People are leaving my church. Good people. People I know. People I like. In response to this modern exodus, I have heard three explanations from within my church community. The first two are rationalization narratives. They attempt to put the community at ease. First, there is the narrative that we are destined to be a small group of believers. The Bible never suggests “the believers” are going to be popular. In the Book of Mormon, Nephi has a vision of the modern-day church and he notes that “its numbers [are] few.” And so declining membership actually seems in line with revelation. Believers are supposed to be a small, peculiar group of persecuted faithful. This is problematic. Continue reading
In the Gospel of Matthew the often repeated words, “he is risen” are preceded by the statement, “he is not here.” Then as evidence of the risen Lord, the angel invites Mary to see the absence of the Lord’s body from the tomb. But the missing body only highlights the questions already burning in her heart. The very questions which caused her arrival in the garden tomb in the first place: where did he go and where is he now?
As is often the case with Christ’s miracles, the supernatural aspect underscore the common reality: people die. And while the body is usually left behind, we are left to wonder how it could be so entirely abandoned. How an object which had once been a man has ceased to present a human being. How the formaldehyde fails to preserve key aspects, even physical aspects, of the person we knew. And it is by this common, natural reality—the incongruity of death—that Christ’s missing body moves us, and not the other way around. The loss of a friend, a father, a lover, a son. Touching a corpse, holding an embalmed hand, kissing a dead man’s lips, nothing more profound than these are required for us to have asked the question: Where did she go? Where is he now? Continue reading
Art has been, is, and will always be political and in the most absolute way. We are often under a misconception that artists are rebels with the courage to challenge accepted truths. While I am certain there are artists like this, probably many, these are not the artists we are acquainted with. The rebel-artists we cite—take for example Lin Manuel Miranda—are not struggling with popularity. They are famous not because they have challenged the world with new ideas but because they are a voice through which a generation speaks, or, since a generation is never a monolith, more accurately, a significant portion of a generation. Perhaps it is a new and rising voice, but the popularity of the artist is a sign that the scale is tipping or has already tipped.
As millennials continue to be dissatisfied with religion, leaving churches in greater numbers every year, I have become at times defensive. I’ve wanted to defend my own religious convictions as well as point out how Christianity has colored, beautified, and created the world we’ve inherited. So even if we turn a blind eye to Christianity, we can never really leave it, nor should we want to.
In my experience, the most cited reason my generation offers for their exodus is “hypocrisy.” If a religion that teaches moral principles doesn’t create morally principled people, what good is it? To them, what religion preaches correctly it administers poorly, such as kindness, love, and generosity. And what it believes incorrectly it administers effectively, beliefs around Proposition 8 and most recently the election of Donald Trump who was most fervently supported by white, evangelical men.
So what good is religion? Continue reading
I grew up knowing that my Dad dreamed of flying. He didn’t have feathers or airplane wings in these dreams. He just lifted up like superman. In slow summer morning, we used to relish in our dreams. To me, the most exciting dreams included stormtroopers, lightsabers, Ewoks, and the rebel cause. As we sat with messy hair and no shirts, because we wore shorts instead of pajamas, we would bring vague recollection to dramatic conclusion in the telling of it. It was remembrance and invention at the same time.
Throughout my life, I have only dreamed of flying a few times, none of which I remember very well. But when I woke up I thought to myself, oh yes, I too have now dreamed of flying. It was something, in my mind, to be proud of. I don’t remember how I flew but when I imagine it now I have wings and there is joy simply in the performance of it. Continue reading
[We’re happy to publish this guest post, written in response to “Reconciling Religion and Politics in Post-Obama America,” by John Griffin.]
In his March 20 post, David takes on a hot topic of late: whether religious views should be granted a more prominent and respectful place in American political discussion. David’s answer – from his opening account of a God-fearing African American taxi driver to his warning that “failing to validate” religious voices will lead to social fragmentation – is an emphatic YES. Without a place for such expression, David argues, the public sphere would become exclusionary and – with respect to fostering social cohesion – ineffective.
Historically, David would seem to be arguing the obvious. After all, religious elements have always played a major role in American politics, and to deny them significant voice ignores history and reality. It turns out, for example, that one of the most religious groups in the American polity – measured by church attendance, prayer and members’ own self-identification – is African American Protestants, also one of the most loyal Democratic voting blocs. Why then should those who champion progressive causes and view such groups as important political allies go to such lengths to exclude religious views from political discussion? Continue reading
Hakim’s car smelled faintly of cigarette smoke, but it was clean and he greeted me warmly. Hakim was an African-American man with a raspy voice and a slight southern accent. This was my first experience riding Lyft, and it was a pleasant one. He asked me about my work and told me about his—he recently retired as a parole officer, and drives for Lyft on the weekends. Our conversation eventually turned to politics. I didn’t know what to expect. In the wake of an election that had been described as a “whitelash,” I wanted to tread carefully. I tried to say things that would assure Hakim that I understood something about the racial tensions that were unsurfaced and aggravated during and in response to the election. I wanted him to know that I appreciated President Obama and that I had not supported Trump’s candidacy. I was surprised when he said, “You know, I had a real hard time with this election. I actually voted Republican in the last two. Just couldn’t bring myself to vote for Obama. Religious reasons, you know? I had the same problem with Hillary. But Trump?” The way he said “Trump,” sliding into a raspy falsetto, made me laugh. That and my surprise: a middle-aged, middle-class African-American man voting for McCain and Romney rather than Obama, due to religiously-motivated objections (to gay marriage and abortion, as it turned out). Serendipitously, perhaps, our destination was a church. As I got out, he said, “God bless, my friend.”
I know that people of color are not monolithic, just as I recognize that many are forced to uncomfortable compromises when voting, trying to participate within a system that has often explicitly discouraged their participation, voting for what seems to be the lesser of two evils and the least likely to provoke direct harm to them and their loved ones. It is very likely that Hakim is not consistently conservative. But in a defining moment of American politics, he voted Republican. I’ve often wondered which candidate he voted for in 2016. He never told me, but apparently it wasn’t a particularly straightforward question for him. Continue reading
Increasingly religious beliefs are being classified as self-deception or a means to justify prejudice. Not too long ago, a couple who had chosen to wait until marriage would have been respected even by those who did not share the religious conviction. But if you had the opportunity to listen to some of the professors at NC State talk about it, you would quickly realize that they believe anyone who advocates for abstinence until marriage must be misinformed, ignorant, or oppressed. In the minds of modern skeptics, religious conviction lacks the necessary conditions from which belief is justifiably built.
From their perspective, adequate proof must exist prior to belief and beliefs must always exist in proportion to the evidence. Religious belief in their minds does not fit this criteria. Instead, religious belief requires no experimentation, changes from person to person, and is made up by the imaginations of people who are picking out what things they’d want to be true. It is like children who play house with none of the inconvenience of actually collecting an income, paying taxes, or mowing the lawn.
And so it is no wonder that skeptics who see religious belief in this way would look upon it with some, if not a great deal, of disdain. Of course, they are right that religious belief is a very different thing from what I most commonly hear called “scientific belief.” But they get two things wrong by categorizing belief in this way. Continue reading