Did you loose your faith in college?

One of the places where the prevailing culture intersects with religion is within the college or university experience.

I have heard any number of people claim that they were religious or went to church or synagogue until they went away to school. There, according to what I am told, they confronted doubt when they took the hard sciences and asked questions about the natural world.

Recently, R. R. Reno and Barbara McClay edited conversations with Robert Bellah and Christian Smith who are both eminent sociologists that they had with leading scholars in a book entitled, Religion and the Social Sciences.

Their point is that more often than not it is a class in the social sciences that challenges students’ faiths, not a class in biology.

The question arises in this context is, can a modern social scientific approach actually deepen faith rather than detract from faith? Is it realistic to hope that a deepened faith might make people more full participants in modern intellectual culture?

I have not read the boo, (yet), but the question has been fermenting in my head for a few days. Why can’t the faithful interact with modern social sciences s well as the so-called “hard” sciences?

Does today’s intellectual culture exclude religious people? I submit that it does not. The problem has not been that religious people necessarily reject any of the sciences, but that they do not really understand religion.

Faith dies not exclude reason, it can focus reason to a sharp point if we don’t try to limit G_d. If we limit G_d to the depth and breadth of our own limited interpretation of the natural world, then we might truly reject science and intellectual inquiry. But, if we let G_d be G_d, we open our eyes to limitless potential for religion’s intersection with the natural and the social sciences.

But, what do you think?

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The thriving society-how does it appear?

Through a journal that I read regularly, I received an invitation to buy a collection of essays from Princeton entitled, “The Thriving Society”. The essays are about human flourishing and the social conditions that enable that flourishing.

I have not yet purchased the collection, but the title stimulated a question. How does a thriving society appear? Faith based organizations may have a different vision than their strictly secular counterparts, but is that necessarily true?

I am a religious person and yet, I would not want a society that is strictly adherent to my own particular religion, for now ideal or thriving society is monochromatic in any area of common life.

Kamal Ataturk who founded modern Turkey insisted that his nation by a secular one with no single faith, not even his own, to have hegemony over the entire society. There ahs been some movement In Turkey to transform it into an Islamic republic with the violence that we have been led to expect when sectarian issues take over.

In order for a society to thrive, there must be diversity in all aspects of our common life. This is a matter that goes well beyond political correctness. it is a matter that has been confirmed in all aspects of life; biological, sociological, religious, philosophical and political among other things. Even organisms thrive when diversity is introduced and they fail when there is no new DNA introduced into the larger organisms that include societies. A monochromatic society is doomed to entropy.

In the end, we religious individuals cannot insist that society reflect our own faith group. It is not healthy. But, what do you think?

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Speaking truth to power: the prophetic call to people of faith

If all you had heard about faith or religion and politics has been limited t the last few years, you would probably think that religion is in bed with politics and not in an e=adversarial relationship.

Yet, over the course of history, people of faith have spoken and acted in opposition to the public sector I eh name of justice. One person who was called to speak truth to power was Fannie Lou Hamer.

I was recently made aware of her contribution to American society when I read of her rise fro obscurity to prominence. She was a daughter of sharecroppers in rural Mississippi born towards the end of World War I in 1917. She was born into one of the poorest places in the United States. However, she rose up from that crushing situation and challenged the political and social authorities of her era. This was far from easy for a poor African-American woman.

However, she guided and inspired the struggle for freedom in the US. But, she was also part of the effort to bring people together from many situations. She opposed the Viet Nam war and brought people of all races together to end poverty.

What we might remember most readily is her famous quote regarding facing oppression. She once said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”. Simple, yet elegant.

She did not let her poverty prevent her from having her say and influencing all of society. This simple woman of faith had influence far beyond her rural roots. People of fait are truly called to speak up in the face of inhumanity and oppression. It is part of our mutual calling to “repair the world”.

What do you think you can do to influence the powers that be?

Have a good Sabbath.

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Politics, economics and a brief pause

Recently, the stock exchanges and the published averages such a the Dow Jones, the NASDAQ and the Standard and Poors have all taken hits. Although as compared t the averages just two years ago, they are still higher than that. So what? You might ask. This is connected to any manner of funds owned by an managed for not-for-profit organizations and churches as well as for people’s retirement funds.

There is also a connection with currency exchanges as well as commodities markets all of which affect not only the lifestyles of the wealthy, but of ordinary people as well.

There is also a direct connection with the cost of borrowing money by individuals and businesses as well as financial institutions.

There is a connection with the public square as we are coming closer and closer to a presidential election year and all of the candidates have positions on the economy. (granted, some are more detailed and cogent than others). The electorate wants to know how candidates view our economic system.

Our present system is a modified capitalist economy. It is not pure capitalism, because there are regulations and laws governing it, but for all intents, it is a capitalist economy.

Does this have anything at all to do with religion? The incumbent Bishop of Rome, (Pope Francis’ preferred title), believes that it does.

Other religious leaders believe that early Christians were socialist and some believe that they should be today as well. Others are just as adamant that capitalism, though flawed, is the best model for an aspirational society. That is to say, that progress is made only when there is a direct profit for those who innovate.

In the best possible world, all people would create and develop resources and care for the resources of the world, because it is the best stewardship of that which the Creator has give us. And, if we are to appeal to the best nature of all people so be it.

However, we have seen other systems rise and fall. Economic system in and of themselves are not good or evil, just as human beings at their creation are not evil, but created for good in the image of the Creator.

