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My Take: Japanese new religions' big role in disaster response
Volunteers carry boxes of food supplies to a distribution center in Iwate prefecture.
March 22nd, 2011
09:18 AM ET

My Take: Japanese new religions' big role in disaster response

Editor's Note: Barbara Ambros is associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, president of the Society for the Study of Japanese Religions and author of "Emplacing a Pilgrimage: The Oyama Cult and Regional Religion in Early Modern Japan."

By Barbara Ambros, Special to CNN

Devastating images of human suffering have been pouring in from Japan for over a week now and many of us have wanted to help. When news reports showed store shelves in Tokyo were emptying, I felt the irrational urge to mail necessities like rice, toilet paper and batteries to relatives and friends there.

Ultimately, I knew that by the time my care packages would reach Tokyo, store shelves would have been restocked. An organized relief effort requires pre-existing networks. After the Kobe earthquake in 1995, yakuza - Japan’s organized crime cartels - efficiently distributed food and water.

Since this month’s earthquake and tsunami struck Japan, other types of organized aid networks have also largely been neglected by the news media, including the Japanese news: those managed by religious organizations.

These charitable efforts include more than traditional Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that many rightly associate with Japan. The thriving Japanese religious landscape is much more diverse than most outsiders realize, with many so-called new religious movements, in addition to Christian churches and Islamic centers.

Japan’s new religious movements are as diverse as new religions in the United States, where Mormonism and Scientology have emerged only relatively recently.

The oldest new religions of Japan trace their history to the early 19th century. The vast majority, however, came into being as independent religious organizations after the end of World War II, when such groups could first register as independent religious corporations after the Allied occupation relaxed the restrictive legislations of the pre-war era.

Originally organized around charismatic leaders, some new religions identify as Buddhist, others as Shinto and others as neither.

Since the March 11 earthquake and the resulting tsunami, many new religions have mounted extensive aid campaigns. Tenrikyo, one of the oldest organizations of this kind, was founded in 1838. From the late nineteenth century, the group was integrated into state-sanctioned Sectarian Shinto, but it rejected this affiliation after World War II to become independent.

Tenrikyo has established a disaster response center at its headquarters in Tenri City. The group’s long history of volunteering is rooted in its religious practice of hinokishin, a contribution of voluntary labor through which adherents express their gratitude toward the divine.

Tenrikyo Disaster Relief Hinokishin Corps is equipped to work with local governmental agencies and provide assistance in emergencies. A division from Niigata Prefecture is now at work in quake-ravaged Sendai to repair broken water lines. In addition, Tenrikyo has organized a vast, multinational fundraising campaign through its branch churches in Japan and around the world.

The largest new religion in Japan, Soka Gakkai, grew from a small lay Buddhist movement in the 1930s to millions of adherents today. At the forefront of organizing aid, Soka Gakkai’s Tokyo headquarters immediately became the group’s emergency communication center after the March 11 earthquake.

Soka Gakkai turned its northeastern facilities into shelters and mobilized centers in surrounding areas to ship food and supplies. The relief effort built on Soka Gakkai’s centrally organized youth groups. Its fundraising campaign has cut across national boundaries as donations have streamed in from domestic and overseas branches.

Other Buddhist new religious groups, such as Rissho Koseikai and Shinnyo-en, have likewise mobilized relief corps and are raising charitable donations for victims.

A characteristic feature of Japan’s new religions is having well-organized lay organizations and networks, making them effective channels for providing aid.

In addition to these material relief efforts, the new religions naturally have provided spiritual support. On March 15, Shinnyo-en’s leadership performed a prayer service for the victims and for a speedy recovery from the disaster.

On March 13, Ikeda Daisaku, the leader of Soka Gakkai announced that he and his wife were “sending powerful daimoku” to followers. The chanting of the daimoku, an incantation meaning “Honored be the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra,” is a central practice of the group.

Ikeda exhorted followers to show strength in adversity, in the words of Nichiren, a medieval Buddhist monk who founded the school of Buddhism from which Soka Gakkai derives.

Though motivated by a sincere urge to help and spurred by a religious ethic that stresses social engagement, outreach may also present an opportunity for New Religions to improve their public relations.

