MONEY Charity

The Surprising Reason People Are Mobbing Church Pews

This Jan. 12, 2014 photo shows people gathered for mass inside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo, N.Y., during a “Mass Mob.”
A "Mass Mob" in January packed the pews of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Buffalo, N.Y. Carolyn Thompson—AP

So-called "Mass Mobs" are flooding beautiful old Catholic churches in Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, and other cities to raise money and boost enthusiasm among the faithful.

The term “flash mob” was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004, defined as a group of people meeting in a public place to perform an “unusual or seemingly random act,” before heading off again on their merry way, in also random fashion. While the original inventor of the flash mob came up with the idea as a way to mock hipster conformity, the concept was nonetheless broadly adopted (of course!) by the trend-following masses. Within weeks of the first flash mob, there were copycat events all over the world.

Mobs have since popped up everywhere from Target stores to Manhattan’s Katz’s Deli (the latter for a group re-creation of the fake orgasm scene in “When Harry Met Sally”). The movement has also been coopted by Russian political operatives, who reportedly paid people to form a flash mob in support of Vladimir Putin; by corporate brands like Oscar Mayer, BMW, Arby’s, and IKEA, which are known to hire “random” flash mobs for marketing events; and even by hoodlums who conduct “flash robs,” in which a group of young people floods a store and grabs as much stuff as possible before running off without paying.

In the next evolution of the flash mob, the masses have turned their attention to, well, mass. Credit for the rise of the Mass Mob goes to a group in Buffalo, which organized its first event at Saint Adalbert Basilica last November and followed that up with a handful of flash mass (in both senses of the word) attendances at other churches in the city. At a Mass Mob in January, for instance, Buffalo’s Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church received a helping hand in the form of 300 parishioners, when a typical Sunday mass sees fewer than 100 churchgoers.

“Maybe it will inspire people to come a few times a year,” Christopher Byrd, one of Buffalo’s Mass Mob organizers, said of the group’s efforts. “And it gives the church a little one-day boost, attendance-wise and in the collection basket.”

The idea has proven inspirational in another way, with similar Mass Mob groups and events popping up in cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. A recent Mass Mob at Detroit’s St. Florian church, for instance, resulted in a crowd of 2,000 people for a mass that’s usually attended by about 200, and the collection basket topped $19,000, also roughly 10 times the norm.

TIME Religion

The Pope’s New American Archbishop Might Address Income Inequality

Pope Names Blase Cupich As New Archbishop Of Chicago
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 20: Archbishop-Elect Blase Cupich helps Francis Cardinal George from the lecturn during a press conference on September 20, 2014 in Chicago, Illinois. This is the first time in the history of the Chicago Archdiocese that a new leader has been appointed while the former is still alive. Scott Olson—Getty Images

Blase Cupich is opposed to the lavish lifestyle that some of his peers embrace and has what is referred to as “a heart for the poor.” His elevation signals where Pope Francis intends to take the American church

The rap on Blase Cupich is that he’s a Pope Francis kind of guy. Which is to say that he’s politically moderate, opposed to the lavish lifestyle that some of his peers have formerly embraced (in Spokane, his post since 2010, he lived on a seminary campus and owned no furniture), and has what is often referred to as “a heart for the poor.” In his few public remarks since the Holy Father tapped Cupich to be the new Archbishop of Chicago beginning in November, he has been understandably muted about the task before him. He was chosen “to serve the needs of the people,” Cupich said at a press conference, characterizing his role more as “pastor” than as “messenger.”

But Cupich’s role encompasses far more than that. He will lead 2 million Catholics in the third-largest diocese in America. And Cupich is the Pope’s first leadership choice among the four most important posts in the American church – the archbishops of Boston, New York, Washington, and Chicago. His elevation signals where Pope Francis intends to take the American church.

Read the full article here.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

There’s Nothing Wrong With Medical Missionaries Talking About Faith With Patients

Emory Hospital Releases American Aid Workers Treated For Ebola
Dr. Kent Brantly speaks during a press conference announcing his release from Emory Hospital on August 21, 2014 in Atlanta, Georgia. Dr. Brantly and another patient, Nancy Writebol, were released from Emory Hospital after receiving treatment for Ebola that they both contracted while working as medical missionaries in Liberia. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

“It’s great that these people are doing God’s work, but do they have to talk about Him so much?” So muses Brian Palmer at Slate about the work of medical missionaries like Dr. Kent Brantly, who contracted Ebola in Liberia. I’m almost embarrassed to write about this piece, because it is such an easy target. But the Brantly case has put new focus on the work of medical missionaries, who are generating surprisingly negative comments from certain observers. These critiques have fallen into several categories: those who say that the missionaries are stupid for putting themselves in harm’s way, those who say that the missionaries should get no special treatment when they contract a disease that has affected so many others in Africa, and those like Palmer who insist that medical missionaries are wrong to speak about their faith to patients. Here’s three observations about this debate:

1) Palmer and other critics have a deluded sense of “neutral” medicine. Doctors who deal with suffering and dying patients will inevitably send messages, explicit or implicit, to their patients and patients’ families, about the meaning of dying and death. Doctors who think that death is a purely natural event, and that there is no afterlife, or who are agnostic on such questions, will tend to communicate that sentiment to clients. This partly explains why so many Christian doctors do volunteer for the mission field – they believe that there is transcendent meaning in both life and death, and that every person has an eternal destiny. They are uniquely positioned to help people who are struggling with such questions. All doctors can and should be sensitive to issues of politeness and propriety, and the religious convictions (or lack thereof) of patients. But no doctor – no person – is “neutral” on topics like suffering, death, and the afterlife.

2) Making volunteer medical service contingent upon silence about one’s faith would be devastating to impoverished regions internationally. As Palmer himself notes, disproportionate numbers of doctors and nurses serving in under-serviced areas of the world (like Liberia) are people of faith. Devout Protestant and Catholic Christians are among the most common volunteers. They serve to honor God, and they do not believe that they can honor God fully if they do not speak about Jesus Christ to clients, when appropriate. Palmer seems unable to identify with the vast majority of people in the world who do not believe that death is the end of life, nor does he fathom that serious believers cannot be silent about their faith in their vocations.

Domestically and abroad, people of faith are far more likely to give time and money to charitable causes than are secular people. (Just this week another survey appeared demonstrating that the most charitable states are those with the highest rates of churchgoing.) You can accuse these believing folks of having ulterior motives, but where are the legions of atheist volunteers to take their place? Palmer’s innuendos about how the missionaries might be doing more medical harm than good are vicious and slanderous.

3) Christians must not object to other medical volunteers who speak of their own faith (or lack thereof) to clients. Of course, there are secular medical agencies such as Doctors without Borders (though presumably many of their individual volunteers are people of faith as well), Muslim medical missionaries, and those of other faiths. While Christians will not agree with the implicit or explicit messages these doctors may share with clients, the principles of religious liberty and charity would affirm that all medical “missionaries” are free to serve and speak (or not) in the name of their faith, and that their healing work does great worldly and humanitarian good. If we expect others to honor Christians’ right to freely witness about Christ, then workers of other traditions, or no faith at all, should have that freedom as well. Of course, this point may be moot: I don’t recall hearing of many Christians echoing the kinds of complaints made by secularists like Brian Palmer…

See also Ross Douthat’s take on the piece, in which he concludes that he thinks Palmer’s real complaint is “not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.” Agreed.

Thomas Kidd is Professor of History at Baylor University and is Senior Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion. His books include George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2014), Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. He earned his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Supreme Court

Meet the Lawyers Fighting for Religious Freedom Today Before the Supreme Court

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty outside of the Supreme Court in Washington. Courtesy Becket Fund

Arguing for a Muslim prisoner's right to grow a beard is just the latest effort for the firm that won the Hobby Lobby case

Gregory Houston Holt wants to grow a half-inch beard but he can’t, and that’s a problem. Holt is Muslim and he believes that wearing a beard is a requirement of his Salafi faith. But he’s serving a life sentence for attempted murder in Arkansas, where the Department of Corrections has banned beards as a potential security threat. On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Holt’s case, and just as interesting as the outcome of his claim is who will argue it for him. Holt, who now goes by the name Abdul Maalik Muhammad, has put his faith not in a big name first amendment litigator nor in the secularist American Civil Liberties Union, but in the lawyers of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Holt’s faith in the Becket Fund is well founded. A small, non-profit public interest law firm, with just eleven litigating attorneys and a $5 million annual budget, the Fund is a rising star in Washington. Everyone from unknowns like Holt to corporate giants like Hobby Lobby, which this year won expanded religious exemptions from Obamacare, turns to Becket for high profile cases at the high court. Its lawyers are most famous for arguing the often politically incorrect view that the constitution’s protection of the free exercise of religion has been eclipsed in recent years by government deference to other parts of the constitution. That’s no easy task, since arguments over religious liberty can be some of the thorniest, and most heated, in America.

But the Becket lawyers are shaking up Washington for a simple reason: they win. Over 20 years, Becket has won 85% of its cases–from 1920-2000, the ACLU averaged a little over 65% in religion cases at the Supreme Court, according to the website procon.org. The Supreme Court repeatedly cites the Fund’s briefs in decisions, and Becket’s first case at the Court in 2012 was a 9-0 slam dunk, ruling that the government cannot interfere with a religious group’s choice of whom to hire, even when the employees claim they were discriminated against because of their physical disabilities. Becket is mastering a pattern, supporters say: identify religious litigants with strong claims, present compelling constitutional arguments, and recruit top free exercise litigators. The result is a resurgent ascendancy of religious freedom relative to other rights. “They have outsized success in these cases coming to the court and winning them at the court,” says Viet Dinh, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General and professor at Georgetown University Law Center. “In many ways I think of them as God’s ACLU.”

