Menstuff® has information on Religion. The Bureau of the Census collected information in the Census of Religious Bodies from 1906-1936. This information was obtained from religious organizations. Public Law 94-521 prohibits us from asking a question on religious affiliation on a mandatory basis; therefore, the Bureau of the Census is not the source for information on religion. Some statistics on religion can be found in the Statistical Abstract of the United States, the section on Population.

4,200 religions, churches, denominations, religious bodies, faith groups, tribes, cultures, movements, ultimate concerns, etc. New edition of World Christian Encyclopedia published: tabulating 10,000 distinct religious groups, including 33,830 Christian denominations.


"For The Bible Tells Me So"
National Geographic explains the biology of homosexuality
George Carlin --- Religion is Bullshit
Priest says Hell is an invention of the church to control people with fear
Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun in Zadar, Croatia
Sea Organ and Greeting to the Sun in Zadar, Croatia
What is Christian Supremacy?

In the news

Half of Pastors Approve of Trump’s Job Performance - 101318

U.S. Religious Groups
US Religious Traditions
US Population by Religion
Largest 25 Denominations/Communions from the 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches
What denominations are gaining members and what denominations are losing members?
Maybe Jesus actually did say something about homosexuality after all
Comparing Different Religions and Faith Groups
9 Religions You've Never Heard Of
The Bible Says
The Bible and Suicide

What is the Christian view of suicide?
Similar with slightly different perspectives:
What does the Bible say about suicide?
Is Suicide Unforgivable?
What the Bible Says about Suicide
What Does the Bible Say About Suicide?
Suicide and the Bible
What Does the Bible Say About Suicide and Depression?
What Does the Bible Say About Someone Who Commits Suicide?
Bible Verses on Suicide
What the Bible Says About Suicide

Faith Based Hate
Religious Bigotry
Religious Freedom

Religious refusals in health care: A prescription for disaster

Contemporary Religious Persecution
Fanaticism and Religion
Atheists, Humanists Suffer Persecution World Wide, Report
Racism, white supremacy are 'a Christian problem'
Shit Happens in World Religions
How Shit Happens
Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds
Christian group's survey finds that Christians have the most abortions in U.S.
It's Dangerous to Argue that Religion Is Responsible
The Religious-Liberty Showdowns Coming in 2017
The Hijacking of the Term “Religious Liberty” for Political Gain
Freedom of speech, religion and fanaticism
Jesus, Religions, and Just War
How ‘religious liberty’ has been used to justify racism, sexism and slavery throughout history
Aramaic Bible Manuscripts in the ancient Estrangela alphabet
Religion Gives Us the World’s Largest Mental Disorder – Religithexia
Survey: Atheists trump Muslims on American 'feeling thermometer' - 2017
God or the divine is referenced in every state constitution
Thousands Quit Mormon Church in Mass Resignation
It's Dangerous to Argue that Religion Is Responsible
15 Surprising Similarities Between Christianity and Islam
How Evangelicals Are Different Than Other Christians
Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality
No More Box-Church. It’s Time To Break Free From Religion
My “Welcoming” Church is Not So Welcoming After All
The Case For And Against Prayer In Public Schools
14 Life Lessons For Religious Seekers From Kahlil Gibran
The Aramaic Bible Center Of S.E. Texas
Saudi Arabia's Gays Lead Good Life Or Do They?
BUYING FOR BIGOTRY: Christian Group Releases Rankings Of Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Companies
Three Republican candidates speak at anti-gay pastor's rally
Mormon church expands on stance toward children of gay marriage
Twitter Mocks Gun Toting Christian Pastor For Viral Protest Of Starbucks Red Cups That 'Hate Jesus'
Red Cup Outrage Fills the Attention Getting Needs of Another Nobody
The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife
Americans becoming less religious, especially young adults: poll
Pope to allow all priests to forgive abortion during Holy Year
Faith Doesn’t Justify Discrimination Against Women
This Week in God, 6.6.15
Meet the Tea Party’s evangelical quack: David Barton is Glenn Beck’s favorite “historian”
Vatican: Irish gay marriage vote a 'defeat for humanity'
Study: Americans becoming less Christian, more secular
What The Religious Right Envisions As An Endgame After Losing The Fight Against LGBT Equality
Outrage after Obama compares ISIS to the Crusades in comments at National Prayer Breakfast
What Would Jesus Buy?
CNN Morality Poll Reveals Surprising Trends In America
Lists of people by religious belief
What Do Religions Say About Birth Control and Family Planning?
Prayers for Peace
Vatican document challenges Church to change attitude to gays or our editors headline: The Roman Catholic Church confirms that it's okay to be human
Oops. Not so fast. The haters have spoken.
Vatican alters draft report translation about gays
Costco labels Bible as fiction in this store. Pastor goes viral for wrong reason
One preacher's message: Have hotter sex
Love thy neighbor
Remotely Related: Spirituality

U.S. Army salutes the sikhs> This video doesn't look like U.S. Army.
It looks British. But since there wasn't a description except the headline, I have posted it anyway.


What Would Jesus Buy?

The Reverend Billy premiered his documentary "What Would Jesus Buy?" in New York City and San Francisco several weeks ago. If you haven't seen this film, please try. It's at once a wonderful testament to gifting, a chilling observation on rampant commercialism, and a portrait of courageous perseverance in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Check out the official website to see a fun intro, a great trailer, and to find it in a theater near you:

The Religious-Liberty Showdowns Coming in 2017

From mosque surveillance to new religious-exemption laws, a look at some of the issues likely to come up under Trump

The 2016 presidential exit polling reveals little change in the political alignments of U.S. religious groups. Those who supported Republican candidates in recent elections, such as white born-again or evangelical Christians and white Catholics, strongly supported Donald Trump as well. Groups that traditionally backed Democratic candidates, including religious “nones,” Hispanic Catholics and Jews, were firmly in Hillary Clinton’s corner.

While earlier in the campaign some pundits and others questioned whether the thrice-married Trump would earn the bulk of white evangelical support, fully eight-in-ten self-identified white, born-again/evangelical Christians say they voted for Trump, while just 16% voted for Clinton. Trump’s 65-percentage-point margin of victory among voters in this group – which includes self-described Protestants, as well as Catholics, Mormons and others – matched or exceeded the victory margins of George W. Bush in 2004, John McCain in 2008 and Mitt Romney in 2012.

(For more on the 2016 exit polls, see “Behind Trump’s victory: Divisions by race, gender, education” and “Hillary Clinton wins Latino vote, but falls below 2012 support for Obama.” For an explanation of how exit polls are conducted, see “Just how does the general election exit poll work, anyway?” )

White Catholics also supported Trump over Clinton by a wide, 23-point margin (60% to 37%), rivaling Romney’s 19-point victory among those in this group. Trump’s strong support among white Catholics propelled him to a 7-point edge among Catholics overall (52% to 45%) despite the fact that Hispanic Catholics backed Clinton over Trump by a 41-point margin (67% to 26%).

Like Hispanic Catholics, religious “nones” and Jews were strong Clinton supporters. Indeed, nearly seven-in-ten religious “nones” voted for Clinton, as did 71% of Jews. Most people who identify with faiths other than Christianity or Judaism also favored Clinton over Trump, 62% to 29%.

Exit polls also follow another pattern from recent elections: Most weekly churchgoers backed Trump over Clinton, 56% to 40%. Those who said they attend religious services more sporadically (i.e., somewhere between a few times a month and a few times a year) were closely divided. And, those who said they don’t attend religious services at all backed Clinton over Trump by a 31-point margin (62% to 31%). There is one caveat, however; while exit polling from previous elections shows similarities, direct comparisons between 2016 and previous years are not possible because the wording of the question about religious attendance changed in 2016.

Finally, the religious makeup of the electorate remained largely the same, although there were some small differences between voters in this election and those in other recent presidential contests. While roughly a quarter of voters in 2016 described themselves as white, born-again or evangelical Christians (26%), which is unchanged compared with 2012 and 2008, the nearly one-quarter of Catholic voters (23%) may constitute a slight decline in the Catholic share of the electorate, compared with 2012 (25%) and 2008 (27%). In addition, religious “nones” accounted for 15% of all voters, a modest 3-point increase since 2012.

This preliminary analysis reflects data for 2016 as published by and/or as of 11 a.m. on Nov. 9, 2016. If data are subsequently re-weighted by the National Election Pool (NEP), the consortium of news organizations that conducts the exit polls, the numbers reported here may differ slightly from figures accessible through the websites of NEP member organizations.

It's Dangerous to Argue that Religion Is Responsible

There must be something emotionally satisfying for many people in arguments about religion whether they’re for “it” or against “it.” Beyond the strategies of politicians who prey on religious prejudices, people argue passionately, existentially, and obsessively about whether religion or Christianity, Islam or another ism, does, causes, or even “is” one thing or another.

These arguments seem to have sharpened and become more mainstream with the 24-hour cable news cycle that exploits terrorist attacks committed by people hiding behind religion and the fear-based politics of the Republican primary election gang. Talk radio and religious bigotry have also found renewed energy.

Trying to insert rationality into this argument can be an exercise in futility for either side. There’s something deeper being defended within the arguers that’s psychologically crucial to them, not just the need to win an argument.

The historical reality is that religion or any of the isms never do anything. But if we were to admit that that’s true, then we’d have to conclude that most religious arguments we’re in can only produce heat, not light.

People as individuals and in groups and institutions do things, but not religion or religions. People and institutions use religious ideas, symbols, scriptures, and traditions in ways that sanctify their goals, actions, and psychological conditions.

The abstract reification we call religion isn’t responsible for either the good or the bad for which “it” is given credit. The same scriptures, traditions, and dogmas can be used by a Martin Luther King or a Pat Robertson, a Mahatma Gandhi or a Nathuram Godse, the “Hindu” who assassinated him.

How they’re used and what they’re used for is the responsibility of the user or group of users. And “religion” must not be allowed to let them off the hook.

Take the Bible or the Quran. People will argue futilely about what these collections of writings “teach.”

Since no one, I repeat no one, takes everything in either book completely literally, no matter what they claim to do, what believers choose to use is their responsibility. And their interpretive schemes to get their scriptures to agree with their views are many.

Arguing that their sacred scriptures say this or that gets nowhere. Calling someone a literalist about their scriptures ignores their interpretive tactics and enforces their belief that they’re literally correct. Both activities actually encourage religious fervor.

Of course, each believer will claim that their interpretation, their selections from the smorgasbords that are scriptures, traditions, and respected religious thinkers are the true versions of their faith. Those claims are what believers fight over among themselves.

Their internal fights are so heated and brutal, and often over what looks to outsiders as so trivial, because a true believer doesn’t want to admit that there might be any other way to understand their scriptures or their religion than the version on which they’ve based their soul. Believers cannot admit alternatives because doing so would undermine the comfort of their hope of settled faith with doubts that their beliefs are possibly not true.

We never know with certainty what personal psychological issues, positive or negative, cause people to use religions the way they do. But we do know that there are a variety of emotional problems, family of origin hurts, prejudices, abusive upbringings, societal dynamics, and other factors that impel belief and explain why someone identifies with some beliefs and institutions but not others.

That’s why the most common predictor of ones own faith or the faith one is more likely to spend the most time fighting against, is the religion of one’s family. And since the vast majority of people in the world have never dealt with issues of their upbringing, those issues still propel both belief and unbelief.

Religion, then, can become the cover for these unhealed issues. Or still others can use religion to uncover them and promote emotional healing.

But think of the emotional high that religion can provide when it’s used as the basis for the actions one takes. One is no longer just acting out of personal sickness, anger, problems, insecurities, and fears when one attacks a women’s clinic or massacres colleagues in a workplace.

Using religious beliefs, one can feel instead that they’re doing God’s work, that theirs are actions sanctified by the divine. In that name many horrors can take place as if they aren’t just the very sick murders and brutalities they are.

And the victims of such atrocities can now be defined not as fellow human beings who disagree but as evil, demonic, and satanic. How much better for believers is that?

There is, thereby, no need to confront their own issues, seek therapy, or face their doubts, depressions, inadequacies, and failures. The feeling of righteousness has taken over.

So, for the believer, blaming religion enables them not to have to face themselves and their own emotional lack. God is responsible for all that happens, not them.

And when others blame religion, it plays into that same trap. When we claim that it’s religion’s fault, we let the individuals, groups, and institutions go free. We become their enablers.

We enable whatever happens because we too argue with the believer that it wasn’t actually a believer’s fault; it was their religion that’s responsible. And we thereby encourage others to continue their heinous acts in the name of religion without them feeling that their own problems are responsible.

The better solution is holding people, groups, and institutions responsible for how they use religion. It’s to stop colluding with them in blaming anything other than themselves.

This means refusing to argue about religion and instead calling believers, religious leaders, and institutions to account. And it means facing our own issues about why we want to argue religion in the first place.

So, what are we ourselves getting by continuing such arguments? If we answer that we’re just trying to reveal or defend the truth, then we’re arguing exactly what religious people are. Remember, they believe they’re defending the truth, too.

Taking God at His Word: The Bible and Homosexuality

God does not ask us to choose between compassion and faith in the Bible.

Christians are increasingly divided over the issue of the acceptance and inclusion of gay persons into the church. The debate itself is usually framed as essentially pitting the Bible, on one hand, against compassion and social justice on the other. Our Christian hearts, runs the (usually impassioned) argument, compel us to grant full moral and legal equality to gay and lesbian people; our Christian faith, comes the (usually impassioned) rebuttal, compels us to cleave, above all, to the word of God.

Compassion for others is the fundamental cornerstone of Christian ethics; the Bible is the bedrock of the Christian faith. What Christian can possibly choose between the two?

The answer is that no Christian is called upon to make that choice. The text of the Bible on one hand, and full equality for gay and lesbian people on the other, is a false dichotomy. God would not ask or expect Christians to ever choose between their compassion and their faith.

Reconciling the Bible with unqualified acceptance and equality for LGBT people does not necessitate discounting, recasting, or deconstructing the Bible. All it takes is reading those passages of the Bible wherein homosexuality is mentioned with the same care that we would any other passage of the book.

We can trust God; we can trust that God is loving.

And we can trust that we can—and that we certainly should—take God, in this matter, as in all things, at his word.

If there is no clearly stated directive in the Bible to marginalize and ostracize gay people, then it is morally indefensible for Christians to continue to do so.

What cannot be denied is that Christians have caused a great deal of pain and suffering to gay persons, by:

Christians do not deny that they have done these things. However, they contend that they have no choice but to do these things, based on what they say is a clear directive about homosexuals delivered to them by God through the Holy Bible. They assert that the Bible defines all homosexual acts as sinful, instructs them to exclude from full participation in the church all non-repentant sinners (including gay people), and morally calls upon them to publicly (or at least resolutely) denounce homosexual acts.

Without an explicit directive from God to exclude and condemn homosexuals, the Christian community’s treatment of gay persons is in clear violation of what Jesus and the New Testament writers pointedly identified as one-half of God’s most important commandment: to love one’s neighbor as one’s self.

The gay community has cried out for justice from Christians, who have a biblically mandated obligation to be just. Because the suffering imposed on gay persons by Christians is so severe, the directive from God to marginalize and ostracize gay people would have to be clear and explicit in the Bible. If there is no such clearly stated directive, then the continued Christian mistreatment of gay and lesbian people is morally indefensible, and must cease.

Heterosexual Christians are being unfair and hypocritical by using the clobber passages as justification for applying absolute standards of morality (and an absolute penalty) to homosexual “sins” that they themselves are never tempted to commit, while at the same time accepting for themselves a standard of relative morality (and applying no real penalty) for those sins listed in the clobber passages that they do routinely commit.

As there is no demonstrable harm arising from sex within a committed homosexual relationship, and there is significant demonstrable harm arising from the discrimination against and condemnation of gay persons, what possible biblical basis can there be for not recognizing the vast moral differences between sex acts done within the context of a loving committed relationship, and sex acts of any other sort?

Here are a couple of Bible passages that any Christian should bear in mind whenever he or she is called upon (or at least emotionally compelled) to render a moral judgment:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. — Matthew 7:1-2

Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. — Luke 6:41-42

The Bible isn’t a rulebook, and Christians cannot lift out of its context any passage from it, and still hope to gain a clear understanding of that passage.

It is important to understand that even the most fundamentalist Christian sects do not take the Bible wholly literally. The New Testament is two thousand years old, the old Testament much older. The Bible’s cultural contexts, along with the translation at hand, is always taken into consideration by any Christian serious about understanding this vast and complex work.

To excerpt any isolated short passage from the Bible, and then claim for that passage absolute authority, is to fail to take the Bible on its own terms. If we wish to follow the word of God, then we must take the entirety of God’s words into account. For example, when the Bible itself identifies some of its words as proverbs, it is bestowing upon those words less moral weight than other words that it identifies as commandments. The Bible itself tells us that some of its contents are songs, some visions, some histories, some dreams, some parables, and some commandments. The Bible itself also instructs Christians that New Testament moral directives supersede Old Testament moral directives. The Bible itself tells us that its moral principles supersede any of its moral “rules.”

The context of any Bible passage is as integral to its meaning as the passage itself. It may be appropriate to give equal weight to each clause within a business contract, each step within a set of mechanical instructions, or each rule within a game rulebook. But the Bible itself tells us that the Bible is not a uniform document, with each passage spelling out something clear and specific, and all passages having equal value. The Bible is not a rulebook for being Christian. We would be foolish to fail to understand that not everything in the Bible is a commandment, and that Christians cannot take a small section of the Bible out of its larger context, and still hope to gain a clear understanding of that section. Isolating a clobber passage from its context, and then claiming a sort of moral helplessness because “it’s in the Bible,” is failing to take the Bible either literally or seriously.

Using the four Old Testament passages to condemn all homosexual acts is not in keeping with any Christian directive from God, nor with the practices of contemporary Christians.

The Bible’s first four references to homosexuality occur in the Old Testament.

While continuing to be spiritually inspired and influenced by the Old Testament, Christians were specifically instructed by Paul not to follow the law of the Old Testament, in such passages as:

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. —Hebrews 7:18-19

Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. — Galatians 3:23-25

So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another … — Romans 7:4

For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace. — Romans 6:14

In practice, Christians do not follow the dictates of the Old Testament. If they did, polygamy would be legal, and things like tattoos, wearing mixed fabrics, eating pork, and seeding lawns with a variety of grasses would be forbidden. If Christians followed the dictates of the Old Testament, then today if the parents of a new bride could not, upon her husband’s request, prove that she was a virgin, that bride would have to be stoned to death. Christians would also have to stone to death any Christian guilty of adultery. And the Christian day of worship would be Saturday, not Sunday.

Clearly, Christians no longer cleave to the rules of the Old Testament.

Therefore, the use of the four Old Testament passages to condemn all homosexual acts is not in keeping with any Christian directive from God, nor with the practices of contemporary Christians.

In the clobber passages Paul condemns the coercive, excessive, and predatory same-sex sexual activity practiced by the Romans—and would have condemned the same acts had they been heterosexual in nature.

Because Christians’ understanding and practice of New Testament prescriptions naturally and inevitably evolve along with the society and culture of which they are a part, at any given time in history Christians have always selectively followed the dictates of the New Testament. Whenever a specific biblical injunction is found to be incongruous with contemporary mores, a reshaping of the conception of that injunction is not only widely accepted by Christians, it’s encouraged, as long as the new thinking is understood to be in keeping with overriding timeless biblical moral principles. This is why Christian women no longer feel morally constrained to follow Paul’s directives to leave their hair uncut, to keep their heads covered in church, or to always remain quiet in church. It’s also why the Bible is no longer used to justify the cruel institution of slavery, or to deny women the right to vote.

Just as those thoughts and understandings of the New Testament changed and grew, so today is it becoming increasingly clear to Christians that the three New Testament clobber passages (each of which was written by Paul in letters to or about nascent distant churches), when understood in their historical context, do not constitute a directive from God against LGBT people today.

Here are the three references to homosexuality in the New Testament:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. — 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine. —1 Timothy 1:9-10

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. —Romans 1:26-27

During the time in which the New Testament was written, the Roman conquerors of the region frequently and openly engaged in homosexual acts between themselves and boys. Such acts were also common between Roman men and their male slaves. These acts of non-consensual sex were considered normal and socially acceptable. They were, however, morally repulsive to Paul, as today they would be to everyone, gay and straight.

The universally acknowledged authoritative reference on matters of antiquity is the Oxford Classical Dictionary. Here is what the OCD (third edition revised, 2003) says in its section about homosexuality as practiced in the time of Paul:

“… the sexual penetration of male prostitutes or slaves by conventionally masculine elite men, who might purchase slaves expressly for that purpose, was not considered morally problematic.”

This is the societal context in which Paul wrote of homosexual acts, and it is this context that Christians must acknowledge when seeking to understand and interpret the three New Testament clobber passages. Yes, Paul condemned the same-sex sexual activity he saw around him—because it was coercive, without constraint, and between older men and boys. As a moral man, Paul was revolted by these acts, as, certainly, he would have been by the same acts had they been heterosexual in nature.

The Bible’s clobber passages were written about same-sex acts between heterosexual persons, and do notaddress the subject of homosexual acts between a committed gay couple, because the concept of a person being homosexual did not exist at the time the Bible was written.

It is critical to our reading of the New Testament’s three clobber passages to understand that while Paul would have known about sex acts that took place between persons of the same gender, he would have had no concept whatsoever of homosexual persons. Virtually no one in Paul’s time was “out”; no one lived, or in any way publicly self-identified, as a homosexual. Paul had no reference point for an entire group of people who, as a fundamental, unalterable condition of their existence, were sexually attracted to persons of the same gender, and not sexually attracted to persons of the opposite gender.

Here is the opening of the OCD’s article on homosexuality:

“No Greek or Latin word corresponds to the modern term ‘homosexuality,’ and ancient Mediterranean society did not in practice treat homosexuality as a socially operating category of personal or public life. Sexual relations between persons of the same sex certainly did occur (they are widely attested in ancient sources), but they were not systematically distinguished or conceptualized as such, much less were they thought to represent a single, homogeneous phenomenon in contradistinction to sexual relations between persons of different sexes. … The application of ‘homosexuality’ (and ‘heterosexuality’) in a substantive or normative sense to sexual expression in classical antiquity is not advised.”

We can be confident that Paul was not writing to, or about, gay people, because he simply could not have been, any more than he could have written about smartphones, iPads, or televisions. We do not know what Paul might write or say today about gay people. All we know is that in the New Testament he wrote about promiscuous, predatory, non-consensual same-sex acts between people whom he understood to be heterosexual.

The Bible does condemn homosexual (and heterosexual) sex that is excessive, exploitive, and outside of marriage. It does not, however, address the state of homosexuality itself, much less the subject of homosexual acts between a married gay couple. Christians, therefore, have no Bible-based moral justification to condemn such acts.

Because there was no concept of gay marriage when the Bible was written, the Bible does not, and could not, address the sinfulness of homosexual acts within the context of gay marriage.

The Bible routinely, clearly, and strongly classifies all sex acts outside of the bonds of marriage as sinful. But, because when the Bible was written there was no concept of gay people—let alone, then, of gay marriage—the Bible does not, and could not, address the sinfulness of homosexual acts within the context of marriage.

By denying marriage equality to gay people, Christians are compelling gay couples to sin, because their intimacy must happen outside of marriage, and is therefore, by biblical definition, sinful. Christians, in other words, cause gay people to sin, and then blame the gay people for that sin. By any decent standard of morality that is manifestly and egregiously unfair.

Being personally repelled by homosexual sex doesn’t make homosexual sex a sin.

In addition to the Bible, many Christians cite as evidence of the inherent sinfulness of homosexual acts their own emotional response to such acts. It is understandable that many straight people find homosexual sex repugnant (just as many gay people find heterosexual sex repugnant). It is normal for any one of us to be viscerally repelled by the idea of sex between, or with, people for whom we personally have no sexual attraction. Young people, for example, are often disgusted by the thought of senior citizens having sex. And who isn’t repulsed by the idea of their own parents having sex? (When, rationally speaking, we should rejoice in the fact that they did—at least once!) But it is much too easy for any person to mistake their instinctive reaction against something as a moral reaction to that thing. Outrage isn’t always moral outrage, though the two usually feel the same.

It may feel to a straight Christian that their instinctive negative reaction to homosexual sex arises from the Bible. But all of us necessarily view the Bible through the lens of our own experiences and prejudices, and we must be very careful to ensure that lens does not distort our reading of God’s sacrosanct word.

“The greatest of these is love”

The overriding message of Jesus was love. Jesus modeled love, Jesus preached love, Jesus was love. Christians desiring to do and live the will of Jesus are morally obligated to always err on the side of love. Taken all together, the evidence—the social context in which the Bible was written, the lack of the very concept of gay people in Paul’s time, the inability of gay people to marry, the inequity between how the clobber passages are applied between a majority and a minority population, the injustice of exclusion from God’s church on earth and from human love as the punishment for a state of being over which one has no choice—conclusively shows that choosing to condemn and exclude gay people based on the Bible is the morally incorrect choice. That evidence should instead lead Christians to the most obvious, and most Christian of all positions, stated so beautifully by Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 13:8-13:

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.


Contemporary Religious Persecution

On December 20, 2016, President Barack Obama signed into law a bill protecting advocates of circumcision (and other groups) from religious persecution.

While implicit government support for cutting the genitals of children is not a positive development, the actual impact of this event on work to protect children's genital autonomy is expected to be minimal to non-existent.

It is also good news that this event appears to have been largely ignored or downplayed by major media sources.

An article about this development can be found below and at

The text of the bill can be found at

Obama Signs Bill into Law Protecting Advocates of Male Circumcision from Religious Persecution

H.R. 1150 amends the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act to include protections for non-theistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess or practice any religion at all.

In a historical first, President Barack Obama signed legislation on 16 December 2016 extending protections against religious persecution to people with non-theistic beliefs, including those who subscribe to no religion at all. Passed with the overwhelming support of both parties in Congress, H.R. 1150 amends the Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA ), which established a watchdog commission to monitor and report on abuses of religious freedom around the world. The amended law includes this provision defining "freedom of thought, conscience, and religion":

The freedom of thought, conscience, and religion is understood to protect theistic and non-theistic beliefs and the right not to profess or practice any religion.

The bill further defines "the specific targeting of non-theists, humanists, and atheists because of their beliefs" as a form of religious persecution, a change lauded by believers and non-believers alike, according to a report by Religion News Service.

Russell Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, called the legislation "a vital step toward protecting conscience freedom for millions of the world's most vulnerable, most oppressed people," while Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association, called it "a significant step toward full acceptance and inclusion for non-religious individuals."

The American Humanist Association, which spent four years lobbying for the change, noted in a press release that the persecution of non-theistic minorities has become a serious, even lethal problem in some parts of the world:

The persecution of openly humanist and atheist writers has become an area of increasing concern especially after the string of murders of secular bloggers and publishers by religious extremists in Bangladesh. The American Humanist Association, along with other international advocates for religious freedom, have also been critical of the flogging of secular writers in Saudi Arabia, as well as a Saudi law that equates atheism with terrorism.

The bill was named for former GOP Congressman from Virginia Frank R. Wolf, a champion of human rights who introduced the original legislation in 1997.

It's Dangerous to Argue that Religion Is Responsible

There must be something emotionally satisfying for many people in arguments about religion whether they’re for “it” or against “it.” Beyond the strategies of politicians who prey on religious prejudices, people argue passionately, existentially, and obsessively about whether religion or Christianity, Islam or another ism, does, causes, or even “is” one thing or another.

These arguments seem to have sharpened and become more mainstream with the 24-hour cable news cycle that exploits terrorist attacks committed by people hiding behind religion and the fear-based politics of the Republican primary election gang. Talk radio and religious bigotry have also found renewed energy.

Trying to insert rationality into this argument can be an exercise in futility for either side. There’s something deeper being defended within the arguers that’s psychologically crucial to them, not just the need to win an argument.

The historical reality is that religion or any of the isms never do anything. But if we were to admit that that’s true, then we’d have to conclude that most religious arguments we’re in can only produce heat, not light.

People as individuals and in groups and institutions do things, but not religion or religions. People and institutions use religious ideas, symbols, scriptures, and traditions in ways that sanctify their goals, actions, and psychological conditions.

The abstract reification we call religion isn’t responsible for either the good or the bad for which “it” is given credit. The same scriptures, traditions, and dogmas can be used by a Martin Luther King or a Pat Robertson, a Mahatma Gandhi or a Nathuram Godse, the “Hindu” who assassinated him.

How they’re used and what they’re used for is the responsibility of the user or group of users. And “religion” must not be allowed to let them off the hook.

Take the Bible or the Quran. People will argue futilely about what these collections of writings “teach.”

Since no one, I repeat no one, takes everything in either book completely literally, no matter what they claim to do, what believers choose to use is their responsibility. And their interpretive schemes to get their scriptures to agree with their views are many.

Arguing that their sacred scriptures say this or that gets nowhere. Calling someone a literalist about their scriptures ignores their interpretive tactics and enforces their belief that they’re literally correct. Both activities actually encourage religious fervor.

Of course, each believer will claim that their interpretation, their selections from the smorgasbords that are scriptures, traditions, and respected religious thinkers are the true versions of their faith. Those claims are what believers fight over among themselves.

Their internal fights are so heated and brutal, and often over what looks to outsiders as so trivial, because a true believer doesn’t want to admit that there might be any other way to understand their scriptures or their religion than the version on which they’ve based their soul. Believers cannot admit alternatives because doing so would undermine the comfort of their hope of settled faith with doubts that their beliefs are possibly not true.

We never know with certainty what personal psychological issues, positive or negative, cause people to use religions the way they do. But we do know that there are a variety of emotional problems, family of origin hurts, prejudices, abusive upbringings, societal dynamics, and other factors that impel belief and explain why someone identifies with some beliefs and institutions but not others.

That’s why the most common predictor of ones own faith or the faith one is more likely to spend the most time fighting against, is the religion of one’s family. And since the vast majority of people in the world have never dealt with issues of their upbringing, those issues still propel both belief and unbelief.

Religion, then, can become the cover for these unhealed issues. Or still others can use religion to uncover them and promote emotional healing.

But think of the emotional high that religion can provide when it’s used as the basis for the actions one takes. One is no longer just acting out of personal sickness, anger, problems, insecurities, and fears when one attacks a women’s clinic or massacres colleagues in a workplace.

Using religious beliefs, one can feel instead that they’re doing God’s work, that theirs are actions sanctified by the divine. In that name many horrors can take place as if they aren’t just the very sick murders and brutalities they are.

And the victims of such atrocities can now be defined not as fellow human beings who disagree but as evil, demonic, and satanic. How much better for believers is that?

There is, thereby, no need to confront their own issues, seek therapy, or face their doubts, depressions, inadequacies, and failures. The feeling of righteousness has taken over.

So, for the believer, blaming religion enables them not to have to face themselves and their own emotional lack. God is responsible for all that happens, not them.

And when others blame religion, it plays into that same trap. When we claim that it’s religion’s fault, we let the individuals, groups, and institutions go free. We become their enablers.

We enable whatever happens because we too argue with the believer that it wasn’t actually a believer’s fault; it was their religion that’s responsible. And we thereby encourage others to continue their heinous acts in the name of religion without them feeling that their own problems are responsible.

The better solution is holding people, groups, and institutions responsible for how they use religion. It’s to stop colluding with them in blaming anything other than themselves.

This means refusing to argue about religion and instead calling believers, religious leaders, and institutions to account. And it means facing our own issues about why we want to argue religion in the first place.

So, what are we ourselves getting by continuing such arguments? If we answer that we’re just trying to reveal or defend the truth, then we’re arguing exactly what religious people are. Remember, they believe they’re defending the truth, too.

No More Box-Church. It’s Time To Break Free From Religion

There was that time when Jesus cleansed the temple – kicking over chairs, upturning tables, and driving out the money changers. You’re going to have to do this for yourself. Living inside your head are all those religious lies and deceptions that have enslaved you and are a power in your mind. They are constantly doing business in your head – controlling you, limiting you, sabotaging you, and stopping you. Kick them out! Upturn those tables! Toss those chairs! Drive them out of you! – Jim Palmer

I saw this on Facebook and it resonated with my heart. It did the same with a friend of mine… a parent of a gay child, set free from the fundamentalism, legalism, bondage and behavior-focus that comes from what I call the “box-church.”

