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April 17th, 2014
08:00 AM ET

Did Christians really 'steal' Easter?

Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNN

(CNN) - It’s that time of year again: the time when chocolate comes in pastels, cherry blossoms start to bloom and well-marketed religion exposés are released to the world.

In other words, it’s Easter.

Among the rash of sensationalist stories we can expect through the season, the annual “Easter was stolen from the pagans” refrain has sprouted again just in time for Holy Week.

Don’t believe the hype.

Perhaps most misinformed theory that rolls around the Internet this time of year is that Easter was originally a celebration of the ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess Ishtar.

This idea is grounded in the shared concept of new life and similar-sounding words Easter/Ishtar. There’s no linguistic connection, however. Ishtar is Akkadian and Easter is likely to be Anglo-Saxon.

Just because words in different languages sound the same doesn’t mean they are related. In Swedish, the word “kiss” means urine.

But the biggest issue for Christians is the claim that Jesus’ resurrection - the faith’s central tenet - might have pagan roots.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Easter • Easter • Faith Now • Holidays • Jesus • Opinion • Paganism • Traditions

Heathenism's battle with white supremacists
Odin or Wotan, the chief god in Norse mythology. White supremacists have appropriate some Heathen images and gods.
April 16th, 2014
02:54 PM ET

Heathenism's battle with white supremacists

Opinion by Joshua Rood, special to CNN

(CNN) – The word “heathen” is a very old one that once meant “heath dweller” or a person who lives out in the wild.

Eventually, when Christianity came into Northern Europe, it came to mean “one who still worships the old gods.” It still means that in some parts of the world, like Iceland, where it also goes by the name Ásatrú (“belief in the Aesir”).

Aesir is just a very old word for the traditional gods of Scandinavia. You’ve probably heard of some of these gods: Odin, Thor, Freyr and Freyja.

What you might not know is that many traditions, stories and celebrations have never gone away.

These can be as simple as the Scandinavian belief in vaettir (nature spirits) or as complex as the poems and songs about the Aesi that were written and are still sung and performed in Iceland.

Most of the stories were preserved in Icelandic poems and sagas, written in the 13th and 14th centuries. Others have been preserved in regional folk stories and folk customs.

Today, Ásatrú, which can go by many names, is the largest non-Christian religion in Iceland and is officially recognized in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. Thanks to multiculturalism, it exists in many countries around the world, including the United States, Canada and most European countries.

There are many organizations, private groups and individuals who adhere to Ásatrú. Although terminology, festivals and customs can vary depending on local lore and tradition, at its heart, Ásatrú is a celebration of the gods, stories and customs that have been passed down from Northern Europe into the modern world.

Unfortunately, there are people in this world who try to use these beautiful stories and traditions for selfish and hateful reasons.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Discrimination • Faith Now • Heathenism • Neo-Nazi • Neopaganism • Opinion • Paganism • Prejudice • Religious violence

Total lunar eclipses
April 14th, 2014
12:53 PM ET

Does the Bible predict the 'blood moon'?

Opinion by Kenneth L. Waters Sr., special to CNN

(CNN) - Are the End Times finally at hand? To some Christians, the answer will be as clear as the moon in the sky.

Monday night will host a rare celestial event: a “blood moon,” which occurs when the Earth spins between the sun and the moon.

During this lunar eclipse, the shadow of the Earth catches the refracted sunlight, casting a reddish sheen upon the moon.

Christians who draw a divine connection to the celestial show are citing the Bible's Book of Acts, in which God says:

“And I will show wonders in Heaven above and signs in the Earth beneath, the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord.”

That passage echoes the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Joel, one of Judaism's 12 minor prophets.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Bible • Christianity • Culture & Science • End times • evangelicals • Faith Now • Middle East • Opinion • Passover • Science

Five things you didn't know about Moses
April 14th, 2014
11:44 AM ET

Five things you didn’t know about Moses

By Joel S. Baden, special to CNN

(CNN) – Moses: the main character of the Torah, the paradigmatic law-giver and the star of multiple motion pictures.

As Passover rolls around again and Jews the world over retell the story of Moses’s big moment, it’s worth remembering that there are aspects of Moses that haven’t made it to the big screen or into public consciousness.

For example, here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Hebrew prophet.

1. Moses was probably Egyptian.

The most important piece of evidence for this is his name.

In the Bible, it is explained that his name is derived from the Hebrew word mashah, “to draw,” as in “to draw him from the waters of the Nile,” where he had been hidden as an infant.

Unfortunately, it is awfully hard to get from that verb to the name Moses, which would probably mean something like “the one who draws," which isn’t how the story goes.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Egypt • Holidays • Israel • Judaism • Moses • Opinion • Passover • Torah

Controversial biblical movies
April 5th, 2014
08:56 AM ET

When God plays the villain

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.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Art • Belief • Bible • Christianity • Death • Faith • Judaism • Media • Movies • natural disasters • Opinion

Millennials and the false 'gospel of nice'
Jesus confronts the money-lenders in the temple.
April 3rd, 2014
10:29 PM ET

Millennials and the false 'gospel of nice'

Opinion by Daniel Darling, special to CNN

(CNN) – Perhaps you’ve heard that there is trouble brewing among evangelicals.

