Beliefnet's weblog of religion and spirituality in the news and on the internet

BY: the Editors and Contributing Writers of Beliefnet


Lt. Gen. Boykin's Torture Techniques
Lt. Gen. William Boykin, a top Pentagon intelligence officer, is already under scrutiny for anti-Islamic remarks he made in a speech last year. On Tuesday a Senate panel was told that the evangelical Christian general briefed a civilian military officials last summer on techniques that might be used to make Iraqi detainees talk.

In October, President Bush publicly criticized Boykin after the general claimed he told a Muslim, "I knew that my God was a real God, and his was an idol." In the same speech, Boykin said terrorists had attacked the United States because it is "a Christian nation." Boykin's remarks spurred a Pentagon review, but he did not lose his post.

Several investigations have been launched into who, if anyone, ordered the abuse at Abu Ghraib prison, and what the Pentagon knew when. But Muslim critics immediately pointed to Boykin's alleged involvement as evidence of a disregard for the prisoners' humanity. "It definitely contributes to a climate in which these young MPs apparently felt it was ... OK to abuse Muslim and Arab men like this," Hussein Ibish, communications director for the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee, told Reuters. The connection to Boykin, critics say, will also fuel Muslim suspicions that the atrocities, and the war, are a Christian campaign against Islam.

Remember That Movie?
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" continues to pull in cash at the box office (total gross from American theaters is up to more than $368 million as of May 9). But now that the movie has been out on U.S. screens for 11 weeks, the major money influx comes from overseas theaters. Gibson has already sold more than $212 million in tickets outside the U.S. Box Office Mojo tracks the performance of "The Passion" on overseas screens. Not surprisingly, Italy leads the way, with $24,263,182 in ticket sales as of April 25. Other big "Passion"-watching countries include Brazil, France, Mexico, the U.K., Spain, and South Korea. The website doesn't yet list any box office revenues for the movie in the Arab world.

Teenage Christian Music Pirates
It's hard to imagine young evangelicals browsing gospel, worship and contemporary Christian music and asking themselves, "What Would Jesus Steal?" Or is it? According to a recent survey by the Gospel Music Association, 77 percent of born-again Christian teens have pirated Christian tunes, either by illegally burning CDs, downloading music files or sharing uploaded music with their friends.

The GMA commissioned The Barna Group to conduct the study, GMA president John W. Styll said, because Christian music sales (down 5 percent last year) have been hurt by piracy. "We went into this study wanting to learn more about our young consumers and how their faith intersects with this vital issue," he said. "We were somewhat surprised to find out that it does not."

The study, which surveyed 1,488 Christian and non-Christian teenagers, revealed that the two groups pirate music at roughly the same rate (77 percent and 81 percent). Only 10 percent of Christian teens believe it is morally wrong to copy CDs. The GMA announced its findings in a press release headlined: "Christian Teens Take the Moral High Ground on Music Piracy...Not!"

"[The survey] furthers our resolve that we, meaning the industry, parents and spiritual leaders," Styll said, "need to do a better job educating the hearts and minds of young people to the basic principle, 'thou shalt not steal.'"

Diamond Dust
It used to be that Victorian folks would take a snippet of hair from a deceased loved one and carry it in a locket or intricately weave it into a piece of jewelry. LifeGems brings mourning jewelry into the twenty-first century with the LifeGem Diamond. Available in round cut, princess cut, or radiant cut, "the LifeGem is a certified, high quality diamond created from the carbon of your loved one as a memorial to their unique and wonderful life," according to the company's website. It does take time to create a LifeGem, just as it takes time to produce a natural diamond. But isn't a few months' wait worth it? After all, a diamond is forever.

National Day of Prayer
Tomorrow marks the 53rd National Day of Prayer. The official NDOP website, which explains that the day is not meant to be an exclusively Christian event, offers a suggested list of people to pray for and a state-by-state guide to events. For the second year in a row, American nonbelievers are countering with their own National Day of Reason.

Bond. Jewish Bond.
Sean Connery, famous for playing 007 and for his sexy Scottish brogue, will be playing a Jewish Holocaust survivor in his next film. In "Josiah's Canon," a 2005 release from 20th Century Fox, Connery's character will lead a group of bank robbers into a high-security Swiss bank to reclaim money deposited by Jews before World War II.

Denver Doctor Hammers Hindus
E-mail is flying among Hindus outraged by an April 28 Denver Post column in which an African doctor working in Colorado called Hinduism inherently racist. Pius Kamau, a Kenyan-born thoracic surgeon who writes a biweekly column for the Post, says Hindu notions of caste are ingrained and claims that "to Hindus, blacks are a rung below Untouchables." Saying Indians in his East Africa home looked down on their black neighbors, Kamau writes "Hindus can't help themselves. Humanity exists in a rigid chamber in Hinduism; one's caste never changes. Brahmins are empowered; lower castes enslaved. Blacks fit nicely within this group."

