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Are Christians not caring for the Earth? 1-31-18

You can find in the world's great religions a pretty consistent teaching about the need to be good stewards of Earth and its atmosphere.

Religion-earthEarth, after all, is seen as part of God's creation, and one of the tasks given to humanity is to care for and protect it. At times, however, the words found in some English translations of the book of Genesis tend to weaken the perceived commitment to that task.

For instance, Genesis 1:28 in the old King James Version says this: "And God blessed them (humanity), and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."

The words "subdue" and "have dominion" at times have led to an attitude that humans can simply use Earth in any way that benefits them. The words used in the Contemporary English Bible are almost equally problematic: "Take charge of. . ." and "master it." Same with the New International Version: "subdue it" and "Rule over. . ."

Still, the environmental ethic that has permeated many religious traditions requires humans to exercise care in how we treat our only home, Earth.

So it's disappointing to read about a new study from a University of Indiana researcher. As the press release about this study says, "David Konisky of IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs analyzed 20 years of survey results from Gallup public opinion polls in one of the first major studies of how attitudes about the environment by self-identified U.S. Christians have shifted over time. He found that environmentalism is not increasing, and there are signs it is actually in decline."

Intuitively that seems wrong, seems as if it couldn't be possible, given all the attention to environmental concerns in the last 50 years and the many examples of environmental activism I've heard about coming from faith communities, including Christianity.

And yet that seems to be what is happening, despite such encouraging developments as the publication in 2015 of Pope Francis’ “green” encyclical, Laudato Si.

As IU reported: "Konisky's analysis of the survey responses from 1990 through 2015 indicates that Christians, compared to atheists, agnostics and individuals who do not affiliate with a religion, are less likely to prioritize environmental protection over economic growth, and they are more likely than others to believe global warming is exaggerated.

"For example, the likelihood that a Christian survey respondent expressed a great deal of concern about climate change dropped by about a third between 1990 and 2015."

No doubt some of this is because of willful ignorance about climate change and the existence of climate change deniers even in high government positions. Even President Trump, prior to his election, called climate change a hoax and, in 2012, tweeted this: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

With such leaders, perhaps it's no surprise that Christianity's historic commitment to good stewardship of the planet has fallen on hard times.

But the truth is all people of faith must do a better job of protecting the environment or our long-term future is dim, indeed.

(By the way, here is a piece from The Economist about this IU study.)

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Did you see that the late Leonard Cohen won a Grammy award the other night for best rock performance for “You Want It Darker?” It's an amazing, moving song that I wrote about here. The link here on the name of the song will give you a YouTube version of Cohen's performance of the song itself. Sit alone and be quiet as you listen.

An interfaith film festival in KC: 1-30-18

As I mentioned yesterday here on the blog, World Interfaith Harmony Week starts Thursday. And the good news for folks in the Kansas City area is that there's a film festival to mark the occasion.

Film-festivalThe festival is sponsored by the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, which has lined up a great list of movies with various religious themes.

Details are here on the council's Facebook page. The planners have been wise to spread the festival around the metro area, from the Rime Buddhist Center at the edge of Downtown to the Plaza Library to a Mormon church in the Northland and to other sites.

And then, at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 8, there will be a wrap-up discussion and reception at All Souls Unitarian Church just off the Country Club Plaza.

Why does any of this matter?

Because religious literacy matters. And religious literacy matters because without it we wind up with ignorant people caving into fears and prejudice. All that, in turn, can lead all the way to violence.

Interfaith understanding is not designed to get people to abandon their faith traditions by converting to another one or to none at all. Rather, dialogue among people of faith is designed to help them know and to be known so as to reduce fake news about various traditions and to teach all of us how to live in harmony with people who don't share our own religious beliefs and practices.

As the page to which I linked you in the first paragraph above notes, "The World Interfaith Harmony Week was first proposed at the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2010, by H.M. King Abdullah II of Jordan. Just under a month later, on October 20, 2010, it was unanimously adopted by the UN and henceforth the first week of February will be observed as a World Interfaith Harmony Week."

The film medium may be a particularly effective way to help people understand other religions. Let's test out that theory over the next week in the Kansas City area.

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A rabbi who made a visit to India discovered an ancient symbol -- a swastika -- that long pre-dates the Nazi corruption of that symbol, and he came to be at peace with it. Once a symbol is ruined by evil, can it be rescued? Maybe so.

