Tag Archives: God

VIEWPOINTS: What’s more important to your faith – believing, behaving or belonging?

By AMANDA GREENE
Amanda.Greene@ReligionNews.com

A new survey out last week from the Public Religion Research Institute and Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs has some sobering figures about millennials leaving Christianity behind.

“A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values and Politics Among College-Age Millennials” said while only 11 percent of the millennials surveyed were religiously unaffiliated as children, now 25 percent identify as religiously unaffiliated. Catholics and mainline Protestant denominations lost the most footing among millennial membership.

At the same time, some Americans in middle age are returning to the faiths of their youth.

So this week’s Viewpoints deals with a human’s core desire when involved in a belief system or no faith at all:

What’s more important to your faith- believing, behaving or belonging?

David Scott

David Scott

I assume, in this context, that believing means religious belief or faith. If that’s the case, believing is not that important to me. In my case, I would prefer to define believing as having confidence that the spiritual and social beliefs I had were moral, logical and best for the common good. Without this type of belief system, my life would seem empty, meaningless and without purpose.

My first impulse to this answer is to reply “Behavior is by far the most important,” and I guess that comes close to what I think. What good is a religion or faith if it allows its adherents to behave poorly? What good is a belief system that allows its followers to justify criminal means to reach a selfish, misguided, or even a noble end? In modern society, we observe a series of perennial “holy jihads” fought by religious fundamentalists of all stripes who are convinced that his god is on his side. If a god condones this type behavior, what good is he?

Belonging is important to most people in that it helps to affirm one’s worth, gives identity, and provides many social advantages. Conversely, belonging can also have a corrupting influence on an individual, if that person finds himself belonging to a group that adopts a doctrine that is immoral, unenlightened, or counter to achieving the common good. In my observation, many groups, religions, political parties, or cults have seduced good individuals and indoctrinated them to become robotic monsters—puppets of groupthink or mob psychology.

Steve Lee

Steve Lee

In short, Buddhist practice values all three: belief, behavior, and belonging. Belief, behavior, and belonging: belief in Buddha and the example of his awakening; clarity of thought and behavior in and through the Dharma; and “being one—a “Buddhist”, that is—through refuge in the Sangha. Read Steve Lee’s expounded post on how Buddhist texts inform the values of believing, behaving and belonging later today on WilmingtonFAVS.

Philip Stine

Philip Stine

In the stream of Christianity where I grew up, right belief was all important. You had to believe in certain things, e.g. the resurrection, the need for personal salvation, or a triune God, to be a “real Christian.” I learned later that right belief is hardly even biblical. What is required is right relationships: we are to love God with our whole being, and we are to love what God created, specifically, our fellow human beings. Behaving and belonging are natural results of the these relationships. If we love others, we will act in certain ways, and instead of creating divisions, we will see how we are joined together.

Christine Moughamian

Christine Moughamian

In the context of faith or no faith at all, it seems belief would determine behavior and belonging.

A friend of mine once told me about a tragedy that happened a decade earlier to her son, then in his early twenties. When he was at a large public event, a young man stepped out of the crowd and held him up at gunpoint.

Her son was so shocked, he cried: “Are you going to shoot me?”

The mobster hesitated a fraction of a second; then shot.

Although he gravely wounded my friend’s son, he missed killing him, by a fraction of a… doubt?

The police later reported the mobster was required to kill four people that day, in cold blood, to gain admission in a street gang.

The mobster’s hesitation proved to me that he was not motivated by belief in a certain set of values but by a desire to belong.

A desire so strong that it drove him to attempt murder.

At the other end of the spectrum, I attended a retreat in August 2009 with Thich Nat Hahn, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who founded the Unified Buddhist Church. He gave a lecture on the Three Jewels of Buddhism: The Buddha (the teacher), The Dharma (the teaching), The Sangha (the community of believers). He emphasized the importance of belonging to a community of believers. That tenet echoed everything I’d heard before in my Yoga training.

Swami Satchidananda put it this way: “Associate yourself with like-minded people.”

In the two Christian churches I’ve belonged to in Wilmington, studies showed “fellowship” was the number one reason people became members.

Discrimination of belief is paramount since it dictates behavior. Without belief, behavior and belonging balanced as a solid tripod, we might be condemned to play musical chairs.

Amanda Greene: 910-520-3958 or on Twitter @WilmFAVS

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Passover traditions reflect ethnic, regional customs

Passover plate with symbolic foods: maror, egg...