The Box-Church: A church whose theology must fit neatly in a box, and who cuts off whatever does not fit. – Susan Cottrell

My friend said, “Now that we are here, can you ever believe we were once there???? UGH!!!”


I will be writing much more about the box-church – and box-christians and box-pastors – in the days, weeks, and months ahead. Because this type of thinking has been used to oppress and marginalize entire groups of people. It is completely contrary to the heart of the Gospel and the teachings of Jesus. And it is the truth that sets people free.

Sometimes freedom is scary. Simply bcause it is outside our comfort zone, outside our box. But that’s okay.

When our daughter came out, and we started our journey, it was scary at times. But we soon realized that it was only scary because it was new. And every brief moment of fear was soon followed by a lasting sense of peace and comfort, and then the incredible joy that comes from freedom.

Once you have been set free to discover and live God’s truth, to love how Jesus loved, there is no going back.

Once you have stepped outside of the “religion” box you have been living in, the air outside is so fresh, vibrant, invigorating, life-giving, that there is no part of you that wants to go back inside.

Jesus said that we would know the truth and the truth will set us free.

Free from what?

Free from the box-church. Free from religion.

My “Welcoming” Church is Not So Welcoming After All

Remember Princess Bride, when Vizzini keeps saying things are “inconceivable” just before they happen? Montoyo finally says, “That word – I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I hear many people say they are welcoming of LGBTQ in their churches. But that word, I do not think it means what they think it means. They think they are loving and warm and genuine at a heart level, but instead they are being correctly read as just short of expressing their non-acceptance. They are honest enough at least not to call themselves “affirming.” But they do not realize that the condemnation and judgment is visible in their eyes.

This comment from a reader is a sobering look at someone on the receiving end of “welcoming,” and the reality that it doesn’t feel the way you might think it feels.dear-susan_white

I write Dear Susan posts most every Friday. Sometimes they are poignant, sometimes thought-provoking, sometimes tender, sometimes funny… but hopefully always worth the read.

Dear Susan:

I think it’s more complicated than just “being welcoming.” I came out in my 40s at a nonaffirming church, and I was not rejected or asked to leave. My pastors expressed their continued love for me. My small group was happy to keep me (and they were a great source of support to my husband and me as we divorced over this, although admittedly more for him than for me). I suspect that as individuals, the majority of the congregation is in fact, affirming. BUT–the church continues to run programs that treat homosexuality as “broken,” and they’ve repeatedly featured speakers who claim to have lost their same-sex attractions or who admit they have not lost such attractions but feel called to live celibately. When they don’t invite a speaker who is openly gay and ok about it, I feel implicitly unwelcome even when people are explicitly saying “you are welcome here.”

I know that it is precisely because people–church leaders in particular–are wrestling with that issue of disagreement. They feel they have to disagree, because this is what they’ve been taught. In my experience, people haven’t been outwardly unwelcoming. They KNOW that being welcoming and loving is to override their disagreement, and they SAY all kinds of welcoming things, and they truly WANT to be a welcoming congregation, but you can’t help feeling unwelcome when certain topics come up, or when there are no other openly gay-in-committed-gay-relationships in the congregation. Until they decide to be openly AFFIRMING, they are not truly welcoming. It’s an improvement for a church who officially disagrees with you to at least be civil and not outwardly rejecting, but the very fact that it disagrees with you on something as fundamental as whether your very being is “broken” (or, more broken than the next person) is unwelcoming and puts a barrier between people. They are clearly better than some that are explicitly rejecting, that counsel parents to kick kids out, etc. But they are not there yet. It will take a lot of time. I’m not sure that a church can easily accommodate someone like me AND someone like the speaker who once thought he was gay but has been (apparently) happily married to a woman for 20 years. He has a lot of personal stake in having been “right” when first confronting

I think the church I attended is getting there

his sexuality, and someone like me who opted to divorce to be more authentic to myself is threatening to him. His choice might feel “unaffirmed” at an openly affirming church while mine feels unaffirmed at his church. As long as people with his experience remain in church leadership at nonaffirming evangelical churches, that will continue to complicate things even as the people in the pews get more and more affirming. It’s hard. There’s a part of me that has wanted to stay in that church to be that other voice, but I find that I can’t.

The truth is, churches like this are still judging. They still have determined that homosexuality is wrong, and they are “kindly” refraining from saying so – but as this reader expresses so clearly, she can feel it. It is present. What’s the solution? Am I telling you to overthrow your long-held beliefs to embrace something you can’t condone? No – especially as I know how deeply melded into your being the anti-gay message gets, thanks to our churches. But I am directing you to lay aside judgment and instead LOVE. Fully and unreservedly.

Be humble enough to say, “Gee, this is a bigger issue than I am equipped to deal with. I wonder if God may show ME something I had not previously seen. The church has been dreadfully wrong before… it’s hurt people terribly before… maybe I should withhold judgment. Jesus was pretty crystal clear when he said to love…”

I am asking you to love God, love others, focus on your OWN behavior as God leads you, and leave other people in the faithful hands of God.

Trust the Spirit of God to lead them in God’s perfect ways and timing. – Susan

Survey: Atheists trump Muslims on American 'feeling thermometer'

Americans may be warming to all religious groups according to a new Pew Research Center survey, but Muslims remain ranked poorest in terms of overall U.S. favorability.

In a Feb. 2017 survey, Americans were asked to rate a variety of religious groups on a 1-100 "feeling thermometer" (with 0 as the coldest and 100 as the warmest).

In rating all major religious groups, American adults gave nearly every sect a warmer rating than they did in a June 2014 version of the same survey. Americans continue to feel warmest toward Jews and Catholics -- with 67 and 66 degree ratings respectively. As was similar in 2014, atheists and Muslims found themselves with the poorest ratings. Average American feelings toward each group did warm since 2014, though, with a rise from 41 to 50 for atheists and 40 to 48 for Muslims.

Muslims are the fastest growing religious group in the world -- and yet most Americans say they know very little about the Islamic faith. In the wake of President Trump's original executive order barring travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations -- an order which his administration is now rewriting after federal judges rejected its legality -- the new commander in chief has positioned himself as someone who intends to defeat radical Islamic terrorism, and will go to great lengths to stop it.

Another February Pew survey shows that 54 percent of Americans see "not much" or "no" widespread support for extremism among Muslims living in the U.S., which is 9 points higher than the 45 percent who felt the same way in 2011.

Young people, Democrats and those who personally know someone who is Muslim are more likely to say they do not see support for extremism among Muslims in America.

The report's findings showing a steadily high rating for the Jewish community comes as Jewish cemeteries and community centers have fallen victim to a nationwide wave of vandalism and threat.

In the past month, about 100 headstones at a Jewish cemetery were vandalized in Philadelphia, almost 200 headstones were damaged in Missouri and 10 Jewish community centers received bomb threats.

A Muslim fundraising project led by Linda Sarsour and Tarek El-Messidi called for a display of "solidarity with the Jewish-American community" after the headstones were destroyed in St. Louis. After the project received a bump from J.K. Rowling the activists reached their $20,000 goal in just three hours.

In his Congressional address on Tuesday, President Trump said all Americans are "made by the same God." As a Christian-majority American democracy built on the separation of church and state grows older, the views of its electorate toward different religious groups will likely continue to evolve -- in sync with the growth of faith-based sects themselves.

Religion seems to foster more hate than love. - Gordon Clay

The Case For And Against Prayer In Public Schools

As it continues to be a hot-button issue for lawmakers, here are the cases for and against allowing prayer in public schools:




Three Republican candidates speak at anti-gay pastor's rally

Rachel Maddow shows that while Democrats were participating in a candidates forum, Republicans Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and Ted Cruz were guests at "religious freedom" event led by a pastor who preaches that homosexuality should be punished with death.

BUYING FOR BIGOTRY: Christian Group Releases Rankings Of Anti-Gay, Anti-Choice Companies

Chick-fil-A, Hobby Lobby Earn Highest Scores On Inaugural 'Faith Equality (Inequality) Index'

A conservative Christian group has taken a page out of the Human Rights Campaign's playbook, releasing a ranking of corporations that are most hostile to LGBT and reproductive rights.

Not surprisingly, Chick-fil-A and Hobby Lobby received the highest scores on the inaugural Faith Equality Index, put out earlier this month by a group called Faith Driven Consumer, which is encouraging people to "buycott" companies that don't share their "biblical worldview."

"Just in time for the busy Christmas shopping season — we launched our ground-breaking new scoring system rating major brands on their relative faith-compatibility," Faith Driven Consumer said in a news release. "It's important for everyone to understand what we are asking Corporate America to do — acknowledge us on equal footing with the other groups they embrace and celebrate."

According to The Washington Times, the Faith Equality Index is a response to HRC's Corporate Equality Index and Buying For Workplace Equality guide, which for more than a decade have rated companies based on LGBT-inclusive policies and procedures. Using the hashtag #AddUsIn, Faith Driven Consumer is even attempting to co-opt the LGBT "rainbow of diversity."

"In a marketplace that celebrates diversity, the Faith Equality Index focuses major brands on the newest color in their rainbow, Faith Driven Consumers," Faith Driven Consumer founder Chris Stone said in a statement. "Like every community, Faith Driven Consumers expect to be welcomed by the companies they do business with and work for."

Faith Driven Consumer claims to represent 41 million Christian consumers who spend $2 trillion annually.

Earlier his year, Faith Driven Consumer led campaigns to return Phil Robertson to "Duck Dynasty," get SunTrust Bank to reverse a decision to fire the Benham brothers, and protest Houston officials' decision to subpoena pastors' sermons in defending the city's Equal Rights Ordinance.

The group also got involved in the controversy over "religious freedom" laws in Arkansas and Indiana that aimed to give businesses a "license to discriminate" against LGBT people.

“We are disappointed by the misleading and inflammatory nature of many people’s comments in reaction to recent events surrounding Indiana’s religious freedom law," Stone said in March. "Such language presents an obstacle to the important issue of achieving universal equality in our culture and in the marketplace."

The Faith Equality Index rates more than 300 companies based on 14 criteria, and lists the ratings alongside their scores on HRC's CEI, the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility's Corporate Inclusion Index (CII), Black Enterprise's Best 40 list for African-American diversity and Diversity Inc.’s Top 50 ranking for diversity.

Criteria for the Faith Equality Index include:

Here are the seven companies that received the highest scores on the Faith Equality (Inequality) Index: (Thanks for sharing where not to shop this "winter solstice")


And here are the 10 that received the lowest scores: (Thanks for sharing where to shop this "winter solstice")

Chick-fil-A is, of course, is well-known for its outspoken opposition to same-sex marriage, although the Faith Equality Index doesn't appear to take into account a franchisee's recent decision to sponsor an LGBT Christian film festival. Hobby Lobby, meanwhile, was the lead plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme Court case challenging the contraceptive mandate under the Affordable Care Act.

Starbucks, currently under fire from right-wingers for its Christmas-less coffee cups, received a score of 27 on the Faith Equality Index, including five out of five points for the use of the word “Christmas” in seasonal advertising. (Again, no word on whether Faith Driven Consumer will be lowering the company's score.)

As for Interstate Batteries and Cracker Barrel, one columnist writes: "So, if you identify as a Christian it may be time to mentally prepare to find a car battery or hunk of cheese under your Christmas tree."

Needless to say, that would be better than the lump of coal people deserve if they allow prejudice against the LGBT community, women and religious minorities to motivate their shopping decisions.

14 Life Lessons For Religious Seekers From Kahlil Gibran

He urged us to grasp the "fundamental unity" of faith.

One of the most popular inspirational works of the last century was a collection of prose poems called The Prophet. Its author, Lebanese-American poet and artist Kahlil Gibran, was born 133 years ago this Wednesday.

The Prophet offers the philosophical musings of a wise man named Al Mustapha, who shares insight about love, family, work, death and other common threads that unite humanity. Though panned by critics when it was first published in 1923, the book was embraced by the public and translated into multiple languages. It achieved a cult status in the United States during the Vietnam War, becoming what some called the "bible of the counter culture."

Much of Gibran's work in both Arabic and English is infused with a deep sense of spirituality. In addition to his family's Maronite Catholic faith, his views on God were influenced by Sufi mysticism and other religious traditions. He became convinced of the "fundamental unity of all religions."

In honor of his Jan. 6 birthday, here are 14 life lessons from Gibran's writings that may speak particularly to those spiritual seekers who, like many Americans, do not identify with one organized faith.

What is prayer but the expansion of yourself into the living ether?
"You are my brother, and I love you. I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit." -- Kahlil Gibran

"Is not religion all deeds and all reflection, and that which is neither deed nor reflection, but a wonder and a surprise ever springing in the soul, even while the hands hew the stone or tend the loom?" -- Kahlil Gibran

"If you would know God be not therefore a solver of riddles. Rather look about you and you shall see Him playing with your children." -- Kahlil Gibran

Forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair.
"The most pitiful among men is he who turns his dreams into silver and gold." -- Kahlil Gibran

"What is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun? And what is to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?" -- Kahlil Gibran

"Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars." -- Kahlil Gibran

"Accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields. And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief." -- Kahlil Gibran

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.
"Spare me the political events and power struggles, as the whole earth is my homeland and all men are my fellow countrymen." -- Kahlil Gibran

"Only great sorrow or great joy can reveal your truth." -- Kahlil Gibran

"When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that, in truth, you are weeping for that which has been your delight." -- Kahlil Gibran

"When you love you should not say, 'God is in my heart,' but rather,

'I am in the heart of God.'" -- Kahlil Gibran

Quotes were collected from online versions of The Prophet, The Vision and articles on Al Arabiya, The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post.

The Aramaic Bible Center Of S.E. Texas is Dedicated to Providing Information that Clarifies and Reveals the Truth of the Scriptures as Jesus Understood Them.

Are all Bibles the Same?

Do they All Say the Same Thing?

Our Research has Led us to What We Believe is The Most Accurate Version of the Holy Bible. Protected in a Living Time Capsule For Sixteen Centuries in the Mountains of Northern Mesopotamia, The Aramaic Bible, called the Peshitta in the Middle East, was translated into English, for the first time in 1933 and Published as "The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts" in 1957. Having the Peshitta as a Reference has made it possible to correct numerous Translation Errors in all later Translations of the Bible. The errors are of Two Types: Spelling and Contextual. Among the most consistent translation errors are those that involve the Knowledge of Holy Spirit and the Soul.We believe that this Re-appearance of the Aramaic Bible is One of Many Signs that The Dispensation of The Holy Spirit Is In Progress

Aramaic Bible Manuscripts in the ancient Estrangela alphabet

When the King James version of the Holy Bible was published in 1611 A.D., the ancient Aramaic Bible manuscripts of the Peshitta texts of the Churches of the East written in the Old Estrangela characters were unknown in Europe. The 16th and 17 th century scholars had to rely chiefly on the Latin version, the Vulgate. The knowledge of Greek had declined in Europe and complete manuscripts were rare.

Moreover, England was beset with many difficulties. The country had just emerged from centuries of darkness and was confronting both internal and external difficulties--the threat of war with Spain and opposition against the Reformation. The victorious Turkish armies were advancing into the heart of Europe. Indeed, it was a miracle that the Reformation in England survived the death of Henry VIII. Such was the state of England and such were the conditions under which King James summoned scholars to make a compilation of the former translations, which resulted in the publication of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

Aramaic texts of the Holy Scriptures were introduced into Europe in the 18th century A.D. by a Lebanese scholar named Assemani, a Maronite (a sect in union with the Roman Catholic Church). At that time the only available copies of the Aramaic Peshitta texts in Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine were the new copies of the Monophysite sect and the translations from Greek into Aramaic for the Jacobites, who had joined the Monophysite Church. The comparatively new copies were written on paper in the modern Jacobite characters with vowels and not in the ancient original Estangela characters.

Assemani collected comparatively new manuscripts of the Peshitta, written in the new Jacobite characters for the Vatican Library (see Catholic Encyclopedia Article on Assemani). The Encyclopedia states that Assemani introduced into Europe the Western Syrian, or Jacobite, system of writing and not, as would have been more original and correct, the Eastern, i.e., the ancient Estrangela characters.

The real, ancient, original and authoritative manuscripts of the Peshitta text of the Holy Bible were discovered later in the Euphrates Valley and Iran among the ancient Christians. A manuscript dated A.D. 464 containing five books of Moses was procured by the British Museum. This manuscript is the oldest dated bibilical manuscript in existence. A complete copy of the whole Bible written in the early 5th century was purchased by Cardinal Ambrosius.

These manuscripts of the manuscripts of the ancient Peshitta text of the Church of the East are written on sheepskin in ancient Estrangela characters without vowels. This is the oldest known alphabet in Semitic languages, containing twenty-two characters wherein anything can be expressed without doubt and misunderstanding.

This script without vowels, the Estrangela, was used many centuries before the Christian era. Apparently, it had superceded both the cuneiform and the sign system of writing. It is this old script the Jews used to write a portion of the Commandments on their phylacteries, their clothes, their lintels and on memorial stones. These characters could easily be read by the people.

Demetrius, the royal librarian, in his report to King Ptolemy of Egypt relative to the Jewish Holy Scriptures states: "The characters in which it is written are like the proper characters of the Syrians (Arameans) and are pronounced like theirs also." (Josephus Book XII, Chapter 11). Arabic superceded Aramaic as the lingua franca about the tenth century A.D. The Greeks called this alphabet Syrian letters. They also called Adam "Syria". Josephus states that even though a number of Jews had tried to learn the language of the Greeks hardly any of them succeeded (Antiquities XX, XI 2).

It is important to know that all ancient and original bibilical manuscripts were inscribed in the above or ancient Estrangela characters. During the rise of the Islamic empire of the 7th Century A.D. , the Moslem rulers wrote Firmans decrees in the Aramaic language in Estrangela characters. This kind of writing was called Girshoni. We are told the first copy of the Koran was written in Girshoni. Then later Arabs modified the Estrangela letters into an alphabet known as "cufic" (a variation of Kufic, and later into the present Arabic alphabet.

These ancient characters were in use by the scribes of the Church of the East until the 11th and 12th Centuries A.D. and in the 7th and 8th Centuries the Estrangela alphabet was already introduced by the missionaries of the Church of the East into Mongolia, Manchuria, China, and Tartary. Then the Christians in the Near East began to use what is known as the Nestorian letters. The Jews and Christians in Syria also adopted this new form of writing which is known as the Assyrian letters. The change in the alphabet and the introduction of the vowel system is responsible for many errors which crept into later manuscripts.

Today one can find manuscripts of the Holy Bible translated from Greek into Aramaic, and there is also a translation from the King James version into Aramaic vernacular spoken in Iran, which was made more than a century ago by the Congregational and Presbyterian missionaries in Iran for their proselytes. It is the latter translations written on paper which have confused Western scholars relative to the origin of the ancient and authoritative Peshitta text of the Holy Bible written on sheepskin. The Peshitta was quoted by the early church fathers.

Dr. George M. Lamsa was also confused when he began to search for the copies of the original Peshitta manuscripts of the Bible. In many libraries and universities he was presented with the translations from Greek, the Jacobite Peshitta, and the translation from the King James version. But, having been educated in the Church of the East, he knew that these versions did not conform with the ancient texts he was brought up on.

Any Bible scholar who can read Estrangela characters can easily see that there is a vast difference between the original Peshitta and translations from Greek and other languages into Aramaic. He also would know that the ancient Peshitta is the original. Peshitta upholds its name, which means clear, straight, sincere, and true. The Holy Bible was written by inspired men who were admonished by God to write plainly. And the writings of the Apostles were called Peshetta or Peshitta, which means clear and simple.

Fortunately, today many sincere Bible students and scholars, who are tired of constant revision of the Scriptures from Greek, are turning to the Aramaic. Now many of them are admitting that there was an original written in Aramaic, the language which Jesus and his disciples spoke, from which the Greek was translated, but that it was lost. It is probably true all ancient texts of the Holy Scriptures perished in the lands west of Euphrates, Syria, and Palestine during the Roman and Byzantine persecutions, but original Bible manuscripts survived in the Euphrates Valley in an inaccessible region as Hakari; and in Iran (Persian Empire) among the ancient Assyrian Christians, and the remnant of the Ten Tribes.

Dr. A. Grant, first American (Congregational) missionary who discovered the Assyrian Christians and the remnant of the Ten Tribes, states " The Nestorians (Assyrians) have preserved their Scriptures with great care and purity. These regions in Kurdistan were inaccessible and rarely traversed by Western Christians prior to World War I.

There are thousand of differences between the ancient Peshitta text and the Western version of the Holy Bible. Thousands of passages, which were obscure and meaningless through mistranslations, become clear and meaningful when translated from the ancient Peshitta manuscripts

Twitter Mocks Gun Toting Christian Pastor For Viral Protest Of Starbucks Red Cups That 'Hate Jesus'

A firebrand preacher falsely claiming Starbucks is waging a war on Christmas gets his due when critics on social media strike back, turning his #MerryChristmasStarbucks on its head.

Remember Joshua Feuerstein? He's the on-again-off-again Arizona pastor-preacher-televangelist who first gained national attention last year when he posted a Facebook video of himself calling a random Florida bakery demanding an anti-gay cake. The owner thought it was a joke (it was April 1), hung up, and subsequently got hundreds of calls and death threats from some of his more than one million followers.

Feurestein's next trick was to record another video attacking same-sex marriage which showied him waving a semiautomatic assault rifle and telling his followers, “It’s time that we finally take a stand and say no more. We’re not backing up any further.”

Now Feuerstein is the first Christian soldier this year to begin the false claim of a war on Christmas.

Starbucks, as they do every year during the Holiday season, changed its coffee cups to red. Annually, they embellish the cups with winter decorations, like snowflakes, stars, snowmen, and ice skaters.

"In the past, we have told stories with our holiday cups designs," Starbucks vice president of Design & Content, Jeffrey Fields, said in a press release. "This year we wanted to usher in the holidays with a purity of design that welcomes all of our stories.

"Starbucks has become a place of sanctuary during the holidays," he added. "We're embracing the simplicity and the quietness of it," and called it a "more open way to usher in the holiday."

Apparently, embracing simplicity and welcoming all stories is the equivalent of hating Christians, Jesus, and Christmas, according to Feuerstein, who literally wrote on Facebook, “Starbucks REMOVED CHRISTMAS from their cups because they hate Jesus.”

His Facebook video has been viewed nearly 11 million times in just three days.

Feuerstein, in his video, screams that Starbucks' employees are "banned from saying Merry Christmas" and deleted any signs of the Christian holiday from the cups because they "hate Jesus."

Of course, that's totally false.

Snopes notes that Starbucks still sells its iconic "Christmas Blend coffee, offers gift cards with holiday symbols, and even vends Advent calendars."

Feuerstein also tells his followers to go to Starbucks, order coffee, and when the barista asks their name, say it's "Merry Christmas," so they write it on the cups.

He writes, "I PRANKED THEM ... and they HATE IT!!!!"

Which is beyond juvenile.

What's not, however, is at the end of his video, when he waves a gun and says that since Starbucks "hates" the Second Amendment, he brought his gun into the store.

The gun toting preacher says he wants to start a "movement" and asks his 1.8 million followers to share the video and to "prank" Starbucks' employees. Which is sad and selfish, since during the holiday season they work even harder and don't need some self-righteous "persecuted" Christian to make their days even harder.

But most importantly, Feuerstein is not only wrong, he's embarrassing himself and, by extension, other Christians, and destroying the true meaning of Christmas.

Religion Gives Us the World’s Largest Mental Disorder – Religithexia

It is estimated that 80% of the world is religious, which equates to approximately 5.6 billion people who are affected with Religithexia.

Religion Gives Us the World’s Largest Mental Disorder – ReligithexiaIn psychology, the term “Mental Retardation” was changed to “Learning Disabled”.

Perhaps the term, “Religitard” might be too harsh for someone who hangs on to outdated beliefs, so maybe there will be a new diagnosis called Religithexia for those who are “Religiously Disabled”?

Etymology: Religi (reverence for the gods) and thexia (longing for or desire)

While Religithexia is not an acknowledged disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM IV), it could be.

Were you aware that there is a disorder called Orthorexia Nervosa, which is a preoccupation for avoiding unhealthy foods?

And with the right diagnosis by your psychiatrist along with the proper medication prescribed through Big Pharma, you can overcome your desire to eat healthily while enjoying all of the processed foods and genetically modified organisms that “normal” people eat.

The true conspiracy behind Big Pharma involves such names as John D. Rockefeller and Adolph Hitler as well as businesses such as I. G. Farben, Bristol Meyers and Standard Oil.

For more on this, please read my article entitled Cash Cow Exposed: The Conspiracy Behind Big Pharma.

Astrology, Astrotheology, and the End Times

The most interesting facet of the bible is how it was written in perfect, astrotheological order!

When Moses brought back the commandments from god, his people were worshiping a golden calf, or in zodiac terms, the Age of Taurus. This was the transition point into the Age of Pisces, symbolized by the twin fish. As the story goes, Jesus fed 5,000 people with 5 loaves of bread and two fish. Both Jesus, the “sun/son” of God, and the fish represent the next 2,150 years in Christian theology. As the story continues, it was written, “Behold, when you have entered the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him into the house which he enters.” This is the Age of Aquarius that is hidden in biblical metaphor.

We’ve all seen the car decals and bumper stickers that have the fish symbol. As we near the end of the Age of Pisces, we will most certainly see an increase in the water symbolism that represents the Age of Aquarius.

This is also why the bible ends in Revelations because the astrologers who were involved with writing the bible knew that, inevitably, religion (as we know it) would end at this current point in time.

If you follow astrology, then you’d also know about Pluto in Capricorn. The last time Pluto was in Capricorn was in 1776, the year of the American Revolution. If you look around the world, there are many revolutions going on right now and this is not a coincidence!

Pluto is known as the “Destroyer” and it breaks down everything that is bad so it can be replaced with that with that which is good. That included money (we’re seeing the collapse of the USDollar and other currencies right now), government (as evidenced by numerous revolutions around the world), and religion (the exposing of the Roman Catholic Church for pedophilia, money laundering, etc…).

For more on Pluto in Capricorn, please read Expect HUGE Changes During This Rare Astrological Alignment! and HUGE Changes Are Upon Us With Pluto In Capricorn .

The onset of Religithexia

For many, the religious brainwashing begins at birth when we are baptized and subsequently attend Sunday school. This is when young, influential and impressionable minds are engrained with the need to be saved by Jesus Christ. Because of their early brainwashing, many children never question authority, including their Sunday school teachers. Everything they are told is being sold as the truth, just as much as in their beliefs of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. As they grow older, the truth of Santa and the Easter Bunny are revealed, but for most people, they still cling on to the same fictitious religious archetypes without questioning the beliefs or its origins.

For example, did you know that the 10 Commandments were stolen from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which actually has 42 commandments? In Exodus, we are told that Moses went to Mount Sinai and received these commandments from God. Apparently, this supernatural event is one of the many lies in the bible.

Perhaps Moses had a Narcissistic Personality Disorder comorbid with bipolar manic episodes? More likely, Moses experienced delusions of grandeur, if the event even occurred at all. Without completing a psychosocial evaluation with Moses, we will never know.

Religion Gives Us the World’s Largest Mental Disorder – Religithexia | |

It becomes blatantly obvious how naïve people can be when they believe everything they read in the bible without questioning anything. For example:

Also see: Saturn – Why Are We Worshiping The Cult Of EL?

Heal Yourself

When the richest people in the world die, they take with them the only thing they have ever truly owned: their soul. Because of a decree written by Pope Nicholas V in 1455, the RCC owns everything, Even what you think you might own such as your car, house or even the pair of shoes you are wearing belongs to the RCC (in their twisted minds).

Healing begins with knowledge

Baptism is forced upon a child without the child’s knowledge of what this ritual is all about. Christians will tell you that baptism is viewed as becoming part of the family, then growing into the belief that Jesus Christ has accepted you, so where did this ritual come from?

Just like ALL Christian holidays, baptism has Pagan origins coming from the influences of Baal Worship. It is claimed that the word ‘obelisk’ literally means ‘Baal’s shaft’ or ‘Baal’s organ of reproduction’. (Masonic and Occult Symbols Illustrated, by Dr. Cathy Burns, pg. 341)

In the bible, Jer 19:5, it states, “ They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire {for} burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake {it}, neither came {it} into my mind:”.

So, in essence, baptism is a sacrifice to Baal, just like what is reportedly being done at the Bohemian Grove rituals in California each year.

Related: BLOODLINES: Let US Make Man In OUR Image – Who Is ‘US’ And ‘Our’?

The origins of circumcision date back to the Egyptians over 5,000 years ago and while it is not clear why they did this ritual, it is believed that it was performed as a sacrificial rite.

The ninth edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1876) discussed circumcision as a religious rite among Jews, Moslems, ancient Egyptians and several tribal peoples::

Like other bodily mutilations … [it is] of the nature of a representative sacrifice. … The principle of substitution was familiar to all ancient nations, and not least to the Israelites. … On this principle circumcision was an economical recognition of the divine ownership of human life, a part of the body being sacrificed to preserve the remainder.

By 1910, the eleventh edition of the entry was reversed:

“This surgical operation, which is commonly prescribed for purely medical reasons, is also an initiation or religious ceremony among Jews and Mahommedans”: suddenly circumcision is primarily a medical procedure and only after that a religious rite. The entry explains that “in recent years the medical profession has been responsible for its considerable extension among other than Jewish children … for reasons of health”.

These are just a couple examples of questions that many Christians never seem to ask while wallowing in the subservience, control, and conformity of the church.

Truth is knowledge and knowledge is power.

Hidden in Plain Sight

In 1455, the first Testamentary Trust was created by Pope Nicholas V which basically states that the Roman Catholic Church has laid claim to all of your real estate. You cannot own anything that has a title because the Roman Catholic Church has already claimed ownership to it. You can’t own it anyways (nor can the Roman Catholic Church) because everything can be eventually broken down into molecules and those molecules are owned by our Creator.

Religion Gives Us the World’s Largest Mental Disorder – Religithexia |

Fact: The Crusades never ended. Virtually every war is a sacrifice to the evil entity known as the Roman Catholic Church in their quest for complete domination of the world. This is the church’s eugenics program that has been going on for thousands of years and continued today with numerous global wars coupled with fluoridated water, pharmaceuticals and genetically modified foods.

The Roman Catholic Church knows exactly who the antichrist is when it looks at itself in the mirror. And those people who follow the RCC are in essence, following the antichrist.

Related: Proof That Roman Catholicism Is Witchcraft

Steven Spielberg couldn’t have written such a twisted script for Hollywood.

Mr. Spock once said, “The insane are sane in an insane society.” In other words, if you are not religious, then surely, you must be insane, according to the Roman Catholic Church.


The most difficult part of anyone’s treatment will be facing the truth and how they have been lied to for millennia.

Pastors and priests will try to justify their positions as clergy by reiterating non-provable rhetoric that has absolutely no empirical data to back it up. If you ask them about a timeline, they will tell you that time was recorded differently back then. If you ask them about the existence of anything beyond the creation of the bible, which dates mankind’s existence to approximately 4,000 BC, they will tell you nonsense such as God is testing you with those dinosaur bones.

Your Christian friends and family will also try to justify their beliefs, telling you that the church provides morals while doing good deeds for the community. Do you really need a church to be a good person? And why can’t people do good things for one another without the church?

It is in this therapist’s opinion to heal yourself through knowledge. The truth is being exposed so take the time to do your own research. Gandhi once stated, “Even if you are a minority of one, the truth is the truth.” Seek out that truth and stand by it no matter what anyone else thinks. If you have questions, ask them until you get an answer that is suitable, even if it contradicts what popular opinion might dictate. We have been brainwashed for thousands of years and now is the time to sort out the truth.

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate…

It’s painful to watch people being lied to and even more so when they justify their outdated beliefs. You can provide a plethora of empirical data that proves how religion is all about subservience, control, and conformity, but they will either listen with deaf ears or will justify their beliefs based on hearsay or “faith”.

