The Big Questions in Science and Religion, by Keith Ward (Templeton Foundation Press). Of the many excellent overviews of current issues in the interaction of science and religion, this one is readable and balanced, a good start for a broad audience. A theologian conversant with scientific issues, Ward covers ten questions, from the big bang to revelation and divine action.
A quick word on your “if it feels good, don’t do it” distillation of my message. We can dig into this more as we go, but for now I’d just point out that at various times, Christianity—and particularly my own Catholicism, the faith of carousing Irishmen, hedonistic Italians, and “give me chastity, Lord, but Lord not yet” sinners in every time and place—has been scolded for being altogether too worldly, too pleasure-loving, too forgiving of the weaknesses of the flesh.
Our president embodies [America's] uncentered spiritual landscape in three ways. First, like a growing share of Americans (44 percent), President Obama changed his religion as an adult, joining Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ in his 20s after a conversion experience brought him out of agnosticism into faith. Second, he was converted by a pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose highly politicized theology was self-consciously at odds with much of historic Christian practice and belief. Finally, since breaking with that pastor, Obama has become a believer without a denomination or a church, which makes him part of one of the country’s fastest-growing religious groups — what the Barna Group calls the “unchurched Christian” bloc, consisting of Americans who accept some tenets of Christian faith without participating in any specific religious community.
Some people think Pope Francis opened the door to believing that animals have an afterlife. Speaking of the “new creation” God intends, the pope said, “It is not an annihilation of the universe and all that surrounds us. Rather it brings everything to its fullness of being, truth and beauty.” An Italian newspaper concluded that the pope was broadening the hope of “eschatological beatitude to animals and the whole of creation.” But a retired professor at the Pontifical Urbaniana University in Rome cautioned against that conclusion, saying that there will be continuity and transformation between the new and old creations and that the balance between the two can’t be determined (Guardian, November 27).