Passover plate with symbolic foods: maror, egg, haroset, karpas, zro'ah, dish of salt water (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By DEBRA RUBIN
c. 2012 Religion News Service
Reprinted with permission

(RNS) When most Jewish families sit down for the Passover seder on Friday (April 6), it’s a safe bet that they’ll eat matzo, ask the traditional Four Questions and tell the biblical story of the Exodus from Egypt.

It’s less likely that they’ll be hitting one another with scallions. Or saving a bit of matzo, the unleavened Passover bread, as a talisman for travels. Or averting their eyes as the seder leader recites the 10 plagues that God inflicted upon the Egyptians.

Most American Passover traditions come from the 80 percent of Jews

Matzoh!

Matzo (Photo credit: urtica)

who trace their roots to Eastern and Central Europe in the Ashkenazi branch of Judaism. But others from the far-flung Jewish Diaspora incorporate traditions from their homelands, and they’re often different from the traditional Passover fare.

The nontraditional customs frequently come from Sephardic communities — traditionally Jews who trace their roots to Spain or Muslim countries — and usually contain a physical element, says the Indian-born Rahel Musleah, a journalist and author of “Why on This Night?”

“In general, I think that there are certain things that Sephardi communities share, the whole idea of making (the Exodus story) more tangible,” she said.

For Mojdeh Sionit, that physical element means seder participants swat each other with scallions, reminding them of the lashes that the Egyptian taskmasters inflicted on the Hebrews.

There is levity, though, with these modern-day lashes, said Sionit, 36, who lives in Los Angeles after emigrating from Iran a decade ago. “That’s the fun part,” she said. “We laugh a lot.” For the children, “This is the one chance of hitting someone without getting into trouble.”

At Musleah’s seder, guests save a tiny piece of the afikomen — a portion of the ceremonial matzo that is eaten to complete the seder meal — and wrap it in plastic and keep it with them when they travel. When you go on a journey, the afikomen is supposed to protect you, she said. “If I don’t have it with me, I feel uncomfortable.”

Another superstition, she said, involves the recitation of the plagues. Only the seder leader reads this part of the Haggadah text and handles the ritual wine. In her tradition, once the recitation is complete, “we don’t even keep the wine in the house; we … spill it outside,” said Musleah, whose family emigrated from Baghdad to India in 1820. “We don’t want any of the evil that is embodied in that portion. Then the leader has to wash his hands and everyone who came in contact with it also washes.”

Members of other Sephardic communities have told her that they don’t even look at the seder leader during the recitation of the plagues because it is such an intense time.

Syrian Jews, however, see that wine very differently. The seder leader reciting the plagues empties the wine from a ceremonial cup into a vessel held by the oldest single woman at the seder table, in hopes of bringing her good luck in finding a husband, Sarina Roffe explained. “There are 10 pours, one for each of the plagues, until the cup is empty,” says Roffe, 57.

She remembers the last time she was that young woman. “I was 18,” said Roffe, of Brooklyn, N.Y. By the time Passover rolled around the next year, she was engaged.

Syrians — like Egyptians and other Jews who hail from Arab lands — will wrap the matzo in a cloth, sometimes resembling a knapsack. The Syrian tradition — at least in her family — is for each male, from oldest to youngest, to take the covered ceremonial matzo, hold it over his left shoulder and respond to three questions: What are you carrying? Matzo. Where are you coming from? Egypt. Where are you going? Israel.

In Morocco, one custom is to pass the plate holding the ceremonial foods over the heads of dinner guests, while reciting, “In fear we left Egypt with the bread of affliction, and now we are free,” according to retired lobbyist Irene Kaplan, whose grandfather had been chief rabbi in Fez, Morocco. “The symbolism is that angel of death should pass over everyone for the coming year,” said Kaplan, who lives in Potomac, Md.

At a Bukharan (Central Asian) seder, expect to see participants in the colorful robes of the old country, said Aron Aronov, who immigrated from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, 23 years ago with assistance from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Embroidered with gold threads and bright colors, the robes are beautiful, he said.

Aronov, 73, said that when his seder guests eat the afikomen, “we make a resolution so by next year, your dream will come true.”

Moroccans, meanwhile, celebrate the end of the eight-day holiday with a mini-festival called Mimouna. “It’s like a moving party from house to house,” Kaplan said. With Passover restrictions on leavened goods now over, her father would put flour on his hand, touch guests on their foreheads and “wish them terbah — success — for the following year.”

Why Muslims are angered by the burning of their holy book

Philip Stine

By Contributor Philip Stine

Many Christians have trouble understanding why the destruction of copies of the Quran brings about such violent reactions from Muslims. This response comes whether the destruction was accidental, as recently occurred on a military base in Afghanistan, or deliberate, as when an American pastor announced his intentions to do this. Westerners tend to think the scriptures or holy writings of other religions have the same significance as the Christian or Jewish scriptures do in their contexts. This is not the case.

