Saturday, September 29, 2007

Lee Strobel Comes To Columbia

Lee Strobel returned to his Alma Mater this week for a visit and a couple lectures. Wednesday he spoke at one of the local churches in what was billed a "public" talk, but I had choir practice that evening. Thursday's engagement was in the Hearnes Center (the erstwhile basketball arena) and was billed as a "student event". I look a little old to pass for a student, but I decided to go anyway.

I'm glad I did. The crowd was quite large -- well in excess of 1000, I'd say -- and consisted of about half students and half community. Strobel's latest book, The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ, was available for $15, so I bought a copy and leafed through it while waiting for the talk to begin.

The lecture was less of a book promotion than a personal reflection on Lee Strobel's journey to faith. This journey passed through atheism, anger, and drunkenness, but he did not dwell overly long on this, nor did he provide us with "too much information". In addition to his degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, he earned a degree from Yale Law School -- a combination that provided impeccable credentials as a skeptic. It also provided him with a penchant for getting to the facts, which served him well as he was challenged by his wife's conversion to Christianity. The changes he saw in her prompted him to begin a search for the truth about Jesus.

In his search, he found that it all boiled down to two questions:
  1. Did Jesus claim to be the Son of God?
  2. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
The first question is dealt with by reading and understanding the plain sense of Scripture. When Jesus said "I and the Father are one" (John 10:30) he used a word that means "of the same nature" or "equal". If that is not enough, this elicited a rapid and violent reaction from the crowd, who picked up stones in order to carry out the prescribed penalty for blasphemy. There are a number of other Biblical references to Jesus claiming to be God's son..

The second question took a little longer to resolve. Strobel used five lines of evidence (the five "E's":
  • The Execution -- The medical accounts of crucifixion reveal that the cause of death is suffocation due the way the victim hung mainly by his or her outstretched arms. The only relief was to push oneself up with the feet -- which were nailed to the upright beam. The Roman soldiers, who were very good at their job, would eventually break the legs of those who were still alive. Since they thought Jesus to be already dead, a spear was thrust between his ribs. The executioners were satisfied. Secular sources, including Josephus, support this account. The Talmud mentions the crucifixion.
  • The Early Accounts -- The Gospels' descriptions of the event along with the post-resurrection appearances suggest that people accepted the events as described. Were they a local legend that took on a life of its own? Not likely. According to those who study the development of legends, such phenomena do not arise as quickly as the Gospel accounts demonstrate. Where was the body? All the authorities had to do was produce the body, yet they failed to do so, even though a cover story was concocted.
  • The Empty Tomb -- The tomb was sealed and guarded, yet the tomb was empty two mornings later. Here Strobel invokes the "criterion of embarrassment" -- The Gospel accounts do not portray any of the disciples in a particularly good light. While they were in hiding, the women went to the tomb following the end of the sabbath and found it empty. When they told the disciples, they were unwilling at first to believe them. The Gospel writers told the story as they saw and believed it, even if the menfolk were embarrassed by their timidity.
  • The Eyewitnesses -- Paul describes over 500 people who saw the risen Lord, including many who were still alive (20+ years following the resurrection?). Strobel holds that the scholarly consensus is that the disciples and others understood that Jesus rose from the dead, and the contemporary accounts support that. Mass hallucination? Mental health professionals point out that hallucination is an individual thing, not a shared experience. What about wishful thinking leading to self-delusion? Did Paul, who was traveling around organizing persecutions, desire to see a risen Jesus? Yet he had an extraordinary encounter on the road to Damascus.
  • The Emergence of the Church -- How and why did the Church "explode" into existence in an atmosphere of repression. It is even more astounding that this rapid growth was led by people who had cowered in fear until after the resurrection, including one who lied three times about his relationship with Jesus. The eleven remaining disciples KNEW the truth and most of them died violently for their faith.
At some point in this journey, Strobel found that it took more faith to remain an atheist than to accept that Jesus was who he said he was. He zeroed in on what Paul saw as the logical key to his faith:
1Co 15:12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.
Another way to put this is that theology matters. The Resurrection is an essential of our faith, and cannot be explained or negotiated away.

Toward the end of his talk, he told a moving story about his daughter, then 5, who had known only the old Lee Strobel. It was not long before she wanted whatever her daddy had gotten that made such a change in him.

