Are the Christians you know more like Jesus or Pharisees?

One of the common critiques leveled at present-day Christianity is that it’s a religion full of hypocritical people. A new Barna Group study examines the degree to which this perception may be accurate. The study explores how well Christians seem to emulate the actions and attitudes of Jesus in their interactions with others.

In this nationwide study of self-identified Christians, the goal was to determine whether Christians have the actions and attitude of Jesus as they interact with others or if they are more akin to the beliefs and behaviors of Pharisees, the self-righteous sect of religious leaders described in the New Testament…

Using…20 questions as the basis of analysis, the researchers created an aggregate score for each individual and placed those results into one of four categories, or quadrants…The four categories include:

• Christ-like in action and attitude
• Christ-like in action, but not in attitude
• Christ-like in attitude, but not action
• Christ-like in neither

The findings reveal that most self-identified Christians in the U.S. are characterized by having the attitudes and actions researchers identified as Pharisaical. Just over half of the nation’s Christians — using the broadest definition of those who call themselves Christians — qualify for this category (51%). They tend to have attitudes and actions that are characterized by self-righteousness.

On the other end of the spectrum, 14% of today’s self-identified Christians — just one out of every seven Christians — seem to represent the actions and attitudes Barna researchers found to be consistent with those of Jesus.

In the middle are those who have some mix of action and attitude. About one-fifth of Christians are Christ-like in attitude, but often represent Pharisaical actions (21%). Another 14% of respondents tend to be defined as Christ-like in action, but seem to be motivated by self-righteous or hypocritical attitudes.

The study is lots more interesting than I thought it would be. Read it to find and follow a great deal of detail, e.g., information broken out for self-identified evangelicals, Catholics, political ideology, age…And it appears to be sound in analysis, technique and style.

Hope our readers find it useful.

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Claiming a social security number is the “Mark of the Beast” not a good defense – so saith the IRS

A Pennsylvania man has been convicted of failing to file his income tax returns for 21 years because he considered using a Social Security number akin to using the “mark of the beast” spelled out in the Bible.

James Schlosser, who lives in the town of Bird-in-Hand, was convicted in federal court in Allentown…

Prosecutors say by failing to file the returns from 1994 to 2014 he didn’t report $2.3 million in income he earned as a salesman of medical equipment. Prosecutors say he funneled the money through foreign business trusts and corporations he registered in Nevada.

An attorney for the 59-year-old Schlosser didn’t immediately comment…He’ll be sentenced June 10 when he faces a maximum of five years in prison and $450,000 in fines.

Wonder if he’ll ask Trump for a pardon?

How does it feel to live in Turkey right now?


Ozan Köse/AFP/Getty

❝ Turkey, once held up as an exemplar of secular democracy in the Muslim world, is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists. Since he came to power in 2014, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has slowly tightened his grip on freedom of expression, choking his critics.

❝ Editors of national newspapers now face life sentences for working “against the state”. People have been arrested for Facebook posts criticising the government and last week over 4,400 public servants were sacked in an act branded by critics as a witchhunt targeting the political opposition.

❝ Meanwhile Erdoğan has maintained cordial diplomatic relations with global leaders including Donald Trump, Theresa May and Vladimir Putin, and hopes to extend his constitutional powers with a referendum on 16 April.

This short GUARDIAN article ends with a question needing to be directed at a nation getting ready to decide on the transition from autocratic leadership to fascist control. The editors elicit comments from residents of Turkey about how life has been changing. And includes special methods to guarantee anonymity. Which I recommend to our readers in Turkey.

Something to think about, eh?

No one expected — the Bannon Inquisition


“White nationalist? That’s supposed to be different from racist?”

❝ While we’ve all been watching the unruly vivisection of American democracy by a family full of spectacular grifters…there’s been a lot of strange goings-on at the Vatican. The knives are out for Papa Francesco.

At the root of things is the fact that the pope gave the boot to Raymond Cardinal Burke, a theological reactionary and a guy who was born 500 years too late to be the high cleric of his dreams. This touched off a major squabble with the Knights of Malta. They’re serious power brokers within HMC even though they dress like Albanian ushers and despite the fact that just talking about them makes me start hearing “Hail, Hail Freedonia” in my mind. Burke was their chaplain…

❝ In one of the cardinal’s antechambers, amid religious statues and book-lined walls, Cardinal Burke and Mr. Bannon — who is now President Trump’s anti-establishment eminence — bonded over their shared worldview. They saw Islam as threatening to overrun a prostrate West weakened by the erosion of traditional Christian values, and viewed themselves as unjustly ostracized by out-of-touch political elites. “When you recognize someone who has sacrificed in order to remain true to his principles and who is fighting the same kind of battles in the cultural arena, in a different section of the battlefield, I’m not surprised there is a meeting of hearts,” said Benjamin Harnwell, a confidant of Cardinal Burke who arranged the 2014 meeting.

