The World Wide Religious Web for Wednesday, January 18, 2012

NO. Is the Era of Big Religion Over?

We might best describe the state of American religion today as “robust but confusing.” Relative youths are having a harder time navigating it than past generations. Pew tells us that “Among Americans ages 18-29, one-in-four say they are not currently affiliated with any particular religion.”

They may continue to go without religion, as the Greg Pauls of this world confidently predict. But the safer bet is that as they marry and have children at least some of these secular Americans will be calling on the assistance of a higher power.

THE STRANGENESS OF OUR AGE: Justice without Foundations?

What is so strange about our age is that demands for respecting human rights and human dignity are increasing even as the foundations for those demands are disappearing. In particular, beliefs in man as a creature made in the image of God, or an animal with a rational soul, are being replaced by a scientific materialism that undermines what is noble and special about man, and by doctrines of relativism that deny the objective morality required to undergird human dignity. How do we account for the widening gap between metaphysics and morals today? How do we explain “justice without foundations” — a virtue that seems to exist like a table without legs, suspended in mid-air? What is holding up the central moral beliefs of our times?

RELATED: God Matters: Ethical Theory and Divine Law.


The upshot of all this is that perhaps it is time for Republican candidates to stop using Christianity as a club to beat up democratic opponents, or latte-sipping, environmentalist and feminist college professors like me, and start using it as a rigorous task master of their own behavior. And that it is also time for serious Christians to ask themselves if the public displays of their religion by politicians actually further its public presence—or make Christianity’s spiritual demands seem trivial to non-existent.

INTERESTING. BUT DOES THEOLOGY MATTER FOR POLITICS? The Theological Differences Behind Evangelical Unease With Romney.

Mormons consider themselves Christians — as denoted in the church’s name, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yet the theological differences between Mormonism and traditional Christianity are so fundamental, experts in both say, that they encompass the very understanding of God and Jesus, what counts as Scripture and what happens when people die.

GOOD QUESTION: How Many Evangelicals Actually Lead?

But beyond the politics, this is an unusual opportunity to see whether the people the media reports usually describe as “conservative Christian leaders” are actual leaders. No question that some of the attendees at the weekend event were well-known spokesmen. And that they get quoted plenty.

But how many people do they actually lead?

RELATED: “Why Last Saturday’s Conclave of Evangelical Leaders Was Dangerous.”

AMERICA IS A “MORAL ENTERPRISE,” BUT WHOSE MORALITY? Obama and Santorum: A Clarifying Contrast.

This is why I think a general election contest between Obama and Santorum, though it appears increasingly unlikely at this point in the primary season, would be good for the country. Yes, it would probably exacerbate the culture wars, but it could also provide a wonderful forum for debate and conversation about what it means for the United States, or any nation for that matter, to be a “moral enterprise.”

CREATED EQUAL: America the Biblical.

The Bible tells a very different story.  Here, too, humans are created out of clay; but the cosmology is radically different.  In the Bible, ordinary men and women are not created to labor for the benefit of others.  From every fruit-bearing tree and seed-bearing herb, God provides food to all of his children, telling them to be fruitful and multiply and giving them dominion over the earth.  God gives possession of the world directly to people in general; not to a king, aristocracy, or temple.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES: Counterterrorism Laws Hamper Humanitarian Aid.

Under counterterrorism laws introduced after the September 11 terrorist attacks, humanitarian groups cannot provide aid that supports or gives resources to terrorists. But in places like Gaza, where the United States has classified local leaders as terrorists, most forms of aid will benefit these leaders. Thus humanitarian NGOS working in such places face the possibility of losing funding or even being labeled as criminals.

A REALIST REPLY TO NOMINALISM: About “judging God’s morality.”

I said everyone judges God’s morality—unless they are a nominalist. I don’t really know what to say to a nominalist except that I don’t really know how you can believe a being, even the supreme being of the universe, is worshipful just for existing. It seems to me that is to baptize naked power as worshipful.

What I get from the Bible is that God is worshipful because he is good. Yes, also because he is all powerful and holy.  But it’s a package deal. Take away goodness and he wouldn’t be worshipful. That’s how I understand Psalm 106 and Psalm 118.

WHAT ABOUT HIS THEOLOGY? Learning from John Wesley. Kevin DeYoung is a Calvinist, so it’s good to see him saying anything about John Wesley.

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