Ever since Aum Shinrikyo, another new religion, shocked the nation by releasing deadly sarin gas in Tokyo’s subway system in 1995, many Japanese have eyed religion in general with great suspicion. The attacked killed 12 and injured thousands of others.

The suspicion has been particularly keenly felt by new religions, many of which have historically struggled to win wider social acceptance.

In the case of Aleph, a new religion that grew from Aum Shinrikyo’s remnants after its dissolution, the response to the earthquake seems like a careful gesture of redemption.

One day after the earthquake, Aleph issued a condolence message to the victims of the disaster. While this may not seem like much compared to the extensive relief efforts of other groups, it is a significant gesture given the powerful, negative emotions that the memory of Aum Shinrikyo evokes to this day.

Still, how many Japanese would be ready to accept aid from Aleph even more than 15 years after the Aum incident?

The concern is certainly understandable. But overlooking the extensive reach and strong humanitarian support of Japan’s new religions understates their significant role and reach - and ignores a key part of the ongoing disaster relief effort.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Barbara Ambros.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • Buddhism • Japan • Opinion

soundoff (314 Responses)
  1. tim

    "We must admit that one thing faith does do better than non-faith is transform people."

    I must disagree. What transforms people is the truth, and taking ownership of one's own actions and taking responsibility for one's own life.

    March 22, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • BenW

      tim

      I wish truth and ownership was enough to transform. However, knowing what is right and wrong does not make one choose right. Even if we are brave enough to look at our lives we must admit that we choose the wrong path many times even when we know the truth. Criminals break the law knowing full well the morality and consequence of their decision. G.I. Joe had it right when they said "knowing is half the battle" (don't you just love it when you can bring G.I. Joe into the conversation) but the other half of the battle has yet to be fought. I think it is here we than begin to differ in our opinions, but truth is never enough.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  2. PRISM1234

    @Colin
    I am a Christian. I believe Atheists can present themselves decently, although I've not seen much effort on part of so many of them ! I appreciate your post! 🙂

    March 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Colin

      Thanks Psalm1234. It may be the only thing in the Universe we agree on......

      March 22, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  3. Colin

    Oh how I wish we would drop the flying spaghetti monster concept. It is way too subtle for most people to get and just makes us look weird.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      I thought we weren't insulting the theists anymore? I'd say that implying they're incapable of subtelty is an insult.

      I agree, but it's probably an insult.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Colin

      I wasn't insulting them. It really is a pretty subtle concept for JohnQ Public to pick up on. Especially if one does not know its background – and most wouldn't. Most times I have seen it used, I think we are just being smartar$es.

      BTW, I am not on my soap box here. I am as guilty as anyone with getting impatient with them. Especially creationists.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  4. Colin

    I am an atheist. An outspoken one who has the scarlet "A" tatooed on my arm. May I make a public plea to all atheists. Remember we are on a public stage on this blog. Our comments are probably read by thousands of people. Soemtimes, we can be real SoBs. Let's pick our stories to comment on and always maintain a civil tone. Very few people are influenced by being told they are fools or by hearing us on our soap box on every faith story.

    I say all this for us, not the theists. It is in our self interest to be get our message across in a manner that influences people, not offends them.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  5. CRGreeley

    An interesting article, but the professor misses something here.

    Buddhism is not a religion–at least not the Soto or Rinzai schools (aka 'zen.') Zen Buddhism concerns itself with the 'here and now'–reality in the present moment–and not with theories or theology involving ideas about that which cannot be grasped directly in the present moment.

    This kind of thing precludes beliefs in a hereafter or supernatural beings. And BTW–Buddha is not some kind of god. He was simply a guy who had a useful insight into what we call reality.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
  6. Jay

    Please just show your support for a suffering people. There is an appropriate place to discuss these things but that is not here. Your making it about yourselves by throwing around insults flaunting your differences of opinion.

    I am glad to hear that are good works are being done over there by so many, no matter who they are affiliated with.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
  7. Pole Dancin Jebus

    My God is better than your God cause we got Pole Dancin in Heaven.

    March 22, 2011 at 2:00 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      Help me Jebus.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • yames

      May his noodly appendage bless you! rAMEN!

