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Why the Argument Over Jesus’ Language is More Complicated and More Interesting Than Media Experts Have Claimed

hebrew_302[1]“So Israel’s Prime Minister was arguing with the Pope over what language Jesus spoke” sounds like the setup to a weird joke. Which, actually, it is. Lasting just a few seconds, the dustup reflects centuries of attempts to claim Jesus through speech and to transform his native language and original words into sacred linguistic relics. In case you missed it, during last week’s meeting with the Pope in Jerusalem Benjamin Netanyahu asserted that Jesus’ language was Hebrew, then backpedaled quickly when the Pope corrected him, asserting that “He spoke Aramaic but he knew Hebrew.” [Read more]

Gay Danish Couples Win Right to Marry in Church

gayMarriage_2242001b[1]The country’s parliament voted through the new law on same-sex marriage by a large majority, making it mandatory for all churches to conduct gay marriages. Denmark’s church minister, Manu Sareen, called the vote “historic”. “I think it’s very important to give all members of the church the possibility to get married. Today, it’s only heterosexual couples.” Under the law, individual priests can refuse to carry out the ceremony, but the local bishop must arrange a replacement for their church. [Read more]

If This Texas County Installs a Ten Commandments Monument at the Courthouse, a Satanic One Could Follow

pCaKm7r[1]The Young County Commissioners Court (in Texas) just voted to place a Ten Commandments monument near the entrance to the Young County Courthouse. The monument, similar to the one at the Oklahoma State Capitol building, will be funded by private donors, so taxpayers won’t be on the hook for it, but the commissioners don’t seem to understand the size of the door they’re about to open… Oh, they’ll come… And atheists will come, too. You think we don’t have donors who would eagerly take advantage of an opportunity to promote our views at a government institution? [Read more]

How Do We Recover from an Unconscious State?

conscious%20states[1]Anesthesia makes otherwise painful procedures possible by derailing a conscious brain, rendering it incapable of sensing or responding to a surgeon’s knife. But little research exists on what happens when the drugs wear off. “I always found it remarkable that someone can recover from anesthesia, not only that you blink your eyes and can walk around, but you return to being yourself. So if you learned how to do something on Sunday and on Monday, you have surgery, and you wake up and you still know how to do it,” says Alexander Proekt, a visiting fellow in Don Pfaff’s Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior at Rockefeller University and an anesthesiologist at Weill Cornell Medical College. [Read more]

Jerusalem: Full Disclosure

Dome-225x300[1]People connected to me on social media, and in my own personal life, know that I’m in Jerusalem right now, as I was last summer.  There is much to share about this experience, and many have asked me to write about it, but first I have to begin with a confession about how I got here for which you’ll have to stay with me through the end of this piece. In the coming weeks I’ll write substantive pieces about what I’ve learned. Early last year I was invited to be part of a groundbreaking pilot program for Muslims to study Judaism in Jerusalem, sponsored by a private educational institute.  My immediate and visceral reaction was no, never, absolutely not.  I was never raised an anti-Semite, but have always been a committed anti-Zionist*. I marched in dozens of anti-Israeli protests, confusing my little girl who thought we were chanting “free, free Pakistan” instead of Palestine. [Read more]

Chicago Megachurch Pastor’s Wife in Tears: I Thank God for Criticism, It Has Sanctified Us

pastor-wife[1]Kathy MacDonald, wife of Harvest Bible Chapel Pastor James MacDonald, said Monday she thanks God for the criticism that has been leveled against her husband. MacDonald broke down as she recalled the attacks that she and husband James faced as they grew their Chicago church from 18 people meeting in a school building to the multi-campus church it is now. “Unfortunately I feel like I have my PhD in this topic,” she shared with the audience of the Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Wives Conference. [Read more]

“These Hoes Ain’t Loyal:” Biblical Harlotry and Patriarchy Then and Now

bryant_302[1]A recent Gallup poll notes that “a combined 75% [of Americans] believe the Bible is in some way connected to God”; 28% believe that the Bible should be taken literally, and about half understand and interpret the Bible as the inspired Word of God. But to what extent do preachers see the whole Bible—all thirty-thousand-plus verses—as the inerrant or inspired Word of God? We’re all familiar with the humorous argument that if we’re prepared to use the Bible to condemn homosexuality we’ll have to stop eating lobster too, so clearly some portions of the Bible have been abandoned. [Read more]

Clarifying the Moral Landscape: A Response to Ryan Born

mountain[1]I’d like to begin, once again, by congratulating Ryan Born for winning our essay contest. The points he raised certainly merit a response. Also, I should alert readers to a change in the expected format of this debate: Originally, I had planned to have an extended conversation with the winning author, with Russell Blackford serving as both moderator and commentator. In the end, this design proved unworkable—and it was not for want of trying on our parts. I know I speak for both Ryan and Russell when I say that our failure to produce an acceptable text was frustrating. [Read more]