Younger Christians are weary of pitched cultural battles and are longing for the “real Jesus” – a Jesus who talks more about washing feet and feeding the poor than flashpoint issues like same-sex marriage and the sanctity of life.

If key evangelical influencers don’t listen, we are told, they are about to lose the entire millennial generation. Or, maybe that generation is already gone.

This story has been told with testimonials, chronicled in best-selling books and posted on popular blogs.

Here’s the short version: If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Baptist • Belief • Bible • Christianity • Culture wars • evangelicals • Faith Now • Opinion • Protestant

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation
Are church teachings on homosexuality driving millennials away from faith?
March 31st, 2014
02:18 PM ET

How evangelicals won a war and lost a generation

Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, special to CNN

(CNN) - On March 24, World Vision announced that the U.S. branch of the popular humanitarian organization would no longer discriminate against employees in same-sex marriages.

It was a decision that surprised many but one that made sense, given the organization’s ecumenical nature.

But on March 26, World Vision President Richard Stearns reversed the decision, stating, “our board acknowledged that the policy change we made was a mistake.”

Supporters helped the aid group “see that with more clarity,” Stearns added, “and we’re asking you to forgive us for that mistake.”

So what happened within those 48 hours to cause such a sudden reversal?

The Evangelical Machine kicked into gear.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Culture wars • Discrimination • Ethics • evangelicals • Faith Now • Gay marriage • Gay rights • Homosexuality • Opinion • Same-sex marriage

March 20th, 2014
11:14 AM ET

Does the Big Bang breakthrough offer proof of God?

Opinion by Leslie A. Wickman, special to CNN

(CNN) The remarkable discovery, announced this week, of ripples in the space-time fabric of the universe rocked the world of science and the world of religion.

Touted as evidence for inflation (a faster-than-the-speed-of-light expansion of our universe), the new discovery of traces of gravity waves affirms scientific concepts in the fields of cosmology, general relativity, and particle physics.

The new discovery also has significant implications for the Judeo-Christian worldview, offering strong support for biblical beliefs.

Here's how.

The prevalent theory of cosmic origins prior to the Big Bang theory was the “Steady State,” which argued that the universe has always existed, without a beginning that necessitated a cause.

However, this new evidence strongly suggests that there was a beginning to our universe.

If the universe did indeed have a beginning, by the simple logic of cause and effect, there had to be an agent – separate and apart from the effect – that caused it.

That sounds a lot like Genesis 1:1 to me: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the Earth.”

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Culture & Science • Faith • Faith Now • Opinion • Science

Why Vermont is not Godless
Only 22% of Vermonters polled called themselves "very religious." But Jay Parini says many in his state are still spiritual seekers.
March 19th, 2014
08:31 AM ET

Why Vermont is not Godless

Editor's note: Jay Parini, a poet and novelist, teaches at Middlebury College. He has just published "Jesus: the Human Face of God," a biography of Jesus.

(CNN) – Once again a new Gallup Poll has reported that Vermont is the least religious state in the country, with only 22% of the people willing to call themselves "very religious." On the other side of the poll, there is Mississippi, where a whopping 61% of citizens lay claim to that self-description. But what does it really mean to be "very religious" and not just spiritual?

I've been living in Vermont for much of my adult life, adding up to nearly four decades. And I've been keenly interested in the question of religion, having written a biography of Jesus and practiced Christianity as best I can for much of my life. I've also traveled in the South quite often, and understand where that 61% comes from: Not long ago I drove across Mississippi, and I couldn't find a secular radio station on the dial. It was all preachers, all sounding alike. Repent, repent, repent. Billboards everywhere shouted religious slogans. It seemed there was a church on every street corner in every town I passed through.

So what's going on here? Do Mississippians have a direct line to the divine? Don't the majority of people of Vermont also have an interest in religion or belief in God? Is this why Vermont was the first state in the union to allow for civil unions? And does secularism run rampant here?

FULL STORY
- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Opinion • United States

The faces of Jesus
March 15th, 2014
11:23 AM ET

Five things you didn't know about Jesus

Opinion by the Rev. James Martin, special to CNN

(CNN) - With Easter approaching, and the movie “Son of God” playing in wide release, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days.

You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.

Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.

Still, even for devout Christian there are surprises to be found hidden within the Gospels, and thanks to advances in historical research and archaeological discoveries, more is known about his life and times.

With that in mind, here are five things you probably didn't know about Jesus.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bible • Christianity • Easter • Jesus • Opinion

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About this blog

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 and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team.

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