Strobel said little that was totally unfamiliar to me, but his synthesis of many lines of evidence taken together provides a powerful testimony and one that has broadened my knowledge of apologetics. In this age when there is a proliferation of books written by atheists who preach their faith* with evangelistic fervor, it is refreshing to see Lee Strobel's intellectually honesty and willingness to let his assumptions be challenged.

*I'm not trying to be cute here. It takes a great deal of faith to be an atheist for the simple reason that it is logically impossible to prove a negative. The non-existence of God is a step of faith, wrong though it may be. Perhaps this why such former atheists as C.S. Lewis, Francis Collins, and Lee Strobel make such strong Christians -- they already know what faith is.

Friday, September 28, 2007

PC(USA) - Research Services - Comparative Statistics 2006

PC(USA) - Research Services - Comparative Statistics 2006:
"... Comparative Statistics 2006 is an opportunity for each of us to see what others are doing. It offers tough reality testing, which may not be comfortable for congregations (or anyone) to do. Of course, statistics do not constitute the total reality, sometimes not even the most important part. But these numbers do provide a variety of windows on church, where money or members or modes of leadership can be compared within and among particular populations. ..."
For those who want statistics, this article points to a series of PDF files that paint a picture of the PC(USA) and its overall decline in numbers. This annual decline seems to have accelerated from about 1% in the mid 1990s t0 around a 2% yearly loss since 2003.

The introduction ends with a statement that "... It is not a question of what Presbyterians are doing wrong, but rather what are others doing right. ..." While this may sound comforting, there are a not insignificant number of loyal Presbyterians who believe that there are systemic flaws in the way the PC(USA) operates, and these need to be acknowledged and addressed. It will do us little good to revamp our worship and Christian education offerings if we can't attract the young families who are crucial to a growing Church.

On the upside, both contributions per member and percentage of the budget allocated for local mission and program are both up significantly.

These reports do not deal with individual congregations, except a list of the 15 largest congregations in the PC(USA). There are, to be sure, congregations that are growing, and these would be a logical resource for ideas on what works in a Reformed context.

We should be willing and able to fix what needs to be fixed, learn from other Christian bodies what needs to be learned, and above all remember Who it is that calls us all together as a Church.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Worship Goes Big-Screen and Hi-Fi, With Direct-Deposit Tithing -

Worship Goes Big-Screen and Hi-Fi, With Direct-Deposit Tithing -
"... The stepped-up use of technology has changed the way people worship in a way that some parishioners and experts like and others don't.

'I think God would be pleased with this,' said the Rev. Grainger Browning Jr., pastor of the 10,000-member Ebenezer AME Church in Fort Washington. 'I don't think that God would want us to try to evangelize like Jesus did 2,000 years ago.'

Or would he? Critics of high-tech churches contend that the big screens, flickering lights and Internet take away from the traditional atmosphere. They also say that some churches are using so much high technology that they look and feel more like entertainment venues than houses of worship.

'I feel like it's too much and it takes over the worship,' said the Rev. Dorothy LaPenta, pastor of the 150-member Hope Presbyterian Church in Mitchellville. 'People will just be sitting there, their eyes fixated on the screen. They're waiting to be given something instead of participating.' ..."
This is a local story in Northern Virginia and Maryland, but it describes a phenomenon that is common throughout the country. Personally, I appreciate how technology can facilitate communication, but there can be no substitute for a handshake, eye contact, and a friendly greeting in Christian fellowship.

Technology is a tool -- nothing more -- and some churches are starting to realize that focusing on the delivery can obscure the message.

This reminds me of my days as a graduate student when I used the single departmental Apple II Plus computer with 48K of memory and a program called EasyWriter to write out answers (more like 10 page papers) for a qualifying examination. I printed it out on an Epson MX-80 dot matrix printer using bold and italics where appropriate. The few grad students who were doing this caused a stir among the faculty, most of whom were were awe-struck at the appearance of the final product. Within ten years, Laser printers with multiple fonts and text effects became common and it seemed that we were in an era where presentation had overshadowed content. Style had become more important than substance.

Are we going through such a phase with technology-driven worship? Eventually printer technology became so ubiquitous that substance could once again take its proper place. I have no doubt that should this be a problem in worship that it, too, will resolve itself.

