Beliefnet's weblog of religion and spirituality in the news and on the internet
BY: the Editors and Contributing Writers of Beliefnet
Christmas in Iraq was a tense affair this year, as rumors of planned attacks on Christians convinced celebrants in Baghdad to forego midnight Mass for more secure daylight services. Not all Muslims are hostile to Christmas celebrations, however. "Many Muslims also join in this feast, for the miraculous Immaculate Conception and birth of Christ by the Holy Virgin is a part of Islamic belief as well," writes Nasnine R. Karim in the Bangladeshi newspaper The Independent. "In Bethlehem," she notes, "one can see a spot where Allah brought forth the palm tree to feed Sitt Miriam and her Child with dates. That is why it is good for all who venerate Christ - including Muslims - to worship on Christmas Night." Even in Baghdad, a few Muslims and Christians gathered at a church on Christmas Eve to light candles to the Virgin Mary, who has her own chapter in the Qur'an.
Elsewhere, the observance of Christmas is a matter of debate among Muslims. In Australia, a leading sheikh urged Muslims to ignore fundamentalist imams who say Muslims should even avoid wishing non-Muslim neighbors "Merry Christmas." In Lebanon, some say civil and religious strife has so torn the country apart that the Christmas spirit can only help. It's also good for business, as one Shiite businessman explained in terms anyone who's been exposed to Christmas can understand. "Christmas has been stripped clean of any spiritual reality as it has become a commercial event, particularly for children," he told a local paper.
World's Largest Christmas Eve Service
A single Christmas Eve worship service has had attendance in the millions every year since 1929. At 3 pm GMT (10 am Eastern) on December 24, worshipers and music lovers all over the world will participate in a beloved annual tradition: the Festival of Lessons and Carols, broadcast live from the Chapel of King's College, Cambridge, England. Many tune in to hear the carols, old and new, sung by the legendary choir of King's, starting with one small boy singing "Once in Royal David's City". For some, it's the Bible readings, culminating in the expansive poetry of John 1. For others, it's the feeling of being connected to tradition, and participating in an act of worship with so many others worldwide.
To be part of what may be the world's largest congregation, in the U.S. tune to your local NPR radio station on December 24 at 10 am Eastern; or listen online courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio or BBC Radio 4. The program will be rebroadcast December 25 at 8PM Eastern. A replay should be available on BBC Radio 3 through December 30.
Have Yourself an Atheistic Holiday
In an effort to capture some of the holiday season's spirit and cheer for themselves, many nonbelievers will observe December 23 as HumanLight, a two-year-old festival created to celebrate the "Humanist's vision of a good future." More than a dozen humanist communities throughout the U.S. will celebrate HumanLight., including New York, New Jersey, Wisconsin, Ohio, California, and Nebraska. HumanLight co-creator Joe Fox, vice president of the New Jersey Humanist Network, described the events as "a typical holiday party, but the theme is humanism." True to godless form, there is no proscribed HumanLight food, liturgy, or ritual. "We're trying to avoid traditions because we don't want it to be dogmatic," Fox told Beliefnet.
If the HumanLight message doesn't appeal, there are a few other celebration options for nonbelievers at this time of year. Some celebrate Newtonmas, a commemoration of Sir Isaac Newton's birthday on December 25, 1642. Some atheists celebrated the Winter Solstice today as well.
An Un-Convent-ional Calendar
What's one of the hottest new calendars on the block for 2004? No, not the Britney Spears pinup calendar. It's Nuns Having Fun. Sold by Workman Publishing, the calendar features "nuns frolicking in the surf (think big dancing penguins)," nuns at the roller rink, nuns playing softball, skeet shooting nuns, and more. The accompanying commentary is from the authors of the popular nostalgia book, "Growing Up Catholic."
Tiny Kingdom, Giant Book
For the person on your list who has everything, the ultimate coffee table--or rather, dining room table--book might be the perfect gift. At 5 by 7 feet and weighing 133 pounds, "Bhutan: A Visual Odyssey Across the Last Himalayan Kingdom" is a massive tome about the tiny Buddhist country between India and China. "Bhutan" is the world's largest book, and has a price to match: $10,000 ("Less than $100 per page," the Amazon review points out).
