Our Globe is Filling Up With Religions.

One of the great Christian goals has been to convert the entire world. Certainly, the faith has been very successful. It started small and became one of the world’s largest.

Will it achieve it goals of converting the entire globe? In a word, no. The phenomenal success of Christianity took place under circumstances different from what exists today. Some of the big numbers came from Africa where local religions put up little competition. Both Christianity and Islam filled up the continent.

A Christian research organization, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary) provided a realistic look at the future of the faith. It pointed out that the fate of religions rests on the number of births and the voracity of the competition. For Christianity, births are falling in its long standing base areas and will soon fall the in the areas where its growth has been strong.

Non Christian areas are now occupied by Islam or Hinduism. The faith has had little success trying to establish beach heads in regions where these other faiths are already established. Nearly all missionaries are now sent to regions where Christianity has been for a while.

Even though more people are leaving the faith than converting into it, population growth will keep world wide numbers from falling for some decades. This, though the percentage of believers will fall.

Christianity, and other faiths, can only life in certain cultures.  When the cultural opportunities are exhausted and the birth rate falls, growth is over.

[A link in comments discusses this further.]

Lifting Those on the Lowest Economic Rung Means Swallowing Hard on Some Religion

The lowest economic rung is 50% female. Women face not only the same tough slog as men in trying to increase their income, they face pregnancy and child care.

Most women want children, they also need to make a living. Making both available can be done if we want to do it. We merely have to say religion needs to take a back seat to helping women move up.

Everyone who has had children knows it is difficult to be away at work and raise them. If we decided every low income parent was going to have access to free day care so she/he could work we raise their income level. We would have to raise taxes to pay for this, but there seems little doubt it will return benefits of more taxes paid by those it helped.

The religious issue, of  course, comes in with birth control and abortion. Planning for and spacing of children is the largest of economic issues for women. It is ironic that social justice for the poor is a cause of the Catholic Church. Yet, its religious positions on birth control, abortion and to some extent divorce help ensure that poor women remain poor.

The Catholic Church and conservative Protestants go even further. For reason I don’t understand, they spend a lot of time discussing the “differences” between men and women and based on that the distinctively different roles they are supposed to play in life.

In general, religion reduces economic opportunity for women.

Here is an Opportunity to Worship Satan.

Whenever Christians want crosses or the Ten Commandments displayed on public property there is always the potential some other group will want the same. Someone has spent $100,000 in Cleveland to make a bronze statue of Satan.

Apparently, Satanism has a history that predates by far Christianity. Perhaps it has had various names, but the human fascination with a darker side of the spiritual world has never been absent. I’ve read a majority of U. S. people believe in a literal Satan.

The bronze Satan statue is looking for a home. There was a plan to display it beside a Ten Commandments monument somewhere in the U. S. So far its permanent home has not been found.

I read about the Church of Satan in Wikipedia. It does not seem to be about a supernatural being, but about separation of church and State. That is not to imply Satanism is not a religion. It’s not always easy to define what a religion is. To me it seems like Pope Francis is more convinced of the literal Satan than are members of Satan’s church.

I think it would be accurate to describe Satan as a mysterious and invisible villain. At least that’s how a Christian might describe it.

There are reportedly over 10,000 members of the Church of Satan and other like minded groups. If advertising brings success, we might see changes in the landscape of religion.

Satans and atheist billboards are going up. Each year 4000 churches with their crosses advertising Christianity are closed.

[An article about the Satan art piece can be linked in comments.]

How to Save Your Teenager From Atheism.

Some parents on Christian Post have started a series to help Christians keep their teenagers in the faith. They acknowledge many teens are leaving their faith.

The mother suggests moving to a church the teenager likes. Possibly this would be one with a large teen group.

The father suggests parents remind their teen God is there for them no matter what happens.

It is interesting that neither of the parents talks about the argument teens will encounter, “There is no God.” Whether they are in a hip Christian youth group or are told God loves them they need to be equipped to refute this argument. From my own experience talking to people, the no-God argument is what most often leads youth and adults out of the faith.

To help their teen argue that God is not a myth, parents need to put the notion of a god in a context that is not easily refutable. The standard fare of the Bible is refuted daily on the web which teenagers have access to.

The most powerful argument for a god and one not easily refuted is that gods live only in the mind. Teenagers can see some people believe in a god and others do not. Some believe in one god and others another. Teens need to learn that a god in the mind will be found if it is needed.

This concept of a god may not be parents’ first choice, but it is the one with the most promise.

[A link to the Christian parental advice column in linked in discussion.]

 

Heaven Ain’t What it Used to be.

I’ve been reading a review of a book about the history of heaven. That is, a history of what we think of heaven.

Early Jews and Christians were brilliant to sell the idea that, if people gave their allegiance and money to a god, they would not have to die. They did not have to prove death could be beaten but merely had to persuade people it was so. They have persuaded millions.

It is interesting how the product called heaven has changed over time. Three different concepts have dominated in the last few centuries.

Back at the time of the reformation, heaven was a place dominated by theological stars and concepts. Whatever happened there was about the gods.

By the middle of the 1800’s a different concept of heaven had become popular. It had become a place where one was reunited with loved ones. It had become a sentimental journey. It was more about “me” and what I might like in a heaven.

The sentimental journey myth lasted quite a while but there never was a sound theological justification for it. I remember reading a couple of decades ago main line seminaries had stopped teaching the literal heaven altogether.

Today heaven has slipped as a topic for preachers to preach about. While preachers may console the bereaved with thoughts of uniting with loved ones, they do have much else to say about its literal existence.

Perhaps new ideas about heaven will come along later. Things people would like to see there will be promised.

[An essay about the current state of heaven is linked in comments.]

