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Catholics and Protestants: what they believe and why it matters

Some 76% of Americans identify themselves a Christians: 25% are Catholics, while 51% are Protestants. What is the difference? Why does it matter today?

Catholic history

During the "apostolic" era (AD 30-100), the Christian movement was confronted by three significant religious powers. Roman religion insisted on the worship of the emperor, embraced an eclectic, polytheistic theology, and emphasized form and ceremony over moral standards. Greek religion separated the spiritual from the material, with a strong rationalism and an impoverished morality. Judaism had been scattered out of Palestine for generations and especially after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, establishing synagogues as it spread. The expanding Church took advantage of these settlements and the universal peace, roads, language, and hunger for truth and morality which pervaded the Empire.

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World Religions: what do they believe?

Intelligence officials have been warning Congress that a terrorist plot is coming against Europe and America. FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, "Despite the significant counterterrorism pressure abroad, al Qaeda continues to be committed to high-profile attacks directed at the West, including plans against Europe as well as the homeland."

Mueller also told the Committee that groups and people inspired by al-Qaida are switching to smaller-scale attacks which are easier to plan and carry out. They understand, according to Mueller, that "launching a large attack, perhaps a more devastating attack, is not worth the additional effort when you can get substantial coverage and impact with smaller attacks."

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The Abrahamic Faiths: why can't Jews, Christians and Muslims get along?

Intelligence officials have been warning Congress that a terrorist plot is coming against Europe and America. FBI Director Robert Mueller recently told a hearing of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, "Despite the significant counterterrorism pressure abroad, al Qaeda continues to be committed to high-profile attacks directed at the West, including plans against Europe as well as the homeland."

Mueller also told the Committee that groups and people inspired by al-Qaida are switching to smaller-scale attacks which are easier to plan and carry out. They understand, according to Mueller, that "launching a large attack, perhaps a more devastating attack, is not worth the additional effort when you can get substantial coverage and impact with smaller attacks."

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Why do they still hate us?

Supporters of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was killed on Monday in a U.S. special forces assault on a Pakistani compound, burn a replica of a U.S. flag during a rally of more than 100 people in Multan May 4, 2011. (Credit: Reuters/Stringer)On September 11, 2001, 19 terrorists flew planes into New York City's World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Pennsylvania. The worst terrorism attack in U.S. history killed 2,973 people. We have now been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than any war in American history.

Ten years after 9/11, most Americans still don't understand why Muslim terrorists hate us.

Islam is front-page news every day. 1.4 billion people, 19% of the world's population, are followers of the Muslim faith. There are more Muslims in America than Episcopalians or Presbyterians. Muslims now outnumber Jews in our country and constitute the second-largest religion in America. There are more than 1,100 mosques around the country.

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How can we change the culture?

Our nation clearly needs moral and spiritual renewal.  How can we help?  What can we do to make a difference?  How do we become culture-changing Christians?

The way to change the world

James Davison Hunter's new book is titled, To Change the World. This University of Virginia sociology professor turned down an appointment to Princeton to continue his work with the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.  He may be the most profound voice on culture change writing and speaking in America today.

How does he think culture is changed?  He begins with ways it is not.

Culture does not change by winning elections.  It is important for Christians to be engaged in public service.  In fact, I am convinced that God is calling more Christians into public service than are answering his call.  But electing Christians to office is not enough to change the culture by itself.  For instance, during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush, divorce rates escalated.  Gay marriage made significant inroads in American culture during the presidency of the second George Bush.  Neither was their fault, of course, but both illustrate the fact that winning elections is not sufficient.

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What is the separation of church and state?

On Thursday, April 30, 1789, General George Washington was present for the first American president. As the General walked to the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, thousands of people jammed into the street below gave him a thunderous ovation. Suddenly the crowd became quiet as General Washington turned toward Judge Robert R. Livingston and placed his left hand on an opened Bible sitting upon a table beside him. He raised his right hand, and swore to "faithfully execute the office of the President of the United States."

There was a pause. Then the nation's first president added his own words, unscripted and unexpected: "I swear, so help me God." The president bent over and kissed the Bible. Then Justice Livingston turned to the crowd below and cried out, "Long live George Washington, President of the United States!" People cheered. Church bells pealed. Cannons at the nearby fort fired a salute.

From that day to this, every President of the United States has followed George Washington's precedent, concluding the oath of office with the words, "So help me God." But what do they mean by their confession of faith? How should Americans understand the relation of church and state, faith and politics?

This essay is only an introduction to an extremely involved and somewhat controversial subject. We'll survey briefly the history of the debate, examine the question biblically, and seek relevant applications for our country and our lives today.

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Are We Rome? The fall of an empire and the future of America

Our world is changing more rapidly than ever before in human history. Some of these changes are interesting but not threatening:

  • One out of eight couples married in the U.S. last year met online.
  • More video was uploaded to YouTube in the last two months than if ABC, NBC, and CBS had been airing new content every minute of every day for the last 62 years.
  • MySpace would be the fifth-largest country in the world.
  • The number of text messages sent and received today will exceed the population of the planet.
  • In 25 years, the cell phone in your pocket will fit in a blood cell.
  • By 2013, a supercomputer will be built that exceeds the computational capacities of the human brain. By 2049, a $1,000 computer will exceed the computational capacities of the entire human species.
Other changes are more worrisome:

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Abortion and the mercy of God

Adult hands holding the foot of a baby (Credit: Pawel Loj via Flickr)Every year, approximately 40,000 people die on American highways. Every ten days, that many abortions are performed in America. Doctors conduct 1.5 million abortions every year in the United States, more than the total of all America's war dead across our history.

Since the U. S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortion in January of 1973, more than 48 million abortions have been performed in America. This is a number larger than the combined populations of Kentucky, Oregon, Oklahoma, Connecticut, Iowa, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kansas, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, West Virginia, Nebraska, Idaho, Maine, New Hampshire, Hawaii, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. Depending on the year, an abortion occurs for every three or four live births in our country.

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Does democracy require morality?

A cross atop a church with American flag below in the foreground (Credit: surpasspro via Fotolia.com)If you could solve one problem in America today, what would it be? A recent survey asked a large number of Americans that question. Their #1 answer was, "restoring national economic stability." That's no surprise, in these days of recession. But tying for #1, ahead of "preventing terrorism" and "curing cancer," was: "restoring values and morality to society."

Imagine for a moment what would happen if Americans chose to live by biblical morality. For instance, the Bible says that sex outside of marriage is wrong. No standard could seem more outdated and irrelevant in our society. But what would happen if we lived by this one simple principle? Consider these facts:

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Explaining the Arab Spring

An opposition supporter flashes the victory sign as he holds an Egyptian flag atop a lamp post near a mosque in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 7, 2011. (Credit: Reuters/Yannis Behrakis)At the first of 2011, who of us would have imagined that Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak would be displaced by a pro-democracy movement fueled by social media? Or that activists would oust the dictator of Tunisia, force the leader of Jordan to replace his government, and fill the streets of Tehran and Tripoli with demonstrators? How did this unprecedented uprising in the Arab world begin? What is its relevance to the rest of the world? What is its spiritual significance?

In 2005, a group in Egypt organized "Youth for Change," but many tried working through established parties without success. In 2008 the group attempted to organize isolated labor strikes, but bad weather and police crackdowns defeated their efforts. A year ago, their movement gained a strategic ally when Wael Ghonim, the now-famous Google marketing executive, joined their ranks.

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