Spiritual hunger will always need to be addressed, and like physical hunger, will we go for empty calories or will we look for nourishment? Technology can be an important help to getting the message across, but when it morphs from a servant to our master, then we have forgotten who our Master really is. A’s played last KC game 40 years ago A’s played last KC game 40 years ago:
"Forty years ago tonight, a young Jim Hunter — the fans called him Catfish — was in the zone. Bottom of the ninth, two outs. The frustrated White Sox had managed just three hits and no runs.

Was it heat? A change-up? Whatever: Chicago first baseman Tom McCraw liked what he saw and took a hack at Hunter’s offering.

Pop-up, foul territory. The game, second of a doubleheader at Municipal Stadium, 22nd and Brooklyn, was over.

McCraw and his teammates left the diamond disgusted. Losing both games to the lowly Kansas City Athletics all but eliminated them from the 1967 pennant race.

Hunter and his teammates walked from the chilly night air into a different kind of immortality: It was the last game the Kansas City A’s would ever play in Kansas City."
Forty years may seem a long time, and there is a whole generation of Kansas City Royals fans who have only a vague idea, if any, that the Oakland A's were ever in Kansas City. (I can't remember hearing them called anything but the Kansas City Athletics; did the "A's" moniker come later?) But the fact remains that the Oakland team is perhaps the one team most disliked by the folks in Kansas City.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Denver Post - Study: College campuses may nurture faith

The Denver Post - Study: College campuses may nurture faith:
"For any who think that the university is hostile territory to religion, there is new evidence that Jesus is still a big man on campus.

A University of Texas study released over the summer found that higher education is not the secularizing influence many Christians suspect it to be.

Texas researchers found that college students were less likely to lose their religion than others in their age group, 18 to 25 years old."
This study also suggested that the workplace is significantly more hostile to religion.

Lee Strobel is quoted in the Denver Post article as saying that the perception that college will challenge one's faith has lead to apologetics (the discipline of defending faith) being one of the fastest growing areas of religious study. Strobel's opinion is that faith grows when challenged.

So why the discrepancy between the perception that colleges and universities are destroyers of faith and the data that are being reported here? The article points out that the percentage of atheists and agnostics teaching in higher education is about three times tat of the population at large, so there are definite challenges to be met. Perhaps students expect to be challenged, and start asking themselves the questions first, and thus are prepared when they meet resistance.

Perhaps Strobel has a point here -- a faith that is challenged becomes stronger.

Ueker, JE; MD Regnerus; and ML Vaaler. 2007. Losing My Religion: The Social Forces of Religious Decline in Early Adulthood. Social Forces 85:4

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Stem Cells From Testes Produce Wide Range of Tissue Types -

Stem Cells From Testes Produce Wide Range of Tissue Types -
"WEDNESDAY, Sept. 19 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers say they've successfully reprogrammed adult stem cells from the testes of male mice into a wide variety of cell types, including functional blood vessels, contractile cardiac tissue, and brain cells.

If the same can be done with adult testes stem cells from humans, they may offer a source of new therapies to treat men with health problems such as heart disease, vascular diseases, diabetes, stroke, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and even cancer, the researchers said."
Not only does this avoid the ethical pitfalls of embryonic stem cell harvesting, at least as far as males are concerned, it becomes possible for patients to be their own donors.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Talk Like a Pirate Day

From the International Talk Like A Pirate Day website:
"Why is this day different from all others?

Why do we need an International Talk Like a Pirate Day?

Make no mistake. We do. But it's a little hard to articulate why, especially when you've made the mistake of referring to your wife as a scurvy bilge rat and tried to order her back into the galley.

Talking like a pirate is fun. It's really that simple."
For those who feel a little whimsical, today in the annual Talk Like A Pirate day, celebrated on September 19th. The idea was cooked up in 1995 by some men playing racquetball, who started calling out encouragements to each other in pirate slang. In 2002 Dave Barry caught wind of it and since then it has taken on a life of its own. It certainly is a fun way to spend a day at work.

The page I linked to has a pirate dictionary and a sampling of pirate pick-up lines, most of which I would not repeat here.

