Religion is Over, Right?

April 13, 2017 at 11:45 am | Posted in religion, secularism | 3 Comments
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In 1968, for a number of reasons, I transferred from Trinity College in Washington to Temple University in Philadelphia. At Temple, I decided to major in religion. Temple had one of the first secular religion departments in the country, and I had always been fascinated by religion; in my family, Catholics had married Protestants for three generations. But I also brought with me a lot of credits in theology and philosophy, so majoring in religion was the fastest way to finish.

A member of the Catholic laywomen’s movement I belonged to there in Philly was studying social work at Temple. We were standing together on a sidewalk on Broad Street when I mentioned that I was going to major in religion. My Grail sister, Ann,  responded, “Why are you going to major in religion? Religion is over!!”

Ann was referring, I believe, to a theory, much discussed at the time, called “the secularization hypothesis.” It claimed that the world would soon be entirely post-religious, secularized. I recall that as we spoke I could see a Catholic church on a corner up the way. In Philly in those days there was a Catholic church every ten blocks or so, and the “parish plant”–parochial school, church, convent and rectory–often took up an entire city block. And the five or six Sunday Masses were often full to overflowing.

Given the developments in the decades since then, it can seem that my friend was correct. We have all heard about the “nones,” and the precipitous decline in attendance at liberal Protestant and white Catholic churches.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center on Religion and Public Life suggests, however, that I may have the last word in that conversation. In “The Changing Global Religious Landscape,” Pew researchers argue convincingly and in some detail that by 2060, not only will there be more Muslims than Christians in the world, but that the religious population across the board will well outnumber the “nones,” the religiously unaffiliated.

Why is this the case? In large part because the religiously affiliated, and especially Muslims, are having significantly more children than the nones are:

“In contrast with this  baby boom among Muslims, people who do not identify with any religion are experiencing a much different trend. While religiously unaffiliated people currently make up 16% of the global population, only an estimated 10% of the world’s newborns between 2010 and 2015 were born to religiously unaffiliated mothers. This dearth of newborns among the unaffiliated helps explain why religious “nones” (including people who identity as atheist or agnostic, as well as those who have no particular religion) are projected to decline as a share of the world’s population in the coming decades. By 2055 to 2060, just 9% of all babies will be born to religiously unaffiliated women, while more than seven-in-ten will be born to either Muslims (36%) or Christians (35%).”

This may seem not to affect the population make-up here. There are a great many religiously unaffiliated people in Europe, the US, and in Asia. But the religiously unaffiliated in these places have a much higher death-rate–are much older–than the religious do, while the greatest population growth will be in sub-Saharan Africa, where the vast majority is either Muslim or Christian.

Maybe my decision to study religion wasn’t so ill-advised after all.







Catholic Misogyny Matters

January 3, 2015 at 3:57 pm | Posted in Vatican, women | 6 Comments
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Well, the enthusiasm for Pope Francis continues unabated. On December 30, an article in the National Catholic Reporter  said it all: “Pope Francis Continues to Take the World by Storm.” After which an article in a secular publication (don’t ask me which one)  called him “the most powerful religious leader in the world.” And in a piece on Francis and the environment in the NY Times, (!!!) Andrew C. Revkin describes his participation in a four-day Vatican workshop on the environment organized by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and Academy of Social Sciences last May as one of the “highlights of my year, perhaps my career.”  Then there was the Pope’s success at getting diplomatic relations restored between the U.S. and Cuba. And his denunciation of human trafficking.

It’s impossible not to be grateful for these and other significant steps. Especially hope-inspiring is Francis’s anticipated encyclical on the environment. I have never in my life heard a Catholic priest mention climate change from the pulpit; maybe now I will. And once again, the head of the Catholic Church is  emphasizing the poor and denouncing capitalism, therefore, to some extent, reversing John Paul II’s repression of liberation theology. Just having a smiling pope on the news is a breath of fresh air.

Unlike a lot of folks, however, I am not willing to give Papa Francesco and the institution he represents a pass on women. I realized that we were in trouble on this score more than a year ago when the article that accompanied Time’s naming Francis “person of the year” mentioned that “he is aware of the liberal clamor in the affluent West for the ordination of women.” But women, the authors went on to explain, have vastly more serious problems than mere exclusion from Catholic ordination, for example, female genital mutilation, which the Catholic Church is working against. Other journalists have characterized calls for Catholic women’s sacramental equality as just another aspect of the culture wars that Francis is challenging us to get over.

What possible connection could there be between the largest religious organization on earth banning women from major leadership roles and other forms of oppression against women? Let me, first of all, clarify what I’m saying here: there are more Muslims in the world than there are Roman Catholics. But the Muslims are sort of like the Protestants: as I say to my American Baptist minister husband from time to time, the Catholics won the Reformation, not by having superior theology, but by managing to keep themselves more or less united, and by continuing to wear their really colorful outfits right into the era of Instagram and Facebook. All over New York  there are churches called something like “Salem Baptist Church,” and then down the street, “Greater Salem Baptist Church.” And just try to follow the Sunni/Shia/Iranian/Syrian/ISIS/ISIL distinctions on the evening news. The Pope is now the symbol of Christianity and in some senses the symbol of  religion itself because there is one and only one of him, and the RCC is the biggest religious organization on the planet.

