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American Academy of Religion forgets what's important



Ian Linden, director of policy at the Tony Blair Faith Foundation, gave this report on the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting Nov. 19-23 in San Francisco. The AAR is the world's largest gathering of religious scholars.

What do you call 10,000 theologians, religious studies professors and religious booksellers? A disputation of theologians? A proliferation of professors? A sub-angelic host?

About 10,000 people traveled to San Francisco for the 2011 American Academy of Religion annual jamboree.

I haven't seen so many elderly white-bearded men in one place before. It's enough to create an identity crisis. And if you have ever published a book on an even marginally religious topic, seeing about an acre of them all in one place is kind of depressing. How many commentaries on the Gospels can the secular world take before it capitulates and surrenders? Dropping them all on Richard Dawkins would bury him a mile under.

Vatican official urges Hindus, Christians to promote religious freedom


VATICAN CITY -- In a message to the world's Hindus, a top Vatican official called on Christians and Hindus to work together in promoting religious freedom.

The lack of religious freedom is "taking center stage in many places, calling our attention to those members of our human family exposed to bias, prejudice, hate propaganda, discrimination and persecution on the basis of religious affiliation," wrote Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

The freedom to "profess, practice and propagate" one's religious belief "is the answer to religiously motivated conflicts in many parts of the world," especially as so many people desperately seek full human development and peaceful coexistence with others, he wrote.

His comments came in an annual message to mark the Hindu celebration of Diwali, a three-day religious festival that was to begin Oct. 26 in most parts of the world.

The cardinal's letter, released by the Vatican Oct. 20, said when religious freedom is hampered or denied "all other human rights are endangered."

On 'The Way' with Martin Sheen


By the time director/writer Emilio Estevez’s new film “The Way” opens nationwide Oct. 21, he and his lead star, dad Martin Sheen, will have crisscrossed the United States and part of Canada on a bus tour with exclusive screenings in about 30 cities.

“The Way” is the story of Tom (Sheen), a widower, sometime Catholic and a Malibu dentist, whose son, Daniel (Estevez), decides to leave his doctorate behind and see the world.

From neoexclusivism to humility


DAYTON, Ohio -- Gerard Mannion's recent book featured prominently in Day 2 of the Ecclesiology Investigations Research Network's conference on ecclesiology and exclusion at the University of Dayton.

Ecclesiology and postmodernity posits the theory that the Catholic church has responded to the relativism and cultural pluralism that Mannion says figure prominently in the world today with what he calls neoexclusivism, characterized by an us-vs.-them approach and exemplified by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's dogmatism.

Mannion constructs an ecclesiology based on a virtue ethic as a way to obviate the church's response, said Dennis Doyle, Ph.D. and professor of religious studies at the University of Dayton. But where Mannion falls short, Doyle said, is in labeling a person's attempt to place him or herself resolutely into a faith tradition as neoexclusivist.

Speakers discuss images of God


NEW YORK -- Speaking the evening of May 2 at Fordham University, where she is a professor of theology, St. Joseph Sr. Elizabeth Johnson described a well-known portion of Michelangelo's painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, which depicts God as an old, muscular, bearded white man who creates a younger man in his own image.

She said the example illustrates how a society's art, as well as the imagery in its language, reflects people who are at the pinnacle of that society. Just as artists imagine God as an older, white, powerful male, language describes God with the words king, father and lord.

"Why is this the case? Because historically, the public culture of the church was shaped by rulers who were men with power, and the power of naming," Johnson continued. "Why could God not be spoken about with the qualities of someone who is young or black or female, or all three in combination?"

U.S. bishops blast book by feminist theologian


A widely popular 2007 book by Sr. Elizabeth Johnson, one of America’s most prominent feminist Catholic theologians, is marred by a series of “misrepresentations, ambiguities and errors” and thus “does not accord with authentic Catholic teaching on essential points,” according to a statement released today by the Committee on Doctrine of the U.S. bishops’ conference.

In particular, Johnson’s treatment of the Trinity in Quest for the Living God, according to the bishops, “completely undermines the Gospel and the faith of those who believe in the Gospel.”

Despite that conclusion, the bishops did not call for any disciplinary measures against Johnson, such as a ban on teaching or publishing. Johnson, 69, is a distinguished professor of systematic theology at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York.

Watch in wonder, gather the courage to act, and pray


Earth & Spirit

I used a prayer bench for the first time recently, one of those comfortably padded contraptions that enable kneeling in an upright posture, attentive yet relaxed. On a chilly day, the opportunity came to spend an hour quietly meditating in an atrium room with a skylight and plants. My wife and I were housesitting for a weekend at the home of friends.


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