Every generation has its own fight over religious freedom—it’s a debate that has driven the American story from the day the pilgrims set sail on the Mayflower. The influx of Catholic immigrants after the Civil War prompted the rise of the Blaine amendments to stop public funding of religious education. Jehovah’s Witnesses who refused to salute the flag sparked national debates during World War II. Public school prayer, nativity displays, and the pledge of allegiance prompted the fights of the later 20th century.

It was in the midst of those debates, in 1994, that Kevin “Seamus” Hasson founded the Becket Fund. Hasson, a Catholic lawyer specializing in religious liberty law at Williams and Connolly, felt that the conversation about religion in America was becoming one great non sequitur—one side was arguing that religion was not a societal good while the other insisted that America was a Christian country. Hasson believed that religious liberty comes not from the government or from faith itself, but rather from human dignity. “What we require freedom for is to seek the true, the good, and the beautiful, embrace whatever it is we believe we have found, and express it according the full measure of humanity,” Hasson, who retired in 2011 due to Parkinson’s, says.

Though many of its recent and more prominent clients have been Christian, the Becket Fund has made a point of not pegging itself just to Christian interests, taking on Muslim and Jewish clients, and even more obscure religious causes, like those of a Santeria priest in Texas. Unlike commercial for-profit firms, Becket relies on donors to underwrite its free representation of clients. Some 70% of its donations come from individuals, usually in $25,000 to $100,000 chunks, says Becket Fund president Bill Mumma. The firm’s lawyers are first amendment religious liberty specialists, but the Fund requires they also all be faithful—employees include Mormons, Catholics, evangelicals, Muslims and others.

Becket broke onto the national scene thanks to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Its clients Wheaton College, an evangelical liberal arts school, and Catholic organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and Eternal Word Television Network, are among the 319 plaintiffs claiming the law’s requirement to provide female employees with insurance plans that include payment for various contraceptives violates religious freedom. But Becket also focuses on low-profile, high-impact cases. The Fund defended Amish men in upstate New York who said local building regulations infringed on their traditional construction methods. It backed a Sikh woman who wanted to wear a kirpan, a small, religiously-symbolic knife, at her job in a government building. Becket has also mastered plain English press releases and media-savvy optics. When the Supreme Court ruled with Becket that Hobby Lobby should have a religious exemption from the contraception mandate, Becket’s female lawyers, not its male ones, were front and center on TV.

Ultimately, though, Becket’s success comes from higher courts’ openness to new interpretations of the First Amendment’s religious protections. For the last half of the 20th century, the Supreme Court read the amendment’s ban on state-established religion and its guarantee of free religious exercise largely as protecting minorities including smaller sects, women and others. Under recent, more conservative courts, Becket has found sympathy for the idea that majority Christian religions get those protections, too, especially when they face off against local, state and federal governments. That casts religious freedom in a similarly broad jurisprudential light as the First Amendment’s subsequent guarantee protecting free speech. “The overall trend is the court coming to a good place for the proper accommodation of religious views,” says Georgetown’s Viet Dinh, and “that is largely due to the work of the Becket Fund.”

The next big question for Becket is how broad that approach can go—and which other government-protected rights the Supreme Court believes should rank below religious freedom. America’s rapidly shifting views on sexuality, and the government’s willingness to protect same-sex relationships, will soon conflict with groups that believe their religious freedom includes the right to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. Mumma suggests his firm will remain on the front line of that fight. “Anytime the government moves strongly closer to or farther away from those big issues that religion occupies, you are going to get religious liberty cases,” he says. “I think we are not yet done with that sort of big round of religious liberty cases.”

For now, Becket’s small team of lawyers is already working on some 40 cases. Firm leaders say it has no plans to expand, instead maintaining its focus on finding and litigating high-impact cases. “When the music stops and we go into court, it really matters whether our lawyers have written a good brief, made a good argument, are able to present a case that’s compelling to judges of all political flavors,” says Mumma. “If we can’t do that it doesn’t matter how much public attention we get.” So far, that strategy is working.

TIME faith

No, Bill Maher, the West Doesn’t Have a Monopoly on ‘Liberal Principles’

Rabia Chaudry is a National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation.

The television host and pundit's arguments about Islam are not only inaccurate--they're dangerous too

Bill Maher is upping the ante in his campaign against Islam. In a steady escalation over the past year, he has shown a real commitment to his belief that Islam is an inherently evil and anti-liberal faith that animates much of the violence and oppression across the Muslim majority world. He’ll find, eventually, that he is fighting a losing battle – but it won’t be a battle without Muslim casualties both in the U.S. and abroad.

