren.

I’m going to go out on a limb and propose that telling someone that who they are or what they are doing is an abomination to God is tantamount to sowing discord among your brothers and sisters. And this, according to the text above is itself an abomination.


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The Struggle for Rights in the USA continues

AUGUST 23, 2013.  Maria McFarland Sanchez-Moreno
  • Woman holds a sign during the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, at the Lincoln Memorial.
    © 2013 Reuters

I didn’t grow up in the United States. But one of the things I value most about living here is that all around me there is an active dialogue—sometimes heated, often frustrating, but almost always robust and open—about rights. People talk freely about gender, race, sexual orientation, economic inequality. And they don’t question that, if they speak up, they can change things for the better.

But neither that freedom nor that self-confidence would be possible if not for the efforts of people who, in more difficult times, insisted on building a more just society.

On Saturday, I will be joining thousands of marchers ata rally to commemorate the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall in the name of equal rights for all. I also will have the honor to say a few words.

The US has made real progress in the past 50 years. But it still has a long way to go to ensure human rights for all. This country has the largest reported prison population in the world. People of color are disproportionately likely to be arrested, and to be imprisoned for drug crimes. Too many migrants live in fear of being torn away from their families, and are easy prey for those who would abuse their rights. The poverty rate, which is bound up with other inequities, has actually risen in recent decades.

Fear of terrorism has paved the way for other erosions of rights, of both citizens and non-citizens, including theindefinite detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and mass surveillance. Those responsible for devising and implementing a government torture program have never been investigated, let alone prosecuted. The list goes on.

But there are also reasons for hope. Federal initiatives may yet bring more humanity and fairness to the criminal justice system. For the first time in decades, the country has a shot at meaningful immigration reform.

And perhaps most encouraging, there are still thousands if not millions of people in the US who are engaged in the struggle for rights. Let’s hope that they never give up on doing so.

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Eternity Envy

05/30/2013 15:55   By JONATHAN ROSENBLUM

I think most would concede that the haredi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.

