Posts Tagged ‘religion’

By Christopher Harper

As Christians, Jews, and Muslims observe the important religious rites of Easter, Passover, and Ramadan, I suggest that every believer and nonbeliever read the seminal works of Russian author Leo Tolstoy and his search for the meaning of life and religion.

Born into Russian royalty in 1828, Tolstoy became one of the most influential authors in the world. War and Peace and Anna Karenina are two of the greatest novels ever written.

As a member of the Russian elite, the young Tolstoy lived a dissolute life of gambling, drinking, and debauchery.

But a crisis of conscience, particularly after his service in the Crimean War in the mid-1850, sent him into a deep depression.

His search for the meaning of life led him to a personal belief in God that also emphasized nonviolence and asceticism. Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. acknowledged the importance of Tolstoy’s writings in their beliefs.

A Confession, published in 1880, chronicles Tolstoy’s search for the meaning of life and the influence of God.

At the outset, Tolstoy admits that his life and those of the elite lacked any significant meaning except to engage in debauchery. He writes: “I asked: ‘What is the meaning of my life, beyond time, cause, and space?’ And I replied to quite another question: ‘What is the meaning of my life within time, cause, and space?’ With the result that, after long efforts of thought, the answer I reached was: ‘None’.”

Tolstoy explores the sciences for the meaning of life and finds them wanting because they can only define the mathematical explanation of existence.

He writes: “It was long before I could believe that human learning had no clear answer to this question. For a long time, it seemed to me, as I listened to the gravity and seriousness wherewith Science affirmed its positions on matters unconnected with the problem of life, that I must have misunderstood something. For a long time, I was timid in the presence in learning, and I fancied that the insufficiency of the answers which I received was not its fault but was owing to my own gross ignorance, but this thing was not a joke or a pastime with me, but the business of my life, and I was at last forced, willy-nilly, to the conclusion that these questions of mine were the only legitimate questions underlying all knowledge, and that it was not I that was in fault in putting them, but science in pretending to have an answer for them.”

For the most part, he found organized religion wanting, mainly because of the hypocrisy of those heading the Russian Orthodox Church, and that got him excommunicated from the church. Nevertheless, he found the simple faith of the working and lower classes much closer to how he thought religion should be centered on faith.

Finally, Tolstoy writes about a dream in which he is pushed out into a river and understands the meaning of his life. He writes: “The shore was God, the stream was tradition, and the oars were the free will be given to me to make it to the shore where I would be joined with God. Thus, the force of life was renewed within me, and I began to live once again.”

Tolstoy’s Confession and his later books, The Kingdom of God Is Within You and Resurrection, became more important to him than his recognized great works.

This season may be a good time to read this great man’s search for meaning.

Palm Sunday

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – As Christians around the world prepare for Holy Week, I’ve been thinking a lot about church attendance. Christmas and Easter are the two days of the year that you can well assume that the pews will be filled. Even the days leading up to those services start to see a slight uptick in attendance; yesterday we had our Palm Sunday service and had perhaps 25% more people in church than in past weeks.

We have a new Rector at our church which is also helping the attendance numbers; he’s been onsite for about five weeks, and people are showing up to see what the buzz is about. Whether or not they will continue to show is the question.

Church attendance across denominations is low. In March 2021 there was a Gallup poll conducted on this:

The proportion of Americans who consider themselves members of a church, synagogue or mosque has dropped below 50 percent, according to a poll from Gallup released Monday. It is the first time that has happened since Gallup first asked the question in 1937, when church membership was 73 percent.

That’s both sad and scary to me.

I’ve not always been the most faithful in attendance, but it seems the older I get, the more I realize how important it is, and how meaningful the liturgy is to me. We attend the Episcopal church that my parents took us to when I was a kid, so I have strong sentimental attachments and memories there. It felt rather like coming home when my husband and I started going back to church on Sunday.

Religious services are simply not a priority for so many these days. In our congregation our average age is easily in the 60s-70s range. We have some young families, but not in overwhelming numbers, and those that are actually members don’t attend because they have soccer games or softball tournaments for their kids, or some other such activity that is always more important.