What Brownback should do now: 1-29-18

The day after tomorrow, Sam Brownback (pictured here) will resign as governor of Kansas and officially become the U.S. ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, which means he'll head the U.S. State Department's Office of International Religious Freedom.

BrownbackThe question is whether he will use this excellent opportunity to challenge world leaders to protect and preserve religious freedom for people everywhere, as he should, or whether he'll adopt a narrow approach to the job that would place most of the emphasis on advocating positions most in harmony with people who call themselves religiously conservative.

(I spoke to KMBC-TV reporter Micheal Mahoney about this for a piece that aired the last Thursday evening, but there wasn't enough time to make some of the points I want to make here.)

We can hope that he'll turn out to be a vibrant voice who speaks on behalf of the millions of people around the world whose governments (and, well, circumstances) crush their religious freedoms. These include people of every faith, as you can see if you read in some detail the annual reports from the office Brownback will lead and from the annual reports of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a separate quasi-government agency.

Those reports provide chapter and verse about how this foundational human right of religious freedom gets violated every day somewhere around the world -- and often in many places.

The people whose rights are being violated need a strong voice to defend them and to defend the very idea that all people should be free to follow whatever religion (or none) they choose.

As governor, Brownback proved himself to be a narrow ideologue, imagining that one particular (discredited) economic approach would benefit everyone. Even when this economic "experiment," as he called it, ruined the state financially, he refused to acknowledge his error and continued to march down a destructive path.

If he adopts a similar approach in his ambassador job, the American people -- and the people of the world -- will be badly served.

Perhaps Brownback will be moved to be a little modest about his mandate when he remembers that, to break a tie, Vice President Mike Pence had to cast two votes just to get Brownback approved by the U.S. Senate. That said, I agree with the author of this piece when he argues that Brownback should have had more votes for approval from Democrats, whose partisanship on this matter will tend to make the religious liberty office more political in the future. We don't need that.

So let's give Brownback a chance here, but let's monitor his work closely -- praising him when he stands up for religious liberty for all people around the world and calling him out when and if he uses this office to advance a personal social agenda. And, by the way, he could show that he's off on the right foot by taking public notice of World Interfaith Harmony Week, which starts Thursday. More on that here tomorrow.

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A new book, discussed here, is rooted in the reality that millions of Americans think God made Donald Trump president. So it wasn't Russia? Has anyone told Robert Mueller about this?

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- about gay clergy in KC -- now is online here.

On speaking truth to evil: 1-27/28-18

One of the most appalling news stories (How do we pick among them?) of recent months has been the conviction of former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar on multiple charges of sexual abuse.

Confront-evilBut as The Washington Post reported in this piece, one small light shining out of that stark and disheartening darkness was the voice of former gymnast Rachael Denhollander, who "used her statement Wednesday against sex abuser Larry Nassar as a testimony and message of grace and forgiveness."

Denhollander drew on her understanding of Christianity to forgive Nassar personally but also to point him toward the honest way he must confront his evil deeds if he wants to seek God's forgiveness.

“Should you ever reach the point of truly facing what you have done," she told him in court, "the guilt will be crushing. And that is what makes the gospel of Christ so sweet. Because it extends grace and hope and mercy where none should be found. And it will be there for you. I pray you experience the soul-crushing weight of guilt so you may someday experience true repentance and true forgiveness from God, which you need far more than forgiveness from me — though I extend that to you as well.”

There are many ways of expressing Christian belief in forgiveness and in what it meant that Jesus Christ was crucified. Some of those ways involve theories of atonement that I think are badly misguided in that they suggest that God loves us because Christ died for us, whereas the gospel message is just the opposite -- Christ died for us because God loves us.

That aside, whether Denhollander's version of Christianity exactly matches a version that you or I may have, the reassuring truth is that she was bold and right to explain to the source of her pain how she draws on her faith to go through this difficult experience.

Sometimes prophetic words are needed to speak truth to power. But sometimes they also are needed to speak truth to someone who no longer has power because his evil deeds have done him in. The latter is what these words from Denhollander were:  “Larry, I can call what you did evil and wicked because it was. . .And I can call it evil because I know what goodness is. And this is why I pity you.”

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A pastor whose church is quite near the site of the Jan. 23 Kentucky school shooting has written this good piece for Religion News Service about the role of faith in such a catastrophe. He says he's learned three lessons. Just wondering if those are the lessons you might pull out of this or whether there's something else more important.