Kamau opines that an Indian he got to know well, a former roommate, never showed prejudice because he was a convert to Christ: "Christianity, it seems, releases the Hindu mind from its rigid shackles, unraveling the tight coils of dogma. Like the monotheist Muslims, Christians are more accessible because charity and love of neighbor are the central tenets of their creeds."

The column sparked protests on Indian websites like Sulekha and Desiblogs. The listserv of the Southeast Asian Journalists Association circulated the column and urged members to write to the Denver Post.

After the Post received several angry letters, Kamau responded that his recent interactions with Indian doctors in Denver "led me to explain a shallow comportment on their part with a deeper religious explanation" and says he regrets "causing pain to good people with my unguarded illustrations and words."

Spirited Campaigner
As the major-party nominees may be slugging it out in what seems like a two man fight, don't forget Congressman Dennis Kucinich. His campaign is still alive, targeting spiritual, New Age, and progressive voters in what the candidate calls "a struggle for the soul of the Democratic Party." On May 2 at the "Spirituality in Politics" Forum in Ashland, Colo., Kucinich will be sharing the podium with psychic visionary James Twyman, "The Peace Troubadour," and Wes Nisker, the "Baby-Boomer Buddhist." The peace hymn "The Star-Spangled Spirit" will be sung. Organizers say the format will be a circle, chosen to be in harmony with nature and inspired by a traditional tribal council. Donations of $15-25 are suggested, but no one will be turned away for lack of funds.

Barbara's Baby Blues
ABC's 20/20 might have been too zealous in selling Friday's segment on open adoption as a reality show. "Be My Baby" shows teenager Jessica Bohne choosing among five couples who hope to adopt her child, but promos referred to the segment as "the ultimate reality show." An adoptive mother herself, Walters apologized, saying the promos may have been "over-the-top," but urged people to withold judgment until the show aired. Jessica, at least, realizes the enormity of her decision: "I was kind of playing God."

Abortion and Terrorists
Planned Parenthood is seeking an apology from presidental advisor Karen Hughes for comments she made this week on CNN's Late Edition connecting abortion and terrorism. Responding to a question about how the abortion issue would affect the coming election, Hughes told Wolf Blitzer that 9/11 had changed the nature of the debate. "The American people are valuing life more," she said, and added that "our enemies in the terror network ... don't value any life, not even the innocent and not even their own." In a letter to Hughes, PP president Gloria Feldt wrote, "Invoking 9/11 to defend this administration's policies regarding reproductive rights was an insensitive and divisive overreach." Planned Parenthood is urging its supporters to sign a petition and to protest in person at Hughes's appearances for her new book across the country.

Some members of Congress followed with their own letter, calling Hughes' comments "dangerous, ugly, and slanderous" and urging the president to clarify publicly that abortion and terrorism are not related.

Kosher for Beginners
Christians have been warming lately to kasrut, the Jewish kosher laws governing which foods are proper to eat and how to prepare them. "The Maker's Diet," "What Would Jesus Eat?" and other Christian flirtations with keeping kosher tend to stress the health benefits of the God-given dietary conventions, but other Christians contemplate going kosher as a matter of faith. But how to begin? "Spice and Spirit," a cookbook compiled the Lubavich Women's Organization, is the "Joy of Cooking" for kosher eating and a common present for newlyweds in the Orthodox Jewish community. One caution: though the text and recipes are for beginners, most will want to scale down the proportions, which tend to be for tables of six or more.

Sects of the Stars
You read the People magazine cover on Hollywood's faith fixations. Now for the quiz. NewYorkish, a blog of "humor, news and other useless information," provides a list of 19 movie stars and asks you to match each with his or her religious affiliation. Answers are provided.

The Secularist Gap
The May issue of First Things contains a convincing piece from Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio, two City University of New York political scientists who have argued previously that the media is quick to identify religious influence in the Republican Party, while remaining mum about the influence of secularists in the Democratic Party. According to Bolce and De Maio, traditional believers--white evangelicals and Catholics--migrated to the GOP after secularists took over the 1972 Democratic convention that nominated George McGovern, resulting in what the press calls the "religion gap," but which the profs say could as easily be called the "secularist gap."

DeMaio and Bolce slip, however, in looking only at white Democrats, dismissing the party's evangelical wing, which happens to be largely African-American. In the watershed year in the professors' research, 1992, Clinton carried thee quarters of the secularist vote. In that same year, Clinton won 83 percent of the African-American vote. Two-thirds of African-Americans call themselves evangelical or born again, according to a recent ABC poll.

