Posts Tagged ‘religion’

Samford University Choir at Columbus UU

October 17, 2015
Samford University Chior

Samford University Choir

The internationally acclaimed Samford University Choir – it took top honors in a competition in Tours, France in 2012 – will sing at the Dedication Service Sunday, October 18th,  at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus, which is located at the end of Heiferhorn Way off Whitesville Road.  Samford University is located in Birmingham, Alabama. The Dedication of Grace Hall, the Fellowship’s new home, will honor Grace Jordan for whom the Hall is named. She is a wonderful woman and a dear friend of many years. It all starts at 10:45. Refreshments will be served after the service. You are invited.

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Sunday Morning with Almost-90 President Carter

July 20, 2014

President Carter Says China is Headed Toward Having the World’s Largest Christian  Population

Carter - Plains 3  015

  As usual, when he is there, the Maranatha Baptist  Church at Plains, Georgia was packed Sunday morning.  A new friend who formerly lived in South Dakota, Bill Harlan, had said that he and his wife Marjorie, would like to attend one of President Jimmy Carter’s Sunday school classes.  So Carol and Don Nahley, Sidney and Ed Wilson, the Harlan’s, and Julie Bray and I motored to Plains.  It was a delightful experience.  

On October first, President Carter will be 90.  You would  never know it by the way he conducts his Sunday school class.  He is still not only intellectually impressive and witty,  but does not move like a man who has been around that long.  He was on his feet and in motion for the entire lesson, which lasted almost an hour.

The main point of his talk was that all Christians are missionaries, that Christ himself was a missionary. After normalizing relations with China in 1979, he tried to get missionaries back into the country. He asked for three things: Freedom of religion,  the printing of bibles, and allowing missionaries back into China. He got two of them. China agreed to allow freedom of religion and the printing of bibles, but it wouldn’t allow missionaries to return.  Now, President Carter said, China is on its way to having the  world’s largest Christian population. Sometimes it only takes one person to get the job done and, it seems, one missionary to China, President Jimmy Carter, was the man to do it.   

 

The Amazing Jimmy Carter

March 26, 2014

488px-JimmyCarterPortrait2The first time I saw President Jimmy Carter was when, in the 1960s, I covered a 3rd District Democratic Party convention at Americus, Georgia.  He immediately stood out as he walked down the aisle of the Rylander Theater auditorium where the convention was held.  His hair style reminded me of President John F. Kennedy’s, as did his radiant smile.  I said to myself at the time, that man is going to make  news politically.  Sometimes I get it right.

He still has that hair and that radiant smile and , at age 89, is still making news.  His advanced years have not stopped him from writing books and going on national TV to promote them.  David Letterman devoted a lot of his Monday night show to interviewing President Carter about world events and Carter’s latest book A Call to Action. 

The book is about the worldwide abuse and violence against women, and how religion has been and is being used to subjugate them. In the book he writes that the depravation of women and girls is the most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge.  He says it is “largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime by the United States.”

To be able to do what he does at his age is quite impressive.  His energy level and ability to  entertain as well as inform was as high as anyone I have seen on the Letterman show. His performance should be an inspiration to senior citizens everywhere.

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It’s Monday, so I Have to Post Something

August 12, 2013

Well, I don’t really have to.

I have a choice.

We all have the freedom to choose.

That’s what the existentialists tell us.

Are they right?

Some say no.  They made the choice to believe in determinism.  We have been conditioned from birth.  That conditioning determines how we think and act.  Since they have the freedom of choice to believe that they can.

The existentialists also think we live in an absurd world.  Observation tends to back up that premise.

They also believe that life is meaningless, that each individual must give meaning to his or her life.

Where did I learn all that?  I already knew it to some extent, but the person who made the easiest to understand is a former Baptist preacher who decided to stop preaching and learn more about philosophy.  He has become an existentialist, but he still attends a Baptist church. That’s not as far-fetched as it may sound.  Being an existentialist doesn’t necessarily mean you are an atheist.  The man credited with starting the movement, Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaarrd, said he was a Christian.

