Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Year in Religion

One of the biggest religious stories of 2007 was the fact that religion itself came under attack. A number of books were written that took religion to task for the harm that is has created historically and the way that it at times impedes social progress today. Many of the accusations are well-deserved as religious fanaticism has indeed led to bloodshed and repression in some parts of the world. Ideologues will always fight not relent and religion certainly is apt to create ideologues. But then, the stubbornness of the new atheists has likewise contributed to the lack of dialog about the clash of philosophies. Public opinion seems to be moving away from the church. Recent research by the Barna group regarding the opinions of American young people about religion was published in a book with a succinct title that names that opinion, “Unchristian.” The good news is that this could be an opportunity for reform if the church can do the difficult work of listening to the outside detractors.

The culture war continued to rage with religious folks involved in both public battles and internal disputes. The Anglican fellowship in the world saw divisions over the issue of homosexuality, with some American churches leaving their local fellowship to join with like-minded churches in Africa. In an effort to maintain some unity worldwide, those who accept the ordination of homosexuals have been asked to stop the practice. Religious voices were raised on both sides of the issue of legalizing same-sex marriage with Massachusetts continuing to permit it while many states moved to explicitly restrict it. On this issue, the year did not produce any signs of promise for dialog.

On a brighter note, there seemed to be some movement this year in the area of care of the environment as a religious issue. Despite the objections of some Evangelicals, a good number of others chose to publish a letter that called for action to slow global warming. Environmental issues present an opportunity for people of all faith traditions to find some common ground for action. We have witnessed the first steps this year.

The most encouraging dialog that was begun this year was that between Muslims and Christians. If nothing is done to reverse the trend toward conflict between these two cultures over half the world's population could potentially become embroiled in violent conflict. Considering the powers involved it is no overstatement to talk about the end of the world. The dialog that has begun centers on two tenets basic to each faith, love of God and care for neighbor. As we end one year and pray for peace in the next, we should cherish this important step and work to continue the progress begun.

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