Oklahomans have seen religion-related issues heat up the headlines: “Edmond cuts ties with Jesus statue.” “Activists say religion should be used to fight anti-homosexual beliefs instead of sustain them.” “17 state lawmakers refuse Quran gifts.” “Immigration: As new law’s effects are felt, church members are asked to continue attending.” And faith has become just as big an issue on the national front: “Pelosi gets unwanted lesson in Catholic theology.” “Episcopal Church faces deadline on gay issues.” “Rev. Wright lands Barack Obama in trouble again” In the past, polite conversation did not include talk about religion, but with religion such a hot topic, it’s almost unavoidable these days. Both in the public and private sector, people seem more inclined to talk about their faith and how it impacts their daily lives. Find a conversation — whether at the office water cooler, the barber shop, beauty parlor or a school sports event — and sooner or later, religion and spirituality will likely come up. Why that is depends upon who you talk to. Jerry Faught, Dickinson associate professor of religion at Oklahoma Baptist University, said he thinks America’s distinction as a land of many faiths is key. “When the Baptists and the Methodists have a mosque down the road or they have a Muslim neighbor, they are curious about who they are, so I think the increasing pluralism in America is what’s causing it,” Faught said. He said some scholars might say that today’s post-modern environment supports open dialogue about faith and spirituality. “In the modern era, the first part of the 20th century, people believed that they had the truth and no one else does. That hindered religious conversation. With post modernism (late 20th century to present) there is the idea that we can’t really come to a knowledge of the truth. It encourages people to maybe listen to other religions.” Faught said the Internet and the proliferation of blogs also has helped propel religion to the forefront. He said many bloggers feel free to express their religious beliefs in the open format of the Web log. Meanwhile, others have their own views on the subject. “I’ve noticed it — that people are more willing to acknowledge that we are using religion to guide our daily lives,” Barry Cohen, rabbi of Temple B’nai Israel in Oklahoma City, said recently. He thinks it is a good thing. “I think we can all tap in to religious strengths and ideals,” Cohen said. The Rev. Randy Faulkner, pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, said the fact that the religious beliefs of the U.S. presidential candidates have played a significant role in the upcoming presidential election says a lot to him about how significant religion and spirituality have become. “It’s really kind of unprecedented that a local church pastor like Rick Warren would invite two presidential candidates to his church and get both of them to come. It tells me that millions of Americans are interested in what these two men believe,” Faulkner said, alluding to an August non-debate forum that Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., attended at Warren’s Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif. Saad Mohammad, director of Islamic information for the Islamic Society of Oklahoma City, said he thinks the reason people are talking more about faith is because they are more aware of different faith beliefs than they were in years past. He said this enhanced awareness probably started before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, but appeared to increase exponentially after the tragedy. “Nine-eleven paved the way for more open dialogue about different religions and I think it’s good because it opens up an opportunity for education and dialogue,” Mohammad said. “This should be promoted by all faiths.” The Rev. Ed Weisenburger, pastor of a Roman Catholic church, Our Lady’s Cathedral, said he thinks that more people are now realizing that faith has value in their lives. “I think when we go back further in time to the 1960s and the 1970s, people were questioning organized religion as well as the beliefs of a 4,000-year Judeo-Christian tradition. Today we’ve moved beyond that and many people are embracing the faith of their ancestors and applying it to every facet of their life,” he said. The Rev. Rick Stansberry, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Church, said it’s important to note that not all who discuss religion these days do it from a positive viewpoint. He said he listened to a recent radio program that focused on people who are “recovering from religion.” “One woman said that the church had been telling her that she was sinning. The reality is we’ve all committed sins,” Stansberry said. He said the ill will that some feel for faith communities could stem from the self-righteousness of some religious people. “The problem can be sometimes people who are religious can be self-righteous and think everybody should feel the way they do,” Stansberry said. The Rev. Bruce Prescott, director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists and president of the Norman chapter of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said he is supportive of religious dialogue as long as it is not limited to one faith tradition in the public square. “Our society is not one that has an established religion. That’s what the First Amendment says,” Prescott said. He said in recent years some Christians have tried to dominate the public square. However, Prescott said awareness has grown of other faith beliefs and even the notion that some people, like atheists, don’t ascribe to religion — and they don’t have to. As an example, he pointed to the interfaith day of prayer and reflection program that has been conducted for the last several years at the State Capitol, coinciding with an evangelical Christian National Day of Prayer program.