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P.S.: My latest Flatland column -- on gay clergy in KC -- now is online here.

Giving abortion some historical perspective: 1-26-18

The U.S. a few days ago witnessed another "March for Life," the annual demonstration against the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Anti-abortionOne of the primary motivators behind this anti-abortion movement is the Catholic Church's position as well as other faith traditions that over the years have raised objections to legal abortion.

When I say "over the years," I refer also to the time before 1973 -- well before. And I refer to the fascinating history of abortion in the U.S. offers this account of that history, and it's well worth a read -- especially because it begins with a description of an ad in a Leavenworth, Kan., newspaper in the 1850s -- an ad essentially for an abortion pill.

Abortion, it turns out, was a common practice then, but it was mostly offered by people who weren't physicians. When such doctors eventually decided all this non-medical help with abortions was cutting into their livelihood, they came out in public opposition to such practices.

As the piece reports, "Though the 19th century is seen as a time of more restrictive sexual mores, abortion was actually common: according to at least one estimate, one in every five women at the time had had an abortion. Abortifacients were hawked in store fronts and even door to door. Vendors openly advertised their willingness to end women’s pregnancies. And in private, women shared information about how to prevent conception and induce miscarriages.

"Then things changed — thanks in part to doctors determined to make abortions their realm. During the second half of the 19th century, American physicians intent on overseeing women’s reproductive health campaigned to criminalize abortion, sending a common practice underground."

And underground is where lots of people got hurt. Back-street abortions led to many health complications for women and even death for many of them, as well, of course, as death for their babies.

As a male, my voice on the abortion questions is not nearly as important or useful as the voices of females. But, just for the record, I believe abortion should remain a legal option to be decided by a woman (with her mate) and her physician. I also believe abortion should be much rarer than it is today but that many laws restricting abortion are intrusive and unnecessary.

When abortion is cast as just a 20th and 21st Century question, it ignores a lot of history and, thus, a lot of context. That history and context can help all of us come to a clearer position on if and when abortion should be legal and on what role faith communities' beliefs should play, if any, in all of this.

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Here's a good idea: If you don't know what you're talking about, don't talk. A Republican member of Congress should have followed that advice. Instead, he said in an interview on Fox News that thousands of missing FBI text messages were “the greatest coincidence since the Immaculate Conception.” What? Asked what the heck he meant, he didn't want to get into it except to say that “I’m a Christian. I believe that the Immaculate Conception was how Jesus was born.” No branch of the Christian church teaches that. The "Immaculate Conception" is a doctrine prominent in Catholic thinking but it has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. Rather, it seeks to explain how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was born without sin. No doubt a lot of people don't know that. But a lot of people don't get interviewed on Fox News. Those who do should have some clue what they're talking about. Although maybe this was just more #FakeNews from Fox.

How Trump has undermined civil religion: 1-25-18

There's no question that much has changed in the U.S. since Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as president a little more than a year ago.

Civil-religionYou have your own list of changes and I have mine. And we have our own reactions to them.

But today I'd like us to consider a change noted by John D. Carlson, an associate professor of religious studies at Arizona State University, in this Religion News Service column.

Carlson asserts -- quite persuasively -- that starting with his inauguration speech, Trump has been undermining and profoundly weakening what scholars have long called our civil religion.

He writes: "Since his inaugural, Trump’s presidency has exacerbated deep fissures about who we are as a country and what it means to be American.

"Are we a nation of immigrants or of ethno-nationalists? Do we believe in 'American Exceptionalism' or 'America First'? Do we prioritize narrowly conceived national interests over enduring American values? Should we lead and preserve the international order, or simply compete with craven superpowers like China and Russia? Will we compassionately open our doors to the world’s 'tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to be free,' or will we tell them to go back to the 's***hole countries' they come from? Put starkly, are we a nation 'under God' or under Trump? We must choose."

Here is how Carlson describes our civil religion: "It is the moral backbone of our body politic — a heritage of shared beliefs, stories, ideas, symbols and events that explains the American experience of self-government with reference to a moral order that transcends it.

"Its signposts are as ubiquitous as the coins in our pocket that read 'In God We Trust': from John Winthrop’s 'City on a Hill' sermon warning that 'the eyes of all people are upon us'; to Benjamin Franklin’s Revolutionary War motto 'Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God'; to the Civil War, which Abraham Lincoln construed as divine punishment for the scourge of slavery; to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 'dream' of human equality before God and his Winthropian insistence that 'God somehow called America to do a special job for mankind and the world.'”

