Thursday, May 31, 2012

Best and Worst Theology Words

Over roasted garlic and wine, I had a thought with my wife's book club (my book club?). We discussed in a previous post that, when we move forward from religion, we should take a few things with us. But I don't mind losing other things, especially some of the ridiculous verbiage that comes with theology studies. 

So let's see some painful words, and pretty handy words from theology.

8 Cool Words for Big Ideas
Cariognosis experts
1. Cardiognosis: knowledge of the heart, in the sense of knowing the intentions or feelings of someone else. This isn't really possible, I think, unless you're on TV. But I suppose I would like to know the true interior life life of others people. Is this a good word to keep?
us military code of ethics
2. Casuistry: the resolving of ethical problems through strict adherence to guidelines. What a gross word for a legalism and rationalization. It's a gross and redundant and old fashioned word for a nasty thing. Call it by its name!

don't want this...
3. Concupiscence: a desire for something that we don't really want, or shouldn't want. This is the cornerstone of Christian ethics - that our natural pull towards the good has to compete with an equally natural instinct to contradict the good. I'm glad there is a word for this, even if it's a hard word.

WTF, Jesus
4. Apocrypha: in theology, the 'hidden books' : writings that are quite ancient, but not used in liturgy or tradition because they are unorthodox, are anonymous, or fanatical. In common usage it means anything outside the reading list, or anything outside the orthodox timeline. I like this word better than its cousins, Deuterocanonical and pseudepigrapha.

second coming in style
5. Eschatology: the study of last things, especially the end of the world or salvation, but with a positive connotation. I like this word a lot - I wrote about 'the eschaton' before, and I appreciated having a word for "the apocalypse in a good way". I also used Parousia, or saving presence (in terms of the second coming).

6. Exegesis and Hermeneutics: critical interpretation in a scientific, direct way; and interpretation based on a body of principles. Usually used in terms of scripture. I don't think I'll make friends at a cocktail party with these, so how about just criticism.

Authority Statue!
7. Magisterium: the Church's juridical branch that demands obedience (as part of the spirit-empowered hierarchy). Sometimes used interchangeably with Curia or simply the Vatican. While I would be happy to see the institution go, I think it's a cool word for any powerful judicial/educational force, like the Supreme Court.

A turn towards Fasion!
8. Metanoia: change of mind, change of attitude, especially changing towards the divine.Turn to the stars.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Corruption, Crisis, and Compassion

Sitting at the coffee shop, I read for a detailed account and reflection on the Vatican scandals. Sit and enjoy a peach danish with me in the air conditioning, and let's see if we can get less angry.

You've seen this in the news: the Vatican has been slowly opening its finances so as to belong to various Interpol and European financial networks, and a few leaks have broken them open even more. No matter the identity of the mole (probably not Paolo Gabriele, the butler) the world now knows the extent of financial and doctrinal corruption in the Vatican.

just a little secretive
The Vatican gives the impression of being infallible, a walled fortress of orthodoxy. Until now its interior workings - departments like the Pope's household, or the massively influential financial sector - were a mystery to everyone but experts and insiders. But combine the Vatican's desire to participate more openly with the EU as a nation, a series of document leaks, and intensified scrutiny following controversial stances, and we now see inside the wardrobe.

The sunlight is disinfecting the ark spaces of the Vatican. More than a few firings that seem to have been overdue make me wonder, "What else are we missing?" and, "Is there much more?" It seems that the Vatican is essentially a tax haven and mafia money laundering enterprise. I don't think that inspires faith or loyalty from our community. No, I think that there are real reasons to be very irate at our leadership.

In the meanwhile we are being asked to remember 'obedience' and 'humility' as our leaders in the US get more aggressive on controversial topics like birth control, health care, and justice for victims of abuse. And less than a year ago we were forced into an unpopular new old translation of the liturgy. I think Catholics in the US of all ages are at the breaking point.

Let's not be unkind, though. Criticism is fair in this case, since we have faith in an organization that is not trustworthy, and it can become better. But Criticism must not turn into Judgment and Condemnation. Fair criticism must come with compassion.

