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Archive for the ‘patheos’ tag

What Is Scripture: Muslims and Mormons

The Qur'an. Image from Wikimedia Commons

The Compilation of Latter-Day Saints's Standard Works. Image from Wikimedia Commons

by James Faulconer

Because of the alliterative relationship between the words “Mormon” and “Muslim” and because of widespread ignorance among Americans about both groups, it isn’t at all unusual for people to confuse Mormons with Muslims. Given events of the last ten or fifteen years and the current political campaign, that ignorance is abating for both groups.

Most people know that Mormons are not Muslims. And, probably partly because of Mitt Romney’s campaign, they fear Mormons less than Muslims. Sixty percent of those polled are comfortable or somewhat comfortable with a Mormon presidential candidate. Only 38 percent feel that way about a hypothetical Muslim candidate. So Mormons have less work to do explaining themselves than Muslims, but both share the need to do that explaining.

It isn’t unusual to have Muslim visitors come to Brigham Young University, and because of my work at the university, I’m sometimes asked to help host them. When I first started doing this, I was a little nervous. I wasn’t afraid of Muslims, but I was ignorant of them. As a result I was nervous about how to talk with them. Everything I knew about Islam was merely factual, stuff I learned in school and from books, and from reading the Quran about fifteen years ago. To my knowledge, I had visited and talked with a Muslim face-to-face only once in my life before four years ago.

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A Welcome Mat of Peace

Monica A. Coleman

Monica A. Coleman

by Monica A. Coleman

Interreligious understanding and peace begins in intimate ways: through education, by music, in our homes, with our welcome mats.

How can we have peace in the Middle East
When there’s none at home?

These are the opening lines to one of my favorite songs by jazz vocalist Rachelle Ferrell. The capstone to her self-titled 1992 album, “Peace on Earth,” speaks before and beyond the time of its recording.

I first began using this song in faith communities in the late 1990s when I coordinated a church response to sexual violence. Surprising the congregation with the inclusion of a “secular” song, the ministry asked about how we dare pose questions of global magnitude when we have so much work to do at home. This was not meant as a commentary on current politics. It was designed to raise the issue of intimate violence.

Ferrell continues:

To my left a woman abuses her children
To my right somebody’s beating his wife

As someone who has spent the last fifteen years speaking out against sexual and domestic violence, I can attest to one thing: most of our violence happens at home—quietly, under long-sleeved t-shirts, with lowered eyelids, in shameful fists, between pursed lips and tearing eyes. Most violence in the United States is not the picture of global terrorism; rather, it is the faded photo of our personal relationships.

I hear Ferrell’s lyrics again in new tones at the ten-year anniversary of September 11. I hear it as a reminder that working for peace must begin in our houses and in our communities.

At the 40th anniversary of the Newport Jazz Festival, Ferrell lingers over one line of the song that seems particularly relevant now:

Where is the love?
Where is the God in your life?

She asks again and again: where is the God, where is the God, where is the God in your life?

As I suspected in my work with sexual violence, our answer to this question must begin as close as our own relationships. In their popular book, The Faith Club: A Muslim, a Christian and a Jew—Three Women Search for Meaning, Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver and Priscilla Warner come together as mothers in the New York area trying to figure out how to talk to their children about the aftermath of September 11. As a religious scholar, I am simultaneously disheartened and encouraged by the story they tell. I am disappointed by how little each one knows of her own religion as she wrestles with her assumptions about the religion of others. I am forced to remember that this is probably where most Americans are. But I am inspired by how—in conversation and friendship with each other—these women become more rooted and more deeply faithful in their own traditions. They are able to do this inasmuch as they learn from and love someone who believes quite differently from them.

Their post-9/11 peace literally began in their homes, over cups of hot chocolate.

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Atheists Can Be Spiritual

From Patheos

Religious readers may glance at the title and think it’s a riddle, or a play on words, like “Dogs can meow” and “Circles can be squares.” Many atheists, on the other hand, will see it and shake their heads in disappointment, knowing that any talk of spirituality among non-believers inevitably leads to misunderstandings and ripples of misrepresentations. Mentioning the S-word muddles the water between the atheist-theist divide, making matters even murkier, so it’s best to avoid the word all together, they say.

