Category: Religion


Flying Spaghetti Monster

(RNS) When congregants of West Side Church and the Christian Life Center in Bend, Ore., awoke in June to news that their churches had been vandalized, they expected to be frustrated.

What they didn’t expect was to be confused.

In addition to the anti-Christian slogans scrawled on the walls of the two buildings, the words “Praise the FSM” were painted everywhere. Churchgoers were left scratching their heads.

“We were pretty much in the dark,” said Jason Myhre, a staffer at West Side Church.

But after a Google search, they learned “FSM” stood for “Flying Spaghetti Monster,” the noodly appendaged deity of a fictitious religion called “Pastafarianism” that’s popular among some atheists and agnostics. Suddenly, it looked like atheists were on the attack.

“It was obviously sad,” Myhre said. “It was more sadness that people would destroy the property to communicate their belief.”

But mere hours after news of the vandalism broke, the story changed.

Bobby Henderson, the head of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, publicly condemned the vandals; Hemant Mehta, author of the Friendly Atheist blog, posted an online plea for donations to help fund repairs. In less than 24 hours, he had raised more than $3,000.

“We think (atheists) can win in a civil dialogue, so there is no reason to resort to violence or vandalism,” Mehta said. “We said, OK, look, we’ve raised money for other causes before. Why don’t we raise money to help clean up the graffiti? This is not what (our religion) is about.”

But while the vandalism seemed to be an isolated incident, it and other developments have spurred a discussion among atheists about the usefulness of so-called “joke” or “invented” religions in the nonreligious movement.

Some are wondering: has the joke gone too far?

Pastafarianism was founded in 2005 when Henderson, then a physics student, sent a letter to a Kansas school board satirically critiquing the theory of intelligent design by citing “evidence that a Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe.”

The joke grew into something of a cultural phenomenon for atheists, especially online and on college campuses. Adherents brandish Pastafarian bumper stickers (“He Boiled For Your Sins”), clutch Flying Spaghetti Monster holy books (the “Loose Canon”), and even celebrate holidays such as “Ramendan” (a parody of Muslim Ramadan), all in the spirit of poking fun at religion.

For many atheists like Mehta, the satire is a positive part of the atheist experience and provides a safe haven for nonbelievers.

“If I go to a Christian church, some people have a habit of speaking ‘Christianese.’ Atheists don’t have that,” Mehta said. “But you can say ‘I’m a Pastafarian,’ and people will say, ‘Oh, you’re one of us.’ It gives us a way to bond over our nonreligion.”

But Carole Cusack, professor of religious studies at the University of Sydney and author of the book “Invented Religions,” notes that members of the eclectic and diverse atheist communities view the sarcasm in different ways.

“The first is as fellow warriors in the ongoing campaign to make religion look ridiculous,” she said. “The second is as a nuisance, muddying the waters by proposing parody religions instead of calling for the end of religion.”

Others, however, think the whole silly discussion is, well, kind of silly.

Greg Epstein, the Humanist chaplain at Harvard University – a group of mostly atheists and agnostics who insist ethical behavior doesn’t require religion — expressed concern over how much airtime the banter gets.

“The Flying Spaghetti Monster … may be hysterically funny, but just cracking ramen jokes … does not constitute a meaningful alternative to traditional religion,” he said.

“If we can take the energy that goes into cracking jokes and put it into positive acts, we could really change the world for the better.”

Epstein is not alone: Atheists in Australia are also divided over another parody religion called “Jediism,” based on George Lucas’ “Star Wars” film franchise.

Jediism gained attention after some 500,000 people listed “Jedi Knight” as a tongue-in-cheek religious affiliation on 2001 census forms in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

As Australia readied for its 2011 census, however, some atheists called for an end to the wisecracking. Arguing that many who listed their religion as “Jedi” were just atheists making a joke, the Atheist Foundation of Australia launched a campaign urging nonbelievers to “Mark ‘No Religion’ and take religion out of politics.”

Their reasoning, they said, was practical since “Jedi” gets counted as “not defined” instead of “no religion,” which only serves to undercount the nonreligious population.

“It was funny to write Jedi once, now it is a serious mistake to do so,” the organization wrote on its website.

But despite the group’s efforts and similar campaigns in the U.K., not everyone agreed. Henderson posted a message on the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster website urging Australians to embrace their Pastafarianism, calling it “a reasonable and legitimate choice.”