Haredi demonstration against IDF enlistment legislation in Jerusalem, May 16, 2013
Photo by: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post
In response to the Church of Scotland’s adoption of the “An Inheritance of Abraham?” report, a veritable potpourri of reasons for rejecting the Jewish claim of a historical connection to the Land of Israel, the ever brilliant David Goldman offers one of his startling aperçus: “The most successful Christian communities embrace the State of Israel, while the least successful abhor it.”
The Church of Scotland certainly falls into the latter category. Since 1956, the Church of Scotland has shed two-thirds of its members, and continues to lose them at a rate of 5 percent a year. (Ironically, in happier times for the Church of Scotland, it was a hotbed of Christian Zionism. A 19th-century Church of Scotland cleric coined the phrase, “A land without people for a people without a land.”) The same observation applies to the Church of England, another fast-fading religious establishment.
Less than 40% of Britons say they believe in God, and more British Muslims than British Christians attend weekly religious services.
Like the Church of Scotland, the Church of England has increasingly descended into mindless political correctness. Israel has often borne the brunt of that political correctness in the form of resolutions for disinvestment.
The religious energy in America has shifted dramatically from the old mainstream churches – Episcopalians and Presbyterians – towards evangelicals. Here too, Goldman’s observation holds up. Both the Episcopalians and Presbyterians have passed disinvestment resolutions in recent years (though the Presbyterians’ was subsequently rescinded). Meanwhile the evangelicals have proven to be the most stalwart supporters of Israel, often citing the biblical verse, “And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
(Genesis 12:3) GOLDMAN CONNECTS his observation about failing religions to another: anti-Semitism is correlated with declining national groups.
Europe’s most prominent anti-Semitic party at present is Hungary’s Jobbik Party, the thirdlargest in the country. And Hungary’s fertility rate today is a paltry 0.83 per woman, the lowest in Europe.
But fertility rates well below the replacement level characterize the entire continent. The UN projects, for instance, a Russian population of 115 million in 2050, an astounding 30 million fewer people than inhabited Russia in 2000. (In Scotland, the number of births per year is half of what it was in 1950, and the number of babies born to married couples one-fifth.) Meanwhile, Muslim birthrates remain high across Europe. Native Europeans, then, can already smell the death scent of their own self-extinction. And those intimations of their own national mortality put them in a foul mood towards the Jews.
Goldman quotes the German-Jewish thinker Franz Rosenzweig on the fear of impending death at the national level: “Just as every individual must reckon with his eventual death, the peoples of the world foresee their eventual extinction… Indeed the love of the peoples for their own peoplehood is sweet and pregnant with presentiment of death… Thus the peoples of the world foresee a time when their land with its rivers and mountains still lies under heaven as it does today, but other people dwell there; when their language is entombed in books; and their laws and customs have lost their living power.”
But why should those “presentiments” be taken out on the Jews or the Jewish state? Because the Jews are the exception to the otherwise universal rule of civilizational rise and fall. As Michael Wyschograd observes, “Israel is beyond the ‘laws’ of history. It is not subject to the rise and fall of other peoples and empires, a fact which causes angry philosophers of history (i.e. Arnold Toynbee) whose schemes Israel undermines to refer to it as a fossil.”
Only one people has shown itself immortal: the Jews. As Mark Twain observed in his famous essay “Concerning the Jews”: “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” To see the Jews return to their ancient land, once more speaking their ancient tongue, and still observing their ancient law must be particularly grating to Europeans who can already foresee another people dwelling in their land, speaking a different language, and having sacked a once proud culture.
THE TWO Western countries most consistently supportive of Israel in the world today are the United States and Canada. The US is by far the most religious of the developed countries.
Two-fifths of Americans attend services weekly, and only 18% never worship. By contrast, more than half of Britons never attend church, and only one in eight does so weekly. That religiosity correlates highly with attitudes to Israel. Americans favor Israel over the Palestinians by nearly five to one, while Britons view Israel negatively by a ratio of nearly four to one.
The ruling Conservative Party in Canada has its political base in the country’s West, which is also the most religious section.
Birthrates and religion are closely linked, as Mary Eberstadt details in her new book, How the West Really Lost God. (Contrary to popular impression, religious affiliation also correlates positively with educational levels.) In the more religiously oriented urban complexes of America, the likelihood of a woman having children, measured in terms of the number of children under five to women of childbearing age, is 15%-30% higher. Those who believe in a beneficent deity, who created the world with a purpose and is bringing it towards that purpose, it would seem, want to be connected to that future through future generations.
Those who remain optimistic about the future have less cause to envy the people of Israel their eternity. Compared to Europeans, Americans have always been an optimistic people. As an old Russian adage has it, “A person who smiles a lot is either a fool or an American.” And it does not hurt that the most vital segment of the American and Canadian religious communities are those groups who see in Israel’s existence not a cause for envy but proof, as Goldman puts it, that the “God of the Bible is a God of kept promises.”
TWAIN ASKED: What is the secret of the Jews’ immortality? The Talmud likens our miraculous survival to that of a solitary sheep existing among 70 wolves.
Moses told Pharaoh, in the name of God, at their first meeting, “Beni bechori Yisrael – Israel is my son, my firstborn son.” The Talmud attributes those terms of endearment to the fact that Israel would in the future stand on Mount Sinai and utter the words “Na’aseh v’nishma – We will do, and [then] we will understand.” The Children of Israel were taken out of Egypt on account of their future acceptance of the Torah, and they are protected to this day by virtue of their connection to the Torah.
In that light we can understand our sages’ comment that Sinai is from the language of sina (hatred). Sinai is the source of our immortality, and that immortality causes the hatred of us.
“Na’aseh v’nishma” denotes not just the acceptance of Torah, but a particular form of acceptance – one made oblivious to all the rational calculations of the world. The Talmud relates that a Sadduccee once saw Rava learning Torah with such intensity that he did not even notice that he was sitting on his hands, which were dripping blood. The Sadducee charged Rava with being the member of an ama peziza – a heedless, uncalculating people – just like his ancestors, who accepted God’s commandments without first knowing what they were.
Rava acknowledged the charge, for in that reckless passion for Torah lies the secret of Jewish eternity. No Jewish community that has cut itself off from Torah observance and study has ever survived for long.
Passion for Torah learning is not a birthright.
It is not an automatic consequence of being born into a haredi home or of attending yeshiva.
But I think most would concede that the haredi world is the largest repository of a heedless attachment to Torah, far removed from any worldly calculation.
Can there be a greater national service – guaranteeing our national survival – than that performed by those who attain that level? ■
The writer is director of Jewish Media Resources, has written a regular column in The Jerusalem Post Magazine since 1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.
some comments on the above article:
  • Stewart Cutler That tweet shows an amazing lack of understanding of the complexity of Israel’s political and religious situation and its ‘relationship’ with both itself, its neighbours and the rest of the world.

