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A city of churches

December 16, 2009 Religion 18 Comments

Throughout the City of St. Louis you will see steeples from the many churches.  Most are outstanding structures.  Some are still used while others are vacant and deteriorating.

Last weekend one of my brothers, visiting from Oklahoma City, wanted to see the New Cathedral.  I hadn’t been inside in over 15 years so I was game to take him.

The mosaic tile work is stunning.  As an atheist I don’t get the religious symbolism.  What I appreciate from our old churches is the quality of construction — the permanence of the buildings.

Most are not opulent like the New Cathedral. While we’ll probably never see this level of opulence again I am dismayed by the cheapness of so many new churches.

October 2009

The metal is starting to be attached to this church under construction on North Florissant Rd., just North of downtown.  The building will never inspire anyone.  If it manages to last 100 years people won’t take tours of the historic structure.

My brother and I debated the importance of new church structures.  He felt the money spent on the great buildings would be better spent serving the mission, such as helping the poor.  While I agree there is a need to serve others I have an issue with every new building being reduced to the lowest standards.  A church is no different than a warehouse. This cheapens the neighborhoods where these are built.  Churches are often the finest buildings in a community.  When you make a cheap church the housing around it will not surpass the established quality level.  A cheap church = cheap housing.

– Steve Patterson


Readers: Christmas is a secular holiday

December 8, 2009 Religion, Sunday Poll 14 Comments

To some Christmas is about the birth of their savior, Jesus.  But in the reader poll last week the majority of those planning to celebrate Christmas this year indicated, for them, the holiday was more about family & friends than the birth of Jesus.  Christmas, it seems, has become a secular holiday.

This has always been the case for me.  As a kid we’d go out to visit the grandparents on Christmas Day.  My maternal grandparents, both Mennonite, were deeply religious.  We’d have a single present per person, a big meal (with a prayer at the start) and spend time together.  They never had a Christmas Tree as far back as I can remember.  Too flashy.  Some years we didn’t bother to put up a tree either.

The poll results show those who view Christmas as a religious holiday are in the minority.

Q: December 2009 I will celebrate:

  1. Christmas (Dec 25th/Family/Friends) 75 (46%)
  2. Christmas (birth of Jesus) 59 (36%)
  3. Festivus for the rest of us 9 (6%)
  4. Winter Solstice 6 (4%)
  5. Hanukkah/Chanukah 5 (3%)
  6. Other answer… 4 (2%)
  7. No holiday 3 (2%)
  8. Kwanzaa 1 (1%)
  9. The Hajj 0 (0%)

Of the 162 responses, 134 (83%) indicated they’d celebrate Christmas. But of those 134 celebrating Christmas, 59 (44%) indicated it was about the birth of Jesus for them.  This is just 36% of the total.  Total unique visitors during the poll period was 2,7,91.

– Steve Patterson


Diverse populations celebrate diverse holidays

Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day is the holiday season in North America.  For most this time includes Christmas.  For the rest of us we often celebrate another holiday, such as Kwanzaa or Hanukkah.  We have a diverse population in St. Louis so I’m curious to see how diverse my readers are so the poll this week asks what holiday you celebrate in December.

I was going to randomize the answers but I decided to list Christmas twice so I needed to make sure everyone saw that before answering.  Twice? One is for the birth of Jesus and the other is because it is December 25th.  Get the difference?  I have never once celebrated the birth of Jesus but I have celebrated Christmas because it is December 25th. I’ve included an “other” option this week.

Personally speaking I know how awkward it is when you are wished a merry holiday you don’t celebrate. I’d like store clerks and others to say “Happy Holidays” than make presumptions about what, if any, holiday I might celebrate. Naturally “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” is controversial:

The American Family Association is calling on consumers to boycott Gap Inc. and its brands, which include Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, this holiday season. The Christian organization alleges that the retailer’s ads downplay the word “Christmas.”

