Photo of daffodils blooming.
Spring is in the air. Courtesy Shutterstock.

Spring step * Alban closing * Atheist etiquette: Thursday's Roundup

Photo of daffodils blooming.

Spring is in the air. Courtesy Shutterstock.

Spring is in the air

Today is the first day of spring; many of us at RNS East thought the day would never come.

Iranians are celebrating too. The Persian New Year, known as Naw-Ruz, is steeped in springtime symbols of rebirth and renewal. The celebration dates back to Zoroaster, who lived in the 6th century B.C.

Not a Zoroastrian? That’s OK. Christians are getting ready for spring also. During this season of Lent, they’re going on labyrinth walks.

Not just the mainline

The Virginia-based Alban Institute, which has provided mainline denominations with consulting services and publications on church life, will shut down after a steep revenue decline. In this, the institution is not unlike its chief client: mainline congregations.

But mainliners aren’t the only ones feeling the pain: the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia has been mulling how to carry out its plans for consolidation of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. To raise money, the archdiocese is considering selling some of the seminary artworks, including portraits by Thomas Eakins, the American realist painter.

Plane inquiry turns religious

The pilot of the Malaysia Airlines flight that went missing March 8 was interested in atheism. Among the dozens of YouTube videos shared by other users that he “liked,” four were interviews or documentaries in which prominent atheists explained their reasons for not following any religion. Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah also subscribed to the official YouTube channel of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science. Another of his subscriptions was to the channel of Eddie Izzard, a British comedian who is an outspoken atheist himself.

Meanwhile, the mystery over the flight’s disappearance has united Malaysia as never before. An interfaith ceremony Tuesday night would have been inconceivable 11 days ago in the country where religious differences and bigotry have often been on open display.

Cat and mouse, Toronto edition

Canadian child welfare authorities worked quickly to get ahead of the Lev Tahor sect’s ever-shifting plots. Newly released documents show an emergency apprehension order was issued for 14 of the sect’s children who fled the country ahead of a court order to place them in protective care. Eight of the 14 children who fled have since been returned. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect is being investigated for child abuse.

Atheist etiquette

Should a Christian mother attend the wedding of her atheist daughter to a fellow atheist? Russell Moore, the ethics czar at the Southern Baptist Convention, says yes.

“I would go. I would be kind, and I would seek to continue to share the gospel with your daughter and with your new son-in-law as time goes on. I would recognize that marriage is a good thing that God has given to all people.”

But atheists aren’t necessarily as charitable to Christians. An atheist group is demanding that Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker remove a Bible verse posted to his social media accounts, calling it “improper” for a politician to promote personal religious views using “the machinery of the state.”

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to Walker asking him to delete the message, which read simply, “Philippians 4:13,” from his official Facebook and Twitter accounts.

God’s wrath or political opportunism?

Pollsters at PRRI say the number of Americans who believe AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior has fallen dramatically over time. Only 14 percent of Americans agree with the idea that AIDS might be God’s punishment for immoral sexual behavior, down from 36 percent in 1992.

Not everyone has gotten the memo. A Republican candidate who believes that God dictates weather patterns and that tornadoes, autism and dementia are God's punishments for marriage equality and abortion access won the GOP nomination to challenge Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) in the Chicago-area 9th Congressional District. Her name is Susanne Atanus.

Prescient and weird

During a spiritual conversation with Oprah on an upcoming episode of "Super Soul Sunday," actress Shirley MacLaine expressed her fear that the world is heading down a bad path. "I think we're in big trouble," she tells Oprah. "We don't know or have any comprehension of what we're doing to nature."

And: Yoga has its roots in the worship of demonic Hindu gods. That’s according to an editorial in Arkansas’ John Brown University newspaper.

 Signs of the times

A Buddhist student and his family won a settlement last week against a Louisiana school district where the student’s religion was ridiculed in class as “stupid,” the teacher taught that evolution is “impossible,” and that the Bible is “100 percent true.”

Novelist and poet Jay Parini says spirituality is alive and well in godless Vermont. But it tends to thrive outside the walls of traditional churches.

Stick with the Roundup. We keep you updated on the prescient, the weird and the real.



  1. Any reason for the inconsistency in capitalizing Bible (under Signs of the Times)?

  2. “But atheists aren’t necessarily as charitable to Christians.” Really? Walker’s church/state issue is comparable to a Christian thinking about not attending a daughter’s wedding?

    To make them comparable, it would be better to find a story of an atheist parent thinking about refusing to attend a child’s church wedding. I look forward to reading that in a future edition of Religious News’ Roundup.

  3. Seconded.

    The most common critique of (new) atheists I see (aside from how they are borderline 2nd class citizens that will rot in hell), is that when they criticize religion they prop up a caricature of religion/religious groups and then unfairly mock/ridicule the caricature (and thus ignore the diversity of religious approaches to life). The caricature of atheists as angry/bitter/unreasonable is tired and worn out. People who don’t believe in any of the currently popular gods go to religious weddings all the time and sit there quietly and respectfully like everyone else.

  4. Baha’is of all origins and cultures also celebrate Naw-Ruz as the Baha’i New Year. The Baha’i calendar dates from 1844.

  5. Author

    You’re right. I neglected to mention the Baha’is. Thanks for reminding me.

  6. Author

    We usually uppercase ‘Bible’ and lowercase ‘biblical,’ per AP style.

  7. You are wrong. Pick any religion’s character that you want and we will have just as much fun as when we choose one of YOUR religions characters and make fun of them. Doesn’t matter what ‘god’ it is, or what religion, there’s always something Cray Cray going on that we can laugh at. It’s the only way we get through life as a minority that’s constantly being harassed.

  8. “But atheists aren’t necessarily as charitable to Christians.”

    Really? Fabulous generalization you’ve added to the conversation, Mrs. Shimron. And you’re a managing editor? How is you’re unaware of the ceaseless comments by Christians (and others) throughout history that atheists are “immoral,” or more recently that they are “perverts,” that they deserve to be rounded up in camps, and the incredible variety of other slurs based on one or more disparaging themes? Christians (in general) more polite or charitable to atheists (in general)? Not in my experience, regardless of how prickly the Dawkinses & Hitchenses of the world might seem to some.

    Maybe even more shocking is that someone affiliated with respectable journalism actually sourced “The Blaze,” a project of that paragon of sanity, Glenn Beck! Seriously? You could find nothing better?

    As for the issue at hand, it is just a tweet, after all. Seems hardly worth the effort to fight over. But then again, that cuts both ways too. Since Mr. Walker represents people with diverse beliefs, perhaps he should stick to commenting on issues rather than weighing in on his religious faith. It’s easy enough for him to just take it down and save those comments for other venues when he’s not acting in an official capacity.

  9. “Pick any religion’s character that you want and we will have just as much fun..” The religion that is “picked” had better not be islam. That cannot be done in today’s America. You will never see a comedian making fun of islam. Also, you will not see anything in the American press that would offend our muslim citizens.

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