Anyway, it's down to the server room -- I mean the bilge -- to swab the decks. Otherwise I'll be walkin' the plank. Arrrrrr.

This is Graybeard, downing the rest of his grog* and moving right smartly to his duties.
* well, not exactly... It does sound better than "shade-grown Guatemala coffee."

Friday, September 14, 2007

Tour of Missouri 2007

The Tour of Missouri was scheduled to pass beside my building at around 3:30, so as soon as the webcam showed that they were two miles out, I went down to the corner and waited. With a little forethought I could have had my 6.2 megapixel Nikon with zoom lens at work with me, but I had to settle for my 1.2 megapixel camera built into my Blackjack. It didn't do too badly, but working in the bright sun was a pain.

And waited.

A score or more of various police cars and motorcycles went by, and several minutes later the peloton appeared.

It seemed like it was over as soon as it happened. This was a pretty tight group and there were a few stragglers behind. Several support vehicles for the racers went by with a few more stragglers spread out.

And finally five racers at the tail end of the procession pedaled toward the finish. They were gutsy and the remaining spectators gave them an ovation.

All-in-all, a nice way to spend the remaining few minutes of a Friday at work.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Christian Smith on Why Christianity 'Works' | Christianity Today

Christian Smith on Why Christianity 'Works' | Christianity Today:
"Journal Watch: Sociology of Religion

Peter Berger once imagined that the end of the 20th century would witness believers huddled together in small sects as they tried to survive a worldwide secular culture. He's now a critic of the theory that humankind is slowly outgrowing religious faith, but the question persists: Why isn't the world more secular? And why are there still so many Christians?

Sociologists have many answers, as Christian Smith notes in the summer 2007 issue of Sociology of Religion:
The moral and emotional uncertainties of the transition from communist order to now-emerging market societies, for example, might be thought to explain the growth of Christianity in China and Russia. The social dislocation resulting from the mass migration of Latin Americans from rural to urban areas is believed to explain the powerful appeal of Pentecostal faith in that region. The competition and 'product' richness of America's de-regulated religious economy are theorized as explaining its high rates of theism and churchgoing.
'Such sociological accounts are valid as far as they go,' Smith writes. 'They often can illuminate the social processes influencing the extent and shape of religious practices. But in the end, such sociological accounts possess limited abilities to explain the persistence over millennia and into the modern world of religion generally and—for my purposes here—Christianity in particular.'..."
The original article sounds it might be interesting, but I was unable to find it available on the web.

The remainder of this article is Christianity Today's interview with Christian Smith. You can read the entire interview by following the link above, but one thing stood ot for me. Smith noted that religion in general and Christianity in particular meet deep needs of people, and that is why religion has not, nor is likely to die out, even in a world that is becoming more secular. CT asked if that finding will play into the beliefs of many that "... religion is a mental crutch." Smith's response was that calling religion a "crutch" is stating negatively what is true -- People who are in need are supported by their faith -- and that can be interpreted from a perspective of belief or non-belief.

This reminds me a little of Pascal's Wager -- the idea that since God is unknowable and untestable, we cannot apply reason to the decision to believe or not believe. So you go with logic.

By believing (and I presume putting faith into practice), if God is real than you have risked nothing and gained all. If God is not real, than you have risked nothing and lost nothing.

If you choose non-belief (living as if God did not exist) you are risking your soul. If God does indeed exist, then you have lost everything. If God does not exist, then you have risked nothing and gained nothing.

I would have to say that there are much worse ways of living than loving God, and loving your neighbor as yourself. What kind of world would you like to live in?

Monday, September 10, 2007

In Lebanon DNA may yet heal rifts | Tech&Sci | Science |

In Lebanon DNA may yet heal rifts | Tech&Sci | Science |
"BYBLOS, Lebanon (Reuters) - A Lebanese scientist following the genetic footprint of the ancient Phoenicians says he has traced their modern-day descendants, but stumbled into an old controversy about identity in his country.

Geneticist Pierre Zalloua has charted the spread of the Phoenicians out of the eastern Mediterranean by identifying an ancient type of DNA which some Lebanese, Syrians and Palestinians share with Maltese, Spaniards and Tunisians.

A seafaring civilization which reached its zenith between 1200 and 800 BC, the Phoenicians' earliest cities included Byblos, Tyre and Sidon on Lebanon's coast.

