Can Religion Be Reproduced?

I saw this quote from famed magician/atheist/television personality Penn Jillette‘s new book on

There is no god and that’s the simple truth. If every trace of any single religion died out and nothing were passed on, it would never be created exactly that way again. There might be some other nonsense in its place, but not that exact nonsense. If all of science were wiped out, it would still be true and someone would find a way to figure it all out again.

Now, this might be true or it might not be true – it’s a thought experiment with no way of verification. It’s an assertion, not an argument. Thus, from the very beginning, the appeal to empiricism is weakened.

But this claim – “it would never be created exactly that way again” – is true of anything rooted in the passage of time: history, art, literature, even the progress of science itself. Continue reading

World Religions: Hinduism

Hindu Man Covered in Color

One of the more "colorful" Hindu traditions is the spring festival of Holi. As part of the celebration, people spray each other with brightly colored pigments.

Last night, we had a great class covering Hinduism. I realized after class that it might have been helpful to summarize the “good news” according to Hinduism, since the concepts are so foreign to Western Christians.  Here’s my attempt:

  • According to Hinduism, we are trapped in a cycle of reincarnation (samsara). Each time we die, we are reborn into a new life – but this isn’t a good thing, because life is filled with suffering and illusion.
  • Our next life is determined by the karma we accumulate in our current life. Good karma means we can be reborn into a better life (traditionally understood as a higher caste).
  • How do we accumulate good karma? There are many ways, including:
    • By fulfilling our dharma, including our caste, social and ritual obligations (Vedic Hinduism).
    • Through philosophy and meditation (Vedanta).
    • Through mental and physical discipline (Yoga).
    • By devoting ourselves to a specific god or avatar (Bhakti).
  • By accumulating enough karma, we can eventually achieve moksha – release from the cycle of reincarnation and connection with Brahman (the divine reality behind all existence).

This final state is a good thing, but it’s not the same idea as heaven. For one thing, many forms of Hinduism believe that our personal existence comes to an end. Further, Brahman is a not a personal god – Brahman is more like “the Force” from Star Wars, a spiritual energy that fills everything.

Photo: An Indian man celebrating the Hindu spring festival of Holi. Photo by wanderinghome

Next week, Buddhism!

Hinduism Links

You can read more about Arjuna and Krishna here.

Here is the link to the local Hindu Temple. If you are interested in learning more about Hindu gods, be sure to see the Temple’s deities page. There are some great photos of their shrines, as well as a brief description of each god or goddess. Some of the ones we mentioned last night:

Materials from class can be downloaded after the jump. Continue reading

Are Smarter People More Liberal?

Sculpture of man emerging from ape

Emergent Man

Ah, yes, another article proclaiming that smart people are liberal. Elizabeth Landau of CNN reports on a soon-to-be-published article by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa that claims higher IQ is associated liberal politics and religion, as well as “sexual exclusivity” (a.k.a. monogamy).

I haven’t seen the article (it’s not available yet), but there are a couple of problems with the simple equation “smart = liberal.” First, notice how “liberal” is defined:

The study takes the American view of liberal vs. conservative. It defines “liberal” in terms of concern for genetically nonrelated people and support for private resources that help those people. It does not look at other factors that play into American political beliefs, such as abortion, gun control and gay rights.

Strange definition. In America, conservatives favor the use of private resources to help people. As far as the “genetically nonrelated” issue, I have no idea what that’s supposed to mean. Part of the problem here – as with most discussions of liberalism and conservatism – is that the terms can mean many different things. Continue reading

Christian Privilege in the Academy?

Interfaith BannerIn InterVarsity and many other Christian organizations, we’re used to thinking of Christians as a minority – even a persecuted minority – within the academy, particularly at the more prestigious universities. For example, responding to a common question asked by many faculty and graduate students, we recently published an essay by Ken Elzinga of the University of Virginia titled “Being Open About My Faith Without Turning People Off.” There is another way of looking at Christianity in the university, however.

Photo credit: Interfaith chaplaincy banner at Nichols College, by Svadilfari via Flickr. Click for larger image.

Last week, my friend Julie forwarded me a link to Tricia Seifert’s article, “Understanding Christian Privilege: Managing the Tensions of Spiritual Plurality” (PDF). Comparing “Christian privilege” to the more commonly used terms male privilege and white privilege, Seifert identifies several areas of university life in which structure or assumptions favor Christianity over other religions, such as:

  • the academic calendar, which includes breaks for Christmas and sometimes Easter, but not High Holy Days, Ramadan, or other religious festivals
  • meal plans, which often don’t take into account the dietary needs of non-Christian students
  • at private colleges, chapel space, which, even if open to non-Christian use, is usually filled with Christian imagery (see this story about the recent creation of a Pagan worship space at the Air Force Academy)
  • nondenominational, but Christian “flavored,” prayer at graduation ceremonies and athletic events

Seifert offers some practical advice for addressing Christian privilege, and also suggests that Christian privilege affects the learning community:

The responsibility of educating the whole student includes creating a community in which all students feel safe to practice and share their spiritual beliefs and supported in learning about the spiritual beliefs of others. To create such a community, educators need to help students develop the ability and willingness to question educational practices and programs that privilege the spiritual identity development of one group over others. Students have made great strides in questioning other forms of privilege, such as male privilege and white privilege. The changing demographics of our college and university campuses and their increasing spiritual plurality necessitate a commitment to helping the campus community recognize and confront Christian privilege in the same way that it has confronted other forms of privilege.

Take a few minutes to read Seifert’s article (it’s about 6 pages) and consider what you think about the idea of Christian privilege.

Some questions for discussion:

How would you respond to Seifert’s article?

Do you agree that there is Christian privilege within the academy? Why or why not?

How do you think religious plurality affects the campus learning community?

How can Christians best contribute to the religiously diverse community at secular universities?

Does your college major affect your faith?

3827522871_bfbef9a5d9_o.jpgMaybe. A recent study by four University of Michigan researchers tracked college student for several years to see how their college experience affected their “religiosity” (basically, how often they attended religious services, and how important they view religion in their lives). We often think of science and religion as being at odds, but the study found that majoring in science had little effect on students’ religiosity. (More on that in a moment.) A different set of majors proved to be the greatest threat to students’ faith:

Being a humanities or a social science major has a statistically significant negative effect on religiosity — measured by either religious attendance and how important students consider the importance of religion in their lives. The impact appears to be strongest in the social sciences.

Continue reading