Monday, April 30, 2012

The Bible's Importance in American Society

Just spotted this interesting article by Lamar Vest at FoxNews today (emphasis added) --

Does the Bible still matter in 2012?

After all the very visible fighting about public displays of religious symbols— from 10 Commandments plaques to graveyard crosses to faith-themed war memorials to holiday manger displays—you might have developed the impression that most Americans don’t think the Bible matters today and they like it that way.

You’d be wrong.

There is a lot of speculation about both the current role and the appropriate role of the Bible in America. But each year, American Bible Society puts the guessing aside and asks a sampling of Americans to tell us how they view and use the Bible and what they believe its role should be in America.  Recently, American Bible Society released this year’s results from that research in the 2012 State of the Bible report.

The State of the Bible in America in 2012 can be summed up in a two words: encouraging and unsettling.

The research, commissioned by American Bible Society and conducted by Barna Research, found that the majority of Americans (69%) believe the Bible provides answers on how to live a meaningful life. But while 79% believe they are knowledgeable about the Bible, 54% were unable to correctly identify the first five books of the Bible.  And approximately half of Americans surveyed didn’t know the fundamental differences between the teachings of the Bible, Koran and Book of Mormon, with 46% percent saying they believe all three books teach the same spiritual truths.
While nearly half of Americans (47%) believe the Bible has too little influence in society—a far cry from the anti-faith picture often painted in culture—approximately half (46%) say they read the Bible no more than once or twice a year.

What The State of the Bible report also confirmed is that the lack of engagement with the Bible among Americans isn’t caused by a lack of access to it. Here in the United States, 85% of households own a Bible. Actually, most families own more than one, with a household average of 4.3 Bibles.

Looking more closely at the data, something really interesting emerges. When we examine responses to the question “Do you believe the Bible contains everything a person needs to live a meaningful life?”, we find that older respondents agreed at a much higher rate than did younger respondents. While 61% of those surveyed between ages 18-27 agreed, those 47 years and older agreed at a rate of 75%.

Before you assert that older people are just naturally more traditional, remember that the older group is made up of the Woodstock generation, free-love ‘70s kids and the MTV generation. The data seems to say that the older you are, the more likely you are to value the Bible. Maybe it’s that our own life experiences prove the value of the Bible’s wisdom?

There is no doubt that the findings in The State of the Bible lead to some obvious questions. For instance…

- If Americans believe in the value of reading and applying the Bible, why don’t more of us do so?

- If we believe that the Bible has the right amount of—or too little—influence in society, why is so much negative attention given to expressions of the faith in the God of the Bible?

When survey participants were asked what frustrated them most about reading the Bible, the most oft-cited response was that they “never had enough time to read it.” The busy-ness of our lives often make it difficult for us to follow through on what we say we value. Another reason I often hear from non-Bible readers is that they find the sheer size of the Bible to be overwhelming.

So where does someone start who wants to be a Bible reader but doesn’t have a lot of time? A good place to begin is with the “Essential 100.”  This list of 100 key verses and related stories do not contain everything the Bible has to say.  What it does provide is a concise way to understand the bigger arc of the Bible without getting bogged down. For all of those who wonder what the Bible is really all about, The Essential 100 (available at is a great starting point.

So is the Bible really relevant in 2012? You won’t know until you read it.
Some good advice there for those of us who find squeezing time into our day for Bible study tough.  Some other suggestions:
- Find yourself a good translation, and a Bible with notes throughout can not only help you understand, but will also offer insights and perspectives you might not have considered.  
- If you are already fairly familiar with the Bible, maybe choosing an unfamiliar translation might cause you to receive and digest the Word in a new way.  Familiarity can lead to boredom. 
- Luckily, for the techies there are a lot of useful websites, podcasts and tools to help us do just that.  I will be adding some info to the side margins.  In the meantime, check out Google for websites and iTunes for podcasts and apps.
But, let us not forget that PRIORITY is the ultimate "app" in helping us with the time issue.  We make time for what really matters.  I have been guilty of not prioritizing; but, of late I've been meeting with greater success since I started a "through-the-bible-in-a-year" initiative at the start of the New Year,.  I am still on track and have found the 20 minutes or so to be very beneficial -- I feel my "little flicker o' faith" starting to be more of a flame.  

Now, do NOT think you have to devote that much time.  We all know that new habits are hard to form, so be reasonable in any new routine you try to establish.  Even just a few minutes in focused contemplation with God's Word will help, and that is a far more manageable and attainable strategy than thinking you have to go for long stretches of time each day.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Friday, April 6, 2012

Anti-Christian Sentiment in Europe on Rise

Having been to Europe numerous times, over the years I have personally noted the slow death of Christianity there.  Low church attendance gives witness to the sad legacy of the religious wars that took place.  One needs to also remember that the many differing denominations in the Americas were brought about by our ancestors escaping the warring in Europe, fleeing to this continent in order to be able to practice their beliefs freely and safely.

But, how sad to see that now there is a growing wave of anti-Christian sentiments on the continent where the Reformation was born.  This from Kevin Jones of The Catholic News Agency (emphasis added):
Report on Europe finds 'numerous' anti-Christian actions, crimes

.- A new report says that 85 percent of hate crimes committed in Europe during 2011 were aimed at Christians.