Another Chapter of Irish Shame and Catholic Morality

wage[1]Some days ago, Jerry published a piece on the Pope’s importuning of married couples to reproduce rather than acquiring pets. The word that I noticed more than anything else was “married,” although I suspect that many didn’t even see it, so irrelevant and archaic now is the concept of legitimate births. [Read more]

Brazil Fury Over Italian Advert That Put Football Shirt on Christ the Redeemer

italy-christ-redeemer[1]An Italian advert showing Rio de Janeiro’s Christ the Redeemer wearing the country’s blue football shirt has sparked outrage in Brazil, leading the Catholic Church to threaten legal action. Just days before the country plays its 2014 World Cup opener against England, Italy’s state broadcaster Rai aired a trailer for its coverage that includes the towering statue clad in a digitally-produced number 10 azure “Italia” shirt. The advert also includes children playing street football in Brazil wearing Italy shirts and a message saying “Brazil awaits us”. [Read more]

And Then There Was One: Yahweh and the Shema

screen-shot-2014-06-11-at-12-02-33-pm[1]One of the most famous phrases in all the Old Testament is certainly the declaration in Deuteronomy 6:4, referred to as the Shema after its initial word.
שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל יהוה אֱלֹהֵינוּ יהוה אֶחָד
šᵉma’ yiśrāêl yahweh ’ělōhênū yahweh ‘eḥāḏ
The best nuance with which to translate this statement has been debated. The NRSV and its footnotes offer no fewer than four options, for example. [Read more]

In Mixed Faith Marriages, Focus is on ‘Values,’ Not ‘Beliefs’

RNS-ATHEIST-MARRIAGEIf interfaith marriages are supposedly doomed, Dale McGowan’s should have been toe-tagged from the start. He’s a committed atheist; his wife comes from a line of Southern Baptist preachers. Yet 23 years and three kids later, they are still happily married. What’s their secret? McGowan, 51, has just written“In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families,” to help other couples considering what he calls a “religious/nonreligious mixed marriage” succeed. “The key is to talk about your values,” McGowan said from his home in Atlanta. “A lot of time we mix up the words ‘values’ and ‘beliefs.’ Beliefs are what you think is true about the universe. Is there a God? Where do we go when we die? But values are what you believe are important and good. When you get couples talking about values they find out they share a tremendous amount, even if they don’t share beliefs.” [Read more]

Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy

JPCAMPUS1-master675[1]For 40 years, evangelicals at Bowdoin College have gathered periodically to study the Bible together, to pray and to worship. They are a tiny minority on the liberal arts college campus, but they have been a part of the school’s community, gathering in the chapel, the dining center, the dorms. After this summer, the Bowdoin Christian Fellowship will no longer be recognized by the college. Already, the college has disabled the electronic key cards of the group’s longtime volunteer advisers. [Read more]

Abuse Cases, and a Legacy of Skepticism

10SCIB-master675[1]Thirty years ago, Judy Johnson of Manhattan Beach, Calif., took her 2 1/2-year-old son, Matthew, to the pediatrician, fearing he had been sexually abused by his preschool teacher. By today’s standards, the medical evidence in Matthew’s case was inconclusive: He had a rash on his bottom and rectal bleeding. But at the time, his symptoms were viewed as serious cause for concern. And so Matthew’s trip to the doctor began one of the longest, most expensive and notorious criminal investigations in American history. [Read more]

Time for Jewish Evangelizing

w-nigel-evangelize.jpg[1]If we’re serious about renewing Jewish life in the future, we must confront the challenge of evangelizing for Jewish tradition in public space. One of the reasons that the tension between the tribal and the universal in Jewish life isn’t addressed directly is because most Jews lack confidence in their knowledge of Jewish tradition to talk about it in the public square. [Read more]

The Catholic Irish Babies Scandal: It Gets Much Worse

mary[1]It gets worse. One week after revelations of how over the span of 35 years, a County Galway home for unwed mothers cavalierly disposed of the bodies of nearly 800 babies and toddlers on a site that held a septic tank, new reports are leveling a whole different set of charges about what happened to the children of those Irish homes. In harrowing new information revealed this weekend, the Daily Mail has uncovered medical records that suggest 2,051 children across several Irish care homes were given a diphtheria vaccine from pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome in a suspected illegal drug trial that ran from 1930 to 1936. [Read more]

Vigilante Mobs Abduct Young Men in Push to Identify Online Secular Activists

Screen-Shot-2014-06-09-at-10.10.20-PM[1]Vigilante mobs have abducted and interrogated several young men in Malé City in a push to identify online activists advocating secularism or professing atheism, Minivan News has learned. Eyewitnesses told Minivan News the young men were taken to isolated locations in Malé City in separate incidents in recent days. A vigilante mob interrogated them on the identities of administrators of Facebook groups advocating secularism and atheism in the Maldives. [Read more]

St. Louis Archbishop Carlson Claims to Be Uncertain If He Knew Sexual Abuse Was a Crime

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson claimed to be uncertain that he knew sexual abuse of a child by a priest constituted a crime when he was auxiliary bishop in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, according to a deposition released Monday.