Last Friday, Maher dedicated a good portion of his show Real Time With Bill Maher to maligning Islam, backed up by notorious anti-theist Sam Harris. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof pushed back, offering some nuance to their wholesale condemnation of the fastest growing religion in the world, and actor Ben Affleck responded with clear disgust, calling their arguments “racist.”

Putting aside the unavoidable optics and dynamics of a conversation about Islam that excluded Muslims (oh, and women too), it’s vital to point out what Maher seems to be missing: the absolute inefficacy of an argument that he could win only if 1.6 billion people suddenly decided to abandon the religion. Between you and me, Bill, that’s not going to happen. But here is what is happening:

This is a partial view of the landscape of what Muslims are doing without abandoning Islam, and instead being compelled by faith to work for justice across a spectrum of issues.

Under Maher’s construct, Islam itself is the culprit. It’s not an issue of terrible Muslims, it’s an issue of a terrible system, or as he put it “the motherload of bad ideas.” As if racial equality, women’s rights, social justice, charity, minority protections, and the avoidance of conflict were ideas generated in the liberalized West that Islam missed completely 1,400 years ago. To those of us who are countering social and political ills using Islam as our authority and foundation, Maher’s understanding of Islam is not just profoundly myopic, it is dangerous and hurts our work.

Thanks to the extreme rhetoric around the dangers of ISIS to the homeland, Muslims in the U.S. are already facing increased threats. A number of prominent American Muslims leaders I personally know have recently been advised by the FBI to keep a firearm and take the death threats seriously. We are having internal conversations on how to keep mosques and Islamic schools safe, training our communities on active shooter scenarios, keeping our homes and families safe. When the fear-mongering against Muslims on the political right starts being echoed in the political left, you can be assured a serious attack or attacks in this country against Muslims will happen. It’s no longer a matter of if, but when.

Likewise, as Maher and others step up attacks on Islam, it feeds directly into the narratives used by terrorists and extremists abroad to justify attacks on any Muslim person or institution seen as a Western apologist. Those of us who firmly believe that “liberal” Western values are part and parcel of Islam are viewed as apostates by extremists, and Maher is evidence that Islam is indeed under attack by the West.

I want to believe that Maher speaks from a real concern for humanistic values, and not from a deep-seated personal prejudice. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for not knowing what he doesn’t know about Islam, but I can’t give him a pass for not making a genuine effort to fill in his knowledge gaps. I won’t be surprised if Maher shows up soon wearing a “I learned everything I need to know about Islam on 9/11″ t-shirt.

If not compelled by the inaccuracies of his arguments, Maher should deeply consider their inefficacies. He could be a tremendous asset to Muslims fighting for the same kinds of social justice and reform he desires, if only he didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Rabia Chaudry is a National Security Fellow at the New America Foundation, the President of the Safe Nation Collaborative, and a CVE expert and consultant who focuses on community resilience and law enforcement engagement. She is an attorney with a background in immigration and civil rights law and has been a community and interfaith advocate for many years. She writes and speaks frequently on Islam, Muslims, gender inequities, violent extremism, community advancement, and faith and gender oriented approaches to social justice and conflict.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

The Hajj Airlift You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Hajj
Pilgrims arriving at Mecca's Grand Mosque on Oct. 10, 2013, during the hajj pilgrimage Fayez Nureldine—AFP/Getty Images

After thousands of pilgrims were stranded in Beirut on their way to Mecca, one American diplomat saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand.

The annual Islamic Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca kicks off this week, with some 2 million people expected to join. The religious occasion is considered to be the largest annual mass gathering in the world and is, unsurprisingly, accompanied by a litany of logistical hurdles, ranging from transportation to accommodations.

But it could be worse: in 1952, the problem was particularly acute. As TIME reported then, far more pilgrims were headed for Saudi Arabia, where Mecca is located, than had been expected, in part because Saudi Arabia had waived an entrance fee for pilgrims that year. As a result, flights from Beirut–a common layover–were overbooked, and thousands of people found themselves stranded in Beirut on their way to Mecca.

One American diplomat in Lebanon, Harold Minor, saw an opportunity to lend a helping hand and, in so doing, also attempt to mend the U.S.’s then-shaky relations with the Arab world. Here’s TIME’s account of the ensuing “miracle in Washington:”

Minor promptly dashed off a “night action” (most urgent) cable to Washington, pointing out that here was a real chance for the U.S. to make friends in the Arab world. Something of a miracle then happened: the State Department got the point. At Rhein-Main airport in Wiesbaden, Germany, at Wheelus Field in Tripoli, at Orly Field in Paris, U.S. airmen were suddenly alerted for special duty. Three days later, the first of 13 huge U.S. C-54s landed at Beirut’s airport. Next morning Operation Hajj was under way…

Five days later the last of 3,763 stranded pilgrims was loaded aboard the last flight. The airlift had traveled a total of 121,800 miles. Some of the U.S. airmen had spent 27 out of 40 hours in the air, but the trips had been more than worth it. The pilgrims’ airlift had done more good than any other act of the U.S.’s otherwise fumbling and unimaginative action and inaction in the Middle East. It was the one success U.S. diplomacy could claim in a week of continued crises.