      March 22, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Sandy it's Jaaaaybus not Jebus

      Get it right!

      Sinner!

      March 22, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  8. redplanet

    One of the unfortunate take-aways from this situation is that expressed by the author: religions will look good because they give during disaster. Of course they do – they know as much about marketing as any corporation. Religion is on its way out, that's the good news. The bad news, it ain't there yet and until it is, we will have to recognize their do-goodness for what it is: PR for themselves. As long as they give and don't recruit, it is ok, in fact we should all give when and where we can.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      A significant number of these "new" religions are a take on Buddhism. It is not required that one believe in god to be a member of Shinto and Buddhism. They are paths to better and peaceful living. They do not preach lies about a nasty and violent sky god condemning those who are not perfect to hell. They teach that having empathy and compassion make you a better and happier person. They have almost nothing to do with gods, unlike the bigoted and hateful forms of the monotheisms. Buddhism does not have anything like the wealth of the monotheisms. They do not have a central organization and bureaucracy. There are no leaders who could scoop up the money and live like an African despot.

      Buddhism is a path to the inner self and provides methods of becoming in touch with yourself and your fellow man. Not with some twisted man made god. The Dali Lama Is not, for instance, like a Buddhist Pope. He is the leader of one of the many sects of Tibetan Buddhism. He is the political leader of Tibet but wants to get rid of that role.

      You can be an atheist and a Buddhist or any combination of paths with Buddhism so long as it is informed by compassion. Prince Charles, if he becomes king, will be the head of the Church of England even though he is a Buddhist.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  9. Really???

    SeanNJ, you are making me ashamed to share a state with you. Please allow everyone to express their beliefs without harassment. There is no ONE way to believe. If you choose to believe in nothing, then say so & be done with it. A disaster naturally prompts people to examine their beliefs. Let others have peaceful discourse like SoundGuy & BenW . You do not have to insult others to state your lack of belief, doing so infringes on others rights.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:41 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      A) You'll notice I've already had a peaceful discourse with BenW.
      B) I didn't insult or harrass anyone. I confirmed Ed's sus.picion that I believed he was not very bright, and disclosed my reasons for not keeping that information to myself.
      C) You do not have the right not to be offended.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • Really???

      Your own words concede my point.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
    • Ed

      Thanks for trying Really??? I appreciated the effort to keeps these discussion polite ane even friendly I always thought that was the point of a blog. Its nice to see some people I'm not entirely alone.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Ok, you're right. I apologize, Ed. Your ideas have just as much merit as any other ideas.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  10. JackoB

    I hope people spend more time working for charity than they do trolling religion threads denouncing religion...

    March 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Sybaris

      I hope people spend more time working for charity than they do trolling religion threads and trying to elevate themselves by denouncing poeple who oppose their religion...

      March 22, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  11. Sean

    Im an atheist. Not gonna lie tho – all the comments from atheists on CNN are SOOOOOOOOOO MEAN. Quit being so mean

    March 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Jay

      Thank you! Finally.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:12 pm |
    • ScottK

      I'll admit, we can be a little mean sometimes. But its so hard not to be a bit harsh when it feels like we're dealing with 10 year old Pokemon fans who keep quoting from their handbook as if it means something. "But Pekachu's whirling side swipe is more powerful than Squirtle's water spout attack!"

      March 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Colin

      @ScottK. It is indeed. Best advice I can give is to think that you are doing it (being civil that is) for you, not them. you are maximizing your chances of getting your point across – not so much to the relevant person you are debating with – but to the 1000s of open minded people who read this site.

      And by the way, by civil, I do not mean Sagan style, where he made Alan Alda look tough, I mean civil but firm.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • JPopNC

      See ScottK: Even in your "apology" you're mean and degrading. To me, that's the people here are the best reason NOT to be atheist.

      March 23, 2011 at 9:35 am |
  12. Ghost of Nanking (Nanjing)

    Dancing!!! Dancing!!!!

    March 22, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
  13. noelwillaims

    i want to help any ideas!!!!! 4 raisng money

    March 22, 2011 at 1:22 pm |
    • CalgarySandy

      The Red Cross.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm |
  14. wendyj

    I take issue with the assumption that stores will be restocked etc so there is no reason to send something directly to an individual, family or group you may know personally. Many of these people will have no access to their money, how are they to buy goods and services at this point. If you feel you can assist someone with a little comfort – don't let your assumption effect your actions.

