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Here’s What The Annual Secularists’ Convention Has Planned

sheldon-whitehouse-getty-e1402432479771[1]Five Democratic lawmakers are set to speak at a large annual conference for secularists and nontheists which begins Wednesday in Washington D.C. The keynote speaker for the Secular Coalition for America’s annual Lobby Day and Secular Summit will be Rhode Island U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat; the convention also includes a screening of a documentary critical of African American churches. [Read more]

Bible-Themed Park Rejects State Grant after Protests

IowaBible_LG[1]Organizers of a Bible-themed park planned for Sioux City, Iowa, turned down a state grant after anti-religious zealots protested public funding for the project. The city issued a $140,000 grant to build greenways at the Shepherd’s Garden theme park, saying the funds would not be used for any religious displays, such as the “walk of faith” or areas designated for prayer. That apparently wasn’t enough for the Freedom from Religion Foundation, which said the city shouldn’t be providing any money to a park with Christian themes. [Read more]

Atheism and Stigma

image[1]It has long been recognised that historically atheists were stigmatised and ostracised from the socially accepted and seemingly encompassing religionist norm. Although blasphemy laws in the UK were abolished in 2008, ingrained attitudes that are associated with them live on in the minds and actions of some. My purpose here is not to relay a chronology of the struggles atheists have faced, nor is it to advocate for the termination of perceived injustices towards atheists, but to consider the processes through which different forms of stigma arise, in particular the emergence of self-stigma. [Read more]

Yes, “Faith Schools” Really Are the Problem

350x[1]The National Secular Society has been saying it for years – “faith schools” are a bad idea. And despite the events of the past few months in Birmingham, the simple message still hasn’t got through to the politicians who are responsible for the education system: religious schools are the problem, not the answer. The Church of England is about to launch another great tranche of schools that they’ll run but the taxpayer will pay for. [Read more]

Westboro Baptist Church Founder’s Granddaughter Libby Phelps Poses For NOH8 Campaign

s-WESTBORO-BAPTIST-CHURCH-LIBBY-PHELPS-large[1]The granddaughter of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps further distanced herself from her family’s anti-gay legacy this week by posing for the NOH8 campaign. Libby Phelps-Alvarez made headlines when she deflected from the Westboro Baptist Church in 2009 and recently pledged her support for Planting Peace, a not-for-profit advocacy group which bought a house across the street from the Westboro Baptist Church compound in Topeka, Kan. and painted it in rainbow colors. [Read more]

After Edwina Rogers’ Ouster, Secular Community Regroups

RNS-SECULAR-FUTUREAs the Secular Coalition for America prepares for its biggest event of the year this week (June 12-14) in Washington, D.C., atheist groups are recovering from the sudden departure of the coalition’s highest officer and confronting renewed charges that nonbelief groups have a shortage of women leaders and are suspicious of conservatives. The SCA, which lobbies on behalf of more than a dozen secular groups, announced that its executive director, Edwina Rogers, was let go after employees embezzled $78,000 from the organization. [Read more]

After JK Rowling Online Attack, Scotland Church Head Says End Independence Debate Vitriol

j-k-rowling-neil-murray[1]The Church of Scotland moderator has appealed for an end to vitriol in the referendum campaign on independence from Britain following an outpouring of abuse by independence supporters against Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling. “It doesn’t take a wizard to work out that [First Minster] Alex Salmond’s case for breaking up the UK simply isn’t a risk worth taking,” wrote Rowling on her blog page in support of the “Better Together” campaign. [Read more]

Mega-Church Pastor Ronnie Floyd Elected Southern Baptist Convention President

pastor-ronnie-floyd[1]Arkansas mega-church pastor Ronnie Floyd has been elected as the Southern Baptist Convention’s president as the largest Protestant denomination in the United States tries to reverse declining membership and church attendances. Floyd, pastor of Cross Church in northwest Arkansas for 27 years, topped fellow nominees Maryland pastor Dennis Manpoong Kim and Kentucky pastor Jared Moore to win the SBC post on June 10 in Baltimore, Baptist Press reported. [Read more]