The operation was reportedly a huge success and drew praise from Arab leaders and TIME readers alike. Wrote one reader, Nashville resident Robert Alvarez:

What a thrill—to read of our big, bumbling State Department actually showing a little imagination. This is the kind of thing they ought to be doing every day in the year—instead of once a decade . . .

Read the 1952 story about Operation Hajj: Airlift for Allah

TIME faith

‘Proof of Heaven’ Author: Science Is Being Forced To Take the Afterlife Seriously

Map of Heaven
Map of Heaven

Dr. Alexander is a neurosurgeon, and the author of the bestselling Proof of Heaven and the forthcoming The Map of Heaven.

People who have undergone near death are increasingly being allowed to describe the experiences they've undergone.

Ever since Proof of Heaven, the narrative of a life-changing seven-day coma I underwent in 2008, was published two years ago, I have had a front-row seat (and often a seat on the stage itself) at the battle between those who believe in heaven, in a spiritual realm beyond this one, and those who, just as fiercely and adamantly, don’t believe.

This debate is most often couched as one between “religion” and “science,” but these terms really do it a profound disservice. For at its best, this debate is a battle of genuine ideas – a battle between people with passionate but different views, arguing about the greatest and deepest issues anyone could ask for. What is matter? What is consciousness? Are human “realities” like love, meaning, and beauty in fact realities, or are they just fantasies, destined to vanish, as our physical selves are?

This is a battle that has gone on for hundreds – indeed, thousands – of years, and it has had brilliant, profoundly worthy advocates on both sides. The Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (99-55 BCE), an early proponent of atomism, the view that the world is made up of countless tiny, unbreakable objects that endlessly come together and fall apart, found the notion that a person should survive the dissolution of the physical body ridiculous. Meanwhile his near contemporary Philo of Alexandria (c. 25 BCE – c. 50 BCE) believed that at death the soul could reach “a higher existence, immortal and uncreated.” Worthy advocates of each side of the argument can be found in every age. If, as the nineteenth-century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky suggested, the question of whether we survive death is the question, the single most important one there is, there have been no shortage of great minds that have responded to the challenge of answering it.

These days, however, this battle is increasingly becoming one not of ideas but ideologies: of people who “know” they are right, and are determined simply to out-argue, or to out-shout, their opponents.

This battle doesn’t just take place on televised debates or books or articles in magazines, however. It is happening, right now, inside each one of us.

It is at work in the mind of that widow we’ve all recognized in the nursing home. On good days, this woman knows her husband surely does still exist, even if she can no longer see or touch him physically. She knows that the man she loved so much for all those many years could not have simply vanished when his body died. In certain passing but powerful moments, she not just knows but feels his reality: both out there in a world beyond the physical, but also deep within herself as well.

But on other days – days like the particular gloomy, rainy afternoon we’re imagining – she doubts. For though she knows that the “religion” side of the debate says her husband truly does still live, she also knows what the “science” side has to say on the matter. Yes, she loved her husband. But love is an emotion, a subjective experience generated by the electrochemical processes within our brains, and the hormones and other chemicals that our brains trigger the release of within our bodies, dictating our moods, telling us whether to be happy or sad, joyous or desolate. Love is unreal, just as is that other ancient and woefully misled fabrication, the soul. The molecules of steel and chrome and aluminum and plastic in the chair she sits in; the carbon atoms that make up the paper of the photo she holds in her hand; the glass and wood of the frame that protects it. And, of course, the diamond on her engagement ring and the gold of which both it and her wedding ring are made: those are real. They’re real because they’re made of matter. But what they signify — the perfect, whole, and everlasting bond of love between two immortal souls – is a fantasy. It’s simply not science.

The wonderful discoveries of science have wrought staggering and irrevocable changes upon our world, and on our understanding of that world, in the last three hundred years, and there is no reason to suspect that these discoveries are about to slow down. That’s why it’s so important to understand that beneath the “religion vs. science” debates that lead nowhere, there is another, deeper, and fantastically fruitful discussion going on. In this discussion, a new group of participants — people who have undergone near death experiences, out-of-body experiences, and other experiences suggestive of the survival of consciousness – are increasingly being allowed to describe the experiences they’ve undergone. And a small but select group of scientists have decided to take them seriously: to ponder, with the combination of fierce intellectual rigor and vigorous, empirical open-mindedness that all good science demands, what they might mean. In this debate, we are allowed to stay open – as all true science must – to what kind of universe we really live in. When a person who has been clinically dead returns to life and describes traveling to other, larger worlds, we need to listen to what this person says and ask not whether what they say sounds silly to us (truly new discoveries just about always do), but whether there might just be some truth to it. We must overcome our innate tendency to deny and disbelieve, just as people in Europe had to in the great age of exploration, when travelers returned with tales of lands and peoples and ways of life entirely beyond the ken of those who had sent those explorers out to begin with.