Next for Mel: Assisi?
A group of Franciscan friars and sisters in New York City have proposed that Mel Gibson produce a sequel on Saint Francis of Assisi entitled "Man of the Passion." In their online petition, the Franciscans "commission" Gibson, saying he might do better justice to their order's founder than has been done in the past.

Father Glenn Sudano, head of the Community of Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, told Reuters that films on St. Francis, such as "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" and "Francesco," starring Mickey Rourke, are "like caricatures."

Almost 10,000 supporters have signed the petition so far. "We believe that this is indeed the right movie with the right message at the right time," the petition says. "We trust that 'Man of the Passion' will not simply be another religious movie, but like 'The Passion of the Christ', a sacred masterpiece and holy encounter."

Buddha Bikini Busted
Victoria's Secret's "Asian Floral Tankini," which featured an image of the Buddha on the top, has disappeared without comment from their online catalogue after Buddhists complained. "Pictures of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are sacred things which we never use to put on clothes," a Buddhist wrote to Victoria's Secret in an email shared with the Vietnamese-language newspaper Calitoday. U.S. Buddhists, who quickly spread word of the sacrilege abroad via the Internet, made the point that the company would not attempt to sell a swimsuit bearing an image of Jesus. While Jesus doesn't always get respect in clothing lines either, the point--that Buddhism chic may have reached the limits of tolerance--is well taken. One blogger on xanga.com who took exception to the Asian tankini also reported seeing a television segment on "a lounge called Tao ... with a 16-ft. Buddha statue, similar to ones you see at temples." She added, "I'm going to open a club called Jerusalem and serve holy water martinis."

School Shooting Anniversary
Although students at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado had the day off from school today, they weren't celebrating. Today is the fifth anniversary of the Columbine shootings, the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Students Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 12 of their schoolmates and one teacher, and injured many others before taking their own lives. Tonight a memorial and candlelight vigil are planned near the school.

Memorials abound on the web as well. The Denver Post has a touching memorial to the victims, complete with pictures and short bios by the victims' family members. Beliefnet readers can post their thoughts on this Victims of Columbine prayer circle.

Bush's Divine Mandate
In Newsweek's preview of "Plan of Attack," Bob Woodward's insider account of the decision to invade Iraq, we learn that President Bush "seems to have relied more on divine guidance than the considered opinions of his top advisers." While finding no evidence that Bush asked cabinet secretaries whether war was a good idea, Woodward says the president told him, "I was praying for strength to do the Lord's will ... I'm surely not going to justify war based on God. Understand that. Nevertheless, in my case I pray that I be as good a messenger of His will as possible."

Should James Yee Get an Apology?
Andrew Sullivan is on the warpath against the military. He says the top brass need to apologize to Captain James Yee, the Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo Bay, who was released from custody earlier this month. Says Sullivan: Yee was "smeared, attacked, prosecuted and now muzzled by his superiors--with no valid case against him."

She's No Shabbos Goy
Pop star Madonna's latest U.S. tour kicks off in about a month, with dates scheduled for every night of the week except for Fridays. "She is observing Shabbat on Friday evenings," Madonna's publicist Liz Rosenberg told New York magazine, referring to the Jewish Sabbath, which begins every Friday at sundown. Madonna is well-known for following Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and for her affiliation with the controversial Kabbalah Center. But will she really go the distance to keep the Jewish Sabbath? Traditional observers of Shabbat don't just refrain from giving concerts to sold-out crowds in huge venues. Use of electricity, transportation, money, and more are all forbidden. Check out this quick guide to Shabbat observance for an idea of what Madonna's spotlight-free Friday nights might be like.

Baseball's Bible Bobblehead Promo
Can Moses, Samson, & Noah save the franchise? In an unusual bid to attract religious baseball fans, the minor league Nashville Sounds have announced plans to offer Bible Bobbleheads to the first 2,000 fans attending the games on three upcoming 'Faith Nights'. Though the team has had bobblehead promotions in the past, this is their first experiment with figures not based on atheletes. Bypassing Jesus as "too controversial" for their first offering, the Sounds hope to expand to other Bible characters if this first effort is a success. And so far all signs look good. According to Brent High, the team's manager of church and youth programs, "The youth groups are going crazy over these things."