Witnessing to Christian Street Preachers in Cincinnati, Ohio

street-preachers-cincinnati-ohio-june-11-2014-006[1]Polly and I drove to Cincinnati yesterday to watch the Cincinnati Reds play (and defeat) the Los Angeles Dodgers. After the game, as we were headed to the front of the stadium, we noticed several street preachers busily trying to save souls from the burning pit of hell. Typical street preachers, screaming about sin, judgment, and hell. As Polly was pushing me away from them, I asked her to stop for a moment so I could take a few pictures. [Read more]

Proselytizers Can Make Life Trying for Christians in Bangladesh, says Baptist Leader

members-of-the-bangladesh-christian-association[1]For Christians in a country like Bangladesh where they make up for less than one percent of the population proselytizers can upset the equilibrium of others of their faith in the Muslim majority country. This is the view of Jayonta Adhikari, a Bangladeshi member of the main governing body of the World Council of Churches, its central committee. “I feel that Christians in Bangladesh are living peacefully with other religious communities,” said Adhikari in an interview with the WCC published on June 10. [Read more]

InterVarsity: Colleges Take Non-Discrimination Policies to ‘Illogical Extreme’ Against Christian Student Groups

college-student[1]College and university policies that stipulate that Christian student groups on campus must follow non-discrimination policies in the selection of the groups’ leaders could squelch student conversation about faith in the future, says a leader from InterVarsity. Greg Jao, national field director for the Northeast InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, told The Christian Post that college institutions such as California State University (Cal State), the largest university system in the U.S., that are prepared to withdraw recognition from certain evangelical clubs this summer, are an example of a nation at a crossroads. [Read more]

Muslim Turned Christian Shares Terrifying, Real-Life Nightmare Conversion Story

naeem-fazal-is-the-author-of-the-recently-released-book-ex-muslim-which-chronicles-the-north-carolina-based-pastors-conversion-from-islam-to-christianity[1]Just three weeks after arriving in the United States from Kuwait, Naeem Fazal was at his brother’s house one particular evening, ready to get some sleep. Fazal, who was still a Muslim when he relocated to South Carolina following the devastating Gulf War, returned that night from attending a campus ministry event with his Christian brother. He was about to experience one of the most terrifying experiences of his life. “As I was [turning the light out] that something grabbed me from my shoulders and dragged me and pinned me to my pillow,” Fazal told The Christian Post. “I was just flipping out, like what is going on?” [Read more]

The Earth Just Got 60 Million Years Older

Earth-science-1_0[1]Work presented today at the Goldschmidt Geochemistry Conference in Sacramento, California shows that the timing of the giant impact between Earth’s ancestor and a planet-sized body occurred around 40 million years after the start of solar system formation. This means that the final stage of Earth’s formation is around 60 million years older than previously thought. [Read more]

BBC Poll Shows That Religious People Give More to Charity Than Non-Religious. Maybe…

350x[1]Here we go again – the BBC has commissioned a survey that apparently shows that religious people are more likely to give to charity than non-religious people. If you look at the results, you see that the difference in charitable giving between believers and non-believers is not that big. The headline results state: “Three quarters of people in living in England who practise a religion (77%) have given to charity in the past month. This compares to only two thirds of English people who do not practise a religion (67%).” [Read more]

Role of Religion in Schools Under Scrutiny as Ofsted Reveal Extent of Fundamentalism in Birmingham Schools

350x[3]The role of religion in schools has come under scrutiny following Ofsted’s finding that “a culture of fear and intimidation has developed” in those Birmingham schools caught up in the “Trojan Horse” controversy. Summarising Ofsted’s reports of the 21 schools recently inspected following concerns over extremism and inadequate curricula, Ofsted’s chief, Mr Wilshaw, said that some of the findings are “deeply worrying and, in some ways, quite shocking”. [Read more]

