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True Story: How I Became a Jedi Council Master

True Story: How I Became a Jedi Council Master

By Mark Chalifoux, Man Cave Daily…
This Friday (May 4) is the official day for Star Wars fans to celebrate the franchise in all of its glory. The reasoning, much like everything associated with Star Wars in the past 15 years, is fairly contrived. It’s likely because of a translation error of a George Lucas interview on a German TV station (“May the Force be with you” was translated into “May 4 be with you”). Regardless, it gives nerds a chance to geek-out and walk around the office saying “May the Fourth be with you!” all day. Star Wars Day has a different meaning to me, though, because I saw the dark side of fandom and obsession during a brief period in the last decade in which I was accidentally voted to the International Council of the Church of the Jedi.

Keeping the Eostre in Easter

Keeping the Eostre in Easter

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By Kenny Smith….
The ancient roots of the Easter holiday as grounded in Germanic goddess-figures alternately known as Eostre or Ostara. Some have also begun to suggest that we “not forget the REAL reason for the season!,” and work to “Keep the Eostre in Easter.”

The Dogs of God

The Dogs of God

By Gregory L. Reece….An intriguing excerpt from his upcoming book: “Creatures of the Night: In Search of Ghosts, Vampires, Werewolves and Demons.” The sound began down deep in his chest, rose to a growl in his throat, and then forced its way between his lips as a snarl. The coarse silver hair on his neck bristled. His ears, covered with the same silver fur, twitched. There was a burst of air from his nostrils, a snort of warning and territorial claim. The muscles in his arm began to twitch. His head snapped quickly to the left, then to the right. Thrown back against my seat by a sudden change in direction and speed, I instinctively clutched at the door handle of the mini-van, my eyes darting between the oncoming traffic and the hairy form in the driver’s seat. His reactions to the traffic were quick and aggressive – canine reactions, lupine reactions. For just a moment I was terrorized, speeding down the highway with a werewolf at the wheel.

Weathering Religion: Weather Channel Theodicies?

Weathering Religion: Weather Channel Theodicies?

By Kate Daley-Bailey, Religion Nerd…..
The article itself did not surprise me… but the comments from the website’s respondents most certainly did. What I found most intriguing was the theological language being used on this modern media site, one explaining scientifically natural weather phenomena and includes no reference to any theological agenda. Here are just a few examples: “God loves us so much and He is trying to get our attention one more time before He judges the earth. He wants us to live and not die. Wake up, people.” And, “I pray God’s protection during this difficult time. May He give us His peace, comfort, and strength. Romans 12”

Why Do Southerners Call Mormonism a Cult? A brief history of anti-Mormonism

Why Do Southerners Call Mormonism a Cult? A brief history of anti-Mormonism

By Joanna Brooks, Religion Dispatches….
Patrick Mason is the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University and author of The Mormon Menace: Violence and Anti-Mormonism in the Postbellum South(Oxford University Press, 2011). He is the nation’s leading scholarly expert on anti-Mormonism. I spoke with him this morning about the controversy surrounding Mormonism at last weekend’s Values Voter Summit.

Why the Poor are Just Plain Lazy: Newt Gingrich and the Calvinist Roots of the American Work Ethic

Why the Poor are Just Plain Lazy: Newt Gingrich and the Calvinist Roots of the American Work Ethic

By James Dennis LoRusso, Emory University…..
Undoubtedly, most people in this country understand hard work to be a virtue, but in Newt’s statement resides a subtle assumption: Being poor is a sign of moral failure on the part of the individual and the poor community. The mass appeal of this belief, that poverty itself is a sign of moral deficiency, results from the particular way the so-called “Protestant work ethic” is situated in American culture. The root of this ethic comes out of the strict Calvinist tendencies of colonial New England. The Dissenting Puritans that settled Massachusetts in the seventeenth century held a view that hard work signified virtue. Earlier thinkers of the Reformation like Martin Luther and John Calvin turned Catholic notions of work as penance for sin on their head and painted every individual’s “vocation” or “calling” as a contribution to God’s creation.

Occupy Wall Street: Between “Church” and “Sect”

Occupy Wall Street: Between “Church” and “Sect”

By Ben Brazil, Religion Bulletin….
A month ago, when the Occupy movement was beginning to gain traction, Matt Stoller penned an influential response to criticism about the movement’s lack of a clear, concise message. The critics, he wrote, had failed to notice the religious nature of what was going on in Zuccotti Park. He explained: “What these people are doing is building, for lack of a better word, a church of dissent. It’s not a march, though marches are spinning off of the campground. It’s not even a protest, really. It is a group of people, gathered together, to create a public space seeking meaning in their culture. They are asserting, together, to each other and to themselves, ‘we matter’.” The idea of a “church of dissent” did not only interest me – it positively attracted me.

RICK PERRY: THE REPUBLICAN JUDAS?

RICK PERRY: THE REPUBLICAN JUDAS?