Turns out there different types of existentialists, Christian, atheists, and a few others.

Am I an existentialist?  I think I lean in that direction, but I’m not sure I buy into all of it.  After all, I have the choice to determine whether I do or not.

And I made the choice to post something today because I have stated that I will  try to post something by Monday of each week.  I made the choice to keep my word.  I did give myself an out by using the word “try.”

What’s the Answer to Hate?

July 16, 2013

LOVE, OF COURSE

Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1989. Phot6o by Alan Light.

Sammy Davis, Jr. in 1989. Photo by Alan Light.

In 1968, when I was working at WAGA-TV in Atlanta,  I interviewed the late and great entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr., who had flown into the city to attend Dr. Martin Luther King’s funeral.  Standing at the side of the small plane that brought him, I asked him, in essence, what was it going to take to end the hatred that was evidenced by the assasination of the civil rights leader. He gave me a slight smile and simply  said, as best as I can remember the quote, “Love … for people to love one another.” He said that was what Dr. King wanted.

It’s so simple, but, as the lessons of history tell us, it is so hard for a lot of people to practice when it concerns people who are, as a class, culture, ethnicity, or religion, different from one another. In my view, though, progress has been made in a number of countries, including ours. 

Why Megachurches are on the Rise

April 8, 2013

Going with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson to the 10,000-member Mt. Paran Church in Atlanta Easter Sunday got me to thinking about the megachurch phenomenon, and about why it has happened.  While confidence in organized religion in the United States is at its lowest point in three decades, according to a Gallup poll,  megachurches continue to be on the rise.

The latest Gallop  poll on the subject that I could find, which was taken in July of 2012, shows that only 44 percent of Americans now have confidence in organized religion.  That’s overall. Break it down, Protestants have the most confidence, at 56 percent,  compared with 46 percent of Catholics.  Factor in other religions and the non-religious and you get the 44 percent number.

The growth in megachurches has been dramatic. In the U.S., they have more than quadrupled in the past two  decades.  Wikipedia reports, “It has since spread worldwide. In 2007, five of the ten largest Protestant churches were in South Korea.[7] The largest mega church in the United States is Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas with more than 40,000 members every weekend and the current largest megachurch in the world is South Korea’s Yoido Full Gospel Church, with more than 830,000 members as of 2007.”

After searching the Internet for articles explaining this phenomenon, the best one I found was one published November of last year in the Knoxville News Sentinel.  It was posted by By Meghan Davis.

For one thing, she introduced us to the findings of Omri Elisha, an assistant professor or anthropology at Queens College, City University of New York, who spent two years in Knoxville studying .  He wrote the book Moral Ambition: Mobilization and Social Outreach in Evangelical Megachurches.  Among the reasons he gives is”Megachurches offer a wide array of ministries and services. From spiritual growth and religious education to youth programs, volunteer opportunities, social networking and even career development, megachurches have the resources, the staff and the space to provide many more avenues of participation than one typically finds in smaller churches.”

I saw evidences of all of that at  the Mt. Paran Church.  The megachurches like Mt. Paran offer artistic opportunities, also, with huge choirs,  substantial orchestras,  rock-style music combos, that combine with charismatic ministers to provide highly emotional spiritual experiences.

Next in this series, we’ll look at something new to me.  A friend of mine, after reading my first post on megachurches, brought me a copy of Harpers that contains an article explaining how hippie Christians of the 1970s “begat evangelical conservatives.”

The Rise of the Evangelical Megachurch

April 1, 2013

Photo: Three generations of McMichaels

It’s always good to be with family on special holidays, and I was fortunate to be with my son Rick, grandson Ben, and daughter-in-law Marian this Easter.  She’s not in the pic because she was down in Atlanta’s Mt. Paran Church’s music department getting her french horn ready for the choir and orchestra’s Easter performance.  She plays French horn in the orchestra and Rick and Ben sing in the choir.  I counted 30 in the orchestra Sunday, and the choir had at least 125 singers.  Were they good? Very! Am I biased?  Of course. But, really,  they had a triumphant sound Sunday.

