May 21st, 2013
04:45 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - God may not notice the thousands of prayers tweeted for victims of Oklahoma’s devastating tornado - but Ricky Gervais sure has. And he is not pleased.
As of Tuesday afternoon, more than 75,000 people have used the hashtag #PrayForOklahoma, including pop starlets, pastors and politicians, according to Topsy.com, a trend-monitoring site.
For example, the White House tweeted,
But the hashtag and the sentiments it promotes prompted a fierce backlash on social media, led by Gervais, a British comedian, and other prominent nonbelievers.
And while one Oklahoma City pastor says he appreciates the Twitter prayers, some religious scholars say devout petitions require more than moving your hands across a keyboard. FULL POST
May 21st, 2013
02:55 PM ET
By Dan Merica, CNN
(CNN) – A Vatican spokesman on Tuesday refuted claims that Pope Francis performed an exorcism on a man in St. Peter’s Square after Mass on Sunday. But he did not altogether deny the encounter.
“The Holy Father had no intention to perform any exorcism,” the Rev. Federico Lombardi said in a statement. “Instead, as he frequently does for the sick and suffering persons who approach him, he simply meant to pray for a suffering person who was presented to him.”
Speculation that Francis performed an exorcism began to ricochet around the Internet when video of the encounter from TV2000, a Catholic television station in Italy, was posted online.
In the video, Francis smiles and takes the hand of an unnamed man in a wheelchair. After a priest whispers in the pope's ear, his demeanor changes and he places his hands on the man’s head. The video shows the man in the wheelchair convulsing before his body goes limp with his mouth agape.
May 21st, 2013
11:35 AM ET
Editor's note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.
By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN
(CNN) — At first glance, it would seem that the town of Greece, New York, has been brazenly violating the First Amendment. For roughly a decade, it invited local Christians — and only Christians — to offer prayers opening its Town Board meetings.
Two non-Christian town residents — Susan Galloway (who is Jewish) and Linda Stephens (who is an atheist) — objected, arguing that this practice violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion.”
The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed, finding that the town’s practice of repeatedly inviting Christians to offer demonstrably Christian prayers amounted to an unconstitutional endorsement of Christianity. On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.
May 20th, 2013
10:28 AM ET
By Bill Mears, CNN Supreme Court Producer
Washington (CNN) - A dispute over public prayers at town board meetings will be taken up by the Supreme Court in coming months, another contentious case over the intersection of faith and the public arena.
The justices announced Monday it will decide whether a New York community may continue what it calls "inclusive" prayers at its town board sessions. The policy now allows Wiccans and atheists to offer invocations.
But some local citizens sued and a federal appeals court found the policy to be an unconstitutional violation of the Establishment Clause, which forbids any government "endorsement" of religion.
The petition will be argued later this year or early in 2014, with a ruling ready by the spring.
The case is Town of Greece, N.Y. v. Galloway (12-696).FULL STORY
May 19th, 2013
06:00 AM ET
By John Blake, CNN
“God, help me!”
Eben Alexander shouted and flailed as hospital orderlies tried to hold him in place. But no one could stop his violent seizures, and the 54-year-old neurosurgeon went limp as his horrified wife looked on.
That moment could have been the end. But Alexander says it was just the beginning. He found himself soaring toward a brilliant white light tinged with gold into “the strangest, most beautiful world I’d ever seen.”
Alexander calls that world heaven, and he describes his journey in “Proof of Heaven,” which has been on The New York Times bestseller list for 27 weeks. Alexander says he used to be an indifferent churchgoer who ignored stories about the afterlife. But now he knows there’s truth to those stories, and there’s no reason to fear death.
“Not one bit,” he said. “It’s a transition; it’s not the end of anything. We will be with our loved ones again.”
Heaven used to be a mystery, a place glimpsed only by mystics and prophets. But popular culture is filled with firsthand accounts from all sorts of people who claim that they, too, have proofs of heaven after undergoing near-death experiences.
Yet the popularity of these stories raises another question: Why doesn’t the church talk about heaven anymore? FULL POST
May 17th, 2013
12:12 PM ET
By Eric Marrapodi, Co-Editor CNN Belief Blog
(CNN) - The Christian Broadcasting Network regrets the misunderstanding. Again.
Pat Robertson, the network's 83-year-old founder, was not condoning adultery when he answered a viewer's quesion on "The 700 Club" this week, the network said.
The viewer said she was having difficulty forgiving her husband for cheating. Robertson said the “secret” was to “stop talking about the cheating. He cheated on you. Well, he’s a man. OK.” FULL POST
May 16th, 2013
04:33 PM ET
Editor’s note: Hussein Rashid is a native New York Muslim. He teaches at Hofstra University in the Department of Religion. He is an associate editor at Religion Dispatches, a term member on the Council on Foreign Relations and fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
By Hussein Rashid, Special to CNN
Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, one of the Boston Marathon bomb suspects, reportedly wrote that “an attack against one Muslim is an attack against all” on the wall of the boat in which he was hiding from police last month. Variations of this refrain seem to be common among angry young Muslim men, especially those who are attracted to violence. However, such a view ignores history, religious thinking and contemporary reality. It should be seen as a crass advertising slogan rather than a declaration of belief.
Tsarnaev's quote seems to be based on the idea of a global Muslim community, called the ummah, that has always been aspirational. The Tsarnaev brothers clearly felt that they were being marginalized, and the fact that they did not belong to an American Muslim community further reinforced that belief. So the brothers turned to the idea of the ummah, a historical fiction that has not existed in practice in all of Muslim history. Muslims are too varied to connect to one way of being a community. FULL POST
May 16th, 2013
07:00 AM ET
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - Dealing with a struggling radio business – this wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. By all his calculations, Harold Camping expected to be nearly two years into his Rapture revelry, hanging in heaven with God and the select others who’d been saved.
But when his predicted and vastly promoted May 21, 2011, Day of Rapture came and went, and the end of the world on October 21, 2011, didn’t pan out either, Camping lost his doomsday mojo. It didn’t help that he had another knock against him, having made a similar failed prophecy back in 1994.
May 15th, 2013
09:50 AM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) - Franklin Graham, one of the country's most prominent evangelicals, says the targeting of conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service included two of his ministries.
"I am bringing this to your attention because I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us," Graham wrote in a letter Tuesday to President Barack Obama. The evangelical leader is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham.
Graham said the IRS contacted the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, a North Carolina-based ministry, after it ran newspaper ads in that state in April encouraging support for an amendment against same-sex marriage. The group also bought newspaper ads in November encouraging Christians to vote for candidates who oppose same-sex marriage, support Israel and "base their decisions on biblical principles."
May 14th, 2013
02:22 PM ET
By Bryony Jones, CNN
(CNN) - Its art collection is the envy of galleries the world over, but until now the Vatican has been better known for Renaissance masterpieces rather than hip modernist artworks.
That may be about to change: the home of the Catholic Church has announced it will exhibit at the ultra-fashionable Venice Biennale for the first time later this year.
In a bold move away from the works of Michelangelo, Rafael and Giotto for which it is renowned, the Holy See picked Italian new media art collective Studio Azzurro, Czech-French photographer Josef Koudelka, and Australian-born U.S. painter Lawrence Carroll to interpret its chosen theme.
But the subject itself is one of the oldest and most traditional: the pavilion, inspired by Genesis, the first book of the Bible, is entitled "In the Beginning."FULL STORY
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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.