Iraq Militants, Pushing South, Aim at Capital

12IRAQ4-master675[1]Sunni militants consolidated and extended their control over northern Iraq on Wednesday, seizing Tikrit, the hometown of Saddam Hussein, threatening the strategic oil refining town of Baiji and pushing south toward Baghdad, their ultimate target, Iraqi sources said. As the dimensions of the assault began to become clear, it was evident that a number of militant groups had joined forces, including Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era, whose goal is to rout the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. [Read more]

Wait, Jesus Supports Italy In The World Cup? ‘Blasphemous’ Christ The Redeemer Jersey Upsets Brazilian Catholic Church

o-CHRIST-570[1]Many consider football (soccer) to be a religion, and fans are becoming much more observant in the run up to the 2014 FIFA World Cup. One new fan is raising a lot of eyebrows, however– because his name is Jesus Christ. Brazil’s Catholic church is reportedly furious over a “blasphemous” commercial run by the Italian state television channel, Rai Italia, which features Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue sporting a jersey for Italia. [Read more]

Israel No Longer a Cause That Unifies US Jews

460x[1]Once a unifying cause for generations of American Jews, Israel is now bitterly dividing Jewish communities. Jewish organizations are withdrawing invitations to Jewish speakers or performers considered too critical of Israel, in what opponents have denounced as an ideological litmus test meant to squelch debate. Some Jewish activists have formed watchdog groups, such as Citizens Opposed to Propaganda Masquerading as Art, or COPMA, and JCC Watch, to monitor programming for perceived anti-Israel bias. [Read more]

The Blockbuster Spirituality of John Green’s “The Fault In Our Stars”

cancersupport_302[1]In my department’s hallway, there is a placard that asks, “What can I do with my Religious Studies degree?” I now have a compelling answer: write a devastating book like The Fault in Our Stars and watch it be transformed into a wildly successful film. Fantasy careers aside, we religious studies folks should pay serious attention to both the film and the book, which was penned by former Kenyon College Religious Studies and English major John Green. [Read more]

Bishops Will Revise Catholic Voting Guide to Address Current Issues

-3fe384541e6b3bd6[1]While continuing to acknowledge the valued concept of separation of church and state, the leadership of the Catholic Church in the United States reaffirmed Wednesday that it is imperative that the faithful not check their consciences outside the voting booth. Gathering for its annual spring meeting in New Orleans, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted Wednesday (June 11) to reissue a revised guide to help Catholics in making voting decisions in accord with their Catholic moral beliefs. [Read more]

Three Surprising Tips to Promote Inner Peace

Enjoing the sunsetWe’re all pretty aware of the common suggestions for increasing inner peace and reducing stress: exercise, meditate, eat well, and get enough sleep—all fantastic and vital aspects of well-being. But, there’s so much more we can do to support ourselves. Here are my top 3 unexpected tips for creating inner-peace. 1. Optimize your vitamin D levels. [Read more]

At Angelina Jolie-Chaired Summit, Faith Leaders Work to End Sexual Violence

RNS—SEXUAL VIOLENCEReligious leaders from across Africa and England came together Wednesday (June 11) to discuss the role clergy should play in preventing and responding to sexual violence. The panel was part of the three-day Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict co-chaired by Angelina Jolie, the special envoy for the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, and British Foreign Secretary William Hague. [Read more]

“Progressive” Religion Or Just Religion?

homeless_302[1]Last week HuffPo Religion‘s executive editor Paul Raushenbush wrote about a “stunning resurgence” of progressive Christianity. The right, he notes, had been the “default religious voice” of the final three decades of the twentieth century—but its loud, extended run may be over. Why did progressive religion languish for so long? Ed Kilgore has explained this way: 1) the religious left is a smaller and less homogeneous movement than religious conservatism; 2) secular progressives have little use for religion; and 3) when political progressives do decide to reach out to faith groups, they generally reach out to conservatives. [Read more]

Southern Baptists Confront a ‘Third Way’ on Homosexuality and Sin

FT_14.06.06_homosexualsBaptists[1]As the Southern Baptist Convention begins its annual meeting Tuesday in Baltimore, the country’s largest Protestant body will confront an issue agitating many conservative evangelical Christian churches: How to navigate the rapidly shifting landscape of same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The denomination, which claims 16 million members but also has been struggling with declining membership, defines God’s plan for marriage and sexual intimacy as between “one man and one woman,” and teaches that homosexuality is “not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’” According to its constitution, if a congregation decides to “affirm, approve or endorse homosexual behavior,” it is considered no longer “in cooperation with” the wider body. [Read more]