60 is a big crowd at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus where I attend most Sundays.  And the largest UU congregation in Georgia, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, has about 800 members.  The Mt. Paran sanctuary must hold two to three thousand people and it was totally packed for two services Sunday.  I had to park on the top deck of the church’s four-deck parking garage.  The church, I am told, has about 10,000 members.  That’s big, but not as big as Worldchangers International in College Park, Georgia which has a sanctuary that seats more than 8,000 and has 30,000 members, and a controversial pastor named Creflow Dollar, who, according to Wikipedia, owned a $1,000,000 mansion and, among other things, two Rolls Royces, and a private jet.  It appears that evangelical churches, especially the Pentecostal and  Charismatic ones, are attracting more and more  people, as some of the old mainstream traditional churches, that still keep things simple and don’t do  light shows and have 30 piece orchestras and 125 member choirs, are losing them.

According to article in The Knoxville News Sentinal, a sociological study shows “more than half of all American churchgoers now attend the largest 10 percent of churches.” The article also states the number of megachurches has doubled since 2000 and “there are now more than 1,200 of these churches throughout the United States. One in three are in the Southeast.”

And this phenomenon is not just in the United States. For instance, Brazil has the largest concentration of Catholics in the world, but in recent years the church has lost 20 percent of its membership.  It seems that most of that 20 percent have moved to evangelical churches.  The National Catholic Report puts it this way, “Brazil, the largest Catholic country in the world at 149 million, loses half a million Catholics every year. Protestants have grown from nine percent of Brazil’s population in 1991 to 15.1 percent (some say as much as 22 percent), while the proportion of Catholics has dropped from 84 percent to 67 percent. In Mexico, 88 percent of a population of 102 million is now Catholic, a decline of 10 percent compared to the mid-20th century.” I heard about an evangelical church being built in Mexico will seat 21,000 people.

Why has this trend happened?  Stay tuned.

 

Taking Stock Philosophically: Overcoming Primitive Group Dynamics is the Solution

December 29, 2011

Here is another outstanding, thoughtful, well-written comment on our previous posts about social evolution that I decided should run as a featured post.

By Mike Nichols

The great scientific and technological advances of the twentieth century have enabled an unprecedented quality of life for many in the more developed nations of the world. But at the same time they have provided tools of destruction and mayhem that abet and even encourage humans’ tendencies to move from zealotry to irrational nationalism to warfare to genocide.

Evolutionary psychology, a relatively new field, has done much to explain why we humans behave as we do. Concepts such as altruism, reciprocity, kin selection and group selection are theorized to be characteristics that were evolved in humans to ensure both individual and group survival.

However, the most worrisome feature of the discoveries of evolutionary psychology is that they seem to present the social traits evolved in humans as an immutable fate, something so imbedded in each of us that it is a near-futile task to sublimate them.

Standing in opposition to this Darwinian determinism are those who point to the many aspects of our primitive nature, such as the urge for men to impregnate as many women as possible, that have been largely overcome in many societies. The ability to accept another group, work peaceably with them, and even meld with them is not uncommon in modern history, though these arrangements sometimes fall apart.

And almost all of the world religions have as their foundation the belief that humans can rise above their flawed nature toward better actions and attitudes. However, the continual crimes against humanity done in the name of religion seem to make the good effects of religion doubtful to some. (I must insert here GK Chesterton’s famous statement that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”)

The main problem, as I see it, is that humans are still trapped in the group dynamics of our forebears fifty or even one hundred thousand years ago. My group is good, righteous, upholders of Truth, superior, while the other group is radically opposite. The other group is demonized, accused of egregious acts, and made subhuman – justifying violence against them. These group dynamics are observable in everything from local government and race relations, to the current petty politics in Washington to the animosity and violence between nations and religious groups.

Whatever the final solution to the problem, it will take the universal recognition that humans have these primitive destructive tendencies working against the common good, coupled with a universal societal commitment to overcoming them. This need not and should not be imposed by government, but through our many institutions, religious groups, social groups and political groups – primarily and most importantly on the local level.

