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what is love?

07/09/13 1 Comment


the apostle paul sharing his thoughts on love with the early church in corinth, greece.  centuries later, his words continue to hold up well and transcend any religious divisions.  taken from the new international version of the bible, via spiritual inspiration.

related: when shouldn’t you trust love? | the 1st annual love competition


listening to young atheists: lessons for a stronger christianity

06/20/13 1 Comment

pastor george whitfield & philosopher david hume

pastor george whitfield & philosopher david hume

interesting article by larry alex taunton that breaks down some of the walls between the religious & non-religious while also highlighting how much one can gain by being tolerant of beliefs outside of his/her own.  give it a read and share your thoughts on the piece in the comments.  via the atlantic:

“Church became all about ceremony, handholding, and kumbaya,” Phil said with a look of disgust. “I missed my old youth pastor. He actually knew the Bible.”

I have known a lot of atheists. The late Christopher Hitchens was a friend with whom I debated, road tripped, and even had a lengthy private Bible study. I have moderated Richard Dawkins and, on occasion, clashed with him. And I have listened for hours to the (often unsettling) arguments of Peter Singer and a whole host of others like him. These men are some of the public faces of the so-called “New Atheism,” and when Christians think about the subject — if they think about it at all — it is this sort of atheist who comes to mind: men whose unbelief is, as Dawkins once proudly put it, “militant.” But Phil, the atheist college student who had come to my office to share his story, was of an altogether different sort.

Phil was in my office as part of a project that began last year. Over the course of my career, I have met many students like Phil. It has been my privilege to address college students all over the world, usually as one defending the Christian worldview. These events typically attract large numbers of atheists. I like that. I find talking to people who disagree with me much more stimulating than those gatherings that feel a bit too much like a political party convention, and the exchanges with these students are mostly thoughtful and respectful. At some point, I like to ask them a sincere question:

What led you to become an atheist?

Given that the New Atheism fashions itself as a movement that is ruthlessly scientific, it should come as no surprise that those answering my question usually attribute the decision to the purely rational and objective: one invokes his understanding of science; another says it was her exploration of the claims of this or that religion; and still others will say that religious beliefs are illogical, and so on. To hear them tell it, the choice was made from a philosophically neutral position that was void of emotion.

Christianity, when it is taken seriously, compels its adherents to engage the world, not retreat from it. There are a multitude of reasons for this mandate, ranging from care for the poor, orphaned, and widowed to offering hope to the hopeless. This means that Christians must be willing to listen to other perspectives while testing their own beliefs against them — above all, as the apostle Peter tells us, “with gentleness and respect.” The non-profit I direct, Fixed Point Foundation, endeavors to bridge the gaps between various factions (both religious and irreligious) as gently and respectfully as possible. Atheists particularly fascinate me. Perhaps it’s because I consider their philosophy — if the absence of belief may be called a philosophy — historically naive and potentially dangerous. Or maybe it’s because they, like any good Christian, take the Big Questions seriously. But it was how they processed those questions that intrigued me.

To gain some insight, we launched a nationwide campaign to interview college students who are members of Secular Student Alliances (SSA) or Freethought Societies (FS). These college groups are the atheist equivalents to Campus Crusade: They meet regularly for fellowship, encourage one another in their (un)belief, and even proselytize. They are people who are not merely irreligious; they are actively, determinedly irreligious.

Using the Fixed Point Foundation website, email, my Twitter, and my Facebook page, we contacted the leaders of these groups and asked if they and their fellow members would participate in our study. To our surprise, we received a flood of enquiries. Students ranging from Stanford University to the University of Alabama-Birmingham, from Northwestern to Portland State volunteered to talk to us. The rules were simple: Tell us your journey to unbelief. It was not our purpose to dispute their stories or to debate the merits of their views. Not then, anyway. We just wanted to listen to what they had to say. And what they had to say startled us.

This brings me back to Phil.

A smart, likable young man, he sat down nervously as my staff put a plate of food before him. Like others after him, he suspected a trap. Was he being punk’d? Talking to us required courage of all of these students, Phil most of all since he was the first to do so. Once he realized, however, that we truly meant him no harm, he started talking — and for three hours we listened.