As evidenced by a multitude of Near Death Experiences, there are no pearly gates and no religious figures to greet you once you die. You judge yourself in a panoramic 360 degree view and then you judge yourself through the eyes of everyone you have encountered in your life. The same goes for other religions. After death or martyrdom, Muslims do not have sex with 72 virgins.

How did I get here?

Everyone is born with unique talents and gifts. One of my gifts is being able to successfully work with at-risk youth. Since I was a teen, children seem to gravitate to me for some unknown reason. As a father of a 20 year old daughter, I have noticed that my daughter has this gift as well.

As a child and family therapist for at-risk youth, I have successfully worked with many children and parents in helping them to attain equilibrium within their relationship with one another. I wrote a patent pending program designed to help families who are at-risk of dissolution (breaking up), for children who are at-risk, for children who are going through the reunification process (e.g. being reunited with parents after being placed in a foster home) and for parents in need of parenting classes. The program works with every person, despite differences in race, ethnicity or religious background (or lack of).

I have also written a book called 100+ Common Parenting Mistakes, which helps to prevent and address common problems that we have all experienced as parents.

As a child, I was always repelled by religion. I was raised as a Christian (Methodist) and would constantly question my Sunday school teacher about our true origin of existence. Just walking into church felt innately wrong as if my higher self was kicking me in the ass while screaming, “Get out of here!”

Coupled with my psychology background, I have also studied religion, philosophy and theology quite extensively, which has led me to being if anything, gnostic. I believe in an all-loving higher Source and I reject the biblical god who is all-loving one minute, then decides to kill everyone except Noah and his family the next minute.


Try looking at religion from another perspective.

Religion Gives Us the World’s Largest Mental Disorder – Religithexia in5d in 5d body mind soul spirit

It seem like the origins of prejudice have come from religion.

Here’s another example. Imagine if a UFO landed in your backyard. Do you honestly think the ET will be carrying a bible with him?

Related: 10 Christ-Like Figures Who Pre-Date Jesus

Here’s another example. Imagine if a UFO landed in your backyard. Do you honestly think the ET will be carrying a bible with him?

Realizing that their fictitious fairy tale is about to be exposed, Pope Benedict XVI’s astronomer stated the Catholic Church welcomes aliens. Really? On what day did the Christian God create aliens?

In an article written on September 17, 2010, senior Vatican astronomer, Brother Guy Consolmagno, said he would welcome aliens into his church and would be happy to baptize them. It’s pretty sad to see how the Vatican believes they can convert ET’s to Christianity. What is even scarier is that they have tried to convert the rest of the world through war and corruption.

Ask yourself this: Why does the Vatican own many of the world’s most powerful telescopes, including one called L.U.C.I.F.E.R.?

We have all heard about the false prophet line of crap. The bible conveniently mentions false prophets 17 times. Here is one of them:

2 Peter 2:1

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them.

With such an evil plan for subservience, control and conformity, is it possible that the church realized they would eventually be exposed?

The false prophet line of crap is the church’s way of delaying the inevitable of being exposed for trapping humanity into a demented belief system filled with contradictions such as:.

How many stalls and horsemen?

1KI 4:26 And Solomon had forty thousand stalls of horses for his chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen.

2CH 9:25 And Solomon had four thousand stalls for horses and chariots, and twelve thousand horsemen; whom he bestowed in the chariot cities, and with the king at Jerusalem.

Is God good to all, or just a few?

PSA 145:9 The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works.

JER 13:14 And I will dash them one against another, even the fathers and the sons together, saith the LORD: I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them.

War or Peace?

EXO 15:3 The LORD is a man of war: the LORD is his name.

ROM 15:33 Now the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

Is it good to be wise or not?

PRO 4:7 Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

ECC 1:18 For in much wisdom is much grief: and he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow.

1CO 1:19: “For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.”

There are many, many more contradictions in the bible, but you get the picture.


Because the medical industry works hand-in-hand with the pharmaceutical industry, the DSM IV will never recognize Religithexia as an official disorder because there is no “cure” provided by Big Pharma.

Religion keeps us divided as a global civilization while continuing the unnecessary deaths of billions of people through inquisitions, crusades, eugenics and an outdated belief system. How much longer will we remain subservient to a system that promotes killing one another?

To this therapist, “Religion” should be the DSM IV definition of insanity and in this writer’s opinion, ALL bibles should be four words long: Love everyone. Respect everything.

One last thought to ponder: The letter “J” wasn’t invented until the mid 1500’s. Do the math. If there was a savior-like character in the bible, it was IMPOSSIBLE for his name to be Jesus. While it may be possible for him to be named Yahweh or Yeshua, then why didn’t the bible write it that way? What else have they twisted around? If King James was a freemason, then what were his motives behind altering the bible? How many people were named “John” or “Jacob” in the middle east where Jesus supposedly originated?

About the Author:

Gregg Prescott, M.S. is the founder and editor of In5D and BodyMindSoulSpirit. He hosts a weekly spiritual show on In5D Radio and promotes spiritual, metaphysical and esoteric conferences in the United States through In5dEvents. Gregg is currently working in collaboration with Michelle Walling, CHLC, in opening a holistic walk-in clinic called Alternative Holistic Healthcare (AHH) in Sarasota, FL with subsequent subsidiaries around the world based upon this model.Gregg Prescott, M.S. is the founder and editor of In5D and BodyMindSoulSpirit. He hosts a weekly spiritual show on In5D Radio and promotes spiritual, metaphysical and esoteric conferences in the United States through In5dEvents. His love and faith for humanity motivates him to work relentlessly in humanity’s best interests 12-15+ hours a day, 365 days a year. Please like and follow In5D on Facebook as well as BodyMindSoulSpirit on Facebook!

9 Religions You've Never Heard Of

We've all had at least some exposure to major religions like Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and others, but what about those obscure or ancient traditions we've never heard of? Here we provide a selection of some of those traditions that are often missing in the religious conversation.

Sikhism: 23,000,000 followers, Indian Origin — The Sikh tradition is monotheistic, but rejects divine incarnations. Sikhs hold that liberation results from absorption into God. Click here for more on Sikhism.

Soka Gakkai: 12,000,000 followers, Japanese Origin — Soka-Gakkai teaches that happiness is the goal of life, attained through the values of goodness, beauty, and prosperity. Click here for more on Soka Gakkai.

Wahhabi Islam: 15,000,000 followers, Arabian Origin — Wahhabi Islam emphasizes the oneness of God and advocates a return to the rituals of the original teachings of Islam. Click here for more on Wahhabi Islam.

Jainism: 6,000,000 followers, Indian Origin — The ultimate goal of Jainism is the liberation of the self from rebirth, which is attained through the elimination of accumulated karma. Click here for more on Jainism.

Baha'i: 5,000,000 followers, Persian Origin — Baha'i propounds that God is utterly transcendent and ultimately unknowable to humanity. Tenets emphasize unity in all things. Click here for more on Baha'i.

Oceania: number of followers unknown, South Pacific Origin - Oceanic traditions tend to be polytheistic, with a worldview that encompasses both the spiritual and natural worlds. Click here for more on Oceania.

Zoroastrianism: 200,000 followers, Persian Origin — An ancient Iranian, pre-Islamic religion, Zoroastrianism is based on the dualism of good versus evil in all humanity. Click here for more on Zoroastrianism.

Cao Dai: 5,000,000 followers, Vietnamese Origin — Cao Dai is a modern, pluralistic, syncretistic Vietnamese religious tradition with strong nationalistic components. Click here for more on Cao Dai.

Juche: 20,000,000 followers, North Korean Origin — Juche is the only government-recognized ideology in North Korea, that many consider to be a cult created by Kim Il-Sung. Click here for more on Juche


Religious refusals in health care: A prescription for disaster

The Bottom Line

Freedom of religion is an important American value, which is why it is already protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution. That freedom doesn’t give people the right to impose their beliefs on others or to discriminate.

In January 2018, the Trump Administration’s announcement of a new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division within the Department of Health and Human Services, and proposed rules that seek to radically expand the ability of health care providers to deny patients care based on religious or moral beliefs. In response, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) and the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) released a new report, Religious Refusals in Health Care: A Prescription for Disaster. The report examines the coordinated efforts to allow medical providers to legally discriminate and deny needed care—from the recent actions at the federal level to the lack of nondiscrimination protections at the state level.

Religious Refusals in Health Care: A Prescription for Disaster (16 page PDF) outlines the key types of health care which will be at risk if providers are able to refuse treatment and choose which patients they wish to serve, resulting in broad and dangerous harms, including:


Mormon church expands on stance toward children of gay marriage

Mormon church leaders elaborated on Friday about a recent policy on children in same sex marriages that drew fire from rights activists and prompted hundreds of members to say they planned to resign.

The provisions, approved last week by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, added same-sex marriage to the list of acts considered to be a renunciation of the Utah-based faith and subject to discipline, including excommunication.

It also prohibits natural or adopted children of gay married couples from being baptized asMormons until they turn 18, leave their parents' home and personally disavow same-sex marriage or cohabitation.

In a statement, the church's governing First Presidency said on Friday that they had been obligated to act for the welfare of both adults and children in setting out the new policy.

"The provisions ... that apply only to those children whose primary residence is with a couple living in a same-gender marriage or similar relationship," the three-member board said in a statement.

"When a child living with such a same-gender couple has already been baptized and is actively participating in the Church, ... (the provisions) do not require that his or her membership activities of priesthood privileges be curtailed or that further ordinances be withheld," the statement said.

Decisions concerned such children, it added, should be made by local church leaders "with their prime consideration being the preparation and best interests of the child."

It said all children should be treated with the utmost respect and love, that they are welcome to attend church meetings and take part in church activities, and may receive priesthood blessings of healing and spiritual guidance.

The First Presidency comprises church President Thomas S. Monson and two male counselors.

The Mormon church this year announced support for U.S. laws protecting gays and lesbians from discrimination in housing and employment. But its leaders have said sex should only happen between a wedded couple, and that they cannot sanction same-sex marriage.

Hundreds of demonstrators plan to gather on Saturday at a park across the street from the faith's headquarters complex in Salt Lake City, before mailing letters stating that they resign from the church, organizers of the protest say.


Americans becoming less religious, especially young adults: poll

Americans are becoming less religious, judging by such markers as church attendance, prayer and belief in God, and the trend is more pronounced among young adults, according to a poll released on Tuesday.

The share of U.S. adults who say they believe in God, while still high compared with other advanced industrial countries, slipped to 89 percent in 2014 from 92 percent in 2007, according to the Pew Research Center's Religious Landscape Study.

The proportion of Americans who say they are "absolutely certain" God exists fell even more, to 63 percent in 2014 from 71 percent in 2007.

The percentage of Americans who pray every day, attend religious services regularly and consider religion important in their lives are down by small, but statistically significant measures, the survey found.

The trend is most pronounced among young adults, with only half of those born from 1990 to 1996 absolutely certain of their belief in God, compared to 71 percent of the "silent generation," or those born from 1928 to 1945.

Younger people also are less likely to pray daily, at 39 percent, compared to "silent generation" adults at 67 percent.

Spread the Word

Young adults are also much less likely to attend religious services, the survey found.

On the other hand, 77 percent of Americans continue to identify with some religious faith, and those who do are just as committed now as they were in 2007, according to the survey. Two-thirds of religiously affiliated adults say they pray every day and that religion is very important to them, the survey found.

The survey also found religious divides among the political parties, with those who are not religiously affiliated more likely to be Democrats, at 28 percent, compared to 14 percent of Republicans.

About 38 percent of Republicans identify as evangelical Protestants - the largest religious group in the party, the survey found. Catholics make up 21 percent of each major political party.

Orianna O'Neill, 21, a student at Beloit College in Wisconsin who comes from a non-religious household but sometimes prays, said she thinks the anti-science, anti-gay rhetoric of some politicians may be turning some young people away from religion.

"The idea of Republicans not believing in global warming is contributing to the notion that religious people are not intelligent."

Both the 2007 and 2014 studies surveyed more than 35,000 adults and had margins of error of less than 1 percentage point.

Religious children are meaner than their secular counterparts, study finds

Religious belief appears to have negative influence on children’s altruism and judgments of others’ actions even as parents see them as ‘more empathetic’

Children from religious families are less kind and more punitive than those from non-religious households, according to a new study.

Academics from seven universities across the world studied Christian, Muslim and non-religious children to test the relationship between religion and morality.

They found that religious belief is a negative influence on children’s altruism

“Overall, our findings ... contradict the commonsense and popular assumption that children from religious households are more altruistic and kind towards others,” said the authors of The Negative Association Between Religiousness and Children’s Altruism Across the World, published this week in Current Biology.

“More generally, they call into question whether religion is vital for moral development, supporting the idea that secularisation of moral discourse will not reduce human kindness – in fact, it will do just the opposite.”

Almost 1,200 children, aged between five and 12, in the US, Canada, China, Jordan, Turkey and South Africa participated in the study. Almost 24% were Christian, 43% Muslim, and 27.6% non-religious. The numbers of Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, agnostic and other children were too small to be statistically valid.

They were asked to choose stickers and then told there were not enough to go round for all children in their school, to see if they would share. They were also shown film of children pushing and bumping one another to gauge their responses.

The findings “robustly demonstrate that children from households identifying as either of the two major world religions (Christianity and Islam) were less altruistic than children from non-religious households”.

Older children, usually those with a longer exposure to religion, “exhibit[ed] the greatest negative relations”.

The study also found that “religiosity affects children’s punitive tendencies”. Children from religious households “frequently appear to be more judgmental of others’ actions”, it said.

Muslim children judged “interpersonal harm as more mean” than children from Christian families, with non-religious children the least judgmental. Muslim children demanded harsher punishment than those from Christian or non-religious homes.

At the same time, the report said that religious parents were more likely than others to consider their children to be “more empathetic and more sensitive to the plight of others”.

The report pointed out that 5.8 billion humans, representing 84% of the worldwide population, identify as religious. “While it is generally accepted that religion contours people’s moral judgments and pro-social behaviour, the relation between religion and morality is a contentious one,” it said.

The report was “a welcome antidote to the presumption that religion is a prerequisite of morality”, said Keith Porteus Wood of the UK National Secular Society.

“It would be interesting to see further research in this area, but we hope this goes some way to undoing the idea that religious ethics are innately superior to the secular outlook. We suspect that people of all faiths and none share similar ethical principles in their day to day lives, albeit may express them differently depending on their worldview.”

According to the respected Pew Research Center, which examines attitudes toward and practices of faith, most people around the world think it is necessary to believe in God to be a moral person. In the US, 53% of adults think that faith in God is necessary to morality, a figure which rose to seven of 10 adults in the Middle East and three-quarters of adults in six African countries surveyed by Pew.

The Hijacking of the Term “Religious Liberty” for Political Gain

Law BooksWords matter. The phrase of the moment is “religious liberty.” The headlines are filled with the politicization of the term, which has stretched well beyond its constitutional meaning. Conservative Christians demand it (whatever it is) so that they do not have to mix with LGBT individuals or remotely endorse—or be perceived as endorsing—same-sex marriage. The ACLU is saying it is for making sure sex predators can go to church but not for companies to restrict contraception. The Church of Cannabis says it is for illegal drugs. The Little Sisters of the Poor say it is for not having to say what they believe in writing when the result is that the government accommodates their beliefs.

We did not talk about religious liberty like this until 1993, when the statutory religious liberty regime descended on America with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Before that, the First Amendment’s religious liberty meant that the government could not tell you what to believe; or tell a church how to organize itself; or try to run the Santerians out of town by passing a law that applied only to them. In addition, it was never a license to violate laws that undermine complex governing systems, like the tax system or for courts to act as experts on the military, or know-it-alls on prison regulations. It meant that Adell Sherbert could not be denied unemployment compensation for going to church when other employees could take time off without such a penalty, but that drug counselors could not use illegal drugs, even if in a religious ceremony, where that was a requirement for their jobs. Neither could a man take multiple wives even if for religious purposes, nor a religious organization order the government how to handle its own land.

Constitutional Religious Liberty

Each of these Supreme Court rulings was drawn from the sensible balance that the founding generation built into the first state constitutions, which created a right to religious liberty so long as it did not violate peace and safety, while at the same time forbidding licentiousness in the name of religion. They fundamentally understood the necessity of liberty and the need to place limits on it. What do we call a country with too much “religious liberty”? A tyranny of establishment, say like Iran or the traveling country that is ISIS. Or if you prefer a Western example, there was too much “religious liberty” at the Tower of London and in the Salem witch trials. The Supreme Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence reflected this crucial balance between liberty and license.

But the First Amendment rulings are also much more, because constitution-based religious liberty is situated in the larger Constitution. For example, when the federal courts interpret the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, they must also take into account the separation of powers, which has meant that in the First Amendment religious liberty cases, judges exhibited a healthy humility for their role vis-à-vis legislatures and the executive. That explains some of the wisest decisions, like the Court’s rejection of a right of soldiers to determine their headgear by faith in Goldman v. Weinberger, but also Congress’s subsequent willingness to then expand opportunities for religious headgear. Under the Constitution, federal judges must, if they can, also avoid a constitutional ruling that would invalidate a law—out of respect for their fellow branches. Courts are part of a system of checks and balances, and mutual respect is demanded when constitutional rights are at stake.

Statutory Religious Liberty

That is not so when Congress makes up religious liberty as it did with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in 1993 and then again in 2000. With statutory religious liberty, the built-in limitations on judicial activism in the Constitution melt away. RFRA instructs courts to throw caution to the wind and re-draft the legislation at issue to create a cozy cocoon around a single believer, with no reference to the institutional competence of a court to do so, and no concern for those who will be harmed when the believer breaks out of the cocoon to do whatever his or her beliefs demand.

Statutory religious liberty has led to the effective overruling of constitutional religious liberty decisions: believers have the right to carve out their own exemptions from complex national schemes, like national healthcare, and courts are now experts on military headgear, and know-it-alls on prison security.

In short, the term “religious liberty” has been bastardized. It simply does not mean the same thing in the constitutional and statutory contexts. It should come as no surprise that when Congress spawned religious liberty, it was a political tool, politically motivated, and sure to invite political discord without reference to constitutional principles that would otherwise wrap religious liberty into our republican form of government. When religious liberty became political tinder, it was debased and divorced from a balance between liberty and licentiousness and transformed into a ticket for courts to be super legislators and the believer to do whatever the believer wants. In other words, constitutional religious liberty requires consideration of all elements of the polity; statutory religious liberty is a prescription for self-aggrandizement whether judge or believer.

Thus, there is constitutional religious liberty that was in place until 1990 and which yielded remarkable peace and responsibility between believers and their society. And there is the statutory religious liberty post-1990 that tells believers to run over any law contrary to their belief.

Journalists Need to Be More Precise Even If Politicians Will Not Be

One cannot expect politicians to play fair with such intoxicating verbiage. “Ahh—my fellow Americans, I will give you religious liberty!!!”

Yet, journalists (including bloggers) have an obligation to the public to be accurate. “Religious liberty” is now an opaque term—often used to mislead as much as to illuminate. Compound terms are now needed for accuracy. There is “constitutional religious liberty” and there is “statutory religious liberty.” And, editors, please do not falsify the terms by insisting on what the lowest common denominator will understand. It is your job to educate as well as to report. So enough of letting candidates and public relations spinmeisters for the religious organizations spout “religious liberty” as the all-good that is a central part of our constitutional heritage. More often than not today, politicians are extolling statutory religious liberty but acting like it is constitutionally required and worthy of the reverence we should have for the First Amendment. For example, Scott Walker states: “Americans deserve a President who will fight and win for them. Someone who will stand up for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Someone who will stand up for our religious rights and all of our other Constitutional rights.” This is political bait and switch with the term “religious liberty.”

Tell it like it is: statutory religious liberty is all about political one-upmanship and gaining an advantage over policy via one’s beliefs. Constitutional religious liberty is about the sane and peaceful operation of a gloriously diverse representative democracy where believers, yes, even believers, have obligations to not harm others. To summarize, statutory religious liberty is not and never has been constitutional religious liberty.

Freedom of speech, religion and fanaticism

The debate on the vitality and threat to freedom of speech and expression, including the most effective strategies to defend its practice, currently proceeds across large parts of the democratic world.

The more right we give to individuals to feel offended, the more moral justification for violent responses within this right emerges. Freedom of speech should never be restricted or related to the individual experience and right(?) to feel aggrieved. Instead, this privilege to express opinions has to be a fundamental part in a larger democratic discussion and development characterised by a holistic approach towards society. The risks of safeguarding our right to express and simultaneously restrict the width, will be that we unconsciously trigger and make way for islamophobic and anti-semitic tendencies. To mock a religious profile, or to criticise religions and valuegrounds, are not necessarily the same as attacking minority groups. Far from it.

I would never pretend to know what causes organizations or fanatics to commit deeds as the ones we have witnessed and experienced in Paris and Copenhagen recently. However, I believe any type of violent act of that kind fundamentally concern our relationship to one another. Senses of fear and social divides fuel radical actions, and that also include expressing opinions and the nature of public debate. If there is a perceived insecurity, coupled with exceeding limits regarding ethics and morality, pushing for provocation and polarization, the public debate (as well as social life in general) toughens. Religion or ideology becomes weapons for taking the edge off the opponent, often with highly polarized and provocative formulations. But what is the actual affinity between characteristics of public debate, freedom of speech and fanatics using religion as justification for violence?

Well, looking at the highly intense debate regarding the role of freedom of speech and whether or not one should provoke by making fun of religious figures, some characteristics emerge. On the one hand there is a consensus in the condemnation of the attacks and a defence of the freedom of speech (ie support for the right to criticize religions, in the same way that we have freedom to practice a religion we have the right to make fun of religions in accordance with the freedom of speech). And in this final standpoint, the personal integrity and individual right of feeling offended enters. But just because someone feel offended it doesn’t mean they’re right. Again, if we are to structure society after the risk of individuals feeling offended and put that risk in relation to the overall idea of freedom to express what is within the arms of the law, well, I just don’t see how that would enhance democracy.

With this argument I critically approach the other dimension of this debate, namely those who strongly argue for freedom of speech through “yes we have the right, but it is not the time to provoke right now given the current state of society”. If this becomes a collective judgment, I believe it will not only confine but also have a more severe damage to open society than terrorist attacks actually carried out as partially a consequence for our provocations of religious characters.

Yes, with freedom comes obligations and our freedom to express must in practice be guided by common sense and responsibility. But, I find it hard to understand the surprisingly strong voices in the current debate arguing that we who express something, at the same time should be responsible for how others perceive and interpret it? No, we are not. And we never should be.

It becomes problematic when the individual interpretation, and the right to feel aggrieved and offended is given precedence over the collective right to express an opinion, which of course will move within the borders of the law for nearby areas of for example hate speech. And perhaps the most important aspect of all, the rights and responsibilities in a democracy must be tested, otherwise we do not know whether or not they can be applied.

That being said, let´s finally turn to the actual role of the exercising of freedom of speech. In light of the recent events in Paris and Copenhagen, I believe we should ponder the meaning we choose to ascribe the right to mock religious symbols or characters and the utterences themselves. Is it realistic to believe that it is our safeguarding and exercise of freedom of expression (especially the specific illustrations being debated right now) should be considered crucial mechanisms for attacks like the one against Charlie Hebdo or the meeting in Copenhagen? Extremely doubtful to me. Rather, we should probably aim our attention to other social, political and cultural issues to protect our democratic ideals. Debates on freedom of expression are rarely productive in the sense that we are debating with basically total agreement on the most basic core values: the right to express an opinion within legal limits. In the next stage there is, as shown above, difference of opinions regarding how to best use and develop this freedom. But it seems quite far-fetched to believe that organizations of ISIS character in a decisive way would bother blasphemous caricatures or the critical writings about the prophet. It may certainly has some form of triggering of and targets of certain attacks (as Charlie Hebdo showed), but I am rather convinced that to somehow understand the structural violence and terror attacks, by organizations using a pretext of religion, has far more central factors than an eagerness to defend freedom of speech in the west.

As soon as we equate the violence by ISIS or other fanatic groups with islam, we walk out onto a slippery rope. For no, even if these groups use islam as a justification for actions, it has very little to do with islam. No religion is violent or good in itself. It’s a religion. If you bring violence into your interpretation of islam, christianity or buddhism, then your islam, christianity or buddhism becomes violent. If you bring in peace it becomes peaceful. Religion in itself has no value. It is people´s approach to it that results in a value. And that may differ substantially. No, rather than wrongly categorizing structural violence along prejudices and ignorance, our quest for ways to respond to threats to democratic society must go through dialogue based on knowledge about the difference between for example fanaticism and islamism.

Let’s start there.

Fanaticism and Religion

Islam Against Fanaticism

Hashim Cabrera Fanatic: “One who defends his beliefs or opinions, especially religious or political ones, passionately and with disproportionate tenacity. Blindly concerned or zealous about something.”

Looking at the definition of this term, it is clear that the word ‘fanaticism’ does not necessarily have to carry the negative associations which it is so often imbued with today. Tenacity and passion could even be considered as virtues in a world that tends towards homogeneity and ‘black-and-white-ism’. However, we all seem to agree upon giving this word another meaning, which has come to be habitual to us in our daily discourse. We overplay the unreasonableness, exaggeration and, above all, of negating the ‘other’ – anyone who is different – which we often perceive in the behaviour of fanatics.

First of all, let us look at the reasons why we are moved to analyse possible relationships between religion and fanaticism, and the growing interest in this subject. This is reflected daily in the media, which portrays – and at the same time fuels – the whole repertoire of our collective imagination, our fears and deficiencies, our figures and counter-figures.

These days, people do not seem to be so interested in examining the relationships between fanaticism and ideology, or fanaticism and power, even though these could be viewed in a similar way.

Postmodern society appears to be a shattered society, doomed to an inevitable globalisation and urged on by the demands of a market that is ever more necessary and voracious. This tendency is chiefly manifested through new technologies – particularly in the field of communication and information, as they cut across all cultures and transcend the concept of territories. In this process, our thinking needs to redefine its paradigms; on the surface of things, our languages are changing, and with them also our attitudes.


Few people today would disagree over the societal model that must be constructed. The legitimacy of a system is not determined by how well people talk it up, nor by the opinions of the majority, but rather by its performance – its capacity for continually improving its efficiency.

But the resistence of the people towards this new model seems to be dressed up in the same old clothes. Anyone trying to sell this model has a hard time finding any buyers now; his loss of legitimacy is too recent to be able to offer any appreciable resistence.

On the other hand, the robes of religion, dragged out of our grandfathers’ cupboards, have a patina that reminds us – though momentarily and superficially – of what it feels like to have a history. It is an ancient velvet that has never been sewn onto a theoretical, rational body. It implies a certain kind of commitment and a conscious attitude that, in some cases, affect our relationships with the world in an all-embracing way.

In this context – that of the postmodern individual’s need to feel immersed in history – we are witnessing the revitalisation of the religious spirit, in its most varied manifestations: scientific mysticism, produced by the dissemination of the latest theories of Quantum Mechanics; the proliferation of millenarian sects and esoteric groups; and the search for guidance in other spiritual traditions – hence the current interest in Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. This frequently leads to the phenomenon of religious conversions.

Thus, there are growing questions in today’s world that until recently were considered to have been conquered by modernity; these are historical paradigms that were incompatible with social Darwinism, with the evolutionist idea of progress. Now that this idea is losing its legitimacy, people are starting to open the cupboards where those other versions of reality, supposedly incompatible with the modern world, had been folded up and forgotten.

The growing phenomenon of a return to religion – and, more specifically, that of conversion – is framed within the context of a generalised search for transcendent answers, above all in those societies that have taken on the values of modernity most intensely and which, in their struggle for a progress based almost exclusively on material aspects of existence, have been entirely stripped of their sacredness.


Nevertheless, in the midst of these technically democratic societies, the problem of cultural diversity raises its head, in the form of the right to be different, or respect for minorities. Even so, in the current landscape of this social project, the power discourse does not take into consideration the recognition of different forms of society, of other ways of life, even though they might be decided upon democratically. The limits and the nature of these freedoms are fixed by the interests of the prevailing socioeconomic model.

The only possible way of thinking – the general pattern explicitly described, among the intellectual classes, as ‘weak thinking’ – is extended to the markets, and finds a home in the new languages of the cyberworld. It passes down the information highway, creating the discourse that Roger Garuady calls ‘Market Monotheism’. One of its characteristics is the subtle elimination of diversity – which now also implies dissidence – not by way of repression, but by way of new tools and technologies, by controlling information and consequently manipulating consciousnesses, the views of the people, and public opinion.

‘Black-and-White-ism’ Vs. Passion

In such a context, the only way that we can conform to this exclusive way of thinking is by putting out fingers in our ears and submitting to it. If anyone should dare to defend any idea or position that runs counter to the interests of the paradigm too tenaciously, their perseverance would easily look like stridence amid this general mood of homogeneity, and he will therefore be labelled as a fanatic.

If, furthermore, the media and information facilities serve the interests of power – and not the interests of different groups, parties or belief systems – it is easy for anyone to abort any proposal that threatens said interests, whether by disqualification, tendentiousness, or distortion.


It is clear that no sensible mind would defend fanaticism as the correct attitude for civilised human beings. We associate fanaticism with intellectual blindness, with the inability to value and weigh up all the different aspects of reality.

A fanatic does not listen, he does not reason, he does not enter into dialogue with anyone else. The majority of Christians do not behave like fanatics, and nor do the majority of Muslims, nor the adherents of Western ideologies.

Despite this being the case, many pages of history books have been devoted to fanaticism, describing it in a variety of ways, whether religious, ideological, bellicose, or economic. They describe moments, places and groups marked by passion and intemperance, muddying the clear waters of ideas and relationships, feelings and beliefs.

Historians have almost always opted to relate fanaticism with these situations instead of seeking its roots: in ignorance, exploitation, boorishness, and the feeling of uprootedness that exists among migrants. Instead of remedying the causes of fanaticism, people have chosen to use it for certain political, religious or strategic purposes.

In this biased reading of our present problem, we stand by and watch as a dangerous vision of religious fanaticism develops, attributed to Islam by the mass media – sometimes even with the support of certain intellectuals and international academic institutions.

The dominant image in the media is very tendentious in everything that refers to Islam and to Muslims. In the majority of cases it provokes an immediate association between fanaticism and Islam. These very same media outlets present Islam as an enemy to democracy, without bothering to differentiate between the forms of governmental politics in majority Muslim countries and actual Islamic principles.

Cultural practices are confused with the prescriptions of the Qur’an and the Traditions, the Sunnah. All these ideas and topics, hauled out of the orientalist quarry pit, nourish the vision that the media offers in an ever more convincing and realistic way.

Let us give one more example to demonstrate this contradiciton. The propaganda usually produced about Andalusian Cultural Heritage usually emphasises the universal character of Islam, which made the harmonious coexistence of different religions possible in al-Andalus. Under the protective umbrella of Islamic Shariah, Jews, Christans and Muslims were able to lived together peacefully for many centuries. Islam appears, therefore, as a system of tolerance and respect par excellence, enabling and promoting the greatest possible flourishing of sciences and arts in the known world at that point.

We might read in the same newspaper, alongside cultural propaganda regarding Toledo or ‘Three Cultures Cordoba’, commentaries that relate Islam with fanaticism, anachronism and intolerance.

There must be some mistake here. Or perhaps the reality is that Culture, Power and Technology work together to make it more difficult to produce an unbiased analysis, a non-fanatical inerpretation of what a religion is really like – in this case, of what Islam and its attitude towards fanaticism are really like.

It would be useful to our analysis to be able to separate out human attitudes – ugly or otherwise – from the frames of reference that put forward all the different ideologies or beliefs. Fanaticism, like irrationality, has typically been present in almost every culture and epoch of humanity.

In our times, there is a fanaticism of media and technology that leads many individuals to become isolated and dependent on virtual communication. This kind of fanaticism does not interest us, because it is silent and produces no social alarm. A person suffering from Internet Syndrome is only of interest to the clinical psychologist or sociologist. For the average citizen, this is is nothing more than an anecdote, a minor evil which, moreover, appears dressed up in the very same symbols of the culture in which it lives. It is not exotic, it does not help maintain the illusion of difference, it does not generate – apparently, at least – that all-needed identity, in which it is so lacking.