All that said, there are reasons for adherents of religious traditions to be at least a little wary about civil religion. Which is to say that they must understand the ways in which it differs from non-secular religions and especially how it differs in its concepts about God, who in civil religion tends to be a sweet old American who just wants us all to behave, be patriotic and to appreciate the beauty of our country from sea to shining sea.

That, in short, is not the God of the Abrahamic faiths, though there are civic uses for such a non-controversial god, who can remind us how we Americans share some basic values, as Carlson rightly notes.

Carlson also is right on this point: "But Trump’s failure to articulate higher principles to guide his administration erodes civic trust even in seemingly noble efforts."

Trump has long seemed to me to be a man without a moral center, and his personal behavior well before he became president clearly showed him to be a man with the ethics of a vacuum cleaner.

It's not clear how much more damage Trump can do to our civil religion, which mostly means our shared moral and ethical values. Nor is it clear how long it will take to repair whatever the extent of that damage finally turns out to be. What I do know is that the job of restoration won't be easy, no matter how necessary it will be.

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In this post in his "Civil Evangelicalism" blog for Religion News Service, Richard Mouw, a theology professor, describes what it will take to change people's hearts on racial issues. "Ultimately," he writes, "doctrines of racial superiority have to be destroyed in the deep places of our souls. Religious leaders need to give sustained attention these days to the deep places in the human soul where those doctrines seem to take root so easily." So let's be about that work.

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P.S.: Several groups plan a meeting the evening of Monday, Feb. 5, at UMKC about the crisis in Turkey that I wrote about recently in this Flatland column. For details, download this flyer:  View this photo. Hope to see you there.

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ANOTHER P.S.: I almost certainly will write more about this later, but Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback finally got approved yesterday to be the U.S. ambassador at-large for international religious freedom, but Vice President Mike Pence twice had to break a tie vote for that to happen. The good news for America is that Brownback can't possibly do worse in this new job than he did as governor. Does that give you some peace?

When trust is shattered: 1-24-18

The government shutdown confirmed what most Americans already knew -- our political system is broken. Like a marriage, it cannot operate in a healthy way when trust disappears.

DistrustAnd it's pretty clear by now that the major players in our federal government simply don't trust one another. That goes way beyond disagreements about policy or ideology. Trust has to do with the foundational value of truth, of honesty, of transparency that the world's great religions call vital to human relations, to say nothing of relations with the divine.

As far back as when the book of Proverbs in the Hebrew scriptures was written, the idea of trust (in God and in each other) was being promoted. Proverbs 11:13, for instance, says this: "A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy person keeps a secret." And the prophet Jeremiah, in verse 8 of chapter 7, warns people this way: "But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless."

Near the end of my first marriage, I discovered that I no longer could trust my wife, who was having an affair. It was a devastating realization. And we could find no way to fix it, no way for me to trust her again. I deeply admire couples who have traveled over such dangerous shoals and have pulled their marriage back together and learned to trust again.

I see something similar now going on in Washington.

One of the problems here, of course, is our own gullibility. The 18th Century English writer Samuel Johnson pretty much nailed that when he wrote this: "We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know, because they have never deceived us."

One reason the blame game over the government shutdown has been so painful to observe is that it revealed how little the various players trust one another. And now we'll see whether the deal to reopen the government will restore some of that trust or further erode it. At the moment I don't know which way to bet. I have only fear that the lack of trust will continue. In fact, already we see some members of Congress expressing distrust in the agreement to end the shutdown. Rep. Adam Schiff, for instance, a California Democrat, said this in an e-mail to supporters:

"The bill to reopen the government wasn’t all bad. It funded the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for six years. And as part of the 3-week funding package, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell promised to allow a vote on a bill to protect Dreamers. But I am not about to take Mitch McConnell’s promises at face value and I’m sure you’re not either."

To prevent such a lack of trust, businesses sometimes do retreats for their employees in which they engage in games and exercises to learn to trust one another. Much the same thing happens in practices for sports teams.

The sad but not surprising lesson from the shutdown is that people from different political parties in Washington seemed to act as if they're not on the same team. In fact, they are. Or at least should be. The job of all of them is the welfare of the nation, not the welfare of their party or the security of their own job. I, among many, no longer trust that many of those officials grasp that fact.