Most of the proceeds from the sale of the book's 500 limited edition copies go to Friendly Planet, a charitable organization that supports educational programs and schools in Bhutan.
The Car & Driver Nativity Scene
A window display in the building of a former WWF theme restaurant in New York's Times Square captures the true spirit of Christmas. Fake snow frames a cozy living room setting-presents under the tree, a fake fire blazing away, photos on the mantel. And in the center of the room sits a 2004 Dodge Durango, the current home of a family of three. DaimlerChrysler selected the lucky Flanigans of Ocoee, Fla. to participate in a "living holiday display," a marketing gimmick the New York Times calls a "Car and Driver Nativity Scene."
If the Flanigans last five days inside the car, they get to keep it. For every day the family stays in the car, Dodge will, "in the spirit of holiday giving," donate $5,000 to a homeless organization-"up to a total donation of $25,000!"
"Lost in all the self-congratulatory giddiness," writes Dan Barry in the Times, "was the irony that some homeless families actually do live in cars, albeit not always with the headroom as provided by the new Durango." Given the Durango's $36,000 price tag, "the homeless organization might have done better if Dodge had simply given it a Durango to sell."
Meanwhile, Bob Fisher of Waverly, Minn., has raised more than $1 million for the homeless by sleeping in a tent each night of the past month. This marks his 8th annual "Bob's Sleep Out," which has raised more than $2 million since he began. And to think, Bob's not even trying to sell cars.
Wiccans vs. the White House
Wiccans and other Pagans have been bombarding the White House with emails demanding an apology from Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives director H. James Towey for suggesting that Wiccans and Pagans don't care about the poor.
In a November 26 "Ask the White House" chat, Towey was asked, "Do you feel that Pagan faith based groups should be given the same considerations as any other group that seeks aid?" He responded, "I haven't run into a pagan faith-based group yet, much less a pagan group that cares for the poor! Once you make it clear to any applicant that public money must go to public purposes and can't be used to promote ideology, the fringe groups lose interest. Helping the poor is tough work, and only those with loving hearts seem drawn to it."
Beliefnet's pagan community took up the cause on the message boards. Member Windsinger wrote, "Pagans are often very charitable. We just don't stand on the corner going 'Look! I'm being charitable.' In other words, we're charitable like, um, Jesus said to be..."
In response to Towey's comments, Beliefnet contributor Selena Fox has begun compiling a list of pagan charitable organizations on her website.
More of Jack Black on Jesus
Some B-log readers took issue with actor Jack Black's Christological views, which the comedian airs in the current Esquire (see last Friday's post). "We need to pray for Jack Black," wrote Beliefnet member ddennis, "because he apparently is lost." But in the November issue of The Believer, Black tells interviewer Daniel Harder (a.k.a. Lemony Snicket) that he likes Jesus. "He had superpowers and that's the main reason I like Him," says Black, if for theologically questionable reasons: "Anyone who can float, has power of levitation, or can shoot lasers out of his eyes..." continues Black. Lasers? "Well, how do you think he turned water into wine? With His eye-lasers."
Black, who once played a character named Jeepers Creepers Semi-Star in a "Mr. Show" spoof, seems to regard Jesus as a kind of existential barometer, now that he's 33. "It's the landmark year," he said. "I'm a Jew. Thirty-three is when Christ died. So though I'm a Jew, in the back of my mind I still think I gotta get it done before I'm thirty-four."
'Today I Am a Clown'
Last night's episode of "The Simpsons" marked a major milestone in the life of the show's main Jewish character--Krusty the Clown became a Bar Mitzvah. The "Wet 'n' Wild Bar Mitzvah" episode featured Jackie Mason as the voice of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky, Krusty's father, and a yarmulke-clad Mr. T, who declared "I pity the shul that doesn't let Krusty in now."
