"To the Best of Our Knowledge" will examine the changing nature of American spirituality in a series of programs called "Religion at the Crossroads." The series will be broadcast for four consecutive weeks, beginning June 6th. The programs will reflect the American search for faith in an increasingly secular age.
Polls show that Americans remain a highly religious people, with a strong belief in God. Yet the ways in which we practice and express our faith are changing - as many people pursue spiritual paths outside organized religion. Despite the importance of religion for so many people, public discussion tends to ignore its impact on everyday life. "Too often, the media report on religious issues only when there is controversy, and then they play up some hot button issue like school prayer, creationism, or the Biblical treatment of homosexuality," says series producer Steve Paulson. "Or religion gets reduced to the latest New Age fad."
"Religion at the Crossroads" will explore a number of timely issues, including the decline of organized religion; the meaning of faith; the practice of prayer and meditation; the clash between science and religion; and spirituality in Generation X.
Each hour will have an ecumenical flavor, exploring various religious traditions. The series will also include the views of atheists. Here's a brief description of each program:
New findings in cosmology and neuroscience are changing the debate about God's existence. Theologian William Lane Craig argues that recent historical and scientific discoveries prove the existence in God. Physicist Chet Raymo, author of "Skeptics and True Believers," is doubtful. He says nature itself is miraculous, and one doesn't need God to appreciate the glory of life. Neuroscientist Andrew Newberg describes changes in the brain during a mystical experience. Writer Doris Grumbach, author of "The Presence of Absence," describes one moment of epiphany nearly 60 years ago - when she thinks she was touched by God. And Jewish Buddhist Sylvia Boorstein (author of "That's Funny, You Don't Look Buddhist") argues that the two religions aren't that different, even though most Jews believe in God, and most Buddhists don't.
Religious references can pop up in strange places. GenXer Tom Beaudoin, author of "Virtual Faith," says the spiritual longings of Generation X can be seen in popular culture - especially in pop songs. Writer Kathleen Norris, author of "Amazing Grace," explains why real faith is a daily struggle. Muslim writer Laleh Bakhtiar talks about the Americanization of Islam. Novelist Robert Stone, author of "Damascus Gate," describes the bizarre Jerusalem Syndrome, when tourists to the ancient city suddenly believe they're Jesus or some other biblical figure. And Thomas Cahill, author of "The Gifts of the Jews," recounts how ancient Jews invented monotheism and the modern concept of time.
Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, author of "Why Christianity Must Change Or Die," argues that many Biblical stories, like the virgin birth of Jesus, are based on a pre-modern mindset. He says Christianity must adopt new symbols in order to flourish in the scientific age. Rodger Kamenetz, author of "Stalking Elijah," describes his exploration of Jewish mysticism. Journalist Phyllis Tickle, author of "God-Talk in America," explains why there's so much debate over the concept of a personal God. And English novelist Jim Crace, author of "Quarantine," explains why he - a committed atheist - wrote a novel about Jesus' 40 days in the desert.
One of religion's great values is the comfort it provides to those who suffer. But how do believers retain their faith in God when horrible things happen? Debbie Morris, author of "Forgiving the Dead Man Walking," explains how she came to forgive her rapist. Also, journalist Liz Trotta, author of "Jude," describes the appeal of St. Jude, the patron of lost causes. China Galland, author of "The Bond Between Women," describes her spiritual pilgrimage to Nepal, India and Brazil to meet women of "fierce compassion." And storyteller Lorraine Johnson-Coleman, author of "Just Plain Folks," weaves her magic as she describes the pivotal role of the black church during years of oppression.
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