The report, from the Austria-based Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination Against Christians in Europe, summarized incidents ranging from vandalism and insults to the suppression of religious symbols, desecrations, “hate crimes” and religiously motivated violence.

Dr. Gudrun Kugler, director of the observatory, said studies suggest that 85 percent of hate crimes in Europe are directed against Christians.

“It is high time for the public debate to respond to this reality!” Kugler said.

In Scotland, 95 percent of religiously motivated violence targets Christians. In France, 84 percent of vandalism is directed against Christian places of worship.

The observatory has also monitored professional restrictions on Christians. A restrictive definition of freedom of conscience means that professions such as magistrates, doctors, nurses, midwives and pharmacists are “slowly closing for Christians.”

Teachers and parents “get into trouble” when they disagree with state-defined sexual ethics, the report said.

One survey in the U.K. indicates popular perception agrees. Seventy-four percent of poll respondents said that there is more negative discrimination against Christians than people of other faiths.

The observatory intends to monitor both the social marginalization of Christians and the denial of their equal rights.

Catholic Bishop AndrĂ¡s Veres of Szombathely, Hungary, reacted to the report March 19.

“The bishops in Europe are particularly conscious of these manifestations of religious discrimination and intolerance which actually confirm how some values and fundamental rights proper to Europe, such as freedom of religion and the legal recognition of our Churches, are far from being an established reality in some nations of the continent,” said the bishop, who follows the observatory’s activities under a mandate from the Council of the Episcopal Conferences of Europe.

He characterized the report as an invitation for all Christians who have experienced discrimination or intolerance because of their religious beliefs to “step out from anonymity and be courageous.”

The observatory’s report said that the anti-Christian actions are technically “a form of persecution,” but it advised against labeling them as that in Europe to prevent confusion with anti-Christian crimes in other countries.

The report also lamented stereotypes and prejudices in public discussion about religion, such as the instantaneous and incorrect labeling of Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik as a fundamentalist Christian.

The observatory also noted positive developments.

“We were pleased to note that many who have focused exclusively on third world countries that demonstrated outright persecution, are beginning to notice that the marginalization and restriction of rights and freedoms of Christians in Europe are also of concern and deserves our attention,” Kugler said in the report’s introduction.

Among the highlights for 2011 were a resolution in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that encouraged public debate on anti-Christian issues and a reassessment of legislation with the potential for negative effects on Christians.

Another was the European Court of Human Rights to overturn a court decision against crucifixes in state school classrooms in Italy.

In January 2012, the Spanish government stopped a compulsory education class which drew objections from 55,000 parents, including many Christians.

The observatory stressed the religious freedom rights of both individuals and religious communities. Religion is a “valuable asset” for society that encourages healthy life and contributions to the common good, it said.

Bishop Veres encouraged religious believers to live their faith.

“(B)elieving in God must not be perceived as a fault or sign of weakness,” he said. “Living and witnessing to one’s own religious creed in respect for the freedom and sensitivity of others can only be beneficial for everyone, believers or non-believers, Christians or non-Christians.”

The bishops of Europe support those whose rights are not respected. Religious freedom is a “valuable good” that continues as a “pillar of peace on our continent,” the bishop said.
Hmmmm ... seems the anti-christian tide might be turning in Europe.  Maybe the PC-adherents are finally beginning to turn recognize their own hypocritical, hate-filled rhetoric.  Is there hope, then, that the tide will also turn here?

Good Friday: Cubans Observe Good Friday Today

How wonderful to hear that the Cuban government, in a gesture of good will, has granted Pope Benedict's recent request to allow Cubans to observe Good Friday.  This from the BBC --

Communist Cuba marks Good Friday with public holiday

Communist Cuba is marking Easter with a public holiday on Good Friday, for the first time in decades.

This follows Pope Benedict's visit to the country last week, where he requested the move.
Religious holidays in Cuba were cancelled after the 1959 revolution, and fewer than 10% of Cubans are practising Catholics.

Nonetheless, the Church is the most influential organisation outside the Communist government.
The Cuban government said it granted the request as a mark of respect, and to commemorate the "transcendental nature" of the pope's visit.

Live service
The Pope's predecessor, John Paul II, made a similar request during the last papal visit to Cuba in 1998, successfully persuading then-leader Fidel Castro to recognise Christmas as a public holiday.
A service at Havana Cathedral will be broadcast live on Cuban television, indicating the improving relations between the Church and the government, says BBC Havana correspondent Sarah Rainsford.
Religious or not, Cubans have welcomed the day off, and hope that the change will be permanent, our correspondent says.

Some described it as a sign that Cuba was opening up to the world.

"I think almost all Cubans think it's a very good idea," one told the BBC.

The holiday has only been declared for this year, but the government says it will take a decision later on whether to make it permanent.
Let us be sure to include Cuba this day in our Good Friday prayers ... that the Holy Spirit would continue His work among the Cuban people and government.  "Lord, we thank you for your work in Cuba among Your children.  Continue to bless the faithful with courage and devotion.  Stir up a wind of true liberation, creating new believers and freeing them from the shackles of atheism, communism, and/or paganism.  We thank and praise You for the ongoing redemptive work wrought through the sacrifice of your precious Son, and it is in His name we ask these things.  Amen!"