Until we come up with a better word, however, “spiritual” will have to do: I am a spiritual atheist.

Do atheists believe in spirits or souls? No, we do not. We do not believe in God, divine purpose, angels and demons, or fate; we do not expect an afterlife filled with rewards or punishments; we do not believe the universe cares if humans exist or if humans join the 99 percent of life that has lived on Earth and gone extinct before them. Existence does not pick sides; existence is indifferent.

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January 13th, 2011 at 6:00 am

Gift of the Magi

From Patheos

I was invited to participate in Patheos’ Blogger Roundtable on Brent Landau’s Revelation of the Magi, a translation of an ancient Syriac document that recounts the legend of the magi who visit the baby Jesus. I finished the book with two thoughts. One, I was more interested in Landau’s scholarship about the story than I was in reading the story itself. Landau’s Introduction and Conclusion place the text in its historical, literary, and theological context, and I appreciated the thoroughness and accessibility of his explanations. Very few modern scholars have noticed this ancient tale until Landau took it upon himself to translate it from the Syriac. He does a good job explaining how it was influential for centuries before it fell out of use within the Christian community.

The story itself begins with the origin of the magi, tracing their lineage back to Adam. It describes the star of Bethlehem as visible only to those who have eyes to see. In some ways, it is akin to a modern day gloss on the Christmas story—taking a kernel of Luke or Matthew’s account and imagining before and after and behind-the-scenes. I prefer the canonical Gospels as my source for the story of Jesus’ birth, but the imaginative work of later followers of Jesus certainly can enhance our own theological reflections upon the meaning of this story. If Imogene from The Best Christmas Pageant Ever and Charlie Brown can help unfold the “true meaning” of Christmas, so can this tale.

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December 22nd, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Holding Up Half the Sky: Feminist Judaism

From Patheos

In the introduction to my first book, The New Jewish Wedding, I wrote, “References to the rabbi as him/or her do no more than acknowledge the decision to ordain women by the Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements.”

That was 1985. When I went back to revise the book in 2001, I couldn’t quite believe that I’d written those words. I suppose I felt the need to remind readers about what were, back then, relatively new facts on the ground. Even worse, I think I was worried about offending someone by telling a simple truth.

Of course, I left that sentence out in the new edition, as well as a few other apologetic asides that pointed out what has since become ubiquitous and obvious: Jewish women are leaders and teachers, rabbis and cantors, theologians and prophets. Women hold up half of the sky — Jewish women among them.

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October 8th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Overview of World Religions and Ecology

From Patheos


The environmental crisis is one that is well documented in its various interlocking manifestations of industrial pollution, resource depletion, and population explosion. The urgency of the problems are manifold, namely, the essential ingredients for human survival, especially water supplies and agricultural land, are being threatened across the planet by population and consumption pressures.

With the collapse of fishing industries and with increasing soil erosion and farmland loss, serious questions are being raised about the ability of the human community to feed its own offspring. Moreover, the widespread destruction of species and the unrelenting loss of habitat continue to accelerate. Climate change threatens to undermine efforts to reverse these trends and to move toward a sustainable future for humans and nature.

Clearly religions need to be involved with the development of a more comprehensive worldview and ethics to ground movements toward sustainability. Whether from an anthropocentric or a biocentric perspective, more adequate environmental values need to be formulated and linked to areas of public policy. Scholars of religion as well as religious leaders and laity can be key players in this articulation process.

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October 6th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Paganism Enters the Mainstream

From, in its summer Future of Religion series, invited authors and scholars to write about the Future of Paganism this week.

According to’s overview, Paganism represents “a wide variety of traditions that emphasize reverence for nature and a revival of ancient polytheistic religious practices.” The article notes, “some Pagan traditions include ritual magic, but this practice is not universal.” This diverse grassroots movement includes Wicca, Goddess Spirituality, and the Pagan Reconstructionist religions (Norse, Druidic, Egyptian, and Greek).

