By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - This country is changing rapidly, and at the very time modern medicine puts life-or-death decisions in our hands, organized religion has faded from the lives of many Americans.
As the surgeon and writer Atul Gawande noted in The New York Times recently, our medical system, powerful as it may be, is ill-equipped to step into the breach and answer crucial questions such as, "What is a good death?"
Perhaps that's why Brittany Maynard's death on November 1 stirred such remarkably personal debates. All at once, it seemed, we were confronting the question together: Given a choice, how would we wish to die?
By Moni Basu, CNN
New Orleans, Louisiana (CNN) – Sister Helen Prejean blasts the air-conditioner in her champagne-colored Toyota Corolla, the back bumper held up with duct tape. It's clear why friends insist on driving when they are with her. She could rival NASCAR's Danica Patrick on the gas pedal. Age - she turned 75 this year - hasn't slowed her down.
She was weaving all over Interstate 10 when police stopped her one time. Turned out she was reading while driving. The officer let her go when he discovered who she was: "I'll go straight to hell if I ticket a nun," he said.
He made her promise she would never do that again. So now she depends on iPhone's Siri for driving directions and making phone calls. She also likes to play Plants vs. Zombies (not while in motion, of course) even though the violent nature of the game goes against her Christian principles.
"It's OK," she says. "The zombies are already dead."
On this day in late July, Prejean is nearing Louisiana State Penitentiary, otherwise known as Angola, for the post office that serves it. She's been here so many times the warden no longer subjects her to the protocol for visitors.
Opinion by Craig Detweiler, Special to CNN
(CNN) – It is understandable why Breanna Mitchell’s sunny tweet from Auschwitz as “PrincessBMM” would spark a viral outcry.
A tour of a concentration camp, where so many Jews lost their lives, may move us to take photos or post responses – but few would include smiles, or selfies.
But Mitchell is not the first teenager to generate Internet outrage by her response to the Holocaust.
When Justin Bieber visited the Anne Frank House last year, he wrote in the museum guest book, “Truly inspiring to be able to come here. Anne was a great girl. Hopefully, she would have been a Belieber.”
While many have ripped into Mitchell and Bieber for their insensitivity, I don’t think they intended to be disrespectful to the dead.
Thanks to the ubiquity of mobile devices (mobiquity!), adolescent mistakes and hard lessons that used to be learned in private can quickly devolve into public drubbings.
This is what happens when new technologies clash with ancient understandings of the sacred. The problem is so pervasive that a Tumblr site, “Selfies at Serious Places” is dedicated to such faux pas.
We have very few spaces that our culture considers sacred, where an association with the divine results in a feeling of awe or reverence. Death may seem especially abstract to young people who haven’t been shown how to grieve, mourn or respect the dead.
So how might we help the emerging generation to develop a digital decorum that accounts for sacred spaces? Can we incorporate electronic ethics into religious instruction?
By Candida Moss, special to CNN
(CNN) - Archaeologists in Egypt have unearthed relics from an apocalyptic plague that some Christians believed heralded the end of the world – an idea that likely helped spread the faith centuries ago.
A team from the Italian Archaeological Mission to Luxor unearthed the remains in a funerary complex in the ancient city of Thebes. (The city is now known as Luxor.)
As archaeologists excavated the site earlier this month, they found remnants of bodies covered in a thick layer of lime. The lime was significant, as it was used in the ancient world as a form of disinfectant to prevent contamination.
Nearby, there was evidence of an enormous bonfire, used to incinerate the remains of plague victims, and three kilns used for lime production.
Pottery located in the kilns enabled the scientists to date the discovery to the middle of the third century, the time of a gruesome epidemic known as the “plague of Cyprian.”
Opinion by Abed Awad, special to CNN
(CNN) – Last month, a Sudanese court imposed a death sentence on Meriam Yehya Ibrahim, a 27-year-old pregnant mother, because she refused to renounce her Christian faith.
Ibrahim says she was raised Christian by her mother after her Muslim father abandoned them when she was 6 years old.