On the other hand, the image of a few men dressed in dark tunics smashing television sets on an eschatological stage, who furthermore answer to the enigmatic name of ‘the Taliban’, present a certain amount of identity, a necessary feeling of cultural superiority, contributing to the legitimisation of a way of life that is practices in undeveloped countries, perpetuating the sensation that history continues, that there are still people in the world who are ‘far from progress’. It is easy to conclude, in view of this image, that Muslims are backward fanatics. As the image is repeated, it is therefore likely that we we arrive at the conclusion that this is because of religion, that Islam breeds fanaticism. So the atitudes of the majority of Muslims, who are more than distant from any kind of radicalism and zealousness, are not considered as news; there just aren’t as interesting.

The majority discourse of Muslims would not sell papers, because it rejects violent methods and radical positions, and emphasises fairness and measure above all else.

Religious attitudes

The religious experience of human beings, depending on the angle we are viewing them from, can be expressed in myriad forms. There is an inner dimension, which affects our personal evolution and whose experience is much more difficult to evaluate and articulate. This is the inner path of mysticism, of spiritual growth and of going beyond boundaries. In this sphere, many passionate attitudes may spring forth, such as that of the mystic aflame with Divine Love, who distances himself from the ordinary world and refuses to recognise it as real.

There is also the exterior world, the ambit of human relations, of social life. This is the world of forms and of Law, in which there are codes of conduct necessary to make communal life possible.

Both spheres, which are in theory a continuation of one another, often appear to be separate, or even opposite. Between the personal experiences of John of the Cross and the theological canons of the Catholic Church there lies a gaping abyss. The same is true for the relationship between Ibn ‘Arabi and some of the erudites of Islamic jurisprudence.

In any system, whether it be the fruit of religion or ideology, the doctors of the Law – theologians and ideologues respectively – have assumed the task of looking after the limits of terminology, of words, of literalness and conventions; thus they fence in the world of forms in which the sociolinguistic phenomenon occurs.

The mystic is one who accepts and realises within his own being the ultimate goal of religion: union with God. Mystics have always been the object of criticism and persecution on the part of those whose work is confined to the codification of the Law, making recourse to poetry as a vehicle to express their states.

The balance between the different spheres of experience is rarely perfect. Usually one hypertrophies to the benefit of the other, or vice versa, making either spiritual life or social order more difficult. The exaggerated development of formal structures – of terminology – produces a sort of spiritual bureacracy that hinders religious experience, so that it appears to be codified in terms that are devoid of meaning. This idolatry of dogma, often the result of periods of spiritual decadence, is undoubtedly the bacterial culture in which dogmatic attitudes ferment, and it can lead to various kinds of fanaticism.

Nevertheless, there have been historical communities of Muslims with a more acceptable degree of equilibrium, who have created a social model and encouraged the coexistence of diverse ways of life as well as the spiritual growth of individuals; these people have never seen the merest glimpse of fanaticism.

The overly passionate or fanatical defence of a specific interpretation of the Law, or of one particular position, becomes reprehensible when it is imposed upon others, when it suppresses freedom of conscience and openly rejects rationality. The condemnation of these attitudes is part of the mood and spirit of Islam, although – as we so often see elsewhere – that does not stop certain people or groups from having them.


When, for various reasons, Western thought has found some benefit in highlighting the scientific attitudes of Muslims, or their civilising role in the darkness of the European Middle Ages, Islam is described as a path of peace, tolerance and respect.

And yet simultaneously, in other contexts, Islam is presented as an intolerant, aggressive system.

This is far from being a recent phenomenon, but in the interests of clarity, and to avoid the possibility of certain fanaticisms developing today, it is necessary and worthwhile to treat such delicate themes as terrorism, or the political situation in many Arab nations, without bias or tendentiousness, since these do nothing but foment radical, irrational attitudes.

The same critical spirit that is applied to the analysis of other questions should be applied also in this case, because when someone feels unjustly treated, without the possibility of defending himself, he find himself to be forced to seek justice in whatever form that might take. And there needs to be the same justice and impartiality in the treatment of all information and in our rights of opinion and self-expression.

For this, I think that it would be a great step forward, even though it is evidently only a tiny step, that newspapers and major media outlets gave the opinion of Muslims more space to grow. What do Muslims themselves think of many of the acts committed in the name of Islam? What to the majority of them actually think?

Focussing on the theme of fanaticism, it would be useful to know what the Islamic sources – the Qur’an and Sunnah – have to say about the matter.

The Attitude of Islam towards Fanaticism

Regarding the way in which believers should practice their religion, the Qur’an tells us:

“There is no coercion in matters of faith. Now the straight guide is clearly distinguished from the one that strays away.” (Qur’an 2:256)

Even in an ambit so given to irrationality as that of war, there are numerous moral references regarding the way in which this should be carried out:

“Oh believers, when you strike out for the sake of God, use your discernment and do not say to anyone who offers you the greeting of peace: ‘You are not a believer’, moved by the benefits of this world: for there are plenty of spoils with God. You too were like them before – but God has bestowed favour upon you. Use, therefore, your discernment: for God is well aware of everything you do.” (Qur’an 4:94)

The account that José María Mendiluce gives in his book Armed Love illustrates this same idea. In this chronicle of the Bosnian War, he describes his experiences and the attitudes of Muslim soldiers when faced with enemies who, as we know, are now being judged for crimes against humanity. Nevertheless, people have never been particularly interested in relating Serbian crimes and extremism with religious fanaticism; rather it is seen as an ethnic issue.

In this conflict, the media have been unable to find any material that could establish any link between Islam and fanaticism.


In the Sunnah – the collection of sayings of our Prophet Muhammad, peace be with him – there are numerous instructions on this matter. One of these, narrated by Abu Huraira, regarding exaggerated zeal in religion, the Prophet repeated three times,:

“Perish the extremists! Perish the extremists! Perish the extremists!”

Innumerable hadiths exhort believers to moderate their observance of religious precepts, always recommending instead a balanced, intermediate attitude.

Although it has already been published in this magazine in the Readers’ Forum, I would like to add here the letter written by Shahib Zougari, imam of the Seville mosque, published in El País in Mayo of last year. In this letter, a well-known edict of the Prophet Muhammad – peace and blessings be upon him – is cited, in which he says:

“I have written this edict in the form of an order for my community and for all Muslims who live in the Christian world, in the East and in the West, near or far, young and old, those who are known and those who are strangers. Whoever fails to respect this edict and does not follow the working orders I give, against the will of Allah, deserves to be accursed, whoever he may be, whether Sultan or average Muslim. When a (Christian) priest or a hermit withdraws to a mountain or a cave, or establishes himself on the plain, in the desert, the city, or the church, I am with him in person, together with my army and my subjects, and I will defend him against any enemy. I will abstain from doing him any harm. It is forbidden to throw a bishop out of his bishopric, a priest from his church, a hermit from his hermitage. No object must be removed from a church to use in the construction of a mosque or of a Muslim’s house. If a Christian woman is in a relationship with a Muslim, the latter must treat her well and allow him to pray in her church, without placing any obstacles between her and her religion. Whoever acts to the contrary will be considered an enemy of Allah and his Prophet. The Muslims must behave according to these orders until the end of the world.”

Referring to the specific case of Algeria, Shahib Zougari follows up his quote by expressing his “deep pain for those saints who have died for the love of God, of the God who is the same for Christians and Muslims”.

A few days later, on the 6th of June, in the same newspaper, an article by Carlos Colón was published that made the position of Muslims towards terrorism absolutely clear. Colón says, after printing Zougari’s letter, that “it moved me deeply to read this brave text which deplores the deaths of Catholics in Algeria, while at the same time he marks out these acts, clearly and cleanly, from the Islamic community in general”.

With all this, we do not pretend to say that there are no fanatical attitudes among Muslims, or that Islam is a way of life that makes fanaticism impossible.

No: fanaticism, exaggerated zeal and irrationality are human attitudes that can surface in any place or time. Evidently, there are different visions of the world in existence, different ideologies and cosmogonies, and some can be more given to encouraging them that others. In the case we are presently examining, there are innumerable examples that could lead us to conclude that Islam condemns fanaticism. And yet, Islam and fanaticism continue to be associated with each other in the communal imagination of our time.


During the Gulf War we were told about the fanaticism of the Iraqi soldiers, incapable of seeing the despotism of their leader Saddam Hussein, who appeared on television news programmes prostrating and praying, brandishing the Qur’an. Yet it was precisely Saddam, as leader of the Ba’ath party, who proposed a Western-style division of power. It was not Islam, then, which in this case was promoting fanaticism, but the political instrumentalisation of beliefs and the tendentious use of terminology – a war of words. It is not, in this case, the Qur’an that propounds a blind adherence to a leader; rather, it is the leader’s hand that seems to be clothed in the legitimacy of a text which, for believers, is the Principle of Truth.

In the course of Muslim history, there have been moments when fanaticism has raised its ugly head among our communities. Sometimes, it has been through the use made of religion to political ends that have had nothing to do with Islam; at other times, it has been due to the living conditions that certain groups of people have found themselves in.

Heroes, Martyrs and Terrorists

In this sense, it is surprising that, the word ‘fanaticism’ has not been mentioned at all in analyses of the zealous political attitudes that emerged during the revolutionary processes underway in Latin America up until a decade ago. This gives us the impression that ideology was, for these revolutions, a legitimising force in certain cases of extremism.

The same does not happen now, when what commentators are attempting to judge are the consequences of other processes, which the religion incidentally enters into. Here, the terms ‘fundamentalism’, ‘fanaticism’, ‘terrorism’, ‘extremism’, or ‘intolerance’ are frequently bandied about.

Sometimes Western discourse speaks of revolutionaries – martyrs to ideology – yet at other times they are presented to us and terrorists and fanatics. In certain times and places they are heroes of the revolution, while in others, they are nothing more than delinquents.

However, intellectual indoctrination operates today using the subtlest of tools, even more difficult to recognise for people who think and analyse.

The repeated use of a certain term or stereotype will eventually imbue it with the air of a solid, dependable truth. The Zetgeist fuses within its imprecise reality a whole world of received notions – the ‘idées reçues’ of Edward Said – which are consensually accepted and approved of simply because of their commonly used, not because they are legitimised by reasoned argument or by a scientific desire for knowledge. This is the world of common sense that has been misunderstood.

What does the man in the street know about contemporary Muslims? What are his sources of information?

If we really want a world shaped by respect, peaceful coexistence and freedom of conscience, we must behave as equals. We must leave behind the traditional binary scheme of ‘the knowers and the known’, ‘the definers and the defined’; we must perhaps learn from the Other, whether that be an individual or a group. Despite our difference, they are as much a part of Humanity as we are.

This might be the basic principle that helps us to exorcise the demon Fanaticism. It is, in one shape or another, the goal that most people on our planet are longing for.

Pope to allow all priests to forgive abortion during Holy Year

Pope Francis will give all priests discretion during the Roman Catholic Church's upcoming Holy Year to formally forgive women who have had abortions, in the Argentine pontiff's latest move towards a more open and inclusive church.

In Church teaching, abortion is such a grave sin that those who procure or perform it incur an automatic excommunication. Usually only designated clergy and missionaries can formally forgive abortions.

But from Dec.8 to Nov. 26, during an extraordinary Holy Year or "Jubilee" on the theme of mercy announced by Pope Francis in March, all priests will be able to do so, he said in a letter published on Tuesday by the Vatican.

In the letter, Francis described the "existential and moral ordeal" faced by women who have terminated pregnancies and said he had "met so many women who bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision".

Francis is the first non-European pope in 1,300 years and has marked himself out for his tolerance regarding taboo topics. Although he has shown no intention of retracting the Church's opposition to abortion, he has alarmed conservatives by taking a less forceful tone than his predecessors.

"This is by no means an attempt to minimize the gravity of this sin but to widen the possibility of showing mercy," Vatican chief spokesman Father Federico Lombardi told reporters.

Deputy Vatican spokesman Father Ciro Benedettini said that "for now" the change would apply only during the Holy Year.

Usually only a bishop, missionary or the chief confessor of a diocese, known by the Italian term "penitenziere", can formally forgive an abortion, Benedettini said.

The pope's letter did not mention people who perform abortions.

The Holy Year is one of the 1.2 billion-member church's most important events, and sees faithful make pilgrimages to Rome and other religious sites around the world. It takes place every 25 years unless a pope decrees an extraordinary one to bring attention to a particular topic or need.

In his letter the pope also said Holy Year activities were open to adherents of the ultra-traditionalist Roman Catholic splinter group known as the Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX).

The Swiss-based SSPX, which rejects some of the reforms made at the historic 1962-1965 Second Vatican Council, defied Rome in 1988 by illegally consecrating four bishops, triggering their excommunication by the late Pope John Paul.

Pope Benedect lifted the excommunications in 2009 and made some concessions to the group. But one of the bishops, British-born Bishop Richard Williamson, caused an uproar by denying the Holocaust.

Faith Doesn’t Justify Discrimination Against Women

While much progress has been made in the world in terms of equal rights for women, most major religions still place women in a lesser role, and people aren’t doing much about it.

There seems to be only one fundamental on which the male leaders of conservative Roman Catholic, Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestant, Mormon, Orthodox Jewish and Muslim denominations all agree: A woman cannot lead their congregations or denominations. - David Waters Writing on

Last winter my wife and I attended a Bar Mitzvah at an orthodox temple in Atlanta, Georgia. Once we entered the sanctuary, it became apparent that we would have to sit on separate sides of an ornate barrier. I had heard about this practice but thought it had been abandoned everywhere but Israel. I noticed as the services went on that the women’s side was filled with people in colorful dress engaging in conversation and even a bit of merriment. This atmosphere was quite different than on my side, where the men were either reading silently or praying.

I wondered why men and women would sit separately in temple in 2015 and engage in quite different activities (at least at this temple). So, I did some research. Historically there were two primary reasons for the separation of men and women in temple. First, the temple is a place to pray and think about God, not the opposite sex. That explanation seems reasonably non-sexist. The second reason, however, is that under the Torah women are supposed to be the primary caregivers and managers of the household. Married women or women with children do not even have to attend temple in the first place. Thus, their prayer obligations and how they are supposed to participate in the services are quite different than the obligations placed on men.

These differing roles did not strike me as innocuous so I did more research into gender and religion. Here are just a few facts: Women cannot be ordained in the Catholic Church and of course the Vatican’s views on contraception and abortion (not to mention divorce) don’t do a lot for the cause of equality; women cannot be rabbis in Orthodox temples, and in Orthodox communities women still labor under numerous discriminatory rules such as a man may force a divorce upon a woman but the reverse is not possible, and only sons, not daughters, may inherit property.

Traditional Islam is full of sexist and misogynist practices starting with the veil. This paragraph makes the point better than I could ever hope to do:

The Muslim woman is always associated with an old tradition known as the “veil.” It is Islamic that the woman should beautify herself with the veil of honor, dignity, chastity, purity and integrity. She should refrain from all deeds and gestures that might stir the passions of people other than her legitimate husband or cause evil suspicion of her morality. She is warned not to display her charms or expose her physical attractions before strangers. The veil which she must put on is one that can save her soul from weakness, her mind from indulgence, her eyes from lustful looks, and her personality from demoralization. Islam is most concerned with the integrity of woman, with the safeguarding of her morals and morale, and with the protection of her character and personality ….

The exclusion of women from being leaders in the world’s major religions, the notion that women have different (actually fewer) spiritual obligations than men, and the practice of treating women differently than men because of their gender, should be deeply troubling to people of faith who believe in gender equality.

Southern Baptists have similar views on gender roles. The 2000—yes, 2000—official Baptist Faith and Message says the husband “has the God-given responsibility to provide for, to protect, and to lead his family. A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband …. She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.” It is hard to make sense of the notion that the wife is “equal” to her husband but must also “submit” to him and “serve” him.

I assume (or at least hope) that most reasonable people in our country believe that non-faith-based traditions which dramatically narrow the choices of women and require them to stay in stereotypical and limited roles are not traditions we should relish and approve. Assuming that is true, the next question is whether adding all the history and traditions of the most fundamental sects of the world’s religions changes that value judgment. On the one hand, I understand the need for distinct traditions defining different religious groups. Also, the devout argue that these traditional gender roles aren’t unequal, just different, and, in any event, at least in this country, participation is voluntary.

But, are discrimination and sexism really any less odious because they have been around a long time or are justified by contested matters of spirit and faith? Moreover, in one sense participation in these religions is voluntary but try explaining that to a young girl with deeply religious parents whose identities are wrapped up in thousands of years of misogynist rituals.

So how do people of those faiths in America justify these immoral and outmoded policies toward women? The place to begin, I think, is to recognize that most Americans who identify as Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, or Muslim do not embrace the most extreme views of those religions. A good friend of mine who is Catholic (and a loyal member of the Democratic Party) explains it this way: “I could no more renounce my Catholicism than my citizenship. It is who I am. Of course I disagree with many of the Vatican’s policies but I also disagree with many of my government’s policies. I’ll work to change them but those Vatican policies don’t affect my faith or my loyalty to my faith.”

I understand his views but when I ask him whether he is doing anything specific to change the Vatican’s sexist policies his answer is no. But, then again, other than a few rants about the Supreme Court, neither do I, even though I oppose many of my government’s policies. But, I think there’s at least one fundamental difference. According to my research, the very meaning of what it is to be a Catholic would change if women were ordained. For example, “Other Christian denominations, to justify ordaining women, have had to change their understanding of the nature of the priesthood …. But to abandon the 2,000-year-old understanding of the nature of the priesthood would be a doctrinal change. The Catholic Church could not do so and remain the Catholic Church.” My friend may not agree with this idea but it seems to be a fundamental element of his religion. Similarly, at least in many countries outside the United States, wearing the veil is an integral element of being a Muslim woman.

The exclusion of women from being leaders in the world’s major religions, the notion that women have different (actually fewer) spiritual obligations than men, and the practice of treating women differently than men because of their gender, should be deeply troubling to people of faith who believe in gender equality. Because most change usually comes from within, shouldn’t more modern Jews, Catholics, Baptists, Mormons and Muslims feel a deep moral obligation to try and change these traditions that facially discriminate against women? After all, no religion has continued all of its ancient traditions.

As a man of the law, I know that churches, temples, and mosques in this country have the right to discriminate (and that may be the correct legal result), but as a man of the secular world, I can’t imagine why they would have a moral right to do so. Isn’t it well past time these ancient punishments and disqualifications come to an end?

Meet the Tea Party’s evangelical quack: David Barton is Glenn Beck’s favorite “historian”

David Barton has shaped the curriculum of Christian schools and home schoolers. His "history" is a dangerous joke

The popular dissemination of Reconstructionist ideas is evident in the framing and language used by people in the religious right, if you have an ear for it. I think of this as analogous to the way in which a New Englander can hear the difference between a Maine accent and a Boston one, or how a Southerner can tell if a speaker is from North Carolina or South Carolina; it is subtle, but it is undeniably there.

There is perhaps no better example of Christian Reconstructionist influence on the broader culture than the work of Tea Party “historian” David Barton. Barton does not explicitly identify as a Christian Reconstructionist, and Christian Reconstructionists would not claim him as one of their own.2Barton does have ties to several Reconstructionist groups, including the Providence Foundation; he occasionally cites the work of Rousas Rushdoony and promotes views on race and slavery that are rooted in Rushdoony. While Barton doesn’t use the language of theonomy or postmillennialism, as we will see, he speaks of dominion, biblical law, the necessity of bringing every area of life under the lordship of Christ, and sphere sovereignty of biblically ordained institutions. He embraces the whole range of political views advocated by Reconstructionists from the right-to-life and creationism to more narrowly held positions on issues such as the history of slavery and opposition to the Federal Reserve System. As we shall see, the approach to history that has made Barton famous is rooted in Rushdoony’s biblical philosophy of history.

Barton was born in 1954, raised in Aledo, Texas, and graduated from public high school in 1972, the same year his parents started a house church with Pentecostal leanings. By 1974 the church had moved into facilities that now also house the Christian school they started in 1981, as well as Barton’s organization, Wallbuilders. After high school, Barton attended Oral Roberts University, where he received a degree in religious education in 1976. Upon returning home, he became principal of Aledo Christian School until, a decade later, as he tells it in an interview, God led him to his first book by showing him the connection between the Supreme Court decisions on prayer and Bible reading and “plummeting” academic achievement scores and “soaring” student crime and immorality.

In July 1987, God impressed me to do two things. First, I was to search the library and find the date that prayer had been prohibited in public schools. Second, I was to obtain a record of national SAT scores . . . spanning several decades. I didn’t know why, but I somehow knew that these two pieces of information would be very important.

The result was his America; to Pray or Not to Pray, which is a statistical analysis of the “volume of prayers being offered” overlaid with data on a number of social problems, to compare the “prayer years with the post prayer years.” According to Barton, the drop in prayer was so dramatic that its impact was felt not just in the schools but in every aspect of our national life. Barton seemed unaware of the notion that correlation is not causation.

A self-styled historian with no real academic credentials, Barton went on to build an extensive collection of primary source documents from America’s founding era and write several “Christian American history” books that argue that the founding fathers intended America to be a Christian nation and that argue for a Christian reading of the Constitution they wrote. This work has shaped a generation of Christian school and homeschool students.

Despite being roundly rejected by scholars, Barton claims to be a “recognized authority in American history and the role of religion in public life.” For example, an amicus brief filed by Wallbuilders in McCollum v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation claims Barton works as a consultant to national history textbook publishers. He has been appointed by the State Boards of Education in states such as California and Texas to help write the American history and government standards for students in those states. Mr. Barton also consults with Governors and State Boards of Education in several states, and he has testified in numerous state legislatures on American history.

Examples include a 1998 appointment as an advisor to the California Academic Standards Commission and a 2009 appointment as a reviewer in the Texas Board of Education’s effort to revise the state’s social science curriculum. In each case, Barton was one of three conservative “outside experts” appointed to review the curriculum to ensure that children learn that America was founded on biblical principles. As “experts” they sought changes to the curriculum to ensure that Christianity was presented “as an overall force for good—and a key reason for American Exceptionalism, the notion that the country stands above and apart.” Indeed, when Barton invoked his position as a curriculum consultant on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Stewart asked for whom he had done this work, and Barton refused to name anyone, saying “if they don’t name names then I don’t.”

In 2005 Barton was included in Time magazine’s list of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals, but it was his association with Fox News’ Glenn Beck, who called him the most important man in America, that catapulted him into another level of influence. By 2011 Barton could boast that Republican primary presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann consulted him. Bachmann even invited him to speak to her congressional Tea Party Caucus on the history of the Constitution. Mike Huckabee infamously said that “every American should be forced to listen to Barton at gunpoint.” Barton’s presentation style makes on-the-spot critical engagement difficult. He jumps, at lightning speed, from one piece of data to another, interpreted through his “biblical” framework; he creates a barrage of information, tied to small pieces of familiar truth and rooted in an apparently vast collection of primary documents. Barton is one of the very best examples of the way in which the Tea Party is about much more than taxes, and he’s been at the center of its rise. In addition to being promoted by Glenn Beck, he travels the country presenting his Constitutional Seminars and selling materials promoting his views to churches, civic organizations, Christian schools, and Christian homeschoolers.

Barton’s work has been the subject of extensive critique by bloggers, reporters, and other critics, some of whom are scholars publishing peer-reviewed critiques, but, for the most part, scholars have not devoted a lot of attention to debunking his claims. Beginning in about 2011, two conservative Christian professors from Grove City College, Warren Throckmorton, professor of psychology, and Michael Coulter, professor of humanities and political science, published a critique of Barton’s The Jefferson Lies entitled Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President. The book was received well by scholars, and the authors’ credentials as conservative Christians undermined Barton’s defense that criticism of his work was ideological rather than factual. The Jefferson Lies was withdrawn by its publisher. One might expect under the weight of such resounding rejection, Barton would disappear into obscurity. Yet Barton’s supporters remain as devoted as before. Criticism from scholars (whether Christian or not) is dismissed as liberal, socialist, and even pagan. Discredited in the larger culture, Barton remains influential in the conservative Christian subculture.

Barton and the Constitution

In 2011, Barton’s radio program Wallbuilders Live carried a three-part series on the Constitution and “the principles of limited government” that illustrated well how he draws the conclusions he does regarding what the Constitution meant to the founders. The spectrum of activists calling themselves “constitutionalists”—including Barton but ranging from avowed Reconstructionists to Tea Partiers who claim their movement is solely about taxes and limited government—read the Constitution in the context of the Declaration of Independence to invoke the authority of the Creator in an otherwise godless document. The first of Barton’s three-part series lays out exactly how this works.

Many look at the US Constitution and see little mention of religion and wonder how conservative Christians can insist that it is a template for a Christian nation. But Barton is careful to speak, instead, of our “original national founding documents.” For Barton and his followers, the Declaration of Independence, though never ratified and carrying no legal authority, has the same status as the Constitution. Indeed, in their view, the Constitution can only be read in the context of the Declaration:

Go back to our original national document, our original founding document, the Declaration of Independence. In the first forty-six words . . . they tell us the philosophy of government that has produced America’s exceptionalism . . . two points immediately become clear in that opening statement of our first national government document. Number one, they say there is a divine creator, and number two, the divine creator gives guaranteed rights to men . . . there’s a God and God gives specific rights to men.

Barton asserts that the founders believed there were a handful of unalienable rights, the most important of which are life, liberty, and property. He occasionally acknowledges that the language in the Declaration is slightly different (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), but he argues that the pursuit of happiness is grounded in property, making the two terms interchangeable. He more often uses the term “property.” These rights are understood to come directly from God, and the purpose of government (and therefore the Constitution the founders wrote) is limited to securing those rights. According to Barton, in language that became common Tea Party rhetoric, an inalienable right is “a right to which we are entitled by our all-wise and all-beneficent creator; a right that God gave you, not government.” Any other perceived rights, not understood as coming from God, cannot be legitimately protected by the civil government.

This is the very point of criticism made of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan by Herb Titus, described earlier. Rooted in the three-part division of authority popularized by Rushdoony and the Reconstructionists, Barton argues that the Bible (which he believes the founders read in the same way he does and upon which he believes they based the Constitution) limits the jurisdiction of civil government. That life, liberty, and property are “among” the God-given rights that Barton finds in the Declaration left room for the articulation of more rights derived from God to be “incorporated” into the Constitution, most clearly in the Bill of Rights, which he calls “the capstone” to the Constitution. “They said, we’re going to name some other inalienable rights just to make sure that government does not get into these rights . . . When you look at the ten amendments that are the Bill of Rights, those are God-granted rights that government is not to intrude into.” He then offered some unique interpretations of the rights protected in the first ten amendments. The First Amendment religion clauses, for Barton, become “the right of public religious expression.” The Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is, according to Barton, “what they called the biblical right of self-defense.” The Third Amendment prohibiting the coerced quartering of soldiers is the biblical and constitutional protection of the “the sanctity of the home.” Finally, all the protections against unjust prosecution in the Fifth Amendment are reduced to the protection of “the right to private property.”

While the “limited government” enshrined in the Constitution protects basic rights given by God and precludes government from doing anything not within the purview of its biblical mandate, it also, according to Barton, prohibits abortion. Barton says that, according to the founders, the first example of “God-given inalienable rights is the right to life.” Barton claims that when the founders invoked the God-given right to life they intended to prohibit abortion. He claims that “abortion was a discussed item in the founding era.” As evidence he says, “as a matter of fact we have books in our library of original documents—observations on abortion back in 1808,” and that “early legislatures in the 1790s were dealing with legislation on the right to life on the abortion issue.” But Barton gives no examples and provides no references to any evidence. After this slippery claim, he goes on at length with quotes from founders on the right to life, none of which mention abortion. “They understood back then that abortion was a bad deal and that your first guaranteed inalienable right is a right to life. Consider how many other founding fathers talked about the right to life.” In another example of slipperiness, he quotes founder James Wilson: “Human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplations of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb.” Realizing that this won’t do the work of banning abortion from conception, Barton redefines the question, moving the focus from the development of the fetus to what the mother “knows.”

Very simply, he [Wilson] says as soon as you know you’re pregnant, as soon as you know there’s life in the womb, that life is protected by law. That’s where the technology difference is, we can know that there’s life in the womb much earlier today than what they knew back then. But the point is the same there: as soon as you know there’s a life there, it’s protected.

But this is not what Wilson said, and Barton’s argument gets worse. In his view this understanding of the right to life is a bellwether for a number of other issues that are at the top of the religious right’s agenda: “Our philosophy of American exceptionalism is very simple: there is a God, he gives specific rights, [and] the purpose of government is to protect the rights he’s given.” If someone is “wrong” on “life issues,” they’re likely to be wrong on the right to self-defense (the right to own guns), the sanctity of the home (his interpretation of what it means to not have soldiers in your house), private property (his reading of the rights of the accused culminating in the protection against eminent domain), and “the traditional marriage issue” (for which he makes no connection to the founders or the Constitution). Barton’s interpretation doesn’t even resemble a close reading of the text with an eye toward the founders’ intentions—or any coherent application of the value of limited government—yet he successfully frames it as such in populist discourse.

In 2011, the Ninth Circuit Court rejected an appeal challenging the policy of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that allows only leaders of “five faiths” (Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, and Native American) to serve as paid chaplains (McCollum v. CDCR). The ruling had nothing to do with the legitimacy of the claim that the policy unconstitutionally favors some religions over others but rather whether McCollum (a Pagan minister) had standing to bring the case. An amicus brief filed by Wallbuilders in support of the CDCR to privilege the “five faiths” provides a glimpse into how Barton reads the Constitution.

For him the Constitution represents a consensus—as though there is a singular view that can be attributed to “the founders.” Barton’s style of reading the Constitution is modeled on his style of reading the Bible, which he also treats as a coherent document that can be read from start to finish to yield a clear, undisputed, objective meaning, instead of a collection of fragmented texts written over a very long period of time in different cultures, assembled into larger texts, then chosen from an even larger collection of texts in a political process, translated from ancient languages, and finally interpreted in different ways by different communities. Every stage of that process continues to be profoundly disputed by scholars, and there is always an interpretative framework (albeit all too often an unrecognized one) underlying any reading of it. While the US Constitution is a newer document, and it is therefore somewhat less difficult to discern its meaning(s), the fact remains that it is the product of hard-fought compromise among leaders, bound in time and culture, who profoundly disagreed with each other. There is no reason to believe they thought they were writing a sacred text to which all subsequent generations of Americans were bound by a process that amounts to divining a singular “intent.”

The argument Barton made in the brief, moreover, illustrates a second important point. He is being disingenuous when he insists he just wants everyone to have the opportunity to practice his religion freely. In his appearance on the Daily Show, he defended the practice of Christian religious observance in otherwise secular contexts when the majority wants it by saying that a Muslim-majority community should be able to make “Sharia law” the law of the land. There was a significant outcry from his anti-Muslim supporters, and he backtracked on the point in a subsequent episode of Wallbuilders Live.

In this brief, however, he argued that only those religions that fit with what he thinks the founders meant by “religion” should be protected. Protected religion is either Christianity alone or perhaps the larger category of monotheism—Barton asserts that rights of conscience don’t extend to atheists either (and by implication also not to Buddhists and Hindus): “whether this Court agrees that ‘religion’ meant monotheism or believes that it meant Christianity . . . it is clear that atheism, heathenism, and paganism were not part of the definition of ‘religion.’” Barton has argued against the free exercise of rights of Muslims, as have other religious right promoters of Islamophobia, claiming Islam is “not a religion.” Indeed, the term “religion” does have a complicated history, and it has often been used (or denied) to legitimize dominance of one group over another. Initially Africans were said to be “without religion,” legitimizing their enslavement, and, in another example, Native Americans were considered “without religion” to justify taking their land. Barton’s brief is important because it made explicit that which he often tries to deny: that only Christianity (and maybe Judaism) is protected under his reading of the Constitution.