Quran

Quran (Photo credit: manitoon)

The importance of the Quran in the Muslim faith and in practice is, in some part, derived from the emphasis on the holy writ of Islam’s older sibling traditions of Judaism and Christianity. But Islam is not just one of the three “book religions.” It is significantly more radical in terms of the exalted place it assigns to its book.

A major point of view of the Quran is that throughout history God has sent to nation after nation either a prophet or apostle to lead people in correct understanding. Examples include the Torah being given to Moses, the psalms given to David and the Gospel sent to Jesus, as well as the Quran revealed to Muhammad. The belief is that in the earlier cases the community strayed from the right path and allowed its scripture to be either lost, changed or debased. Consequently, to Muslims, the Quran is a final divine revelation.

Further, because the Quran in Arabic is God’s direct discourse, in Islam there has been a consistent rejection of the notion of translation into other languages. This contrasts with Judaism. Although there has been a tenacious insistence upon the study and use of the Hebrew language, the pragmatic need for congregations who do not know Hebrew to understand the content of the Torah led first to the translation into Greek, the Septuagint. And then there were the post-exile targums, which are Aramaic paraphrases of the Torah. Christianity translated the sacred texts into the vernacular languages from the very beginning, believing that the word of God was compatible with the speech of everyday life in any culture.

Another contrast relates to the understanding of how different writings became recognized as “scripture.” Christians and Jews see the writings collected over a period of time as God dealing with God’s people in different ways at different times. But Muslims see revelation as having been sent in one final culminating time in the course of one prophetic career.

Most significantly, Jews and Christians accept their scriptures contain the word of God. Muslims see the Quran as the verbatim speech of God, given once and for all through a single chosen prophet. The very word Quran is a verbal noun derived from the Arabic root Q-R-‘, the basic sense of which is “to recite, read aloud.” The Quran is the recitation God gave to Muhammad. As followers recite it, they are reminded constantly of God’s presence.

For Jews, the prime medium of encounter between God and humans is the Torah. But this is not understood simply as scriptural text but as divine will, cosmic order, and human responsibility, to which the Torah is the guide.

For Christians, the encounter comes first and foremost through the person and life of Christ. This is accessible, but not exclusively so, in scripture.

In Islam, on the other hand, it is in the concrete text, the very words of the Quran, that Muslims most directly experience God. Scripture in Islam is itself the divine presence as well as the mediator of divine will and divine grace. In the Quran, God speaks with his own voice, not through inspired human writers. Thus it is not an exaggeration to compare Quran recitation with the Christian Eucharist. Nor is it exaggeration to say that the closest equivalent to the Quran for the Christian is not the Bible but the person Jesus Christ, who is the word of God incarnate in the Christian tradition.

It should be no wonder then that the desecration of copies of the Quran by non-believers brings about deep sadness and anger for Muslims, and in recent cases, retribution.

Four ways to help teens avoid sex – without locking them in their room until they turn 25

By Contributor Josh Stephens

I recently overheard a couple of high school students talking about relationship struggles. I’d heard the conversation many times before. Somehow, in the midst of this conversation, they turned to me and wanted to know my opinion on the matter. It caught me off-guard, and I waited a second before asking, “What do you think is the point of having a relationship in high school?”

Without missing a beat, the response was, “The sex!”

Those two words echoed in my heart like someone shouting in a cave.

“THE SEX! The sex. the sex…”

Media tells us to be accepted in society you have to be in a relationship. Media tells us to be cool you have to have sex in that relationship.

Media tells us the more people you have sex with, the more successful you become.

The thing is, while you or I may be able to recognize all of these as empty lies, there is a generation accepting it as truth.

There is a generation okay with being lied to because it provides them with the sexual gratification that has been highly praised by their “role models” in society.

But what do we do?

Do we turn the TV off and ignore the media?

Do we shut our children off from the world and not let them out of the house again until they are 25 years old?

Do we hand out cards saying those who have sex before marriage are going to hell?

No.

We shouldn’t do any of that.

We cannot ignore what is being displayed in the media. Ignorance just welcomes naivete.

And we cannot try to scare students into heaven by telling them their mistakes are going to send them to hell.

What we can do is show them a better story.

This means we need to show them what life is like when you live it according to God’s design by giving them healthy examples of relationships. We have to be healthy examples of relationships.

We have to teach them their identity is not found in the relationships society so often encourages. But true identity is found in their Creator.