But their link to Lebanon, whose borders were drawn as recently as 1920, has long been a subject of controversy in a country split between an array of religious communities. 'Negotiating these waters is a very delicate job,' Zalloua said."
I wonder.... Is this more likely to unify or divide?

One participant described himself as Lebanese, Arab, and Christian -- in that order. Others quoted directly or indirectly seem to be more concerned with whether or not they are Arab. Neither of the three categories can be described as homogeneous and religion seems to be independent of these designations as well.

A number of countries in that region have borders established (imposed?) around 1920, following the final breakup of the Ottoman Empire and it seems that little consideration was given to history, ethnicity, or religion.

It's interesting research, but I suspect much potential for mischief is present as well.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Kids smarter than apes -- sometimes, anyway | Tech&Sci | Science |

Kids smarter than apes -- sometimes, anyway | Tech&Sci | Science |
"WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It's official: Your toddler is smarter than a chimp, at least at some things.

A unique study comparing the abilities of human toddlers to chimpanzees and orangutans found that 2-year-old children have social learning skills superior to the apes, researchers said on Thursday."

Hutterites Ambivalent About Cell Phones | Liveblog | Christianity Today

Hutterites Ambivalent About Cell Phones | Liveblog | Christianity Today:
"The front page of The Wall Street Journal yesterday explored an interesting facet of Hutterite life. Like the Amish, they're anabaptist, live communally, separate from the rest of society, and often reject modern conveniences. Unlike the typical Amish, Hutterites allow technological advances when it benefits their agricultural work or otherwise helps their communities, though they reject technology when it's deemed harmful.

Cellphones offer an interesting glimpse into deciding whether a technology is beneficial or harmful. They're indespensible to business. But some find the temptations of a cell phone too compelling.

In Martinsdale, [Montana] cellphones are dividing families. Ms. [Elsie] Wipf says that she sent more than 150 text messages in the first two days after she got her phone -- much to the consternation of her father. His opinion matters greatly: He is the head preacher of the colony. 'It's against our rules,' Ms. Wipf explains. ...

The array of available devices with different accessories goes against the communal colony dynamic. Features such as cameras and Internet access -- which are banned or severely restricted in nearly all colonies -- open up a tantalizing window to the outside world. The community owns six phones for colony business. Use of those phones is regulated. But from the outside, phones are easily obtained. Relatives and friends who have left the colony often offer to pay the monthly expense for those back home. They keep in touch regularly, even though the colony elders worry that constant texting will cut into the farm's productivity."
The Hutterites, like such other Anabaptist groups as the Amish and Mennonites, typically adopt a "plain" lifestyle. Historically modern conveniences have been discouraged, although in recent years this has moderated.

Not surprisingly, the younger members seem to be leading this new challenge to tradition, but it remains to be seen whether it will take hold. From what I have heard about such communities, it is not uncommon for young people to leave the community for a while, experiencing the world, and then ultimately returning to take their place in community.

On the other hand, it seems like a good way for members to maintain their ties, even if they end up living outside the community.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Cyber Sexuality - Newsletter -

Cyber Sexuality - Newsletter -
"I recently received an e-mail from a friend. She wrote:
Do you know of any Christian articles dealing with internet flirting or cybersex? I can't seem to find anything I can relate to, and I know there must be other folks who've encountered the same thing.
Indeed. A search for cybersex within the CT Library archives turns up over 40 articles that cover the struggle with and against various forms of sexual sin online. But this issue also falls under other categories for which some very useful articles have been written. More than 200 articles address sexual immorality, 90 cover pornography, 70 deal with adultery, 42 deal with lust, 9 cover fornication, and 3 address masturbation and sensuality. In all, nearly 600 articles cover some aspect of sexuality and the believer. Most of the articles apply to life online as well as offline.

Pornography usage and cybersex traditionally have been viewed as male problems, because men are thought to be more easily excited by what they see. But women are at risk too."
Stereotype are dangerous --especially when they interfere with identifying real problems. I have seen such stereotypes as "women don't commit crimes of physical violence" or "women are not aggressive drivers" (that is of special concern to me as my son approaches driving age and out insurance rates go up.) While both these stereotypes may have been truer in the past, the world has changed.

