Richard Ostling

The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?

The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?

THE RELIGION GUY:

Nobody has yet posted a question about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon” or “LDS”) acknowledging delicate details about founding Prophet Joseph Smith’s polygamy, but The Guy decided he ought to examine the classic matter of how the Bible views polygamy.

Smith declared that God was simply using him to restore “plural marriage” (the church prefers that term to “polygamy”) that was divinely inspired in the Old Testament. A major interpretive question affects such Old Testament issues, including slavery.

Did God command, or commend, a practice, or did he merely avoid punishing what humans were doing on their own? If the Bible recounts an action without tacking on moralistic criticism, does that signal divine endorsement, or only recording of facts that may be problematic?

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Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades?

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period.

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

Grumble  if you wish, but in this era of perpetual campaigns it’s nearly time for the usual news media blitz assessing evangelical Protestants’ presidential feelings about the Republicans’ notably God-fearing 2016 list.

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Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

LISA ASKS:

What do Christians say happened during [Jesus'] “descent into hell,” and do most denominations believe this happened?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This week, as every week, uncountable millions of Christians attending church will profess that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead…”  So states the venerable Apostles’ Creed, which includes a cryptic “descent” phrase about the period between Good Friday and Eastern. Some modern rituals say Jesus “descended to the dead” instead of “hell.”

Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed moves directly from Jesus’ crucifixion and burial to his resurrection with no mention of a descent. Lisa’s full question pointed out this key difference between the two ancient creeds that have long dominated Christian worship services and catechisms.

The Apostles’ Creed is part of Catholicism’s baptism ritual and widely recited by Protestants. Though Eastern Orthodoxy uses only the Nicene Creed in worship it has affirmed Jesus’ descent since ancient times.

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Box-office religion: What explains Hollywood’s 'holy movie' picks?

Box-office religion: What explains Hollywood’s 'holy movie' picks?

KIRSTEN ASKS:

I wonder why I cannot think of any movies with stories from the Torah, Quran, or other holy texts. Are there any in the works?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

There’s considerable mystery about Hollywood and “holy movies.” Why are they often amateurish or offer ham-handed derision toward beliefs and believers? Why do few high-quality movies respect religion despite the large potential audience? Showbiz wised up a bit when Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” (2004) scored $370 million in U.S. box office and became history’s most profitable film with an R rating (due to violence).

Kirsten posted this question early in 2004, which turns out to offer eight notable features with religious aspects. On her specific point, studios know the U.S. audience has far more Christians than Muslims, Buddhists, or Hindus, and that factor affects releases globally. Note that any movie drawn from the Jewish Torah equally appeals to Christians, since their Bible begins with the same five “Old Testament” books.

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A biblical oldie, but goodie: So who was Cain's wife?

A biblical oldie, but goodie: So who was Cain's wife?

LIBBY ASKS:

If human origins began with one couple, Adam and Eve, how did Cain find a wife?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

The famous biblical story of Cain, history’s first murderer, includes this old Bible head-scratcher about who his wife could have been. Genesis 4 tells of Cain’s birth, agricultural vocation, rivalry and killing of his younger brother Abel. God curses Cain to wanderings and hard toil in the fields, yet mercifully grants a mysterious “mark” for protection against those who might want to kill him. Cain enters exile “in the land of Nod, east of Eden.” Only then do we learn that Cain is married (verse 17). John Calvin’s classic commentary from 1554 thought the context indicates Cain married in Eden, though others say a wife from Nod is possible.

In the strictly literal reading, after Abel died there would have been only three true human beings, Adam, Eve, and Cain. So, skeptics demand, who was the wife? 

At the 1925 “Scopes Trial,” pro-evolution lawyer Clarence Darrow used the wife to ridicule his opponent William Jennings Bryan as he quizzed him about Bible details on the witness stand. (Darrow: “Did you ever discover where Cain got his wife?” Bryan: “No, sir. I leave the agnostics to hunt for her.”) Similarly, scientist Carl Sagan’s novel and movie “Contact” employed Cain’s wife to undermine conservative belief in the Bible.