According to Margot Adler, author, NPR journalist, and Wiccan priestess, the Contemporary Pagan Movement has “come of age” in the last 15 years, with estimates of 1 million practicing Pagans. Pagans are being recognized in military cemeteries, hospitals, seminaries, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions. “In short,” Adler says, “Paganism has become a mainstream movement, which has mostly been a good thing.” She asks, however, whether the movement’s critique of monotheistic and patriarchal religions will become “lost or watered down” as it gains more respect in the mainstream.

Sarah Pike, author and professor of religious studies at California State University, discusses the evolving news coverage of Paganism in recent years. Twenty-five years ago, a story about local Pagans gathering in an Indiana state forest was characterized as “devil-worshippers in Yellowwood Forest,” sparking national controversy. This year, the news coverage of Summer Solstice 2010 and other Solstice celebrations was “overwhelmingly positive.”

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Patheos Summer Series: Paganism


By P. Sufenas Virius Lupus

In “Here, There, and Anywhere,” an essay by University of Chicago scholar Jonathan Z. Smith in Prayer, Magic, and the Stars in the Ancient and Late Antique World, many ancient religions (including Christianity and Judaism) were classified along the lines of their primary locus of activity.

“Here” religions are focused upon the domestic sphere and familial concerns (including ancestor worship, fertility, and health/healing). “There” religions are civic, regional, ethnic, or even national, and often are centered in temples and places of pilgrimage, and have established mores and laws associated with them, which can include exclusive membership or access (e.g., only people who were to some extent Greek-speakers could partake in the Eleusinian Mysteries; there was a Greek-specific and a Thracian-specific cult and celebration of the goddess Bendis present in Athens; etc.). “Anywhere” religions tend to be somewhat personal and yet universalizing and communal in their focus, and can be practiced regardless of one’s location or origin.

Both Christianity and the Mithraic religion, for example, began as “Anywhere” religions, the latter because its main adherents — soldiers and merchants — were often prevented from participating in “Here” and “There” religious activities due to their wide travel and often great distance from their individual domestic or ethnic spheres. As these religions developed, however, they became more and more “There” religions in their focus, with fixed places of worship, community memberships, and orthopraxic spiritual activities.

There is variation observable within these classifications, and a certain degree of crossover between categories within individual religions or discrete religious activities eventually becomes somewhat inevitable. Just as this model can be useful for looking at and understanding the differences between the religions of late European/Mediterranean antiquity, so too can this paradigm be applied to modern forms of Paganism.

Modern forms of Paganism tend to be both “Here” and “Anywhere” in their general orientations. Few Pagans, for example, can be said to take part regularly in large gatherings, and nearly all probably have little access to shared ritual spaces, public temples, or other such phenomena of “There” religions. However, nearly all are likely to have some sort of individual practice that takes place primarily in their own homes on a regular basis, which is often concerned with prosperity, health, well-being, and connecting to one’s local landscape, all of which are “Here” religion characteristics. Likewise, many Pagans have been trained in or consider themselves a part of a larger group, coven, theological movement, or tradition, most of which make themselves available to people wherever they might be located and no matter who they may be, thus pointing toward an “Anywhere” orientation.

Certain large groups and organizations (e.g., Circle Sanctuary, Covenant of the Goddess, Fellowship of Isis), national or international traditions (e.g., Feri, various Wiccan lineages, Asatru), as well as certain yearly festivals and activities (e.g., Pagan Spirit Gathering, PantheaCon, Aquarian Tabernacle Church’s Spring Mysteries) have many characteristics of “There” religious phenomena, but usually without the emphasis on “purity,” strict cultic rules, or ethical requirements (beyond simple ones involving not harming others), and certain other exclusivist tendencies within that variety of spiritual structure. But, what would the ideal balance between or among these religious styles be, particularly as it concerns modern Paganism and its foreseeable future?

It has often been said that Pagan religions are religions of practice and religions of experience, and not creedal religions — in other words, what one does is more important than what one believes. In such cases, orthopraxy is preferred to orthodoxy. And yet, the reality in most modern Paganism — and a great deal of ancient Paganism! — is that polypraxy (in the terminology of Erynn Rowan Laurie) is more the norm than orthopraxy. It is still more about what one does, and that one does do something, than it is about everyone doing the same thing, or even vaguely similar things.