We are right now in the process of entering a new age of exploration: one in which we will suffer shocks of disorientation every bit as great as those we suffered when the earth turned out not to be flat, when the sun turned out not to revolve around the earth, and when the mists of the Milky Way revealed themselves to be composed of billions of stars – suns like ours, some vastly larger and more powerful — and that beyond our own galaxy lay other galaxies (more than the number of people alive on earth today!), each of them holding billions of suns of their own.

These new discoveries will be shocking, but they will also be profoundly comforting and healing. I know, because I have been to the edge of these new worlds, and returned. As a result, I know that love, beauty, and goodness are real, and that the soul is real as well. They are part of the actual geography of the cosmos within which we live and move. They are as real as rain, as real as the stick of butter on your dinner table, as real as wood, or stone, or plutonium, or the rings of Saturn, or sodium nitrate.

Nor are these worlds general, vague, or abstract. They are deeply, piercingly alive and intimate, and about as “theoretical” as a bucket of fried chicken, the glint off the hood of your friend’s new Trans-Am, or your first crush.

That’s why the descriptions of these worlds brought back by those who have seen them sound so crazy, so completely and thoroughly unacceptable to those still living in the old world. There are trees and flowers in these worlds. There are fields, and there are animals. There is water too – water in abundance. It flows in rivers and descends as rain. Mists rise from the pulsing surfaces of these waters, and fish glide beneath them. Not abstract, mathematical fish. Real ones. Every bit as real as any fish you’ve seen, and way, way more so. The objects one encounters in these worlds are similar to earthly objects, yet they’re not earthly objects. They are, to state it in a manner that falls profoundly short of the real experience but is accurate all the same, more than simply earthly. They are closer to the source, the true center of our spiritual/material cosmos. Closer, like the water higher up on a meandering river is closer to the springs from which it emerges.

The reality that binds all of these worlds together, is that most real, most un-abstract, most central thing there is: Love. Nothing is isolated in these worlds beyond our own. Nothing is alienated. Nothing is abandoned, and no one is allowed to despair. Everything is, as Martin Buber put it, a “you,” rather than an “it.” I know this sounds very hard to swallow. Again, newly discovered aspects of reality always are. “The Universe is not only queerer than we suppose,” remarked the celebrated twentieth-century geneticist and evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane, “but queerer than we can suppose.” When the reality of these worlds beyond is full established, when people come to understand beyond all argument that they are a genuine fact, everything in our own world will change. There will still be pollution. There will still be overpopulation. There will still be evil and dishonesty and selfishness and all the terrible things that flow from them. The world will, in short, remain what it is, and all the problems we face today will still be there.

But those problems will appear in a dramatically different light. And when, on a rainy afternoon a widow sits by a window in a nursing home gazing at the image of her departed husband, there will not be that terrible, hopeless fight within her between the voice that says “he still lives,” and the one that says “he is gone forever.” She will know, with a certainty that leaves all the shallow and vitriolic arguments of our current moment behind, that the true person, the spiritual being whose eyes she gazed into on that long-ago day, lives on.

“The existing scientific concepts,” wrote German physicist Werner Heisenberg, “cover always only a very limited part of reality, and the other part that has not yet been understood is infinite. Whenever we proceed from the known into the unknown we may hope to understand, but we may have to learn at the same time a new meaning of the word ‘understanding’.”

That’s exactly where we are right now. We are about to take another jump in our understanding of just how vast and profoundly strange a place the universe really is. But rather than making us feel small and insignificant in the face of this vastness and strangeness, this jump in understanding will make us feel hugely empowered and joyful. We will grasp that we are not accidental and insignificant blips in the universe, but the very heart and reason for its existence. All the arguing between “spiritual” people and “scientific” people will stop, and we will join together in mapping and understanding the true universe in ways not even dreamt of now.

It’s about time!

 

Dr. Eben Alexander, a renowned academic neurosurgeon, wrote the bestselling Proof of Heaven (2012) after a transcendental Near-Death Experience (NDE), in which he was driven to the brink of death and spent a week deep in coma from an inexplicable brain infection. His follow-up, The Map of Heaven, publishes next week.

