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Lex Bayer and John Figdor, authors of “Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart,” have written ten “non-commandments” for nonbelievers. Religion News Service photo by Kimberly Winston

10 Commandments for atheists: a guide for nonbelievers who want to explore their values

Kimberly Winston Nov 20, 2014

An atheist, a humanist and an agnostic walk into a restaurant.

The hostess says, “Table for one?”

An old joke, yes, but its essence lies at the heart of “Atheist Mind, Humanist Heart: Rewriting the Ten Commandments for the Twenty-First Century,” a new book by Lex Bayer and John Figdor.

Bayer, 36, is a Stanford grad and longtime humanist, and Figdor, 30, is the new humanist chaplain at Stanford University. The two met when Bayer, a venture capitalist and engineer, wrote a news story about Figdor’s arrival at Stanford. The two soon discovered they liked hashing out difficult ideas about the way people live.

A Swiss Guard salutes as Pope Francis and cardinals leave a meeting in the synod hall at the Vatican on Thursday (Feb. 20). The pope asked the world's cardinals and those about to be made cardinals to meet at the Vatican Feb. 20-21 to discuss the church's pastoral approach to the family. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service.

Philadelphia gets ready to host Pope Francis following official papal announcement

Mary Beth McCauley Nov 19, 2014

“The pope is coming to Philadelphia,” Mayor Michael Nutter announced at a news conference Monday (Nov. 17), after the Vatican officially confirmed what has been rumored for months — that Pope Francis will visit the city in September 2015 for the eighth World Meeting of Families.

Nutter said the visit here was part of what is anticipated to be a three-city trip to the U.S. The pope is expected to visit New York City and Washington, D.C. He has been invited to address both the U.N. and the U.S. Congress, though official acceptance of those invitations has not yet been made, said Bishop John J. McIntyre, auxiliary bishop of Philadelphia, who represented Archbishop Charles J. Chaput, who was in Rome.

Donna Crilley Farrell, executive director of the global Catholic conference on family life, said the pope’s final schedule is still being worked out, but the pontiff will be present at a Sept. 26 Festival of Families — a three-hour program of song, dance, prayer, and testimony, which will take place at the steps of the iconic Philadelphia Museum of Art. The next day, Sunday (Sept. 27), the pope will celebrate Mass in the same place.

Richard Dawkins addressing the World Humanist Congress on Aug. 11, 2014, in Oxford, England. RNS photo by Brian Pellot

Richard Dawkins stands by remarks on sexism, pedophilia, Down syndrome

Kimberly Winston Nov 18, 2014

As the world’s most famous atheist, Richard Dawkins is no stranger to criticism from religious believers.

But in recent months, a few of his opinions have riled many in the atheist community as well. Remarks he made on Twitter and elsewhere on subjects ranging from sexual harassment (“stop whining”) to Down syndrome fetuses (“abort and try again”) have sparked suggestions from some fellow nonbelievers that he would serve atheism better by keeping quiet.

When Religion News Service reported on his controversial July tweets on pedophilia — Dawkins opined that some attacks on children are “worse” than others — the 73-year-old British evolutionary biologist and best-selling New York Times author declined to be interviewed.

An illustration from page 7 of Mjallhvít (Snow White) an 1852 icelandic translation of the Grimm-version fairytale. Photo courtesy of Project Gutenberg (Public Domain) via Wikimedia

The uncensored Grimm fairy tales are even more grim than you thought

Maria Puente Nov 17, 2014

Grimm Brothers fairy tales, in their original telling, were actually pretty … um, grim. Now a new translation, hailed as a blow against censorship, is proving it anew.

In yet another example of Western culture turning out to be darker and more horrifying than we knew, Princeton University Press has just published a new English translation of the original 165 stories collected by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, which was first published in German in 1812.

Gruesome does not begin to describe many of the stories in “The Original Folk and Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm: The Complete First Edition” ($35), according to The Guardian, which interviewed the translator/author, Jack Zipes, professor emeritus of German and comparative literature at the University of Minnesota.

The Bible.

