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October 4, 2007

Wake Up With Whoopi, Sept 21 (OS) Edition

Coverdale BibleWith deadlines for the next edition of The World Almanac looming over us, it's tempting to switch back to the Julian calendar—which would make today's date September 21, and give us two extra weeks to work on the book... assuming, of course, that we could get the fine folks at the printing press to make the same switch.

Speaking of printing presses: Whoopi asked if I had any insight into a "fact of the day" about the first English Bible being printed in Switzerland—something that didn't make much sense to her. Why not just print in England? My guess, on the spot, had to with printing technology being more advanced at the time in Switzerland, yadda yadda yadda. But now that I listen back to that segment, and actually hear the date in question (1535) I realize my off-the-cuff speculation was way off the mark. By that time, Gutenberg's technology had spread all across Europe, so that wouldn't have been the reason... what would have been problematic was the English clergy's abhorrence of the idea of translating scripture into the vernacular. Myles Coverdale (who I think is the translator of the Bible in question) would have found a more hospitable climate in Switzerland for such an endeavor... or anyway, that's my second guess after a few more cups of coffee. Corrections to my shoddy half-remembered history of Bible-printing are most welcome, in the comments.

Anyway. It was still fun to talk with Whoopi & Crew about the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, back in 1582 (or 1752, for Britain and the American colonies). Pope Gregory decreed that the day following Oct. 4, 1582, would not be Oct. 5, but rather Oct. 15—establishing what we now call the Gregorian calendar, and bringing the calendar year in line with the solar one. Fun stuff, if a little confusing. Enjoy....

Download: Wake Up With Whoopi, Oct. 4, 2007

March 12, 2007

Americans Don't Know Religion

Can you name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible/Christian Old Testament? What’s the sacred text of Islam? Can you name at least one sacred text of the Hindu religion? Apparently not many Americans can, according to a USA Today article that examines Americans' religious knowledge (or lack thereof).
"If you think Sunni and Shia are the same because they're both Muslim, and you've been told Islam is about peace, you won't understand what's happening in Iraq. If you get into an argument about gay rights or capital punishment and someone claims to quote the Bible or the Quran, do you know it's so?...We can't outsource this to demagogues, pundits and preachers with a political agenda." --Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University
The article mentions data from the Bible Literacy Project, a nonprofit group that advocates the non-religious teaching of the Bible in schools. According to some of their data, only 36% of high school teenagers know that Ramadan is the holy month of Islam and only 10% could name the world’s five major religions. Yet at least 81% of them knew the “golden rule.”

Included with the piece is a short and revealing quiz that tests your knowledge of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. I won’t say here what my score was, but let's just say that I should’ve paid a little more attention in Sunday school.

"Americans Get an 'F' in Religion" (USA Today, March 8, 2007)
"Bible Literacy Report (PDF)," Bible Literacy Project

For more info and some interesting stats on the world's religions, take a look at the Religion chapter of The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2007 (pages 711-722).

March 8, 2007

Mount Athos

Athos_4.jpg In Mount Athos, a self-governed monastic province of Greece, the beard will never go out of style. Since the 11th century, women, beardless boys (basically no one under 18), and female domestic animals (except for chickens) have been barred from the peninsula. There are now 20 monasteries.

The part I like most about Mount Athos? It's ruled by a special governor appointed by the Greek government and a council made up of members of the various monasteries. That one non-religious political figure gets the title “Governor of the Holy Mountain.” How sweet is that?

Friends of Mount Athos
An Informative site on Mount Athos

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

November 21, 2006

Does Thanksgiving Breach the First Amendment?

Our third and sixth Presidents thought so, according to this bit of Thanksgiving history from the Library of Congress:

The first President of the United States, George Washington, proclaimed November 26, 1789 to be a day of national thanksgiving and prayer after receiving Congressional requests for such a decree… Thanksgiving failed to become an annual tradition at this time. Only Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison declared national days of thanks in their terms. Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams considered the practice to infringe upon the separation of church and state. Governors, on the other hand, particularly in the New England states, regularly issued proclamations of thanksgiving.
We've all heard the debates on whether posting the Ten Commandments or a nativity scene in a federal building defies the Constitution, but I’ve never personally heard anyone argue against Thanksgiving as a federal holiday. So I was surprised to learn that creating the American holiday of Thanksgiving wasn’t as easy as gorging on that second slice of pumpkin pie. It took the destruction caused by the Civil War for it to occur annually. Seriously. Read more or just view the timeline at the LOC’s Learning Page.
Or embarrass the youngins at the kids table by reading aloud Washington’s 1789 letter.

-Andrew Steinitz

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This page contains an archive of all entries posted to The World Almanac in the Religion category. They are listed from newest to oldest.

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