We have to ask hard questions. It is our job to sit down and talk with them about their intentions in relationships and how they can approach dating from a healthy perspective, the perspective the media rarely subscribes to.

We may have to have uncomfortable conversations.

We have to show them God’s plan is better than anything they could ever dream or imagine.

How do you find your spiritual fruits in a new year?

By Contributor Jenny Morris

Each New Year brings an endless amount of hope for each of us. As Christians, we all want to experience more of God’s goodness and listen carefully to hear his wonderful purpose for our lives. Unfortunately, many of the people I coach have some anxiety and doubt that the New Year will bring godly direction and purpose to their careers, security to their relationships or guide them successfully to develop bonds that will bring satisfaction. The answer to all these concerns is found in deepening our relationship with God.

One verse in the King James Version of the Bible that continues to flow through my thoughts comes from Hebrews 13:8:

“Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever.”

As I have prayed and pondered this citation, the significance that greets me deals specifically with the New Year. Were there moments or even weeks when I felt that the presence and love of Christ were absent? Am I glad for this year to be over because next year can only be better? I ask myself these relevant questions. They provoke insights into how I am thinking about the upcoming year. What if 2011 had been a great year and you can’t imagine that next year could be equally as good?

We need to be sure that we are not outlining what that restoration looks like but be confident that God knows what will bless us most. What needs to be restored in your life? Are you telling God how to do this restoration or are you praying and listening for the actions needed to witness this restoration?

The most important aspect of this listening is to be expectant of his goodness and then be grateful even before we see results. Don’t be afraid to follow a path of inspiration received from prayer. If perchance you misinterpreted the insight received from prayer, God will be there to correct and guide you.

For many, ‘Losing My Religion’ isn’t a song: It’s life

By CATHY LYNN GROSSMAN
c. 2012 USA Today

(RNS) When Ben Helton signed up for an online dating service, under “religion” he called himself “spiritually apathetic.”

On Sunday mornings, when Bill Dohm turns his eyes toward heaven, he’s just checking the weather so he can fly his 1946 Aeronca Champ two-seater plane.

Helton, 28, and Dohm, 54, aren’t atheists. They simply shrug off God, religion, heaven or the ever-trendy search-for-meaning and/or purpose. Their attitude could be summed up as “So what?”

“The real dirty little secret of religiosity in America is that there are so many people for whom spiritual interest, thinking about ultimate questions, is minimal,” said Mark Silk, professor of religion and public life at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn.

Clergy and religion experts are dismayed, fearing for souls’ salvation and for the common threads of faith snapping in society. Others see no such dire consequences to a more openly secular America as people not only fess up to being faithless but admit they’re skipping out on spirituality altogether.

Only now, however, are they turning up in the statistical stream. Researchers have begun asking the kind of nuanced questions that reveal just how big the “So What” set might be:

— 44 percent told the 2011 Baylor University Religion Survey they spend no time seeking “eternal wisdom,” and 19 percent said “it’s useless to search for meaning.”

— 46 percent told a 2011 survey by Nashville, Tenn.-based LifeWay Research that they never wonder whether they will go to heaven.

— 28 percent told LifeWay “it’s not a major priority in my life to find my deeper purpose.” And 18 percent scoffed at the idea that God has a purpose or plan for everyone.

— 6.3 percent of Americans turned up on Pew Forum’s 2007 Religious Landscape Survey as totally secular — unconnected to God or a higher power or any religious identity and willing to say religion is not important in their lives.

Hemant Mehta, who blogs as the Friendly Atheist, calls them the “apatheists,” while the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the new Episcopal bishop of Washington, D.C., calls them honest.

“We live in a society today where it is acceptable now to say that they have no spiritual curiosity. At almost any other time in history, that would have been unacceptable,” Budde said.

She finds this “very sad, because the whole purpose of faith is to be a source of guidance, strength and perspective in difficult times. To be human is to have a sense of purpose, an awareness that our life is an utterly unique expression of creation and we want to live it with meaning, grace and beauty.”

Nah, Helton said.

Helton, a high school band teacher in Chicago, only goes to the Roman Catholic Church of his youth to hear his mother sing in the choir.

His mind led him away. The more Helton read evolutionary psychology and neuropsychology, he said, the more it seemed to him, “We might as well be cars. That, to me, makes more sense than believing what you can’t see.”

Ashley Gerst, 27, a 3-D animator and filmmaker in New York, shifts between “leaning to the atheist and leaning toward apathy.”

“I would just like to see more people admit they don’t believe. The only thing I’m pushy about is I don’t want to be pushed. I don’t want to change others, and I don’t want to debate my view,” she said.

