Dark Christianity
dark_christian
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May 2008
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News roundup

LJ-SEC: (ORIGINALLY POSTED BY [info]amethyst_hunter)

A long post, but late-night/early-early morning surfing brings these bits of interest:



From this link: http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1590782,00.html

The Religious Right's Era Is Over

Friday, Feb. 16, 2007 By JIM WALLIS

As I have traveled around the country, one line in my speeches always draws cheers: "The monologue of the Religious Right is over, and a new dialogue has now begun." We have now entered the post-Religious Right era. Though religion has had a negative image in the last few decades, the years ahead may be shaped by a dynamic and more progressive faith that will make needed social change more possible.

In the churches, a combination of deeper compassion and better theology has moved many pastors and congregations away from the partisan politics of the Religious Right. In politics, we are beginning to see a leveling of the playing field between the two parties on religion and "moral values," and the media are finally beginning to cover the many and diverse voices of faith. These are all big changes in American life, and the rest of the world is taking notice.

Evangelicals — especially the new generation of pastors and young people — are deserting the Religious Right in droves. The evangelical social agenda is now much broader and deeper, engaging issues like poverty and economic justice, global warming, HIV/AIDS, sex trafficking, genocide in Darfur and the ethics of the war in Iraq. Catholics are returning to their social teaching; mainline Protestants are asserting their faith more aggressively; a new generation of young black and Latino pastors are putting the focus on social justice; a Jewish renewal movement and more moderate Islam are also growing; and a whole new denomination has emerged, which might be called the "spiritual but not religious."

Even more amazing, the Left is starting to get it. Progressive politics is remembering its own religious history and recovering the language of faith. Democrats are learning to connect issues with values and are now engaging with the faith community. They are running more candidates who have been emboldened to come out of the closet as believers themselves. Meanwhile, many Republicans have had it with the Religious Right. Both sides are asking how to connect faith and values with politics. People know now that God is neither a Republican nor a Democrat, and we are all learning that religion should not be in the pocket of any political party; it calls all of us to moral accountability.

Most people I talk to think that politics isn't working in America and believe that the misuse of religion has been part of the problem. Politics is failing to resolve the big moral issues of our time, or even to seriously address them. And religion has too often been used as a wedge to divide people, rather than as a bridge to bring us together on those most critical questions. I believe (and many people I talk with agree) that politics could and should begin to really deal with the many crises we face. Whenever that happens, social movements often begin to emerge, usually focused on key moral issues. The best social movements always have spiritual foundations, because real change comes with the energy, commitment and hope that powerful faith and spirituality can bring.

It's time to remember the spiritual revivals that helped lead to the abolition of slavery in Britain and the United States; the black church's leadership during the American civil rights movement; the deeply Catholic roots of the Solidarity movement in Poland that led the overthrow of communism; the way liberation theology in Latin America helped pave the way for new democracies; how Desmond Tutu and the South African churches served to inspire victory over apartheid; how "People Power" joined with the priests and bishops to bring down down Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos; how the Dalai Lama keeps hope alive for millions of Tibetans; and, today, how the growing Evangelical and Pentecostal churches of the global South are mobilizing to addresse the injustices of globalization.

I believe we are seeing the beginning of movements like that again, right here in America, and that we are poised on the edge of what might become a revival that will bring about big changes in the world. Historically, social reform often requires spiritual revival. And that's what church historians always say about real revival — that it changes things in the society, not just in people's inner lives. I believe that what we are seeing now may be the beginning of a new revival — a revival for justice.

The era of the Religious Right is now past, and it's up to all of us to create a new day.

Jim Wallis is the founder of Sojourners and the author of God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It




From this link: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1590444,00.html

Two companies serve three-fourths of the crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. Such centers now outnumber abortion providers in the U.S.

The pregnancy-center clinic, with its new ultrasound machine, has been open only since December, but already the staff can count the women who came in considering an abortion and changed their minds: five women converted, six lives saved, they declare, since one was carrying twins. "They connected," nurse Joyce Wilson says, recalling the reaction of the women who saw the filmy image of their fetus onscreen. "They bonded. You could just see it. One girl got off the table and said, 'That's my baby.'"

"Another got up," Deborah Wood says, "and said, 'This changes everything.'"

