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Scientology and the search for significance

A facade with a plaque outside the founding church of Scientology in Washington, DC (Credit: Victor Grigas via en.wikipedia.org)Scientology claims eight million members worldwide, and says it is the fastest-growing religion in the world, welcoming 4.4 million new members every year.  Actually, only 30,000 people are members of the International Association of Scientologists, and only 25,000 Americans call themselves Scientologists.

Despite its miniscule numbers, the organizations holds more than $1 billion in liquid assets, a figure that eclipses most of the world's religions.  It owns 12 million square feet of property around the world; it holds 26 properties in Hollywood, valued at $400 million.

What do Scientologists believe?  What can we learn from them?

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The common good in Texas

The Alamo, originally known as Mission San Antonio de Valero, is a former Roman Catholic mission and fortress compound and was the site of the Battle of the Alamo in 1836 (Credit: Cqui via en.wikipedia.org)I write each week for The Dallas Morning News as part of their Texas Faith blog.  This week's question was thought-provoking: in light of the Texas Legislature's opening session on January 8, "how do you think the state can create a greater sense of the common good?"

The editor explains his question: "For some, this will mean greater attention to poverty issues or those left behind. Texas often ranks high among states when it comes to providing various social services, such as mental health care. And high doesn't mean good. It means we rank 45th, 46th, 47th, etc. in a comparison of states when it comes to spending for a social service.

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God on trial in Newtown

A house near the Sandy Hook elementary school has hung a sign in memory of the shooting victims over the front door (Credit: Reuters / Mike Segar)God is on trial today.

The self-professed Creator of the universe claims to be all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving.  For millions of people, it is harder to believe such assertions after the Newtown massacre.  Atheist Sam Harris declares that "the murder of a single little girl—even once in a million years—casts doubt upon the idea of a benevolent God."  Now we're facing the killing of 20 children in one of the deadliest school shootings in American history.

If God is all-knowing, he knew the morning of December 14 that a mass murderer was going to kill 20 children and seven adults before shooting himself.  If God is all-powerful, he could have stopped this tragedy.  If God is all-loving, he would want to.  And yet 28 people were killed on that horrific day.

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Is separation of church and state an idea to keep religious people out of the public arena?

A cross atop a church with American flag below in the foreground (Credit: surpasspro via Fotolia.com)I write a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News as part of its Texas Faith blog. This week our panel was asked to address the question, "Is separation of church and state an idea to keep religious people out of the public arena?"

I am writing this week's response from Assisi, where Francis established a monastic order that would become the largest in Catholicism. His genius was simple: love all of God's creation. Love each person, each animal, each flower. Show all people the grace of God, serving them fully and passionately. Francis had no idea that his faithful public service would change the world so dramatically. As with all great people, he planted trees he'll never sit under.

Does our nation need more Francis of Assisi's today?

Has religion lost its bite?

A cross lying in the basement of Friendship United Methodist Church after the church was moved (Credit: Judd McCullum via Flickr)I write a weekly column for The Dallas Morning News as part of its "Texas Faith" blog.  This week our panel was asked to address the question, "Has religion lost its bite?"

Christopher Beha's latest novel, What Happened to Sophie Wilder, was written to describe how religion in our day has become more therapeutic than challenging.  By contrast, Oswald Chambers noted: "The teaching of Jesus hits us where we live. . . . He educates us down to the last scruple.  The Spirit of God unearths the spirit of self-vindication; He makes us sensitive to things we never thought of before."

Has modern religion become less convicting?  If so, why?  Here's my response:

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