Compassion is the recognition that I, too, have failed in similar ways. The same demons and faults and shortcomings that led to this failure are inside me, too. Empathy is the heart of the Christian message - not corruption, not scandal.

Jesus punches money in the mouth
It's worth mentioning that the Vatican does not formally hold itself to be Camelot. Everything from the Vatican should be treated like Roman driving rules: idealistic, not realistic, and it's okay to break the rules. You will hear Vatican spokesmen talking as if this is to be expected, like any human organization (in the unlikely event that they talk with us at all). But we shouldn't let the Vatican back out of this mess. We do expect more from the Vatican, and these scandals are serious and systemic. We as the Church deserve an organization that works with the same wholeheartedness with which we serve. The Church must follow the Spirit, must follow Christ who turned over the money tables.

Even if that's an unobtainable, heavenly ideal towards which we are working, it is the Church's responsibility to show us the way, not to show us what not to do.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Come, Spirit of Pentecost

Happy Pentecost.
Today Christians celebrate the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. According to the record of the early church, the Acts of the Apostles:
1 Now when the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like a violent wind blowing came from heaven and filled the entire house where they were sitting. 3 And tongues spreading out like a fire appeared to them and came to rest on each one of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit, and they began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven residing in Jerusalem. 6 When this sound occurred, a crowd gathered and was in confusion, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. 7 Completely baffled, they said, “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 And how is it that each one of us hears them in our own native language? 9 Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and the province of Asia, 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, 11 both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—we hear them speaking in our own languages about the great deeds God has done!” 12 All were astounded and greatly confused, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” 13 But others jeered at the speakers, saying, “They are drunk on new wine!” (Acts 2:1-13)

I love this image of scared friends being suddenly so filled with inspiration that they erupt with goodness and truth for everyone. The visual image of a 'tongue of fire' gives me chills, even though it's the narrative equivalent of first generation CGI. Remember that most of the imagery related to the Holy Spirit is meant to represent knowledge, particularly hidden wisdom (fire, heavenly doves).

And I love this feast day. It is an essential part of the Church's story - this is where church leaders trace their ability and right to deliver truth. More importantly, Pentecost celebrates and affirms the idea that we are important enough to have our own tongues of fire! We get some truth - yay!

Avoid getting drunk on new wine.
The story of Pentecost is super affirmative, but it carries a backspin. Yes we get some truth, yes we get to talk about it to everyone, but it still comes from somewhere else. Pentecost reminds Christians - the Church - of their relationship with the Holy Spirit: The Spirit leads, Christians follow.

When you get over the initial shock, I don't think this is such a bad sentiment. Some sense of humble obedience can help us remove ourselves from the driver's seat and affirm that we do not really control our own destiny. We begin to accept the truth that we exist in a vast, mysterious universe. We recognize that our wisdom does come from outside ourselves, and we remember that we always learn from a stance of humility. Likewise, when we teach, we cannot wholly take credit.

Most importantly, Pentecost reminds us to stay vigilant, to follow the Spirit of Truth, recognize the reality of the universe outside ourselves, rather than assume that we ourselves are truth, or that reality bends for us.  We are bound to reality, reality is not bound to us.

Just a side note: Remember, Christians, the Holy Spirit does not endorse us. It us up to us to find the Spirit wherever the truth lies, and to endorse it. We are bound to the Spirit, not the Spirit to us. I think Benedict's beautiful prayer could have used more of this humility.

Friday, May 25, 2012

4 Reasons to Like Your Religion

First, why I beat up on religion.
Hey everyone. I've been beating up on religions a lot because I'm pretty disappointed. I think the  organization that I like - roman catholicism - has been accentuating the negative and eliminating the positive lately. That's what I like to write about because that's what I feel, and other people my age (all ages) seem to share my dissatisfaction.

I do like some aspects of the religions. Four aspects of religion keep me coming back, and in the eventuality that we give up on religions, I think we should take these four with us.