Wood is the CEO of Asheville Pregnancy Support Services in Asheville, North Carolina, one of the thousands of crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S. that are working to end abortion. Hers is the new face of an old movement: kind, calm, nonjudgmental, a special-forces soldier in the abortion wars who is fighting her battles one conscience at a time. Her center helps women navigate the social-service bureaucracy, sign up for Medicaid and begin prenatal care. She helps pregnant girls find emergency housing if their parents threaten to throw them out. Free pregnancy tests and ultrasounds are just the latest service.

"They've been fed these lies, that it's just a bunch of cells that's not worth anything," Wilson says. "But those limbs are moving. That heart is beating. You don't have to say anything ..." She brings out a black velvet box that looks as if it holds a strand of pearls. Inside are four tiny rubber fetuses, the smallest like a kidney bean with limbs, the biggest about the size of a thumb. This is what your baby looks like, she tells clients; this is about how much it weighs right now. "When we do the ultrasound, we ask the girl how she's feeling," Wilson explains. "I ask what she would like to put on the picture for her baby book. One girl put ANGEL. Some put the name they've picked out for the baby." She points to the translucent image on the screen. "One put LITTLE MIRACLE!!!!"

This bright new examining room is as good a place as any to study the anatomy and evolution of attitudes about abortion. About half of American women will face an unplanned pregnancy, according to the nonprofit Guttmacher Institute, and at current rates more than one-third will have an abortion by the time they are 45. Since Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in 1973, no other issue has so contorted U.S. politics or confounded values. When does life begin? Who should decide? And is there anything that can be agreed on to make the hard choices less painful? Much of the antiabortion movement remains focused on changing laws, tightening restrictions one by one, state by state. But Wood and her team talk of changing hearts. They are part of a whole other strategy that is more personal and more pastoral, although to some people it's every bit as controversial.

It's easy to support the goal: helping women facing an unplanned pregnancy. What critics challenge are the means, the information these centers give, the methods they use and the costs they ignore. Even among pro-life activists, there's an argument about emphasis: Do you focus on fear and guilt, to make choosing an abortion harder, or on hope and support, to make "choosing life" easier? Either way, the pregnancy-center movement takes the fight over abortion deep inside some of the most intimate conversations a woman ever has.

Crisis pregnancy centers (CPCS, now often called pregnancy resource centers) have been around for a few decades, but the Bush Administration has made them a centerpiece of compassionate conservatism, a signal to members of the President's evangelical base that he shares their values. But as a new presidential race looms, the signals may be shifting, the rancor of the public fight fading. Hillary Clinton has called abortion "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women" and talks about improving education and access to birth control so that abortion becomes a right most women never have to exercise. On the Republican side, Rudy Giuliani is pro-choice, Mitt Romney used to be, and John McCain's pro-life record doesn't keep social conservatives from viewing him with some suspicion. Other issues, whether war and peace or gay marriage and stem cells, may be the prime motivators in this election; and in the meantime, pro-choice Democrats are back in control of Congress. "The power change in Washington highlights the increasingly strategic role pregnancy centers play in the pro-life movement," says Kurt Entsminger, president of Care Net, the largest pregnancy-center network. With abortion-rights advocates now in leadership positions, "pro-life legislative advances will inevitably be shut down."

The centers are typically Christian charities, often under the umbrella of one of three national groups: Care Net, Heartbeat International and the U.S. National Institute of Family and Life Advocates. No one can say precisely how many pregnancy centers there are, since some aren't affiliated with any national group. Care Net puts the figure at around 2,300, though that does not include traditional maternity homes, adoption agencies or Catholic Charities. Care Net and Heartbeat International also operate Option Line, a 24/7 call center based in Columbus, Ohio, that women can contact for information and referral to a CPC near them. Last year Care Net spent $4 million on marketing, including more than $2 million on billboards alone (PREGNANT AND SCARED? 1-800-395-HELP. WE'RE HERE 24/7). The Internet has become a tool for outreach as well. Care Net has got into bidding wars with abortion providers over who would receive top placement in the sponsored-links sections on Yahoo! and Google when someone searches for abortion.

In the past 10 years, as public funding for family planning has stalled, unplanned pregnancy rates have jumped 29% among poor women; they are now more than four times as likely to have abortions as richer ones. Pregnancy centers offer everything from emergency food and formula to strollers and baby clothes to help with the month's rent. "We're willing to offer $200, $300, $400 on the spot, no strings attached," says Pat Foley, who runs the Wakota Life Care Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. "No life should end because of money." While no one disagrees with that, some do wonder how much help will be available for these families in the years to come, with school, housing and health care, since according to the Guttmacher Institute, 3 out of 4 women contemplating abortion cite economic pressure as a reason.