This may seem like pie-in-the-sky thinking, but it – or something like it – seems to be the only solution for breaking free of our evolutionary bonds to enjoy a world where war is unheard of and the good of all humans in all places is a primary virtue.

The Sky is NOT Falling

August 14, 2011

By Hal Midgette

Hal Midgette, science instructor at Brookstone School, retired Lt. Col. in U.S. Army Military Intelligence, and friend of mine, delivered a thought provoking talk that I thought you might find interesting. He makes a very good case for the times in which we live not being “the worst of times.”  Here is most of what he told members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Columbus on Sunday, August 14.

Those of you who know me will be surprised to learn that the inspiration for my topic today came from a book titled “Inscribing the Text: Sermons and Prayers of Walter Brueggemann.   The book was loaned to me several months ago by a fellow Brookstone teacher who is a Presbyterian minister.  We had had a discussion in the teachers’ lounge about whether King David was a good guy or a bad guy, so she offered the book as a good source of spiritual readings. But the sermons in the book did not hold my attention as much as did a quote by pastor, author and activist William Sloane Coffin.  The quote, which appears on the book jacket,  is as follows: “These sermons and poetic prayers are lucid and passionate, tough-minded and tender-hearted, full of the hope and biblical insights so critically needed in these nightmarish times.”

“Nightmarish times?” Really?  Could a well-educated and spiritual leader such as Rev. Coffin honestly believe that we are living in nightmarish times?  The words appearing on the book  jacket were intended Presume to influence book sales, but I wondered how many ministers  might share his opinion that these are nightmarish times.  I hope there are more ministers who believe, as I do, that the sky is Not falling, so I thank Barry White for asking me to be a speaker in August and giving me this opportunity to calm Chicken Little with what I believe to be the truth:  The sky is Not falling.

While not being an expert on fear, I am aware of its use in history, and today, by political and religious groups to influence or motivate the populace to achieve or at least attempt to achieve specific goals. Fear-mongering is a self-serving tactic of those who would deceive the masses as if they are sheep to be shepherded, rather than individuals with free will.  I don’t doubt that many, to include Rev. Coffin, are true believers that these times are, to them, nightmarish.  I strongly disagree. I also object to the prophecies of doomsayers, end of days proponents, and to those who believe the best of times were the so-called good-old-days of times gone by.  Although disaster and what can only be described as nightmarish conditions do certainly exist in various pockets throughout the world at various times, it is not the general condition of the world. And these times, our 21st Century times,  are most definitely not the worst of times.

Just a brief review of terrible times in the history of the world…..with a much smaller population…reveals that in fact, we are living in good times, maybe not individually, or in every country, or even in our own country every day,  but for mankind in general.

About 70,000 years ago super volcano, Mount Toba, awoke in what is today Indonesia and visited death on a newly arisen species…us, Homo sapiens, and by some scientists’ account, knocked us down to about 5,000 individuals for the total world population. NOW, those were bad times, and the sky was literally falling.  Well, our species survived that, even thought left us with very constricted genetic variation.

The “Black Death” during the 1300’s reduced the world’s population from 450 million to about 350 million.  It was not just a European thing, but also ravaged Asia. Sadly, the victims didn’t have a clue that the disease was transmitted by fleas on rats.  It took its toll for decades.

Next, beginning in the1400s with European explorers sent across the Atlantic to find gold, claim land, and spread Christianity in the name of their countries, the completely vulnerable indigenous populations were introduced to small pox and measles.   This inadvertent, and totally unwanted, cultural exchange resulted in an estimated 30 million dying in the first 30years.  Of course, the ironic revenge, also totally unintended, was the introduction of tobacco to the Europeans.

Between 1850  and 1864 in China, a Chinese Christian led theta ping Rebellion known as the Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace…..    The rebellion resulted in the death of between20 and 50 million people along the Yangtze River Valley, rendering what had been the most densely populated area on Earth nearly desolate.  I suspect most of the world didn’t know this was taking place.  China has certainly rebounded with its current population of 1.3 billion.  With the current standard of living in China and its new found economic position in the world, most Chinese would not be longing for the past.