Krusty is the show's most well-known Jewish character, but "The Simpsons" also pokes fun at religion through its depictions of Ned Flanders, the Simpsons' evangelical Christian neighbor, and Apu, the Hindu store clerk. Try these Beliefnet quizzes to see how much you know about Ned Flanders and Apu.
Why Jack Nicholson Prays
The January Esquire, the magazine's third annual "Meaning of Life" issue, features interviews with celebrities reflecting on what they've learned from life so far. While some nuggets of wisdom are mundane--"Styrofoam should be illegal" (Lauren Hutton); "Cattle cutting is the most fun you can have on a horse" (Christie Brinkley)--others stray into religious territory.
Jack Nicholson: "I resist all established beliefs. My religion basically is to be immediate, to live in the now. It's an old cliché, I know, but it's mine. I envy people of faith. I'm incapable of believing in anything supernatural. So far, at least. Not that I wouldn't like to. I mean, I want to believe. I do pray. I pray to something.up there. I have a God sense. It's not religious so much as superstitious. It's part of being human, I guess.. Do unto others: How much deeper into religion do we really need to go?"
Jack Black, on whether he'd like to meet Jesus: "I think Jesus would be a big f---in' letdown. You'd find out he's just a dude. He might be a really boring hang. He might be like a really kick-ass rabbi. You'd want to know the answer to everything, and he'd say, 'How should I know? I'm just Jesus.' Plus, you don't know how to speak the ancient Aramaic. I say, let's go back to see someone who for sure kicked ass. Let's go f---in' chat it up with Plato."
Christopher Reeve: "Abe Lincoln put it very simply in 1860: 'When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That's my religion.'"
Will gay marriage destabilize the institution itself? In Slate this week, Dahlia Lithwick argues that quickie marriages and divorces are the greatest threat to marriage, allowing heterosexuals to treat the sacred bond "like a two-week jungle safari."
The available evidence from Vermont, where civil unions have been legal since July 1, 2000, seems to support Lithwick's point. The data is sketchy, since the state doesn't track non-residents' unions: of the 6,518 couples joined so far, only 925 are Vermonters. But of those, just 25 have dissolved their unions--or 2.7 percent. By comparison the divorce rate among heterosexuals after four years is 10 percent.
Muslim Chaplain Smear Campaign?
The government has released Captain James Yee, the former Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, after locking him up for three months on accusations of espionage. But the military hasn't dropped its charges against him and is now investigating him for possible violations of the military code of conduct, including keeping pornography on his government computer and having an affair. The military charged in October that Yee, also known as Youssef Yee, disobeyed orders by taking classified information home when he was leaving Guantánamo in September.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations applauded Yee's release but called the government's new charges an attempt to harm Yee's reputation. "These new allegations, including as they do serious violations of Islamic moral principles, have the odor of a smear campaign about them," said Ibrahim Mohamed, CAIR-Seattle chairman.
Said military spokesman Raul Duany: "At no time have we made any implications about what Captain Yee might have been charged with. We only said we're investigating him."
Higher Spiritual Education
A new survey of college students across the country found that 73% think religion or spirituality is important to their identity, but 62% said their professors don't encourage discussion of religion or spiritual beliefs. The study, by UCLA's Higher Education Research Institute, also found that 77% of college students pray, and 71% think religion is helpful.
Though religion is important to students, the study did find a marked decrease in religious participation during four years of college. While 52% of those polled said they attended religious services frequently during the year before they entered college, only 29% did so by their junior year.
The Afterlife Economy
A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research suggests that belief in an afterlife--particularly a belief in hell--is good for the economy. After studying religious participation and economic progress in several countries, two Harvard researchers found that fear of damnation enhances productivity.
Belief itself was found to be actually more important than practice when it comes to economics, since attending church uses up resources and time that could be spent elsewhere. A review of the study in The Economist points out, however, that many successful economies don't fit the theory. Japanese religious sects tend not to have a strong fear of hell, yet economic growth is historically strong there. And China's economy is taking off despite two generations of government enforced atheism.
Thanks to CLAL for pointing out The Economist article.