4 Reasons to Like Your Religion

1) Rituals.
Papa Legba?
Religions are chock full of rituals, or so they say, but do we even know what a ritual is, or why it's there, or what it's supposed to do? Some rituals are rumored to turn common foodstuffs into meat and blood, others gird us for an iron-age road trip, and some even turn normal Haitian folks into hyper-hipsters. 

A ritual is an action that carries a secondary meaning; which is to say that the action connects us through space and time. SPACE AND TIME!!!!!

For example, setting off fireworks on July 4 is an American ritual. We do it together all over the country, and have for decades; in fact, it marks an event over two hundred years ago. So when I set off roman candles in the driveway, I'm not just irritating neighborhood dogs by myself. I'm connecting with a big group of people, that is connected over a continent's worth of space, and about two hundred years of time (and into the future, too). SPACE AND TIME!!!!

Religions have rituals that are usually connected to some moral or historical lesson, but they aren't meant to be lessons or teaching aids. Rituals are meant to be experienced. It's the act of experiencing something out of routine in connection with the whole community worldwide and through history that's supposed to move us. 

In the future I hope that, if we aren't doing ritual things at altars inside of churches, we remember to connect ourselves to each other through these funny actions. Even if it's just carving a turkey every year, setting off fireworks, lighting a candle, or wearing a Trayvon hoodie. 

2) Prayers.
proper form for the Salah
 That's right - in a world without religion, I would still want to pray. A lot. At the core, any kind of prayer is about communicating with another: "The Other". Communicating with God means crossing the barrier between the ordinary and the extra-ordinary, between the me and the other.We are 2 for 2 on things all religions agree are important, because prayers, like rituals, are found across the spectrum. All religions want to promote us communicating with the gods, or God. 

Like rituals, prayers are about connecting us. In this case, prayers can help us pull out of our everyday concerns and think about the big picture - think about ourselves from the point of view of "The Other". That's great to practice, and I recommend practicing it before meals, when first waking up, five times daily with everyone around you, or even without ceasing.

Whether you believe in God or not (and statistics show that most people leaving religions do believe) this is great practice for communicating period. Any communication is with "An Other" - another person, people, or with our environment. 

In the future I hope that we keep placing central importance on communication. 

3) Guidance and Community.
Nearly 4 million entries. In English.
Religions are chock full of tools to guide us: texts, leaders, sages, doctrines, histories, etc. But this is a key place where religions have fallen down. Today we get guidance from all sorts of sources, and even opensource projects like Wikipedia have proven themselves as mostly reliable, not the pit of vipers that naysayers thought they would be. Meanwhile, religious sources of guidance have failed to keep up in terms of content or delivery. Not many people going to traditional Bible studies in the church basement anymore. The attempts to modernize might be too little, too late. 

But we should continue to call 'Bullshit' when we see it. I think that the internet has made us better judges of content, not worse. Sources of inspiration and guidance are better now - and more available, and more specialized - than they were before. 

Also, with our new self confidence and networking, we aren't in need of local communities like we were before. Religions in American boomed in the Eisenhower years, and the number one reason to become a member seems to have been the community (not rituals or doctrines or histories). Where do the Jones' go? Religious organizations still rely on this, but our generation doesn't seem to be needing this from them anymore. We like guidance, and we like community, and we like being guided together. We just don't like church basements, or bleachers.

'where two or three thousand gather in my name...'

In the future, I hope we continue to be guided by experts who we trust, together. 

4) Wonder and Awe. 
St. Peter's makes you feel so tiny!
This one is my favorite. Basically, when you are in a religion, you are constantly humbled. Religious architecture is built to humble you, and so are the sweeping thoughts of God's omniscience. The end result of all this grand Gothic architecture is that we take a stance that the world is a pretty marvelous place, and that we are really small. 

This is actually true, it turns out.World is friggin massive, we are not very big. Stone-age people thought this when they looked at the night sky, and their/our religions remember it.

But without a religion throwing God at us, we can fall into a people-centered mindset, that blinds us to our actual place in the cosmos. Or else we forget that we are a full, card-carrying member of the cosmos and fall into nihilism.  

