- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 12, 2008

No ‘Reformation’?

“Mehmet Aydin, who first conceived the Hadith project four years ago, when he was Turkey’s minister of state for religious affairs … [cites] one Hadith, for instance, [that] forbids women from traveling alone. In Saudi Arabia, this and other sayings are given as a reason women should not be allowed to drive.

“‘This is clearly not a religious injunction, but related to security in a specific time and place,’ says [theology professor Mehmet] Gormez. In fact, the Prophet says elsewhere that he misses those days, evidently in his recent memory, when women could travel alone from Yemen to Mecca. …

“The Turkish project … has the quiet backing of the ruling AK Party, the world’s most successful, democratically elected party with Islamist roots. The professors involved are quick to deny that their work represents some sort of Islamic Reformation - there is no Martin Luther among them, no theses are being nailed to a door. They call what they’re doing a ‘rethinking’ or a ‘re-understanding’ of the sacred texts.”

-Christopher Dickey and Owen Matthews, writing on “The New Face of Islam,” in the June 9 issue of Newsweek.

Theodicy unbound

“Here’s something I’d like to see: A history of popular theodicy, tracing the influence of the ‘argument from the existence of evil’ against belief in God (or the Christian God, at least) throughout the course of Western history.

“It’s my impression that this argument has gained increasing currency even as our material conditions have dramatically improved; which is to say, the less suffering a particular population experiences, the more likely the suffering it does experience will be cited as evidence against the existence of a benevolent deity. (Or put another way, you’re more likely to hear New Yorker writers wax indignant about how the existence of human misery precludes their believing in God than you are to hear the same argument from people in slightly less-comfortable positions.)

“It could have something to do with mass media and instantaneous communication, which expand (and emphasize, since if it bleeds it leads) the range of tragedies that educated people are exposed to on a daily basis … .The experience of two world wars and the Holocaust has been a crucial factor in Europe’s abandonment of God. ”

-Ross Douthat, writing on “A History of Theodicy,” on June 5 at his blog at the Atlantic site

Baptisms dropping

Baptisms in the Southern Baptist Convention have fallen to a 20-year low, a trend that is setting off alarm bells in America’s largest evangelical denomination.

The number of people baptized in Southern Baptist churches and ceremonies, an important indicator of conversions and denominational growth, fell in 2007 for the third year in a row by 5 percent to 345,941.

That was the lowest number since 1987, a trend on the minds of many of the 7,000 delegates known as “messengers” attending the SBC’s annual meeting in Indianapolis.

The trend of falling baptisms also has broader cultural and political implications as the 16-million member SBC is a big part of the Republican Party’s conservative Christian base.

Twenty-five percent of U.S. adults now count themselves as “born-again” or evangelical Christians, making the movement one of the fastest growing and most influential in America. A slowdown in its growth could have a ripple effect on politics and other areas of American life.

-Ed Stoddard in “Southern Baptists Worried About Decline in Baptisms,” posted Wednesday on Reuters.

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