Where, then, does faith enter into the discussion? Faithful people are called to repair the world. Whatever economic system exists where we live, it is still incumbent on us to affect that repair. Our motivation is our faith, whether we are Jews, Christian, Muslim or Buddhists or members of any of the other faith groups.

Can we at least agree on that? What do you think?

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The Tunnel

Today is the eleventh day of September. In the US, it is the anniversary of the attack by terrorists on New York, Washington DC and an aborted attack that ended in Pennsylvania.

It was a time when faith intersected the public square in a most dramatic way.

I have seen many tributes posted on the internet, but the real stories are about the little known events of that day and the days that followed.

I was running late. As I drove to the church I was then serving, my secretary called to tell me that my commander had phoned the church to tell me that I should turn around, get in uniform and report to headquarters at Fort Dix.

The governor of New York had apparently called the acting governor of New Jersey to request chaplains at the World Trade Center sight. Along with our unit’s emergency medical personnel, we left for New York as fast as we could.

Upon arrival at the Holland Tunnel, we found that the authorities had closed it and all the other bridges and tunnels that fed New York City.

The New Jersey State Police met us at the entrance. Upon verifying our identities, we were allowed to enter the tunnel. It was very unusual to be alone in the Holland Tunnel to say the least.

emotions and fears were high. We all had to have our blood pressure taken before we could go. Everyone’s was off the charts…literally. The drive to Manhattan only increased the pressure. Many of us were convinced that it was only the beginning of the attacks on the US. Perhaps the tunnel would collapse on us and no one would ever find us under all that water. It did not happen, but at that hour; who knew?

All told, many hours, days and weeks were spent on search and recovery in lower Manhattan and later at the land fill on Staten Island.

Things changed over time and memories fade. The cohesiveness of the people for the first few weeks following the attacks diminished and the fellowship dissolved. Resolve atrophied and much was lost. But, the faith of the many people who responded to the national emergency remains in my memory.

It was not the heroics we see on television or the colorful posters I see on the anniversary of the attacks that remain. It is the resolve and the hope in the face of unspeakable evil that remains.

Good Sabbath and pray for true peace.

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Weddings? What about them?

In the United States recently, we have been hearing quite a bit about marriage and who can or cannot get married. The marriage equality decision by the supreme court has been the catalyst for actions as well as discussions.

There seems to be a wide separation of opinions regarding same gender marriage in the larger society as well as within religious groups. Many younger people do not see any issue with same gender marriage while older people are more polarized in terms of their opinions.

In all the controversy, we have missed a consideration of marriage itself. We have gotten lost in our debates regarding “who” and forgotten about the “what” of marriage. It seems that what marriage is just as or more important than the question of who can be joined in wedlock.

Ajahn Brahm, a Buddhist monk, has written about marriage as well as many other aspects of life in his book, Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung? He reflected on his own wedding services and mentioned some stories he has told to couples contemplating marriage.

One story Brahm tells his couples involves some advice given to a groom by the father of the bride. The older man asked his new son-in-law whether the groom considered the bride to be the most wonderful woman in the world. Of course the groom answered positively.

Then the father of the bride said, “That’s how it is when you get married. But, after a few years you will begin to see the flaws in my daughter. Whe you do begin to notice her faults, I want you to remember that if she did not have those faults to begin with…she would have married someone much better than you”.

Mot fathers of daughters, (among whom I am numbered), would want to say that. However, Brahm is making a serious point about marriage. None of us is perfect. We do not marry perfect mates, but, if things are working well, we marry the one who is perfect for us, other imperfect people.

The question of who we marry is important, of course. But, the way we work out the marriage and the living is vital and has gotten short shrift recently.

Marriage is work. Most good things require effort. The problem arises when we have unrealistic expectations that problems will never touch us. Love does conquer all, but only if we are armed with compassion, a willingness to exert effort and unconditional positive regard that insists that no matter what foibles we have and our partner has, we love them not in site of the imperfections, but to some extent, because of them.

Other wide, they would have married someone better than us.

Good Sabbath everyone!

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The Lonliness of People of Faith in Contemporary Society

Because most faith groups have places where their adherents gather such as Synagogues, Churches, Mosques or Temples, we do not tend to think of people of faith as lonely.

But, that is what Rabbi Joseph B. Solovetchic has said in his book, The Lonely Man of Faith.

In contemporary society the passion of the faithful is often isolating. Faith is truly passionate, for it reaches into the deepest part of our personality. Real faith is at our center and is related to the core that psychologists explore in psychotherapy. It is sometimes lonely in there.

Let’s back up a minute. I really did say that faith is passion. I don’t meet erotic passion or romantic passion, although they are related. [If you don’t believe me; take a good look at Victorian era Christian hymns.]

What moves us and what is central to our inner selves is passion. Sometimes that passion can be a painful experience, just ask the martyrs of the faiths.

However, that which is most painful can also be the most uplifting and pleasurable. Often faith runs counter to the prevailing culture. [Note: I definitely am not talking about any county clerk and the issuance of marriage licenses. No one is preventing that person from exercising faith or religion. That is not an issue of the passion of faith. That is cultural reaction, but I digress…)

No, we can be lonely, because of the nature of the intensity of that very faith.

How do we deal with it? That is a question for faith itself. If that passion is great, nothing will dissuade us from exercising it and we will also find a bond with the transcendent.

Yet, I am still not 100% convinced that at center, the faithful need to be lonely, only determined. But, what do you think?

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