❝ Just as Mr. Bannon has connected with far-right parties threatening to topple governments throughout Western Europe, he has also made common cause with elements in the Roman Catholic Church who oppose the direction Francis is taking them. Many share Mr. Bannon’s suspicion of Pope Francis as a dangerously misguided, and probably socialist, pontiff…For many of the pope’s ideological opponents…this angry moment in history is an opportunity to derail what they see as a disastrous papal agenda. And in Mr. Trump, and more directly in Mr. Bannon, some self-described…radical traditionalists — see an alternate leader who will stand up for traditional Christian values and against Muslim interlopers.

❝ If it wasn’t clear already, it should be now. Stephen Bannon, the last descendant of House Harkonnen, is not someone who wants to “disrupt the elites,” or whatever techie garbage he likes to toss around. He wants to establish himself at the head of a new, worldwide authoritarian elite that will reach into every institution and that will demolish any of those institutions that stand in the way of what he wants. The man is a political thug, and Burke is a theological thug. Marriage made somewhat lower than heaven.

Just in case you wondered how and where Trump began acquiring his new religious credentials, look no further than Bannon and his root-and-branch need for state religion.

Use of contraception did more to reduce abortions than restrictive laws – of course

❝ US women are having abortions at the lowest rate on record since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion, according to a new report. In fact, contrary to popular opinion, the abortion rate has been steadily declining for decades.

❝ The new report comes from a massive census of US abortion providers taken every three years by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research organization that supports legal abortion. It’s surprisingly difficult to get accurate data on abortion in the US…but Guttmacher’s census is the most comprehensive available on the subject…

❝ The abortion ratio — the proportion of abortions to live births — is also down to historic lows. In 1995, the abortion ratio was about 26 abortions for every 100 live births; in 2014, it was 18.8…

The abortion rate mostly fell because more women used birth control, and used more reliable methods…

But abortion rates in the US have been falling even faster than usual since 2008 — 3 or 4 percent per year instead of about 2. And while Guttmacher researchers Rachel Jones and Jenna Jerman caution that more research is needed to fully understand the link between abortion access and abortion rates, better contraception appears to be the main reason.

RTFA for a reasoned discussion about conclusions drawn by pro-choice scientists relying on data vs anti-abortion rights ideologues whose belief systems ignore credible data.

Sound familiar?

That big white church on the Hill

❝ The share of U.S. adults who describe themselves as Christians has been declining for decades, but the U.S. Congress is about as Christian today as it was in the early 1960s, according to a new analysis by Pew Research Center. Indeed, among members of the new, 115th Congress, 91% describe themselves as Christians. This is nearly the same percentage as in the 87th Congress (1961 to 1962, the earliest years for which comparable data are available), when 95% of members were Christian.

❝ Among the 293 Republicans elected to serve in the new, 115th Congress, all but two identify as Christians; there are two Jewish Republicans – Lee Zeldin of New York and David Kustoff of Tennessee – who both serve in the House. Democrats in Congress also are overwhelmingly Christian (80%), but there is more religious diversity on this side of the aisle. The 242 Democrats in Congress include 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims and one Unitarian Universalist – as well as the only member of Congress to describe herself as religiously unaffiliated, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. In addition, all 10 members of Congress who decline to state their religious affiliation are Democrats…

❝ The group that is most notably underrepresented is the religiously unaffiliated. This group – also known as religious “nones” – now accounts for 23% of the general public but just 0.2% of Congress…

❝ As with Republicans in the general public, Republican members of Congress are overwhelmingly Christian (99%). Among U.S. adults who identify with or lean toward the Republican Party, 82% are Christian…

There are fewer Christian Democrats than Republicans, both among U.S. adults overall (63% of those who identify with or lean toward the Democratic Party are Christian) and in Congress, where eight-in-ten Democrats identify as Christians…

❝ Within Christianity, however, Congress has seen a major shift as the share of Protestants has declined, a trend mirrored in the overall decline of the U.S. Protestant population. Protestants made up fully three-quarters of the 87th Congress, compared with 56% of the current Congress. Meanwhile, Catholics, who made up 19% of the 87th Congress, now make up 31% of the body.

Like the people who voted for them, I imagine most members of Congress are probably driving today’s version of their father’s Oldsmobile, as well. Cultural lag really is a significant feature of American electoral politics.

Even more unfortunate, I can’t help but feel that our Congress-critters think of Americans as all belonging to “their” church.

Is there a Religious Left in America?


Click to enlarge

❝ The religious left is the Sasquatch of American politics. It leaves footprints in the snow but recent sightings of the creature itself are rare, and not always credible.

Progressive politics is dominated by secular ideals and, increasingly, secular voters. In recent decades, the words “Christian” and “evangelical” have been commandeered as synonyms for “white conservative.” Religious liberals never achieved the power of their conservative opposites…The once-explosive growth of conservative evangelicals has stalled. Yet the religious left doesn’t appear to be benefiting much.

Instead, the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated are growing. A 2016 report by the Public Religion Research Institute stated: “Today, one-quarter (25 percent) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.”