The boycott, according to the AFA, is in response to Gap’s holiday advertising and in-store promotions over the years, which have stayed away from recognizing any specific religion. For instance, last year’s campaign was themed “Merry Gap-mas,” substituting the chain’s name for Christ’s. The AFA—which had boycotted other retailers like Sears and Target in the past for their holiday ads—is singling out Gap this year. The AFA is planning to release a “Naughty and Nice” list of retailers who address Christmas and those who don’t.  (Source: Brandweek)

Below is Gap’s 2009 holiday commercial the AFA doesn’t like:


I took the AFA poll:

Since Gap has now included the word “Christmas” in a television ad (in a dismissive manner), should AFA call off the boycott of their stores?

  • Yes. Any reference to Christmas is good enough to me. 5,267
  • No. Gap has taken a disrespectful attitude towards Christians with its ad. 47,935

The 2009 AFA “Naughty and Nice” list is here.  I personally celebrate retailers that don’t push one religion at the exclusion of others so I’ll use their list in the reverse of how they intended. You may agree or you may not.  Share your thoughts below and vote in the poll in the upper right corner.

Happy Holidays everyone!

– Steve Patterson


Father and Son

October 18, 2009 Religion, Sunday Poll 8 Comments

It is nice to see the St. Louis region make the New York Times, although of late it has done so for less than positive reasons (Limbaugh/Rams).  The latest brings up interesting issues:

O’FALLON, Mo. – With three small children and her marriage in trouble, Pat Bond attended a spirituality retreat for Roman Catholic women in Illinois 26 years ago in hopes of finding support and comfort.What Ms. Bond found was a priest – a dynamic, handsome Franciscan friar in a brown robe – who was serving as the spiritual director for the retreat and agreed to begin counseling her on her marriage. One day, she said, as she was leaving the priest’s parlor, he pulled her aside for a passionate kiss.

Ms. Bond separated from her husband, and for the next five years she and the priest, the Rev. Henry Willenborg, carried on an intimate relationship, according to interviews and court documents. In public, they were both leaders in their Catholic community in Quincy, Ill. In private they functioned like a married couple, sharing a bed, meals, movie nights and vacations with the children.

Eventually they had a son, setting off a series of legal battles as Ms. Bond repeatedly petitioned the church for child support. The Franciscans acquiesced, with the stipulation that she sign a confidentiality agreement. It is now an agreement she is willing to break as both she and her child, Nathan Halbach, 22, are battling cancer.  (full story, A Mother, a Sick Son and His Father, the Priest)

Let me state for the record that not only am I not Catholic, I don’t believe in a deity.  My thoughts here will be brief because this isn’t about my views.  I want to get your thoughts.

I believe the requirement that Catholic priests be celibate is the root of the problems they often have with women and/or children.   Male celibacy just isn’t natural. Where do I, a non-believer, get off making such a statement?

Victims of abuse have used the courts to seek resolution.  Once an issue leaves a church and enters a civil court it becomes fair game.  The Catholic Church should permit priests to marry, to have normal adult relationships.  This is the question in one of two polls this week (see right sidebar).

– Steve Patterson


The Pledge of Allegiance

July 4, 2008 Media, Religion 4 Comments

We recited the pledge as children in school and occasionally as adults. It has meaning but it has also changed over the years since first written in 1892. The pledge did not become officially recognized by the U.S. government until June 1942 (wiki).

Comedian Red Skelton was in his late 20s by this time but he still had recited the pledge in school. He recalled the pledge on his show in January 1969:


When Skelton was in school our nation only had 48 states.

The words “under God” originated with the Knights of Columbus in NYC in 1951 and by 1954 they became official. Personally I think the pledge, originally written by a minister, was better without reference to a deity. Recent court cases have challenged the “under god” phrasing. At least one bill has been introduced in a prior session of congress that would have forbidden the Supreme Court from ruling on challenges the the wording or mandating of the pledge. Of course Congress can’t pass a law prohibiting the Supreme Court from ruling on constitutional matters.
Happy Independence Day!