PLEASE VISIT www.CenterforPluralism.com for all information


Monday, March 12, 2007

Americans Fail in religion

Americans get an 'F' in religion

It is just not the Americans, it is the case with every nation; you go to Pakistan and ask an average Ali or an average Ram in India, or perhaps an Irish, Brazilian or Chinese, the answer would be same; ignorance.

We may have friends from different belief sets, but yet, some of us do not know much about the friend’s faith or their celebrations.

This ignorance is compounded further by the "hearsay" a few seem to have gained, based on which, they become experts in propagating hate towards others. There are extremists in every group, with no exception and perhaps the same percentage.

In the simplest words, religion is a system that helps an individual gain his or her own balance in life, repenting for bad and expressing gratitude for the good one receives brings that elusive sense of balance to the individual. If we aggregate each one’s efforts we have an orderly society.

Religion is abused as much as our civil laws. Any city library will have manuals on public safety, crime, traffic rules or business conduct. If every one follows the rules, we should have zero crime rates, right? Does that happen? Does any one follow the religion as prescribed? Let’s not blame religion for the ills of society. Let’s appreciate the goodness it has done to the mankind. If you think Religion is the source of conflict, I urge you to seriously think about the cause of every conflict, it is always an individual King, a politically motivated religious head, a dictator, or the heads of governments with malicious agendas or group of insecure men who just like to be destructive. It is never the religion.

There is beauty and wisdom in every faith. As a society, we have to learn about each other. Shame on us, we seem to thrill to find out about the bad things about others, for God’s sake, let’s take the time to learn Good things about others. There is plenty good out there, if we focus on it, it can overrun the evil.

The Foundation for Pluralism has launched a series of educational programs, one of them is Understanding Religion, where we learn the beauty and wisdom of each faith.

“Festivals of the month” is another item you can find on the website, if you genuinely want to stoke goodness, you have an opportunity every day. Look up the festival and wish the appropriate greetings to the followers of that festival.

The world would become a better place, if we share the joy and sorrows of other beings without any barrier, at least the ones in your neighborhood or in your city. Invite the people you barely know to your birthdays, anniversaries, or simply have them join you for dinner and see the difference you can make. The hate will subside gradually when you are loaded with goodness. Nirvana, Mukti, Moksha, peace, shanti, sukoon, salvation and freedom is willing to be yours.

I am looking for Religious websites, which teach positive things, and love towards other beings, and hate towards none. If you have one, let me know, we will link it to the Foundation for Pluralism. There is no need to hate any one.

Please join us on Saturday, March 25th to learn about the wisdom of Jainism. Information is at http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/

Mike Ghouse

American get an "F" in religion

By Cathy Lynn Grossman, USA TODAY Sometimes dumb sounds cute: Sixty percent of Americans can't name five of the Ten Commandments, and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.

Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University , isn't laughing. Americans' deep ignorance of world religions — their own, their neighbors' or the combatants in Iraq , Darfur or Kashmir — is dangerous, he says.

His new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — and Doesn't, argues that everyone needs to grasp Bible basics, as well as the core beliefs, stories, symbols and heroes of other faiths.

Belief is not his business, says Prothero, who grew up Episcopalian and now says he's a spiritually "confused Christian." He says his argument is for empowered citizenship.
"More and more of our national and international questions are religiously inflected," he says, citing President Bush's speeches laden with biblical references and the furor when the first Muslim member of Congress chose to be sworn in with his right hand on Thomas Jefferson's Quran. "If you think Sunni and Shia are the same because they're both Muslim, and you've been told Islam is about peace, you won't understand what's happening in Iraq . If you get into an argument about gay rights or capital punishment and someone claims to quote the Bible or the Quran, do you know it's so?

"If you want to be involved, you need to know what they're saying. We're doomed if we don't understand what motivates the beliefs and behaviors of the rest of the world. We can't outsource this to demagogues, pundits and preachers with a political agenda." Scholars and theologians who agree with him say Americans' woeful level of religious illiteracy damages more than democracy.

