Entries in Religion (15)


Is Halloween the New Christmas?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- In days of old, the sight of houses covered in over-the-top light decorations, miles of yard displays and extravagant spending on sweets meant only one thing: Christmas was near.

Now, the celebration begins two months earlier, in October, for Halloween.

The holiday that once meant just quaint trick-or-treating and a costume contest or two is now second only to Christmas when it comes to celebrating, according to a survey from the National Retail Federation.

Nearly 69 percent of Americans say they intend to celebrate the holiday this Monday, Oct. 31, the highest amount in the survey’s nine-year history.

Nearly half of those celebrating will decorate their homes and/or yard, and each will spend an average $72.31 on decorations, costumes and candy -- a figure second only to the amount spent by individuals on Christmas décor.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


New Jersey Church Distributes $30,000 in 'Reverse Offering'

Design Pics / SW Productions/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A New Jersey church turned the traditional money collection part of the service on its head with a "reverse offering" this weekend. When the Liquid Church passed around its popcorn-bucket collection baskets, people were told to take an envelope with the words "God Trusts You" on them. Each envelope contained a $10, $20 or $50 bill.

In total, the church distributed $30,000 of its money Sunday to 2,100 people, but there is a message behind the money, lead pastor Tim Lucas said.

"This wasn't a handout," he said. "That's the tip of the iceberg. We challenge people; we want them to creatively invest this money."

The congregants in the church's three locations in Morristown, New Brunswick and Nutley were instructed to take the money, no strings attached, and use it as a "spiritual stimulus." The pastor said this meant different things for different people.

One woman, a single mother, was thrilled that the $50 she received could help her with gas money for the week, which had been a struggle. Another person decided they would use the money to buy groceries and cook a meal for neighbors whose home had been damaged by Hurricane Irene.

Yet another woman is a baker of custom cakes and said the $50 could cover the ingredients for a cake, which she would sell for $500 and donate the money back to the church as part of an initiative to feed the homeless in the community.

Lucas said his intentions were pure and that there was no political message or ulterior motives behind the action.

The pastor spoke about how each U.S. bill has the words "In God We Trust" on it and Lucas inversed the idea into "God Trusts Us." He said that when a person is fortunate enough to have money brought into their lives, God trusts that they will do the right thing with it to help others who are less fortunate.

The non-denominational Christian Liquid Church has three locations, but no permanent buildings. It holds services in hotels and schools. Lucas said the church invests in people, not buildings, and that the church took a financial risk with Sunday's distribution of money.

While the reverse offerings won't be a weekly event, Lucas hopes to do it again in the future, although the surprise will not be the same. "People were shocked," he said. "When they were reaching in, some looked like God was going to strike them down with lightning."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Heaven a 'Fairy Story' to Stephen Hawking, Not to Many Americans

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage(LONDON) -- British physicist Stephen Hawking may think that heaven is a mere "fairy story," but he's hard-pressed to find those who share his perspective on this side of the pond.

This weekend, the U.K.'s The Guardian newspaper published an interview with Hawking in which the celebrated scientist said "there is no heaven....that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Hawking has expressed similar beliefs in books and previous interviews, but the statement sparked headlines in the U.S., where a large percentage of the population believes in a religious afterlife -- both good and bad.

The 68-year-old Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, when he was 21, is not unfamiliar with contemplating the possibility of an afterlife. He told The Guardian that he's lived with the prospect of an early death for nearly five decades.

But the internationally known scientist and author said, "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

In a 2010 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, when asked if there was a way to reconcile religion and science, he said, "There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works."

While Hawking's views on religion and heaven may be relatively consistent with the views of his countrymen, research from The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests he's at odds with the prevailing American perspective.

According to a 2007 Pew study of religious beliefs across the country, 92 percent of Americans said they believe in a god or universal spirit and 74 percent said they believe that there is a heaven. When asked about their views on an afterlife, 74 percent of Americans affirmed their belief, with 50 percent saying they believed with "absolute certainty."

But other studies show that the world doesn't necessarily share the United States' frenzy for faith. A 2010 Pew survey found that while 58 percent of American respondents said religion was "very important" to their lives, just 17 percent of British respondents gave the same reply.

Heaven is also apparently more popular than hell. While 74 percent of Americans believe in heaven, just 59 percent believe hell, said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Membership of Pentecostal Church, Jehovah's Witnesses Up, Protestant Down

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- America is the most developed nation when it comes to religion. It has a dynamic, competitive religious marketplace -- which means it has winners and losers.

According to a report by the National Council of Churches, the biggest losers are the mainstream Protestant churches -- the Presbyterian Church, Methodists and Lutherans are all showing a dip in membership.

While each of them are down just a few percentage points (the data was compiled in 2009 and reported to the council in 2010) the declines have reached into the double digits over the last decade. Some of the churches are responding with ad campaigns.

Pentecostal churches, on the other hand, are seeing a surge in membership. More people are attending the services, where members believe that the Holy Spirit can give you gifts, like speaking in tongues. Sarah Palin famously used to attend.

The Jehovah's Witnesses, known for their door-to-door preaching, had the largest growth of any single denomination. They believe secular society is corrupt, and that Armageddon is imminent. Famous members include Venus and Serena Williams. Membership shot up 4.37 percent in a year.

Membership in the Mormon Church also went up, by 1.42 percent. With famous members like Mitt Romney, Glenn Beck and Twilight author Stephanie Meyer, the church is doing more outreach to the mainstream media.

The biggest competition for churches isn't other churches, it's other things entirely, like television, the Internet and the mall. The new report says that total church membership in America continues to decline. Fifteen percent of Americans say they have no religion.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Ad Campaign Promoting Atheism Draws Ire and Protest

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- This holiday season, after the marathon of shopping and stressful travel comes to a close, the masses will finally gather to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas. But one group says it is using the most religious time of the year to call attention to the plight of an often forgotten group: non-believers and atheists.

Advertisements paid for by the American Humanist Association -- an organization of non-believers -- have been popping up on television, radio and on billboards in cities across the country. The organization has spent more than $200,000 to get their campaign out into the public this season, with the hope that it will encourage atheists across the country to step out of the closet.

The association said it chose to launch the controversial – and to some, highly offensive – campaign at the end of the year to promote its agenda and counter the religious overtones of the Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah holiday season.

"Us doing these ad campaigns during the holiday season shouldn't be any different than doing them any other time of year, except for this idea that criticizing religion is taboo," said Roy Speckhardt of the American Humanist Association. "Well, we'd like that taboo to be set aside."

Atheists tend to agree that religion is oppressive and far too intrusive in American society and politics, and liken their situation to that of homosexuals 20 years ago, he said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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