The Spanish Influenza of1918 killed between 20 and 60 million. Because it was a pandemic, and communications ensured the word spread….the whole world was frightened, and it came at the end of the world’s 6thdeadliest conflict, World War I, in which approximately 14 million military and civilians were killed. 

Then in World War II, between 40 and 70 million died, depending on which source you use for statistics. At the time, that represented  1 – 3% of the world population.  In comparison, the Black Death of the 1300’s  killed about 30% of the world population.

How can someone with any knowledge of history look around and call today nightmarish?  The sky is not falling! Why then do so many long for “the good old days”?

On this journey to understanding, I  found some literature indicating  studies have shown that badness either travels faster than or has a greater impact than good news.  In one book, it justified this as part of a survival mechanism that our species has incorporated.   Example: Your read in the Centurion Times that Flavius was run over by a chariot while crossing the Apian Way….mental note to self….look both ways when crossing highways. So bad news helps us to avoid the same mistake.  Let’s face it, we all love to know what’s going on, and a lot of it is….how to phrase this….BAD NEWS.  As one airline executive commented the other day:  Of the 80,000 successful aircraft take offs and landings, the news only wants to focus on the one that did Not go so well.  Unfortunately, because of our penchant for or even craving for bad news, many people forget that there is a lot of good going on here and around the world.

Though we maybe genetically inclined to focus on bad news as a survival mechanism, we are also hardwired for optimism. According to an article on the Science of Optimism in Time Magazine on June 6th of this year, studies show that  people generally think they are better off than they really are and this is a good thing. We look for silver linings when actually confronted with catastrophe or misfortune.  Optimism is a form of planning for the future. So if someone tells us these are nightmarish times or if we believe that a particular day or year is nightmarish, we need to rely on our instincts, wake up from the nightmare and let our optimism lead us to a course of action or at least an attitude adjustment that opens our minds to the possibility of a better day.  And when you wake up you can realize how many good things are in our lives.

Since the 1960’s, we have doubled the Earth’s population, from 3.5 billion to almost 7 billion.  If we look around the world, more people are…in general….living longer lives, having greater access to educational opportunities, and having the ability to seek happiness for themselves and their families.  Yes, of course there are areas that continue to suffer from famine and tyrannical leaders.  But, the percentage of the total is smaller than in the past.

Let’s consider some of the  great things that continue to make life better. On average, worldwide, we live longer today.  This in itself presents some challenges, but it is so much better than when my father was young, and out of twelve children, four died as infants. In 1900 the average life span in the United States was 47years.  In 1950, which so many Americans view as a great time to be alive, the average person died at 69.  Today the average American can expect to live78  years.  And of course, many are living much longer. In fact, the 2010 U. S. Census reveals  5.5 million Americans are over 85 years old.  That’s almost double the amount of people over 85 in 1990. Let’s consider longevity for the whole world.  In 1950 the average life span in the entire world was 46 years.  Today the average life span of people in the world is 67. 

What else is good about these days we live in?  Well, particularly in medicine, these are amazing times.  I remember in the early 70’s playing racquet ball with a friend when his knee gave way and he collapsed.    Then, it took extensive surgery and months of recuperation to get back to walking…and then, with a limp.  Today, the same surgery is done arthroscopically….and is relatively pain free, and the patient can often walk without crutches within a few days.

Let’s not forget about the medical breakthroughs that brought us antibiotics, immunizations, organ transplants, and  cell cloning.  Smallpox, humanity’s scourge ever since we domesticated the cow, is not loose upon us anymore, but locked up in a few vials in liquid nitrogen held by the U.S. and Russia. Polio, tuberculosis, measles, chicken pox are some of the many diseases that have been brought under control.  Even AIDS, a worldwide threat, has been harnessed, with greater prospect for bringing it under control.  Cancer patients are living longer with better quality of life thanks to improved medicines and treatments. Every year there are better hearing aides, contact lenses, glasses, wheel chairs, artificial limbs and research underway with so much promise.

