Sightings – Martin Marty – A Holy and Small Great Council

Orthodox Council
His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew presides over the Orthros and Synodal Divine Liturgy and concelebrates with the Primates of the Local Orthodox Churches at Saints Peter and Paul Church in Chania, Crete. PHOTO: © JOHN MINDALA from Ecumenical Patriarchate on Flickr. Creative Commons license. 

Those of us who have great regard for many aspects of the Orthodox Church can this week go back to showing that regard mainly by appreciating and displaying the visual beauties of icons and art work from the Orthodox tradition. We can return to listening to its chants and other sacred music, exploring its devotional practices, and revisiting the history of that part of the Christian Church which, through many centuries, was most exposed to its enemies, whether in the centuries of Ottoman rule or the decades of Soviet Russian strictures. What we can’t do is locate “Stop the press” releases after its Holy and Great Council, which concluded on Sunday, June 26.

Not that “we” were not looking for signs of motion in the Orthodox bloc, or had not been urged and given time to look. While especially metropolitan areas in the West demonstrated evidences of parish vitality and members’ loyalty, Christians and others who were not part of Orthodoxy often found the faithful flocks worshipping and celebrating at some cultural distance from “everybody else.” Not that there was no notice of some recent newsworthy events, beginning with the last-minute move of the Council from Istanbul to the island of Crete. Now and then a news release or a blog spread word of the forthcoming gathering, and a few daring prognosticators foresaw enlivening trends as the various factions in the Church promised to regard others with some favor. But we ended up with little marketable news, or even news of the less-marketable sort noticeable in parishes, seminaries, and the like. Continue reading “Sightings – Martin Marty – A Holy and Small Great Council”


Martin Marty – Religion in Global Affairs

John Kerry
John Kerry, US Secretary of State

When in the 1980s Scott Appleby and I were first chartered to deal with one particular public expression of religion, the complex of militant fundamentalisms, we were confronted with a global scene for which we were not prepared. We soon found out also that very few others were equipped to monitor and highlight these and other negative and positive religious outbursts. We were well supported and soon well surrounded by the few pioneers in this field.

Domestically, two factors have forced awareness on conscientious people. The polarization of citizens on what came to be called “social issues” revealed that most of the troubling (and promising) topics had their roots in religion. Also, much of the ammunition in the soon-stimulated “culture wars” dealt with religion among fighting factions. Whether or not publics are more ready now than they were decades ago to deal with this new world is up for debate. Continue reading “Martin Marty – Religion in Global Affairs”

Martin Marty – The Ups and Downs of Religion

Martin Marty

Those (of us) who do sightings of religion in public life are schooled to notice not only the “what” of religious phenomena and happenings, but also the “where” of each.

A guiding theme in my observing and reporting derives from a provocative and (only slightly) over-stated claim of José Ortega y Gasset: “Tell me your landscape and I will tell you who you are.” It takes more than our “place” to explain our whole selves, but location tells much.

Two items this week popped up on my screen as reminders.

First was a Christian Headlines story by Veronica Neffinger announcing the “Top Ten Most Bible-Minded Cities in the Country.” The Barna Group, reporting through the American Bible Society, listed ten cities which were most “Bible-minded.” Never mind right now what “-minded” here means.  Continue reading “Martin Marty – The Ups and Downs of Religion”

Martin Marty – Blasphemy


Those [of us] who are expected to monitor religious trends have reason to find talk of blasphemy a complex challenge to commentators and responsible citizens.

Islam is an international supplier of reasons for pondering and arguing themes associated with blasphemy. Most terrorism by factions in or at the edges of the Islamic world(s) is usually occasioned by fanatics who act in defense of Allah against heretics, the religious “other,” and “infidels” who are seen or claimed to be blasphemers.

Is it time to rethink blasphemy?

The dictionary can be succinct: blasphemy is radical irreverence or disrespect shown to that which is sacred, holy—especially when deity is involved. But the borderline between hard-core blasphemy and mere irreverence is blurry, and often seen by “the eyes of the beholder.”