    March 22, 2011 at 1:20 pm |
  15. SoundGuy

    Practicing meditation has many benefits, such as the ability to remain equanimous during hard times. I recommend everyone, regardless of your faith, to practice meditation. If you are Christian, call it Contemplation. If you are Muslim call it Prayer. It doesn't matter, because no faith is against finding inner peace. Here's a site that can help you focus and carry out a long meditation session using natural sounds: TranscendentalTones.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm |
  16. TheRealJesus

    Oh if only these horrible pagans had believed in Jesus the tsunami would have never happened!!! When will people learn?

    March 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      No, I think Poseiden would've released the Kraken after that.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:33 pm |
    • pajocoaz

      I agree somewhat, However, Yeah I wish God would have just wiped them out at the end of the 1st rebellion in the prior age to this one then we the ones that do believe wouldn't have had to go though this earth age..He would have just saved us the trouble. But since he wanted to give even the wicked a chance to change, that is why we are here now. So listen up to all that would belittle our faith we are here because of you..either change this time or face HIM in his wrath at the end of this earth age! Because that is exactly what is going to happen Father is not happy at all with those that will not conform and love him..I say good ridiance to you if you want it your way..we don't need you and either does God.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
  17. LookAndSEE

    To let's think123:
    Those babies who die of cancer were given eternal life at birth, same as you. They died before being responsible.
    You on the other hand gave your eternal life ticket back when you decided to go contrary to God.
    He loves you, but if your determined not to follow, He has no choice, ALL SIN will be destroyed. If you want to stick next to it U will be destroyed too. Otherwise Heaven will be contaminated.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:26 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @LookAndSEE

      What about babies who die of bone cancer who are born by accident into other faiths such as hinduism, buddhism, islam, etc... To go to heaven Jesus says that u need to accept him as your savior. Unfortunately, sinless babies cannot comprehend what Jesus meant hence do not accept him as their savior. If those babies did survive and did grow up to be responsible, they would STILL not accept Jesus as their savior because they were born into other faiths! Can't u see that people born into other faiths don't care about yours? Just as u don't accept muhammed, zeus. thor, krishna, lord shiva, etc... or any other made up gods as your savior, surely people born into those religions also do not accept Jesus as god.
      And on another note, why is there sin in the world? wait, I know your answer: cause adam and eve sinned! But we now know that Adam and eve is a creation myth (the church admits this too and has taken the route of theistic evolution). So no, sin was not due to adam and eve.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:50 pm |
    • ScottK

      "Those babies who die of cancer were given eternal life at birth, same as you."

      Out of curiosity, how do you think those little baby souls will live in heaven? Will they stay the same, as little cherubs maybe? but never growing up? never getting to make any choices or have self determination? Will they be able to learn or will their souls be stuck in some sort of heavenly baby limbo for eternity...

      And this whole "given eternal life at birth" thing. What evidence do you have, without just quoting hearsay from a book, to suggest that there is anything after death? The bible is like an ancient History channel "Monster Quest" show, where every week they find a tiny bit of hair, or slight indentation that they claim must be evidence of Bigfoot, but somehow they never find him...

      Fact is, there's more evidence for Bigfoots existence than God's.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Sybaris

      Your god created hell, created satan, created sin.

      There's no wiggle room here, it must destroy itself!

      Mwuhahahahha!!

      March 22, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  18. Ed

    Regardless of the casue of the earthquake any doctor will tell you it is important to any healing process to keep some ones sprits up. science and medicine can heal phsyical wounds but some people need help healing emmotional and spritiual wounds. Science and medicine often fall short in this area. relegion helps many people where science and medicine can not. If it helps people let them have their faith. Bobbinator why are you so positive God is not real true know one as successfully proven his existence yet. However before some proved the earth was round it was still round. There are a great meny things scisnce has yet to find answers or even questions too. God may be one of these things. You are just as closed minded and dogmatic about your point of view that God is fake as you accuse the relegious of being. Try let peope have the on opinion and stop attacking the for disagreeing with you. You do atttack read your posts very aggresive and intolerant. Finally you have ignored the good the relegious gruop have down helping people in a physical way with food and supplies as well as emmotional and spritiual. I am sure many none relegious groups are doing this as well but this article was about the relegious ones. You have turned it into a fight for no other reason than to attack other peoples beliefs. What good have you done here. None. If belief in God or something else helps this people through bad ti them have their faith.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:21 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      Hi Ed,