But more importantly, such stereotypes can cause us to miss developing problems because they do not fit into our notions of how things are. It's hard enough to identify "cybersex" disorders, but when you eliminate half the population from consideration based on gender stereotypes, you allow problems to fester.

Rich Tatum, the author of the piece quoted above, identifies the problem and its solutions in a compassionate and Biblical way. He ascribes much of the problem of online sexual addiction as being a failure of the filters that allow us to see the problems and pitfalls for ourselves. The solution, in Tatum's words, is "by employing spiritual disciplines, experiencing fellowship, finding an accountability group, and addressing the spiritual and emotional needs that make us vulnerable to temptation online."

One thing that makes this hard is that addicts of various types tend to be in denial about their problems, and if they do recognize that they have a problem, are reluctant to ask for help.

Tatum ands his article with a listing of various organizations (with web links) that help people deal with sexual issues in a Christian way.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Avoiding the very appearance of evil at Google | Tech news blog - CNET

Avoiding the very appearance of evil at Google | Tech news blog - CNET
"The Economist has an amazingly good article this week on Google, and its growing influence and power. Rather than ring alarm bells about Google's sometimes casual approach to privacy concerns, the article suggests that Google...
...needs a deeper change of heart. Pretending that, just because your founders are nice young men and you give away lots of services, society has no right to question your motives no longer seems sensible. Google is a capitalist tool--and a useful one. Better, surely, to face the coming storm on that foundation, than on a trite slogan that could be your undoing.
Amen. Open source provides such transparency, and it's one reason that open source is spreading like wildfire. But Google doesn't play by these same rules (nor do its competitors), which makes it all the more critical that the company embrace 'Transparency at all costs' rather than 'Do no evil' as its mantra. The former ensures the latter, as Wikipedia is finding."
Google has had its share of embarrassments, from its method of dealing with China's demand for censorship, to a Google Earth feature that shows street level views of certain areas ... and a lot more. These things, and a recent controversy over Google's claiming certain rights over online user content, have put Google on the defensive. This is ironic for a company whose corporate motto is "Don't Be Evil."

I should note here that the links I located to support some of Google's recent peccadilloes were located using a Google search....

I should also note that I use a lot of Google services, including gmail, the Google calendar, Google Documents, the Google toolbar and Google Earth. These are useful, and they work whether I have my Windows XP or my Linux hard drive inserted in my laptop. These tools ARE convenient, and I have weighed the privacy issues against convenience -- and choose to continue to use Google's tools. Even if Google has plans to take over the world, the user base seems more than up to the task of monitoring them, even if they don't do it for themselves.

If all else fails, Google it.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Quick Impressions of "Religious Literacy - What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't"

Religious Literacy - What Every American Needs to Know--And Doesn't
Stephen Prothero
ISBN: 978-0-06-084670-1

This is not a very long book, but much is packed into it. There are six chapters, with the sixth being a dictionary of religious literacy containing words and phrases that would be good for people to know and understand. These chapters take us up to 233 pages, and the appendix, notes and index leave the book at just under 300 pages.

Prothero starts off with memories of the Waco siege in the early 1990's. Federal agents had come onto the Branch Davidian property on February 25, 1993 in an attempt to arrest David Koresh. A quick gun battle left six Branch Davidians and four BATF agents dead. A siege of nearly two months passed before the FBI (who had taken control from the BATF) attacked the compound with tanks and tear gas and a fire broke out leaving about 75 Branch Davidians including 21 children dead. Prothero remembered thinking that, while the FBI thought it was in control in the weeks leading up to the horrifying end of the siege, it was David Koresh who was manipulating events using a script that could be found in the Book of Revelation. Prothero recognized it and predicted that this would end in fire. He wondered if and how he might pass this on to the FBI, and in the end decided to do nothing, assuming that the people at the siege were getting good counsel by people who knew what they were doing. In Prothero's words "Unfortunately, no such counsel was forthcoming."

A little religious literacy might have prevented much of the loss of life that occurred on April 19, 1993.