Ultimately, even Epstein admits the allure of humor is a powerful one.

“When (religious) people try to dominate public discourse and dominate the political landscape,” he said, “sometimes the humor you find in things like the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a very subtle and powerful way of pushing back.”

In the annals of the sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church, most of the cases that have come to light happened years before to children and teenagers who have long since grown into adults.

Associated Press

Bishop Robert Finn took over the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph in Missouri in 2005.

But a painfully fresh case is devastating Catholics in Kansas City, Mo., where a priest, who was arrested in May, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of taking indecent photographs of young girls, most recently during an Easter egg hunt just four months ago.

Bishop Robert Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph has acknowledged that he knew of the existence of photographs last December but did not turn them over to the police until May.

A civil lawsuit filed last week claims that during those five months, the priest, the Rev. Shawn Ratigan, attended children’s birthday parties, spent weekends in the homes of parish families, hosted the Easter egg hunt and presided, with the bishop’s permission, at a girl’s First Communion.

“All these parishioners just feel so betrayed, because we knew nothing,” said Thu Meng, whose daughter attended the preschool in Father Ratigan’s last parish. “And we were welcoming this guy into our homes, asking him to come bless this or that. They saw all these signs, and they didn’t do anything.”

The case has generated fury at a bishop who was already a polarizing figure in his diocese, and there are widespread calls for him to resign or even to be prosecuted. Parishioners started a Facebook page called “Bishop Finn Must Go” and are circulating a petition. An editorial in The Kansas City Star in June calling for the bishop to step down concluded that prosecutors must “actively pursue all relevant criminal charges” against everyone involved.

Stoking much of the anger is the fact that only three years ago, Bishop Finn settled lawsuits with 47 plaintiffs in sexual abuse cases for $10 million and agreed to a long list of preventive measures, among them to immediately report anyone suspected of being a pedophile to law enforcement authorities.

Michael Hunter, an abuse victim who was part of that settlement and is now the president of the Kansas City chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said: “There were 90 nonmonetary agreements that the diocese signed on to, and they were things like reporting immediately to the police. And they didn’t do it. That’s really what sickens us as much as the abuse.”

The bishop has apologized and released a “five-point plan” that he described as “sweeping changes.” He hired an ombudsman to field reports of suspicious behavior and appointed an investigator to conduct an independent review of the events and diocesan policies. The investigator’s report is taking longer than expected and is now due in late August or early September, said Rebecca Summers, director of communications in the diocese.

The bishop also replaced the vicar general involved in the case, Msgr. Robert Murphy, after he was accused of propositioning a young man in 1984. The diocese has delayed a capital fund-raising campaign on the advice of its priests, a move first reported by The National Catholic Reporter.

Bishop Finn, who was appointed in 2005, alienated many of his priests and parishioners, and won praise from others, when he remade the diocese to conform with his traditionalist theological views. He is one of few bishops affiliated with the conservative movement Opus Dei.

He canceled a model program to train Catholic laypeople to be leaders and hired more staff members to recruit candidates for the priesthood. He cut the budget of the Office of Peace and Justice, which focused on poverty and human rights, and created a new Respect Life office to expand the church’s opposition to abortion and stem cell research. He set up a parish for a group of Catholics who prefer to celebrate the old Tridentine Mass in Latin.

Father Ratigan, 45, was also an outspoken conservative, according to a profile in The Kansas City Star. He and a class of Catholic school students joined Bishop Finn for the bus ride to the annual March for Life rally in Washington in 2007.

The diocese was first warned about Father Ratigan’s inappropriate interest in young girls as far back as 2006, according to accusations in the civil lawsuit filed Thursday. But there were also more recent warnings.

In May 2010, the principal of a Catholic elementary school where Father Ratigan worked hand-delivered a letter to the vicar general reporting specific episodes that had raised alarms: the priest put a girl on his lap during a bus ride and allowed children to reach into his pants pockets for candy. When a Brownie troop visited Father Ratigan’s house, a parent reported finding a pair of girl’s panties in a planter, the letter said.

Bishop Finn said at a news conference that he was given a “brief verbal summary” of the letter at the time, but did not read it until a year later.

In December, a computer technician discovered the photographs on Father Ratigan’s laptop and turned it in to the diocese. The next day, the priest was discovered in his closed garage, his motorcycle running, along with a suicide note apologizing to the children, their families and the church.