The latest trend is to convert pregnancy centers into health clinics that offer free pregnancy tests, ultrasounds and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. What they will not offer is referral for birth control. Married clients wanting information on contraception are referred to their own doctor or pastor. But, as Wood explains, most clients are unmarried, and "the Bible clearly states that sex outside of marriage is against God's will for our lives."

That alone is enough to discredit the centers in the eyes of many pro-choice groups, which have always argued that the best way to prevent abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. They are hoping that with the Democrats in control of Congress, legislation like the Prevention First Act will reduce the need for abortions by promoting comprehensive sex education and expanding access to contraception. At Planned Parenthood clinics, fewer than 1 in 10 clients is there for an abortion; the vast majority are there for birth control and reproductive health care (98% of American women have used contraception at some point in their lives). But because promoting abstinence before marriage is a part of the CPC mission, centers are eligible for federal abstinence-education grants, which in some cases have instantly doubled or tripled their budgets. In 2005, roughly 13% of Care Net affiliates got state or federal money; their average budget was $155,000.

The growth in the movement has raised other alarms with pro-choice groups. They point out that while counselors at crisis pregnancy centers lay out the physical and psychological risks associated with abortion, they don't mention that the risk of death in childbirth is 12 times as high and that many women who get abortions experience only relief. Both sides talk about the importance of complete information and informed consent, then argue over what that means. Each side challenges the other's motives: pro-life activists say abortionists are in business for the money and don't care about women; pro-choice advocates counter that crisis pregnancy centers are in the business for the ideology and don't care about women either.

The movement toward "medicalizing" the centers particularly concerns groups like Planned Parenthood that define their mission as offering the most accurate information about the most complete range of reproductive options. The motive behind offering free ultrasounds, which would typically cost at least $100, is more emotional than medical, critics argue, and having them performed by people with limited training and moral agendas poses all kinds of hazards. "What is really tragic to me is that a woman goes into a center looking for information, looking to be able to make a better, healthy choice, and she doesn't get all the facts," argues Christopher Hollis, Planned Parenthood's vice president for governmental and political affairs in North Carolina. "That's taking someone's life and playing a really dangerous game with it."

There's such momentum behind the CPC movement that abortion-rights groups have begun to fight back. Last summer the U.S. National Abortion Federation published a study on the centers subtitled An Affront to Choice, which charged them with marketing themselves so that women looking for a full-service health clinic might mistakenly go to a CPC instead and be "harassed, bullied and given blatantly false information." It accused centers of focusing on women's needs through the first two trimesters but then abandoning them once obtaining an abortion becomes much more difficult. Los Angeles Democrat Henry Waxman, now chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, investigated federally funded CPCs, using callers posing as pregnant 17-year-olds. The investigators reported that 20 of 23 centers they reached provided "false or misleading information about the health effects of abortion," inflating the risk of breast cancer, infertility, depression and suicide.

The heat of the national battle, however, doesn't capture what is happening on the front lines. In North Carolina, Abortion Clinics OnLine lists eight abortion providers, but the state has more than 70 pregnancy centers. NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina was so concerned about their practices that it recruited volunteers to call centers and record the information they were given. NARAL reported that in the course of promoting abstinence, a counselor told an investigator that "all condoms are defective and have slots and holes in them." Another warned that "9 out of 10 couples that go through an abortion split up."

Wood hears these stories of undercover reconnaissance missions and just shakes her head. "It's about discrediting our centers," she says flatly, but she welcomes anyone who wants to call hers. Everyone gets the same information, and she's confident that it's accurate: "They can come after us all they want--it won't change what we're trying to do." What they're trying to do, she says, is prevent a frightened pregnant woman from making a rash decision that she may come to regret. You can talk about choice all you like, she argues, but if a woman feels overwhelmed and all alone and thinks she can somehow "turn back the clock like the pregnancy never happened," then she doesn't understand what abortion really entails. "We need to counter the message that abortion won't have any consequences," she says. "That's unrealistic. All decisions have consequences."