Amy-Jill Levine on Jewish Understandings of the New Testament

Steve Swope Nov 13, 2014

The Gospel stories about Jesus of Nazareth, found in the Christian New Testament, include numerous references to Jews and Judaism, and many Christians assume this is historically accurate information, and that they “know” about what Jews did and believed 2000 years ago.

I went to an educational event in Chicago last week, sponsored by The Christian Century. The speaker was Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University Divinity School, who explained how many Christian assumptions about Jews and Judaism are false and based on misconceptions and outright ignorance.

The relationship of Christianity and Judaism has been marked by significant misunderstanding, often leading to oppression and violence. Jews have been stigmatized throughout history, based on traditional interpretations of events in the Christian Gospels.

Parishioners hold hands while praying the ?Our Father" during Catholic mass at St. Therese Little Flower parish in Kansas City, Mo., on Sunday, May 20, 2012.

On Evangelizing: Sharing is Caring

Nathan Edwards Nov 11, 2014

We have all been there. A perfect opportunity presents itself for you to tell someone about your faith, but, you do not know how to even start the conversation. Fear not, because talking to people about the faith that you so love is a lot easier than you have experienced. It is always good to keep in mind the basics and to have a few unique thoughts, scripture verses, or quotes from memorable sermons that you have discovered throughout your life.

A lot of the times when we enter into a discussion with a new or old friend, we find ourselves trying to convince them that our way is right. This is not the right way to go about it. Start off by telling this person what Christ means to you. Tell him/her that Jesus, the only Son of G-d sacrificed himself for you and your friend’s sins. Now, if you treat this like a small fact, the other person will think of it as a small fact as well. Keep in mind that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the crux of our faith. It is the reason that you and the person that you are talking to have their sins forgiven. Also, with all other points that you decide to bring up, you should be able to tie them back to the love of Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection.

Field notes from a religious tour of Myanmar

Lakshna Mehta Nov 10, 2014

A stone’s throw from a Catholic church lies a Krishna temple. Not too far away, a small mosque doubles as a madrasa, an Islamic school. Fifteen minutes away, a nunnery provides schooling and food for a monastery just down the road.

Approximately half an hour from downtown Yangon, we spent five hours visiting these five locations, seeing what other tourists may not see.

In March 2014, the Missouri School of Journalism took a group of seven students to Yangon to cover a conference organized by the East-West Center for journalists. Each attendee of the conference could register a field trip of their choice, to be held on the last day of the conference. The options included visiting an orphanage, taking a tour of a cottage industry and visiting sites of worship of the different religious groups in the city.

In a predominantly Buddhist country, I was curious to see the representation of the other religions in the largest city of Myanmar.

Our first stop, St. John’s Church, is a Catholic church first set up by missionaries over a 100 years ago. Although the number of parishioners are approximately 2,000, according to our tour guide, regular attendees are less than 20 per week.

The church, with simple decorations, wooden pews and copies of the Bible strewn over some pews, appeared like any other church. But for our tour guide, it was where she got married to her Burmese husband. It is also where she got him and his family baptized.

Christ Fellowship in McKinney, Texas, offers worshippers a Facebook page, online sermons, live chats and QR codes. Photo courtesy of Christ Fellowship

Online, offline faith go hand in hand

Cathy Lynn Grossman Nov 6, 2014

God bless online media. Almost half of U.S. adults (46 percent) say they saw someone sharing “something about their faith” on the Internet in the last week.

And one in five (20 percent) say they were part of the Internet spiritual action on social networking sites and apps — sharing their beliefs on Facebook, asking for prayer on Twitter, mentioning in a post that they went to church.

“The sheer number of people who have seen faith discussed online is pretty striking,” said Greg Smith, associate director of religion research for Pew Research Center.

Megachurch pastors have mega-followings online. Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church streams his Houston services online. Rick Warren of Saddleback Church has 1.8 million likes on his Facebook page. And Pope Francis has more than 4.6 million English-language followers, chiefly American, for his @Pontifex Twitter feed.

Not only do religious people find faith online; so do 50 percent of the “nones” — people who claim no denominational identity, from atheists to the vaguely spiritual. And 7 percent of nones say they have posted online comments. David Silverman of American Atheists, tweeting @MrAtheistPants, has more than 29,000 followers.