Chapter One -- A Nation of Religious Illiterates -- describes the state of things today -- what people don't know and what misinformation passes for knowledge. He provides a religious literacy quiz to test the reader's knowledge about religious matters, and I have to admit that I passed it, but not by much. If it had been confined to Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, I would have done well. I did miss one of the 5 pillars of Islam and forgot that penance was one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, but when the questions turned to Buddhism and Hinduism, I fell flat on my face.

Chapter Two -- Religion Matters -- demonstrates how pervasive religious issues have been in US history. Much of the original colonization was a direct response to religious persecution in the Old World, and it is difficult to understand the Civil War without understanding the religious dimension. Similar things are true on a more global scale -- religion, for better or worse, has affected world events, and ignorance of religion has been at the root of much of the worst of events. So why is religious literacy not taught in the schools? Why, Prothero asks, are teachers and students no longer heeding the Biblical commandment to "remember."

Chapter Three --Eden (What We Once Knew) -- relates how religion was once a given in America. People were familiar with Biblical references and searched for meaning in what they read. It pervaded home, schools, the workplace, and the government. Its contribution to near universal literacy (the the reading and writing sense) was clear. It was, to be sure, mostly Christian and mostly Protestant, and while this represented the majority view at the time, it may have planted the seeds for the events to which Prothero devoted Chapter Four.

Chapter Four -- The Fall (How We Forgot) -- lays out many of the complex reasons for religious literacy taking a back seat. One factor was the separation of piety and learning, and the rise of non-denominationalism and its tendency toward emphasizing social action rather than doctrinal issues. Prothero refers to this as a descent into "pious ignorance" as core beliefs kept shrinking. The educational system was partly to blame.

Keeping in mind that the US was largely Protestant in the 18th and 19th centuries in its governance, the increasing Catholic and Jewish population wanted to be represented. The result was that education became "nonsectarian" and "nondenominational" led by such reformers as Horace Mann. The outcome of these reforms was a watered-down system of piety; doctrines on which all Christians could agree Christian morality; reading from the King James Version; and prayer, hymn singing, and devotional Bible reading. It remained Protestant, but did not approach the efficacy of the previous generation where religion was employed as a powerful tool in teaching children. Under the 19th century reformers religion was still seen as a necessary means in education, but it failed to teach religious literacy.

And then there were what Prothero referred to as the "Bible Wars" -- a time when the Catholics worked to see to it that their version of the Scriptures were given equal use in the schools, and the Protestants did their best to prevent this. The Jews seemed to be irrelevant in these fights. The response of an ever-increasing number of school systems was to evict religion from the schools, making them totally secular, and denying pupils even a one-dimensional view of religion. When religion showed itself at all, it was a generic sort of thing with little that any particular religion could relate to.

While all this was going on in the schools, the various Christian leaders were developing a tendency toward anti-intellectualism. Such leaders as Jonathan Edwards were being supplanted by new leaders like Peter Cartwright who wore his lack of education with pride. Evangelical Christians went from supporters of education and the development of the intellect to becoming a body that preferred "feel" Jesus rather than "know" him. Prothero sees this as reversible, and holds out hope that this is, in fact, starting to happen.

Chapter Five -- Redemption (What to Do) -- lays out what we need to do to reclaim our religious literacy and culminates in a proposal that suggests a path to do just that. It involves realizing that the First Amendment to the Constitution does NOT prohibit religion from the public sphere; it is a two-fold protection from the State imposing a religion upon the People, and further from the State preventing the People from freely practicing their faith. The bottom line is that, using the words of distinguished jurists over the years, Prothero holds that it is fully Constitutional to teach ABOUT religion -- and as long as the curriculum is objective and fair, it should be done. Not only the majority religion should be discussed, but the world religions should be taught as well. The result will be religiously literate graduates who are better prepared to understand the world around them.

Chapter Six -- A Dictionary of Religious Literacy -- This chapter covers key words, phrases and concepts relating to the major world religions, and is one that lends itself to browsing.

The Appendix covers the religious literacy quiz, and the Notes are available for those who enjoy reading such things.

Stephen Prothero has made an excellent case for promoting religious literacy in the schools. We can never go back to the 17th and 18th centuries when the New England Primer or McGuffy's reader used Christian themes to teach reading, spelling, and writing, but we cannot afford to default on our responsibilities to our children. In this world where religion plays such a great role for good and for evil, to be ignorant is dangerous.