She tells her counselors to tread gently. You don't need to lie or bully, she says--just listen and love: "We understand completely that this is her decision." The waiting room is not full of baby pictures, she notes, and the counseling room is no place for political debates. "We don't want a zealot in there," she says. "We want someone who's going in there with a heart and compassion who'll talk reasonably and present the options." And, she adds, she would never, ever show graphic pictures or movies like The Silent Scream, the landmark 1984 video that presents an abortion being performed in which the fetus is portrayed as crying in pain. The women who come through her door, Wood says, "are traumatized enough already. Why would we do that? We're trying to be caretakers. I know how I'd respond if somebody did this in-your-face thing to me. I'd pull back. It's ineffective ... so why do it?"

But pressure can take many forms, and the experience of a NARAL investigator suggests that manipulation may be in the eye of the beholder. Courtney Barbour, an administrative assistant at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, arranged to pick up the urine of a pregnant woman on her way to Birthchoice, a CPC in nearby Raleigh, so she would test positive and see the reaction. Having heard horror stories from friends in college, she was braced for the worst. "But it really wasn't what I expected," Barbour says. "They acted like they really did want to help me." While one woman handled the pregnancy test, Barbour spoke to a counselor who was very sympathetic. "She didn't show me any disgusting movies--though she did show me these plastic models of the fetus at each stage of development--and told me that it has a heartbeat immediately, which I knew medically was not true." The counselor asked about her resources, her family and her intentions. "She didn't actually prod me in any particular direction," Barbour says. "She was just listening to me, nodding her head. She wanted to know if my family was religious, and I told her, well, I don't go to church, but my grandfather was a Methodist minister. She didn't act really judgmental or anything. She did say, 'Well, I bet that your grandfather really would like you to have this baby.'"

Eventually the woman who had done the test reappeared, holding a pair of soft blue, hand-knit baby booties. "Congratulations!" she said. "You're a mother."

How you classify that encounter says a lot about your politics: one person's loving support is another's emotional pressure. "They talk about the joys of childbirth, which can certainly be a joy," says Melissa Reed, executive director of NARAL's North Carolina chapter, "but they can make a woman feel very intimidated about making any other choice in her life." Wood insists that at her center counselors are trained not to push. "We don't hand out baby booties to everyone with a positive pregnancy test," she says. "We don't do emotional blackmail." And her center at least continues to provide support through the first year of a baby's life. But Wood's priority has been to move away from general maternal help and focus on "abortion vulnerable" women, which is to say, any woman facing an unplanned pregnancy who might entertain abortion as an option.

The ultrasound machine arrived at the Asheville center last summer, thanks to funding from Focus on the Family's Option Ultrasound initiative ("Revealing Life, to Save Life"). Nurse Wilson and her colleague Denise Bagby had two weeks of intensive training in "limited obstetrical ultrasound," practicing on pregnant women recruited from local doctors' offices and churches and by word of mouth. They learned how to confirm and date a pregnancy and measure a fetus--but not how to diagnose fetal abnormality. Two medical directors sign off on every report. "We're not giving medical care," Wood insists, although she stresses the value of early ultrasound in helping persuade women to quit smoking, eat better, get prenatal care and come to grips with what is happening inside their bodies. "I can't tell you how many women we see who have had an abortion in the past who all say the same thing," Wood says. "'If only someone had told me. If only I had someone to talk to.'"

And now the conversation gets more complicated, as information and ideology conjoin. If a woman is "abortion minded," Wilson says, "then we go over the medical risks--and there's research for this, even though the other side says there's not." She ticks off grim possibilities with fervor: "The research is that breast cancer is more prevalent. You have the rupture of the uterus. Infection is major. The risk of ectopic pregnancy is greater later on." It is this discussion of risk that most enrages defenders of abortion rights, especially doctors who routinely see terrified women who come in for an abortion after hearing such warnings and ask over and over, "Am I going to die?"

Despite restricted access, abortion remains one of the most common surgical procedures in the U.S. for women and, according to the Guttmacher Institute, fewer than 0.3% of patients experience a complication serious enough to require hospitalization. First-trimester abortions in particular are considered extremely safe. After years of debate about breast cancer and abortion, the U.S. National Cancer Institute in February 2003 gathered the world's leading experts to review the data and assess the risk. They stated that their conclusion that "induced abortion is not associated with an increase in breast cancer risk"was "well established," the institute's highest rating for research findings.