This week’s New Yorker prompted reflection on the borderline. Was it crossed or only tip-toed-toward in Simon Rich’s piece, “Day of Judgment” (January 8), illustrated by a Jesus-looking figure gesturing past a score of microphones to an unseen audience.

Irreverent to the core, yes: but was it blasphemous? The star of the article is named “the Messiah,” a proper name in Judaism and Christianity alike. Continue reading “Martin Marty – Blasphemy”

Billy Graham | The University of Chicago Divinity School

Billy Graham | The University of Chicago Divinity School.

Martin Marty on Billy Graham.

Martin Marty – Pope Francis

Pope Francis greeting pilgrims
Pope Francis greeting pilgrims

Depressed, weary, or frightened by stories of USIS and ISIS and other horrors, plus by debates over “religious extremism” and the role of Islam, we focus instead on the not-unimportant figure of Pope Francis, who makes news and inspires reflection. We recommend as a jumping off point Eamon Duffy’s review of three major books: “Who Is This Pope?” which is easy to access online (see “Sources” at the end of this column.)

For a change, we also word-searched “Protestants and Pope Francis” and were astonished to observe how many and how varied were the answers to Duffy’s question, “Who Is This Pope?”

Note first how acceptable this pope is among what many consider “standard-brand ecumenical Protestants,” who historically were on the front lines of engaging, interpreting, plus—until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and some aftermath operations—critiquing and opposing the Roman Catholic Church.

Their spokespersons in the aftermath had much to criticize in Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI. They cheer Pope Francis for many of his ways. Continue reading “Martin Marty – Pope Francis”

Martin Marty – Blasphemy and Freedom

Blasphemy and Freedom.

Martin Marty writes about the tragedy in Paris. And, like always he is worth reading.

Martin Marty – Russian Orthodoxy

Kirill & Putin
Patriarch Kirill & President Putin

“Many a bum show has been saved by the flag,” actor and playwright George M. Cohan once mumbled in criticism of the hypocritical use of patriotic symbols in efforts to rescue bad plays. One could also mumble, “Many a bum cause has been saved by the cross, or the crescent, or the star of David, etc.,” in criticism of the hypocritical use of religion in efforts to rescue incidences of hate, rage, and carnage.

Timothy J. Egan in his New York Times column (July 18, 2014) reviewed the previous week’s bum causes and mis-uses of religion by “Faith-Based Fanatics (see References). Among Egan’s examples: Buddhists, the World Cup, Governor Rick Perry “as spokesman for the deity,” Sunnis, Shiites, Boko Haram, but not Ireland for the moment.

Egan was thankful that the U.S. founders explicitly kept God out of the Constitution. “At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.” But the U.S. is not the topic of today’s Sightings.

Instead, we look further East and mention the newcomer to the cast of characters, the one which came too late to catch Egan’s attention: Russian Orthodoxy. Its hypocritical mis-user of the week was President Vladimir Putin, who made a point of visiting a concert at a shrine for St. Sergius of Radonezh. Continue reading “Martin Marty – Russian Orthodoxy”

Who is a Catholic?

Who is a Catholic?.

In this post Martin Marty tries to respond to a complicated question, which became even more complicated, it seems, with the coming of Pope Francis..

Son of God on Film

Son of God on Film.

Martin Marty on the new mo vie The Son of God.

Religion in 2013

Religion in 2013.

The religious year in review from Sightings.

Pope Francis – The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium

The apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis called Evangelii gaudium (the Joy of the Gospel) has already stirred up lots of passions all around the world.

My friends on the left, politically speaking, sing his praises, because of his sharp critique of present day capitalism, in spite of the fact that the Pope declares he has no allegiance to any ideology. Yet, he is not, as they wish, a socialist; not even a liberation theologian.He only speaks as a gospel man, one who is acquainted with Christ’s bias for the poor and the oppressed

At the same time, those on the right politically  suspect he is a liberal, in spite of the care with which he tries to deal with delicate matters, like those of abortion, or homosexuality, or women ordination. Though not a traditionalist, he is not a revolutionary either. He is, I repeat, a gospel man, a Christ-like leader, and, as such, he upsets everybody in every ideological camp. Continue reading “Pope Francis – The Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium”

Pope Francis Broadens the Christian Agenda

Pope Francis Broadens the Christian Agenda.