I think that modern science is doing a good job humbling us, with projects like the Hubble telescope and the Hadron Collider. They make good television, too, and we seem to be pretty into it. 

I hope that in the future we keep a sense of wonder and awe about the universe. 

NOTE: I'm thinking of pairing this sort of text with my research data in the form of a ten-ish page book, as keystone content available for download. Because I love you. Would ya'll be into that? email me or comment.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Those Damn Nuns

The basics.
The Vatican, via former San Francisco bishop Levada and archbishop Sartain, is investigating the US umbrella organization of women religious. The premise is that American nuns are not emphasizing certain Vatican positions while stressing other less orthodox teachings, and that they are not formally connected to the USCCB.

Cardinal Levada
Why is this relevant, in any way?
Because of their thousands of schools in the country, women religious are a major voice in this country's religious conversation. And they are really the only big voice talking sensibly about women in the church. As the US bishops grow more single-issue around abortion, women religious are really a bright, alternative light.

So if you want to hear a more progressive diversity of voices, you better like some nuns.

At the heart, organizational issues.
Let's look at those positions later; first we should mention the structural implications if this process.
Men and women religious are organized under a hierarchy that is independent of local bishops. Each individual vows obedience to his our her superior, along with the vows of poverty and celibacy. For example, each Ursuline nun answers to her superior locally, who then answers to a national organization of Ursuline sisters. That national organization sends delegates to a national leadership conference. The national conference, as well as the Ursuline order internationally, is obedient to the Vatican. So you see how they sort of skip local bishops.

The Leadership Conference of Women Religious - LCWR - represents about 80% of 68,000 women religious. They have regular meetings, mission statements, educational conferences, etc. They also oversee hospitals and schools run by member nuns.

In general the LCWR works collegialy, with a sense of democracy and sisterhood. However, the USCCB, and the Vatican, tend to operate hierarchically, with a firm sense of centralized control. The Vatican is at the climax of about two hundred years of centralization that has reduced the independence of bishops and other religious leaders, like the LCWR. The LCWR has sought transformation for over 40 years, so this current action is part of an ongoing chafing.

This has had the advantage of enabling the organization to operate with a level of independence from local turmoil, be it ethnic cleansing in the Sudan or American politics, so they can speak truth to power. It also consolidates some of the brightest minds on spirituality and theology, producing some really landmark works.

But when the hammer comes down it can really aggravate local leaders. And the centralized leadership is all male, quite old, and disproportionately Italian, so there are a lot of (potential) biases. US Catholics in particular tend to be more progressive than the Vatican, and there is even talk of an American Catholic Church schism.

Add to this Benedict's clear intention to further consolidate power through the bishops he has selected in traditionally progressive areas, plus a certain pastoral insensitivity on sensitive issues like homosexuality, the ordination of women, the child abuse scandals, and the Legions of Christ. 

The  objections, just a little ironic.
Based on this history, the outrage at the LCWR review should be no surprise. Not only will the nuns have to undergo total scrutiny for the second time in a decade, but the issues happen to be some of the most divisive around right now. And issues on which the Vatican has been particularly tone-deaf. Allegedly the LCWR hasn't done enough to insure orthodoxy concerning:

1) Homosexuality: the nuns haven't been condemning homosexuals well enough.
2) Women's ordination: many nuns have spoken and written publicly about women's ordination, whereas the Vatican considers the issue closed since 1994
3) Other Religions: Benedict's position is that members of other religions are gravely defective, but nuns continue to dialogue across religions.

I think the nuns are on the right side of all these issues. The Vatican has been criticized from all corners on all three of their positions here - from catholic universities, from bishops and cardinals, from monks and nuns. I mentioned earlier that even local priests in rural Louisiana have big problems with these. I have big problems with these.

These are not just emotional responses from a millennial American. These are valid positions of concern and disagreement. Even the Vatican has changed position on these issues in the last thirty years, moving to a more conservative stance.