Terry Family Feud
Operation Rescue founder Randall Terry was a genius at creating headlines for the anti-abortion cause in the 1980s and '90s. Now the headlines are back, but less welcome. The May issue of Out magazine, due on stands April 20, will feature a story by Terry's adopted son Jamiel announcing that he is gay. Terry, who has moved on to opposing same-sex marriage since retiring from Operation Rescue in 2000, has fired back in a column this week in the Washington Times, indicting Jamiel for selling him out and Out for seducing his son with money and cooking the facts to make Jamiel's situation more embarrassing for his father. (A spokesman for Out says Jamiel approached the magazine, and that his father's column gets key facts wrong.) Terry also insists he has offered to pay for treatment to cure Jamiel's homosexuality, and that Jamiel has often requested the help, but says since "prostituting" his family, his son is no longer welcome in his home.

Passion in the Parking Lot
During Easter weekend, some shoppers in an Albany, NY, parking lot were shocked to see a man dressed as Jesus Christ, drenched in fake blood, and staging a scourging with the help of an accomplice. Children present for the display were upset. Local police were called, but Parking Lot Jesus had already left the shopping plaza by the time the police responded.

Is being whipped with a rope in front of a grocery store an appropriate expression of faith? Beliefnet member redkim didn't think so: "If you want to proclaim your faith, dressing up as Christ and getting flogged in a shopping mall parking lot isn't the way to do it," she wrote on Beliefnet's boards.

Celebs Canning Kabbalah
This week it seems like it's as vogue to drop interest in kabbalah as it is to wear a red string. Jerry Hall said in the latest issue of W magazine that she no longer associates with the controversial Kabbalah Center, the main outpost of celebrity interest in Jewish mysticism. "They always talked about giving in order to receive, but I didn't really realize that in order to go through a door of miracles, you had to give 10 percent of your income," the model and actress told the fashion magazine. And Teen Hollywood says Madonna's constant kabbalah promotion has upset pal Stella McCartney. A friend of McCartney, daughter of former Beatle Paul, told the website, "She simply doesn't believe that she should pay through the nose to worship something she believes in."

A More Conservative Fab Five
To promote its April 25th pro-choice march in Washington D.C., Planned Parenthood has released "Right-Wing Eye," a web cartoon video that borrows the format of Bravo's hit reality series "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" to assail the the right wing's "assault on reproductive rights." To techno beats, the video introduces its Fab Five: Pat Roberston (Morality Maven), Ralph Reed (Sexuality Savant), Jerry Falwell (Piety Pusher), Pat Buchanan (Culture Coordinator), and Rush Limbaugh (Grooming Guru). The five arrive to remake the home of Ted and Laura, a young interracial couple--and change their minds about abortion. Out go the condoms, the "Sex & the City" DVDs, and a copy of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," and in come a "700 Club" plaque, a picture of President Bush, and an abstinence pledge hanging on the wall.

"I wanted to talk to you about...the whole right to choose thing," the Ralph Reed character says to the cartoon woman. "That is sooo pre-right wing takeover." After the couple has been properly right-winged, the five are shown watching them on screen from an office in the White House, where they find, to their dismay, that their tactics haven't worked--Ted and Laura march anyway.

Apology for Mormons, 158 Years Later
Illinois officials traveled to Salt Lake City yesterday to officially apologize for the state's treatment of Mormons during the faith's early history. Illinois House Resolution 793 expresses "official regret" for the 1844 murder of Mormon founder Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Ill., and and the expulsion of Mormons from the state two years later. Nauvoo, founded by Mormons in 1839, is now a major Mormon tourist destination.

"We view this resolution as an affirmation that Nauvoo is a place of peace and an affirmation that Latter-day Saints will always have a place in Illinois," church leader James Faust said.

To see who else has been apologizing in recent years for crimes of the past, check out Beliefnet's chart of church apologies.

Survey: More Americans Believe Jews Culpable for Christ's Death
A new survey released today by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press finds that 26% of Americans believe Jews are responsible for Christ's death. Pew compares this to a 1997 ABC News survey, which found 19% believed Jews are responsible. The increase is most substantial among Americans under 30 and African-Americans, who believe Jews are responsible at a rate of 34% and 42%, respectively. The number of people that believe the Bible is the literal word of God has also jumped, according to the survey. A June 1996 survey found 35% believe so; this year's survey found 40% believe the Bible is the literal word of God.

Talking to God: Evidence of Insanity?
Deanna Laney, currently on trial in Texas for capital murder, claims God told the end of the world was coming soon, and that in order to prove her devotion, she had to kill her three sons.

"I thought I was being told by the Lord to do this. I believe that with all my heart," Laney told psychiatrist Park Dietz on a video tape played for jurors, according to CNN. Laney killed two of her sons, and seriously injured the third, with heavy rocks.

Laney's case is reminiscent of Andrea Yates, who claimed she drowned her five children because the devil told her to. Yates was sentenced to life in prison. Laney faces the same fate if she is convicted; her lawyers argue her supposed mission from God demonstrates she is insane.

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