Barton on the Free Market and Socialism

On another segment of Wallbuilders Live, Barton and co-host Rick Green discussed the effort by the Obama administration to prohibit Internet service providers from charging for service based on usage (known as Net Neutrality) because it violates biblical economics and is “socialist.” It’s easy to dismiss that charge as nothing more than demagoguery, but, in fact, the discussion illustrates what they mean by socialism and, ultimately, how they understand freedom. Both points trace directly back to Rushdoony. Most of us understand socialism as a system that limits private ownership of property and in which power (political and economic) is centralized in the state; Tea Party accusations that any policy they oppose is “socialist” seem, at best, like hyperbole. But in Barton’s view, any move away from what he sees as an unfettered free market, any regulation or involvement on the part of government, is a move toward socialism—and of course he thinks that private ownership and free markets are biblically sanctioned. Net Neutrality prohibits ISPs from charging for Internet service based on usage. This seems straightforward to Barton and Green: “what they mean is we’re not going to let you choose who you need to charge more to.” Maybe more interesting, though, is the subsequent exchange between Rick Green and his “good friend” Texas congressman Joe Barton, who was sponsoring legislation to overturn the Obama administration’s Net Neutrality regulation. Joe Barton tried to explain Net Neutrality and, in the process, revealed important aspects of how such people understand freedom in entirely economic terms. Joe Barton says that we cannot regulate the Internet, it should be open and free. Democrats’ definition of Net Neutrality is we want to give FCC the authority to tell people who actually provide the Internet what they can and can’t do with it. Now, what people like yourself and myself mean [by freedom] is no government interference; it’s pretty straightforward. Republicans and conservatives have always tried to keep the Internet totally free.

But of course they have not tried to keep it totally free, except in one very narrow economic sense. They certainly do not mean “free” in a way that includes broadly available access, because that’s socialism; “redistribution of wealth through the Internet . . . this is socialism on the Internet.” Nor do they mean free regarding content, as David Barton made explicit when he returned to the conversation at the end of the show saying, “We’re not suggesting moral license, we don’t want to have obscenity, pornography, child pornography . . . You still have moral laws to follow.” Economic freedom is nearly absolute, but it is still subordinate to moral law.

At the height of the debate over the federal budget and the Tea Party demands that Congress not raise the debt ceiling during the summer of 2011, David Barton and company tackled the question posed by the “religious left” in the budget debate: What would Jesus cut? They devoted an entire episode of Wallbuilders Live to the question: “Why Do People Think Government’s Role Is to Take Care of the Poor?” The episode is promoted with the assertion that “The role of the government is not to exercise mercy, but to exercise justice. It is improper for government to take care of the poor. That is up to us, as individuals.” With guest Michael Youseff, who had recently written on his blog about the application of the Bible to government spending and the poor, David Barton and Rick Green invoked the framework for limited biblical jurisdiction developed and promoted by Rushdoony. They claimed that the Bible has “205 verses about taking care of the poor” and asserted that “only one is directed to government,” which simply requires no more than the poor be “treated fairly in court.” Barton and Green employ Rushdoony’s framework of three God-ordained spheres of authority and the view that any action on issues outside those responsibilities is tyrannical and socialist. The responsibility to take care of the poor is limited to families and churches.

As we have seen, Rushdoony, Gary North, David Chilton, George Grant, and others have written on this topic. One of the more accessible places to find their view is in George Grant’s volume in Gary North’s Biblical Blueprints Series. Barton and Green borrow from them to assert that taking care of the poor is not the job of the government. Charity is up to individuals, families, and churches. Moreover, it should not be extended to everyone. The architects of the framework on which Barton bases his view are quite clear: biblical charity may extend to the four corners of the earth, but only to those who are in submission to biblical law as it is articulated by the Reconstructionists.

Barton on Race

David Barton is also the popularizer of a revisionist history of race in America that has become part of the Tea Party narrative. Drawn in part from the writings of Christian Reconstructionists, that narrative recasts modern-day Republicans as the racially inclusive party, and modern-day Democrats as the racists supportive of slavery and postemancipation racist policies. Barton’s website has included a “Black History” section for some time. Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a Christian nation, the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his biggest promoter, Glenn Beck, manipulate those points, remove all historical context, and add patently false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda. Barton appeared regularly on Beck’s show to disseminate his alternative reading of African American history, carrying with him, as he does, what he claims are original documents and artifacts that he flashes around for credibility.

In June of 2010 I traveled to central Florida to attend a Tea Party event sponsored by the Florida chapter of Beck’s “9–12 Project” held at a Baptist church (with a Christian school that was established in the late 1970s). The church sanctuary was decked in patriotic trimmings, including eight big flags on the wall, bunting all over the altar area, and a collection of small flags on the altar itself. As I waited for the event to begin, I overheard people talking about homeschooling and David Barton’s work on “America’s Christian Heritage,” all while Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” played over the sound system. For those unconvinced of the religious dimensions of at the Tea Party movement, the strain of it exhibited here was indistinguishable from the church-based political organizing efforts of the religious right dating back at least to the 1980s. As each local candidate spoke, it was clear how profoundly conservative, Republican, and Christian (in the religious right sense of Christian) this gathering was.

The event was promoted as a response to charges of racism in the Tea Party movement. The banner at the entrance to the event read: “9–12 Project: not racist, not violent, just not silent anymore.” The pastor of the church introduced the meeting, the Tea Party–supported candidates for local office spoke, and all invoked “Christian American history” and the “religion of the founders.” The “9–12 Project” refers both to post-9/11 America (when “divisions didn’t matter”) and to the “nine principles and twelve values” of the group, initiated and promoted by Beck. The “principles” are a distillation of those in The Five Thousand Year Leap, a 1981 book by Cleon Skousen, which was referenced repeatedly by speakers at the event. The book has long been a favorite for Christian schools and homeschoolers and among Reconstructionists despite the fact that Skousen is a Mormon (perhaps because he is also a strong advocate of the free-market Austrian School of economics). I was surprised to learn that Skousen’s book was enjoying a resurgence in popularity as a result of Beck’s promotion and is available in a new edition with a preface by Beck. The fight over the degree to which America was “founded as a Christian nation” is important in that it is a fight over our mythic understanding of ourselves. That is, it is a fight over the narratives through which Americans construct a sense of what it means to be American and perpetuate that sense through the culture and in successive generations.

Intended to counter the charges of racism made against the Tea Party movement, the main speaker was an African American, Franz Kebreau, from the National Association for the Advancement of Conservative People of all Colors (NAACPC). The event was in a more rural part of Florida than where I live, and I passed a number of Confederate flags on my way there. I expected an all-white crowd making arguments about “reverse discrimination,” libertarian arguments against violations of state sovereignty (especially with the Civil Rights Act), and maybe even some of the “slavery wasn’t as bad as people say” arguments. What I found surprised me. Kebreau gave a detailed lecture on the history of slavery and racism in America: a profoundly revisionist history. In Kebreau’s narrative, racism is a legacy of slavery, but it was a socially constructed mechanism by which people in power divided, threatened, and manipulated both blacks and whites. Many of the pieces of historical data he marshals in favor of this thesis are not unfamiliar to those who have studied this aspect of American history, but they are probably not as well known among Americans in general: some slave owners were black, not all slaves were black, black Africans played a huge role in the slave trade, and very few Southerners actually owned slaves. While at least most of these points are undeniably true, they were presented with a specific subtext: with the goal of lending credence to the view that contemporary critics of racism make too much of America’s history of slavery. In this view, it is Democrats who are primarily responsible for fostering racism to solidify power. Southern Democrats opposed civil rights laws, voting rights, integration, and so on. Northern Democrats fanned racial tensions by promoting social programs that made African Americans dependent on government. Race-baiting demagogues like Jesse Jackson and the Reverend Al Sharpton perpetuate the divisions today.

In August of 2010, Beck held his Restoring Honor Rally, bringing many Tea Party groups—Tea Party Patriots, Freedom Works, 9–12 Project, Special Operations Warrior Foundation, and others—together at the Lincoln Memorial. While Beck initially promoted the event as a nonpolitical effort to return to the values of the founders, he claims he only realized later that he scheduled it on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He suggested that while he did not realize the significance of the date, “God might have had a hand” in the coincidence. Beck was criticized for both his timing and his crediting the Almighty. Beck fancies himself a contemporary King, “reclaiming the civil rights movement,” and while he was widely mocked for drawing this parallel, it was less recognized that he did it on a foundation laid by David Barton and his revisionist history, which relies in no small part on the work of Rushdoony.

In his essay “The Founding Fathers and Slavery,” Barton quotes extensively from the writings of the founders and claims that many of them were abolitionists. He maintains that the overwhelming majority of the founders were “sincere Christians” who thought American slavery was “unbiblical,” blamed England for imposing the institution on the colonies, and set in motion processes to end it. Scholars dispense with these claims. According to Diana Butler Bass, “It was nearly universally accepted by white Christian men that the Bible taught, supported, or promoted slavery and it was rare to find a leading American intellectual, Christian or otherwise, who questioned the practice on the basis that it was ‘unbiblical.’ Some intellectuals thought it was counter to the Enlightenment.” Historian Mark Noll argues that the reverse of Barton’s view with regard to the British is correct: evangelicals in the Church of England, not in America, argued that slavery violated the Bible. Again, according to Bass, “the American biblical argument against slavery did not develop in any substantial way until the 1830s and 1840s. Even then, the anti-slavery argument was considered liberal and not quite in line with either scripture or tradition.”

Another essay on Barton’s website, “Democrats and Republicans in Their Own Words: National Party Platforms on Specific Biblical Issues,” compares party platforms from 1840 to 1964—the period before Southern Democrats who blocked civil rights legislation began switching to the Republican Party. In Barton’s narrative, the modern Republican Party is the party more favorable to African Americans because the Republicans led the fight against slavery and for civil rights from the formation of the Republican Party as the “anti-slavery party” and the “election of Abraham Lincoln as the first Republican President,” to the Emancipation Proclamation, the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, the passage of civil rights laws during Reconstruction, and the election of blacks to office. Barton writes that while the Democratic Party platform was defending slavery, “the original Republican platform in 1856 had only nine planks— six of which were dedicated to ending slavery and securing equal rights for African-Americans.” Democrats, on the other hand, supported slavery, and they then sought to ban blacks from holding public office and to limit their right to vote via poll taxes, literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and general harassment and intimidation, and they established legal segregation under Jim Crow laws.

Barton takes issue with the claim that “Southerners” fought for racist policies, because “just one type of Southern whites were the cause of the problem: Southern racist whites.” Rather, he argues (missing the logical inconsistency), we should lay the responsibility for racism at the feet of Democrats:

Current writers and texts addressing the post-Civil War period often present an incomplete portrayal of that era . . . To make an accurate portrayal of black history, a distinction must be made between types of whites. Therefore, [it would be] much more historically correct— although more “politically incorrect”—were it to read: “Democratic legislatures in the South established whites-only voting in party primaries.”

Because he says very little about contemporary Democrats, it’s clear that Barton’s purpose is to connect them with racist Southern Democrats, while completely ignoring the relationship of modern-day Republicans with racism. Most glaringly, the Republican “Southern strategy” is entirely missing from Barton’s account of the parties’ political strategies with regard to race. From the Johnson administration through the Nixon and Reagan campaigns, Republican strategists effectively used race as a “wedge issue.” Southern Democrats would not support efforts by the national party to secure civil rights for African Americans. By focusing on specific racial issues (like segregation), Republicans split off voters who had traditionally voted for Democrats. The contemporary “states’ rights” battle cry at the core of the conservative movement and Tea Party rhetoric is rooted in this very tactic. Barton and Beck want to rewrite American history on race and slavery in order to cleanse the founding fathers of responsibility for slavery and, more importantly, blame it and subsequent racism on Democrats.

But Barton’s rewriting of the history of the founding era and the civil rights movement alone doesn’t quite accomplish that. He has to lower the bar even more and make slavery itself seem like it wasn’t quite as bad as we might think. And for that, he turns to Stephen McDowell of the Reconstructionist-oriented Providence Foundation. Wallbuilders’ website promotes a collection of “resources on African American History.” Much of the material is written by Barton himself, but one of the essays is McDowell’s, drawn almost entirely from Rushdoony’s work in the early 1960s. McDowell’s discussion of slavery, written in 2003, comes directly from Rushdoony’s The Institutes of Biblical Law. McDowell attributes his views to Rushdoony and uses precisely the language that Rushdoony used as early as the 1960s. Rushdoony’s writings on slavery are often cited by his critics. Rushdoony did argue that slavery is biblically permitted. While criticizing American slavery as violating a number of biblical requirements, he also defended it in his writings. By promoting McDowell, and by extension Rushdoony, Barton promotes a biblical worldview in which slavery is in some circumstances acceptable. This worldview downplays the dehumanization of slavery by explicitly arguing that God condones it in certain circumstances.

McDowell writes that, while it was not part of “God’s plan” from the beginning, “slavery, in one form or another (including spiritual, mental, and physical), is always the fruit of disobedience to God and His law/ word,” meaning that the slave is justifiably being punished for his or her disobedience. McDowell argues that slavery is tightly regulated, though not forbidden, in the Bible, and that American Southern slavery was not “biblical” slavery because it was race-based. Following Rushdoony, he argues that there are two forms of biblically permissible slavery: indentured servitude, in which “servants were well treated and when released, given generous pay,” and slavery, in which, in exchange for being taken care of, one might choose to remain a slave. Moreover, he maintains that the Bible permits two forms of involuntary slavery: criminals who could not make restitution for their crimes could be sold into slavery and “pagans, [who] could be made permanent slaves.” Of course, Rushdoony defines “pagans” as simply non-Christians. This means that slavery was/is voluntary only for Christians; non-Christians can be held in nonvoluntary perpetual slavery. Barton shares this understanding of the legal status of “pagans,” at least in terms of their rights under the First Amendment. McDowell is explicit that race-based kidnapping and enforced slavery are unbiblical. In fact, they are punishable by death. All this comes directly from The Institutes of Biblical Law. McDowell argues, as did Rushdoony in the early 1960s, that while American slavery was not biblical slavery, neither was it the cause of the Civil War. The major point of dispute between North and South, they argue, was, not slavery but “centralism,”—that is, the increasing centralization of power in the federal government, an argument frequently echoed today by the states’ rights agitators and Tenth Amendment Tea Partiers. Although in one essay Barton parts company with Rushdoony and McDowell over the significance of slavery as a cause of the Civil War (Barton argues instead that slavery was a cause, in service of his argument that the present-day Republican Party is more racially inclusive than the Democrats), he nonetheless continues to promote, on his website, their view that slavery is biblical.

The historical revisionism with regard to race in America that gained a hearing in the Tea Party (thanks to Glenn Beck and activists such as Franz Kebreau) is rooted in Barton’s and Wallbuilders’ writings, which have been deeply influenced by Rushdoony.

This Week in God, 6.6.15

First up from the God Machine this week is an alarming concern raised separately by several Republican presidential candidates: the imaginary prospect of Christianity being “criminalized” in the United States.

Right Wing Watch reported this week, for example, on Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s latest warnings, this time issued to Billy Graham’s Decision magazine.

In an interview with Decision, Huckabee repeated his warning that marriage equality will lead to the “criminalization of Christianity,” saying, “When you elevate a lifestyle to the status of a civil right, I don’t think a lot of believers fully understand or comprehend that once it’s risen to that level and our government accepts it, then anyone who disagrees with it could be at least civilly liable, but more than likely would be criminally liable.”

He warned that if marriage equality is legalized nationwide, it will become a “criminal act” for a pastor to preach against gay marriage.

It’d be easier to ignore such nonsense if it weren’t increasingly common. Also this week, for example, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) argued that liberals are trying “to essentially outlaw firmly held religious beliefs that they do not agree with.”

And even Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), ostensibly a more mainstream candidate, said last week, “We are at the water’s edge of the argument that mainstream Christian teaching is hate speech…. That’s a real and present danger.”

An electoral dynamic in which far-right candidates deliberately try to scare their party’s base is not uncommon, but the notion of a major American religion and/or its scriptural tenets being “criminalized” is plainly ridiculous. It’s deeply irresponsible for leaders in positions of authority to argue otherwise.

For one thing, we already have a First Amendment, which protects not only the free exercise of religion, but also the right of religious leaders to preach whatever they wish on the major issues of the day. There were Christian ministers who preached for years against interracial marriage – in some areas, such sermons may still occur – and while American society and American laws have obviously progressed, Christian critics of interracial marriage have never faced, and could never face, criminal penalties.

For another, marriage equality already exists in much of the country. The grand total of prosecutions against pastors preaching against equal-marriage rights stands at zero.

Rubio, Huckabee, and Jindal are free to make the case against marriage equality, but they really should stop casually throwing around demagogic fantasies.

Vatican: Irish gay marriage vote a 'defeat for humanity'

The Vatican's secretary of state has called the Irish vote to legalize gay marriage a "defeat for humanity," evidence of the soul-searching going on in Catholic circles after the predominantly Roman Catholic country overwhelmingly rejected traditional church teaching on marriage.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin said he was saddened by the landslide decision, in which more than 62 percent of Irish voters said "yes," despite church teaching that marriage is only between a man and woman.

In comments to reporters Tuesday evening, Parolin referred to remarks by the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, that the results showed the church needed to do a "reality check" since it clearly wasn't reaching young people with its message.

"I don't think you can speak only about a defeat for Christian principles, but a defeat for humanity," he said.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has lost much of its moral authority following widespread sex abuse scandals and a general secularization of society. Martin himself called the vote part of a "social revolution" that required the church to look at whether it had "drifted completely away from young people."

Pope Francis hasn't commented directly on the Irish results, but on Wednesday he stressed traditional church teaching on marriage as being between man and woman. Francis has dedicated his weekly general audience catechism lessons to family issues, so Wednesday's remarks about the importance of the period of engagement before a marriage were perfectly in line with the themes he has been stressing for months.

Francis said fiancees should use their engagements to really get to know one another, acknowledging that they may know one another "intimately," and even live together, but don't truly know one another.

During the period of engagement, he said, "The man learns about women by learning about this woman, his fiancee, while the woman learns about men by learning about this man, her fiance."

Francis' weekly catechism lessons are part of his two-year study on family issues that will culminate in October when bishops from around the world gather to discuss better ways to minister to today's Catholics. At their preliminary meeting last fall, bishops stressed the need to better welcome gays into the church, but ruled out gay marriage.

As archbishop of Buenos Aires, the former Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio fought hard, and unsuccessfully, to block Argentina from becoming the first country in South America to legalize gay marriage.

Editor's note: What the Roman Catholic Church has done against humanity for hundreds of years is disgraceful and finally when the citizens of a primarily Roman Catholic and Protestant country have voted to put an end to the practice of discrimination by the church and its followers of one of those inhumane practices (all efforts to separate LGBT people from all the rights that heterosexual people have - remember the inquisition?), their officials once again speak against humanity but language it as if they are speaking for humanity. Just one more example why organized religion is on the decline worldwide - because of this false, inhuman morality. - Gordon Clay

Christian group's survey finds that Christians have the most abortions in U.S.

With the terrible events that unfolded over the holiday weekend still reverberating across the country, it is timely that the Christian Research group LifeWay would release the findings of a survey they conducted concerning abortion and the demographics of abortion when it comes to religion. The study was co-sponsored by Care Net, a pregnancy center support organization. Some of their findings:

On the plus side, and probably surprising to many on the right of this issue who frequently share horror stories of women secretly having abortions while good Christian men are powerless, the majority of women based their decision to terminate a pregnancy (regardless of their religious affiliation) on the influence of the father of the unborn child. The influence of the father in this case was followed by the influence of a medical provider. So women who end up terminating a pregnancy aren’t, on the whole, a part of the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

There is much more ambivalence when it comes to how safe it is to talk with a pastor about such issues and how applicable local congregation’s religious teachings are when dealing with the ramifications of terminated pregnancies.

This is not a good number.

Doesn’t sound like the church is considered welcoming to many women dealing with very tough decisions. Maybe there is another way to look at this? When Christian Post asked an anti-abortion group, here’s how they spun this news.

"I'm not surprised but I don't think that necessarily reflects anything bad about churches," Jeanne Mancini, the president of the March for Life organization that organizes an annual pro-life rally in Washington D.C., told The Christian Post Wednesday.

That would be fantastic if she went to a church member but the reality is that they know often that they are not doing what's right, so they are not going to go [to someone] who is an expert in morality to find that out," Mancini added. "They want somebody to tell them that it's OK and they are not going to hear that from a church, at least not most churches."

Or maybe it’s tied to this reality:

Turns out Jesus liked to talk smack about people behind their backs. It’s perfect that the president of the March for Life would just go straight to judging the women instead of judging their religious institution’s inability to actually come through and provide an atmosphere that practices what it preaches. Here’s Jeanne Mancini’s Twitter account. Usually pretty active, got super quiet during the Planned Parenthood Christian terrorist act. Strange, right?

Finally, here’s the religious preference breakdown of their survey:

It won’t be surprising to most on the left that the Christians that kill people in order to protest killing are hypocrites. But this is a nice survey to pass around to your more religious friends since it was conducted by a Christian organization and you can at least get around that usual right-wing rhetorical device of saying your evidence is biased against the Church.

How ‘religious liberty’ has been used to justify racism, sexism and slavery throughout history

There has been an enormous backlash from Indiana’s decision to enact a law that would allow businesses to discriminate if they invoke religious liberty. Responding to a flurry of boycott threats, Republican Governor Mike Pence signed a “fix” to the bill he says would prevent it from being used to discriminate.

But for the religious right, the battle lines have been drawn. 2016 presidential contenders like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Bobby Jindal, Rick Santorum, Ben Carson and others have all rushed to defend Indiana’s legislation, as a number of state legislatures continue to debate enacting similar measures. In Louisiana, one Republican lawmaker is introducing a narrower bill specifically taking aim at marriage, with the intent to allow businesses to discriminate against same-sex weddings and deny benefits to employees in same-sex marriages.

In all of these examples, religious belief is invoked to justify a right to discriminate. Proponents argue that constitutional protections for religious freedom are insufficient, and these new laws—aimed at granting businesses themselves exemptions from laws based on the invocation of religion—are necessary. It’s no surprise that these laws are proliferating around the same time marriage equality is slowly becoming the law of the land in most of the country. However, cries of religious liberty and a religious-based right to discriminatory and harmful behavior are not new. For centuries, religion has been used and abused as a shield for harmful behavior, to justify everything from slavery to sexist violence to racism in the Jim Crow South.

Slavery’s Religious Supporters

In today’s history books, the righteous deeds of abolitionists—many of them devout Christians—are rightly documented, showing how the Gospel was used to liberate millions of human beings who had been subjugated by slavery. However, while the abolitionists did use scripture to make their case, many of their pro-slavery opponents also invoked biblical traditions

In 1852, the writer Josiah Priest published a book titled Bible Defence Of Slavery: And Origin, Fortunes, and History of the Negro Race. The publisher’s preface points out the belief that “the institution of slavery received the sanction of the Almighty in the Patriarchal age; that it was incorporated into the only national constitution which ever emanated from God, that its legality was recognized, and its relative duties relegated by our Saviour, when upon earth.”

Priest quotes liberally from scripture, citing numerous examples of enslavement being sanctified in the Bible. He writes, “If God appointed the race of Ham judicially to slavery, and it were a heinous sin to enslave one, or all the race, how then is the appointment of God to go into effect? …. God does never sanction sin, nor call for the commission of moral evil to forward any of his purposes; wherefre we come to the conclusion, that is is not sinful to enslave the negro race, providing it is done in a tender, fatherly and thoughtful manner.”

Priest’s interpretations of the Bible were particularly popular in the American South, with the Southern Baptists championing religious justifications for enslavement. Prominent Baptist minister Richard Furman helped polarize southern white Baptists to support the institution of slavery; he wrote to the governor of South Carolina explaining that “the right of holding slaves is clearly established in the Holy Scriptures”; he specifically cites the “Israelites [being] directed to purchase their bond-men and bond-maids of the Heathen nations; except they were of the Canaanites, for these were to be destroyed. And it is declared that the persons purchased were to be their ‘bond-men forever;’ and an ‘inheritance for them and their children.’”

It was not until 1995's Southern Baptist Convention that the organization issued an apology for its former stance on slavery.

Weaponizing the Bible For Sexism

The Seneca Falls Woman’s Rights Convention of 1848 was one of the major gatherings of the women’s movement, and is considered to have been one of the turning points for suffragists in particular. In the Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions the activists there compiled, they specifically included a provision condemning those who would use the Bible to suppress their rights: “Resolved, That woman has too long rested satisfied in the circumscribed limits which corrupt customs and a perverted application of the Scriptures have marked out for her, and that it is time she should move in the enlarged sphere which her great Creator has assigned her.”

Clinging to verses in the Bible that gave unequal status to men and women, opponents of the suffragists justified their beliefs with religious teaching. “Who demand the ballot for woman? They are not the lovers of God, nor are they believers in Christ, as a class. There may be exceptions, but the majority prefer an infidel’s cheer to the favor of God and the love of the Christian community. It is because of this tendency that the majority of those who contend for the ballot for woman cut loose from the legislation of Heaven, from the enjoyments of home, and drift to infidelity and ruin,” intoned Justin Fulton, a prominent reverend in 1869.

The religious-based bigotry against women was so intense that Elizabeth Cady Stanton actually wrote The Woman’s Bible to directly challenge religious oppression of women. The book’s critique of using religion to justify discrimination against women was considered so controversial it not only was denounced by sexists, but also by the National American Woman Suffrage Association, which saw the book as a mistake for the movement.

Jim Crow’s Holy Defenders

Other than the Christian right’s modern-day campaign against gay rights, the most recent use of scripture and religious liberty to justify discrimination was the 20th-century defense of Jim Crow. ThinkProgress’s Ian Milhiser notes that Democratic Senator Theodore Bilbo used his religious faith to justify preventing integration of the races.

“[P]urity of race is a gift of God…. And God, in his infinite wisdom, has so ordained it that when man destroys his racial purity, it can never be redeemed,” wrote Bilbo in the book Take Your Choice: Separation or Mongrelization.

Segregationist governor George Wallace invoked God 27 times in his famous speech that came to be known as “segregation now, segregation forever.” Georgia governor Allen Candler said that “God made them negroes and we cannot by education make them white folks”; following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that mandated desgregation of schools, Senator Harry Byrd took to the floor and quoted Genesis and Leviticus to justify continued segregation of the races.

Harming Church and State

None of this is to argue that religious values can’t inspire individuals to do good. Towering figures such as the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mother Teresa improved the lives of millions and used scripture to liberate people, not oppress them. But a cursory review of the history shows that invoking religious preference to justify discrimination and oppression is a common tool. That’s why although the Constitution guarantees your right to practice your religion as you see fit, it also prevents the government from using it to deny people rights. The current debates over religious liberty are hardly new, they are simply new cover for using religion to deny people rights, an old routine that harms both the church and the state.

God or the divine is referenced in every state constitution

The U.S. Constitution never explicitly mentions God or the divine, but the same cannot be said of the nation’s state constitutions. In fact, God or the divine is mentioned at least once in each of the 50 state constitutions and nearly 200 times overall, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

All but four state constitutions – those in Colorado, Iowa, Hawaii and Washington – use the word “God” at least once. The constitutions in Colorado, Iowa and Washington refer to a “Supreme Being” or “Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” while Hawaii’s constitution makes reference to the divine only in its preamble, which states that the people of Hawaii are “grateful for Divine Guidance.”

Most state constitutions – 34 – refer to God more than once. Of the 116 times the word appears in state constitutions, eight are in the Massachusetts constitution, and New Hampshire and Vermont have six references each. Perhaps surprisingly, all three of these states are among the least religious in the country, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis.

In addition to the 116 mentions of God, there are also 14 mentions of a Supreme or Sovereign Being, seven mentions of the “Creator,” three mentions of “providence,” four mentions of “divine” and 46 instances of the word “almighty.” While there are 32 mentions of the word “Lord,” all but one refer to “the year of our Lord” and so are not direct references to God. (Indeed, the U.S. Constitution also makes reference to “the year of our Lord.”) There also are seven mentions of the word “Christian.”

A handful of state constitutions explicitly prohibit those who do not believe in God from holding public office. However, these bans have not recently been enforced because it is generally assumed that they violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on requiring religious tests for those holding public office.

For this analysis, up-to-date constitutions were obtained from state-run websites and searched for a variety of keywords, including “God,” “creator,” “divine,” “Lord,” “Supreme Being” and others. Mentions that were inherently unrelated to religion were removed. For example, Rhode Island’s capital is Providence, so mentions of the capital were not counted in this analysis. At the same time, a mention of “the good providence of God” in Connecticut’s constitution was counted as both an instance of the word “God” and the word “providence.”

Study: Americans becoming less Christian, more secular

The number of Americans who don't affiliate with a particular religion has grown to 56 million in recent years, making the faith group researchers call "nones" the second-largest in total numbers behind evangelicals, according to a Pew Research Center study released Tuesday.

Christianity is still the dominant faith by far in the U.S.; 7 in 10 Americans identify with the tradition. However, the ranks of Christians have declined as the segment of people with no religion has grown, the survey says.

Between 2007 and 2014, when Pew conducted two major surveys of U.S. religious life, Americans who described themselves as atheist, agnostic or of no particular faith grew from 16 percent to nearly 23 percent. At the same time, Christians dropped from about 78 percent to just under 71 percent of the population. Protestants now comprise 46.5 percent of what was once a predominantly Protestant country.

Researchers have long debated whether people with no religion should be defined as secular since the category includes those who believe in God or consider themselves "spiritual." But the new Pew study found increasing signs of secularism.

A man holds rosary beads, Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, in Baton Rouge, La. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal continued to court Christian conservatives for a possible presidential campaign with a headlining appearance at an all-day prayer rally hosted by the American Family Association. (AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman)

Last year, 31 percent of "nones" said they were atheist or agnostic, compared to 25 percent in 2007, and the percentage who said religion was important to them dropped.

Greg Smith, Pew's associate research director, said the findings "point to substantive changes" among the religiously unaffiliated, not just a shift in how people describe themselves. Secular groups have become increasingly organized to counter bias against them and keep religion out of public life through lawsuits and lobbying lawmakers.

The growth of "nones" has political significance as well. People with no religion tend to vote Democratic, just as white evangelicals tend to vote Republican. The Pew study found a slight drop - about 1 percent - in the evangelical share of the population, which now comprises a quarter of Americans. But the overall number of evangelicals rose to about 62 million people.

Pew researchers said Christian losses were driven by decreases among mainline, or liberal, Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Mainline Protestants declined by about 5 million to 36 million between 2007 and 2014. Pew found 13 percent of U.S. adults are former Catholics. The study put the number of Catholic adults at 51 million, or just over one-fifth of the U.S. population, a drop of about 3 percent over seven years. In 2007, Catholics made up about one-quarter of Americans.

However, Pew researchers acknowledge those conclusions differ from those of some other major studies that found only slight declines or even a slight uptick in the numbers of Catholics in the last couple of years. Georgetown University's Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, which tracks American Catholicism, puts the U.S. adult Catholic population at 61 million.

Regarding other religions, Pew found an increase in membership of non-Christian faiths, driven mainly by growing numbers of Muslims and Hindus. Despite the increase, their numbers remain small. Muslims and Hindus each comprise less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. The number of Jews rose slightly over the period, from 1.7 percent to 1.9 percent of Americans.

Overall, religious groups have become more ethnically diverse along with the broader population. Latinos now comprise one-third of U.S. Roman Catholics, although fewer U.S. Latinos identify as Catholic overall. One-quarter of evangelicals and 14 percent of mainline Protestants are racial minorities. Membership in historically black churches has remained relatively stable over the period.

The survey of 35,000 people, titled "America's Changing Religious Landscape," was conducted in English and Spanish from June 4 through Sept. 30 of last year and has a margin of error of plus or minus 0.6 percentage points.
(Editor's note: A couple of major reasons for this is (1) How hateful and discriminatory many Christians and some of their leaders have become, (2) The pressure Christians are putting on lawmakers to force their religion on everyone else, and (3) how out-of-date they are with science and teaching things about sexuality and the human body that simply aren't true. My trust level immediately goes down anytime I meet someone who is a devotee Christian/Catholic. No other religion seems to be so intent on conversion. My ancestor's came to this country back in the 1600s to gee away from religious persecution and the persecution continues. - Gordon Clay)

What Do Religions Say About Birth Control and Family Planning?