Now the president of his campus’s SSA, Phil was once the president of his Methodist church’s youth group. He loved his church (“they weren’t just going through the motions”), his pastor (“a rock star trapped in a pastor’s body”), and, most of all, his youth leader, Jim (“a passionate man”). Jim’s Bible studies were particularly meaningful to him. He admired the fact that Jim didn’t dodge the tough chapters or the tough questions: “He didn’t always have satisfying answers or answers at all, but he didn’t run away from the questions either. The way he taught the Bible made me feel smart.”

Listening to his story I had to remind myself that Phil was an atheist, not a seminary student recalling those who had inspired him to enter the pastorate. As the narrative developed, however, it became clear where things came apart for Phil. During his junior year of high school, the church, in an effort to attract more young people, wanted Jim to teach less and play more. Difference of opinion over this new strategy led to Jim’s dismissal. He was replaced by Savannah, an attractive twenty-something who, according to Phil, “didn’t know a thing about the Bible.” The church got what it wanted: the youth group grew. But it lost Phil.

An hour deeper into our conversation I asked, “When did you begin to think of yourself as an atheist?”

He thought for a moment. “I would say by the end of my junior year.”

I checked my notes. “Wasn’t that about the time that your church fired Jim?”

He seemed surprised by the connection. “Yeah, I guess it was.”

Phil’s story, while unique in its parts, was on the whole typical of the stories we would hear from students across the country. Slowly, a composite sketch of American college-aged atheists began to emerge and it would challenge all that we thought we knew about this demographic. Here is what we learned:

They had attended church

Most of our participants had not chosen their worldview from ideologically neutral positions at all, but in reaction to Christianity. Not Islam. Not Buddhism. Christianity.

The mission and message of their churches was vague

These students heard plenty of messages encouraging “social justice,” community involvement, and “being good,” but they seldom saw the relationship between that message, Jesus Christ, and the Bible. Listen to Stephanie, a student at Northwestern: “The connection between Jesus and a person’s life was not clear.” This is an incisive critique. She seems to have intuitively understood that the church does not exist simply to address social ills, but to proclaim the teachings of its founder, Jesus Christ, and their relevance to the world. Since Stephanie did not see that connection, she saw little incentive to stay. We would hear this again.

They felt their churches offered superficial answers to life’s difficult questions

When our participants were asked what they found unconvincing about the Christian faith, they spoke of evolution vs. creation, sexuality, the reliability of the biblical text, Jesus as the only way, etc. Some had gone to church hoping to find answers to these questions. Others hoped to find answers to questions of personal significance, purpose, and ethics. Serious-minded, they often concluded that church services were largely shallow, harmless, and ultimately irrelevant. As Ben, an engineering major at the University of Texas, so bluntly put it: “I really started to get bored with church.”

They expressed their respect for those ministers who took the Bible seriously

Following our 2010 debate in Billings, Montana, I asked Christopher Hitchens why he didn’t try to savage me on stage the way he had so many others. His reply was immediate and emphatic: “Because you believe it.” Without fail, our former church-attending students expressed similar feelings for those Christians who unashamedly embraced biblical teaching. Michael, a political science major at Dartmouth, told us that he is drawn to Christians like that, adding: “I really can’t consider a Christian a good, moral person if he isn’t trying to convert me.” As surprising as it may seem, this sentiment is not as unusual as you might think. It finds resonance in the well-publicized comments of Penn Jillette, the atheist illusionist and comedian: “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…. How much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?” Comments like these should cause every Christian to examine his conscience to see if he truly believes that Jesus is, as he claimed, “the way, the truth, and the life.”

Ages 14-17 were decisive

One participant told us that she considered herself to be an atheist by the age of eight while another said that it was during his sophomore year of college that he de-converted, but these were the outliers. For most, the high school years were the time when they embraced unbelief.