Father Ratigan survived, was taken to a hospital and was then sent to live at a convent in the diocese, where, the lawsuit and the indictment say, he continued to have contact with children.

Parents in the school and parishioners were told only that Father Ratigan had fallen sick from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were stunned when he was arrested in May.

“My daughter made cards for him,” said one parent who did not want her name used because the police said her daughter might have been a victim. “We prayed for him every single night at dinner. It was just lying to us and a complete cover-up.”

A federal grand jury last Tuesday charged Father Ratigan with 13 counts of possessing, producing and attempting to produce child pornography. It accused him of taking lewd pictures of the genitalia of five girls ages 2 to 12, sometimes while they slept. If convicted, he would face a minimum of 15 years in prison.

A deacon at an Alabama church stabbed the minister of music’s mother after her son tased the church’s pastor in a church brawl on Sunday evening after services.

The brawl involved between 12 and 15 people, said Lori Myles of the Mobile County Sheriff’s Office, and allegedly began when the pastor of the New Welcome Church in St. Elmo, Ala. fired the church’s minister of music and gave him his final paycheck.

Simone Moore, New Welcome’s minister of music, allegedly tased Daryl Riley, the church’s pastor, while arguing about the amount of the check, says the sheriff’s office.

Harvey Hunt, a deacon at the church, stabbed Agolia Moore, Simone’s mother, in the arm with a pocketknife during the brawl, according to WPMI-15.

Agolia Moore, who said in an interview (available below) that her son was ganged up on and only tased the pastor after being provoked, received 19 stitches and surgery for her stab wounds.

Simone told AL.com that he teaches special education at the Mobile County public schools. He also ran unsuccessfully as a Democrat for U.S. Senate in 2010. According to his WHNT-19 biography, he’s also an R&B soul singer.

Myles, a public information officer with the Mobile County Sherrif’s office, told HuffPost that Simone has previously been arrested on charges of harassment, twice in 1996 and once in 1997 but the disposition of those cases could not immediately be determined.

She added that although more than a dozen people were involved in the fight, only Simone and Hunt were charged with crimes.

Simone turned himself in and has been charged with misdemeanor assault for tasing the pastor. Hunt, who remains at large, has been charged with a felony, according to Myles. The Associated Press reports that Simone, who’s 46, posted $1,000 bail.

For more, read the August 8 and August 9 reports at WPMI-15.

WATCH: Agolia Moore speaks to WPMI-15:

http://eplayer.clipsyndicate.com/cs_api/iframe?pl_id=8178&wpid=9611&page_count=5&tags=CCTVI_NEWS_LOCAL&windows=1&show_title=0&va_id=2738683&auto_start=0&auto_next=1
WATCH: Simone Moore speaks to WPMI-15:

http://eplayer.clipsyndicate.com/cs_api/iframe?pl_id=8178&wpid=9611&page_count=5&tags=CCTVI_NEWS_LOCAL&windows=1&va_id=2739385&show_title=0&auto_next=1&auto_start=0

The Christianized Jesus

Photo by Sophie Molins

The Christianized Jesus – the turning of a radical into a conservative shadow of his former self – explains our problem of establishing and celebrating freedom fighters today. It is important that our progressive heroes be given a deserved fame, an accurately reported fame. This is crucial in ways that impact our own activism.

Jesus of Nazareth was not a Peak Performance Strategist as the prosperity preachers would have it. Nor was he an foreigner-hating patriot as the Tea Party would argue. Obviously American politicians and their lobbyists pursue so many policies that are against the teachings of Jesus but are supported by mainstream Christian opinion. In fact, Jesus’ parables and sayings push the spiritual revolution of gift economies, and of justice through radical forgiveness.

The Hallmark-carding of Dr. King’s life is what gave Glenn Beck the opening to disrespect his Lincoln Center speech. King’s basic differences with our present corporate economy needs to be a presence in our lives, especially in the educational materials and media of the young. Malcolm X’s spirited defense against the violence of entrenched power – this would help us now, as the security state begins to define 1st Amendment-protected protest as a form of terrorism. Cesar Chavez’s creativity and steady hand in unionizing the California farmworkers could be useful now as state employees face labor busting by governors and their wealthy tax-dodging sponsors. These three progressive heroes must be known for what they actually were.