By Louis A. Ruprecht Jr., Georgia State University….
In an essay I recently published at “Religion Dispatches,” I used Gary Laderman’s fascinating concept of “Republicanicity” as the launch-pad for the suggestion that what separates developments in the Republican Party from anything happening among the Democrats is simply this: the Republican Party is undergoing a battle to define its orthodoxy, a battle that has no direct parallel to arguments and power-struggles taking place on the political left. In short, a plurality of voices, sharing little more than a name in common, is currently in the process of sorting out a platform to which all bearers of the name might reasonably agree.

IS WHO A CHRISTIAN?

IS WHO A CHRISTIAN?

By Louis A. Ruprecht Jr., Georgia State University….
I suppose it was inevitable that the evangelical push-back within the Republican Party would eventually make Mormonism an issue, no matter how hard the Republican establishment tries to make it go away. And now it’s come at last–an entire week of Republican presidential hopefuls being asked point-blank if they think a Mormon (read: Mitt Romney) is a Christian. Only the fierce insistence that last night’s debate be limited to economic questions kept this pot from boiling over again (though Jon Huntsman couldn’t resist one quick snipe at Rick Perry, who appeared befuddled all night anyway, and Michelle Bachman couldn’t resist the suggestion that Herman Cain’s 9-9-9 plan, if turned upside down, becomes the number of the Beast).

Religion Lately: Scientology’s Super-Power Building, Celebrity Vampires Outed, Obama as Anti-Christ (again), and American “Moneytheism”

Religion Lately: Scientology’s Super-Power Building, Celebrity Vampires Outed, Obama as Anti-Christ (again), and American “Moneytheism”

By Kenny Smith….
The Church of Scientology’s ($90 million) Super Power Building, which some describe as “a bizarre cross between a Mediterranean-style hotel and the Starship Enterprise,” offers some “889 rooms, an indoor running track and NASA-style training equipment,” where devotees will master super-human abilities, opens later this year. While it’s unclear how Vampire Churches (yes, they exist) will react, apparently both John Travolta and Nicholas Cage are vampires dating back at least to the Civil War, and photographs (now for sale on EBay for some $50,000, though with free gift wrapping and shipping) prove it!

Religion Lately: Mabon Celebrations, More Teavangelicals, Ugly Atheists, and the Machine Gun Preacher

Religion Lately: Mabon Celebrations, More Teavangelicals, Ugly Atheists, and the Machine Gun Preacher

By Kenny Smith and Heather Abraham…..
Wiccans and Neo-Pagans of all sorts celebrate Mabon this September 23 (or there about), a celebration of the fall harvest and the Autumn Equinox, a day in which the hours of day and night are perfectly balanced, and just one day after the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins! Looking for a primer on Wiccan/Pagan holidays? Rob Bell, the controversial Christian minister whose book, Love Wins, published earlier this year questions some basic conservative ideas, for instance, that heaven is not a Christians-only club, strikes out on his own. Elsewhere in Christendom, one Southern Baptist leader argues that state executions are “pro-life.”

More Americans Tailoring Religion to Fit Their Needs

More Americans Tailoring Religion to Fit Their Needs

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY…..
If World War II-era warbler Kate Smith sang today, her anthem could be GodsBless America. That’s one of the key findings in newly released research that reveals America’s drift from clearly defined religious denominations to faiths cut to fit personal preferences. The folks who make up God as they go are side-by-side with self-proclaimed believers who claim the Christian label but shed their ties to traditional beliefs and practices. Religion statistics expert George Barna says, with a wry hint of exaggeration, America is headed for “310 million people with 310 million religions.”

9/11: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

9/11: Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

By Diana Butler Bass, A Great Awakening
For weeks now, news programs, radio commentators, and blogs have encouraged people to share their memories about 9/11. Some of it has been very moving, some trite, and no small amount divisive. But all of it has reminded me of one thing: words often fail to express what is beyond emotional comprehension. As poet Ardrienne Rich writes, “Tonight I think/no poetry/will serve.” More than anything, on this anniversary, I wish to be silent. A few may protest saying that it is important to remember the events of a decade ago. That is true. A people must know their past. But who alive has forgotten?

“Who Was Muhammad, Was He Violent?”: Teaching Islam Ten Years after 9/11

“Who Was Muhammad, Was He Violent?”: Teaching Islam Ten Years after 9/11

By Abbas Barzegar, Religion Dispatches…..
As millions of college students around the country begin the start of another school year most will encounter events, programming, and curriculum built around the tenth year anniversary of 9/11. Content will include paying honored respects to the victims and their families as well as interpreting the impact of the attacks on our nation’s history and identity. The events ten years ago will remain the defining moment of my generation and understanding how those events continue to shape the social and political landscape of our nation will be the responsibility of educators, politicians, and citizens alike. As a professor of Islamic studies I will entertain a related (even if unwarranted) set of issues in the classroom because, whether we like it or not, Islam has become an indelible part of the culture and consciousness of 9/11. Ironically, the questions I regularly encounter have not actually changed much over the last ten years: Who was Muhammad, was he violent? What is Jihad? Why the scarves?