You know where you put most of the blame for this lack of trust among Washington teammates and I know where I do. But just as our representatives in Washington are on the same team, so are you and I. And it's vital that we do the nearly impossible, which is to learn again (or maybe for the first time) to trust one another and to keep the common good in mind as we react to what our dysfunctional government is doing or not doing.

Where are the leaders who can take up that cause?

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A Russian Orthodox Church bishop says Vladimir Putin doesn't deserve his support and he won't vote for him. That's the sort of courage and independence I'd like to see from Jerry Falwell Jr., Pat Robertson, James Dobson and other compromised white evangelical Christians who are still in President Trump's camp.

One of the 'Little Rock Nine's' survival story: 1-23-18

Many of us who are old enough to remember the Little Rock Nine and their efforts to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock in 1957 have, over the years, had a lot of respect for the nine African-American students who were subjected to hatred and violence from the white supremacists who were almost everywhere in Arkansas at the time.

I-Will-Not-FearBut the details of that traumatic time in their lives and what happened later sometimes get lost.

Which is why I'm glad I just read a new book by one of the nine, Melba Pattillo Beals, called I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire.

Her account not only of the vicious racial prejudice she experienced as a teen-ager but trauma after trauma in the rest of her life makes it difficult to comprehend how she has emerged as a highly educated and accomplished journalist, author and person of deep Christian faith. Many people who have gone through just half of what she's gone through have wound up beaten and living desperate lives.

God is everywhere in this story. As is Beals' beloved grandmother, who taught her to trust God in all circumstances. At times, in fact, it's all a little overwhelming for the reader, so you can imagine what it must have been like for Beals to live through not just the effort to desegregate Central High but so much violence and threats of violence that she was sent to live with a white family in California.

Then there was marriage to a white man. Then their still-born son. And a divorce. A difficult birth of a daughter. And adoption of two biracial sons. And an award-winning journalism career. And her sons being the target of abusers. And getting a doctorate degree while struggling to put food on the table. And illness. And on and on.

Until, finally, President Bill Clinton presided at a ceremony at which she and the other members of the Little Rock Nine were presented with the Congressional Gold Medal.

At the very start of the book she tells us that "Growing up in the 1940s and '50s in Little Rock, Arkansas, I needed a powerful God and every drop of faith I could muster and sustain to hope that one day I would be free of the imprisoning bars of segregation."

And on nearly every page that follows, we find her praising that God and crediting divine oversight for keeping her safe and getting her and her family through one horrible scrape after another.

The day, for instance, in which she and others were being chased away from Central by a racist mob, she cried out to God and, she believes, received the necessary help to escape: "There was no doubt in my mind that God had heard me. It was the first time God became real in my life. He was no longer words on the page of a hymnal and in the Bible. He was real, alive and demonstrating His love for me."

The theology expressed here is deeply personal. At times readers may wonder whether she attributes things to God that were merely coincidences. Who is to know? What is clear is that she has a deep belief that God walks with her closely every day.

And -- my, oh, my -- there are lots of worse ways to live than that.

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Pope Francis has apologized for remarks he made in Chile about sexual abuse and his defense of a bishop there. An apology was necessary. His initial remarks were snippy and uncalled for. However, his defense of the bishop remains strong -- perhaps stronger than it should be. No one wants to see an innocent bishop or priest punished, but the pope's job here is not to insist that the bishop is innocent. Rather, the pope's job is to insist on a thorough investigation so that everyone can agree on whether he's innocent or not.

The surprising new appeal of astrology: 1-22-18

At newspapers for which I worked in my career or, before then, as a student or an intern, some daily space usually was taken up printing a horoscope column.

Zodiac-signsIt was, in my view, a waste of valuable space and a way of legitimizing a practice that was rooted not in science at all but in magic and mystery and bunkum. And I made pleas to editors to stop printing this trash.

Which they didn't.

Now, The Atlantic reports in this rather lengthy piece, astrology is making a comeback, particularly among younger people. It's an intriguing read that, of course, repeats the old news that there's nothing scientific about astrology, as there is about astronomy.

But that doesn't seem to matter to the stressed-out millennials who appear to be increasingly attracted to horoscopes. And as I think about this phenomenon, it strikes me that there are lessons here for traditional religions.