Martin Marty talks ironically about the ‘surprising’ emphasis of Pope Francis on the Gospel.
It is a sad reality that many Christians leaders today are more concerned with power than with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Martin Marty – The Infidel and the Indifferent

Here is the latest issue of Sightings. Lots of insight, indeed.

* * *

Fifty-two years ago—can it be?—I published The Infidel: Freethought and American Religion, and have been tracking “the infidel” ever since. Whether he or she was dubbed “free-thinker,” “agnostic,’ “atheist,” “secularist” or many things more, the infidel thrived on the reaction of the “religious” majority. By publishing date in 1961, the infidel had gone off center stage, and scholarly colleagues and I had to ponder what “the religiofication” (as scholar Eric Hoffer called it) of American culture would mean. Infidels not only “went,” from time to time, they “came.” Again.

In recent years opinion surveys, pop culture, and scholarly literature have discovered the unmistakable presence of the current round of “infidels.” The term of choice currently is “the religiously unaffiliated,” a very relaxed term which suggests that “religion”=”affiliation.” Unsatisfied with that big-tent designation, opinion surveyors have helpfully studied and redefined sub-groups in the category. One of the most popular sources finds and names three sub-categories. The American Values Survey (see source at end of this column) looked at the 19% of the population which was “unaffiliated” and found that almost one-fourth of these were “unattached believers,” over one-third were “self-identified atheists and agnostics,” and almost forty percent were simply (well, sometimes maybe complexly) “unaffiliated secular Americans,” not “secularists.” Continue reading “Martin Marty – The Infidel and the Indifferent”

Martin Marty on Suffering Fools Gladly


Martin Marty, sociologist of religions from the Univetrsity of Chicago, is one of my famous commentators of the American religious scene.

His latest text for the Sightings, deals with a recent text published recently by David Brooks in The New York Times.

Brooks explains: ‘The phrase originally came from William Tyndale’s 1534 translation of the Bible. In it, Paul was ripping into the decadent citizens of Corinth for turning away from his own authoritative teaching and falling for a bunch of second-rate false apostles. “For ye suffers fool gladly,” Paul says with withering sarcasm, “seeing ye yourselves are wise.”

Today, the phrase is often used as an ambiguous compliment. It suggests that a person is so smart he has trouble tolerating people who are far below his own high standards. It is used to describe a person who is so passionately committed to a vital cause that he doesn’t have time for social niceties toward those idiots who stand in its way. It is used to suggest a level of social courage; a person who has the guts to tell idiots what he really thinks.’ Continue reading “Martin Marty on Suffering Fools Gladly”

Southern Baptist Decline by Martin E. Marty

Southern Baptist Decline by Martin E. Marty.

Another interesting analysis by Martin Marty. Here is a quotation:

‘The Baptists of the Southern/Great Comission persuasion were supposed to be exempt from (largely) white-Protestant-wide downward trends. Yet in convention in recent days they announced declines in membership every year of the past five, with more decline most recently. You can be sure that leadership will work strenuously to reverse trends, and one may hope with them that they will recover, but . . .’

God’s Care for the Poor by Martin E. Marty

God’s Care for the Poor by Martin E. Marty.

A central topic in the Gospel preached by Jesus Christ,  but often strangely neglected by conservative Christians

Martin Marty on the Present Crisis of Ecumenism

Ecumenical Realities
— Martin E. Marty

“Hopes for an ‘Ecumenical Spring’” was a Christian Century headline above a report by Adelle M. Banks of the Religion News Service. Her report spelled out why such hopes are wan, if not desperate. Three samples: The National Council of Churches has shrunk from 400 staffers in its prime to fewer than twenty today. Churches Uniting in Christ closed its office doors in 2010 and has lost one of its major denominations. Christian Churches Together has “struggled.” Monitor and assess the news of the separate church bodies and you will find few folks mourning or, indeed, “planting” so there can be some sprouts in an “ecumenical spring.” Do people in parishes know of the declines and demises? Would they care, if they did know? If so, what should they do?