I’m not judging anyone, but I do wonder why events like that are scheduled for Sunday morning? I don’t recall that always being the case.

And with most things, politics causes a divide in religious congregations sometimes. Congregations wrestle with issues like sexual orientation and abortion, and try to determine where as a congregation we stand on these things? Are we a big umbrella welcoming all? Why is our Rector teaching a book written by a gay priest? (gasp!). Do we allow gay marriage or not? When does life begin? When does it end? How does it end? Does it end?

So many issues can bog us down. Faith is such a personal thing but also something we find strengthens in fellowship with others.

It seems to me in an ever more complex and confusing world, the only place I find peace and stillness is in the church. My head clears, my heart listens, and I find hope and clarity. It is my hope that as Holy Week and Easter begins to fill the pews, if only for a short time, at least a few people will also find this same peace and will continue to come back.

It sure couldn’t hurt anything. With the state of society these days, it sure could not hurt.

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and at Medium; she is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

By John Ruberry

Within the last month two new seasons of Viking-themed series began streaming on Netflix, Vikings: Valhalla and Season Five of The Last Kingdom. The former is a sequel to another Netflix series, Vikings, which I have not seen, but as the action of Valhalla occurs about 100 years after the first batch of shows, viewers need not have tuned in to Vikings to follow the new action.

The Last Kingdom and Vikings: Valhalla have much in common, besides Scandinavians battling the English. A main plot driver in both shows is the conflict between Christians and followers of the Norse gods. Presumably Valhalla begins the same year, 1016, when Canute the Great seized the crown of England. Ironically, only two English kings, Alfred, who is played by David Dawson in the first three seasons of The Last Kingdom, and Canute, gained the epithet “the Great.” Oh, when Canute was crowned, this Viking, who later became king of Norway and Denmark, was a Christian.

Both shows attempt to be even-handed between the two cultures, but they leave out one very nasty part of Viking life, slavery. Yes, there was slavery among Christian Europeans, but slaves–thralls are what the Norse called them–were an essential part of the spoils of Viking raids. However, both series portray human sacrifice by the Scandinavians.

Vikings: Valhalla, which consists of eight episodes, is the inferior of the two shows, so let’s get that one out of our way. Its central character is Leif Erikson (Sam Corlett). Yeah, he’s the same man who journeyed to North America around 1000. While there is no historical record that says Erikson participated in wars with the English, there’s no proof that he didn’t. It’s believed around the time of his journey to North America he converted to Christianity, but he’s a follower of the Norse gods here, although he dabbles with the Christian religion. His sister, Freydís Eiríksdóttir (Frida Gustavsson), is a devout follower of the Norse faith. Freydís is romantically involved with Harald Sigurdsson (Leo Suter), who history tells us was a newborn at the time of they were “getting it on” in the show.

The main action of Vikings: Valhalla originates in the Norwegian town of Kattegat, which is ruled by Jarl Haakon (Caroline Henderson), who history tells us was a white man, but here Haakon is a black woman.

I could go on for quite much longer on the many historical anomalies, but I will conclude here that had Vikings: Valhalla had an intriguing story line, if the performances were compelling–Henderson’s overacting is particularly annoying–and hey, if the CG was believable, then I’d say, “tune in.”

But don’t.

The Last Kingdom’s fifth last season takes place around 920. Its lead character, the fictional Uhtred, whose birthright as lord of Bebbanburg in Northumbia, England was usurped by the Danes in the first episode of Season One. He was raised by Danes, during that time he abandoned Christianity for the Norse gods, although he’s not very devout. When Uhtred reaches adulthood, he’s a skilled fighter and a ladies’ man, a James Bond of the Middle Ages.

The Last Kingdom is based on Bernard Cornwell’s Saxon Stories series of books.

Alfred the Great’s goal was not only to defeat the Danes–the word “Viking” is never uttered during The Last Kingdom–but also to create from his small kingdom of Wessex a unified England. It’s up to his son, King Edward, to complete the task, with Uhtred’s assistance of course.

All the while Uhtred is forced to confront a onetime romantic interest, fellow-Saxon and abductee, Brida (Emily Cox), whose faith in the Norse religion is strong.