The decision to embrace unbelief was often an emotional one

With few exceptions, students would begin by telling us that they had become atheists for exclusively rational reasons. But as we listened it became clear that, for most, this was a deeply emotional transition as well. This phenomenon was most powerfully exhibited in Meredith. She explained in detail how her study of anthropology had led her to atheism. When the conversation turned to her family, however, she spoke of an emotionally abusive father:

“It was when he died that I became an atheist,” she said.

I could see no obvious connection between her father’s death and her unbelief. Was it because she loved her abusive father — abused children often do love their parents — and she was angry with God for his death? “No,” Meredith explained. “I was terrified by the thought that he could still be alive somewhere.”

Rebecca, now a student at Clark University in Boston, bore similar childhood scars. When the state intervened and removed her from her home (her mother had attempted suicide), Rebecca prayed that God would let her return to her family. “He didn’t answer,” she said. “So I figured he must not be real.” After a moment’s reflection, she appended her remarks: “Either that, or maybe he is [real] and he’s just trying to teach me something.”

The internet factored heavily into their conversion to atheism

When our participants were asked to cite key influences in their conversion to atheism–people, books, seminars, etc. — we expected to hear frequent references to the names of the “New Atheists.” We did not. Not once. Instead, we heard vague references to videos they had watched on YouTube or website forums.


Religion is a sensitive topic, and a study like this is bound to draw critics. To begin with, there is, of course, another side to this story. Some Christians will object that our study was tilted against churches because they were given no chance to defend themselves. They might justifiably ask to what extent these students really engaged with their Bibles, their churches, and the Christians around them. But that is beside the point. If churches are to reach this growing element of American collegiate life, they must first understand who these people are, and that means listening to them.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this whole study was the lasting impression many of these discussions made upon us.

That these students were, above all else, idealists who longed for authenticity, and having failed to find it in their churches, they settled for a non-belief that, while less grand in its promises, felt more genuine and attainable. I again quote Michael: “Christianity is something that if you really believed it, it would change your life and you would want to change [the lives] of others. I haven’t seen too much of that.”

Sincerity does not trump truth. After all, one can be sincerely wrong. But sincerity is indispensable to any truth we wish others to believe. There is something winsome, even irresistible, about a life lived with conviction. I am reminded of the Scottish philosopher and skeptic, David Hume, who was recognized among a crowd of those listening to the preaching of George Whitefield, the famed evangelist of the First Great Awakening:

“I thought you didn’t believe in the Gospel,” someone asked.

“I do not,” Hume replied. Then, with a nod toward Whitefield, he added, “But he does.”

man writes down the entire king james bible



via the latimes:

Phillip Patterson, a 63-year-old resident of Philmont, N.Y., a town near the Massachusetts border, may be an unlikely scribe for the Bible. He is not especially religious, for one thing, though he does go to church.  A retired interior designer whose battles with anemia and AIDS have often slowed his work, he began the monumental task mostly out of curiosity.

In 2007, Patterson’s longtime partner, Mohammed, told him about the Islamic tradition of writing out the Koran by hand. When Patterson said that the Bible was too long for Christianity to have a similar tradition, Mohammed said, well, he should start it. 

“I hadn’t counted on the fact that it would be so beautiful,” Patterson told the AP. “Or that it would be so exhilarating. And so long.”

this reminded me of a young malcolm x copying an entire dictionary while in prison.  the process of not only reading the book, but actually writing it out gave him a fresh commitment to the words/knowledge it held.  from phillip’s account on the book of proverbs, we can see that he went through a similar experience:

ContentImage-12062-218408-IMG_8486Having never before read the Book of Proverbs, I had a picture in my mind of trite lessons that parents sometimes used to justify their own actions, “spare the rod and spoil the child” leaps to mind. I hadn’t considered the possibility that those particular pages offer a handbook for right living.

Through this entire experience of handwriting the King James Bible, I have come across many ideas that are timeless. Timeless because the problems facing us in this young century have not changed much over these thousands of years. The only thing that seems to have changed is the weapons we’ve invented in order to afflict ourselves – so sad.

Perhaps it is difficult for an individual within the security of his or her home to affect significant change in the world at large. It is possible, however, to begin to begin change within one’s self.