      Please see my explanation on theories so that you don't have to be ignorant about it anymore.
      I'll give you a quick explanation to show you the difference between a fact and a theory.
      Example of a FACT: Gravity is a fact because things fall down.
      Example of a THEORY: Newton's gravitational theory tries to explain the fact of gravity.
      His theory explains gravity on earth/acceleration due to gravity/ and made predictions about gravity. It is called theory because in science it needs to be falsifiable, testable, make assertions, and make predictions. But the theory could be wrong. Newton's theory was partly wrong because his equations failed to explain the elliptical orbit of planets. Along came Einstein, and with his theory of relativity, explained why planets have elliptical orbits and also predicted the number of degrees that sunlight would bend by during an eclipse. Astronomers validated Einstein's prediction and he was right, this prediction made Einstein a celebrity. Einsteins theory then replaced Newtons. Einstein's theory is now the theory in use and Newton's was wrong. But did apples stop falling to the ground when Newton's theory was showed to be wrong? No! Because gravity is a FACT, and we use scientific theories to explain facts. There is no need to believe in gravity since there is obvious evidence for it.
      In the same way, evolution is a FACT and we use the theory of evolution to explain these facts. Unlike the evidence for elliptical orbits of planets not agreeing with Newton's gravitational theory, there is NO evidence that is contradictory to evolution. All evidence agrees with the theory of evolution. Thus there is no need to believe in evolution, since there is ample evidence for it.
      I can say the same thing for germ theory of disease. Germs/microbes/bacteria are FACT (they can be observed with a microscope), and then we have the germ theory of disease to explain why humans get sick due to germs. Germ theory works and thats how we come up with medicine to cure people. Just becuase its called germ theory does not mean that its not true or we have to believe that it is true. There is no belief here, just facts.
      Back in the day, the majority of people thought that everything revolved around the earth (geocentric). Galileo proposed in his heliocentric theory that everything revolves around the sun. With our current knowledge of our solar system, we know that the sun as the center is a FACT. And Galileo's heliocentric theory tries to explain this fact. Just because its a theory does not make it untrue and again, there is nothing to believe here.
      And that in a nutshell is how theories work. I hope you understand.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Ed

      I did not say evultion was untrue I said it was unproven. It is still a theory I widely accepted theory and probably true but still it has not been proven and may yet be proven wrong and another theory replace similar to your eample of Newton versus Einstein. It may also be proven to be absolute fact. In either case this is a belief blog the is rapidly being taken over by none believers who read every article then complain about the relgious. If anyone has the nerve to admit faith the are attack and insulted. I treid to state my opinions in polite ways and have an open conversation. This is what I thought to point of blogs was. I am some what new to the blogesphere. Obviously I was wrong. The atheist can have the CNN belief blog I return to having my conversations with friends that have different points of view on all subjects but don't feel the need to throw insults. Some can have faith but not blind faith in God and therefore be open minded. My friends and I are like this the gtroup includeds. Atheist agnostics wicken christians jew muslim buddists hindews democrats republicans independents communist socailist no facists currently but we do have a monarchist. I had hope to find that here as well. But I concide the blog is yours have fun

      March 22, 2011 at 3:50 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      @Ed