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August 26th, 2010 at 6:00 am

Patheos Summer Series: Storytelling and the Future of Islam

From Patheos

By Wajahat Ali

In 7th-century Arabia, the storyteller was valued more than the swordsman. The audience sat on the floor surrounding the gifted orator as he captivated the eager listeners with beautiful poetry narrating their history. In the 21st century, the art form may have evolved to include motion pictures, TV shows, theater productions, novels, and standup comedy, but they all serve the same function: storytelling.

Ideas and principles are most effectively communicated and transmitted when they are couched in a narrative. Stories, whether they concern the etiquette and biography of prophets or the trials and tribulations of America’s founding fathers, inform and influence a cultural citizenry of its values and identity.

Stories of the Prophet Muhammad most effectively communicate the Quran’s eloquent exhortation to tolerate and embrace diversity: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise [each other])” (49:13).  The Prophet’s cordial diplomacy and communication with the Christian, Abyssinian King yielded one of the first alliances of the young Muslim community. Furthermore, the Prophet displayed unconditional love for his diverse companions, who comprised the gamut of Arab society including former slaves, orphans, widows, wealthy dignitaries, and non-Arabs.

Similarly, the story of a biracial man with an Arabic name and a Kenyan father elected to the highest office in the land reminds the world that indeed America can live up to its cherished principles of freedom and racial equality, and her citizens are capable of reflecting a magnanimous and egalitarian spirit bereft of prejudice.

If a person were to read these stories comprising the core values of Islamic and American history, one would assume their respective cultural fabrics resemble a generous, messy, lively, colorful mosaic perpetually adding and experimenting with new colors, styles, and hues to beautify its narrative.

And yet nine years after the two towers fell, we hear and see daily stories of vile stereotyping, fear-mongering, and hysteria tearing the frays and revealing miserly and stingy threads unwilling to accept or bind with the “others.”

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August 18th, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Patheos Summer Series: New Life in Ancient Sources

From Patheos

Does evangelicalism have a future?

That the question has been asked in such a way suggests that all is not well in our little movement. There are, however, reasons to hope. The recovery and influence of the Puritan spiritual tradition and the rise of the social justice movement suggest that evangelicals are beginning to connect their doctrine with the rest of their lives in ways that previous generations had forgotten.

But if these renewal efforts are to be more than passion’s fashions, we evangelicals need to cease dating (or “courting,” as evangelicals prefer to say) the broader Christian tradition. We need to marry it outright.

There are signs that we might be willing to do precisely that, not least of which is the publication and widespread praise of Jim Belcher’s Deep Church, which is a call for evangelicals to ground themselves within church history. Contrary to claims among some proponents of the emerging church, many among the younger generation of evangelicals are increasingly disinterested in the passing faddishness of progressive theology and are returning to a historically centered, creedally expressed Christian orthodoxy. We cannot claim to be progressive until we know not only what we are progressing toward, but what we are progressing from — and a single generation of data is simply not enough.

But there are other green shoots. The next generation of Christian worldview teaching, like Wheatstone Academy, has begun to morph away from the didactic instruction given in textbooks and lectures toward seeing and discussing ideas through the texts, cultural artifacts, and events that have shaped history. And the ongoing popularity of authors like G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis has begun to move the younger generation ad fontes toward the thinkers from whom they learned. The explosion of the classical education movement and the corresponding rise of homeschoolers are creating a new generation of evangelicals who are more aware of the particular vices of our own age because they have engaged with texts from outside of it.

In addition to the renewed appreciation for the depths of church history, the shift toward liturgy that Robert Webber first identified in Ancient-Future Faith continues to exercise a strong appeal. The Acts 29 movement has been one of the most prominent bearers of this mantle, as it has brought back the practice of weekly communion into evangelicalism. While some evangelicals continue to be wary of institutions, as the bearers of tradition, institutions are the only means by which the vitality that our generation so desperately seeks will be passed on to the next. The formalization of these practices within the institution of the church makes me hopeful that evangelicalism will prove more resilient than commonly expected.

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