Thursday, January 22, 2009

Can You Really Outlaw Silent Prayer?

A federal judge, in response to a lawsuit by atheist Rob Sherman, has struck down an Illinois law requiring a moment of silence in public schools.

Said Judge Robert W. Gettleman: "The statute is a subtle effort to force students at impressionable ages to contemplate religion."

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Find the Religion! Inauguration Edition

And now, it's time for everyone's favorite game: Find the Religion!

1. Rick Warren gave the opening prayer, as his usual self: bombastically humble, mostly inoffensive and slightly smug. Despite concerns about his some of his "anti-change" politics, he played nice; he referenced Martin Luther King, and didn't drop any Bush-style Evangelical "code words." (Then again, my Evangel-dar isn't that well-honed.) He closed, Protestant-style, with the Lord's Prayer (Matthew 6:5-13).

2. Aretha Franklin sang a couple verses of "My Country Tis of Thee," written by New England Baptist pastor and poet Samuel F. Smith in 1843. Although intended purely as a "patriotic hymn," the song is a fixture in many American church hymnals. (It does use more religious imagery in the later verses.)

3. An all-star classical quartet performed a moving John Williams arrangement of "Simple Gifts," a Shaker hymn from 1848. The Shakers, of course, were a British sect of Quakerism who came to America in 1774 to flee persecution, practice celibacy, dance and make furniture.

4. In the opening lines of his speech, now-President Barack Obama referenced 1 Corinthians 13, as both a metaphor for our troubled times:

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And a call to service:

When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

5. Later on, in what must surely be an inaugural first, Obama acknowledged American followers of the four major world religions, as well as (gasp!) nonbelievers:

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

This seemed to me to deliberately evoke Paul's great words in Galatians 3:28, applying them to the body of America, rather than the body of Christ:

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

6. Finally, there was Reverend Joseph Lowery's heartfelt benediction, which does not seem to appear on CNN. (Come on, CNN! Keep up!). Lowery, a civil rights activist since the 1950s, opened with the words to "Lift Every Voice and Sing," a civil rights anthem and church standard, which appears in the Congressional record as the official African American National Hymn:

Lift every voice and sing,
'Til earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on 'til victory is won.

So... did I miss anything?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

In the News: Steve Jobs, Minor Deity

Is Apple "on the verge of becoming a for-profit religion among its users"? And if so, does that make John Hodgman a saint?

Atheist billboards have been up in Portland for a month now, and nobody has particularly objected.

This 'non-religious' church, called The Vibe, is trying a little too hard. To wit: "We’re not like other churches," claimed Brown. Then with a subtle wink he added, "and I’m not like other pastors."

A better idea: football-themed church services.

Obama is now covering all his inaugural bases with Rick Warren and Eugene Robinson. Or is he?

And finally: the Catholic church is bringing back indulgences! Let's all party like it's 1499!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Progressive Christian T-Shirts (and Other Swag)

Wondering what to wear to the inauguration? A few budget-friendly options...

WTFWJD? t-shirt, $19.99 at the Going Jesus store.

As God Is My Waitress button, $3.49 at the Betty Bowers Store.

Fighter Wings Sticker, $1 at the Revolution Church Store.

Christians Have the Best Sects shirt, $17.97 at the Mental Floss store.

The Real Jesus Forgives Your Jesus button, $3.49 at the Betty Bowers Store.

Christian Who Thinks shirt, $22.99 at the Going Jesus store.

The Virgin Mary is a MAN, Baby!

In The Guardian, geneticist Aarathi Prasad contemplates a scientific explanation for the virgin birth of Jesus Christ: Mary was genetically male.

Prasad gives a layman's explanation of "testicular feminisation" (more often refered to these days as Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome), a condition by which a fetus is born with an X and Y chromosome, but carries a mutation that makes the body insensitive to testosterone -- ergo, the fetus develops as a woman with a man's genetic make-up. Most women with this condition (about 1 in 13,000 births these days) are sterile, but Prasad lays out a series of unlikely mutations and events by which Hypothetical Male Mary could have a child without doing the deed.

In fact, the author believes that virgin births may be the wave of the future:

Zoologists have long known that there are many species that can reproduce without sex, and have now started to discover that it can also happen in the most unexpected places. In the last five years the list of virgin mothers has expanded to include a python, hammerhead sharks, blacktip sharks, and Komodo dragons. As the British zookeeper who discovered virgin births in Komodos put it, rather like buses, you wait ages and then loads of them come along all at once...
Similar things are now happening in the laboratory, with scientists creating healthy, fertile mice with no fathers. The fact that they were able to make such animals means that we can now get over the genetic barriers to a mammalian virgin birth – in mice at least. Who knows, one day a virgin birth in humans may not be so implausible after all.

I admit, I enjoy this variety of far-fetched speculative science/theology. While Prasad isn't the first person to suggest that Mother Mary was making like a Komodo Dragon, this is definitely the most elaborate hypothesis I've seen.

Photo: drag queen Mimi Imfurst, via Time Out New York.