While religious beliefs and practices take place in the daily lives of ordinary people around the world, religion can also exercise a powerful influence on the people and events that shape our world, and is often 'the story behind the story.'
The following is a list of the top 10 religion stories of 2012, generated by HuffPost Religion's editors. Which stories did we leave out? Which do you think is the most important? Post your thoughts in the comment section.
1. The Presence or Absence Of God In Newtown
On December 14th, 20 children and six adults were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. As the extent and nature of the massacre became known, people struggled to find meaning in the horror. The more politically minded debated school prayer in schools or gun control on television while the people of Newtown attended vigils in churches. Religious services became the location for prayers, pastoral care and reflections on God as a nation revisited the eternal question of the existence of evil in a world created by a God described as all-powerful and all-good.
2. The Nones Are Coming, The Nones Are Coming
Two studies came out in 2012 that firmly established a new religious category that appears to be rapidly growing. Those claiming ‘No Religion’ or the ‘Nones,’ as they have become known, rose to almost 20 percent of the American population. One in 6 people around the world now consider themselves religiously ‘unaffiliated,’ making it the world's third-largest religious grouping. The nones are not necessarily atheists, and many of them believe in God or have some spiritual practice. Nonetheless, the rise of those who do not identify with any religious tradition will have enormous implications for the future of faith.
3. Innocence Of The Muslims And The Power Of The Internet
The Innocence of the Muslims caused uproar around the world and protests at American embassies in Egypt and elsewhere. First reported as the work of Israeli Jews, further investigation revealed the offensive cinematic mess as the work of a Coptic Egyptian living in Los Angeles. The intentionally provocative film was most important for its potentially lasting implications for the debate around blasphemy and censorship on the web.
4. Nuns vs. Bishops
Last spring, the Vatican announced a crackdown on American Roman Catholic nuns over issues of social justice and women's leadership. The effort was aimed at establishing bishop oversight of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents most of the countries 56,000 nuns. American Catholics did not respond kindly to the rebuke and rallied behind the Sisters while the nuns themselves said 'thanks but no thanks'. The presidential election scored another point for the women as the majority of American Catholics sided with Nuns on the Bus protesting the Paul Ryan budget rather than bishops in the pulpit protesting contraception.
5. The Mormon Moment – That Wasn’t
When Mitt Romney first ran for president in 2008, he opened up about his Mormon beliefs in what was meant to be the equivalent to John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism speech. Perhaps feeling that the topic of Mormonism wasn’t going to help him much, the candidate went silent on his faith in 2012. During the primaries, leading evangelicals worried about the ‘cult’ of Mormonism. After he became the Republican candidate, Christians on the right decided that his faith wasn't that bad and scrubbed ‘cult’ from their rhetoric (and websites), proving that politics trumps theology. In the end, Mitt's Mormonism was talked about a lot but mattered very little. A recent Pew Poll showed that 82 percent of people learned little or nothing about the Mormon faith during Romney’s presidential bid.
6. First Hindu and Buddhist In Congress
Continuing the expanding circle of religions represented in government, the 2012 election made history when Tulsi Gabbard became the first Hindu elected as a Representative in the House while Mazie Hirono became the first Buddhist elected to the Senate. Both women represent the great state of Hawaii. Gabbard will take her oath of office over the Bhagavad Gita, marking another first coming in 2013.
7. Religious Take Over States
2012 brought to light the disturbing religious power rising within governments around the world, most notably in Egypt with the election of Morsi to the presidency and the seemingly unavoidable rise of an Islamist government; in Israel with the extraordinary images of a girl being harassed by ultra-Orthodox Jews at the end of 2011 and Jewish women being restricted by the police for praying the way they wish at the Western Wall; and Orthodox Christians in Vladimir Putin’s Russia who were so intimidated by three women in the cathedral that they put them in prison.
8. God And Gay Equality
2012 saw remarkable advances for LGBT rights in the United States as well as in Europe and Mexico. The Presbyterians passed resolutions that paved the way for gay clergy, Episcopalians passed a resolution in favor of same sex blessings, Muslims saw the rise of gay friendly mosques in Paris and in Washington, D.C., and President Obama cited his faith in his support of gay marriage when he addressed the nation. At the same time, the Vatican stepped up its anti-gay marriage rhetoric and Uganda (encouraged by some American evangelicals) continues to threaten to pass a bill making homosexuality a capital crime. With one step back comes two steps forward and the arc of the universe will bend eventual towards justice for LGBT people.
9. The Tragedy At Oak Creek
Americans became more familiar with the Sikh religion through the tragic shooting of six worshipers at a Gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. The shooter, a self-proclaimed white supremacist, may have mistaken the worshippers for Muslims, with the difference between the two religions becoming a part of the media’s story much to the dismay of Sikhs and Muslims alike.
10. Vatican's PR Makeover
The most recent headlines feature the Pope getting on Twitter, however his newfound love for the latest in communication may be a response to a devastating public relations year for the Vatican. The low point may have been the Pope’s own butler stealing documents, but the wider story, which became known as ‘Vatileaks,’ shined a light on intrigue, rivalries, excess and alleged corruption within the Vatican. No wonder that the Vatican brought aboard a professional PR man with ties both to Opus Dei and Fox News.