How does a college kid produce a Youtube sensation about Jesus that received 27 million hits? And become a New York Times bestselling author with Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough before his 25th birthday? Jeff Bethke’s breakthrough video, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus,” resonates with millennial evangelicals.
Then & Now
Religious historians take on the present
States are backsliding one by one in allowing marijuana legalization, the president is comparing the drug to alcohol, and Christian Right stalwart Pat Robertson reversed his harsh views on weed—what’s an evangelical to do in these high times? Are evangelicals undergoing a sea change in their thought about marijuana usage? Maybe. Or maybe not.
The Times of Israel reported in early March on a controversy involving Jewish residents of East Jerusalem upset about how loudly a nearby mosque was broadcasting the adhan, or Islamic call to prayer. Amidst all of the problems confronting Israeli and Palestinian society, one might be forgiven for having missed this story. It was only a dispute about noise, after all. Yet this was hardly an isolated event.
Jane Elizabeth Manning James, a black Mormon pioneer, was known to some Latter-day Saints historians in the latter part of the 20th century but was hardly a household name. Linda King Newell and Valerie Tippets Avery wrote the first well-researched article about Jane in LDS Church publication The Ensign. Subsequent Mormon authors focused on the early years of Jane’s life, particularly on founder Joseph Smith accepting her and her family into his home.
Son of God is a dud. Just don’t tell that to the film’s producers, Roma Downey and Mark Burnett. They found evidence of divine favor in the “truly miraculous” support they received from Catholic and evangelical leaders. It brought in $26.5 million its first weekend. Burnett and Downey’s marketing approach makes good business sense and has plenty of precedent.
You probably won’t hear Greg Laswell's songs in church. You’re more likely to catch them on the radio or in the background of a particularly intense moment of shows such as Grey’s Anatomy, Glee, or The Carrie Diaries. Yet his songs animate the highs and lows of my spiritual journeys. I’ve also started using them in my U.S. religious history courses.
The United States and the Catholic Church share some intriguing similarities: both are global in reach, exert significant influence over hundreds of millions of people, and (perhaps most interestingly) make serious teleological claims. Such claims have not necessarily clashed, for they appeal to different social and moral aspects of humanity. At their best, they can be complementary empires of promise.
Satan has had an awfully good 2014. He might get a statue on the grounds of the Oklahoma State Capitol. Actually, he probably won’t, but the New York-based Satanic Temple has proposed to have the goat-headed image of Baphomet built so that it can be seen by all visitors to the state’s seat of government.
For scholars on race in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, nothing in a recent official article on race and the priesthood was new. The forthright treatment of the subject, however, including repudiating myths that had been used to legitimate the ban on black men from the priesthood until 1978, was a matter of rejoicing for many longtime advocates of racial equality within Mormonism. The heroes of this story, however, are the black members of the LDS Church who refused to leave despite being afforded second-class status.
There is much to criticize about the International Olympic Committee and the global party it throws every two years: the domination of industrialized nations, corporate greed and flagrant bouts of political fence-sitting, whether with Nazi policies in Germany in the 1930s or the recent homophobic legislation in Russia. However, the IOC has not just paid lip service to the ancient idea of an Olympic truce.
If you know about only one event in American Indian history, it’s probably Custer’s Last Stand at the Little Bighorn in 1876. Lakota and Cheyenne Indians repelled Custer’s surprise attack, killing more than 250 American soldiers. If you know any other event, it’s probably the massacre at Wounded Knee in late December 1890.
Jahi McMath is dead. Or, Jahi McMath is alive. Each statement is true—depending upon the person you ask. Thirteen-year-old Jahi had complications after surgery in Oakland, California. Doctors later pronounced her brain dead; there was no brain activity. Yet to her family, she remains alive.
Little did tennis star Andre Agassi know that he was speaking prophetically when he declared in 1990s Canon camera commercials that “image is everything.” The truth of his marketing statement seems everywhere today. Pope Francis was not only Time’s “person of the year.” He was also Esquire’s “best dressed man of 2013.” The new pope is what he says, does and wears. 2013 was also the year of the “selfie.”
Here are this year's most-read posts from Then & Now, a weekly blog feature by historians of religion.
In Chicago Christmas begins in November, with the revealing of Marshall Field’s (now Macy’s) Christmas windows and the hanging of golden trumpets on the façade of the grand old department store. Inside, for more than 100 years the Walnut Room restaurant has glistened in its holiday glory with its centerpiece: a stunning Christmas tree. On the fifth floor, Santa awaits his eager fans in Santaland. The store buzzes with shoppers in a crush of shopping bags from Macy’s and other stores up and down the historic State Street shopping district.