But none of that convinces Wilson. "It's a money issue," she says of the studies rejecting a breast-cancer risk. "The abortion people have a lot of money. If there's a study, I want to know who's sponsoring it because nine times out of 10, it's skewed to the money." It's hard to imagine what it would take--certainly not a ruling from the U.S. National Cancer Institute--to change her mind.

Locals describe Asheville as "half Christian, half New Age," a town where Baptists preach about Jesus' saving grace while mystics talk about the vortex entrance panels tucked in the mountains. There are a great many churches and Presbyterian summer camps here in Billy Graham's backyard, but there is also a lively population of retirees and artists and entrepreneurs opening craft shops and microbreweries. It thinks of itself as a tolerant town--to the point that the only facility in all of western North Carolina that publicly offers abortions is the city's Femcare clinic. It has a fence around it, cameras, alarms and a security guard because it was bombed in 1999 and had its windows shot out in 2003. "It really tested me," says Lorrie, the clinic's sole abortion provider, who, given past threats, prefers that her full name not be used. "If I didn't continue, the place would close. No one wants to go into abortion providing. But it's so important. I know that I'm providing a service to women that no one else will."

Certainly not a crisis pregnancy center, she adds, and her voice takes on a tighter edge. Two days ago, she had a woman come into the clinic who was a wreck. She had seen an ad for a women's health center in Charlotte, which is two hours away, and called saying she wanted an abortion. "They said sure, we can help you," Lorrie says. "They told her she could even come in after hours so she wouldn't miss a day at work. She drove all the way to Charlotte." But when she got there, she realized her mistake. "They showed her pictures of aborted fetuses," Lorrie goes on. "She was a basket case when she got here. They had told her that if she had an abortion, she'd probably never be able to have a child." Now Lorrie is plainly furious. "These [pregnant] women are scared out of their minds," she says. "It doesn't change their minds--it just scares them. It's cruel and un-Christian to lie to patients."

Abortion providers, of course, have been accused of coercion as well, but Lorrie says the last thing she wants to do is perform an abortion on a woman who is confused or ambivalent or being pressured by her parents or boyfriend. If Lorrie senses second thoughts, even at the last minute, she says she refuses to proceed. "This happens at least once a month," Lorrie says. "I don't care if her parents are in the waiting room. It's her decision." In those cases, she points patients to public and private groups that can help with financial, social or emotional support in carrying the pregnancy to term. And she's constantly working to put herself out of business, counseling women about birth control and directing them to a new state program to help pay for it.

Yet Lorrie's primary job makes her a target. The pregnancy-center movement may promote "loving support," but there are still other activists fighting a holy war. She had to call in a fire-department haz-mat team after an envelope arrived claiming to contain anthrax. Her neighbors were sent a newsletter with her picture: "It said, 'This woman is a killer and she lives in your neighborhood,'" Lorrie recalls. Her nurse-midwife Bonnie Frontino discovered her picture on what looked like WANTED posters all around her neighborhood; sheriffs began patrolling the area of her house. "I was really angry, but I was scared also," Frontino says. "You never know who's going to see this and think it's their moral duty to kill us."

That was in the fall of 2002, and given the climate, it's hard to imagine the two sides of the abortion war having anything to say to each other. But Lorrie needed to do something and ended up calling Jeff Hutchinson, senior pastor of Trinity Presbyterian, a theologically conservative church that she knew the lead protester attended. "I said, 'I don't think you know what this member of your congregation is doing, but it's not Christian.'" Hutchinson and some church members agreed to meet Lorrie and her clinic colleagues at the Blue Moon café to have a conversation they thought might happen "only once in a blue moon."

"I thought they might be really defensive or judgmental," Frontino recalls. "The first word out of their mouths was to ask our forgiveness that they hadn't dealt with this sooner. I think we were all surprised." Five years have passed since that initial summit meeting, and against all odds, they are now good friends. The protester has left Hutchinson's church, but no one wanted to stop meeting, because they had found a larger mission. Now they are out to show how people who disagree violently can debate civilly, even lovingly, and find some common ground. They know they won't change one another's core beliefs, but that doesn't mean they haven't changed.

Friends or not, it took a year to come up with a common-ground statement of goals: to decrease abortions, relieve the social and economic conditions that lead women to consider abortion, make adoption easier, condemn violence and keep talking. "One of the principles is the importance of factual information," says Lynn von Unwerth, a nurse at Asheville Planned Parenthood who has been attending the meetings from the start. And then she pauses: "That's something we're still wrestling with."