      I'm sorry that you were insulted by others, and i have no control over what they say. However I tried to explain it to u without any demeaning on my part.
      -> I did not say evultion was untrue I said it was unproven.
      Germ theory of disease is also not fully proven, but its a FACT that we get diseases due to microorganisms. Same for evolution, evolutionary theory is not fully proven (although there is NO evidence found that goes against it which makes it very very likely to be correct), but its a FACT that we evolved along with all other life on earth. So saying that a theory is unproven doesn't really mean anything when the facts will always stay forever whether the theory is fully proven or not.
      -> It is still a theory I widely accepted theory and probably true but still it has not been proven and may yet be proven wrong and another theory replace similar to your eample of Newton versus Einstein.
      Yes, evolutionary theory can be replaced by a better theory to explain the FACT or evolution. If evolutionary theory is replaced by a better theory that can explain the facts of evolution and make correct predictions, then science and the whole world has benefited. But the FACT of evolution remains, regardless. IF u are apologetic to the creationist theory or that we came from adam and eve as a competing theory to evolution, then your creationist theory will already be refuted because it doesn't hold up to the evidence. There is no evidence that we just poofed into existence (aka adam and eve). So the creationist theory is wrong, plain and simple.
      -> I treid to state my opinions in polite ways and have an open conversation. This is what I thought to point of blogs was. I am some what new to the blogesphere. Obviously I was wrong.
      You are right here. I can't control what others say.

      March 22, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  19. Jimmy Crack Corn

    The sooner we put Religion in the history books, the sooner we can move on with evolution and solving our problems ourselves without prayers hoping some supernatural being would solve it for us.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • Ed

      according to scinece evolution is still a theory, which means your belief it it is effetively based on faith

      March 22, 2011 at 12:23 pm |
    • TheRealJesus

      No, it doesn't mean that at all stupid.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm |
    • Ed

      Oh good you can call people names, and people say the relegious are closed minded and incapable of intellect thought

      March 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Ed: That's exactly *why* we call you names...stupid.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:37 pm |
    • Ed

      @SeanNJ you call me names because you think I am closed minded and incapable of intellectual thought. But you the ones throwing arounf insults. Your the ones acting closed minded. Your the ones attacking. If I called you stupid you would say see how mean and dogmatic the relegiou are. But when you do it its a sign on an open minded intellectual. Just because I have faith does not make me stupid. I accept people with different opinons and sometime try to have open conversation with them. This makes me stupid. If I didn't do this it would make me closed minded and stupid. If I insult that makes me mean and stupid. Not very fair of you or open minded. Basically rou saying if I don't agree with with you I'm closed minded and stupid and maybe mean. Seems a little dogmatic of you to me.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:45 pm |
    • Ed

      by the way you will notice I still have not joined in the name calling.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:46 pm |
    • Yabba

      Ed. You are an idiot.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • Joe G

      Ed- Just because you don't know what "theory" means, doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of people who do.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:00 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @Ed: It wasn't my intention to insult you. I was merely pointing out that, yes, we do believe you are genuinely unintelligent. I could *try* to be patronizing and tell you, "Yes, Ed, your ideas have just as much merit as any other ideas," but I would be lying to you.

      So, in a concept that you can understand, I would much rather tell you I think you're stupid, which just makes me rude; or, I can tell you that I think your faith makes sense, which would be a lie and I would be "bearing false witness." George knows we wouldn't want to break any commandments.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:04 pm |
    • The Bobinator

      Look guys, you can't tell Ed's an idiot from one post. It's an unfair comment.

      However, it is evident from his posts that he needs a class in remedial science. Also probably wouldn't hurt him to be reminded that spouting off on stuff you don't know makes you look like an idiot. 🙂

      March 22, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
    • Mike E.

      I think the actions of many religions have caused people to back away from any sort of belief system. I don't align myself with any particular religion, I have a stong faith and it works for me. Probably just me. However I can say with out a doubt that my faith has helped me in the darkest and the best of times. I wish people could just respect the belief's of others with out trying to kill or convert. The most ironic thing is that most religions claim to be of peace.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:21 pm |
    • Canuck PhD

      Ed, science considers evolution a theory in that it is a theory based on many, many instances of empirical observation of evolution at work. Thus evolution is a theory that is used to explain biological, genetic, and chemical changes affecting organisms of all types. Only the religious creationist/intelligent designers call evolution "just a theory" in that, e.g., "I have a theory; tomorrow the sky will be purple." You confuse scientific theory based on empirical fact with opinion. I don't agree with you being called stupid; but, you are ignorant.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • C Bauer

      Ed, are you even SOMEWHAT literate? Jesus Christ...