Proverbs speaks greatly of vanity on the cellular level of the soul. It conversely offers remedies that open windows out to the fresh air of personal salvation. For me it’s a place to start. My own question revolves around how far I’m willing to go.

phillip is scheduled to write the final verses from revelation today at his church, st. peter’s presbyterian in spencertown, ny.  below, you can find some photos taken by laura glazer throughout the process.  for more info, check out this website.  first spotted at the paris review.

You may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You refuse to do it because you want to live longer…. You’re afraid that you will lose your job, or you are afraid that you will be criticized or that you will lose your popularity, or you’re afraid that somebody will stab you, or shoot at you or bomb your house; so you refuse to take the stand.

Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.

– rev. dr. martin luther king jr., from a november 1967 sermon he delivered to the ebenezer baptist church in atlanta, ga.  just a few months before his assassination, he used the old testament story of the three hebrew boys to focus on civil disobedience and dealing with adversity no matter the cost.  you can listen to him preach the full sermon (titled “but if not”) below.

on resilience before adversity


champion requiem: does religion & hip hop ever work well together?

08/30/12 1 Comment

one of the better articles that i’ve read this year was about yasiin bey (fka mos def).  it showed how the rapper’s religious faith influenced not only his name change but also some of his music (read it here).  you can hear the spiritual presence on this song from his mos def days, “champion requiem”:

yasiin starts the track with “Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim” (arabic for “In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate”).  he goes on to credit any goodness in him to “the Creator” and later says “Listen God did not make me a fearful person/The only fear I have, Is my fear to adhere his path.”  the emcee could have preached these things at many houses of worship.

that said, spiritual rap is like an abandoned child.  one parent (mainstream religion) shuns it for not being godly enough for holy praise, regardless of the lyrics.  the other parent (mainstream hip hop) shuns it for being too godly (or corny) to entertain or make a profit.  moreover, the music often just sounds bad to both.  sometimes that’s the fault of the artists, but also at play is a resistance to change that closes people’s ears.

while holy hip hop might never find the acceptance it yearns for, it can still have a place in both worlds if done right.  with “champion,” you see the potential on the spiritual end to deliver a message to places and minds that pastors, imams or priests might not reach (yasiin even wishes to hear his words “in the ghetto streets where y’all at…In the parties where it be so packed and the atmosphere be so black”).  for the hip hop heads, it’s another opportunity to edify people using the same medium that they love.

how do you feel about spiritual hip hop?  what would it have to do to be successful in both religious and hip hop settings?  if you know of any good songs that might fit the bill, share in the comments.

related: a documentary that address the issue

christian pastor turned atheist

02/19/12 1 Comment

when it comes to spiritual matters, critical thinking and faith are often put at odds each other where reason is championed by non-believers and faith by believers.  in reality though, they are both critical to your walk with god.  you need to find the right balance however because leaning too much on one over the other is problematic.

exhibit a: pastor tim prowse.  after almost 20 years in the ministry, tim left his church and became an atheist.  it was a decision that he struggled with since seminary school when he began to rely more on critical thinking.  he shares his experience below in an interview with sam harris:

Can you describe the process by which you lost your belief in the teachings of your Church?

An interesting thing happened while I was studying at East Texas Baptist University: I was told not to read Rudolf Bultmann. I asked myself: Why? What were they protecting me from? I picked up Bultmann’s work, and that decision is the catalyst that ultimately paved the road to today. Throughout my educational journey, which culminated in an Ordination from the United Methodist Church where I’ve served for seventeen years, I’ve continued to ask the question “Why?”

Ironically, it was seminary that inaugurated my leap of unfaith. It was so much easier to believe when living in an uncritical, unquestioning, naïve state. Seminary training with its demands for rigorous and intentional study and reflection coupled with its values of reason and critical inquiry began to undermine my naïveté. I discovered theologians, philosophers and authors I never knew existed. I found their questions stimulating but their answers often unsatisfying. For example, the Bible is rife with vileness evidenced by stories of sexual exploitation, mass murder and arbitrary mayhem. How do we harmonize this fact with the conception of an all-loving, all-knowing God? While many have undertaken to answer this question even in erudite fashion, I found their answers lacking. Once I concluded that the Bible was a thoroughly human product and the God it purports does not exist, other church teachings, such as communion and baptism, unraveled rather quickly. To quote Nietzsche, I was seeing through a different “perspective” – a perspective based on critical thinking, reason and deduction. By honing these skills over time, reason and critical thinking became my primary tools and faith quickly diminished. Ultimately, these tools led to the undoing of my faith rather than the strengthening of it.