Scientists Condemn ‘Crazy, Dangerous’ Creation of Deadly Airborne Flu Virus

Avian virus H5N1 in electron micrographScientists have created a life-threatening virus that closely resembles the 1918 Spanish flu strain that killed an estimated 50m people in an experiment labelled as “crazy” by opponents. US researchers said the experiments were crucial for understanding the public health risk posed by viruses currently circulating in wild birds, but critics condemned the studies as dangerous and called on funders to stop the work. [Read more]

The Southern Baptist Convention Throws Transgender People Under the Bus

sbcec-vote[1]Delegates to the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (the largest Protestant body in American, with around 16 million members) approved a resolution concerning transgender people. The points they affirmed about transgender people are below, each followed by the supporting text from the affirmed resolution. Following these points is the whole of the resolution from which this support is derived. “Transgender people are crazy. [Read more]

Southern Baptists Pray for ‘Favorable’ Hobby Lobby Ruling

RNS-SBC-GREENSouthern Baptists prayed Wednesday (June 11) that the Supreme Court would rule in favor of the Green family, the evangelical owners of the Hobby Lobby craft chain that challenged the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. “God, we ask for a favorable, favorable ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States for the cause of religious liberty,” prayed the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Historians said the prayer from the podium during the SBC’s annual meeting about a pending court decision was noteworthy, though Southern Baptists have preached and issued statements for years on current events. [Read more]

Prominent Pastor/Radio Host Offers Chilling Advice to Parents with Adult Kids Who Are Gay

One of the few prominent evangelical/fundamentalist pastors who has largely stayed out of political hankering has dipped his toe into those waters–and in one of the ugliest ways possible.  John MacArthur pastors Grace Community Church in the San Fernando Valley and hosts the daily radio show “Grace to You.”  He has a sterling reputation in the evangelical community, and his show has been a ratings juggernaut on Christian radio for decades.

[Read more]

Creationist: If Evolution is True, Rape is OK

Here’s creationist Derek Isaacs, someone I’ve not heard of, promulgating his inanities on an episode of “Creation Today.” Isaacs says that, after studying the writings of “purveyors of evolutionary biology” like Darwin, Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and E.O. Wilson (since when was Hitchens a “purveyor of evolutionary biology?), he discovered himself “in a very dark place”—a place where rape was basically okay because, after all, evolution tells men they have to propagate their genes.

[Read more]

Humanist Group Asks Judge to Order ‘Permanent Injunction’ Against Carroll Prayer

The group battling with Carroll County commissioners over Christian prayers at their meetings asked a judge Tuesday to order a “permanent injunction” on the practice, which they say alienates some community members. “Public officials are not in the business of offering Christian prayers,” said Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, a plaintiff in the case. He called the invocations “unconstitutional.” [Read more]

One Life: The Positive Message of Atheism

As an atheist I have grown tired (nay, exhausted) of being told that my world view gives me a bleak world with nothing to live for. One of the most common recourses of the religious when the epistemological battle is lost is to claim that without a god, without religion, life has no meaning, no purpose, no meaningful end. [Read more]

America’s Religious Constriction

I am both shocked and fascinated by Americans’ religious literalism. One Gallup report issued recently found that 42 percent of Americans believe “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.” Even among people who said that they were “very familiar” with the theory of evolution, a third still believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. [Read more]

Two Activists in Mormon Church Threatened With Excommunication

Two Mormons who have gained national attention for pushing their church to ordain women to the priesthood and to accept openly gay members have been notified this week that they face excommunication for apostasy. [Read more]

How Do You Solve a Pastor like McPherson?