So what does it matter for the well-being of women around the world that this icon of Christianity says that the ordination of women cannot be discussed and that women are intrinsically possessed of the feminine genius? For that matter, what does it matter for the very survival of the planet that Papa Francesco is soon to issue an encyclical about?

Let me be very clear here: the “feminine genius” that the Pope references, which is directly linked to the exclusion of women from Catholic sacramental leadership, means that women are inherently passive and responsive, while men are agents, initiators of the actions and communications to which women respond. This is not unlike the ideological framework that underpins the removal, in some cultures, of female genitalia so women can’t enjoy sex. And it is also the ideology driving the destruction of the environment, something that has happened since “Christian” Euro-America colonized the rest of the planet. Built into the claim that the earth, (and the church as well) is “our mother” is the suggestion that she is lying there waiting for something to get shoved into her –horizontal drills, for example, or infallible doctrines–and for the active, masculine genius to dig things out of her. Until we stop thinking of God as male and above us, and begin to recognize that God is also within, around, and underneath us, and is likewise a major component of the cosmic genius by which everything is interconnected, papal encyclicals on the environment are going to get us only so far.



Religious Freedom, Missouri Style

August 6, 2012 at 9:37 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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According to the New York Times, an as-yet unidentified gunman entered a Sikh Temple in suburban St. Louis during the Sunday service yesterday morning, killing six people and wounding three others. When police arrived on the scene the gunman shot one of them and a second officer shot and killed the gunman.

 Attacks on Sikhs in the US increased after 9/11; a Sikh was attacked in Arizona four days after the attack on the World Trade Center. It is believed that in many cases attackers confuse Sikhs, whose male practitioners wear turbans, with Muslims. whose male practitioners do not. There are twenty-five million Sikhs in the world

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Missourians will go to the polls to vote on Amendment 2 of the state constitution, which ostensibly strengthens the right of citizens to express their religion, and in particular, gives students the right to pray in school. According to, it also gives students in public schools the right to refuse to learn things that are against their religion:

“According to the language in the amendment, if a student who believes in creationism is asked to take a test on the scientifically accepted theory of evolution, the student could point to the new amendment and get out of the class. While the idea of creationism is allowed in private Christian schools, using it as an excuse in a public school could create a situation that makes everyone uncomfortable. Controversy could also arise if religions outside Christianity were used in public schools. Christianity is the most dominant religion in America, but other religions, such as Islam, are often looked down on. One could only wonder what the reaction would be if a Muslim student complained that their religious freedom was being infringed.”

Will learning the difference between Muslims and Sikhs be considered a violation of students’ religious freedom? Is the right to massive ignorance protected in Amendment 2, or, for that matter, by the First Amendment to the US Constitution?

Pollsters predict that the amendment will be supported by 80% of the voters, but commentators also predict that it will be held up in court for years. One can only hope.

You may wonder why I am commenting on this in a column about American Catholicism, aside from the fact that Catholics (presumably) oppose the murder of innocent human beings. Well, the Catholic bishops of Missouri, great defenders of religious freedom that they are, have come out in support of the amendment. One imagines catechetics classes in Missouri Catholic parishes in which children are trained to pray for freedom from contraception at public school gatherings.

The Story that Goes with the Picture (Sort of)

February 9, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Well, since I never put a photo on my blog before, you may be wondering what the one that appeared yesterday is about. It’s a picture of some Christians in Egypt protecting Muslims while they are praying. The congregation to which my friend Sister Celia Deutsch belongs, the Sisters of Sion, are dedicated to inter-religious peace, especially between Christians and Jews, and some of their members are in Egypt. So Celia has been following what’s happening there very closely. When she came across this very moving photo, she forwarded it to me, and I forwarded it to you, so to speak.

And now, the reverse picture has appeared in, of all places, the New York Daily News, with an accompanying story: Muslims protecting Christians–in this case, Coptic Christians–while they are at Mass. In a world that seems to lurch from one act of violence to another, we can for a moment, at least, observe some of us doing genuine good to others of us. And Muslims and Christians no less! Thanks be to God.

Learning about Muslims

November 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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What with the upsurge of hostility toward Muslims in recent months, it becomes increasingly clear that a lot of us here in the US need to learn more about Islam, and about our brothers and sisters who practice Islam. A post on the blog of Bill Tammeus, a former religion writer for the Kansas City Star, introduces several books that make such learning possible, including Lesley Hazelton’s After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split , and What’s Right With Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West by Feisal Abdul Rauf (of the “Ground Zero Mosque,” really Park51, fame). 

But the book about Islam that I’m really interested in is one Tammeus doesn’t highlight. It’s Green Deen: What Islam Teaches about Protecting the Planet, by Ibrahim Abdul-Matin (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2010). Here’s what Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna College in Berkeley, California has to say about this book: “Ibrahim Abdul-Matin not only shows the myriad ways American Muslims are contributing to the resolution of the environmental crisis that threatens us all but also goes a long way toward humanizing the Muslim community by sharing with the reader the lives of so many extraordinary, talented, and visionary people.” As a person increasingly convinced that environmental degradation is the challenge facing people of faith around the world, this is a book I really want to read.

Why don’t you take a look at one of these three and let me know what you think?

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