The Vatican and Vatican-selected conservative bishops are squashing legitimate disagreement from independent voices in the Church, instead of engaging in dialogue. This will only lead to more schism, more people leaving the American church. These are just shades of Inquisition, the darkest hour of church history, that ended in the protestant reformation progressing.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Welcome, Tiny!

My sister Jessie and her first son, born this weekend.

courtesy of morganowens

We don't know what challenges his generation will face. We can't teach him the answers to the questions he will ask. But we can instill in him a sense of creativity, joy, wonder and love, and I hope that will be enough.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Can't We Get Along?

We Aren't Selfish Animals.

For the last few decades, it's gotten popular to think of humans as selfish brutes, whose overriding motivation is to copulate and eat. Basically, dicks are perfect humans. 

some humans are more perfect than others...
 However, recently published research on early humans shows that one key to our continued survival is our ability to subvert any dickish tendencies for the good of the group.

In hunter-gatherer societies, rituals are put into place to make sure that the best hunters - who would naturally, genetically be more successful - shared the meat with the whole group. In isolated tribes today this takes the form of people other than the lead hunter distributing the meat. That's because we quickly learned that survival isn't all skill, it's luck. Even good hunters have bad days, and bad hunters have good days, so we are better off if we work together to get the food. This way we spread the risk. As any middle-manager knows, teams work together best when hierarchy, competition, and dickishness are minimized.

Les Stroud, Survivorman, had the solitary survival show that was cancelled. Coincidence?

Society is moving in the right direction.

Seriously - don't believe the naysayers and pessimists.We now work together as a species, and even as a planet, to achieve common goals and spread risk. Think of CERN, which physically crosses the border of France and Switzerland, and hosts hundreds of scientists speaking dozens of languages. And think of the Internet, which connects us across the country and around the planet. My sister is having her first child right now in Singapore, and I can be part of it through email, updates on the phone, and Skype. That is new to this generation.

Being connected and working together have defined humans for 250,000 years, or 10,000 generations. This generation is bringing us much closer than ever before.

Regardless of our prayer life, ritual practices, or spirituality, we're doing it - mostly - without the help of our religious organizations.

Go us!


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Our Exploding Sun

I just heard of the music of black holes.
When they move past each other, black holes create sound like a penny bouncing on a drum. So I want to talk about the Really Big Picture.

Black hole distorting the look of a galaxy because it sucks the light

The vision of Christianity, The end-times prophecy stuff, the goal-oriented teachings, all assume that the Kingdom of God will replace our Earth. George Washington's bones will rise out of a Mt. Vernon graveyard and converse with us about leadership and democracy. (that's a ridiculous simplification so that we can enjoy this picture:)

Truly this is salvation.

But the natural final destination of Earth is being consumed by the Sun as part of the sun's death.

How can we reconcile the cosmic end of the end of Earth and the Christian vision of final salvation?

(someone please find me a hilarious picture of this)

First the facts, as I understand them. All of our matter - the sun, planets, our planets, the calcium in our bones - is the result of a few generations of suns exploding and pulsing forth elements forged in their core. We are a second generation solar system, meaning there was the Big Bang (which may or may not have been 'the beginning') and then there was another star that exploded, and now there's us. And our sun will explode, too, eating up all our calcium and making new cool stuff out of it. The exploding sun planet thing is just how stars and planets and matter works. The only force strong enough to manufacture elements is an exploding star, and they just so happen to have lots of element-rich planets hanging out nearby when they explode. Old planets are pulled in, crushed, and shot out as raw materials. Later, the materials form clouds and eventually planets.

This should really change our perspective of our relationship with our planet. We are minuscule passengers on a cosmic rock whose destiny we apparently cannot change. Environmentalism an ecological stewardship is all for our survival, not the survival of the planet. The planet is always dying, and living, without being  terribly affected by us.

Humans have not changed the gravitational pull of the sun, nor its effectiveness at blowing up.