It was believed that Jesus could be saved from the distortions of right-wing apocalyptic Christianity by researching the historical man. That hasn’t worked, despite the Newsweek (“Jesus – who was he really?”) cover story every Easter. I am writing from the Mayan region of southern Mexico, in the city of Chiapas, where another defense against the predations of the Christianized Jesus has been a success. Here, some of the people subjugated by the brutal conquistadors undermined the Spaniard’s god by concentrating their prayers on San Juan Bautista – John the Baptist.

San Juan stood in the flowing spirit of the River Jordan as he repeated again and again, “I am not He. I am not the One.” The Holy Spirit flowed through him as he baptized new believers in the water. John was in the river, in motion, always becoming. He offered his blessing to the act of belief, the creative power of the individual who approached him. As a result his personality is not so easily used to enforce hardened, violent fundamentalism. The Mayans have outmaneuvered fundamentalism to free themselves from those who rode toward them with the swords of Christ. Chiapas and Chamula, Mexico are far healthier and less consumerized then your average American suburb. This brilliant adjustment on their religion forced on them by the Spanish has a lot to do with it. What the Mayan did to the Spanish God is what we all need to do to the Bank of America.

Better approaches to the figures that we revere (and worship) are needed in this time of permanent war, economic piracy, and most of all the Earth’s crisis. Let’s find ways to be honest about radicals’ lives – so that we have clearer courage for our own activism.

 

From his humble beginnings preaching outside the Disney Store in Times Square,Reverend Billy has spent the last decade toggling between community activism and theatrical spectacle. He even became the subject of “Supersize Me” director Morgan Spurlock‘s sophomore documentary, “What Would Jesus Buy?” A logical extension of his anti-consumerism gospel, Reverend Billy now tackles the growing environmental crisis with “The Church of Earthalujah!” Backed by a 35-voice gospel choir, Reverend Billy and The Church of Earthalujah transcends parody in favor of a passionate humanism that speaks to growing public anxiety in the face of the ever-growing climate emergency and impotent leadership from politicians, NGOs and corporate CEOs.

 

Jon Stewart

 

Thursday night, Jon Stewart, using humor, crucified American Atheists. Stewart slammed atheists for opposing a Christian cross being included in the new National 9/11 Memorial and Museum set to open in September.

The museum is a public building being funded with federal and state money. American Atheists contend that the World Trade Center (WTC) cross is a Christian symbol. Thus, including this Christian representation in the national museum, while excluding representations of other non-Christian viewpoints, violates the civil rights of non-Christians, as well as the separation of church and state guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Jon Stewart, like many inside and outside the media, feel that atheists are wrong to oppose the Christian cross being placed in the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum. In a segment devoted to the omnipresent “Culture Wars,” Stewart tried to minimize and belittle concerns about the 9/11 cross as expressed by American Atheists.

“Why do you give a sh*t?”

Jon Stewart acted as if he did not understand why the atheists would object to the WTC cross. Stewart mocked American Atheists with the question: “By the way, Atheists, why do you give a sh*t?”

Using humor, Stewart seemed to imply that since Atheists see nothing of religious or supernatural value in the Christian cross, they should not object to the cross being placed in the public space.

Yet American Atheists would argue that Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Atheists and Freethinkers all died on 9/11. For some, it is only adding insult to injury to offer recognition to Christianity while ignoring the religious preferences of others. Atheists are asking for equality. If all religious preferences are not honored, than no religious preference should be honored.

While skewering Atheists, Stewart poked fun at David Silverman, president of American Atheists, claiming that Silverman was elected president of American Atheists after promising “to make sure that everyone, even those who are indifferent to our cause, will f*cking hate us.”

And the world is full of hate for atheists.

Death threats aimed at American Atheists populated the Fox News Facebook page after Blair Scott, Communications Director for American Atheists, appeared on America Live with Megyn Kelly last week to discuss the complaint filed by American Atheists and others with the state of New York asking for fair and equal treatment by the National September 11 Memorial and Museum.

The following is a sample of tweets relevant to Stewart’s Thursday night anti-atheist shtick:

Jon Stewart missing the point about atheists trying to prevent the ground zero cross was very disappointing.

OMG. Jon Stewart said that atheists shouldn’t view the World Trade Center cross as a symbol of Jesus Christ, but as Jesus the carpenter

‘Atheists…damn you to…Atheists.’ -Jon Stewart.