Hutchinson has wrestled with it himself, as a spiritual matter. "I never would have said that the ends justify the means," he says. "But I know that was in my heart--if lying helps save a baby's life, that glorifies God." He has read some pregnancy-center brochures that he suspects are maybe shading the truth in the name of a larger good. "This whole process has reminded me that Jesus is not a Machiavellian," he says. "It really helps me trust the sovereignty of God. He's in control of who lives and dies. My effort is to serve folks, and the means I use matter. I have to glorify Jesus. The results are in God's hands."

Since Hutchinson's church sponsors the Asheville pregnancy center and the former director goes to Blue Moon meetings, Planned Parenthood's Von Unwerth brought in examples of its literature and argued that some of it was misleading and out of date. She points to one brochure that is still in use called "You're Considering an Abortion: What Can Happen to You?" It warns, "Your next baby will be twice as likely to die in the first few months of life" and "After an abortion you may become sterile." The citations throughout are to journal articles dating back to 1967, with none from the past 20 years. Since that discussion, Wood took over the Asheville center and Hutchinson hopes the topic will be revisited. Wood says she would be glad to meet with the group; she has created a new brochure, but would be prepared to discuss the ones she inherited and still uses. "It's been a real education about the scientific facts and data and who are reliable sources," Hutchinson says. "That gets to the heart of the divide. If we as a society can't agree on who is the gold-standard source of medical information, that just reveals we've really got problems."

But he thinks Asheville's experiment in détente could be a model for any community to follow. He knows there will always be people who think it is wrong even to talk with people they disagree with. The hard-core "Culture-War Christians," he says, "have no interest in finding common ground. Their constituencies don't like it; they won't send in any more money." But that doesn't mean the conversation about all these issues of mind and heart and body are fated to be reduced to a fund-raising tool or political weapon. "The good news is that the Culture-War Christian can actually change because God is alive and can change the heart," Hutchinson says. "I know it. Because I was a Culture-War Christian once myself."

Once you've come to know your adversaries personally, once the cartoon villains are brushed away, the conversation becomes more complicated--and more useful. "When we talk, we really have to examine our own beliefs and why we do what we do," Lorrie says. "Abortion is a reality. For me, I feel it can be a lifesaving choice for a woman. But decreasing abortion is a goal we all strive for." As for Hutchinson, "I still keep the 'choice' of abortion off the menu. But I hadn't thought through how difficult a choice it is. I'd been pretty simplistic. I just think a lot more about the pregnant woman herself now than I had before." On issues of such weight, making the questions harder for people is the first step toward finding some answers.




From this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/17/us/17religion.html?ex=1172379600&en=18217355a1b68311&ei=5059&partner=AOL

Taking the Debate About God Online, and Battling It Out With Videos

By RACHEL MOSTELLER
Published: February 17, 2007

A religious battle is taking place on the Internet, with two very different groups arguing over the existence of God.

It began in December when Brian Flemming, a 40-year-old filmmaker and playwright based in Los Angeles, started the Blasphemy Challenge, asking people to post videos on YouTube denying the existence of God.

In one video, for example, a teenage girl says, “I know that the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ, God, the flying spaghetti monster, pink unicorns, all of these made-up entities do not exist.”

Those who participate at the Flemming site, blasphemychallenge.com, receive a free DVD of the documentary “The God Who Wasn’t There,” which Mr. Flemming wrote, directed and produced. Mr. Flemming, a former evangelical Christian turned atheist, said the DVDs cost him about $25,000. So far, more than 1,000 people have turned on their cameras to deny the existence of God.

The Blasphemy Challenge site advises people how to post their videos on YouTube and how to search for the videos on the YouTube site.

The Flemming Web site so upset Mike Mickey, a 43-year-old police officer from Christiansburg, Va., and Steve Buchanan, a 34-year-old carpenter from Henderson, Ky., that they began Challenge Blasphemy with their own Web site, challengeblasphemy.com. They are asking Christians to “praise the Lord” with their own videos on YouTube.

In one of their videos, another teenage girl says: “I am making this video to tell people that I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He saved me from my sins when I was 8 years old, and I know that he is the living God.”

Referring to those who have denied the existence of God, Mr. Mickey, a Baptist, said, “I pray for their souls’ salvation and that they will repent for what they’ve done.”

