religion

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"Be careful, God is watching."  A warning to keep your behavior within moral boundaries... IF you believe in God. 

But if you don't, or at least have doubts, you have to look somewhere else for hour moral underpinnings.  And that's been an argument for much of history: whether you can be sufficiently moral without religion. 

Of course, says sociologist Phil Zuckerman.  He teaches and writes about secular vs religious morality. 

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A frequent criticism of any political figure with a devoted following is that the figure is at the center of a "cult of personality."  Pay close attention to that word, cult, because Robert Jay Lifton says it's important. 

Lifton should know, he's a psychiatrist and a historian, and from his view, fanatical religious cults and extremist political movements are not far apart.  He explores the concept in depth in a new book, Losing Reality: On Cults, Cultism, and the Mindset of Political and Religious Zealotry

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As conservative states continue to challenge federal laws on abortion, in deep blue Oregon, the debate over abortion rights is happening on a much smaller scale, and it’s happening on your average street corner.

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All it took for the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to rocket to fame was a visit or two from the Beatles.  But his influence was more durable than the musical group. 

Centers for transcendental meditation and other teachings sprang up all over the world, even in Iowa.  That's where Claire Hoffman grew up, a story she tells in the book Greetings from Utopia Park: Surviving a Transcendent Childhood

Was it a cult?  She says not, but it was an interesting childhood. 

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Much of the negative reaction to Donald Trump comes from Democrats and liberals in America.  But far from all of it. 

Case in point: an Arkansas pastor, lifelong Republican Robb Ryerse, who felt he had to run for Congress to inject some true Christian love into the body politic.  The story is told in the film "True Believer," playing at this year's Ashland Independent Film Festival. 

Kevin Eng, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9914015

The Bible is still selling like hotcakes: something like 100 million new Bibles are printed every year.  The FIRST printed Bibles, though... that's a different story. 

Only 48 of the Bibles that came off Johan Gutenberg's early printing press are known to exist.  The long and twisted journey of one copy, known as "Number 45," are told in Margaret Leslie Davis in her book The Lost Gutenberg: The Astounding Story of One Book’s Five-Hundred-Year Odyssey

Mark Schierbecker, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31183485

Anyone familiar with the Westboro Baptist Church and its protests will immediately recognize the title of a new play about a fictional similar church.  "God Hates You" is the play by Emily Dendinger. 

It concerns a young member of the church who realizes, through social media, that her view of the world is not the only one. 

The play gets a reading in Ashland tonight (January 25th), sponsored by the Ashland New Plays Festival

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People are still reading a book written 2,500 years ago.  But the Tao Te Ching can be dense and difficult to understand in today's world, where the time to let its lessons soak in can be lacking. 

Francis Pring-Mill addresses the concern in the book In Harmony with the Tao: A Guided Journey Into the Tao Te Ching

Pring-Mill's book includes a complete and well-regarded English translation of the Tao by Stephen Mitchell, along with some guidance to understanding the meaning. 

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Jesus loves you, Christians often say.  But the nature of the love of his followers for each other is very much up for debate. 

Linda Kay Klein grew up in an evangelical Christian family in which young women were taught to hide their sexuality, especially from their male contemporaries.  Klein believed that her "purity" was so important that she took multiple pregnancy tests--before she ever had sex. 

She relates tales of shame and fear, and eventual awareness, in her book Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free

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Can you name even one American religious leader who is a woman?  The people who garner attention from the general public tend to be men. 

But there are plenty of examples of women working in spiritual matters who have had great influence. 

Adrian Shirk, who teaches women's studies and creative writing, writes of these remarkable women in And Your Daughters Shall Prophesy: Stories from the Byways of American Women and Religion

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We talk to the authors of many books on The Exchange. 

But never have we talked to the authors of The New Testament.  And yes, of course, that streak continues. 

But David Bentley Hart has just published a new translation of the newer half of the Bible.  The New Testament: A Translation goes back to the original language, and publishes it quite literally, with the mistakes and contradictions left intact. 

Christian Ferrer, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49733344

The world is a horrible place, and it could end soon.  A few people might believe that now, and it would be FAR from the first time in American history. 

For more than a century, charismatic preachers railed against sin and Satan, stirring up their followers to look beyond now and here, to the ends times and heaven.  Billy Graham, who died last week, was one of them. 

Matthew Avery Sutton tells the story of Graham and many others in American Apocalypse: A History of Modern Evangelicalism

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It gives some people great comfort to think that they will see their long-gone loved ones again, in another place. 

Michael Shermer is not inclined to think there IS such a place.  He is a professional skeptic, even teaches a course called "Skepticism 101." 

And he takes up the human need to believe in an afterlife, and the quest for longer life--if not immortality--in a new book, Heavens on Earth.   

Could we live 200 years or more?  Could our bodies be frozen until science can fix what ails us?  Could our consciousness live in a robot body? 

Christian Ferrer, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49733344

Think about some of the most divisive issues in our country, and what's at the heart of them. 

Abortion?  Procreation caused by sex.  Gay rights?  All about who you have sex with. 

You get the picture: sex and attitudes towards it figure prominently in our national debates. 

R. Marie Griffith tracks the debates back a century in Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics

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You can get all kinds of college degrees studying religion. 

But until a few years ago, there was no secular studies program by that name anywhere in the United States. 

Pitzer College in Southern California started the first such program, with Phil Zuckerman as its head. 

The program "neither applauds nor condemns" secularism, but the program's presence cheers secular segments of society. 

Christian Ferrer, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=49733344

So you take Christmas off, but do you go to church? 

Most people who take the day off do not, but the practice persists: a Christian holiday without Christian ceremony. 

There are other examples of ways in which civil society and Christianity are intertwined, and Paul Kivel writes of them in his book Living in the Shadow of the Cross: Understanding and Resisting the Power and Privilege of Christian Hegemony

Local Minister Weighs Church-State Balance

Jan 16, 2017
Don Ryan/AP

We speak of a "wall of separation of church and state" a lot in our country. 

But that actual phrase does not appear in our founding documents.  So there's a constant tug-of-war over just how much faith should be represented in the process of governing the country. 

The Reverend Tony Hutchinson of Trinity Episcopal Church in Ashland is both man of faith AND former man of government, as a diplomat.  He gives an OLLI lecture on faith in the public forum--for good and for ill--Wednesday January 18th in Talent. 

Ashland Man Finds A Yogi--And Much More

Dec 7, 2016
closetyogi.com

The U.S. Air Force was not a good fit for Larry Wardwell.  Ditto for working in intelligence, the government kind. 

LSD showed some possibilities, though... and soon young Larry embarked on a journey that took him around the world in search of higher understanding, at the side of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, among others. 

Larry Wardwell tells the story in his memoir Confessions of a Closet Yogi

Book Measures Influence Of Oregon Jews

Dec 2, 2016
Oregon Jewish Museum and Center for Holocaust Education

Jews make up less than one percent of Oregon's population. 

So a minority, but definitely an influential one.  Oregon Jews include political leaders, philanthropists, and the man who brought the NBA to Portland (Harry Glickman). 

These stories and more are featured in Ellen Eisenberg's book The Jewish Oregon Story: 1950-2010

Religion Examined In Postwar America

Sep 30, 2016
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For a country that's supposed to have separation of church and state, they sure get up in each other's business.

And that's not the only issue with religion in America.  Even different sects that pray to the same god can get into turf battles. 

Kenneth Woodward watched a lot of this happen in nearly 40 years as religion editor at Newsweek magazine.  He gives us an overview of the intermixture of religion, politics, and culture in that time and beyond, in his book Getting Religion.

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