The modern ecumenical organizing began just over a century ago, in a very different world. The councils and federations and conferences served well for decades. Ecumenism was “the great new fact of the era,” according to wise Archbishop William Temple, half an era ago. Let me touch on various assessments of why so much has changed, beginning with the denominations or church bodies which made and make up the ecumenical bodies (whose smaller staffs usually include able and faithful people. Continue reading “Martin Marty on the Present Crisis of Ecumenism”

Do We Stand Together? American Jewish Identity and Voices of Dissent

Do We Stand Together? American Jewish Identity and Voices of Dissent.

A matter to ponder.

Martin Marty – World Vision Foreign Aid


November 14, 2011

While polarization marks and blights politics in America today, and while popular culture, commerce, and religion are afflicted with the all-or-nothing ideologies and practices that prevent the citizenry from meeting the challenges which only intensify as seasons pass, here and there and now and then Sightings spies counter-signs. While the media focus on conflict among and within religious communities, those who take the longer view can find occasions for inspiration. That I so often find such signs in publications like The Economist or The Wall Street Journal surprises some readers and perhaps needs some explaining now and then.

A half century ago the company of historians with whom I hung out began to speak of a “two-party system” in American Protestantism and, for that matter in Catholicism and other communities. Then and ever since, the parties kept redefining themselves, drawing revised lines, seeking and finding new causes, new enemies, and new friends. The lines hardened for decades when “the Christian Right” faced off against religious expressions of “the New Left.” My work often took me to places where expectations imprisoned imaginations. Sometimes invited to mainly-evangelical conferences, I would be introduced as “the non-evangelical guest at this year’s meeting.” I would remind others that, among other things, I was the only participant who belonged to a church body which had the word “evangelical” in its very name. Enough about that. Continue reading “Martin Marty – World Vision Foreign Aid”

Martin Marty – Who Wins?

“Let’s you and him fight!” The old comic-book trope is good advice for bystanders as Mark Galli’s God Wins counters Rob Bell and his book Love Wins. The two are respected evangelical leaders, an editor and a pastor, who attract headlines and readerships as they debate “Heaven, Hell” and the “Good News.” Their subject is a meaningful alternative to the otherwise preoccupying evangelicals’ debates over homosexuality and abortion. “The Good News” is a debate over whether “Love Wins” or “God Wins,” and those who hear the biblical word that “God is Love” may have trouble telling the players without a program. Both sides agree that this is all about “the ultimate fate of human beings,” a classic concern of all who believe that there is an afterlife. Continue reading “Martin Marty – Who Wins?”

Generation Wandering by Martin E. Marty

Generation Wandering by Martin E. Marty.

‘Religious’ vs, ‘spiritual’ and the wonmdering of the young generation.

A discussion by Martin Marty on the uselessness (in terms of reaching the young generation) of some contextualization strategies of contemporary churches.

I would strongly suggest that secularization is not so much an expression of the crisis of faith, as it is one of the crisis of the church (as institutionalized religion), that continues to grow more irrelevant as time goes on.

Who Lost Europe? by Martin E. Marty

Who Lost Europe? by Martin E. Marty.

This is a very interesting text, worth reading by all those interested in matters related to secularisation in Europe.

Martin Marty – American Christians and Capitalism

This is a hot topic, that needs to handled carefully at this time of history.