Adapted from The Map of Heaven, by Eben Alexander M.D. with Ptolemy Tompkins. Copyright © 2014 by Eben Alexander LLC. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc. All rights reserved.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

ISIS is the Antithesis of Hajj, the Holy Pilgrimage

Crowd at Kaaba ahead of upcoming Eid al-Adha
Muslim pilgrims from all around the world circle counterclockwise Islam's holiest shrine, the Kaaba, ahead of upcoming Eid Al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice) at Masjid al-Haram (the Grand Mosque) in the Muslim holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia on September 30, 2014. Anadolu Agency—Getty Images

This year, hajj will take place against the ugly backdrop of a group that has come to represent the antithesis of what the pilgrimage signifies

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Every year during the time of hajj a feeling of nostalgia overcomes me as the media begins covering one of the world’s largest annual religious gatherings. Although I performed hajj almost nine years ago, the experience feels like yesterday. It was the journey of a lifetime.

But this year, hajj will take place against the ugly backdrop of a group that has come to represent the antithesis of what the pilgrimage signifies: Unity through diversity, brotherhood and equality, and the sanctity of religion, its symbols and holy places.

As ISIS sends another two hundred thousand Muslim Kurds fleeing into Turkey after terrorizing Christian, Yazidi, and other populations for months, millions of pilgrims in Islam’s two holiest cities are gathered to peacefully commemorate Abraham, the father, not only of Islam, but of Judaism and Christianity.

The entirety of the hajj takes place in and around Mecca and commemorates the life and struggles of Abraham, who is revered as an important prophet in Islam. Many of the themes and rituals of hajj focus on Abraham’s devotion and submission to God and the sacrifices that he and his family made. They include walking in the footsteps of Hagar, the mother of Ishmael, whom all Muslims emulate when they perform the required ritual known as Sa’i. During the ritual pilgrims run or walk swiftly in Hagar’s footsteps to commemorate her desperate search for water for her young son — water which eventually gushed up at his feet in what would become known as the well of Zamzam.

Another major theme of hajj is the interconnectedness of humankind, which is demonstrated by the simple white pieces of cloth which all male pilgrims wear during the duration of the hajj, no matter from where in the world they come.

One of the first things that struck me when I landed at the airport in Jeddah was the variety of airlines, each carrying pilgrims who had come for one singular purpose – to perform the fifth pillar of Islam which is required of all adult Muslims at least once in their lifetime if they are physically and financially able to make the journey. While I was unable to communicate in words with most of the pilgrims who hailed from every part of the world, there was little need for words. We all performed the same rituals, speaking an unspoken language of common purpose and objective.

Central for the diverse group of 2-3 million people gathered for communal worship, is the Kaaba, the cubical structure believed to have been built by Abraham and Ishmael as the first house of worship. One of the highlights of my trip, as it is for most pilgrims, was setting eyes on the Kaaba for the first time as it stood in its simple splendor in the center of a sea of humans circling around it.

At the end of the week 1.5 billion Muslims will celebrate Eid ul-Adha, the Festival of the Sacrifice, which commemorates Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, a story also recounted in the Hebrew Bible. Muslims across the world mark the holiday by sacrificing a lamb and sharing its meat with those in need. This year, Muslim charities offer dozens of choices for people who want to sponsor a sheep in countries where poverty and war have made meat a rare and expensive luxury. This act of sharing with those in need is at the heart of two other major Islamic pillars, zakat, or poor-due, and fasting in Ramadan.

All of these acts of worship have the dual goals of bringing adherents closer to God and encouraging good character, including the good treatment of other people. Ihsan, or moral excellence, is said to be the highest level of Islam.

Especially at this holy time, the stark contrast between the lofty goals of the religion and the actions of groups like ISIS, Boko Haram and others who make a mockery of Islam with their brutal and merciless behavior is a painful reminder that religion is not about terminology or slogans. Rather, true religion is explained in a saying of the Prophet Muhammad, “I was only sent to perfect good character.”

Ameena Jandali is the Content Director for ING. Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a non-profit organization that counters prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity, while building relations between American Muslims and other groups.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME NFL

NFL Under Fire for Penalizing Muslim Player After End Zone Prayer

He was handed a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct

The NFL sparked yet more outrage Monday after appearing to penalize Kansas City Chiefs player Husain Abdullah, a devout Muslim, for kneeling on the ground in the end zone to praise God after scoring the second touchdown of his career.

This post-TD reaction was deemed unsportsmanlike conduct for excessive celebration and resulted in a 15-yard penalty:

The reaction from Abdullah’s brother and agent indicated this was indeed a moment of prayer:

Which, according to former VP of Officiating at the NFL Mike Pereira in a 2013 tweet, is not the intent of the rule against going to the ground:

In a 2009 interview, Pereira said that he didn’t want to penalize prayer for fear of getting “struck by lightning.”

Fans took to Twitter to denounce the call, which has incited the creation of various memes showing what prayer is deemed acceptable and what is penalized:

But Abdullah himself said it was likely his slide across the end zone that had provoked the penalty call, and not his impromptu prayer. “I got a little too excited,” he told local media. “The slide before it, I’m pretty sure that did it.”

The Chiefs ended up beating the Patriots 41-14.