Edward meanwhile has to confront betrayal within his court as a unified England seems within grasp.

While a bit wooden at times, the acting in The Last Kingdom is generally quite good. The battle scenes are intense, and the plotlines are strong enough to keep watching. But to figure out what is happening here, you absolutely have to watch the first four seasons beforehand. One flaw of The Last Kingdom, as with Ozark, which also took a year off from filming, presumably because of the COVID outbreak, is that it is need of very strong recaps at the beginning of each episode, of which there a ten this season. Hey, people forget things two years later. Another challenge in keeping the storyline straight is that many of the characters’ names, all based on historical figures, are similar; they incorporate the Old English prefix “Æthel,” which translates into modern English as “noble,” or Ælf. Had they asked me, I would have for starters changed the name of a duplicitous rat, Æthelhelm (Adrian Schiller), a character whose historical standing is foggy. In The Last Kingdom he’s the father of Edward’s second wife, Ælflæd (Amelia Clarkson). One son of Edward is Æthelstan (Harry Kilby) another is his half-brother Ælfweard (Ewan Horrocks), he’s the son of Ælflæd.

A spin-off of The Last Kingdom is in the works, a movie titled Seven Kings Must Die.

There are two more seasons of Vikings coming. I probably won’t be watching.

Both programs are rated TV-MA for violence, nudity, and sex.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

The military never cared about religion

Posted: December 4, 2021 by copperhilltradingco in News/opinion, war
Tags: , , , ,

While I don’t have a print subscription to the Military Times newspapers, I still get their morning email, and today’s headline featured the US Navy not accepting any religious exemptions for the COVID vaccine:

As the deadline for active-duty sailors to get the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passed Monday, the sea service has yet to grant any vaccine exemptions on the basis of religious accommodation, according to figures released Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, 2,531 requests for exemption from the vaccine mandate had been filed by sailors on religious grounds, though officials could not say how many of those requests had been ruled upon.

Navy Times

I’m not surprised, because in my experience, the Navy (and most services) don’t really care about your religious beliefs. Never have, never will, because in today’s service, the service is the religion.

I noticed this trend when I first joined the Navy. I remember having to beg the Commanding Officer on my submarine to get a mere 45 minutes off on Sunday to hold Catholic services. Mind you, we weren’t on mission, at war, or even strapped for time, but he couldn’t be bothered, and it wasn’t until I talked with the squadron chaplain that I was grudgingly granted the time. This was despite the fact that there are plenty of instructions stating that time and space will be provided unless a submarine is on mission or executing critical duties. My Commanding Officer viewed my request as a nuisance, and he told me as much to my face.

It wasn’t just one CO though. At multiple duty stations, there would be this unwillingness to grant military members the time off to celebrate their faith, be it Christian, Jewish or anything else. In Bahrain, where Sunday is considered a workday, I essentially caused a small office revolt by going to noon Mass on Sunday and telling my boss I simply wasn’t going to work yet another 12 hour work day when we weren’t in crisis mode. I distinctly remember the Admiral there telling us at an all-hands call that he was expecting 6 day work weeks, and even most Saturday mornings, despite no apparent need to do so. It was like the Navy was his “god,” and he couldn’t pray enough while slogging through the mass of self-induced paperwork at his desk.

If the Navy can’t provide a simple hour for Mass once a week, its no surprise they won’t approve vaccine exemptions. Now, to be fair, I encourage people to vaccinate because I think its far better than catching COVID, but I also don’t really think its a hill worth dying on or kicking people out over, similar to why I don’t think we should be stopping everything to chase the extremely tiny number of extremists that might exist in the ranks.

Kicking people out over a COVID vaccine is just one more reason the Navy is going to be hurting for recruitment come 2024-2025. The lip service paid to everything from ship maintenance and strategy to human resources and bonuses is becoming more obvious every day. People are catching on that the Navy views itself as its own religion, and if you’re not willing to worship, then you’ll be shown the door.

This post represents the views of the author and not those of the Department of Defense, Department of the Navy, or any other government agency. If you liked this article, consider supporting the author by purchasing his book for either yourself or as a Christmas gift.