“Saint Augustine in His Study” by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy. Image courtesy of Creative Commons

Harlem Scientologists * ‘Bizarre’ Churches * Augustine Agonistes: Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Today is the Feast of St. Augustine of Hippo, a foundational figure in so many ways, not least of which for formulating the Christian principles of the “just war” theory, which is what most everybody is talking about when they talk about Syria, whether they know it or not. And most everyone is talking about Syria, understandably.

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy.

Saint Augustine in His Study by Sandro Botticelli, 1480, Chiesa di Ognissanti, Florence, Italy.

The New York Times is reporting that British Prime Minister David Cameron wants to secure U.N. backing for intervention, a report that is also notable because the Times wasn’t reporting much of anything for a while yesterday after its website was hacked, allegedly by a group called the Syrian Electronic Army.

Want to understand how complex it all is? The New Yorker’s George Packer is at war with himself over Syria, and illustrates the “no good options” debate by reproducing his internal dialogue.

What are you saying?

I don’t know. I had it worked out in my head until we started talking. (Pause.) But we need to do something this time.

Not just to do something.

All right. Not just to do something.

Faheem Younus says it’s important to keep “doomsday religion” out of the equation on Syria.

Meanwhile, Copts in Egypt continue to suffer, but Gracy Howard at the American Conservative balks at comparisons to Jews in Nazi Germany – and says a political rather than military solution is required.

Today of course also marks another anniversary: Fifty years since the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – and Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Augustine was a hero of King’s, so the coincidence of the dates was providential. In this video report from Saturday’s commemoration, RNS’ Adelle Banks talked to people about what the March means to them today.

That video is in addition to a slideshow Adelle did from the National Action to Realize the Dream march.

Dr. King’s speech was replete with religious references – no surprise for a pastor who brought his Christian faith to his mission for civil rights. Can you recognize the source of those themes? Sarah Pulliam Bailey has a quiz – I won’t confess here how well (or poorly) I did. Pass it around to your friends, especially those who think they know this stuff…

SPB also writes today about how the Emergent Church (huh?) has been identified by some on the Religious Right as one of America’s great enemies, along with Communism and Islam. Who knew?

“The Emerging Church was founded to get the evangelical church to take art, social justice and other what might be considered progressive issues more seriously. It was also founded to get the Mainline church to loosen their neckties a little bit,” Tony Jones, who helped start the Emergent trend years ago, told RNS.

“If we had one one-thousandth of the adherence of either of communism or Islam, we’d be doing pretty well.”

Okay, so maybe that doesn’t sound like your grandmother’s church, but neither are these 10 “bizarrely beautiful” modern churches. A very cool photo gallery.

At the PrayTell blog, Nathan Chase has an interesting assessment of the structures:

Looking at these churches makes me think of the 4th century Christians who experienced the legalization of Christianity and the adoption of the then modern and progressive basilica style for church architecture. There is something deeply traditional in these 10 church designs in that they mirror the tendency of the Church, at its best, to appropriate to itself those things from the surrounding culture which allow it to speak to the then “modern” world. So is there really any difference between these churches and the churches of Constantine?

This is probably not your bubbe’s challah: The Forward looks at what bakers are doing to the traditional Sabbath loaf.

Pastors are blaming youth sports for low church attendance … and a new study from Duke shows that clergy are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than people in other professions. Related?

Then there’s this:

Also a neat pope piece but perhaps no surprise by now: Francis is celebrating Mass with wafers made by an inmate at an Argentine prison.

Meanwhile, longtime FORNS* Peggy Fletcher-Stack points to a historic hire at Mormon-owned BYU: a tenure-track scripture prof who is also a young mom…

Amy Easton-Flake comes to the Mormon-owned school with a doctorate in American literature and women’s studies from Brandeis University — plus a 2-year-old, a 6-month-old and plans for more children.

In other unexpected developments, a Baptist pastor in Alabama, Sarah Shelton, says she is open to blessing same-sex unions, since she welcomes gays and lesbians into all other aspects of church life.

And the Church of Scientology, often associated with its celebrity adherents, is building a new center in East Harlem as part of a push into urban areas, reports the Daily News:

“We are creating a new renaissance in Harlem,” crowed Phil Hargrow, executive director of the Church of Scientology and Community Center of Harlem. “The people in Harlem are looking for ways to further educate themselves.”

Steve Thorngate wades into the debate over taxing churches and says, wait a minute.

At Real Clear Science, Ross Pomeroy details research showing that acts of absolution have both physical and psychological benefits.

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David Gibson