Jon Stewart Lashes Out At Anti-9/11 Cross Atheists: ‘Why Do You Give A Sh*t?’

Jon Stewart attacks American #Atheists over the lawsuit about the WTC Cross. While I agree w/ Jon in general… way to miss the point.

John stewart is right! Atheists needa get over that cross thing at ground zero.like, NOt a big deal

American Atheists are dedicated to supporting civil rights for atheists and the separation of church and state.

 

Watch the video clip from Thursday nights Daily Show - leave a comment: What do you think?

Colorado native Don Taylor, who describes himself as “a nonreligious individual,” was stopped dead in his tracks when he stumbled upon this divine apparition on his daily routine. Yes, a creeping vine on a telephone pole had taken on the unmistakable form of a crucified Jesus Christ. Local authorities warn potential pilgrimage-makers not to climb the pole to kiss or embrace Telephone Pole Jesus, however, lest they want to receive a 765,000-volt message of peace and love from their Leafy Savior.

 

Click here to read Priceless Jesus Painting Found in Tennessee Motor Home

 

Praise Frosty! That’s the name of the 73-year-old man who had a priceless portrait of Jesus Christ sitting in the closet of his Tennessee motor home.

The painting, which has been missing for 150 years, was based on the “Veil of Veronica” — according to legend, a sweat cloth that a Jesus groupie dabbed upon his face right before his crucifixion, imprinting his likeness into it and imbuing it with magical powers. It’s therefore thought to bean actual painting of Jesus Christ’s face.

And how did it turn up? A woman named Kelly Ghormley (pictured, upper right) burgled Frosty’s home; when she discovered the painting among the goods she’d made off with, she tried to pawn it off to a nearby church. The church instantly recognized that it might be a work of some significance, and it was. So significant, in fact, it was blessed by Pope Leo XIII, who reigned from 1878 to 1903.

So here’s the question: What kind of finder’s fee does the Vatican pay out to 77-year-old trailer park residents who’ve been keeping priceless religious relics safe for them for a century-and-a-half?

Do you speak Christian?

Can you speak Christian?

Have you told anyone “I’m born again?” Have you “walked the aisle” to “pray the prayer?”

Did you ever “name and claim” something and, after getting it, announce, “I’m highly blessed and favored?”

Many Americans are bilingual. They speak a secular language of sports talk, celebrity gossip and current events. But mention religion and some become armchair preachers who pepper their conversations with popular Christian words and trendy theological phrases.

If this is you, some Christian pastors and scholars have some bad news: You may not know what you’re talking about. They say that many contemporary Christians have become pious parrots. They constantly repeat Christian phrases that they don’t understand or distort.

Marcus Borg, an Episcopal theologian, calls this practice “speaking Christian.” He says he heard so many people misusing terms such as “born again” and “salvation” that he wrote a book about the practice.

People who speak Christian aren’t just mangling religious terminology, he says. They’re also inventing counterfeit Christian terms such as “the rapture” as if they were a part of essential church teaching.

The rapture, a phrase used to describe the sudden transport of true Christians to heaven while the rest of humanity is left behind to suffer, actually contradicts historic Christian teaching, Borg says.

“The rapture is a recent invention. Nobody had thought of what is now known as the rapture until about 1850,” says Borg, canon theologian at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon.

How politicians speak Christian

Speaking Christian isn’t confined to religion. It’s infiltrated politics.

Political candidates have to learn how to speak Christian to win elections, says Bill Leonard, a professor of church history at Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity in North Carolina.

One of our greatest presidents learned this early in his career. Abraham Lincoln was running for Congress when his opponent accused him of not being a Christian. Lincoln often referred to the Bible in his speeches, but he never joined a church or said he was born again like his congressional opponent, Leonard says.

“Lincoln was less specific about his own experience and, while he used biblical language, it was less distinctively Christian or conversionistic than many of the evangelical preachers thought it should be,” Leonard says.

Lincoln won that congressional election, but the accusation stuck with him until his death, Leonard says.

One recent president, though, knew how to speak Christian fluently.

During his 2003 State of the Union address, George W. Bush baffled some listeners when he declared that there was “wonder-working power” in the goodness of American people.

Evangelical ears, though, perked up at that phrase. It was an evangelical favorite, drawn from a popular 19th century revival hymn about the wonder-working power of Christ called “In the Precious Blood of the Lamb.”

Leonard says Bush was sending a coded message to evangelical voters: I’m one of you.