      March 22, 2011 at 2:17 pm |
    • Ed

      Ok you win have a life

      March 22, 2011 at 2:20 pm |
    • conrad

      If religions were nothing more than made up stories designed to make us feel better about our otherwise empty existence they would never survive or propagate. The reason they do exist and the reason they will always exist is because religious beliefs come from human experience, not thought.

      I recall many years of being around religious people and not having the patience to suffer even a minute of what I saw as complete idiocy. I got a degree in Philosophy and argued at length with anyone who dared utter a faithful word. I could have been king atheist among them all – until the unthinkable happened and I by chance had a religious ‘experience’. I’m still not associated with any particular religion, it isn’t required. But I do realize that the atheist rant is pointless, especially where it tries to argue from an empirical/scientific standpoint because spirituality isn’t about trying to figure things out from the outside in through research and data collection – it’s when we see things from the inside out and the only valid instrument of measurement is our own being.

      It doesn’t mean science isn’t valid in its own way, it is, and it doesn’t mean we don’t take responsibility for our own lives, we must. It just means that science can’t span the gap of wisdom by offering only knowledge.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:23 pm |
    • MandoZink

      It is always frustrating when the word "theory" enters a conversation. I consider it academically tragic that the definition of theory in common usage means "unproven speculation". In science, only after careful scrutiny, then successfully repeated testing of evidence, can a hypothesis earn the status of "theory". It is now uncontestable fact.

      I wish science would choose a term that is not subject to misunderstanding. Since evolution became established fact, there have been tens of thousands of experiments devoted to figuring out the just how evolution's mechanisms work. The processes of evolution are becoming very well known and that has been a tremendous boon to our ever-expanding knowledge of life on earth.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • stejo

      Ed, maybe this was said earlier, but a scientific theory is a collection of proven facts and the current understanding thereof. Like Einstein's theory of general relativity...gravity bends space, to say it simply. But it's true. Been proven over and over again. If you don't understand this, well, maybe you're not stupid, but you're just unwilling to face a particular set of facts because it conflicts with your beliefs. But facts don't really care whether you believe them or not.

      March 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  20. BenW

    Instead of us arguiing via post response about the age old question of the exsitance of a god or gods, can we not just appreciate the help and sacrafice that many are giving in response to unquestionable tragedy? What is being done is admirable no matter your stance on religion. Too often the only news about religion displayed is negative news (and there have been some terrible things done within religious circles) but here is a great story about giving, serving, and helping. We argue back and forth about theory and philosophy, but there is no good being done by it. Regardless of where you stand this is good work, by good people because of their good god.

    March 22, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @BenW: "Regardless of where you stand this is good work, by good people"

      If you had stopped there, I would agree.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • BenW

      SeanNJ
      wonderful, than let us agree with that.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:34 pm |
    • tim

      Too many people devote too much time and energy and money devoted to religious woo. Moral and humanitarian efforts need not be related to a belief in an afterlife or a deity. When someone lacks the intellectual ability to apply critical thinking to ALL aspects of life, religious included, then Humanity as a whole is one step further behind in acheiving practical solutions to our problems.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:43 pm |
    • BenW

      Tim

      There is a church about 1.5 miles from where I live in a not so great part of Indy. they provide food everyday for people without, plus have a "food pantry" breakfast deal about once a month. They provide nice clothes for 25 cents per item, they provide counseling to any one who needs it. they work with the local Mental Helath facility and trustee office to make sure people have shelter. They also have a program ran by one of their members that helps teeanagers struggling with homelessness and crisis. They provide a low cost preschool/day care for struggling families, help restore homes, support local business with cheap and sometimes free rent, have an after school program to help kids who do not have the support at home complete their homework and behave in school. In addition they make girfts for children at the riley hospital, donate to other community centers, visit the sick in hospitals (these are only the thinks I know they do) and they do it with an annual budget (according to the pastor) of about $200,000. I am sure some religions and churches waste money and time, but thats true with any organization. I believe it is unfair to cast all religions and churches in the same boat of being wasteful. Some seem very productive with very little.