For many people, religion plays a significant role in influencing decisions about birth control use. The knowledge of contraception has been accounted for since early times. Early Islamic medical texts, ancient Jewish sources, and sacred Hindu scriptures all mention that herbal contraceptives could induce temporary sterility. Religious views on birth control vary widely, and even those religions that seem to be the most opposed to birth control have traditions that allow the use of contraceptives.

How do certain religions view the issues of procreation and birth control? Family planning is embraced by religions across the spectrum as a moral good, a responsible choice, and a basic human right. The world’s religions recognize that family planning helps build strong families, protect the health of women and children, reduce child and spousal abuse, and prevent unintended pregnancies.

Christianity and Evangelical Protestants


Christian notions about birth control stem from church teachings rather than scripture (since the Bible says little about contraception). So beliefs about birth control tend to be based on different Christian interpretations of marriage, sex, and family. Contraception was condemned by Christianity as a barrier to God’s procreative purpose of marriage until the start of the 20th century. Protestant theologians became more willing to accept that morality should come from the conscience of each person rather than from outside teachings.

Many Christians began to consider sex as a gift from God and a positive force that could strengthen the institution of marriage if couples did not feel threatened by the possibility of having children they could not support. The majority of Protestant denominations, theologians, and churches allow contraception and may even promote family planning as an important moral good. As with all issues of Christian morality, it stresses that members use birth control as dictated by their consciences.

Evangelical Protestants:

Opposition to birth control is growing in conservative Evangelical groups who rely more heavily on Catholic teachings, so birth control still remains controversial. Some oppose all forms of contraception short of abstinence while others allow natural family planning but oppose other methods. Some sects even support any form of birth control that prevents conception but are against any method that keeps a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. In 1954, The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stated that “to enable them to more thankfully receive God’s blessing and reward, a married couple should plan and govern their sexual relations so that any child born to their union will be desired both for itself and in relation to the time of its birth.”

Protestants - Southern Baptists and United Methodists

Southern Baptists

The nation’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptists, uphold the use of some methods of family planning by married couples. The denomination’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission helps ensure that the church can find ways to apply biblical truth to moral, public policy, and religious liberty issues. This creates a biblical model as a framework through which Christians can evaluate the moral and religious liberty issues confronting families in modern culture.

The church believes that the use of birth control, as a means to regulating the number of children a couple has and as a means to space out the ages of the children, is a moral decision that is left up to each couple. However, Southern Baptists stipulate that a couple uses a form of contraception that prevents conception.

The United Methodist Church:

Methodists, the nation’s second largest Protestant denomination, preach that every couple has the right and the duty prayerfully as well as the responsibility to control conception according to their circumstances. The United Methodist's Resolution on Responsible Parenthood dictates that as a means to uphold the sacred dimensions of personhood, all possible efforts should be made by the community and parents to ensure that every child enters the world with a healthy body and is born into an environment prepared to help the child to reach his/her fullest potential. That's why Methodists support public funding and participation in family planning services.



Birth control views vary among the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of Judaism. The Torah promotes prolific childbirth; Orthodox rabbis believe that being fruitful and multiplying is a male duty. But many rabbis allow birth control in cases where pregnancy would seriously harm the woman. The book of Genesis makes a reference when during intercourse Onan "spilled his seed on the ground" (withdrawal).

This was "evil in the sight of the Lord" and was punished by Onan's death. Judaism uses this passage to determine approved contraceptive methods. Because the birth control pill does not result in sterility and doesn't prevent semen from traveling its normal route, it and other forms of hormonal contraception are preferred over barrier methods to prevent the “spilling of seed.”

Jewish law considers children a blessing. So a man may not abstain from procreation or get sterilized until he has fathered a child. Conservative and Reform Jews feel that the benefits of birth control (female health, family stability, or disease prevention) uphold the commandment to "choose life" more strongly than if they violate the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply."

The Jewish laws of niddah (family purity) do not allow a woman to have sex during her period. If an Orthodox Jewish woman wants to use contraception, she may choose a method that decreases the chances for additional bleeding. Judaism also suggests that brides use the combination pill.

Due to niddah, Jewish brides can try to regulate their periods before their wedding to lower the chances of having it on their wedding day. That is because after the marriage ceremony, Jewish newlyweds are supposed to retire to a private room for time alone, known as Yichud. Yichud allows for the consummation of the marriage and is a requirement under Orthodox Jewish law.


Hinduism encourages procreation within marriage, yet there is no opposition against contraception. Most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during that stage of one’s life. So they are unlikely to use birth control to avoid having children altogether.

Traditional Hindu texts praise large families (which was normal in ancient times). Yet, Hindu scriptures that applaud small families also exist which emphasize the development of a positive social conscience.

So family planning is seen as an ethical good. The Upanishads (texts delineating key Hindu concepts) describe birth control methods, and some Hindu scriptures contain advice on what a couple should do to promote conception (thus providing a type of contraceptive advice).

Contraception views vary widely among Hindu scholars. Although Gandhi advocated abstinence as a form of birth control, Radhakrishnan (a key Indian philosopher) and Tagore (the most prolific writer in modern Indian literature) encouraged the use of artificial contraceptive methods. Arguments in favor of birth control are drawn from the moral teachings of Hinduism. The Dharma (doctrine of the religious and moral codes of Hindus) emphasizes the need to act for the sake of the good of the world. Some Hindus, therefore, believe that producing more children than one or the environment can support goes against this Hindu code. Although fertility is important, conceiving more children than can be supported is treated as violating the Ahimsa (nonviolent rule of conduct).

In 1971, abortion was legalized in India, and there has very rarely been any objections to it. India has a high population, so discussion about contraception focuses more on overpopulation rather than moral or personal ethics. India was the first nation to establish a governmental population strategy based on birth control measures.


Widespread variation on contraception attitudes can be found in the Islamic faith. Because contraception is not expressly prohibited in the Qur’an, many Muslim scholars approve of family planning. Yet, some also believe that birth control is forbidden as the Qur’an contains the command to “procreate and abound in number.” These scholars argue that only God can decide the number of children that a couple will have.

Early Sunni Muslim literature discusses various contraceptive methods, and reveals that the practice of azl (withdrawal) is morally acceptable since it was practiced by the prophet Muhammed. Sunni doctrine in favor of contraception suggests that that any contraceptive that does not produce sterility is morally the same as azl and is therefore accepted.

Despite these varying views, Islam emphasizes that procreation within the family is a religious duty, so there is unanimous rejection of sterilization and abortion. Most Islamic traditions will permit the use of birth control where maternal health is an issue or where the well-being of the family may be compromised. The Islamic faith prioritizes human life, so being able to space out births allows a mother ample time to care for each child. In Shia Islamic countries, contraception is not only taught to married couples, but is encouraged to youngsters as well. Birth control is supported for economic reasons; it helps protect the mother’s life and provide for her children.

Muslims also believe that contraception helps to preserve the attractiveness of the wife, thereby increasing the enjoyment of the marriage. For Muslim women, family planning is key to their empowerment. The Islamic faith allows a lot of latitude in interpretation, which is reflected by the various differences in family planning policies by distinct Muslim groups and countries.

Taoism, Confucianism and Sikhism

Evidence of contraception goes back thousands of years in China. Chinese religions emphasize the importance of balance and harmony in the individual, the family, and society. Since having too many children can upset this balance, family planning has been a valued part of human sexuality in both Taoism and Confucianism. In the Chinese religions, sex and sexual pleasure are esteemed and celebrated along with the need for moderation.

Moderation is also considered a virtue in reproduction. Given this, there is little religious resistance to birth control, and abortion is also allowed.

In general, Taoists are not against contraception. Birth control is rationalized by the negative impacts that could result from unwanted pregnancies. Confucians, unlike Taoists, put more focus on procreation than on the joy and art of sex. Confucians are not as open to birth control as they are more sensitive to any restriction on their God-given right to procreate. However, they still believe that a husband and wife have an obligation to practice family planning.


Nothing in Sikh scripture condemns the use of birth control. Sensible family planning is promoted by the community. The couple decides how many children they want and can support, whether or not to use contraception, and the type of birth control to use. Contraception decisions are centered on the needs of the family. Although Sikhs have no objection to birth control, they are not allowed to use it as a way to avoid a pregnancy resulting from adulterous behavior.

Many Sikhs use contraception; yet, to some, birth control is associated with lust and seen as disruptive to the natural cycle of procreation.

There is also no religious mandate on abortion. Some don't support it because they believe the fetus has a soul. But this decision is considered a personal choice.


In Buddhism, there is no established doctrine about contraception. Traditional Buddhist teaching favors fertility over birth control, so some are reluctant to tamper with the natural development of life. A Buddhist may accept all contraceptive methods but with different degrees of hesitation. The worst of all is abortion or ‘killing a human to be.’

In Buddhism, wholesomeness is the main criterion for moral judgment.

A notion related to this is the Buddhism beliefs about the duty of the parent. Buddhism preaches the importance of humans to take care of their children, so they can grow up with a good quality of life. Buddhist teachings, therefore, support appropriate family planning when people feel that it would be too much of a burden on themselves or their environment to have more children. Birth control allows couples to plan to have a certain number of children and prevent an excessive number of pregnancies. Buddhists believe that family planning should be allowed and that a good government should provide those services.

Birth control pills and condoms are more acceptable methods, with more Buddhists preferring condoms. According to Mechai Viravaidya, a politician and activist in Thailand, "the Buddhist scriptures say that many births cause suffering, so Buddhism is not against family planning. And we even ended up with monks sprinkling holy water on pills and condoms for the sanctity of the family before shipments went out into the villages." He urges Buddhists to “not be embarrassed by a condom.

It's just from a rubber tree, like a tennis ball. If you're embarrassed by a condom, you must be more embarrassed by the tennis ball. There's more rubber in it. You could use it as a balloon, as a tourniquet for snake bites and deep cuts and use the ring of the condom as a hair band. What a wonderful product."


Birth control is not specifically prohibited by the Church of Latter-day Saints. The Church believes that the decision whether or not to use contraception is one that should be shared by husband, wife, and God. Spouses are encouraged to help one another as equals. Raising children is a sacred task that draws couples nearer to God. According to the LDS Church, children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God's purposes for humanity.

When husband and wife are physically able, they have the privilege and responsibility to bring children into the world and nurture them. The church does not provide specific directions as far as the number and spacing of children, including contraceptive use in family planning.

While many statements exist condemning contraception, there is no public statement from any apostle positively recommending its use. All Church leaders preach the same message: The use of birth control by LDS is contrary to the will of God, so the contraceptive use is not specifically encouraged. The text in the LDS General Handbook leaves it up to the married couple to choose. After careful thought and prayer, if a couple has decided that they should not have children at this time, birth control is acceptable (not just abstinence), since the Church recognizes that sexual relations have an important place in expressing and demonstrating the bond of love.

Research shows that the large family size among Mormons is not due to their reluctance to use contraception; in fact, Mormons are just as likely to use modern birth control methods as the rest of the nation.

The difference may be that contraceptives are either not used until after child rearing has occurred or are used less often, so that Mormons can reach their desired larger-size family.

Roman Catholicism and Presbyterians


The Roman Catholic Church forbids sex outside marriage, so its teachings about contraception should be understood within the context of a husband and wife. Catholicism is the only major faith in the United States that forbids the use of contraception. The Church teaches that sex must be both unitive and procreative, so its against all chemical and barrier methods of birth control and considers them morally unacceptable -- claiming artificial birth control methods impede the procreative aspect of sex, making contraception sinful.

Natural family planning such as periodic abstinence is the only contraceptive method sanctioned by the Church. The catechism of the Catholic Church claims sex has a twofold purpose: "the good of the spouses themselves and the transmission of life (2363)." Still, most Catholics disagree with the prohibition of birth control; in fact, surveys find that approximately 90% of sexually active Catholic women of childbearing age use a birth control method forbidden by the church.

The Presbyterian Church:

Presbyterianism fully promotes equal access to birth control options. In fact, the Presbyterian Church has been advocating for legislation that would require insurance companies to cover the costs of birth control, asserting that contraceptive services are part of basic health care and warned that unintended pregnancies can lead to higher rates of infant mortality and maternal morbidity, and threaten the economic viability of families. Presbyterians have been urging Congress and the president to include comprehensive family planning in any proposal for national health care.
Blumenthal (2007). Overcoming Cultural Barriers in Contraceptive Care. Baylor College of Medicine.
Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (2006) Religious Views on Contraception. Call to Justice.
Thomas (2007) Family Life. The Light Planet.

Atheists, Humanists Suffer Persecution World Wide, Report

Atheists and other religious skeptics suffer persecution or discrimination in many parts of the world and in at least seven nations can be executed if their beliefs become known, according to a report issued on Monday.

The study, from the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), showed that "unbelievers" in Islamic countries face the most severe - sometimes brutal - treatment at the hands of the state and adherents of the official religion.

But it also points to policies in some European countries and the United States which favor the religious and their organizations and treat atheists and humanists as outsiders.

The report, "Freedom of Thought 2012", said "there are laws that deny atheists' right to exist, curtail their freedom of belief and expression, revoke their right to citizenship, restrict their right to marry."

Other laws "obstruct their access to public education, prohibit them from holding public office, prevent them from working for the state, criminalize their criticism of religion, and execute them for leaving the religion of their parents."

The report was welcomed by Heiner Bielefeldt, United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, who said in a brief introduction there was little awareness that atheists were covered by global human rights agreements.

The IHEU - which links over 120 humanist, atheist and secular organizations in more than 40 countries - said it was issuing the report to mark the U.N.'s Human Rights Day on Monday.

According to its survey of some 60 countries, the seven where expression of atheist views or defection from the official religion can bring capital punishment are Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.

The 70-page report lists no recent cases of actual execution for "atheism" -- but researchers say the offence is often subsumed into other charges.

In a range of other countries - such as Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Kuwait and Jordan - publication of atheist or humanist views on religion are totally banned or strictly limited under laws prohibiting "blasphemy".

In many of these countries, and others like Malaysia, citizens have to register as adherents of a small number officially-recognized religions -- which normally include no more than Christianity and Judaism as well as Islam.

Atheists and humanists are thereby forced to lie to obtain their official documents without which it is impossible to go to university, receive medical treatment, travel abroad or drive.

In Europe, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin and North America, countries which identify themselves secular give privileges to or favor Christian churches in providing education and other public services, the IHEU said.

In Greece and Russia, the Orthodox Church is fiercely protected from criticism and is given pride of place on state occasions, while in Britain bishops of the Church of England have automatic seats in the upper house of parliament.

While freedom of religion and speech is protected in the United States, the report said, a social and political climate prevails "in which atheists and the non-religious are made to feel like lesser Americans, or non-Americans."

In at least seven U.S. states, constitutional provisions are in place that bar atheists from public office and one state, Arkansas, has a law that bars an atheist from testifying as a witness at a trial, the report said.

10 Most Religious States
1 Mississippi 59%
2 Utah 57%
3. Alabama 56%
4. Louisiana 54%
5. Arkansas 54
6. South Carolina 54%
7. Tennessee 52%
8. North Carolina 50%
9. Georgia 48%
10. Oklahoma 48%

10 Least Religious States
40. Rhode Island 32%
41. New York 32%
42. District of Columbia 32%
43. Connecticut 31%
44. Washington 30%
45. Nevada 30%
46. Oregon 30%
47. Alaska 28%
48. Massachusetts 28%
49. Maine 25%
50. New Hampshire 23%
51 Vermont 23%

Note: California is more religious than Oregon. Oregon is the 46th least religious state and falls below Nevada and Washington State.

The Unbelievable Tale of Jesus’s Wife

A hotly contested, supposedly ancient manuscript suggests Christ was married. But believing its origin story—a real-life Da Vinci Code, involving a Harvard professor, a onetime Florida pornographer, and an escape from East Germany—requires a big leap of faith.

On a humid afternoon this past November, I pulled off Interstate 75 into a stretch of Florida pine forest tangled with runaway vines. My GPS was homing in on the house of a man I thought might hold the master key to one of the strangest scholarly mysteries in recent decades: a 1,300-year-old scrap of papyrus that bore the phrase “Jesus said to them, My wife.” The fragment, written in the ancient language of Coptic, had set off shock waves when an eminent Harvard historian of early Christianity, Karen L. King, presented it in September 2012 at a conference in Rome.

Never before had an ancient manuscript alluded to Jesus’s being married. The papyrus’s lines were incomplete, but they seemed to describe a dialogue between Jesus and the apostles over whether his “wife”—possibly Mary Magdalene—was “worthy” of discipleship. Its main point, King argued, was that “women who are wives and mothers can be Jesus’s disciples.” She thought the passage likely figured into ancient debates over whether “marriage or celibacy [was] the ideal mode of Christian life” and, ultimately, whether a person could be both sexual and holy.

King called the business-card-size papyrus “The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife.” But even without that provocative title, it would have shaken the world of biblical scholarship. Centuries of Christian tradition are bound up in whether the scrap is authentic or, as a growing group of scholars contends, an outrageous modern fake: Jesus’s bachelorhood helps form the basis for priestly celibacy, and his all-male cast of apostles has long been cited to justify limits on women’s religious leadership. In the Roman Catholic Church in particular, the New Testament is seen as divine revelation handed down through a long line of men—Jesus, the 12 apostles, the Church fathers, the popes, and finally the priests who bring God’s word to the parish pews today.

King showed the papyrus to a small group of media outlets in the weeks before her announcement—The Boston Globe, The New York Times, and both Smithsonian magazine and the Smithsonian Channel—on the condition that no stories run before her presentation in Rome. Smithsonian assigned me a long feature, sending me to see King at Harvard and then to follow her to Rome. I was the only reporter in the room when she revealed her find to colleagues, who reacted with equal parts fascination and disbelief.

Within days, doubts mounted. The Vatican newspaper labeled the papyrus “an inept forgery.” Scholars took to their blogs to point out apparent errors in Coptic grammar as well as phrases that seemed to have been lifted from the Gospel of Thomas. Others deemed the text suspiciously in step with the zeitgeist of growing religious egalitarianism and of intrigue around the idea, popularized by The Da Vinci Code, of a married Jesus. The controversy made news around the world, including an article in these pages.

A year and a half later, however, Harvard announced the results of carbon-dating tests, multispectral imaging, and other lab analyses: The papyrus appeared to be of ancient origin, and the ink had no obviously modern ingredients. This didn’t rule out fraud. A determined forger could obtain a blank scrap of centuries-old papyrus (perhaps even on eBay, where old papyri are routinely auctioned), mix ink from ancient recipes, and fashion passable Coptic script, particularly if he or she had some scholarly training. But the scientific findings complicated the case for forgery. The Gospel of Jesus’s Wife had undergone—and passed—more state-of-the-art lab tests, inch for inch, than almost any other papyrus in history.

But skeptics had identified other problems. Among the most damning was an odd typographical error that appears in both the Jesus’s-wife fragment and an edition of the Gospel of Thomas that was posted online in 2002, suggesting an easily available source for a modern forger’s cut-and-paste job.

With King and her critics at loggerheads, each insisting on the primacy of their evidence, I wondered why no one had conducted a different sort of test: a thorough vetting of the papyrus’s chain of ownership.

King has steadfastly honored the current owner’s request for anonymity. But in 2012, she sent me the text of e-mails she’d exchanged with him, after removing his name and identifying details. His account of how he’d come to possess the fragment, I noticed, contained a series of small inconsistencies. At the time, I wasn’t sure what to make of them. But years later, they still gnawed at me.

The American Association of Museums’ Guide to Provenance Research warns that an investigation of an object’s origins “is not unlike detective work”: “One may spend hours, days, or weeks following a trail that leads nowhere.” When I started to dig, however, I uncovered more than I’d ever expected—a warren of secrets and lies that spanned from the industrial districts of Berlin to the swingers scene of southwest Florida, and from the halls of Harvard and the Vatican to the headquarters of the East German Stasi.

The owner of the Jesus’s-wife fragment, whoever he was, had told King a story about where, when, and how he’d acquired it. But the closest thing he had to corroboration was a photocopy of a signed sales contract. The contract recorded his purchase of six Coptic papyri, in November 1999, from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp. The contract said that Laukamp had himself acquired the papyri in Potsdam, in Communist East Germany, in 1963.

The owner also gave King a scan of a photocopy—that is, a copy of a copy—of a 1982 letter to Laukamp from Peter Munro, an Egyptologist at Berlin’s Free University. Munro wrote that a colleague had looked at the papyri and thought one of them bore text from the Gospel of John.

The only written reference to the Jesus’s-wife papyrus appeared in yet another scan—of an unsigned, undated, handwritten note. It said that Munro’s colleague believed that “the small fragment … is the sole example of a text in which Jesus uses direct speech with reference to having a wife,” which “could be evidence for a possible marriage.”

Perhaps conveniently, every player in this story was dead. Peter Munro died in 2009, the colleague he had supposedly consulted about the papyri died in 2006, and Hans-Ulrich Laukamp died in 2002. King thus declared the scrap’s history all but unknowable. “The lack of information regarding the provenance of the discovery is unfortunate,” she wrote in 2014, in an article about the papyrus in the Harvard Theological Review, “since, when known, such information is extremely pertinent.”

But was there a lack of information? Or just a lack of investigation? The owner, for one, was still alive and had known Laukamp personally, King told me in 2012. In one e-mail to King, the owner wrote that Laukamp had “brought [his papyri] over when he immigrated to the USA.” That suggested that Laukamp had sold them while living in America.

I searched public documents and found just one American city that had ever been home to a Hans-Ulrich Laukamp. In 1997, a German couple named Hans-Ulrich and Helga Laukamp had built a single-story stucco house with a swimming pool in the Gulf Coast city of Venice, Florida.

I tracked down people who had known the Laukamps, and they told me that the couple were chain smokers with almost no grasp of English; they were loners in a middle-income enclave of bike-riding “active seniors.” Helga had worked in a laundry, and Hans-Ulrich was a toolmaker who had never finished high school—not the background I was expecting for a manuscript collector.

The Laukamps might never have left their small Berlin apartment were it not for a late-in-life reversal of fortune. In 1995, Laukamp and his friend Axel Herzsprung, a fellow toolmaker, went into business together. The company, ACMB Metallbearbeitung GmbH, or ACMB Metalworking, won a lucrative contract to make brake components for BMW and was soon drawing profits of about $250,000 a year.

Laukamp, then in his mid-50s, bought a Pontiac Firebird and nudged Herzsprung and his wife to build a vacation home next to his in Florida, where the Laukamps hoped to one day retire. But those dreams evaporated almost as soon as they landed in the Sunshine State. Helga was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Hans-Ulrich took her back to Germany, where she died in December 1999 at the age of 56. The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2002, and Hans-Ulrich died four months later, at 59, after lung cancer metastasized to his brain.

Looking over his company’s public records, I spotted a peculiar detail. Four days after Laukamp’s wife died in a Berlin hospital, his auto-parts company incorporated an American branch, using the address of an office building in Venice, Florida. What’s more, Laukamp and Herzsprung weren’t the American business’s only officers. There was a third man, someone named Walter Fritz, who’d come to Florida from Germany at least four years before the other two and who would soon strike both men from the corporate documents, leaving him as the sole director of the American branch.

Walter Fritz still lived in Florida, and on paper he looked like an unremarkable local: 50 years old, married, with a single-story house in North Port, 30 minutes east of Venice. If Fritz stood out for anything, it was his civic ardor. He wrote eloquent letters to the editor of the North Port Sun. He led neighbors in a successful protest against overhead power lines. He was a regular at the 7:15 breakfasts of the North Port Early Bird Kiwanis Club. And when city commissioners gathered to hash out North Port’s annual budget, Fritz—a tall, lean man with chiseled features and dark hair, to judge by a video of the meeting—sat through hours of tedious discussion for a chance to harangue the elected leaders about a proposed recession-year tax hike.

When I ran Fritz’s name through a database of Florida incorporations, I found that the auto-parts firm wasn’t the only business he had ties to. In 1995, Fritz had founded a company called Nefer Art. Nefer is the Egyptian word for “beauty.” If someone close to Laukamp had an affinity for Egyptian art, that person was worth talking to: Coptic was an Egyptian language, and nearly all ancient papyri come from Egypt.

I ran Walter Fritz and Egypt through some search engines, and one hit caught my eye: In 1991, someone named Walter Fritz had published an article in a prestigious German-language journal, Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, or Studies in Ancient Egyptian Culture. He had used infrared photography to decode textual minutiae on a 3,400-year-old Egyptian tablet. The journal listed his affiliation as the Egyptology institute at Berlin’s Free University—the very place that had also employed Peter Munro and his colleague who had supposedly examined Hans-Ulrich Laukamp’s papyri in 1982.

I wondered whether the author of the article and the Florida auto-parts executive could possibly be the same man. I called several prominent Egyptologists, who told me that the article—which had reoriented a debate over whether Akhenaten and his father served alone as pharaohs or together as co-regents—remained influential. But none of them—not even the journal’s former editors—could recall who Walter Fritz was or what had become of him.

I flew to florida in November to learn more about Laukamp, but Fritz had come to seem almost as interesting. I planned to knock on his door with some questions. But when I pulled up to Fritz’s three-acre lot, my heart sank: The property had no bell or intercom, just a forbidding gate at the end of a driveway that snaked behind a curtain of muscadine vine and Virginia creeper. A twitchy brown dog watched me from beneath a no trespassing sign. I idled my rental car outside the gate, considered my options, and then drove back to my hotel.

I called Fritz the next morning and told him I was in town working on a story about Laukamp and the Jesus’s-wife papyrus. I asked to meet him. He abruptly declined, grew agitated, and made clear he wanted to get off the phone.

He had never studied Egyptology at the Free University, he said. He had never written an article for a German journal. Though the Web site for Laukamp and Herzsprung’s business had listed Fritz as the president of its U.S. branch, he told me he was in fact just a consultant who had helped get the company incorporated. He couldn’t even recall how he’d met Laukamp.

But when I asked whether Laukamp had been interested in antiquities, Fritz bristled. “He was interested in a lot of things,” he said.

Like what?, I asked.

“I know he had a beer-mug collection.”

He then alluded, somewhat cryptically, to the question of the papyrus’s authenticity. “There will always be people who say yes and people who say no,” he told me. “Everybody is up in arms and has an opinion.”

I asked him what his opinion was.

“I don’t want to comment.”

Are you the owner?, I asked.

“No,” he said. “Who said that?”

No one, I answered, but since he was one of Laukamp’s few American acquaintances, I wanted to be sure.

He wasn’t the owner, Fritz insisted. He had no idea who was.

Karen king is the first woman to hold Harvard’s 295-year-old Hollis Professorship of Divinity, one of the country’s loftiest perches in religious studies. The daughter of a pharmacist and a schoolteacher from a Montana cattle town, King enrolled at the University of Montana, where a course on marginalized Christian texts spoke to her in almost personal terms. “I already had this sense of not fitting in,” King told me in 2012. “From grade school on, I was the kid who was picked on,” she said. “I thought if I could figure out [these texts], then I could figure out what was wrong with me.”

She earned a doctorate in the history of religions from Brown in 1984 and by 1991 had become the chair of both religious studies and women’s studies at Occidental College. Harvard Divinity School hired her in 1997.

The Jesus’s-wife fragment fit neatly with what has become her life’s work: resurrecting the diversity of voices in Christianity’s formative years. Early Christians were a disputatious bunch, with often conflicting views on the meaning of Jesus’s life and teachings. But after Constantine converted the Roman empire to Christianity in the fourth century and Church leaders began canonizing the small selection of texts that form the New Testament, Christians with other views were branded heretics.

King has been particularly interested in noncanonical, or Gnostic, texts that assign Mary Magdalene a prominent role as Jesus’s confidante and disciple. Proof that some early Christians also saw Mary Magdalene as Jesus’s wife would be a rebuke to Church patriarchs who had discounted her and conflated her, falsely, with two other women mentioned in the Gospels: an unnamed adulteress in John and an unnamed woman—thought to be a prostitute—in Luke.

From the beginning, King was up front about the puzzles the Jesus’s-wife scrap posed. Its text spans 14 lines on the front and back, forming incomplete phrases presumably snipped from a larger manuscript. “Jesus said to them, My wife” is the most arresting line, but others are also striking: “She is able to be my disciple”; “I dwell with her.”

In our interviews late in the summer of 2012, King said she expected a vigorous debate over the papyrus’s meaning. She stressed that the fragment was all but worthless as biography: It was composed centuries after Jesus’s death. It showed merely that one group of ancient Christians believed Jesus had been married.

Before going public, King asked some of the world’s leading experts in papyrology and the Coptic language for their take on the fragment: Roger Bagnall, a distinguished papyrologist who directs the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University; AnneMarie Luijendijk, an authority on Coptic handwriting at Princeton who obtained her doctorate under King at Harvard; and Ariel Shisha-Halevy, a Coptic linguist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All three thought the papyrus looked authentic.

Some of the world’s most prestigious institutions had been hoodwinked by forgers. King didn’t want Harvard added to the list.

But others weren’t convinced. In the summer of 2012, the Harvard Theological Review sent King’s draft to peer reviewers. One was supportive, but another delivered a punishing critique of the papyrus’s grammatical irregularities and handwriting.

I happened to arrive in Cambridge, to interview King, on the afternoon she received word of the unfavorable review. “There was a crisis,” she said, apologizing for arriving a little late to our first meeting.

“My first response was shock,” she told me over dinner that night. “My second reaction was ‘Well, let’s get this settled.’?” She said that if her own panel of experts agreed with the skeptical reviewer, she would abandon her plans to announce the find in Rome. She knew how high the stakes were, for both history and her own reputation. Some of the world’s most prestigious institutions—the British Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre—had been hoodwinked by forgers, and she didn’t want Harvard added to the list. “If it’s a forgery,” she told The Boston Globe, “it’s a career breaker.”

I was interviewing King in her office the next day when an e-mail from Roger Bagnall popped into her inbox. She lifted her glasses and leaned into the computer screen. Bagnall suggested that she revise her article to address a few of the reviewer’s concerns, but he was otherwise unpersuaded.

“Yeah, okay!” King said, clearly buoyed. “Go, Roger!”

It was one of the assurances she needed to move forward.

The case for forgery, at first confined to lively posts on academic blogs, took a more formal turn last summer, when New Testament Studies, a peer-reviewed journal published by the University of Cambridge, devoted an entire issue to the fragment’s detractors. In one of the articles, Christopher Jones, a Harvard classicist, noted that a forger may have identified King as a “mark” because of her feminist scholarship. “Either he intended to find a sympathetic person or institution to whom to sell his wares,” Jones wrote, “or more diabolically intended his fraud as a bomb, primed to blow up and to discredit such scholarship (or perhaps the institution) when it was exposed.”

King never ruled out the possibility of forgery, but she continued to warn against a rush to judgment. More scientific tests were under way, and the similarities with the Gospel of Thomas were hardly incriminating. Ancient scribes often borrowed language from other texts, King wrote in the Harvard Theological Review; the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke—with their overlapping yet “theologically distinctive” narratives—were a case in point.

On a more practical level, she couldn’t see how a con artist cunning enough to produce a scientifically undetectable forgery could at the same time be so clumsy with Coptic handwriting and grammar. “In my judgment,” she wrote, “such a combination of bumbling and sophistication seems extremely unlikely.” The crude writing, she argued, could simply indicate that the ancient scribe was a novice.

Yet “a combination of bumbling and sophistication” could well be the epitaph of many of history’s most infamous forgers, their painstaking precision undone by a few careless oversights.

In the mid-1980s, a master forger from Utah named Mark Hofmann duped experts with manuscripts he claimed to have found that would have upended the official history of the Mormon Church. He used antique paper; made ink from historic recipes; and artificially aged his manuscripts with gelatin, chemical solutions, and a vacuum cleaner. But Hofmann was unmasked after a pipe bomb—which police believe was intended for someone he feared might expose him—blew up in his own car.

“One day [Walter Fritz] just disappeared,” one woman wrote. “Is he still alive?”