"To understand astrology’s appeal," The Atlantic piece concludes, "is to get comfortable with paradoxes. It feels simultaneously cosmic and personal; spiritual and logical; ineffable and concrete; real and unreal. It can be a relief, in a time of division, not to have to choose. It can be freeing, in a time that values black and white, ones and zeros, to look for answers in the gray. It can be meaningful to draw lines in the space between moments of time, or the space between pinpricks of light in the night sky, even if you know deep down they’re really light-years apart, and have no connection at all."

Any religion worth its salt also requires its adherents to get comfortable with paradox. In Christianity, for example, adherents are taught that Jesus Christ is both fully human and fully divine. And that God is three persons but only one God. And that God is both eternal but also present to us in the moment. All makes perfect and logical sense, right?

So traditional religions have about them, when they are healthy and not reduced to literalistic nonsense, an appreciation for metaphor, for myth, for allegory, as I emphasize in my latest book, The Value of Doubt. But those traditional religions sometimes seem unwilling to acknowledge that very quality about them. Too often, instead, they present themselves -- or are perceived, at least -- as simply the sources of strict rules by which to live and dogma to believe in so that somehow you can spend eternity in paradise, finally free of all the pain and suffering encountered on Earth.

No, no. Healthy religion should offer its adherents the kind of mystical, profoundly moving experiences of being comfortable with uncertainty, with paradox, with ambiguity, which is what astrology seems to be offering to young people newly attracted to it. It's not that God is always and forever completely incomprehensible but, rather, that there is no end to the unfolding truths about God for people willing to marinate themselves in the divine.

As The Atlantic piece notes, "It might be that Millennials are more comfortable living in the borderlands between skepticism and belief because they’ve spent so much of their lives online, in another space that is real and unreal at the same time. That so many people find astrology meaningful is a reminder that something doesn’t have to be real to feel true. Don’t we find truth in fiction?"

Some of the reasons many young people have abandoned traditional religion is that they don't find there a willingness to live "in the borderlands between skepticism and belief." And yet that is where the most honest and most deeply committed people of faith always live.

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A prospective candidate to run for Congress from South Dakota indicates he thinks the religious freedoms guaranteed to Americans in our Constitution shouldn't apply to Muslims. And would he like them to wear yellow crescent moon symbols on their clothing so we'd all know who they are? Where do these politicians come from?

How Trump misunderstands evangelicals: 1-20/21-18

Lots of people, including me, have noted how hypocritical it seems for people who identify as white evangelical Christians to be so supportive of President Donald Trump, whose personal behavior is radically at odds with the values such people say they hold.

Choosing-TrumpI recently tried to unpack some of that in this column for The National Catholic Reporter, for instance.

Now Stephen Mansfield, who has written books about the faith of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, has a new book out on the faith (if any) of Trump. It's called Choosing Donald Trump. (I haven't yet read that book.) And Religion News Service has done this interview with Mansfield that I found revealing and helpful.

Mansfield suggests that Trump quickly tapped into the frustrations such evangelicals feel and convinced them that he would pay attention to them and fix what they thought needed fixing.

At the same time, Mansfield says Trump misunderstands white evangelicals and evangelicals generally in some important ways that may lead to a lessening of support for him from them. In the RNS interview, he says:

"What he has least understood, I think, is how the average religious conservative is not in lockstep with the average religious conservative leader. In other words, evangelicalism is multifaceted. It has different divisions. Just because Franklin Graham or Dr. (Robert) Jeffress or James Dobson says 'vote this way' or 'Donald Trump’s the man' does not mean that you take, in lockstep, all evangelicals. There are evangelicals who are Democrats. There are evangelicals who are evangelicals of color as opposed to the white evangelicals who voted for Trump.

"I think he’s going to find that that coalition is increasingly frayed, particularly along generational and racial lines. You simply don’t win three prominent evangelicals and take 90 percent of evangelicals with you. It just doesn’t work that way."

Especially when it comes to religion, very little is as simple as it might seem at first. Just as it's not true that a Lutheran is a Lutheran is a Lutheran, so it's not true that an evangelical is an evangelical is an evangelical. As I've said time and again, such labels hide more than they reveal.

Whoever wants to run for president in 2020 will have to grasp that and shape a campaign that appeals to a wide variety of people of faith in this country. After Trump, it's difficult to imagine that 80 percent of white evangelicals ever will agree on anything again.

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Could there be advantages to printing the Bible not in verse-by-numbered-verse form but more in novel form? Yes, says the author of this Slate piece. I have a few Bibles printed in that way and find it an interesting change of pace, but when verse numbers are omitted, it's hard to compare the translation to others.