Beliefnet still has its moments, but mostly it alternates between schmaltzy and toxic.
I took a vacation from Beliefnet during the 2004 elections, after it declared George W. Bush one of the ten most inspiring people of 2003--just in time for the presidential campaign. Despite a user poll favoring gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson, Beliefnet chose Archbishop Sean O'Malley as its #1 most-inspiring--most famous, at that point, for suggesting that Catholic Democrats should not receive communion. To Beliefnet's credit, they did at least have Robinson among the top ten--a gutsy gesture. But the persistent hand-wringing about how Kerry should have campaigned on his religious beliefs (which presumably include Matthew 6:5-6), as columnist after columnist gushed about Bush's self-aggrandizing displays of religiosity, were just too much. I saw a bias. I don't know whether a bias was actually there or not, but I felt that there was one.
Not that the site is all right-wing propaganda. The best thing about Beliefnet, by far, is the quiz section--and no matter how much you think you might hate the site for other reasons, it's probably worth visiting for that, at least. There's the deservedly famous Belief-O-Matic (which always rates me 100% Unitarian Universalist or Liberal Quaker) and the almost-as-good What Kind of Christian Are You? quiz (which I just took again, scoring 168--which sounds pretty close to whatever I scored last time).
But even the "What kind of Christian...?" quiz kind of sums up the problem with Beliefnet, because my score of 168 identifies me as a "Hillary Rodham Clinton Christian." Well, for starters, I'm sure my theological beliefs are substantially to the left of those Hillary expresses--I have never heard her publicly question any of the fundamental Christian doctrines in the way that I have. I think I'd be more of a Marcus Borg Christian. It doesn't really matter; most folks who take the quiz probably have no idea who Marcus Borg is. But why does it have to be a political figure?
Maybe it's because Beliefnet always straddles the uncomfortable tension between politics and religion. It's all about covering up what Richard John Neuhaus called "the naked public square"--political culture without the language of religion. So to prevent the public square from being arrested for indecent exposure, Great Thinkers on both sides of the political divide (but primarily on the right) offer to dress it in a wide range of clown suits.
Nowhere is this more obvious than in the two official blogs, which are easily the worst part of Beliefnet. On the right, you have Charlotte "Loose Canon" Hays, who offers up these nuggets of wisdom on the first page alone (bracketed portions mine):
"Loose Canon [note the third-person usage -- ed.] commends the the Pro-Life Action League, which is trying to alert parents that this 'seemingly innocent self-esteem campaign' is helping to 'support the pro-abortion, pro-lesbian agenda of Girls Incorporated.'"
"...[T]he Vatican is quite right to exclude those gay candidates who attend gay pride marches from the priesthood..."
"Brit playwright Harold Pinter has just won [the Nobel Prize] for literature ... And also probably because he hates George Bush."
"A man who is part of the gay subculture is proclaiming that he rejects the teachings of the Church."
"Mr. Molloy [dean of an Episcopal cathedral; the official title would be "the Very Rev." -- ed.] is exactly where he belongs--in a church that consecrates homosexual bishops. And is on the verge of splitting because of it."
"[Retired Roman Catholic archbishop Hannan is] an old-fashioned Catholic bishop, the kind you don't much see nowadays, unfortunately ... I like that the archbishop has the robust faith to say these things--you don't hear them very often: ... 'We are responsible as citizens for the sexual attitude, disregard of family rights, drug addiction, the killing of 45 million unborn babies, the scandalous behavior of some priests -- so we have to understand that certainly the Lord has a right to chastisement. If you ask me if the Lord knew of [Hurricane Katrina], this was the greatest storm in the history of the nation.'"
Think that's rough? The liberal blogger, Jesse "Swami Uptown" Kornbluth, is arguably worse. From his blog, verbatim:
So if bird flu becomes a pandemic, let those who voted against Bush paint the letter 'D' in lamb's blood on their doors. And may the angel of death pass over their houses.
Is this cruel to the people who voted for Bush? I think not. He warned everyone--before each election--that we were making significant, life-or-death choices. And despite his fairly obvious intellectual, moral and career liabilities, tens of millions of people voted for him. And now they want to buy it all back? Sorry. As I always say, actions have consequences. He told you, people: life or death. And so many bought into his idea of a God who smites. And they chose death, thinking it was life.
Well, maybe it is.
If this is spirituality, I'll take soulless materialism any day of the week.
This was funny....I decided to take the test and see what "faith" I am
I got 100% Mahayana Buddhism.
What's funny is that the lowest score (16%) on my list was for Roman Catholic...which I was actually raised. I even scored higher on Mormonism (50%)
The Buddhism was followed closely by Unitarian Universalism and (I found this amusing) Neo-Paganism.