In addition to his police job, Mr. Mickey, the married father of three, is also the Web master for RaptureAlert.com, a Web site “sounding the alert that Jesus Christ is coming soon.”

Emily Henochowicz, an 18-year-old who denied God with a wry smile in her video, is among those who find the videos an interesting way to talk through the issues of religion and faith. But others are deeply offended.

“This is a very, very serious situation,” said Denise Gumprecht, a homemaker from Clemmons, N.C., and a participant in Challenge Blasphemy. “We are not dealing with human versus human. It is a spiritual battle.”

The antireligion perspective has been around on the Internet since its beginning, though using YouTube to express such thoughts is new, said Lorne L. Dawson, professor of sociology and religious studies at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo, Ontario, who has studied religion and the Internet.

“To my mind, it is a very unique scheme,” said Dr. Dawson, who identifies himself as an agnostic with a “Buddhist world view.” “In a sense, it is a new twist on a long habit of trolling, baiting and flaming people online and purposely seeking to attract attention and stir up trouble. It is in line with the culture of the Internet and the bad-boy element of the Internet.”

Ms. Henochowicz, who was raised as a Jew, said she began questioning the concepts of God and faith after the death of her grandfather a few years ago. A high school senior, she formerly attended a Hebrew school and prayed to God but felt unclear about what happened to someone after death.

After much consideration, she decided to stop believing in “mysticism,” including God.

Ms. Gumprecht, on the other hand, was raised in a Christian family on Long Island, but said she felt the need in her youth to rebel against her parents’ beliefs.

“I doubted,” she said of her beliefs. “But I came to the realization that this life is not over when you die.”

Mr. Flemming, who says his Web site does not make money, said he started questioning his religious faith during his senior year of high school, when he transferred out of an evangelical school to a secular one.

“Once I started asking questions about Christian doctrine and seeking answers to Christian doctrine, I realized there was no way Christian doctrine could survive,” he said. “I discovered you can’t think your way to Christianity, you have to unthink your way there. Once you start to think about it, you end up not being a Christian.”

“The goal is for us to dump religion from our culture,” he added. “We want to get rid of this supernatural belief in the same way that it would be great if we could dump astrology or phrenology and all of the other pseudosciences.”

Some Blasphemy Challenge participants use profanity while referring to Christianity, others jokingly say they believe in intelligent design.

Some of them, Mr. Mickey contends, have a hatred of religion.

“These guys are malicious and evil towards us,” he said. “They hate Christians with a passion.”

It is the participants who may have made the antireligion videos on a lark who worry Mr. Mickey, who feels that a young person who makes such a video now may choose not to become a Christian later for fear of having committed an unforgivable sin.

For believers like Ms. Gumprecht, whose 16-year-old son said he planned to participate in Challenge Blasphemy, the videos are a chance to share their faith with others.

“We’re challenging them back,” Ms. Gumprecht said. “We are confident in God’s word and we would like to tell others to rethink their position. Despite all this, Jesus has died for them and loves them.”




From this link: http://news.aol.com/topnews/articles/_a/us-beliefs-in-pseudoscience-worry/20070217212109990001?cid=2359

U.S. Beliefs in Pseudoscience Worry Experts
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID
AP

SAN FRANCISCO (Feb. 17) - People in the U.S. know more about basic science today than they did two decades ago, good news that researchers say is tempered by an unsettling growth in the belief in pseudoscience such as astrology and visits by extraterrestrial aliens.

In 1988 only about 10 percent knew enough about science to understand reports in major newspapers, a figure that grew to 28 percent by 2005, according to Jon D. Miller, a Michigan State University professor. He presented his findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The improvement largely reflects the requirement that all college students have at least some science courses, Miller said. This way, they can better keep up with new developments through the media.

A panel of researchers expressed concern that people are giving increasing credence to pseudoscience such as the visits of space aliens, lucky numbers and horoscopes.

In addition, these researchers noted an increase in college students who report they are "unsure" about creationism as compared with evolution.

More recent generations know more factual material about science, said Carol Susan Losh, an associate professor at Florida State University. But, she said, when it comes to pseudoscience, "the news is not good."

One problem, she said, is that pseudoscience can speak to the meaning of life in ways that science does not.

For example, for many women having a good life still depends on whom they marry, she said.