It will probably look like this, if we were around to see it, an we could see xrays

This is not Nihilism.
This understanding gives us a context for the values of faith and hope and love. We have faith that the Christ-event is, if not an unique, an important event in space and time. Christ says that the Earth is important, people are important, and our actions and prayers affect the history of salvation. You are my people and I will be your God, says the Shoah.We are the people of God, created in (one of) God's image(s). So we can feel important in the face of boggling scale.

And we have hope for a future that is not nihilistic but important, unique, and positive: The Kingdom of God. Even if the Final Horizon, the Omega Point, is beyond our solar system's history, that is, even if Salvation comes after the explosion of our Sun, we have hope that our world is not vain, but important to an ongoing history.

Now, I ma be telling tales to preserve my sanity. But if religion is nothing else, if all our faith is ridiculous, is it not still worth it? This is the definition of denying mortality - denying the finality of a supernova. Is that good enough? When taken at this scale, has Christianity ever been anything else? Are we ready to call this necessary to humanity?

The hand of God or just a pulsar? Which would be cooler?


Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Name Change / Redirect

Good thing we aren't naming children yet. I no longer think 'Faith Doctor' is a great title for me. So, while we're still in infancy, let's change the name What about 'Millenial Faith'? or 'The New Religion'? or 'New Faith Manifesto'? Any Ideas? Look for changes this weekend. -Andy

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

My Story pt.1

I'm a Millennial. 
That means I've had access to the internet since I could remember. That means I had a cell phone in 2002. That means I entered high school in the 21st century. That means I'm anyone who is currently between the ages of 16 and 28.

If you don't know what this means, gramps, take a quiz.

But I've never associated with my own generation.
I am a neophobe. I got my first smartphone this year, and I've always loved the smell of old books. I dress in suits, wear good wristwatches and wing-tip shoes, and have Eisenhower values on shaving, drinking, and fitness.

I found all of these items without standing up from my laptop. Then I took a picture with my smartphone.

More importantly, throughout my life I've tried to impress my elders. That's one reason I studied Theology, and not new-aged spirituality, but really classical Catholic Systematic theology. My mentor, Stephen Duffy, once said (para) "Spirituality isn't a thing. Religion is a thing. Spirituality is what children call it when they're too lazy to think." I think that's why I asked him to be my undergrad thesis sponsor, and why I ended up studying his whole body of work.

I've wanted to be a hardcore theologian. That has affected all my research and my writing. My Masters thesis on the possibility of the Cosmos as a religious narrative was written for someone even more traditional than my own grandmother, who is damn progressive. I have never written for my own generation.

Until now. 
Maybe because I'm finally fed up with the Church institution and its elderly, male holders of power. Maybe because I've finally read really good stuff by people slightly older than me.

Maybe because I have the tools to talk about the elephant in the room.

Writing is finally exhilarating. I feel free to write what I really think about issues, informed by my past, but with a hopeful orientation to the future. I feel like a spokesperson for people my age, who live in a new time and are going through unique transitions.

What is that future? What is the elephant in the room? That will be part 2.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Numbers Lie

Religious organizations love statistics.
Who can blame them?  Membership stats help religious leaders and organizers explain themselves, figure out funding, and define themselves to other organizations. Maybe we can forgive the tendency to round up, to accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. 

But there is a much more basic problem with statistics. Who counts as a member of your religion? Is that everyone who was baptized when they were a child? Is that active members of an actual parish? Is that weekly attenders? Is that persons who self identify, and their children? As CARA pointed out, US Catholic churches count their 'membership' number based on totally divergent data.

Bruegel's Tower of Babel.

Religious organizations wildly overestimate membership.
Nationwide, only half of people who self-identify as Catholic (74.5 million) attended services that month (36.5 million). But at least they attended at Christmas and Easter, right? That has to be the bare minimum of being called "Catholic". That's only 50.6 million. That's a difference of 23.8 million - a hugely significant statistic.

And only 2.9 million Catholics are "very involved" in parish life - like enrolled in schools. And only 50,000 Catholics are involved in parish ministry, as paid or volunteer leaders.

So which of these numbers will an organization use? 

What does it mean to be a 'member'?