- Lori G
Mmm. Mahayana ("greater vehicle") is my favorite of all the Buddhist traditions; the Mahayanins refer to the Theravada Buddhism of the Pali canon as Hinayana ("lesser vehicle") Buddhism, which prompted a Zen friend of mine to say:
"Greater vehicle, lesser vehicle, it doesn't matter. All vehicles will be towed away at the owner's expense."
Neo-Paganism usually ends up pretty high on my list, too. Just took it again, and got these results:
1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (89%)
3. Reform Judaism (84%)
4. Secular Humanism (83%)
5. Neo-Pagan (82%)
6. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
7. New Age (68%)
8. Theravada Buddhism (65%)
9. Nontheist (64%)
10. Sikhism (63%)
11. Bah�'� Faith (62%)
12. Mahayana Buddhism (61%)
13. New Thought (54%)
14. Scientology (53%)
15. Islam (53%)
16. Orthodox Judaism (53%)
17. Taoism (50%)
18. Orthodox Quaker (47%)
19. Jainism (46%)
20. Hinduism (41%)
21. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (39%)
22. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (37%)
23. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (37%)
24. Seventh Day Adventist (27%)
25. Eastern Orthodox (23%)
26. Roman Catholic (23%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (14%)
- Tom Head
100% Orthodox Quaker...
That mean I can't eat instant oatmeal?
Any chance that Beliefnet is run by Unitarians trying to drum up business? :-)
Actually, I got similar results to you, although my Reform Judaism wasn't as high -- of course, I'm not a bible scholar, either. Any theory on why Reform Judaism is ranked so closely to Secular Humanism?
I actually went to a "liberal Quaker" church for a while when I would visit my dad in California (it was Society of Friends, which I assume is what they mean) and thought it was pretty groovy -- open minded, always a positive message, and relatively few choruses of "Just As I Am." (Yes, I'm a recovering Southern Baptist. :-)
- Todd Stauffer
Well, if the Unitarians are trying to drum up business, they're not doing a very good job, at least for me. I scored 100% neo-pagan, followed by "new age" (which is probably embarassing, though I'm not sure I know what "new age" really means for them). And, those catholics were at the bottom of my list (9%). Episcopaleanism didn't even make their list, so I'm not sure what that says about the list, or about Episcopaleans and their (lack of) beliefs.
Rex, you can eat that oatmeal, as long as you sit silently until god *tells* you to eat the oatmeal. And then, when you're done, you have to go somewhere to protest to the war.
Todd, really good question on why secular humanism and Reform Judaism tend to go together so often in this quiz. I'm thinking, for some reason, of a study done during the early 1990s that determined that Episcopalians, Reform Jews, and Unitarians tended to agree on social issues--forming a liberal triad, as it were. And if secular humanists were included in the study, I suspect they'd be very close in line with that triad.
Some other possibilities that come to mind:
1. Judaism has never been very concerned about pie-in-the-sky afterlife stuff. In the Hebrew Bible era, Sheol was Hades, where the shades of the dead walked. Moses (Deut 34) and other figures are eulogized as if they went to the grave and ain't coming back. Only two figures are described as "walking with God" at the time of their deaths: Elijah and Elisha. And most scholars believe that legends surrounding the two figures were conflated. But I'm rambling; the gist of it, anyway, is that Judaism tends to be more about this world than the next.
2. Reform Judaism can be very, very liberal. A huge number of Reform Jews (I don't know the exact percentage, but it's above one-third) are actually agnostic; of course that includes lapsed Reform Jews.
3. Reform Judaism and secular humanism are both organized around reason, with doctrine running second or not at all. So Reform Jews are liable to answer on the relevant questions that the universe came to be what it is as the result of natural processes, evil is the result of human failings rather than demons and such, etc.
Another question that comes to mind is the Ju-Bu phenomenon: Jews are vastly overrepresented among American converts to Buddhism. There have been some semi-humorous looks at this (The Jew in the Lotus, A Jewish Mother in Shangri-La, etc.), but it's a really good question and I don't think it's gotten the kind of scholarly attention it probably deserves. There are some definite similarities between Judaism and Buddhism as it is practiced in the United States--both are concerned with right/skillful conduct, personal transformation, and becoming a better person. They're not very centered around Last Things, and where Last Things do become relevant the stakes tend to be lower than in other faiths (even the most Orthodox of Jews don't buy into exclusive salvation, and Buddhists believe people get more than one shot at Enlightenment). I wonder if that's part of the appeal. They're both very practical faiths.
Which brings us back to #1, I reckon, because secular humanism is a pretty practical religion, too.
- Tom Head
BTW- If I were choosing my own top 5, it would look something like this:
1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Secular Humanism (98%)
3. Mainline or Liberal Christian Protestant (96%)
4. Reform Judaism (94%)
5. Liberal Quaker (90%)
- Tom Head
The quote of the day from my Excite portal seems apropros for this thread:
The various religions are like different roads converging on the same point. What difference does it make if we follow different routes, provided we arrive at the same destination.
ó Mahatma Gandhi