"What does astrology speak to? Love relationships," Losh said, noting that belief in horoscopes is much higher among women than men.

The disclosure that former first lady Nancy Reagan consulted an astrologer resulted in widespread derision in the media, but few younger people remember that episode today, she said.

Miller said most readers of horoscopes are women, contributing to the listing of "female" as a leading negative factor in science literacy. Women also tended to take fewer college science courses, he said.

Belief in abduction by space aliens is also on the rise, Losh said.

"It's not surprising that the generation that grew up on `Twilight Zone' and early `Star Trek' television endorsed a link between UFOs and alien spacecraft," she said.

Pseudoscience discussion is often absent from the classroom, Losh said, so "we have basically left it up to the media."

The share that believed aliens had visited Earth fell from 25 percent in 1983 to 15 percent in 2006. There was also a decline in belief in "Bigfoot" and in whether psychics can predict the future.

But there also has been a drop in the number of people who believe evolution correctly explains the development of life on Earth and an increase in those who believe mankind was created about 10,000 years ago.

Miller said a second major negative factor to scientific literacy was religious fundamentalism and aging.

Having taken college science courses was a strong positive influence, followed by overall education and informal science learning through the media. Having children at home also resulted in adults being more scientifically informed, he said.

Nick Allum of the University of Surry in England suggested belief in astrology might be a simple misunderstanding of the question, with people confusing astrology with astronomy.

In one European study about 25 percent of people said they thought astrology was very scientific. But when the question was rephrased to horoscopes that fell to about 7 percent.


Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. The information contained in the AP news report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed without the prior written authority of The Associated Press. All active hyperlinks have been inserted by AOL.
2007-02-17 21:22:29




From this link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/in_depth/6369529.stm

Poll sees hope in West-Islam ties
Radical groups on both sides are blamed for fuelling conflicts

Most people believe common ground exists between the West and the Islamic world despite current global tensions, a BBC World Service poll suggests.

In a survey of people in 27 countries, an average of 56% said they saw positive links between the cultures.

Yet 28% of respondents told questioners that violent conflict was inevitable.

Asked twice about the existing causes of friction, 52% said they were a result of political disputes and 58% said minority groups stoked tensions.

Only in one country, Nigeria, where Christian and Muslim groups often clash violently, did a majority of those polled (56%) cite religious and cultural differences between communities as the root cause of conflict.

Doug Miller, president of polling company Globescan, said the results suggested that the world was not heading towards an inevitable and wide-ranging "clash of civilisations".

"Most people feel this is about political power and interests, not religion and culture," he said.

"It is worth noting that most victims of Islamic intolerance and terrorism are Muslims themselves."

- Anon, UK

He pointed to the polarisation of communities in Nigeria as a warning sign to others, but hailed the results from Lebanon, a country frequently caught up in conflicts.

Some 78% of Lebanese strongly believed West-East tensions were politically motivated, while 68% felt common ground could be found between the West and the Islamic world.

The BBC poll asked approximately 1,000 people in each of 27 countries three questions about their interpretation of the world they live in.

Most expressed the belief that ongoing clashes could be resolved without violent conflict.

"Twice as many people believe common ground can be found. There are real opportunities for peacemakers here."

- Doug Miller
President, Globescan
Indonesia, home to the world's largest Muslim population, was the only nation where most people (51%) said violence was inevitable.

But the results showed that a significant minority of those polled appeared pessimistic about the future.

"There is clearly pessimism about the inevitability of events," Mr Miller added.

"But twice as many people believe common ground can be found. There are real opportunities for peacemakers here."

The most positive respondents came from Western nations, with 78% of Italians, 77% of Britons and 73% of Canadians saying it is possible to find common ground.

Many blamed intolerant minorities for fuelling disputes and disagreements.

Some 39% of all respondents said minorities on both sides were to blame.

Just 12% said mainly Muslim minorities were to blame, and only 7% pointed the finger at Western fringe groups.


VIEWS OF RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUSLIM AND WESTERN CULTURES

(left) Can find common ground (right) Violent conflict inevitable

France 69% 23%
Germany 49% 39%
Great Britain 77% 15%
India 35% 24%
Indonesia 40% 51%
Italy 78% 14%
Kenya 46% 35%
Lebanon 68% 26%
Nigeria 53% 37%
Russia 49% 23%
Turkey 49% 29%
US 64% 31%

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