“The code says that one: I’m inside the community. And two: These are the linguistic ways that I show I believe what is required of me,” Leonard says.

Have you ‘named it and claimed it’?

Ordinary Christians do what Bush did all the time, Leonard says. They use coded Christian terms like verbal passports – flashing them gains you admittance to certain Christian communities.

Say you’ve met someone who is Pentecostal or charismatic, a group whose members believe in the gifts of the Holy Spirit, such as healing and speaking in tongues. If you want to signal to that person that you share their belief, you start talking about “receiving the baptism of the Holy Ghost” or getting the “second blessings,” Leonard says.

Translation: Getting a baptism by water or sprinkling isn’t enough for some Pentecostals and charismatics. A person needs a baptism “in the spirit” to validate their Christian credentials.

Or say you’ve been invited to a megachurch that proclaims the prosperity theology (God will bless the faithful with wealth and health). You may hear what sounds like a new language.

Prosperity Christians don’t say “I want that new Mercedes.” They say they are going to “believe for a new Mercedes.” They don’t say “I want a promotion.” They say I “name and claim” a promotion.

The rationale behind both phrases is that what one speaks aloud in faith will come to pass. The prosperity dialect has become so popular that Leonard has added his own wrinkle.

“I call it ‘name it, claim it, grab it and have it,’ ’’ he says with a chuckle.

Some forms of speaking Christian, though, can become obsolete through lack of use.

Few contemporary pastors use the language of damnation – “turn or burn,” converting “the pagans” or warning people they’re going to hit “hell wide open” – because it’s considered too polarizing, Leonard says. The language of “walking the aisle” is also fading, Leonard says.

Appalachian and Southern Christians often told stories about staggering into church and walking forward during the altar call to say the “sinner’s prayer” during revival services that would often last for several weeks.

“People ‘testified’ to holding on to the pew until their knuckles turned white, fighting salvation all the way,” Leonard says. “You were in the back of the church, and you fought being saved.”

Contemporary churchgoers, though, no longer have time to take that walk, Leonard says. They consider their lives too busy for long revival services and extended altar calls. Many churches are either jettisoning or streamlining the altar call, Leonard says.

“You got soccer, you got PTA, you got family responsibilities – the culture just won’t sustain it as it once did,” Leonard says.

Even some of the most basic religious words are in jeopardy because of overuse.

Calling yourself a Christian, for example, is no longer cool among evangelicals on college campuses, says Robert Crosby, a theology professor at Southeastern University in Florida.

“Fewer believers are referring to themselves these days as ‘Christian,’ ” Crosby says. “More are using terms such as ‘Christ follower.’ This is due to the fact that the more generic term, Christian, has come to be used within religious and even political ways to refer to a voting bloc.”

What’s at stake

Speaking Christian correctly may seem like it’s just a fuss over semantics, but it’s ultimately about something bigger: defining Christianity, says Borg, author of “Speaking Christian.”

Christians use common words and phrases in hymns, prayers and sermons “to connect their religion to their life in the world,” Borg says.

“Speaking Christian is an umbrella term for not only knowing the words, but understanding them,” Borg says. “It’s knowing the basic vocabulary, knowing the basic stories.”

When Christians forget what their words mean, they forget what their faith means, Borg says.

Consider the word “salvation.” Most Christians use the words “salvation” or “saved” to talk about being rescued from sin or going to heaven, Borg says.

Yet salvation in the Bible is seldom confined to an afterlife. Those characters in the Bible who invoked the word salvation used it to describe the passage from injustice to justice, like the Israelites’ liberation from Egyptian bondage, Borg says.

“The Bible knows that powerful and wealthy elites commonly structure the world in their own self-interest. Pharaoh and Herod and Caesar are still with us. From them we need to be saved,” Borg writes.

And when Christians forget what their faith means, they get duped by trendy terms such as the rapture that have little to do with historical Christianity, he says.

The rapture has become an accepted part of the Christian vocabulary with the publication of the megaselling “Left Behind” novels and a heavily publicized prediction earlier this year by a Christian radio broadcaster that the rapture would occur in May.

But the notion that Christians will abandon the Earth to meet Jesus in the clouds while others are left behind to suffer is not traditional Christian teaching, Borg says.

He says it was first proclaimed by John Nelson Darby, a 19th century British evangelist, who thought of it after reading a New Testament passage in the first book of Thessalonians that described true believers being “caught up in the clouds together” with Jesus.