It sounds like you lost your faith in the process of becoming a minister—or did you go back and forth for some years? How long did you serve as a minister, and how much of this time was spent riven by doubt?

I didn’t lose faith entirely during the ministerial process, although a simmering struggle between faith and doubt was clearly evident. This simmering would boil occasionally throughout my seventeen-year career, but any vacillations I experienced were easily suppressed, and faith would triumph, albeit, for non-religious reasons. Besides the money, time, and energy I had invested during the process, familial responsibilities deterred any decisions to alter course. These faithful triumphs were ephemeral and I found myself living in constant intellectual and emotional turmoil. By not repudiating my career, I could not escape the feeling I was living a lie. I continued to juggle this stressful dichotomy to the point of being totally miserable. Only recently have I succumbed to the doubt that has always undergirded my faith journey.

After I read your book, The End of Faith, I could no longer suppress my unbelief. Since I’d never felt comfortable in clergy garb and refused to accept a first-century worldview, your book helped me see that religion could no longer be an instrument of meaning in my life. I’m sad to say, Sam, this conclusion did not result in an immediate career change. I didn’t break from the church immediately, but rather feigned belief for two more years.

If you could go back in time and reason with your former self, what could you say that might have broken the spell sooner?

I would tell myself to ask questions, to read the text, to wonder, to explore the nuances, to take seriously my intuition and abilities to debate. I’d tell myself to listen to what is actually being said with critical and reasoning ears. I’d tell myself to substitute “Invisible Friend” for “God” every time I encountered the word and notice how ridiculous the rhetoric sounds from grown-ups. I would challenge myself to be more skeptical, to study science. I’d tell myself to find joy in life – it’s the only one you are going to get – don’t waste a second.

Believers often allege that there is a deep connection between faith and morality. For instance, when I debated Rick Warren, he said that if he did not believe in God, he wouldn’t have any reason to behave ethically. You’ve lived on both sides of the faith continuum. I’m wondering if you felt any associated change in your morality, for better or worse.

I’d be interested to know what behaviors or impulses God is deterring Rick Warren from acting upon. I doubt very seriously if “God’s goodness” evaporated tomorrow, Warren would begin robbing banks, raping children, or murdering his neighbors! These types of statements, while common, are fallacious in my opinion. When Rick Warren uses God as his reason for being good, he is not using God in a general sense. He isn’t referring to Thor, Neptune, or Isis, either.

One can find a few biblical passages that do promote “goodness” to use Rick Warren’s term, but only by cherry picking them and avoiding the numerous passages that are appalling, offensive and destructive.

Since God is nothing more than our creation and projection, any talk of God is our reflection looking back at us. Hence, our morality begins with us anyway. My morality hasn’t changed for the worse since I left the faith. If anything, it is much more honest because I am forced to consider what is really going on in ethical decisions. Family, culture, beliefs and values, genetic tendencies, all play a role in shaping morality, but I’m not arguing an extreme relativism. While I do give credence to certain cultural influences on determining right and wrong, I believe that some issues are universal. Which is why, unless Rick Warren is truly demented, he wouldn’t begin doing heinous acts if his faith evaporated tomorrow, and if he did, it would be more the result of mental illness than lack of faith.

Did you ever discuss your doubts with your fellow clergy or parishioners? Did you encounter other ministers who shared your predicament (some can be found at And what happened when you finally expressed your unbelief to others?