If it wasn’t obvious before I think it should be obvious now: Pastor McPherson is a key player in this little story. He’s also the hardest character for me to approach again. I don’t really know what to do with him. [Read more]

Outrage Over Jesus Hot-Air Balloon Floating Over Melbourne

Commuters in Melbourne, Australia got a surprise this morning when they spotted a giant Jesus hot-air balloon emerging from the clouds. The Jesus was seen wearing an Australian soccer jersey donning the Sportsbet logo with the slogan #KEEPTHEFAITH. [Read more]

South Carolina Creationism Standards: Rejected

Our last post on this topic was Discoveroids and South Carolina Creationism. The next two indented paragraphs, modified from earlier posts, provide background information, which most of you can skip: New language for high school biology standards is headed for consideration to the South Carolina State Board of Education that would have students learn “the controversy.” [Read more]

David Brat: Catholic, Calvinist, and Libertarian, Oh My!

The stunning upset of Eric Cantor by tea party candidate David Brat, a self-avowed Calvinist Catholic libertarian, sent pundits scrambling to get a read on the economics professor’s views, chasing down his C.V., his doctoral dissertation, and his publications. [Read more]

Endangered Bonobos Reveal Evolution of Human Kindness

Marked by their kindness to strangers, bonobos are helping scientists solve the mystery of a particularly human quality: our altruistic nature. It’s a cruel irony, then, that the very bonobos that are shedding light on how our humanity toward others arose are the orphans of mothers killed by, you guessed it, humans. (Read about bonobos in National Geographic magazine.) [Read more]

Christian Right Attacks Planned Parenthood For Praying

Prayer is often one of the few acts that can cross religious and political divides, no matter how deep. But last week, the president of the Family Research Council criticized Planned Parenthood Federation of America for reaching out to women in the name of God. [Read more]

Opponent Resonated With Christian Conservatives in a Way Cantor Could Not

As the lone Jewish Republican in Congress, representing a deeply conservative, overwhelmingly Christian district in Virginia while dreaming of becoming the first Jewish speaker of the House, Representative Eric Cantor always had a delicate task. [Read more]

Shelby Township Allows ‘So Help Me God’ in Oaths

The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing prayers before public meetings has prompted one Metro Detroit clerk to add a call to a higher power to the township’s oath of office. Shelby Township Clerk Stanley Grot won approval from the board of trustees to give officeholders the option of ending their sworn oath with “so help me God.” [Read more]

Priest Killed, Another Injured, in Phoenix Church Burglary

A 29-year-old priest was shot to death and his pastor badly beaten during what police described as a burglary at a Catholic church in Phoenix, authorities said on Thursday. Phoenix Police Chief Daniel Garcia said officers were notified of a break-in late on Wednesday at the Mater Misericordiae (Mother of Mercy) Mission church. [Read more]

Sudanese Woman Sentenced to Death for Apostasy Gives Birth

The Sudanese woman who has been sentenced to hang for refusing to renounce Christianity has given birth to a baby girl named Maya, her lawyers told The Telegraph. Meriam Ibrahim, 27, gave birth to the girl – her second child – in the early hours of Tuesday morning, in the hospital wing of the prison. [Read more]

Israel’s New President and Intolerant Judaism

Israel’s new president, Likud’s Reuven Rivlin, elected by the Knesset on Tuesday, once called Reform Judaism “idol worship.” In 1989, Rivlin attended Shabbat services at two Reform synagogues in the United States. [Read more]

Ireland to Investigate Adoptions, Baby Deaths at Church Homes

The Irish government has ordered a comprehensive investigation into the treatment of children at Catholic church homes for unmarried mothers, including accusations of forced adoptions and unusually high mortality rates among children housed there. [Read more]

Mexican Immigrant Who Sought Sanctuary in Church Can Stay in U.S.

A Mexican immigrant who took refuge in an Arizona church to avoid deportation from a country where he has lived illegally for over a decade and raised a family can stay in the United States, a federal official said on Tuesday. [Read more]

Thousands Raid South Korea Church in Futile Search for Ferry Family Boss

Thousands of South Korean police and prosecutors raided a sprawling religious compound for a second time on Wednesday in their search for an elderly businessman linked to a ferry disaster that reduced the nation to tears. [Read more]