[Read more]

Marriage, Violence, and the Bible

For many Christians, the Bible has traditionally been a source of information on how to live. Both God and the various characters in biblical stories are treated as models for how to behave and how to relate to others in all areas of life – including especially the most personal areas of life, marriage and family. [Read more]

Poland’s PM: Doctor’s Duty is Above His Faith

Poland’s prime minister, Donald Tusk, on Tuesday weighed into an abortion debate that is roiling emotions in the largely Catholic country, saying doctors have to put their obligation to the patient and the law above their religious beliefs. [Read more]

Academic, Activist or Apatheist: What Kind of Unbeliever Are You?

In his book “In Faith and In Doubt: How Religious Believers and Nonbelievers Can Create Strong Marriages and Loving Families,” author Dale McGowan writes that just as no one religion’s believers agree on everything, neither do all nonbelievers. Drawing on a 2013 University of Tennessee study, he identifies six different types of atheists and agnostics. [Read more]

Secular Coalition of America Lobby Days: Openly Secular Americans on the Hill

As more Americans are calling themselves non-religious (30% of Americans younger than 30 are without religious adherence) and a growing body of religious citizens are calling out the pro-Christian bent to politics around the country, Americans and their politicians are being called to consider what it means to be a nation which equally defends freedom of religion and freedom from religion as well. [Read more]

Why Some People Believe the Bible (And Why the Reasons Aren’t Good Enough)

I’m writing this post in response to something a fellow blogger has written about why the Bible is trustworthy (though I’ve lost the link to the post). He and I come down on different sides of this issue, and I thought the best way to tackle this would be to respond to each of his points in order. [Read more]

Makers of LDS Movie Say ‘Book of Mormon’ Canned their Ad

What do the Utah-made movie “The Saratov Approach” and the Tony-winning musical “The Book of Mormon” have in common? They both tell the story of LDS missionaries facing obstacles out in the field. But while “The Book of Mormon” is a profane comedy musical, “The Saratov Approach” is a fact-based drama about missionaries kidnapped in Russia. [Read more]

Declining Southern Baptists Double Down on Homophobia

Despite declining membership and growing acceptance of same-sex marriage around the country, the Southern Baptist Convention is getting ready to double down on its anti-gay message. As an added bonus, their condemnation has gone all inclusive as they take special aim at the transgender community, who, up until now, had been largely ignored by the conservative Protestant denomination. [Read more]

In Britain, School Report Cites Division Over Islam

A report released on Monday concluded that pressure from fundamentalist Islamic school board governors had created a culture of “fear and intimidation” among senior staff members in a number of British schools said to have been the targets of a campaign to impose Islamist views on parts of the educational system. [Read more]

Closing Schools for Religious Holidays Can Be Problematic

Adding religious holidays to the school calendar is a slippery slope. Earlier this year, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced plans to close schools on two Muslim holidays — Eid-Ul-Fitr (end of Ramadan) and Eid-Ul-Adha (end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca) — and the Lunar New Year, an important holiday for many Asian communities. [Read more]

Islam and Government in Iran: Should Religion and Government be Unified?

Many Muslims in the Middle East see their governments as corrupt, ineffective, and repressive. They dream that a proper Islamic government would solve all their problems and Islamic radicals encourage this belief. [Read more]

Moderate Muslim Leader Killed In Kenya

Gunmen shot and killed a moderate Muslim leader on Tuesday, an official said, the fourth prominent Muslim to be shot dead in the coastal city of Mombasa in two years. Sheik Mohamed Idris, the chairman of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, was shot as he left a mosque early in the morning. [Read more]

Ex-Muslim Iranian Interview #2: Amin

This weblog is some kind of megaphone for me, a single Iranian ex-Muslim atheist. I thought I could use it to tell the story and amplify the voice of other Iranian ex-Muslims, so from now on I’m going to interview some Iranian atheists anonymously and ask them to tell their story. This is the second one, Shayan, one of my best friends. Here you can read the first one. [Read more]

Telling Others I am an Atheist

Over the past 3 years I have told several people that I am a former Christian, now an atheist. Interestingly, but probably not surprisingly, I’ve found that telling strangers is much easier than telling those I already know. I’m talking about face to face conversations here. [Read more]