As an active minister, I did not discuss my atheism with colleagues or parishioners. Facing lost wages, housing and benefits, I chose to remain silent. However, I did confide in my wife who provided a level of trust, understanding, and support that proved invaluable. Unfortunately, some ministers do not enjoy mature confidants. Some have lost marriages and partners, friends and family, leaving them with feelings of isolation and abandonment. Hence, many continue living in estrangement, uncertain where to turn or who to trust, waiting for their lives to be completely upended when the truth finally is discovered.

This is why the Clergy Project is so important. It provides an invaluable resource of support for current and former clergy who are atheists. It is a safe and anonymous place to discuss the issues atheist clergy encounter while providing encouragement and support that is genuine and heartfelt. It greatly eases the desperation and uncertainty of where to turn or who to trust! I’ve been a member of the Clergy Project since July 2011, and it prepared me well for the responses to expect from friends and family during my post-clergy conversations. So far, I have not been surprised by the responses I’ve received nor have I lost any significant relationships due to my professed atheism, but time will tell.

It is nice to hear that your exit from the ministry has been comparatively smooth. What will you do next?

Repudiating my ordination and leaving faith behind was much smoother than I had anticipated. Ironically, something I had worked years to accomplish ended in a matter of minutes. When I slid my ordination certificates across a Bob Evan’s tabletop to my District Superintendent, I was greatly relieved. The lie was over. I was free. This freedom does not come without consternation, however.

Fortunately, a dear friend helped my family by offering their second home to rent at a very reasonable price. Another dear friend has procured a sales job for me in her company. While housing and employment have been provided in the short term, long term my future is much more uncertain. Ideally, I’d love to write and lecture on my experiences; especially concerning the negative impacts faith and church have on individuals and societies. I’d love to write a novel.

I do not have visions of grandeur, however. If the rest of my life is spent just being a regular “Joe” that will be fine by me. I have a wonderful family and a few good friends. My heart and mind are at ease. I’m healthier now than I’ve been in years and tomorrow looks bright. For the first time in my life, I’m living. Truly living, Sam.

a muslim christmas


Sahira Traband, here with her sons Teo, 10, left, and Mikail, 6, is a Muslim who decorates her house for Christmas, hangs stockings and puts gifts under the tree. She views the holiday as a happy time that doesn't conflict with her faith in Islam.

by raja abdulrahim, la times:

With Christmas comes tradition in the Traband household: A plate of cookies for Santa and carrots for his reindeer. A stocking full of treats for Omar, the family dog. A noble fir decorated with golden garland and keepsake ornaments.

But there is no angel atop the tree.

Sahira Traband feels that would conflict with her family’s faith.

They are Muslims.

“The magic of Christmas is the part we celebrate,” said Traband, 45. “We didn’t get into the whole religious thing.”

At a time when the holiday is being pulled in different directions — some people replace “Merry Christmas” with “Happy Holidays” so as not to offend, while others campaign to “Keep the Christ in Christmas” — it’s not uncommon for Muslims to use the occasion as an entry into American culture, no different from signing up their children for Little League.

Just how many Muslims do observe the holiday is unclear, since it is a personal choice fellow faithful might criticize. But if they were to ask, Muslims might discover they know a family or two who put up trees or send letters to Santa.

That fact may come as an even bigger shock to those outside the community who regard Muslims and their faith as being at odds with Western lifestyles.

“To me, Christmas, unless you’re going to go to church, is a pop culture holiday,” said Maha Awad, a producer and media consultant who is working with the TLC reality show “All-American Muslim.”

Though Jesus is regarded as a prophet in Islam, celebrating Christmas “is not a religious practice,” Awad said.

In her San Fernando Valley home, much of the holiday revolves around her 4-year-old daughter, Sarah, who attends an Islamic school on Sundays and is memorizing parts of the Koran. Awad takes her to visit Santa; they put up a tree and decorate the house with lights and stockings.

“Islam is our religion and Christmas is just a fun holiday we partake in,” said Awad, whose father is Palestinian and mother Egyptian. Growing up in Los Angeles, “it was absolutely part of assimilating,” she said.

Most clerics, however, will argue that followers of Islam should not participate in the Christian holiday, despite its commercialization. A small number of Muslims even go so far as to say that wishing someone a “Merry Christmas” is tantamount to blasphemy.