I think back on my father having a stroke and the lack of medications to treat high blood pressure and cholesterol.  Today, we have a multitude of preventive procedures and medicines not just to keep people alive, but to enable them to feel better and lead productive lives. And for the terminally ill or the chronically afflicted, pain medications have alleviated much of their suffering.

Any mention of what’s good about our times would have to include the enormous impact of communications technology on our lives. Cell phones and the Internet have significantly changed the world, providing  information, entertainment,  business ,personal and group communication to even remote areas where people  were once isolated and powerless. Despite the unfortunate criminal activity of some Internet users, the Internet has enriched our lives and literally revolutionized some countries, as evidenced by the recent and continuing Arab Spring.

In addition to improvements in our life spans, health care, and communications,  there have been great strides in society, resulting in more people around the world having opportunities that once were limited to only the privileged classes or only to some races or ethnic groups. When I was in high school, the schools here and throughout the South were segregated so that Black students were deprived of the best opportunities for learning.  Now the law and our society demand equal opportunity for education and for employment.  Just think how many lives were wasted handmade miserable and at what cost to society in the so-called “good old days“. People who long for the past tend to overlook how bad the past was for so many people. But the good news is that equal opportunity and basic human rights are no longer enjoyed only by the developed countries in the world. Thanks to human rights organizations,  diplomatic efforts of democratic countries, and the power of the Internet, the word has spread that all human beings are entitled to those same rights that our Unitarian principles promote, such as the inherent worth and dignity of every person; justice equity and compassion in human relations; and the use of the democratic process in society.

As the standard of living has increased for the newly industrialized countries, such as India and China, it is simply a fact that there is more competition for world resources, such as oil, and more competition too for marketing goods.  Clearly, our piece of the pie may not be as big as it was when more people in other countries were living in poverty.  Depending on your worldview, this may or may not be a bad thing.  If we, as Unitarians, believe in the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all, then we should not be frightened by the rise of other economies because peace, liberty and justice are certainly more attainable in societies where there is a decent standard of living.

Finally, in order to reject the notion that we live in nightmarish times, it is essential to keep things in perspective. While the media are of great value to a democracy, our24-hour media sources tend to keep us wired and frantic about every negative situation at home and abroad. After all, hype sells ads and news is big business. Our country has weathered greater storms than the current economic quagmire.  Have a little faith.  Our government may be run by people of conflicting views, stubbornly devoted to their own parties and re-election campaigns, but do you really believe they don’t love this great country?  Or that they will fail to do what is necessary to keep the ship of state afloat? Let’s not be misled by the tunnel vision of doomsayers and fanatics who frighten themselves with nightmarish scenarios. Let’s open both eyes, take stock of where we were, where we are, and where sacrifice, hard work or creativity may lead us.  Then we can see that the sky is not falling.  It’s only raining.

News Media Cheapens Itself with Massive End-of-the-world Coverage

May 21, 2011

It’s really sad the way news media moguls are cheapening their products by devoting so much air time and ink to religious crackpots.  Every time one of them does something like predicting the end of the world or burns a Koran they treat the story as though it is right up there with killing the world’s most sought terrorist Osama bin Laden,  or the  historically futile efforts to get the Israelis and Palestinians to reach an agreement to bring peace to cure that never-ending, festering, and very expensive diplomatic sore.

If peace could be achieved in Israel it appears that would help end at least one huge element in the struggle to defuse the Mideast bomb.  Some people, including many Israelis, are afraid that the uprisings of Mideasterners who are protesting authoritarian regimes and demanding democracy could be bad for Israel because the protesters could be anti-Israel.  But, is that really the case?  The best argument made for the protesters is that they simply want better lives for themselves and their families.  The want jobs that pay decent wages.  They want freedom of speech. Their movement does not seem to be religiously based. This may or may not be true, and we won’t know if it is or not until democracy does take hold in the Mideastern nations.

Now, that’s a story has a huge impact not only on us in the U.S., but on people all over the world.  To give the same sort of attention to the story of some radical fundamentalist like  Harold Camping, a retired civil engineer, who founded Family Radio Worldwide,  who predicts the exact day and time the rapture will come leading to the end of the world is truly disgusting.