Marty talks about it in one of his latest Sightings, because of new survey done by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI). According to it, ‘more Americans (44 percent) see the free market system at odds with Christian values than those who don’t (36 percent), whether they are white evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Catholics or minority Christian’ (see HERE). This opinion is held even more strongly members of minority groups. Thus: Continue reading “Martin Marty – American Christians and Capitalism”

Martin Marty – Jerusalem, Jerusalem

Madaba Jerusalem Mosaic

Jerusalem, Jerusalem is not about Jerusalem the city. Guidebooks abound and histories are plentiful. What author James Carroll was moved to write is a reflection that deals with Jerusalem both as real and as metaphor. He does not exactly do justice to or make much of his subtitle: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World, but his reflections will ignite at least sparks in the minds of readers who want to ponder with him the question: what is it about religion, with all the solace-bringing good its various forms can bring, that also prompts and promotes violence of most barbaric sorts? Continue reading “Martin Marty – Jerusalem, Jerusalem”

Martin Marty – Fasting for the Poor

“Why We’re Fasting” is the title of columnist Mark Bittman’s essay in Wednesday’s New York Times, the “we” being himself and David Beckmann, here described as a “reverend,” and “this year’s World Food Prize laureate.” The pastor heads “Bread for the World.” Yes, why fast? Readers can do their own sighting and hearing of all the media-reported clashes over the national budget, now in final crunch time. That scan will reveal the obvious: that lost in the necessary political and economic debates blighted by the side-tracking but focal partisan and sub-partisan disputes on the issue is one set of people. Biblical scholars in this “Judeo-” and “Christian” nation call them “God’s people.” They are the poor, disabled, disadvantaged, undersheltered and, yes, hungry, about whom some of the budget debates were supposed to have been waged. Continue reading “Martin Marty – Fasting for the Poor”

Martin Marty – Revolution

Egypt revolution (source of picture, HERE)

This text will appear soon on the Sightings website.

“C’est une révolte,” said King Louis XVI to his messenger about events on July 14, 1789. “Non, Sire, C’est une révolution,” the Duc de La Rochefoucauld-Liancourt corrected him. With this exchange Hannah Arendt pointed to a difference between a revolt—we have seen many of such—and a revolution, which we saw on television and kindred instruments last week in Egypt. The Wall Street Journal was listening, as weren’t we all, to the shouts of protesters in Cairo and elsewhere. “[I]t’s worth noting that the words heard most often . . . have been ‘dignity,’ ‘modernity,’ ‘freedom,’ ‘jobs.’” Words like these “appear to have displaced Allah as the galvanizing ideas for the young in Egypt and Tunisia.” Continue reading “Martin Marty – Revolution”

Working for ‘the good of all’ vs. ‘those of the family of faith’

Martin Marty discusses in his last Sightings, titled ‘Martyrdom and Acquiescence’, about the way in which Western media (especially in the United States) reflects the persecution of Christians and the way in which this is an occasion for some ‘hawks’  (the Chicago Sun-Times columnist Steve Huntley, in particular – see HERE) to articulate their Islamophobic agenda.

Marty rightly aske:

Should America undertake armed intervention in the “top 10 countries that are most dangerous for Christians to practice their religion in?” (Eight of these are Muslim, according to some assessments). Continue reading “Working for ‘the good of all’ vs. ‘those of the family of faith’”

Martin Marty – Global Warming and American Christianity

Those who long recognized that the public has to take a long view, should it wish to address global warming, learned in the recent election that they have to take a longer view. The Tea Party, which makes its first appearance in Sightings today, massively opposes small measures and even serious attempts to bring up the topic.

Not a few Tea Partiers undergird their opposition with theology of the biblical sort. Last October 20 in The New York Times, John M. Broder did a close-up of typical action in campaigns at Jasper, Indiana. Global warming? “It’s a flat-out lie!” shouted the founder of the local T.P., basing his view on theologian Rush Limbaugh and “the teaching of Scripture. ‘I read my Bible. . . [God] made this earth for us to utilize.’” Lisa Deaton, a founder of Tea Partyish “We the People Indiana,” added gloss: “Being a strong Christian, I cannot help believe the Lord placed a lot of minerals in our country, and it’s not there to destroy us.” Continue reading “Martin Marty – Global Warming and American Christianity”

Martin Marty, Christian Violence – Sightings

Divinity School at the University of Chicago | Publications.

Do not miss this article from Martin Marty.

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