"You're going to make assumptions about people out of ignorance, and they're going to make assumptions about you," says Philip Goff of the Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture at Indiana University in Indianapolis .

Goff cites a widely circulated claim on the Internet that the Quran foretold American intervention in the Middle East, based on a supposed passage "that simply isn't there. It's an entire argument for war based on religious ignorance."

"We're impoverished by ignorance," says the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, former general secretary of the National Council of Churches. "You can't draw on the resources of faith if you only have an emotional understanding, not a sense of the texts and teachings." But if people don't know Sodom and Gomorrah were two cities destroyed for their sinful ways, Campbell blames Sunday schools that "trivialized religious education. If we want people to have serious knowledge, we have to get serious about teaching our own faith."

Prothero's solution is to require middle-schoolers to take a course in world religions and high schoolers to take one on the Bible. Biblical knowledge also should be melded into history and literature courses where relevant. He wants all college undergrads to take at least one course in religious studies.

He calls for time-pressed adults to sample holy books and history texts. His book includes a 90-page dictionary of key words and concepts from Abraham to Zen. There's also a 15-question quiz — which his students fail every year.

But it's the controversial, though constitutional, push into schools that draws the most attention. In theory, everyone favors children knowing more. The National Education Association handbook says religious instruction "in doctrines and practices belongs at home or religious institutions," while schools should teach world religions' history, heritage, diversity and influence.

Only 8% of public high schools offer an elective Bible course, according to a study in 2005 by the Bible Literacy Project, which promotes academic Bible study in public schools. The project is supported by Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center , a Washington , D.C. , non-profit that promotes free speech.

The study surveyed 1,000 high schoolers and found that just 36% know Ramadan is the Islamic holy month; 17% said it was the Jewish day of atonement.

Goff says schools are not wholly to blame for religious illiteracy. "There are simply more groups, more players. Students didn't know Ramadan any better in 1965, but now there are as many Muslims as Jews in America . It's more important to know who's who." Also today, "there is more emphasis on religious experience as a mark of true religion and less emphasis on doctrine and knowledge of the faith."

Still, it's the widely misunderstood 1963 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that may have been the tipping point: It removed devotional Bible reading from the schools but spelled out that it should not have been removed from literature and history.

"The decision clearly states you can't be educated without it, but it scared schools so much they dropped it all," Goff says. "Schools are terrified of this," says Joy Hakim, author of several U.S. history textbooks. She's in her 70s but remembers well as a Jewish child how she felt like an outsider in schools that pushed Christianity in the curriculum.

But she says the backlash went too far. "Now, you can't use biblical characters or narrative in anything. We've stopped teaching stories. We teach facts, and the characters are lost." Religion, like the arts, has become an afterthought in an education climate driven by "the fixation on literacy and numeracy — math and reading," says Bob Schaeffer of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a group critical of the standards-based education movement. "If the ways schools, teachers, principals and superintendents are judged all depend on math and reading scores, that's what you're going to teach," he says.

Still, it's a tough tightrope to walk between those who say the Bible can be just another book, albeit a valuable one, and those who say it is inherently devotional.

The First Amendment Center also published a guide to "The Bible and the Public Schools," which praised a ninth-grade world religions course in Modesto , Calif. , and cited a study finding students were able to learn about other faiths without altering their own beliefs. But it also said the class may not be easily replicated and required knowledgeable, unbiased teachers.

Leland Ryken, an English professor at evangelical Wheaton College in Wheaton , Ill. , tested a 2006 textbook, The Bible and Its Influence, underwritten by the Bible Literacy Project. Ryken favors adding classes in the Bible and literature and social studies. But he cautions, "Religious literacy and world religions are not the same as the Bible as literature. It's a much more loaded subject, and I really question if high school students can get much knowledge beyond a sense of the importance of religion."