Most “So Whats” are like Gerst, said David Kinnaman, a Christian researcher and author of “You Lost Me,” a book on young adults drifting away from church.

They’re uninterested in trying to talk a diverse set of friends into a shared viewpoint in a culture that celebrates an idea that all truths are equally valid, he said. Personal experience and personal authority matter most, and as a result Scripture and tradition are quaint, irrelevant, artifacts.

“‘Spiritual’ is the hipster way of saying they’re concerned with social injustice. But if you strip away the hipster factor,” said Kinnaman, “I’d estimate seven in 10 young adults would say they don’t see much influence of God or religion in their lives at all.”

The hot religion statistical trend of recent decades was the rise of the “Nones” — the people who checked “no religious identity” on the American Religious Identification Survey — who leapt from 8 percent in 1990 to 15 percent in 2008.

The “So Whats” appear to be a growing secular subset. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life‘s Landscape Survey dug in to the Nones to discover that nearly half said they believed “nothing in particular.”

Neither raging atheist scientist Richard Dawkins, author of numerous best-sellers such as “The God Delusion,” nor religious broadcaster Pat Robertson would understand this fuzzy stance, said Barry Kosmin, co-author of the ARIS and director of the Institute for the Study of Secularism at Trinity College.

“But a lot of these people are concerned more with the tangible, the real stuff like mortgages or their favorite football team or the everyday world,” Kosmin said.

When church historian Diana Butler Bass researched her upcoming book, “Christianity After Religion,” she found the “So Whats” are “a growing category.”

“We can’t underestimate the power of the collapse of institutional religion in the first 10 years of this century,” she said. “It’s freed so many people to say they don’t really care. They don’t miss rituals or traditions they may never have had anyway.”

(Cathy Lynn Grossman writes for USA Today.)

The Power of Worship by Blogger Clay Ritter

By Blogger Pastor Clay Ritter

Recently, at our church, we learned a powerful truth that I believe has the power to change our walk with Christ: the power of worship.

We learned that worship has power: power to bring refreshment, power to bring victory, and power to bring the kingdom!

But why is worship really important? What’s the big deal? Isn’t it just music?

Worship can involve music, but it is so much more. Worship is something that dates to eternity past that involved an angel who was called the “seal of perfection.”

Lucifer, by William Blake, for Dante's Inferno...

Image via Wikipedia

His name was Lucifer.

“You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; Every precious stone was your covering: The sardius, topaz, and diamond, Beryl, onyx, and jasper, Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald with gold. The workmanship of your timbrels and pipes was prepared for you on the day you were created. “You were the anointed cherub who covers; I established you; You were on the holy mountain of God; You walked back and forth in the midst of fiery stones.

— Ez 28:12-14

Ezekiel is describing an angelic being that radiated the splendor of God in all of his creative ability. This being was crafted to produce beauty: He was beautiful to look upon, and he was beautiful to listen to. This being was created to bring glory to the living God in the eternal realm.

But there was a problem – apparently Lucifer was so splendid, and so incredible, that he became completely enamored of himself, and decided that he should be the one receiving worship. This was a problem.

Isaiah 14 describes the fall of this supernatural being.

From this we learn that worship is holy, and it is set apart for God alone, because God alone is the only being worthy of our worship. Lucifer, who we now call Satan, is not worthy of our worship, yet he desires it more than anything else. That tells you something about the importance and value of worship. And it brings us back to our truth about what worship brings.

Worship Brings Refreshment

When we are engaged in worship of the true and living God, the result is refreshment.

“And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him.” – 1 Sam 16:23

But it’s not refreshing because the music is nice, it is refreshing because God is enthroned on the praise of his people.

In other words, when we praise him, a spiritual reality is happening, we are enthroning God in our praise. As we enthrone God, God refreshes us – as rain refreshes the fields.

Worship Brings Victory

This is pretty simple to me. Satan desires to receive worship as God, but he isn’t God. When we worship the true God, it throws that reality right in Satan’s face! He can’t stand it. The enemies of God flee when God’s people worship Him. In military terms, when your enemy runs away, it’s called victory!

Worship Brings the Kingdom

As Christians we live with the promise of the future eternal kingdom of God in heaven, but there is a present sense of the kingdom of God that we should not miss: God working in and through us! When the Pharisee’s asked Jesus about the kingdom, He replied:

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” — Luke 17:20-21

Saints, we should keep our eyes focused on the coming of our Lord.

But we also should walk in the power and freedom of the kingdom of God that is within us. Worship is something that recognizes that kingdom, embraces that kingdom, and manifests the power and presence of the living God in our lives right now – today!

Think about these truths the next time you come to worship the Lord.