But this week, a man claiming to be Ibrahim’s brother said that she was raised a Muslim and that if she does not return to the faith, she should be killed.
Both the Sudanese court and the man who claims to be Ibrahim’s brother say the Islamic faith is clear: Apostasy, renouncing the religion, is a capital crime.
But is it really?
The idea of apostasy as a crime within Islam begins with the Quran and the Sunna, the faith’s foundational texts.
Watch Laura Sobiech talk about faith, family and life after her son's death with CNN's Bill Weir at 9 p.m. ET on Friday.
Opinion by Laura Sobiech, special to CNN
(CNN) - The nurse told us the doctor wanted to speak with us immediately.
The phone rang and my husband picked it up. I pressed my ear against the handle, trying to hear as Rob listened.
“… tumor … it’s bad … hard year ahead,” was all I could hear the doctor say.
It was enough to know life had changed forever.
Zach, my 14-year-old son watched intently from where he sat across the room; he knew something was up.
“What do I tell him?” I wondered as I walked to him, my legs going weak as my mind processed the news.
I wanted so badly to protect him, but I couldn’t protect him from his own body. He needed the truth.
I sat in the chair next to him and said, “You have a tumor.”
Zach held my gaze for a moment then turned his head and closed his eyes as he processed the news.
My heart was breaking. In that moment he looked so small and vulnerable - not like the tall, confident teenager who ran down a basketball court with ease, but like the little boy who once cried through stitches the doctor’s office.
That little boy had quieted his crying, pinched his eyes shut and turned away from me when he realized I couldn’t save him.
Opinion by R. Albert Mohler Jr., Special to CNN
(CNN) - The death penalty has been part of human society for millennia, understood to be the ultimate punishment for the most serious crimes.
But, should Christians support the death penalty now, especially in light of the controversial execution Tuesday in Oklahoma?
This is not an easy yes or no question.
On the one hand, the Bible clearly calls for capital punishment in the case of intentional murder.
In Genesis 9:6, God told Noah that the penalty for intentional murder should be death: “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image.”
The death penalty was explicitly grounded in the fact that God made every individual human being in his own image, and thus an act of intentional murder is an assault upon human dignity and the very image of God.
In the simplest form, the Bible condemns murder and calls for the death of the murderer. The one who intentionally takes life by murder forfeits the right to his own life.
By Tim Townsend, special to CNN
(CNN) - When the killing began in earnest, Steven Gahigi fled his home in the Bugesera district of Rwanda to neighboring Burundi.
By the time he returned the next year, 52 members of his family were dead. Most of them, including his sister, were slaughtered in the first week of the 20th century’s final genocide.
This week, Rwanda began commemorating the 20 years that have passed since the mass murder of Tutsis and moderate Hutus, which continued for 100 days and left at least 800,000 dead.
Gathering in a packed soccer stadium in Kigali, Rwandans re-enacted the horrific events of 1994. President Paul Kagame said his country had “a reason to celebrate the normal moments of life, that are easy for others to take for granted."
When Gahigi returned to Rwanda after the genocide, he had nothing: no family, no home. Eventually, he moved past his anger and entered a Christian seminary.
In 1999, he began visiting Rilima Prison in Bugesera, the new home to thousands of the génocidaires, the men who wielded the machetes. In Rilima he met the band of 15 who killed his sister.
At first, the prisoners thought he had been sent by the government – a spy in a clerical collar – to investigate their crimes. Even when they were satisfied that Gahigi wasn’t a spy, they were skeptical of his motives. Why would this man come to their prison to preach when he knew what they had done?
Opinion by Joel S. Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - Most modern people tend to distinguish between the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the merciful God of the New Testament.
In our age, the merciful God reigns - or so we like to think.
But every so often, stories or books or natural disasters summon visions of a wrathful God, and nowhere is that more in evidence than in the biblical story of the Flood, now brutally depicted in Darren Aronofsky’s new film “Noah.”
With our notion of a God who loves us all individually, especially the little children, we struggle with a deity who would wipe out all of humanity. Surely there were many innocent people, children, who died in the Flood?
But let’s be clear: This is our problem, not the Bible’s.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.