The Bible and Its Influence has been blasted by conservative Christians such as the Rev. John Hagee, pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio . Hagee calls it "a masterful work of deception, distortion and outright falsehoods" planting "concepts in the minds of children which are contrary to biblical teaching."

Hagee wrote to the Alabama legislature opposing adoption of the text, citing points such as discussion questions that could lead children away from a belief in God. Example: Asking students to ponder if Adam and Eve got "a fair deal as described in Genesis" would plant the seed that "since God is the author of the deal, God is unfair."

Hagee prefers the Bible itself as a textbook for Bible classes, used with a curriculum created by a group of conservative evangelicals, the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, based in Greensboro , N.C. The council says its curriculum is being offered in more than 300 schools.

Sheila Weber, a spokeswoman for The Bible Literacy project, says their textbook has been revised in the second printing issued last month with the examples cited by Hagee removed. The teachers' edition was reissued in August. The first printing was approved by numerous Christian scholars and seminaries and is already in use in 82 school districts.

Mark Chancey, professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University in Dallas , looked last year at how Texas public school districts taught Bible classes. His two studies, sponsored by the Texas Freedom Network, a civil liberties group, found only 25 of more than 1,000 districts offered such a class.

"And 22 of them, including several using the Greensboro group's curriculum, were clearly over the line," teaching Christianity as the norm, and the Bible as inspired by God, says Chancey. One teacher even showed students a proselytizing Power Point titled, "God's road map for your life" that was clearly unconstitutional, he says.

The controversies, costs and competing demands in the schools have prompted many to turn instead to character education. But classes promoting pluralism and tolerance fail on the religious literacy front because they "reduce religion to morality," Prothero says, or they promote a call for universal compassion as if it were the only value that matters.

"We are not all on the same one path to the same one God," he says. "Religions aren't all saying the same thing. That's presumptuous and wrong. They start with different problems, solve the problems in different ways, and they have different goals."

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Faith :: The Lost Tomb

Muslims, Christians and The Lost Tomb
By Mike Ghouse Thursday, March 1, 2007

Every one is eagerly waiting for this Sunday, March 4th to witness or not to witness the documentary Lost Tomb.

There have been severe criticisms of James Cameron the producer and questions abound about the faith itself. Mark Davis writes in Dallas Morning News “This proud director has now joined the ranks of bottom-feeding junk pushers” and adds “Too tempting to make the logical leaps.”

One question that concerns me is the depth of the faith, rather paucity of the faith of the believers. One’s faith must be really weak to be frightened by a movie, and I often wonder, how will it offend the faith of millions?

It is not just Christians, Muslims will be offended too. That is nearly 3.4 billion people of the world comprising 2.1 Billion Christians and 1.3 billion Muslims.

Muslims believe that Jesus was taken up by God and he will return to the earth as the promised Messiah.

The Qur’aan: An-Nisaa 4: 157-158 : That they said (in boast), "We killed Christ Jesus the son of Mary, the Messenger of Allah";- but they killed him not, nor crucified him, but so it was made to appear to them, and those who differ therein are full of doubts, with no (certain) knowledge, but only conjecture to follow, for of a surety they killed him not:- Nay, Allah raised him up unto Himself; and Allah is Exalted in Power, Wise;-

Hasn’t the faith been tested for over and over again in the last 2000 years? The Da Vinci Code and many anti-christ have come and gone, but the faith of the people remains strong. Faith is the strongest belief one develops. Like they say beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, I would add, faith is in the heart of the believer. Nothing will shake it, if it does, then it is not faith any more.

Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio, discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He has appeared on the local affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, PBS and FOX and has been written up in the news papers. He founded the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme " good for Muslims and good for the world." The organization is driven by Qur'aan, Al-Hujurat, Surah 49:13: O mankind! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes that ye may know one another. The noblest of you, in sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Allah Knows and is Aware. Mike believes that if people can learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness of each one of the 7 billion of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. His articles can be found at www.FoundationforPluralism.com , www.MikeGhouse.net and http://mikeghouse.blogspot.com/ and he can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com

Mark Davis: James Cameron has no business messing with faith

'Lost Tomb' producer joins bottom-feeders as he spits on religion and science 06:28 AM CST on Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Archaeologists need to make a deal with filmmaker James Cameron. "You keep making blockbusters like Titanic and Terminator," they should tell him, "and leave the artifact analysis to us." That would honor the arenas of both science and faith, the two concepts savaged by Mr. Cameron's latest attempt at profit.
I have thoroughly enjoyed his past attempts at profit, and some of his money came from me. From the two giant movies mentioned above to the first Alien sequel to one of my all-time favorites, The Abyss , Mr. Cameron's name has usually been a guarantee of onscreen excellence. Not any more.

This proud director has now joined the ranks of bottom-feeding junk pushers. The occasion is his Discovery Channel documentary, The Lost Tomb of Jesus, set to air on that otherwise admirable network at 8 p.m. Sunday.

Barring a last-minute burst of good judgment, this detestable program will be consumed by an audience of some size, spurred by the desire to see if the man who showed us Leonardo DiCaprio proclaiming "I'm king of the world!" has now found the remains of the King of the Jews.

I'm sorry, do I sound skeptical? Then I have aimed too timidly. My goal is to sound colossally repulsed, for there is something in Mr. Cameron's low exploit to offend nearly everyone.

It will offend the faith of millions who have about had it with pop culture hacks casting doubt on millennia of Christian beliefs. This unenlightened orgy hit a peak with the recent bug-eyed devotion to Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, an amateurish book turned into a medium-quality Ron Howard movie of the same name. Mr. Brown wanted it both ways. He wanted to be treated with the respect afforded a genuine theologian, yet he could always shrug when the questions got too tough, falling back on the safety net of a work of fiction. At least Mr. Howard never delivered pseudo-authentic lectures on Bible history; he just wanted to make a profitable Tom Hanks movie.

That he did, and its audience, combined with the millions who read the book, now contains countless people who believe that Jesus got married and had a daughter.

The scolding I wish to deliver brings with it a responsibility to a stratospheric level of objectivity. That said, I'll assert flat out that Jesus may well have been a family man. My faith tells me otherwise, but faith is belief based on factors other than empirical evidence.

But willingness to doubt is one thing. Willingness to make things up is another. Not satisfied to spit on religion, Mr. Cameron also zestfully offends the standards of science. My gripe with the cult of faux studiousness that comprised The Da Vinci Code zealots was that they felt as though they were immersed in substantive, carefully vetted historical analysis rather than clumsy conspiracy ramblings based on the flimsiest of premises. Mr. Cameron's Lost Tomb is an even emptier exercise. His assertion is that skeletal remains found in a Jerusalem suburb in 1980 simply must be the remains of Jesus' nuclear family: wife Mary Magdalene, son Judah – hey, the Virgin Mary herself might have been the contents of one of the chests unveiled with a flourish at a news conference to hawk the documentary.

"I think we have a very compelling case," says Mr. Cameron. Perhaps he will forgive Amos Kloner, the archaeologist who first found the remains, who disagrees completely, citing that Jesus' family roots lie elsewhere and that the names found on the sides of the vessels are all fairly common, including "Jesus," found 71 times over the years.

But it's just too tempting. Too tempting to make the logical leaps. Too tempting to taunt the faithful with "evidence" that their Bible – and the resurrection that is the basis for all of Christianity – are flawed tales. Too tempting to make money from such reckless journeys in fake scholarship.

To question and speculate about the underpinnings of faith is a fair intellectual exercise. But to make wild and hurtful assertions from such a paper-thin platform reveals audacity that is hard to forgive. Mark Davis is heard weekdays on News/Talk WBAP-AM (820) and nationwide on the ABC Radio Network. WBAP airtime is 9 a.m. to noon. His e-mail address is mdavis@wbap.com.AOL now offers free email to everyone. Find out more about what's free from AOL at AOL.com.