What does it take to get the full effect of a religious organization? How involved in the community should you be? How devoted to the ritual practices? How invested in the financial and organizational life of the organization? We must ask,

What are members looking for in religions? 
Is it the rituals? The community of friends? If that is the case, why are 23.8 million Catholics clearly not doing these things, and the vast majority not showing any further interest in the organization? Is this just laziness, not wanting to get up Sunday morning? I worked for Easter, Christmas, and every Sunday morning for the last three years, so would any waiter ever be a 'member' of a church?  Is that 23.8 million waiters?

People get something from calling themselves 'Catholic' but not from actually being catholic.

Two thoughts: 

1) be careful of any religious statistic, membership number, anything like that. There are a lot of very different numbers out there on religions, and a lot of people overestimate their religiosity. 

2) prepare to see the statistics appear to drop off dramatically in the next decade. If I know myself and my friends, we aren't afraid to be honest about our religiosity, about our actual feelings and involvement in religions. As we make up a more significant proportion of the sample, the statistics will be more representative of actual membership. Essentially, 23.8 million will stop self-identifying.

Friday, May 11, 2012

The CERN generation

We already know that we are part of a massive universe.

The Hubble Telescope started sending us images in 1990, and Carl Sagan was already producing Cosmos in 1980, so it's safe to say that we Millennials have grown up conscious of the size and scope of the univrese, at least vaguely. 

Both of these happened in 1990

Research that is now possible at the CERN institute has confirmed  that our universe is not limited in the way we thought it was. 

Previously, when we observed light, we thought we could see the edge of the universe. We were told the universe has an edge. But that is not the case. That edge is more like a horizon line - there could be infinitely more past the edge. 

And our universe probably has layers. Our reality is like one page in a book with lots of pages. Theorists, physicists, and cosmic scientists are now confident that our universe is one of many, that our universe runs parallel to others that we are incapable of observing.  That is almost impossible to comprehend.

an artist's rending of the multiverse.  Can we do better than this?

Think of your own vision:   
You know that you cannot see infrared or ultraviolet light. And you know that it is emitted by all of our appliances and by the sun. So there is a whole lot of data about the things you see that you don't know, or have any way of sensing. Can you imagine the full range of light?

Or take a classic example: You are a microscopic insect crawling on a piece of paper. The paper is one of dozens of sheets stacked on top of each other. Can you imagine your 2-D world as 3-D?  

Big ideas are almost impossible to communicate.
Is that a surprise? Our language is really not very good at communicating anything other than past, present, future, near, or far. Figuring out meaningful conversations to have about such foreign concepts is a whole job in itself, called philosophy. 

The internet can help.
Communicating ideas globally is the first step - after all, CERN invented the internet for a reason. 

In a sense, we are the CERN generation - the first to grow up with the Cosmos in mind, and the first to grow up with the internet to talk about it. Remember, Carl Sagan is our grandfathers' age. 
Still cool. Thanks, grandpa.

Even though the science is there, more than there, we aren't aware of it because this kind of stuff is so hard to understand, so hard to communicate, so hard to comprehend. 

Internet! Go invent a new way of thinking about the world!  

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chew on it like a Bear

How to find direction in life in 3 questions. 

Three is a good number for me today. This afternoon I took a call from an old friend, R., whom I had lost touch with. He's almost 26, my age, and had moved from New Orleans back to his family's homeland in military Newport, Virginia. He had worked for a year as a car salesman and has just quit, citing differences with a coworker who he wanted to beat up and...

"chew on for a while so it looked like a bear attack to the cops."

(I am not making this up). He called me to see what I knew about becoming a teacher. We had not spoken in over a year, but today we had a full conversation for an hour. ( I love those. )

I know very little about becoming a teacher, but I know slightly more than R., apparently. When I described some of the barriers to entry (like "certification" and "applying") I heard his anxious, defeated sigh. That's the same one I've had a few times now, too. It means that I used to think I was ahead of the curve, but I just now realized that I'm digging myself out.

Here is how you get direction in life, in 3 questions.  
R. needs to do this tonight.