Before he was caught, Hofmann made an estimated $2 million selling his bogus manuscripts. Young, shy, and self-effacing—The New York Times called him a “scholarly country bumpkin”—he targeted buyers predisposed, by ideological bent or professional interest, to believe his documents were real. He often expressed doubts about his finds, making experts feel they were discovering signs of authenticity that he himself had somehow missed. “Usually he just leaned back quietly and let his delighted victim do the authentication, adding now and then a quiet, ‘Do you really think it’s genuine?,’?” Charles Hamilton, once the country’s leading forgery examiner, and one of the many people Hofmann fooled, recalled in a 1996 book.

Reading about Hofmann called to mind the curious e-mails the owner of the Jesus’s-wife papyrus had sent to King. In some messages, the owner comes across as a hapless layman, addressing King as “Mrs.” rather than “Dr.” or “Professor” and claiming that he didn’t read Coptic and was “completely clueless.” In other messages, however, he is far more knowing. He sends King a translation of the Coptic that he says “seems to make sense.” He specifies its dialect (Sahidic) and likely vintage (third to fifth century a.d.), and asks that any carbon dating use “a few fibers only,” to avoid damaging the papyrus. Also strange is that he tells King he acquired the Jesus’s-wife fragment in 1997, then gives her a sales contract dated two years later.

When I called Joe Barabe, a renowned microscopist who has helped expose several infamous fakes, he told me that most forgers try to unload their creations on the unwitting; scholars are usually the last people they want eyeballing their handiwork. So what kind of forger, I asked, might seek approval from one of the world’s leading historians of early Christianity?

“A pretty gutsy one,” Barabe told me. “You’d have to have a sense of Can I get away with this?”

After walter fritz rebuffed my request to meet in Florida, I called the North Port Sun and asked whether its staff had ever photographed him. A friendly reporter e-mailed me an image of Fritz surveying a mulch pile—the paper had covered his long-running crusade against a wood-chipping plant he felt was blighting the neighborhood.

I e-mailed Karl Jansen-Winkeln, a longtime Egyptologist at Berlin’s Free University. Did he by chance know the Walter Fritz who’d written a 1991 article in Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur?

Jansen-Winkeln replied that he did: Fritz had been a master’s student from about 1988 until about the time the article was published. “He left the university without a final examination,” Jansen-Winkeln wrote. “I have never seen him again after 1992 or 1993.”

That night, I e-mailed Jansen-Winkeln the North Port Sun photo. Did this man look anything like the student he’d known two decades earlier?

Jansen-Winkeln’s reply was waiting in my inbox the next morning: “The man looks indeed like Walter Fritz.”

It was the first sign that Fritz might have lied during our phone call. I wondered why a promising student, a young man who’d landed an article in a premier journal early in his studies, would suddenly drop out of his master’s program. I tracked down several people who’d known Fritz at the Free University, but no one had any idea.

“One day he just disappeared,” one woman wrote, in a typical reply. “Is he still alive?”

Judging from public records, Fritz arrived in Florida no later than 1993. In 1995, he incorporated Nefer Art. The company’s Web site advertised a peculiar miscellany of services: wedding photography, “erotic portrait photography,” and “documenting, photographing, publishing, and selling your valuable art collection.”

A page of uncaptioned photographs, titled “Gallery Art,” included a relief of Pharaoh Akhenaten and a pietà, a sculpture of the Virgin Mary cradling the crucified Jesus. Also featured were fragments of two seemingly ancient manuscripts—one in Arabic and another in Greek.

I e-mailed the images of these manuscripts to a few scholars, who found them almost comical. The Greek one, which bore a drawing of a nude woman, superficially resembled texts from Greco-Roman-era Egypt known as “magical papyri.” But the Greek words made little sense, the scholars said, and the script was more or less modern print. “Perhaps not in Times New Roman,” Sofía Torallas Tovar, a papyrologist at the University of Chicago, observed drily, “but in a modern typography.” The drawing of the female figure, meanwhile, was “in a style unparalleled to my knowledge in an ancient document, but easily found in modern school notebooks.”

Walter Fritz (standing left, second from the top) in 1989 with fellow students on the steps of the Free University’s Egyptology institute (Courtesy of Christian E. Loeben)

Two experts in ancient Arabic manuscripts told me that the script on the other fragment was backwards, as if someone had photographed it in a mirror.

What happened next felt almost too easy. I dropped Fritz’s name and e-mail address into Google, and up came a link to a site that tracks the history of domain-name registrations. On August 26, 2012—more than three weeks before King announced her discovery to the world, when only her inner circle knew of the papyrus and her name for it—Walter Fritz registered the domain name

It was my first piece of hard evidence linking Fritz to the papyrus. In January, I flew to Germany to search for more.

The taxi ride from Tegel Airport into the heart of Berlin was a blind slog through labyrinths of graffiti-clad apartment blocks, in fog and light snow.

On a cold Sunday afternoon, my interpreter and I showed up unannounced at the apartment of René Ernest, Hans-Ulrich Laukamp’s stepson and closest living relative. Ernest and his wife, Gabriele, led us into their small living room and said they were mystified by what they’d heard about Laukamp’s supposed ownership of the papyrus.

Laukamp had lived in Potsdam, in Soviet-occupied East Germany, as a child. As a young man, he fled to West Berlin by swimming across the Griebnitzsee, a lake on the border. The Ernests didn’t know the exact date of the swim, but Laukamp’s immigration papers suggest that it was in October 1961, two months after the Berlin Wall went up, when he was 18 years old. A friend of Laukamp’s said he arrived in West Berlin with nothing more than his swimsuit.

The story of Laukamp acquiring six Coptic papyri in Potsdam in 1963 thus seemed to hinge on a dubious scenario: that not long after his illegal escape, he slipped back into East Germany, got the papyri, and then risked his freedom—and possibly his life—in a second illicit crossing to the West.

Another problem was that until Laukamp went into the auto-parts business with Axel Herzsprung in the mid-1990s, he’d been a humble toolmaker who didn’t collect anything—not even beer mugs, the Ernests said, though they acknowledged his fondness for drinking. “If he had ever owned or bought this thing, after his third beer at the pub he would have told everybody about his great coup,” Gabriele Ernest told me. “And if I knew my father-in-law, he would have immediately tried to make money from it.”

I told the Ernests about the 1982 letter that the fragment’s owner had given Karen King—the one in which Peter Munro tells Laukamp that one of his papyri might be a fragment from the Gospel of John. Could they picture Laukamp seeking a consultation with a university Egyptologist?

The Ernests gave each other a look, then burst out laughing. Laukamp had the minimum schooling required by German law, they said—the equivalent of eighth grade. His milieu was the bar on his street that served as his “second living room,” not the college campus across town.

(When I reached Peter Munro’s ex-wife by phone a couple of days later, she found the story just as preposterous. In 1982, Irmtraut Munro had been learning Coptic and studying papyri while working toward a doctorate in Egyptology. If her then-husband had come across an interesting Coptic papyrus, she said, “he would have told me about it.”)

I asked the Ernests how Laukamp’s signature might have wound up on the sales contract for the papyri. “He was a person who very easily believed things he was told,” Gabriele told me. He was good-hearted, she said, recalling how he brought breakfast to a homeless man in a park where he walked his dog. But he was “simple” and “weak,” a man who was easily misled.

When I mentioned the name Walter Fritz, she stiffened. “I can easily imagine Walter Fritz saying, ‘I need your signature for the company,’?” she said. Laukamp “would have signed that without reading everything.”

As i spoke with people around Berlin, a picture of Fritz began to take shape.

When I entered a metal-machining workshop on the outskirts of Berlin one drizzly afternoon, the owner, Peter Biberger, who’d done business with Laukamp’s company, answered wordlessly when I asked his opinion of Walter Fritz: He moved his forearm in a slither, like a creature swimming through murk. “He was an eel,” Biberger explained. “You couldn’t hold him. He slipped through your fingers.”

When Fritz turned up at the Free University around 1988, it was in the guise of a man who already had it made. On a campus where student fashions ran to grungy jeans and T-shirts, he often wore elegant dress shirts and blazers. He owned two cars, both Mercedeses.

Fritz’s zeal for Egyptology was just as conspicuous. He got a job as a tour guide at Berlin’s Egyptian Museum. He backpacked around Egypt; took a class with Munro, the resident expert on Egyptian art; and joked, one classmate recalled, that the randomly assigned letters on his license plate—which mirrored the academic shorthand for a group of Egyptian funerary spells—foretold an illustrious future in the field.

His superiors, however, told me his enthusiasm wasn’t always matched by hard work. “Fritz was quite eager and interested in Egyptology, but he was the type who was reluctant to take much effort,” Karl Jansen-Winkeln, the professor who identified Fritz in the North Port Sun photograph, said when we met for coffee near campus. Jansen-Winkeln, who taught a class that Fritz attended, recalled his Coptic as “not very good.”

“He appeared to me like a person who wants to sell you something and not like a person who’s really interested in research.”

“He paid a lot of attention—how would I say this?—to what other people thought of him,” Christian E. Loeben, an Egyptologist who had worked for Munro and considered Fritz a friend, recalled when I visited his office at the August Kestner Museum, in Hannover. “He would wait to see what his counterpart expected,” and then turn himself into that person’s “little darling.”

The arrival of a new department chair in 1989 may have sealed Fritz’s fate. Jürgen Osing was a respected scholar of Egyptian languages but a harsh and exacting teacher. In the whole of Osing’s career, I’d heard, just three students managed to complete a doctorate under him.

Fritz’s 1991 article might have been his ticket to a promising future in Egyptology. He had gotten one of the Amarna letters—clay tablets of correspondence to Egyptian pharaohs from rulers in the Near East—shuttled from a museum of Near Eastern history in the former East Berlin to the Egyptian Museum, which had the facilities for a more sophisticated photographic study of its partly legible text.

“There was a little problem,” Jansen-Winkeln told me: The article angered Osing. “Fritz went to the museum to copy the Amarna letter and make a photograph, but many of the conclusions he reached in the paper were what he had heard in Osing’s Egyptian-history class.” Fritz did thank Osing in the article’s first footnote, and cited him twice more. But Jansen-Winkeln says the article’s key findings “were not [Fritz’s] ideas.”

Reached by phone in December, Osing recalled almost nothing about Fritz or his article. What he and everyone else agreed on, however, was that soon after Fritz’s paper was published, he vanished from campus. None of them ever heard from him again.

My trail might have gone cold there if not for a hazy memory: Two of Fritz’s acquaintances recalled him materializing briefly in the early 1990s as the head of some new museum of East German history. This rumor had always baffled them—Fritz had no training in the subject. When I pressed for details, a former classmate recalled that a blurb about Fritz’s appointment had appeared in Stern, a major German magazine.

After I returned from Berlin to my home in Washington, D.C., I asked the Library of Congress to pull every issue of Stern from 1991 to 1994. After an hour of page-flipping, I found it. In the February 27, 1992, issue, sandwiched between notices about celebrities like Glenn Close and La Toya Jackson, was a photo of Fritz, in a tie and three-button blazer, standing beside a painting of Erich Mielke, the dreaded chief of the Stasi, the East German secret police.

“Walter Fritz, 27, antiquities scholar, is the successor of Erich Mielke—at his desk in the former East Berlin Stasi headquarters,” the notice began. He wasn’t Mielke’s actual successor, the article made clear, but the head of a new museum in the former Stasi headquarters.

When my interpreter called Jörg Drieselmann, the longtime director of the Stasi Museum, he remembered Fritz well. In 1990, soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, East German activists had seized the Stasi compound, to prevent former Stasi officials from destroying their intelligence files. The activists wanted the building preserved as a research center, museum, and memorial.

Fritz applied for the job of museum director. “Nobody from the group knew him,” Drieselmann, who was a co-leader of the activists, said. But Fritz made a convincing case: “He had come from the Egyptian Museum in West Berlin, so he was experienced in museum work.”

In 1992, Stern, a German magazine, covered Fritz’s appointment as the director of a new museum in the former Stasi headquarters in Berlin. (Library of Congress)

When asked whether the activists had known that Fritz’s museum experience consisted of giving tours, Drieselmann said they may not have probed that deeply. The mere fact that he was a “Wessi”—a West German—made him a “fascination” to the East Berliners who hired him in October 1991.

Drieselmann said that Fritz excelled at self-promotion but was less impressive as an administrator. In March 1992, five months into the job, the museum’s board members ordered him to shape up. They were concerned, among other things, about valuables—paintings, Nazi military medals, Stasi memorabilia—that had gone missing from the building’s storage during Fritz’s tenure. Drieselmann confronted him about his job performance in the spring of 1992. Not long after, Fritz disappeared, leaving behind a resignation letter.

“I don’t want to raise allegations, but it is possible that a West German knew much better than us inexperienced East Germans that these [objects] were easy to sell—and worthwhile selling,” said Drieselmann, who replaced Fritz in 1992 and has led the museum ever since. He said that there was never an investigation into whether Fritz misappropriated anything, and that none of his suspicions were ever proved.

Fritz’s career change from Egyptology student to Stasi Museum chief was unusual. But his reappearance as an auto-parts executive a few years later was stranger still.

During my trip to Germany in January, my interpreter and I rode the subway to Haselhorst, a drab industrial quarter on Berlin’s western border. We entered Herzsprung Drehteile GmbH, a metal-parts factory, and knocked on the door of the chief executive, Axel Herzsprung—the toolmaker who’d been Laukamp’s friend and business partner. A potbellied man with a wry air, Herzsprung seemed unruffled by our unannounced visit.

In my brief phone chat with Fritz, he’d said he couldn’t recall how he and Laukamp had met. Herzsprung’s memory was clearer. “They met in a sauna,” he said. Sometime between 1992 and 1995, he said, Fritz had struck up a conversation with Laukamp, who was 22 years his senior, in the steam room of a Berlin fitness center they both frequented.

How did a stranger in a sauna become a top executive of their auto-parts company?, I asked. “He snuck in,” Herzsprung said, bitterness edging his voice. “He was very eloquent. Laukamp was easily influenced—he didn’t have a very high IQ—and Fritz was successful in talking his way in.”

Herzsprung made no effort to hide his hatred of Fritz. “I was so angry at him that I thought it was better we never meet in the dark somewhere,” he told me. Each blames the other for the company’s 2002 bankruptcy: During my phone call with Fritz, he accused Herzsprung of embezzlement; Herzsprung, meanwhile, accused Fritz of a Machiavellian plot to take over the business by driving a wedge between Herzsprung and Laukamp. As the company imploded, Fritz—who split his time between Florida and Germany—persuaded BMW to let him take its contract to a different business in Berlin, APG Automotive Parts.

When I found APG’s owner at home one evening in a working-class fringe of Berlin, he told me that the business had thrived for a few years. It drew annual profits of some $250,000, thanks in part to Fritz’s sales talent and the BMW work he’d brought with him. But APG began dissolution proceedings in February 2008, after a former employee broke into its warehouse, the owner said, and destroyed the main machine that made brake parts.

Two months later, Fritz tried to sell his North Port house, to no avail. In February 2010, he listed it again, lowering the asking price by more than a third, from $349,000 to $229,900. On July 8, 2010, the house still unsold, Fritz had an angry letter published in the North Port Sun, demanding layoffs and 35 percent salary reductions for highly paid city staffers—it was the right thing to do, he argued, given the pay cuts and joblessness people in the business world were facing.

The next day, Karen King received her first e-mail from a man claiming to have an interesting set of Coptic papyrus fragments.

By every indication, Fritz had the skills and knowledge to forge the Jesus’s-wife papyrus. He was the missing link between all the players in the provenance story. He’d proved adept at deciphering enigmatic Egyptian text. He had a salesman’s silver tongue, which kept Laukamp and possibly others in his thrall. Perhaps most important, he’d studied Coptic but had never been very good at it—which could explain the “combination of bumbling and sophistication” that King had deemed “extremely unlikely” in a forger.

But if Fritz did do it, what was his motive?

Money drives many forgers, and by 2010 Fritz’s assets certainly appear to have taken a beating. The owner of the papyrus agreed to loan it to Harvard for 10 years, but that’s hardly exculpatory: An Ivy League imprimatur could produce a kind of halo effect, giving a forger cover to sell other fakes with less scrutiny.

But there was another possibility. If Fritz had seen his Egyptology dreams thwarted, maybe he nursed a grudge against the elite scholars who had failed to appreciate his intellectual gifts—who had told him he was mediocre at Coptic and short on original ideas. Not a few forgers over the decades have been driven by a desire to show up the experts.

Or maybe even this theory was too simple. Curious whether Fritz owned any domain names besides, I ran a search of Web registrations. When the results came back, I felt as if I’d fallen down a rabbit hole. ?

Beginning in 2003, Fritz had launched a series of pornographic sites that showcased his wife having sex with other men—often more than one at a time. One home page billed her as “America’s #1 Slut Wife.” The couple advertised the dates and locations of “gangbangs” and asked interested men to e-mail “Walt” a photo and phone number, so he could clear them to attend. There was no charge, but the men had to agree to Walt’s filming.

“I just wanted to thank you for a wonderful time during the gangbang on Friday,” someone named Doug was quoted as saying on the fan-mail page of one of the sites. “Don’t get me wrong Walt you are a great guy, but [your wife] … Wow!!!”

Fritz’s Web sites belonged to a fetish genre built around fantasies of cuckolded husbands powerless to stop their wives’ lust.

All of the sites seem to have been taken down in late 2014 and early 2015. But archived pages and free images and videos were easy to find online. In an interview on a German-language Web site, Fritz’s wife, under her porn name, described herself as the daughter of a U.S. military officer who had been stationed in Berlin when she was a teenager. She and Fritz met in Florida in the 1990s, and he encouraged her to act out their shared fantasies of her having sex with other men.

Fritz appears in a few videos, but he is more often behind the camera. He included a bio on one site, under his occasional porn name, Wolf: “I am a 45 year old executive, living in S. Florida. Stats: 6’2”, 185 lbs., brown hair, slim, no belly, clean cut, and well endowed.” Then he went on to list his academic credentials, as if for a LinkedIn profile: “I am college-educated with a technical MA-degree form [sic] a major university, and an associate degree in arts. I speak three languages fluently and read two old languages.”

This juxtaposition of lewd and learned appears in still sharper relief on one of his wife’s sites, where passages from Goethe, Proust, and Edna St. Vincent Millay are interspersed with philosophical musings on Jesus’s teachings, the slippery nature of reality, and “the Perfection of Sluthood.”

After trawling regions of the Web I hadn’t even known existed, I discovered that Fritz’s wife, under her porn name, enjoyed a measure of fame. Before Yahoo shut it down in 2004, she boasted online, her “Femalebarebackgangbangextreme” discussion group had nearly 50,000 members. The couple’s work belonged to a fetish genre built around fantasies of cuckolded husbands powerless to stop their wives’ lust for other men. The genre is called “hotwife.”

When i mentioned these findings to my own wife, she told me to read The Da Vinci Code. Studied closely, she said, the book could be a Rosetta stone for Fritz’s motives.

Dan Brown’s best seller is fiction, of course, but it draws on the work of feminist religious scholars like King. Its premise is that conservative forces in the Roman Catholic Church silenced early Christians who saw sex as holy and women as the equals—or even the saviors—of men. Threatened by these vestiges of pagan goddess worship, Church fathers defamed Mary Magdalene and enshrined the all-male priesthood to keep women out.

Brown’s chief point of departure from scholars like King is his made-for-Hollywood plot, which turns on a Catholic conspiracy to destroy evidence of Jesus’s marriage to—and child with—Mary Magdalene. A clandestine society whose past members include Leonardo da Vinci and Sir Isaac Newton has resolved to keep alive the secret of Jesus’s marriage, along with an ancient practice that celebrated the sanctity of sexual intercourse. In a pivotal scene, members of the society take part in a ritualistic orgy.

“For the early Church, mankind’s use of sex to commune directly with God posed a serious threat to the Catholic power base,” the book’s protagonist, Robert Langdon, explains. “For obvious reasons, they worked hard to demonize sex and recast it as a disgusting and sinful act.”

I wondered whether Fritz and his wife had seen in the book a way to sanctify their adventurous sex life, to cloak it in the garb of faith. The couple launched their first porn site in April 2003, a month after The Da Vinci Code was published. Perhaps they had spun a fantasy of Fritz—whose birthday happens to be Christmas—as a kind of Jesus figure, and his wife as a latter-day Mary Magdalene.

In 2015, Fritz’s wife self-published a book of “universal truths” that she claims is a product of divinely inspired “automatic writing.” God and the archangel Michael, she says, speak through her. The dates on its diarylike entries overlap with the papyrus owner’s e-mail courtship of King. “Knowledge as you know, is what brings forth the fortune,” she wrote in the penultimate entry, dated August 29, 2012, less than three weeks before King’s announcement in Rome. “For all the Bibles and all the churches in the entire world, cannot give you what you can give to yourself.”

Could Fritz and his wife have convinced themselves that a higher being was guiding his hands, too? To turn a Da Vinci Code fantasy into reality, all you needed was material proof of Jesus’s marriage, and a real-life Robert Langdon. In the book, Langdon—a Harvard professor of “religious symbology”—finds the modern descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene’s daughter thanks to a cryptic message on a scrap of papyrus. Perhaps Fritz and his wife had found their Langdon in Karen King.

Nearly four months had passed since I’d first spoken with Walter Fritz. The time had come to call him again.

When he answered, on a Monday morning in March, I laid out what I’d discovered: his training in Egyptology, his ties to the Free University, the fact that he’d registered weeks before King’s announcement.

“So what is it you want to know?” he asked.

The truth about the papyrus, I said. All the evidence pointed to him as the owner.

“Maybe I know the person who owns it,” he said. He claimed the papyrus’s owner was a friend whose identity he was not at liberty to disclose. When I asked him whether he’d had any contact with Karen King, he said he had never met her but had talked with her briefly “just to clarify something.”

I mentioned the allegations of forgery.

“No owner has ever claimed this is real,” he said of the papyrus. He was right: In the e-mails to King, the owner never said he had an authentic piece of antiquity. He wanted King’s opinion about that very question, and in the end she and the experts she consulted could find no signs of fabrication.

Fritz also confirmed something else people I’d met in Germany had told me: that he had obtained a technical degree in architecture in Berlin and kept a drawing board in his apartment. That is, he not only had studied Egyptology, but could draw—a skill that might help someone convincingly mimic ancient script. With that background, I said, he must have expected questions about his role in a possible forgery, whether he was the owner or not.

“Let’s be the devil’s advocate and say either Mr. Laukamp or I conspired to forge a papyrus to make a statement,” he said when we spoke again later that week. “Well, there is still no scientific evidence at this point that we did it.”

But could he have pulled off a near-perfect forgery if he’d wanted to?

“Well, to a certain degree, probably,” he said. “But to a degree that it is absolutely undetectable to the newest scientific methods, I don’t know.”

I didn’t understand these hedges, so I asked point-blank whether he had forged the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. His response was unequivocal: “No.”

Fritz denied having money problems at the time he contacted Karen King. He also disputed the idea that he’d had trouble at the Free University or the Stasi Museum. Though he acknowledged that some items had gone missing from the museum during his tenure, he said so many people had had access to the building that he had been powerless to intervene. He said he’d resigned because he’d realized that an East German would be better suited for the job. He e-mailed me a photo of a short but adulatory 1992 reference letter from Jörg Drieselmann. (Drieselmann couldn’t recall writing the letter but said it was possible he had.)

As for the Free University’s Egyptology program, Fritz told me he’d quit because fields like real estate and business offered better job prospects. All the same, memories of his university years clearly rankled. He denied ever butting heads with Osing, but called him an “asshole” who seemed to take a perverse pleasure in humiliating students. He described the department as rife with backstabbers, and dismissed the entire field of Egyptology as a “pseudoscience.”

He had even more scorn for critics of the Jesus’s-wife papyrus, deriding them as “county level” scholars from the “University of Eastern Pee-Pee Land” who think their nitpicking of Coptic phrases can compete with scientific tests at places like Columbia University and MIT that have yielded no physical proof of forgery.

Fritz told me to call again in two weeks, and when I did, he said to check my inbox for an e-mailed statement. It read:

Dear Mr. Sabar:

I, Walter Fritz, herewith certify that I am the sole owner of a papyrus fragment … which was named “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife” …

I warrant that neither I, nor any third parties have forged, altered, or manipulated the fragment and/or its inscription in any way since it was acquired by me. The previous owner gave no indications that the fragment was tampered with either.

Over the next four and a half hours, Fritz told me the following story: He had first met Hans-Ulrich Laukamp in Berlin in the early 1990s, at a talk by the best-selling Swiss author Erich von Däniken, who’d become famous in the late 1960s for his theory that space aliens—or “ancient astronauts”—helped build the pyramids, Stonehenge, and other landmarks that seemed beyond the capacities of “primitive” man. Fritz said he struck up a conversation with Laukamp afterward—Laukamp bought von Däniken’s theories; Fritz didn’t—and continued it over beers at a pub across the street. He said Laukamp liked to sit in on classes at the Free University, and they had lunch together there. They did occasionally go to a sauna, he said, but that was after the von Däniken talk.

Fritz said Laukamp first told him about his papyrus collection in Berlin in the mid-1990s. Then, in Florida, in November 1999, Laukamp sold him the half-dozen fragments, for $1,500. Fritz photographed the papyri, conserved them between plexiglass, and placed them in a safe-deposit box, where they remained untouched for a decade.

In 2009, Fritz said, he was in London on a business trip when he stopped by the shop of an art dealer he knew. Fritz told the dealer he had some papyri to sell, and the dealer invited him to e-mail photos.

Walter Fritz in Sarasota, Florida, this spring (Lisette Poole)

Fritz said he would have been happy to get about $5,000 for the Jesus’s-wife fragment, but three months later, the dealer called and offered him some $50,000. Fritz e-mailed King, whose books and articles he had read: He wanted her to give him a sense of why a dealer would offer so much. But when the dealer heard that Fritz had approached an expert, he angrily cut off negotiations. In December 2011, Fritz traveled to Harvard to deliver the papyrus to King.

The story had an airtight logic. But it was nearly impervious to verification. In his original e-mails to King, Fritz had claimed that “someone in Germany” had translated the Jesus’s-wife fragment in the 1980s, and that a Coptic priest had “recently” translated another of Laukamp’s papyri. I would have liked to speak with either of them, but when I asked who they were, Fritz confessed that he’d in fact translated the fragments himself, using a Coptic dictionary and grammar book from his university days. He lied to King about it, he said, because he didn’t want to be “embarrassed” if his Coptic skills had grown rusty.

I asked Fritz whether there was anyone alive who could vouch for any part of the provenance story—the London art dealer, someone who had known Laukamp to collect papyri, or anyone who had seen Fritz with Laukamp at the von Däniken talk or at the Free University.

Did he have a single corroborating source to whom he could refer me?

“I don’t,” he said. “It’s very unfortunate.”

Video: Down the Rabbit Hole

Inside the author’s hunt for the gospel's owner

I called karen king later that day to ask whether we could meet. I wanted her perspective on what I’d found and was curious about how much she already knew. I wondered, too, whether any of it would color her view of the papyrus’s authenticity.

But King wasn’t interested in talking. “I haven’t engaged the provenance questions at all,” she said. What she did know, she’d already reported in her 2014 Harvard Theological Review article. “It’s all out there,” she said. “I don’t see the point of a conversation.”

I told her I’d spent months reporting in Germany and the United States. Didn’t she want to know what I’d found?

“Not particularly,” she said. She would read my piece once it was published. What interested her more were the results of new ink tests being done at Columbia.

Fritz told me he’d mentioned to King that we’d spoken. Before she cut short our call, I asked her why he’d never provided originals of his provenance papers—the 1982 Munro letter, the 1999 sales contract, the unsigned note that seemed to refer to the Jesus’s-wife papyrus. “You’re in contact with Walt Fritz,” she said. “Why not ask him?”

All right, I thought.

But why hadn’t she at least released her copies of Fritz’s papers, as many scholars had requested?, I asked.

“I don’t think they’re good data,” she said. Nothing useful could be gleaned from a scan of a photocopy, which was, after all, just “an image of an image.”

I wasn’t so sure.

Forensic specialists had told me early on that anyone with the technical skill to fake an ancient Coptic papyrus would have no trouble concocting modern-day provenance papers. But after reading a short history of manuscript forgery by Christopher Jones, the Harvard classicist, in last July’s New Testament Studies, I wondered whether they’d gotten it backwards. “Perhaps the hardest thing of all to forge is provenance,” Jones wrote. A manuscript is a physical object; to convincingly fake one, all you need are the right tools and materials. Provenance, however, is historical fact: a trail of dates, places, buyers, sellers. To convincingly fake provenance, you need to rewrite history—often recent history.

Fritz’s contract for the purchase of Laukamp’s papyri was dated November 12, 1999. When I asked Fritz where the sale had taken place, he said it was in the kitchen of Laukamp’s home in Florida. But Helga Laukamp’s son and daughter-in-law, the Ernests, had told me that Laukamp was at his dying wife’s bedside at that time. He had brought Helga back to Germany no later than October 1999, the Ernests said, after a Florida doctor diagnosed her terminal lung cancer. She died there two months later, in December, and Laukamp hadn’t left her side, much less Europe. Laukamp “spent every day at her hospital bed” at the Heckeshorn Lung Clinic, in Berlin, Gabriele Ernest told me.

Later, at my request, Fritz e-mailed me a photo of his copy of Peter Munro’s 1982 letter, about Laukamp’s Gospel of John fragment. When I forwarded it to a close colleague of Munro’s, he wrote back that the signature and stationery looked “100% authentic.”

But later, I noticed two errors in the street address for Laukamp’s Berlin apartment. Not only are the building number and postal code incorrect, but no such address existed. The letter, it seemed, warranted a closer look.

On the advice of a forensic document examiner, I sought as many of Munro’s letters from the early 1980s through the mid-1990s as I could. Soon, scans were arriving by e-mail from a former doctoral student; a Dutch Egyptologist who has custody of Munro’s archives; a Free University professor; and the same Munro colleague who initially thought the letter looked genuine—a position he quickly backed away from after seeing other Munro letters.

The problems were endemic. A word that should have been typed with a special German character—a so-called sharp S, which Munro used in typewritten correspondence throughout the ’80s and early ’90s—was instead rendered with two ordinary S’s, a sign that the letter may have been composed on a non-German typewriter or after Germany’s 1996 spelling reform, or both.

In fact, all the available evidence suggests that the 1982 letter isn’t from the 1980s. Its Courier typeface does not appear in the other Munro correspondence I gathered until the early ’90s—Fritz’s final years at the university. The same is true of the letterhead. The school’s Egyptology institute began using it only around April 1990.

As a student of Munro’s, Fritz may well have received correspondence from the professor—a letter of recommendation, for example, or a note certifying that he’d completed a course. It would not be difficult, the forensic examiner told me, to take an authentic letter, lay a sheet of new typewritten text across its middle, and make a photocopy. This might explain why Munro’s typewritten name at the bottom of the letter is parallel with the stationery’s design elements, while the rest of the text sits slightly askew. It might also explain why no original exists.

“The angels asked me to,” Fritz’s wife said of her decision to publish a book.

When I asked Fritz for explanations, he did some hemming and hawing but never sounded rattled. As for the date on the sales contract, he said Laukamp had returned to America—perhaps twice—after taking his terminally ill wife back to Germany. “She wasn’t dying quite at that moment,” he said, explaining why a man he’d previously described as devastated by his wife’s diagnosis might have abandoned her on her deathbed. Fritz said he sometimes handled travel arrangements for Laukamp, and might even have records to send me as proof. I never received any.

When I brought up the 1982 Munro letter, Fritz cut me off. “I can’t comment on any issues you have with that letter.” He said he did not alter it in any way. “I received a photocopy from somebody, and that’s the end of the story.”

I persisted, going over the evidence point by point. Fritz told me that if the Munro letter was indeed a fake, the forger would have had “no clue” as to what he was doing. He emphatically excluded himself from the clueless category: “I’ve always known where he lived,” he said of Laukamp. But he hadn’t noticed any of the problems, including the mistakes in Laukamp’s address, before I pointed them out.