The God Contest.

When we look at both the old and new testament, we see a time of superstitions and many gods. We who grew up Christian give little thought to how close the competition was among all the gods people at the time thought were present.

A little example is one of the Moses stories. I never paid much attention to the story of Moses going up on some mountain and coming down with a stone upon which God had written the Ten Commandments. Author John W. Loftus (Why I Became an Atheist) caught details that had escaped me.

He made note of the story about what happened after the Jews escaped from Egypt. Only “three months plus 40 days and nights” after the left Egypt behind Moses caught them worshipping a golden calf.  Aaron told them this golden calf had brought them out of Egypt.

They were told the god of Moses brought them out. Only four months later the had abandoned that god and latched onto another one.

While I do not think any of this literally happened, the story tellers wanted readers to know how stiff the competition was among gods at that time. Perhaps with a slightly different turn of events our churches could have golden calves on the steeples instead of crosses.

This is all very confusing when one reads in the Bible that the God of Abraham was and remains and “all powerful” god. How could this be if competing gods were so successful?

Let’s Compare Science to What is in the Bible.

Commenters this blog often say evolution is not the answer to, “Where did we come from?” They scoff at evolution saying, “There was not enough time.” or “The human hand required a designer.”

These same people use the rules of science everyday, however, for purposes that benefit them. We all do. John W. Loftus in Why I Became an Atheist lists some of these common places we encounter science to solve problems or answer questions: medicine, biology, earth science, computer science, engineering, rocket science, forensics, meteorology, chemistry, laser surgery, X-rays, hydraulics, food safety, gardening and lawn care.

In the Bible, when people wanted to solve a problem or answer a question they used casting lots, visions, dreams, prophets, idol worship, gods, witches, human and animal sacrifice, omens, temples, festivals, storms and sacred writing. People in Biblical times were superstitious so they used superstition to provide answers.

Thus, when trying to figure out “where we came from” it seems futile to use the same tools used by the ancients when we have modern ones available to us.  Further, it is peculiar people who use modern science in every other aspect of their lives except when it comes into conflict with their favorite Bible story.

Every ethnic group and religion has a story about where we came from. These stories always magnify the importance of that group.

Science gives us the only neutral explanation, evolution.

On Women Fitting Children into Their Careers.

Women are becoming ever more precise and carefully when planning career interruptions to have and raise children. They have learned much from past generations of women.

Most of the anti abortion and anti birth control political forces believe having children has religious overtones while a woman’s career does not. That view is relegated to the dust bin of history.

Today, not only women but their husbands and partners, depend of their careers to afford children. No career, no babies. The tables have turned.

Anti abortion and anti birth control groups need to face a new reality. Women who want to have babies must fit them into careers or they cannot and will not have them.

The old model for women was a choice between career and children. Then there was, or perhaps still is, the ideal of having children and a demanding career. One term for this is “having it all.”

The new and even more sophisticated calculation, according to a new study, is many women now realize they can work and have children but it’s likely they will have to make some career accommodation to pull it off. These women survey career opportunities and try to find jobs that allow flexibility in parenting time and work duties. This often means certain kinds of jobs, ones with travel and rigid schedules, are passed up.

Religion, with its anti birth control and anti abortion politics, is a toothless tiger when faced with women who need to schedule their births.

[A link discussing the new survey is found in comments.]

What Ever Happened to Rahab, Leviathan, Behemoth, Baal, Mot, Cockatrice and Satyrs?

These are just a few of the mythical gods, spirits and such mentioned in the Bible. The Bible’s authors were so certain of their existence they discussed them on and on. The Ten Commandments refer to other gods.

Other writing from the period mentions several invisible beings that inhabited that world. There were serpents and dragons like the amphisbaena, basilisk, Chimera, and Hydra. Others present were the part human part animals like the famous Sphinx and mermaids. It is clear that period was one of superstitions and the unseen creatures with tall tales of good and bad behavior.

Out of this milieu it is not surprising people came to believe a human, or maybe many humans, were dead for a long time and bounced back to life. Nor is it surprising they, like the Bible’s Paul, mixed seamlessly dreams with reality.

The power of the unseen villain is so great it continues unabated to this very day. Several commentators have noted how often Pope Francis speaks in detail about the literal Devil. There can be no doubt the Pope believes this ancient and invisible being is all around us everyday.

Is it possible the Devil is real while all the creatures I listed in the title of this blog are not? If so, how would we distinguish which are the real ones and while imposters?

For all his academic training and experience, the Pope has no more resistance to the notion of unseen villains than did the ancients. Maybe some names changed, but they live on.

Which is the Best Kind of Christianity?

Being a rank amateur in the business of religion I have a limited perspective of what it’s all about. I see three broad camps.

One is the sin camp. Here, the focus in on sin and the forgiveness of sin. Catholics and the broad sweep of Protestant branches fit here. They have contempt for the other branches.

A second branch, driven by huge mega churches, is the prosperity gospel. This branch tells us that God wants us to be successful. Everything in this branch encourages and brightens our world. It does not seem to have contempt for the other branches.

A third is the liberal branch. This groups considers the Bible to be metaphor but finds useful guidelines for living there. When Jesus is said to have been treated with contempt we can understand we are to endure contempt. This, even if we are not sure all that ever happened.

I think the religions that have survived the longest over time had the ability to be flexible. This allowed them to change as the culture around them changed.

All three of the above have some ability to adjust to cultural change. The first group, the one all about sin, can change what is sin–though it must find a way to do this. Only parts of them seem able.

The second and third groups have the most ability to experiment and find what fits cultural change. Along with the desire to change, a branch must have the ability to change.

I’d place my money on two and three.

[A piece discussing this topic further can be linked in comments.]