Christianity’s focus has long been about ushering in God’s kingdom “on Earth, not just in heaven,” Borg says.

“Christianity’s goal is not to escape from this world. It loves this world and seeks to change it for the better,” he writes.

For now, though, Borg and others are also focusing on changing how Christians talk about their faith.

If you don’t want to speak Christian, they say, pay attention to how Christianity’s founder spoke. Jesus spoke in a way that drew people in, says Leonard, the Wake Forest professor.

“He used stories, parables and metaphors,” Leonard says. “He communicated in images that both the religious folks and nonreligious folks of his day understand.”

When Christians develop their own private language for one another, they forget how Jesus made faith accessible to ordinary people, he says.

“Speaking Christian can become a way of suggesting a kind of spiritual status that others don’t have,” he says. “It communicates a kind of spiritual elitism that holds the spiritually ‘unwashed’ at arm’s length.”

By that time, they’ve reached the final stage of speaking Christian – they’ve become spiritual snobs.

Bill O’Reilly was not pleased with the New York Times’ labeling of Anders Behring Brevik, the 32-year-old mass murderer who took at least 76 innocent lives as a “Christian Extremist.” In his column, he notes that the “killer is not attached to any church, has no history of Christian activity, has openly criticized the Protestant philosophy, and has committed acts counter to all Christian teaching.”

o'reilly, christains, demonized“Anders Brevik did not kill in the name of Jesus,” O’Reilly argues. “He was not a member of a Christian-based al-Qaida-like group. He was not funded by Iran or enabled by Pakistan. He is simply a murderer, a man devoid of any spiritual conscience. A direct descendent of Cain. Yet, somehow, Brevik is now a member of a peace-loving, compassionate group, at least according to some media. He’s a Christian.”

“The left well understands that Christian opposition to things like abortion, gay marriage, and drug legalization makes those liberal causes more difficult to achieve,” O’Reilly concludes. “Thus, anything that diminishes Christianity is fair game to be promoted. Every newsworthy sin committed by a Christian is highlighted with a sneering reference to hypocrisy. Any whiff of Christian intolerance is celebrated in the press.”

Read more on Newsmax.com: O’Reilly: Christianity Demonized
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Winehouse burial raises Jewish questions about tattoos, cremation

Your Jewish grandmother might have told you not to get a tattoo if you want to be buried in a Jewish cemetery when you die. If you ignored her, rest easy – not only progressive Jews, but Britain’s Orthodox Jews now have no problem with burying Jews with tattoos.

The question came up Tuesday as the heavily tattooed Amy Winehouse was laid to rest in a traditional Jewish ceremony in London. The funeral was conducted by a rabbi and the Winehouse family will sit shiva – the Jewish custom and tradition of receiving guests in their home – starting Tuesday night, Winehouse spokesman Chris Goodman said.

Winehouse was cremated, Goodman added – a more controversial practice among Jews.

Traditionally Jews do not cremate their dead because of the belief they will be resurrected when the messiah comes, said Nikki Saunders, a spokeswoman for Britain’s mainstream Orthodox movement, the United Synagogue.

“That can only happen if your body is intact,” Saunders said.

More liberal Jews don’t have that concern, though, explained Ben Rich of the Movement for Reform Judaism in the UK.

“Physical resurrection isn’t something that progressive Jews believe in, so that isn’t a concern,” he said. Progressive Jews also don’t accept the Orthodox belief that cremation is the mutilation of a corpse, he said, since it is done respectfully, not maliciously.

“We have therefore been happy to allow cremation for those who want it,” he said, calling it “extremely common. It wouldn’t be anything to raise an eyebrow about in the progressive movement.”

In fact, he argued, there is Biblical precedent for cremation.

“If you go back to Biblical times, it is normal and there are references to King Saul being cremated,” he said.

There is a tradition of not burying people with tattoos, said progressive Rabbi Mark Goldsmith, but he said there didn’t seem to be much support for it in Jewish law, or halacha.

It seems to come from instructions in the Biblical book of Leviticus against marking one’s skin, he said.

“But this part of a whole series of Canaanite cultic practices which the Israelites were not supposed to imitate,” he said.

Reform Jews today would not disapprove of tattooing, he said dryly, “since we do see ourselves as in danger of impersonating Canaanite cultic practices.”

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