I met walter fritz in person for the first time on a sunny, windswept Saturday in April, in Sarasota, Florida. After several days of long phone interviews, he’d agreed to have lunch and then be photographed for this magazine. He recommended we meet in St. Armands Circle, a shopping and dining hub popular with tourists, a 45-minute drive from his home.

I was looking over a restaurant’s outdoor menu board when Fritz broke through a swarm of tank-topped beachgoers. He had tightly cropped dark hair and wore a beige linen suit with a pocket square, tan wing tips, and aviator sunglasses. Fritz’s usual ride is a black Harley-Davidson Road King, he told me. But today he’d come in his Dodge Ram pickup, not wanting to muss his clothes for the camera.

Over lunch, he said he admired King’s tenacity: She had held her ground in the face of relentless hostility and skepticism about the papyrus, at no small risk to her reputation. But he felt she’d made a cascade of strategic blunders that had exposed his papyrus to undue scrutiny and animus. Among those missteps, he said, was her sensational title for it; her decision to announce it just steps from the Vatican; and her mention, in her Harvard Theological Review article, of the 1982 Munro letter, which—if found “fishy”—could be used to tarnish the papyrus.

“If you know you are going into a confrontation, you just don’t provide ammunition to the other side,” he explained of his preference for less disclosure. Though King’s approach was perhaps “the most honest thing to do, it just wasn’t very smart.”

Smart for whom?, I wondered. And why was honest the enemy of smart?

As for the porn, Fritz told me that he and his wife (whom he asked me not to name in this article) had at one point drawn about a third of their income from the $24.99 monthly memberships to their Web sites. But they took the sites down a couple of years ago in part because the business had started to take the fun out of the sex. He’d seen the movie adaptation of The Da Vinci Code, he said, but there were no links between their “hotwife” fetish, his wife’s automatic writing, and the papyrus. “Probably highly coincidental,” he said.

Later, his wife told me on the phone that she was clairvoyant and had channeled the voices of angels since she was 17. But she felt no kinship with the Jesus’s-wife papyrus or The Da Vinci Code’s story, and there was no special reason for the timing of the entries in her book of “universal truths.”

“The angels asked me to,” she said of her decision to publish it. “I’m here to do God’s service. If he wants me to write a book, then I’ll write a book.”

At one point, Fritz said he needed to disclose something: When he was a 9-year-old boy being raised by a single mother in a small town in southern Germany, a Catholic priest had gotten him drunk on sacramental wine and raped him in a room next to the altar. In April 2010, he wrote a letter about the episode to Pope Benedict XVI, a fellow southern German, whom Fritz felt was doing too little to address the legacy of sexual abuse by members of the clergy. Fritz sent me digital images of consoling letters he said he’d received from three Catholic officials—replies that left him unsatisfied.

Fritz leaned across the table. He had a proposition for me.

Fritz described the effects of the abuse as less spiritual than psychological: his struggles with anger, his combativeness, his contempt for people he saw as intellectually inferior. He said he feared that if he didn’t tell me about his letter, someone, perhaps at the Vatican, would leak word of it to insinuate yet another motive for forgery. He insisted that the abuse and the timing of his letter to Benedict—a few months before he contacted King—were unconnected to the papyrus.

I hated to question anyone’s account of sexual abuse, but after everything I’d learned about Fritz, I didn’t know whether to believe him. A few years earlier, I’d written a long profile of a man who’d been molested by a priest in a small Italian town and later became a hero to the community of abuse survivors. I wondered whether Fritz had read the article and seen an opening to my sympathies—or even to public sympathy. But I discovered that he’d reported the incident long before we met. A Vatican official confirmed that a high-level prelate had written to Fritz “on behalf of the Holy Father,” responding to his “sad story.” Church officials in southern Germany said they had a record of Fritz’s allegations but knew of no other complaints against the priest, who died in 1980.

One thing did become clear, though. When we first started talking, Fritz had claimed that he had no stake in the papyrus’s message. But I began to see that he in fact cared deeply. As a teenager he wanted to become a priest, he said, but he later came to believe that much of Catholic teaching was “bullcrap.” Particularly flawed was the Church’s claim that the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were truer accounts of Jesus’s life than the Gnostic Gospels.

He pointed to the fact that almost no papyri bearing the canonical Gospels have been carbon-dated, because such testing would cause physical damage to the New Testament’s seminal manuscripts—damage that institutions like the Vatican Library would never countenance. But with the new ink tests at Columbia—the ones King had told me about—scientists can date papyri without damaging them. Fritz said these tests could well show that most of the Gnostic Gospels were written before the canonical Gospels, making them better witnesses to the historical Jesus—a view that virtually no serious scholars share.

“All that discussion that the canonical Gospels were way before anything else—that’s utter bullshit,” Fritz told me. “The Gnostic texts that allow women a discipleship and see Jesus more as a spiritual person and not as a demigod—these texts are probably the more relevant ones.”

Fritz had also told me at first that he didn’t believe in his wife’s spiritual channeling, but later he described her as strangely prophetic about everything from people’s motivations to imminent traffic accidents. She’s normally a terrible speller, he said, but her automatic writing is almost letter-perfect: “Something must be going on.” He said his wife sometimes lapsed, unaccountably, into a language he suspected was Aramaic, the tongue of Jesus. “We tried to record it. It goes on for 20 or 30 seconds.”

I asked when he had first heard her speak in this mysterious language.

“During sex,” he said.

After the waitress cleared our lunch plates, Fritz leaned across the table and told me to shut off my tape recorder. I obliged, but continued taking notes. He wanted to keep this next part between the two of us, but I didn’t agree, and he went on anyway.

He had a proposition. He had no talent for storytelling, he said, but he possessed the erudition to produce hundreds of pages of background material for a book—a thriller—that he wanted me to write. Instead of doing my own research, which could take years, I should rely on his. “I’d do all the legwork for you, and I wouldn’t want anything in return.”

The book’s subject, he said, would be “the Mary Magdalene story,” the “suppression of the female element” in the Church, and the primacy of the Gnostic Gospels, “maybe accumulating to a thriller story in the present.”

It sounded an awful lot like The Da Vinci Code.

“People don’t want to read Karen King’s book” on Gnosticism, or the books of other academics, because they’re too dense, he said. “People want something they can take to bed. The facts alone, they don’t really matter. What matters is entertainment.”

The book, he assured me, would be a runaway best seller: “A million copies in the first month or so.” Our collaboration, he said, “could really make a big difference.” But he insisted on the need for fabrication. “You have to make a lot of stuff up,” he said. “You cannot just present facts.”

“The truth is not absolute,” he explained. “The truth depends on perspectives, surroundings.”

I let him go on for a while, but I was stupefied. I was reporting a story about a possible forgery, and the man at its center was asking me to “make a lot of stuff up” for a new project in which he’d be my eager partner. It was a proposal so tone-deaf that either he was clueless, incorrigible—or up to something I couldn’t quite yet discern.

I reminded him that I was a journalist; I wrote fact, not fiction. Nor could I accept favors from the subject of a story. But I was curious: What role would the Walter Fritz character play in this hypothetical book, whose underlying ideas, after all, would be entirely his? He gave me a quizzical look. “I wouldn’t have a role in it,” he said.

He wanted, that is, to be the invisible hand.

As I walked back to my car, I realized with something like a shudder that Fritz had hoped to lure me into a trap from which my reputation might never recover. I knew enough about his dealings with King and Laukamp to recognize all the signs: the request for secrecy, the strategic self-effacement, the use of other people for his own enigmatic ends.

Fame and fortune would rain down on me, he’d promised. All I had to do was lower my guard and trust him with all the important details.

What The Religious Right Envisions As An Endgame After Losing The Fight Against LGBT Equality

In his new book, It’s Not Over: Getting Beyond Tolerance, Defeating Homophobia, and Winning True Equality, radio host Michelangelo Signorile warns that the LGBT movement is suffering from “victory blindness,” the notion that the struggle for equality has already been won and there aren’t still battles to fight. “There’s a disconnect between the way we talk about the strides forward and the reality on the ground,” he writes. “This narrowing of scope to talk only about successes — that’s victory blindness.” Complacency, he worries, could lead to setback, urging, “We’ve got to pay attention now perhaps more than ever before as equality’s opponents gather their forces.”

With the national corporate backlash against pro-discrimination bills in states like Indiana and Arkansas and an impending marriage equality decision expected from the Supreme Court, opponents of LGBT equality — largely conservative faith leaders — may feel backed into a corner, but many are as battle-ready as ever. Focus on the Family founder James Dobson believes a civil war could be fought over same-sex marriage. Rick Scarborough of Vision America Action believes, “This is a Bonhoeffer moment,” referring to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German Lutheran pastor who resisted the Nazi dictatorship. But without resorting to such exaggerations of violent rhetoric, one prominent faith leader has offered a more candid observation about where things stand.

Denny Burk, professor of biblical studies at Boyce College (the undergraduate arm of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), is no stranger to anti-LGBT advocacy. Most notably, he co-authored the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution rejecting the existence of transgender identities. “At the heart of the transgender revolution,” he said at a conference in October, “is the notion that psychological identity trumps bodily identity.” After comparing trans people to individuals who desire to have limbs amputated, Burk asked, “Does the body need adjusting, or does the thinking?”

This week, he reflected on the Indiana “religious freedom” controversy, noting, “It was a moment that revealed how profoundly this country has changed in its attitudes about homosexuality, how out-of-step evangelicals are with the new sexual orthodoxy, and how willing many Americans are to punish evangelicals for their transgressive beliefs.”

Burk believes that “religious liberty took an epic beating last week” and that evangelicals have become “a bona fide minority when it comes to our commitment to Jesus’ teaching about sexuality” — a minority despised for their ideas. But he still sees the conflict as a fairly simple one. “Evangelicals believe that homosexuality is a sin while the rest of the culture does not,” he observed. “The heart of this conflict is a moral conflagration between those who insist that ‘gay is good‘ and those who contend that it is not.” Christians, as he defines them, must be prepared to endure the “injustice” of fines and jail time if that’s what it takes to maintain anti-LGBT beliefs, including the discriminatory actions motivated by them.

Burk admits that many conservatives will abandon their prejudiced beliefs, but “a remnant will remain who will not bow the knee to Baal and who will not betray Christ’s word no matter the cost.” Unlike the hyperbole employed by Dobson and Scarborough, his threat to the LGBT equality movement is much more realistic: “You are going to have to go all the way. And when you’ve done your worst, the Christians are still going to be here holding fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. America is a flash in the historical pan. Christianity is not. We will outlast you. Mark it down.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that Signorile says the LGBT movement cannot abide, writing, “We can’t let our wins convince us we’re offending people or pushing too hard — or not being ‘magnanimous’ — when we demand full equality now and refused to accept mere tolerance.” Speaking to ThinkProgress specifically about Burk’s remarks, he added that “we need to always challenge them, always confront them and expose them and their beliefs.”

Signorile worries that a new generation of LGBT young people won’t have their guard up and won’t be prepared for the fight the right keeps bringing. “We see some of this with women — young women often not having much of the history, or taking for granted the right to an abortion,” he explained. But as long as there are people rejecting LGBT identities, the problem will persist. “I think we have to always stand up to religious bigotry because [religious conservatives] will have children and raise them with it,” Signorile warned. “Some of those kids will be LGBT too. We can’t just let it go.”

Burk may be right; there may be a contingent that remains stalwart in their opposition to a culture that fully embraces LGBT people as equals, just as there are still many opposed to other forms of social justice equality. As Signorile writes in the epilogue of It’s Not Over, this bluff must be called. “It’s time that all of us who support LGBT equality no longer agree to disagree on full civil rights for LGBT people,” he concludes. “Anything less than full acceptance and full civil rights must be defined as an expression of bias, whether implicit or explicit. And it has to be called out — even if that means challenging our friends, coworkers, and other we know and respect — if we’re to get beyond tolerance.”

CNN Morality Poll Reveals Surprising Trends In America

A recent CNN poll demonstrates the rapidly increasing support for the legalization of marijuana in America, but the survey also revealed American attitudes about the morality of various other actions.

Opinions on behaviors like drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana, cheating on taxes, and adultery have shifted since a similar poll was conducted by Time Magazine in 1987.

Americans Weigh In On Morality (2014/1987)
Is Morally Wrong
Is Not Morally Wrong

No Opinion

Being married and having sex with someone else


Cheating on your taxes


Having an abortion

7% /13%

Engaging in homosexual behavior


Looking at a pornographic magazine


Smoking marijuana

1% /5%

Living with someone when you're not married

1% /4%

Drinking alcoholic beverages



In 1987, 7 out of the 8 actions surveyed were considered by the majority of Americans to be morally wrong. Now, only 3 of the behaviors are thought to be morally wrong by a majority (being married and having sex with someone else, cheating on taxes, and having an abortion).

Public opinion has changed most drastically since 1987 on homosexuality and marijuana.

While 70% of Americans considered smoking marijuana to be morally wrong in 1987, only 35% of respondents classified it as wrong in 2014, a change in 35 percentage points. Condemnation of homosexual behavior has decreased by 32 percentage points since 1987, from 82% to 50%.

Both adultery and tax fraud clocked in as the top two most immoral actions in 1987 and in present times, bringing to mind the two Biblical commandments against adultery and stealing.

Views on the morality of homosexual behavior have notably changed, as in 1987 Americans considered it the third most immoral action, with 82% of respondents classifying it as morally wrong. In 2014, having an abortion overtook homosexual behavior as the third most immoral action, and only 50% of respondents considered homosexual behavior to be morally wrong.

Data for the poll came from interviews with 1,010 adult Americans conducted by telephone by ORC International on January 3-5, 2014. The margin of sampling error for results based on the total sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Americans Weigh In On Morality-Missed Questions *
Is Morally Wrong
Is Not Morally Wrong

No Opinion

Heathen idolatry

Deut 7


Blemished animal sacrifices

Deut. 17:1

Sexual transgressions

Lev. 18

Child sacrifice

Deut 12:31

Witchcraft, magic, spiritism

Deut 18:9-12

Pagan sacrifices

Exo 8:26

Heathen lifestyle

Deut 18:8-12

Adominable objects, praactices

Deut 7:25, 18:12, 25:16, Prov 6:16-19, 12:22, 21:27, Luke 16:15

Detested prayer

Prov 28:9

People defiled

Jeremiah 3:1-3

Beauty made adominable

Ezekiel 16:25

Certain judgment

Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13, 2:1, 4, 6

Abomination of desolation

Daniel 9:27, 12:11, Matthew 24:15, Mark 13:14

Touching pig skin

Blending cloth

Working on the sabbath

Oral sex

Anal sex

* Abominations mentioned in the Bible

U.S. Religious Groups

US Religious Traditions

US Population by Religion

Sources: Gallup - Gallup poll, CUNY - City University of New York - The National Survey of Religio, YACC - Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches, 1988

Largest 25 Denominations/Communions from the 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.

1. The Catholic Church, 69,135,254 members, reporting an increase of 1.94 percent.

2. The Southern Baptist Convention, 16,270,315 members, reporting an increase of .02 percent.

3. The United Methodist Church, 8,075,010 members, reporting a decrease of 1.36 percent.

4. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 5,690,672 members, reporting an increase of 1.63 percent.

5. The Church of God in Christ, 5,499,875 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

6. National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc., 5,000,000 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

7. Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 4,850,776, reporting a decrease of 1.62 percent.

8. National Baptist Convention of America, 3,500,000, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

9. Presbyterian Church (USA), 3,098,842 members, reporting a decrease of 2.84 percent.

10. Assemblies of God, 2,830,861 members, reporting an increase of 1.86 percent.

11. African Methodist Episcopal Church, 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

12. National Missionary Baptist Convention of America, 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

13. Progressive National Baptist Convention, Inc., 2,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

14. The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS), 2,440,864, reporting a decrease of .93 percent.

15. Episcopal Church, 2,247,819, reporting a decrease of 1.59 percent.

16. Churches of Christ, 1,639,495 members, reporting an increase of 9.30 percent. First updated report since 1999

17. Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 1,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

18. Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, Inc., 1,500,000 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

19. The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, 1,432,795 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

20. American Baptist Churches in the USA, 1,396,700, reporting a decrease of 1.97 percent.

21. United Church of Christ, 1,224,297, reporting a decrease of 3.28 percent.

22. Baptist Bible Fellowship International, 1,200,000, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

23. Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, 1,071,615 members, no increase or decrease reported. No updated report.

24. The Orthodox Church in America, 1,064,000 members, reporting an increase of 6.40 percent. No updated report.

25. Jehovah's Witnesses, 1,046,006 members, reporting an increase of 1.56 members.

The total number of members reported within the largest 25 communions is 149,222,807 with an averall increase of .82 percent.

The 2007 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches costs $50 and may be ordered at

What denominations are gaining members and what denominations are losing members?

Mainline Protestant denominations continued to decline, according to the 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. The United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church USA, and the United Church of Christ, all reported slight decreases in membership in 2005. For the first time in many years, the Southern Baptist Convention, a conservative evangelical denomination, also showed a decrease of 1 percent.

The winners in 2005 were the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Assembles of God; each reported a 2 percent growth. The Roman Catholic Church reported an increase of less than 1 percent. But the biggest increase came from the Orthodox Church in America, which reported a 6 percent increase, bringing total membership to about 1 million members.

Sociologists have also found that larger evangelical Protestant churches appear to be growing, while smaller churches posted smaller growth. Based on data from the Faith Communities Today survey, evangelical churches with more than 1,000 people posted the largest gains over the past five years: 83 percent.

Baha'ism (left out because they're such a new tradition or because they are erroneously termed an Islamic sect) (Numbers in parenthisus are millions world wide as of 2010)

Buddhism (7.1)

Christianity - in the world (31.5)

Lists of people by religious belief



Vatican document challenges Church to change attitude to gays or our editors headline: The Roman Catholic Church confirms that it's okay to be human

In a dramatic shift in tone, a Vatican document said on Monday that homosexuals had "gifts and qualities to offer" and asked if Catholicism could accept gays and recognize positive aspects of same-sex couples.

The document, prepared after a week of discussions at an assembly of 200 bishops on the family, said the Church should challenge itself to find "a fraternal space" for homosexuals without compromising Catholic doctrine on family and matrimony.

While the text did not signal any change in the Church's condemnation of homosexual acts or gay marriage, it used less judgmental and more compassionate language than that seen in Vatican statements prior to the 2013 election of Pope Francis.

"Homosexuals have gifts and qualities to offer the Christian community: are we capable of welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a further space in our communities? Often they wish to encounter a Church that offers them a welcoming home," said the document, known by its Latin name "relatio".

"Are our communities capable of proving that, accepting and valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine on the family and matrimony?" it asked.

John Thavis, Vatican expert and author of the bestselling 2013 book "The Vatican Diaries", called the report "an earthquake" in the Church's attitude towards gays.

"The document clearly reflects Pope Francis' desire to adopt a more merciful pastoral approach on marriage and family issues," he said.

London-based QUEST, one of the oldest Catholic gay rights groups, said in a statement that parts of the synod document "represent a breakthrough in that they acknowledge that such unions have an intrinsic goodness and constitute a valuable contribution to wider society and the common good."

The Vatican document will be the basis for discussion for the second and final week of the bishops' assembly, known as a synod. It will also serve for further reflection among Catholics around the world ahead of another, definitive synod next year.

A number of participants at the closed-door gathering have said the Church should tone down its condemnatory language when referring to gay couples and avoid phrases such as "intrinsically disordered" when speaking of homosexuals.

That was the phrase used by former Pope Benedict in a document written before his election, when he was still Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger and head of the Vatican's doctrinal department.


The language and tone of Monday's document, read to the assembly in the presence of Pope Francis, appeared to show that the advocates of a more merciful tone toward homosexuals and Catholics in so-called "irregular situations" had prevailed.

It said that the 1.2 billion-member Church should see the development of its position on homosexuals as "an important educational challenge" for the global institution.

While the Church continued to affirm that gay unions "cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman", it should recognize that there could be positive aspects to relationships in same-sex couples.

"Without denying the moral problems connected to homosexual unions it has to be noted that there are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners," the document said.

Pope Francis has said the Church must be more compassionate with homosexuals, saying last year: "If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge."

The Church teaches that while homosexual tendencies are not sinful, homosexual acts are. Elizabeth Saint-Guily, spokeswoman for David and Jonathan, a gay Christian association in France, said the group had received news of the synod document "with joy," even though not all of the group's expectations had not been met. "The fact that we are even on the agenda is amazing ...," she said.

Oops. Not so fast. The haters have spoken. Vatican alters draft report translation about gays

The Vatican is watering down a ground-breaking overture to gays - but only if they speak English.

After a draft report by bishops debating family issues came under criticism from many conservative English-speaking bishops, the Vatican released a new English translation on Thursday.

A section initially entitled "Welcoming homosexuals" is now "Providing for homosexual persons," and the tone of the text is significantly colder.

The initial English version - released Monday along with the original - accurately reflected the Italian version in both letter and spirit, and contained a remarkable tone of acceptance to gays. The other translations were similarly faithful to the Italian and didn't deviate in tone.

Conservatives were outraged, and the English was changed.

The first English version asked if the church was capable of "welcoming these people, guaranteeing to them a fraternal space in our communities." The new version asks if the church is "capable of providing for these people, guaranteeing ... them ... a place of fellowship in our communities."

The first version said homosexual unions can often constitute a "precious support in the life of the partners." The new one says gay unions often constitute "valuable support in the life of these persons."

Other changes were made in other sections of the text, but without significantly altering the meaning or tone.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said English-speaking bishops had requested the changes on the grounds that the first translation was hasty and error-ridden.

When Lombardi was shown how significantly the meaning had changed, he pledged to investigate and didn't rule out a third version.

Lombardi stressed that the original Italian remains the official text, and noted that the draft is being revised top-to-bottom for a final report which will go to a vote among bishops on Saturday.

If two-thirds approve it, the report will form the basis of discussions in dioceses around the world before another meeting of bishops next year, and ultimately a teaching document by Pope Francis.

Based on the complaints to the original text and the number of amendments proposed Thursday, the drafting committee appointed by the pope has its work cut out for it if it wants to get a two-thirds majority.

The Vatican released summaries of the amendments from the 10 working groups that have been negotiating all week. They are near-unanimous in insisting that church doctrine on family life be more fully asserted and explained - that marriage is between a man and woman, open to children - and that faithful Catholic families should be held up as models and encouraged rather than focus on family problems and "irregular" unions.

The English-speaking working groups were among the most critical. The one headed by Cardinal Wilfred Fox Napier of South Africa complained about the translation of the draft report and used the new "providing for" homosexuals language of the revised English translation, suggesting that he or someone in his group might have requested the change.

On Thursday, Francis added Napier, as well as an Australian bishop, to the drafting committee that will compose the final document. It was widely noticed that Francis' initial appointees were largely progressives whom he named after conservatives were elected to head the working groups proposing the amendments.

African bishops, who are among the most conservative on family issues, were not included in his initial picks.

Costco labels Bible as fiction in this store. Pastor goes viral for wrong reason.

A major chain found something out the hard way. They got national publicity for hitting the third rail. In a country that is 78.4% Christian, that is a dangerous mistake. Chick-fil-a can make a social mistake if it has some doctrinal backing in Christianity (implied or otherwise). The converse is not true. Is the bible fiction? Is it literal? Did Moses really part the sea? Some people really think that the stories in the Bible are just that, fictional stories. However, some really worship the Bible as the word of God. When in doubt, if one is selling Bibles, neutrality must reign, lest you incur the wrath of the offended. Costco labeled the Bible as fictional in a Simi Valley store. A pastor saw it.

Caleb Kaltenbach, (Editor: a "Troll" and) pastor of Discovery Church, came across the Bibles while shopping for a gift and tweeted the picture on Friday with the comment: "Costco has Bibles for sale under the genre of FICTION Hmmmm..." That didn't sit well with members of his congregation. “I was completely offended. It’s wrong, and I believe that the Bible is real,” Shellie Dungan told KTLA-TV. (Editor's note: Some people believe Harry Potter is real, too. Those books still belongs in the FICTION section." )

Did the pastor go to Costco to get a response? Apparently he went directly to social media. He likely knew that he could rile up a significant portion of the Christian base to get notoriety. And he did. Follow me below to see what happened next.

For all the brouhaha, Kaltenbach said the discussions the label has sparked have been good for the faith community. "It’s caused a lot of controversy, it’s caused a lot of conversation, which I think conversation is good," he told KCBS-TV.

I find it ironic that the pastor would go after a company like Costco. Costco treats its employees in a humane fashion by paying them a living wage and ensuring they have good benefits. Walmart stiffs its employees and pays them substandard wages while simulating support for family values. If the pastor wanted to do a Christian-like thing one would think he would be shaming Walmart into "doing unto others as they want done unto their shareholders." Costco says the mislabeling was a mistake by its distributor that they should have caught. Sadly, anyone who analyses this event should come to the conclusion that this pastor did an ‘un-Christian-like’ thing. He forgot about compassion. Had the pastor gone directly to a Costco manager, he would have found out it was a simple mistake. By publicizing it as he did, he allowed the emotions to be unleashed on Costco. He likely hurt the bottom line of the company. That will affect many of its employees. Worse, he may have irreparably left a bad mark on the store’s manager that will follow that manager for life; So much for forgiveness.

How Well Do You Know the Bible?

Test your knowledge with this 10-question quiz.

What did Thomas Jefferson do that resulted in many people proclaiming him an infidel?

Rewrote the Bible
Did not believe in God
Claimed that Jesus was not the son of God
Did not attend church

What was the title of the book, which was essentially a rewrite of the Bible, that removed Jesus' divinity from the story?

Jesus Walks
The New Ideal
The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth
Jesus of Nazareth - the Life and Times

According to a recent Gallop Poll, what percentage of Americans say they attend church weekly or almost weekly?

22 percent
43 percent
35 percent
52 percent

Who is the patron saint of animals and ecology?

St. Anthony
St. Mary
St. Francis
St. Michael

What book of the New Testament is this quote from: "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father."


Who wrote the book second only to the Bible in sales in 1976?

Benjamin Spock
Alexandre Dumas
Sigmund Freud
Alfred Kinsey

Some people feel that the survivors of the plane crash in the television series Lost is like the story of the Hebrews being held as slaves in Egypt. What book of the Old Testament is this from?


The following quote is from this book of the Old Testament: "I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint: my heart is like wax; it is melted in the midst of my bowels."


In a recent survey, what percentage of people over 50 believe in life after death?

81 percent
32 percent
58 percent
73 percent

A recent survey found what percentage of Hispanic Americans over the age of 45 believe in miracles?

95 percent
86 percent
81 percent
58 percent

The Bible and Suicide

It would be difficult to argue that suicide is not a sin, for it is the taking of a human life, or to put it bluntly, murder. The Bible clearly expresses the sanctity of human life (Exodus 20:13). ... There is only one sin that can separate us from God and send a person to hell.

"What is the Christian view of suicide? What does the Bible say about suicide?"

The Bible mentions six specific people who committed suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.

The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15)

God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.

Some people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).

However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).

So, according to the Bible, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine a person's eternal destiny. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). And may each of us take hope in the promise, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).

Maybe Jesus actually did say something about homosexuality after all

It’s common for more progressive Christians to defend LGBTQI people by saying that Jesus said nothing about homosexuality. But is that true, if we’re referring to the versions of Jesus that have made it down to us in the collections of stories found in the institutionally-approved Gospels?

Granted, the concept of sexual orientation and, thus, of homosexuality as a category, did not exist until identified by Western psychologists in the late nineteenth century. Until then, same-sex sexuality was thought of in terms of actions rather than orientations.

But biblical scholars for the last twenty years or so who aren’t bent on protecting their homophobic conditioning have called our attention to another possible understanding of a well-known episode found in the canonical Gospels of Matthew (8:5-13) and Luke (7:1-10), a story usually known as Jesus’ meeting with the centurion.

In those texts, an unnamed centurion comes to Jesus in the city of Capernaum on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee to ask him to heal the centurion’s boy who is lying paralyzed and suffering in pain back at a home they shared.

Jesus offers to come right away. But the centurion convinces him that it would be better for Jesus to heal his boy without actually entering their home. And Jesus promptly heals him from a distance.

Both versions end the story by portraying Jesus as praising the centurion for his unique faith: “Truly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith not even in Israel.”

Remember that a centurion (identified in these Gospels only by his title, not a personal name, as if to emphasize his place as an outsider in the society) was a well-paid professional officer in the powerful Roman army that was a dreaded occupying force in the Near East. The designation referred to the fact that centurions commanded 100 men, which included about 80 soldiers and 20 support staff.

These officers were feared, not revered, by the people of the nation they occupied. They were known for looking down upon their subjects and dealing out harsh punishments even to their own men.

They often attained a high social status with political power within Roman society. But there was little love for them among the everyday people of Palestine because of their ruthless control as well as the fact that they lived “dirty” lives.

They were not governed by any religious purity laws followed by local religion and enforced by local religious leaders, especially rules inspired by the holiness code of the Hebrew Bible and its contemporary interpreters. In fact, they flaunted that fact.

Luke’s version of the story tries to distance itself from all of this. In an interesting twist that reminds us that not everything in the Bible syncs, Luke’s version justifies Jesus’ upcoming praise of the centurion by saying that the centurion sent Jewish elders to make the request, and that these elders cleared the centurion for Jesus’s healing and awkward praise by portraying the centurion as a “lover of Israel” and one who paid for their synagogue.

In contrast to Matthew’s version that doesn’t try to clean up the centurion for approval, Luke’s centurion himself never even meets Jesus! All of this protects Jesus from any of the centurion’s “dirt” that would have rubbed off from him, and it makes Luke’s version sound like a sanitized one.

The fact that Luke’s version does this, makes one suspicious that it’s a later revision than Matthew’s version. On the other hand, for Matthew to change Luke’s version to the way Matthew presents it, would be to make an even queerer moral in the story.

However, what might a reader of these stories – these two versions that were written a couple of generations after Jesus probably lived – have expected about who this centurion’s “boy” was, a “boy” whom Luke’s version says was “intimate” (éntimos) to the centurion? And how would this relate to the common expectation that Roman elite often took gay lovers?

This “boy” might have been younger than the centurion but not someone we’d consider under-age. He’s nowhere described as a youth and the word for “boy” in Matthew’s version (païs) can refer to a junior partner in a relationship, even one who’s full-grown. That was how it was used in numerous Greek sources such as Thucydides, Plato, and Plutarch.

Usually the word païs in Matthew is translated into the English as “servant” to settle the matter without fear that Jesus was affirming a same-sex sexual relationship. But it’s not the usual word for servant, nor is it the usual word for “son,” uìós.

In fact, its particular usage in Matthew’s version stands out from Matthew’s actual use of that common word for servant (doülos) in 8:9 when the centurion argues that he knows Jesus can heal his païs from afar because Jesus can command obedience just as the Centurion does. The Centurion explains that he gives an order “to my servant (doülos) ‘Do this!’ and he does it.”

We know nothing about the actual historical reality of these stories. We don’t now why there are deviations between the two versions – one that looks as if it’s trying to clean the story up.

We can only look back at them through our current understandings and make decisions about how we want to hear them.

But, one possible understanding of the story of Jesus healing the centurion’s païs is that these gospels not only saw no problem with their same-sex relationship but actually made Jesus praise the faith involved with the concern of the centurion for his lover.

This incident, of course, could have been used by these writers as the perfect chance for Jesus to rail against the whole idea of the thing, but neither text does that. Quite the opposite – they just talk about Jesus healing the centurion’s païs and highly praising the centurion for persistently asking.

Interesting, isn’t it? And if that’s how we are to understand these passages, then, though Jesus might not have said anything about sexual orientation, Jesus’ actions as portrayed here actually could speak louder than words?

*    *    *

The best religion is the most tolerant. - Delphine de Girardin 

Fundamentalists of any religion - Just let the tea kettle whistle! Eventually it will run out of water!

Contact Us | Disclaimer | Privacy Statement
Menstuff® Directory
Menstuff® is a registered trademark of Gordon Clay
©1996-2020, Gordon Clay