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Is Mormonism 'Christian'? (Cue the theme from 'Jaws')

Is Mormonism 'Christian'? (Cue the theme from 'Jaws')

KEVIN ASKS:

Is the Mormon religion considered Christian? There are radical doctrinal differences.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Depends on who’s talking. 

The steadily expanding Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed “LDS” or “Mormon”) vigorously defends the Christian identity proclaimed in its very name and resents assertions to the contrary. However, the Catholic Church, virtually all evangelical Protestants, and major U.S. “mainline” Protestant denominations all find the label problematic because, as Kevin indicates, the LDS church disputes central beliefs the Christian religion has taught through history.

It’s not The Guy’s journalistic role to settle this, but to note some salient aspects of the debate.

One formula comes from a leading non-Mormon expert, historian Jan Shipps. She says Mormonism is to Christianity as Christianity is to Judaism, obviously related to the older religion that helped give it birth and yet a distinct new religious community.

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Why, and how, should public schools offer classes about the Bible?

Why, and how, should public schools offer classes about the Bible?

PAT ASKS:

Why, and how, should Bible be taught in a public, non-religious, school setting? What is its value as part of a secular curriculum?

 THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Surveys show there’s appalling ignorance about the basics of the Bible, especially among younger Americans. Even religious skeptics would have to admit that’s a serious cultural and educational problem, wholly apart from Scripture’s religious role. Bible knowledge is essential to comprehending the art of Giotto and Chagall, Bach cantatas and African-American spirituals, Shakespeare’s plays, countless allusions in novels and poems, historical events like the Protestant Reformation and the civil rights and anti-apartheid movements, the rhetoric of U.S. presidents, populism and pacifism, and on and on.

This fiasco is not what the U.S. Supreme Court intended when it outlawed mandatory Bible readings in public schools for creating an “establishment of religion” that violated the Constitution’s First Amendment (in Abington v. Schempp, 1963). Though the justices barred ceremonial and devotional use of the Bible, they included this key clarification:

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Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

ROBERT ASKS:

Can we read Christ into the Old Testament?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

According to Jewish tradition, no, and understandably so. According to Christian tradition, yes, since the New Testament interprets various passages in the Hebrew Bible (= Old Testament)  as prophecies that foreshadow the future life and message of Jesus. Christians commonly view other Old Testament texts this same way, following Jesus’ own example: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

A classic expression of such linkage is Handel’s beloved oratorio “Messiah,” whose songs hailing Jesus Christ use not only the New Testament but a couple dozen Old Testament texts taken from Isaiah, Job, Lamentations, Malachi, Psalms, and Zechariah.

Many modern-day liberal scholars from Christian backgrounds side with Judaism and doubt that Old Testament writers could have been referring to Jesus. Now, surprisingly, an esoteric dispute on this theme at Pennsylvania’s Westminster Theological Seminary is dividing certain conservative Protestants.

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So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

So who speaks for Islam in a time of terrorism?

THE RELIGION GUY interrupts this blog’s usual answers to posted questions and feels impelled to highlight a development that ought to receive far more attention than it has.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly Sep. 24, President Obama said “it is time for the world -- especially Muslim communities -- to explicitly, forcefully, and consistently reject the ideology of organizations like al-Qaeda and ISIL” (the group also called ISIS or “Islamic State”).

As if in response, that same day 126 Muslim leaders issued a dramatic 15-page “Open Letter” to ISIL’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his followers that denounced them on religious grounds.

Implicitly, the letter targets as well the tactics of al-Qaeda, Nigeria’s Boko Haram, and similar terrorist movements claiming Islamic inspiration. The technical argument relies on dozens of citations from the Quran, Hadith (accounts of the Prophet Muhammad’s words and deeds), and Sharia (religious law).

The signers of this blunt challenge, all from the faith’s dominant Sunni branch, come from 37 nations including the U.S. 

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