1) What do you want to do to the world?  What in the world would you be most proud to change, or add, or subtract? What cause is most important to you? This is the big goal, the naive ideal. Christians might call it a vocation, or God's calling for your life. Most churches are silent on the next two, practical, self-centered steps, without which you will never realize your vocation.

2) What do you like doing? How should you go about doing that thing, and what can you not do about it? Friends, experiences, help with this a lot.

3) What do you want to get from it? What kind of lifestyle would you be comfortable with? Are there places you will or won't live? Do you have kids, a minimum budget?

Establishing these 3 answers, then balancing them, is hard. This is more intense soul-searching than most people are used to. Be flexible, use the advice of friends and loved ones, even colleagues. And find a quiet time to do this from start to finish, rather than distractedly. And continue to chew on it like a bear.

thanks, R.

Me, for example

I've been trying to figure this out for nearly ten years.

1) I know that I want to help people use religions better.
2) I'm good at projects, and I enjoy writing. Turns out I do not like teaching classrooms. I'm currently figuring out if I'm good at videos.
3) I (we) are comfortable with a modest lifestyle, in any city, and have no envy for million dollar mansions.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama evolves into queer rights

Obama has come into the 21st Century!

The president has finally taken a real stance pro gay marriage, truly moving into the 21st century. Is it a kinda bullshit announcement, without any direct policy ramifications? Yes.  Will he fight for marriage rights? No.

But is it a turning point for queer identity an normalization in America? Yes.

When the president supports gay marriage with lipservice he is doing it symbolically. That means he effects and represents in the same move. On the one hand, the majority of Americans support gay marriage, the right of marriage equality, and this is clearly the "right side of history." On the other hand, Obama's support helps make it the majority opinion.It's symbolic like Thanksgiving dinner. We celebrate family and community by coming together for a special feast. At the same time, the special feast is the source of family and community.

I'm reading through the various reactions, and I want to say: you're all right! This did happen and it's a big deal! But not the biggest deal ever! Let's walk together and continue to figure this out!

This announcement was fortuitously placed alongside a post from Rachel Evans (shoutout to stuffchristianculturelikes), who related some stats alongside anecdotes that I second wholeheartedly. As people who self-identify as queer continue to self-identify, people who self-identify as straight know more of them, and everyone is more offended by the bombastic rhetoric from churches and church-y political organizations. When I moved from the country to the city, I went from only knowing people like me to knowing loads of people of all stripes. And now I don't just think in my head that they deserve equal rights and access, I feel it from experience. That is feeling community!

And it is in the spirit of the God who brings us together.  For a religious organization to gay-bash is insane. As always, let us walk together until we dissolve our differences, instead of throwing each other against walls.

If rhetoric is all Obama has to offer on this topic, I'll still take it.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good Beer and Keeping the Faith

Over beers at twelve mile limit I learned that a priest back home stopped preaching over the new nun situation.

Turns out that the pope has decided to assess America's nuns for errors in teachings. The Vatican claims that the nuns - and schools run by nuns - aren't strong enough on abortion and contraception, on the ordination of women, and on homosexuality. So they are going to withstand external assessment, criticism, and likely some dismissal. Apparently no one is catholic enough for the Vatican, especially when it comes to being a woman. I guess I should say that no woman is catholic enough. Or no member of a religious community is catholic enough.

Now I'm not a woman, or member of a religious community like a convent or a monastery, but I thought this was a pretty lame move for the Vatican. And so did a priest at a small, country church.

The problem stems from the Vatican's approach to problems lately, to address them through criticism and exclusion rather than with respect, honesty, and conversation. If we disagree, can we not walk together? How does this assessment help the Holy Spirit work within us? How does it help us unite as a planet?

The problem isn't that 'being right' isn't important, it's that being together is so much more important.


Hi Everyone! This blog will help clear the air on topics of religion, faith, and the 21st century. I will keep it up to date with thoughts on statistics and news as they become available - hopefully every day! Also check out my youtube channel, faith doctor. Or my older stuff, at