Still, many Muslims — as well as Jews, Buddhists and other non-Christians — celebrate the day. The act of putting up some tinsel, said Emil Ali, a Muslim, doesn’t conflict with their religious beliefs.

The lawyer, who works at the Department of Labor in Washington, D.C., remembers having to defend himself when he was 12 years old and another Muslim boy told him that celebrating Christmas was forbidden. He responded that the Koran doesn’t forbid having a tree.

Now some of his more conservative friends jokingly say he’s becoming Christian.

“I don’t think Christmas is very religious,” said Ali, 26, whose mother is from Pakistan and father from Tanzania. “When you’re in an American country, you want to blend in and assimilate.”

For Ali, sending out holiday cards and decorating his house with lights is just part of being a good neighbor. Not doing it, he said, would be akin to keeping his empty trash cans by the curb.

Andrew Walther — a spokesman for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic charitable group that regularly sponsors “Keep the Christ in Christmas” campaigns — is much more concerned with Christians who have lost sight of the holiday’s religious origins. He sees no harm in people of other faiths taking part in the holiday.

“The message of Christmas, of having peace on Earth and goodwill, is a very broad message … that resonates with many people,” he said.


Shanaz Khan, a mother of two in West Los Angeles, said she tries to put a Muslim spin on what she sees as the Christian-holiday-gone-secular.

On the “holiday tree” in their home, along with Christmas ornaments, hang decorations wishing everyone a “Happy Eid” — a Muslim holiday that comes twice a year, most recently in early November. On Christmas Day, Khan prepares a traditional holiday meal, making sure the turkey ishalal, or slaughtered according to Islamic law.

The Christmas celebration “is what makes a community,” she said. “It doesn’t deter me away from being a good Muslim or following my faith.”

As a child growing up in England, Traband said, her family celebrated Christmas. When they moved to the United States when she was 9, her parents started to become more religious.

“One year, we just didn’t get any Christmas gifts and we never spoke about it. It was like this shameful thing,” she said.

When Traband left home at 18, she re-embraced Christmas. She and a roommate got a small tree and decorated it with jewelry because they had no ornaments.

One recent evening, Traband was sitting on a comfortable sofa in her South Los Angeles home. Behind her was a framed calligraphy that read: “There is no victor but Allah.”

She asked her two sons, “You know that a lot of Muslims don’t celebrate Christmas, right?”

“I don’t get it,” said 10-year-old Teo. “Is it because Jesus was born that day?”

“It’s not a Muslim holiday,” Traband explained.

“That’s messed up,” Teo said, looking at his mother for affirmation. “People should be able to celebrate whatever they want.”


When she became a mother, Traband said, she started filling the space beneath the tree with gifts. Now she too struggles to keep the holiday from becoming overly commercial.

When Teo told her that he thought Jesus was only a Christian figure, Traband saw it as an opportunity to educate her children. She said that because there is so much emphasis on the prophet Muhammad in Islam — almost to the exclusion of other prophets — Muslims can feel as though they have less of a claim on Jesus.

“I think Jesus has been a bit co-opted by Christians,” she said.

This year, the family attended a Christmas party held by the group Muslims for Progressive Values. The adults spoke about Jesus’ role in Islam: as a messenger, a healer and the son of the Virgin Mary. Most of the children, however, were too focused on the sugary holiday treats to pay attention.

A few days later, Traband asked Teo whom he would have dinner with if he could choose anyone, dead or alive.

Inspired by the recent lessons on the importance of Jesus in Islam, Teo was torn between the prophet and his favorite rapper.

“I don’t think I would have much to talk about with Jesus, because of my age,” he said. “So I picked Eminem.”

step into a church/synagogue/masjid and you will come across people whose words & actions seem in tune with god.  however, regardless of appearances, these same people’s hearts & minds could tell a different story.  a group of singers from the first baptist church in orlando took a satirical look at such worship in the video above.  in their words:

Sometimes when we worship, we don’t really mean it. This is what it would look like if we were to sing what we really meant.

wrong worship


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