  • Irene Munro: I find it hard that the author holds up America as a moral paradigm. Obama supports abortion and this author gives fertility rates as a sign of blessing. Israel’s abortion record is not admirable  89% of third trimester abortion requests are approved in Israel – in many countries such late term abortions are totally illegal. in Israel a minor can legally have an abortion without having to notify the parents. There are better arguments to support the land issue and supporting Israel’s right to the land.
  • Maureen Jack What do I think?  It’s nonsense.  Desmond Tutu is just one Christian who is very critical of the actions of the state of Israel.

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Heart Attack

An American guy suffered a serious heart attack and had an open heart bypass surgery. He awakened from the surgery to find himself in the care of nuns at a Catholic Hospital.

As he was recovering, a nun asked him questions regarding how he was going to pay for his treatment. She asked if he had health insurance.

He replied, in a raspy voice, “No health insurance.”

The nun asked if he had money in the bank. He replied, “No money in the bank.”

The nun asked, “Do you have a relative who could help you?”

He said, “I only have a spinster sister, who is a nun.”

The nun became agitated and announced loudly, “Nuns are not spinsters! Nuns are married to God.”

The patient replied, “Send the bill to my Brother-in-law.” 

source: http://www.jokes4us.com/religiousjokes/heartattackjoke.html

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No excuses

In 1536 Reformer William Farel recruited John Calvin to come to Geneva,  to minister to the congregation of St. Peter’s Church in that Swiss city.

Calvin, a sickly man all his life, was on his way to Strasbourg to be a quiet scholar, but he relented under this need, this request, to become a pastor. 

Two years later, the city fathers publicly banished Calvin from Geneva. Actually, Calvin felt relieved. The moral chaos of the city was terrible. He went to Strasbourg.

Three years later in 1541, the same city fathers who had tried to humiliate him begged Calvin to return and help restore order. 

He didn’t want to go this second time, either, “yet,” he wrote, “because I know that I am not my own master, I offer my heart as a true sacrifice to the Lord.”

This became the motto of Calvin’s life. His emblem would include a hand holding out a heart to God with the inscription, prompte et sincere (“promptly and sincerely”).

Promptly and sincerely Calvin answered a call to very difficult task.

There are many times in our own life, when we don’t feel like taking a course of action, because it would be inconvenient or risky or just plain boring.  And we do not respond “promptly and sincerely”, but rather make our excuses…and some of them can be pretty lame and rather unconvincing.

But the greatest of folk down through the centuries, have, despite knowing that the outcome of their action could impact negatively upon them, accepted the challenge.

Jesus Christ was determined to go to Jerusalem even though he knew that it would probably mean death for him in the end. But for him, there was no turning back

He knew that he had to go.

Certainly in the early church when this Gospel was being written followers of Jesus faced great opposition from their families and close friends.  They were even in some cases considered dead by the family.  Funerals were probably held for them.  How can you go back to family and friends who have pronounced you dead.? 


We know the love and forgiveness of God. We experience the power of the Holy Spirit – a power to live and to serve Christ’s way of life. We have a sense of belonging in a loving Christian community.   Our sense of mission is larger than any personal agenda.

However there are always costs.  The following of Christ demands personal sacrifices.  It often means unpopular stands on some issues, standing against such things as destroy love or works against love in our world.  We need to be working for peace and justice, for freedom of all people and toward the well being of all people.  It also means the loss of our motivation toward profit as our main goal in life. 

Detrich Bonhoeffer. was a German Lutheran theologian and minister. He also came to know the cost of discipleship.  He came to America for awhile while all the difficulties were happening in his homeland.

He went back to Germany eventually saying, “I have come to the conclusion that I have made a mistake in coming to America.  I will have no right to participate in the reconstruction of the Christian life in Germany after the war if I don’t share the trials of this time with my people….since coming on board ship my inner disruption about the future has disappeared”.

You could say that he “set his face” to go to Germany where he was to be imprisoned and eventually executed for his beliefs and his opposition to Hitler. 

NOW is always the time to decide about our life.  It has always been impressive in the Old Testament when the Israelites came to a critical time in their life and one of their leaders would put a decision before the people to “choose today whom you will serve. 

This is always the choice before us as followers of Christ. That is the choice in all the decisions we face day by day. When we choose the giving, loving, caring way of Christ, it is always a CHOICE TO LIVE, whatever the cost, but to the greater glory of God.

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