MONEY Financial Planning

Why Financial Planning Needs More Religion

In God We Trust on a coin
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Acknowledging faith and spirituality helps people better understand their financial goals — and stick to them.

As part of my getting-to-know you interview with new clients, I ask about their faith. Most are caught off guard. “Why do YOU care?” was one client’s response.

Such a reply comes with good reason; my clients hired me to talk about money, not religion. But there are many advantages to discussing spirituality with clients before we address their finances.

Know Thyself

Spiritual thinkers from Socrates to John Calvin advocated the importance of introspective familiarity in the pursuit of wisdom. Certainly, in the financial realm, the client who understands why he behaves the way he does will be more successful in achieving goals. Asking him to articulate the spiritual beliefs that drive him is a great exercise for him as well, even in cases where those beliefs are simply, “I don’t practice any sort of spirituality.”

If you don’t practice your own spirituality, or you simply don’t want to talk about spirituality with clients, a discussion of values can be an effective start to the relationship. Everyone has values, regardless of their stated faith or religion. Even old Ebenezer Scrooge valued wealth, frugality and financial independence. My clients receive a list of 140 common values from which they select the most important. I then have them narrow the list down to 20, then 10 as they look at themselves in a completely new way.

Integrating Faith into Financial Plans

As many advisers have learned by experience, it is the long term that will make or break a client’s financial goals. When our assets serve a larger purpose, we experience a deep inspiration and motivation over the long haul. By incorporating the big picture into our planning, we have better success with helping clients implement behavior changes. Rather than saying, “You need to spend less next month, and every month thereafter,” we can include a client’s faith to motivate a greater level of intentionality: “I know you want to be able to provide XYZ for ABC. That will be much easier if you spend less in the short term.”

Putting money in its place

Maybe money shouldn’t be the key ingredient in our financial decisions. Where strong values are present, ideally our financial life will reflect them. When your money is in service to your values, it becomes a supporting cast member of a show where your values play the leads.

In a fast-paced, credit-loving society, it is easy to let money guide our decisions. We make risky investments in hopes of large payoffs with money we can’t afford to lose. We take jobs that pay well but require such dedication of time that we begin to lose touch with the people we love. We constantly seek “more” without taking the time to be grateful for what we have.

But when values take the lead in our decision-making, our behavior finally changes for good. Investments no longer cause insomnia, jobs support a worker’s lifestyle, and gratitude becomes a regular part of life. Clients will appreciate an adviser who cares for the whole person and advocates that kind of wellness.

I have one client who took a different view of money; she hated it. Despite tremendous earning potential, she considered wealth the cause of greed in this world. In what she deemed acts of faith, she continually put herself in positions to earn very modest amounts. Is she wrong? That’s not my place to determine, but I do have a responsibility to help her understand her default reactions so she can evaluate whether or not they reflect her core beliefs.

I knew she was a Christian, and her upbringing took place in a notoriously upper class town. I suggested she examine her religious teachings for more detail on the topic of wealth. She eventually decided that her attitudes don’t reflect the actual teachings of her faith. She read of biblical figures who used the power of their wealth to serve God and in so doing, mightily improve the lives of others.

My client’s entire financial plan changed once she acknowledged her attitudes toward money were more reflective of her teenage response to her home town than they were an outcropping of her faith. She has accepted a new mantle; while avoiding monetary entrapments, she wants to make more money so she can use it to improve the lives God brings into her path.

It’s About Our Roots

I liken our spirituality to the root system of a tree: It gathers nutrients and supports the weight of the tree. In nature, what we see above ground only partially represents the root structure we can’t see. Everyone has roots, and ignoring those root systems can lead to ineffective attempts to grow.

As much as we hate this fact, we grow in leaps and bounds when we suffer. For those who dedicate their lives to a higher purpose, even life’s pitfalls present growth opportunities; we learn to grapple gracefully and walk out of those pits with our soul intact. I frequently mention to my clients my own financial struggles due to two chronically ill family members. While I wouldn’t want to relive those life setbacks, their spiritual benefit seriously outpaces the dollar signs. Where the prudent financial plan would create such stability that you never find yourself in a financially precarious position, there still is beauty in those down times, and they serve to forward our purposes for being in this world.

Certainly, knowing your client’s faith is not a shortcut; there are as many varieties of beliefs among denominations as there are types of trees and root structures. But it helps you know the right questions to ask. Perhaps you are wondering why there is a disconnect with a longtime client of yours. When you look at her, could there be something underground that will give you a better understanding of the whole person? How much more effective could you be if you brought your advice under the umbrella of her faith and spirituality?

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Candice McGarvey, CFP, is the Chief Story Changer of Her Dollars Financial Coaching. By working with women to increase their financial wellness, she brings clients through financial transitions. Via conversations that feel more like a coffee date than a meeting, her process improves a client’s financial strength and peace.

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