      March 22, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • tim

      you missed the point. All of that charity does not require a belief in the supernatural.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • BenW

      That may very well be true for you, and also for me. There are a lot of people who do good without a belief system, and we should be happy with their work and effort. I can recognize such a simple fact without having to say but they are wrong about such and such. It is kind of suprising that we as a society cannnot apprecitate charity without critically ripping apart the organization. Can we not just say "job well done, that is awsome." That's all I think we need.

      I do appreciate your statement Tim and you are certainly right. Good people do good things, no matter their faith or non-faith. And bad people do bad things regardless of their faith or non-faith. However, is it possible for bad people to do good on a regular basis. We must admit that one thing faith does do better than non-faith is transform people. the more I think about it the more I am realizing you never see a convereted criminal credit his new life to aethism. Anyone anyhwere and do good with any belief, but faith seems to have the idea of transformation down. Sorry about my ranting but I am just thinking this as I ponder your response. Either way you do not have to agree. I am not sure if I fully do yet, but I am just glad people are helping out, that is something to celebrate.

      March 22, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • ScottK

      @BenW – "It is kind of suprising that we as a society cannnot apprecitate charity without critically ripping apart the organization. Can we not just say "job well done, that is awsome."

      Not to jump in and play "you-know-who's" advocate but how would you feel if that Church a mile and a half away was not a church but lets say, a brothel or a drug dealer front, but they were also providing those same benefits, food, clothing and aid to the needy. Would you be as willing to just let their corrosive aspects alone and focus on the good they are doing in the community?

      Some, myself included, think Churches are just as corrosive and are just dealing a different brand of drug. And its far more addictive than anything else on the market. One dose of "You matter, your soul will live forever in happiness just as long as you keep coming back here" and away you go into the deep addiction of feeling more important in this universe than you are. Understanding that we are just a speck of dust living on a speck of dust I believe can help make us better people instead of feeding our ego's lie's just to feel good.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Tina

      As a member of a Catholic church that is active in our community, and as the office manager of that church, I witness daily the generosity of our parishioners. Likely they are the kind of people who would offer help to others regardless of religion or lack thereof, but I do believe that many of us who are regular church-goers and who especially are believers, feel we are doing what God would want us to do. I think that's what makes "religious" people generous!

      March 22, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Erin

      "think that's what makes "religious" people generous!" You do have a point since many churches are worth billions.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:09 pm |
    • BenW

      scottk

      wow. If you think that a church that loves jesus offers people support and love is evil, I suppose there is no point in entering into a discussion. You have already made up your mind. In a world of darkness, light is hated. – "those who live in darkness hate the light."

      March 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
    • ScottK

      @BenW – I never said they are "evil". I said they are as corrosive as other organizations that you can go to and give them money and they make you feel good by giving you some form of drug or pain killer. With the church the pain killer is being told you matter and that some universal power knows you and loves you and it makes you feel less lonely and part of something bigger. I have read the bible cover to cover many times, and once was an ordained minister in California, but after the last 10 years of studying something other than the bible I found that the "light" in the bible is quite dim when compaired to the brightness found in the rest of humanity's collective knowledge on how the universe works and our origins. If there was any other book claiming to be the authority on everything that you kept having to make excuses for like "Well, that part is ment as an allegory" or "God years are different than man years" or "Well, its says to not eat shelfish or pork in the hebrew scriptures, but apparently God changed his mind later, but that part about ga y's stays" I don't think anyone would have given it a second look had it not been at the point of a sword.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Steve

      Giving on behalf of something does not necessarily make that something good. Hezbollah, Hamas and the Nazis were all charitable. I personally think charity for the sake of charity, rather than with an ideological motivation, is a superior form. There is no agenda other than to help the person in need. So now with this in mind your comment regarding a good god is way off as the god of the bible frequently killed or condoned the murder of infants. How many people are in support of the killing of infants on this board? Do you make exceptions based on who does the killing? If so or you believe that non-believers deserve to go to hell due to their philosophical differences, lack of sufficient evidence or simply lacking faith what does this say about who you are as a person. Does this make you a "good person"? If we are what we believe then the answer is no and people of religous persuasion (depending on the specific beliefs) may by and large be less morale than atheists. Now religious people will claim atheists are morality relativists but then so are people of faith as they believe in command morality....it changes with gods whims.

      March 22, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
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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.