❝ Yet if ever there were a moment for the left to seize the mantle of religion from conservatives, surely it arrives Jan. 20 at noon. Donald Trump received the votes of four in five white evangelical or born-again Christians. Hypocrisy is as old as humanity, but even hypocrisy has a gross weight limit.

Christian conservatives are now inextricably tied to an incoming president with a long, public history of exploiting the weak, and no documented history of charity, faith or Christian communion or witness. They have endorsed a First Lady whose modeling career included a pornographic photo shoot described by the Trump-friendly New York Post as “girl on girl.” Even among the plaster saints of the religious right, Trump is a heavy burden to bear.

❝ Sojourners is one of the groups seeking to rally the religious left. “Our Constitution’s protection of religious freedom empowers faith institutions to oppose state-sanctioned bigotry and violence and creates strong sanctuaries for those Jesus called the ‘least of these’ in Matthew 25,” said Lisa Sharon Harper…

A coalition of groups has launched the “Matthew 25” initiative to fight an expected barrage of federal policies targeting the most vulnerable — including the poor, immigrants and Muslims. “These people are organizing under the banner of Jesus,” Harper said.

❝ In North Carolina, the liberal “Moral Mondays” movement has been partially credited with the election in November of Democrat Roy Cooper as governor. The success of the movement — named for weekly public demonstrations against the conservative legislature and incumbent governor — is a powerful precedent. It gained momentum not only because of charismatic religious leadership, but because of unusually aggressive Republican efforts to undermine voting rights and cut funding for education and services…

❝ Trump’s regular shocks to decency, along with an expected Republican assault on funding for the poor, will outrage both secular liberals and the religious left. But will that be enough to bring the left’s religious Sasquatch out of hiding?

I have no idea. Being an old cranky geek, I’m less likely to find myself marching than blogging, nowadays.

There was a time when I could count on cellmates who were priests, partners canvassing door-to-door who were nuns, family and friends who learned childhood ethics in Protestant Yankee denominations who dedicated time and effort to the betterment of life on earth – instead of preaching faith in Wall Street dollar$ over old-timey Christian values.

I wish Sojourners well. Same to the brave folks leading the activism of Moral Monday in Confederate and other Republican states. I respect your courage and integrity. As I always have. But, I surely wish you had more friends.

Mormon Tabernacle Choir member quits rather than perform for Trump

❝ A member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir has resigned in protest over the group’s decision to sing at President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration, saying “it will appear that [the] Choir is endorsing tyranny and [fascism] by singing for this man.”

❝ The famous choir, which is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), first announced its decision to perform at Trump’s inauguration last week. The news sparked controversy among Mormons—many of whom are deeply ambivalent about Trump—but organizers justified the decision by noting that the group has performed at the inaugural celebrations of both Republican and Democratic presidents.

❝ …The reasoning was not enough for at least one performer: Jan Chamberlin, a member of the choir, published a Facebook post on Thursday morning announcing she would rather quit than sing for Trump…

“Since ‘the announcement,’ I have spent several sleepless nights and days in turmoil and agony…I’ve tried to tell myself that by not going to the inauguration, that I would be able to stay in choir for all the other good reasons. I’ve tried to tell myself that it will be all right and that I can continue in good conscience before God and man.” Chamberlin wrote. “But it’s no use. I simply cannot continue with the recent turn of events. I could never look myself in the mirror again with self respect.”…

❝ “Tyranny is now on our doorstep; it has been sneaking its way into our lives through stealth,” she wrote. “We must continue our love and support for the refugees and the oppressed by fighting against these great evils.”…

“I only know I could never ‘throw roses to Hitler.’ And I certainly could never sing for him,” she wrote.

Bravo! A courageous stand against bigotry. An evil Mormons have often faced in their young history. Too bad so many mainstream and evangelical sects in this land haven’t the same sense of history and justice.

The Pope says atheists don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven


Osservatore Romano

❝ In comments likely to enhance his progressive reputation, Pope Francis has written a long, open letter to the founder of La Repubblica newspaper, Eugenio Scalfari, stating that non-believers would be forgiven by God if they followed their consciences.

Responding to a list of questions published in the paper by Mr Scalfari, who is not a Roman Catholic, Francis wrote: “You ask me if the God of the Christians forgives those who don’t believe and who don’t seek the faith. I start by saying – and this is the fundamental thing – that God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.

“Sin, even for those who have no faith, exists when people disobey their conscience.”

Not bad. I know a few Christians who try to live up to that standard.

❝ Robert Mickens, the Vatican correspondent for the Catholic journal The Tablet, said the pontiff’s comments were further evidence of his attempts to shake off the Catholic Church’s fusty image, reinforced by his extremely conservative predecessor Benedict XVI. “Francis is a still a conservative,” said Mr Mickens. “But what this is all about is him seeking to have a more meaningful dialogue with the world.”

Given the reliance upon conservative Christians demonstrated by our most reactionary politicians you have to wonder what kind of dichotomy is required of folks who consider themselves fundamentally dedicated to the best of their faith – who then support, work for, and vote for some of the most hate-filled creeps in American history.