Ossuary Debate Continues
The French expert on ancient Aramaic script who brought to light an ancient bone box with the inscription "James, Son of Joseph, Brother of Jesus" continues to defend the authenticity of the ossuary. Paleographer Andre Lemaire of the Sorbonne, who broke the ossuary news in a fall 2002 article for Biblical Archaeology Review, has written a second article for BAR. The article disputes the Israeli Antiquity Authority's June 2003 contention that the ossuary inscription is a fake. Arguing that the IAA's findings (read a summary) leave a host of "unanswered questions," Lemaire says the patina irregularities uncovered by the IAA may be related to a cleaning, not a forgery. Some scientists at the Royal Ontario Museum, who studied the ossuary last year, and geologist James Harrell of the University of Toledo also argue that the Israeli scientists were mistaken.
In the past, the James ossuary's defenders have complained that the IAA has a vendetta against private collectors who obtain objects on the antiquities market, which is often considered disreputable.
In his recent BAR article, Lemaire briefly raised concerns about the scientists on the IAA committee: "incidentally, the committee included not a single Christian and no New Testament scholar of any faith."
A petition on the BAR website calls for an independent examination of the ossuary, as it "may be of great significance to New Testament scholars and to scholars of Second Temple Judaism."
Concrete Workers vs. Planned Parenthood
A Texas construction company recently pulled out of a contract to build a Planned Parenthood clinic, apparently under pressure from pro-life groups.
San Antonio-based Browning Construction said contract would be terminated "because we are unable to secure and retain adequate subcontractors and suppliers to complete the project in a timely manner due to events beyond our control."
The building project faced a boycott in August. Later, church groups got involved. "Events soon snowballed and gave birth to the Austin Area Pro-Life Concrete Contractors and Suppliers Association, an informal affiliation of every concrete supplier within a 60-mile radius of the Austin area," reports CNS.
Planned Parenthood has announced it will "become [its] own general contractor" and get the clinic built.
Cutting Loose at Christian College
Tonight is a big night on the campus of Wheaton College, an interdenominational Christian college outside Chicago. For the first time in its 143-year history, the college is hosting a school dance.
Dancing was prohibited for both students and faculty when the school was founded in 1860. More recently, some dancing has been allowed, but only with a member of the same sex or at a square dance. Mixed dancing was banned for students both on and off campus.
Nine months ago, the dancing ban was lifted. Wheaton students have been prepraing for tonight's event with impromptu dance classes.
Wheaton's Community Covenant, one of many Christian college codes of conduct, still asks students to avoid acts "which may be immodest, sinfully erotic or harmfully violent."
Mutual Fund Morality
A new survey released yesterday reveals that two-thirds of religious investors would stop contributing to a mutual fund that invested in companies with murky ethical practices. The report from Mennonite Mutual Aid, which runs a group of mutual funds based on Anabaptist principles, found that the top five concerns of religious investors are: operation of sweatshops, product safety record, high executive compensation, environmental record, and adult entertainment.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops voted this week to bar their own investments, which total $175 million, from companies involved in stem-cell research, human cloning, pornography and land mine production. The bishops said they hope the new investing principles will be a model for all Catholics to follow in their investments.
Two New York artists have launched an effort to illustrate the entire bible--verse by verse. Patrick and Kate Hambrecht are soliciting illustrations from professional and amateur artists, from all faith traditions, to compile what they call The Flaming Fire Illustrated Bible.
So far, 1,304 illustrations have been submitted to the bible; 35,361 verses are left to be interpreted. All the images submitted can be viewed online, and the parts completed are searchable by bible verse.
According to the website for the project, which was voted 2003's "Best freaky collaborative art project" by the Village Voice, "The Flaming Fire Bible Project wasn't created as a mouthpiece for any one sect or religion in particular, but to reflect and celebrate all the various artistic, religious and sacred perspectives on the Torah, Latter Prophets and New Testament from around the world."
Make Your Own Church Sign
Anyone who pays any attention to outdoor church signs won't bat an eye at "What's Missing From Ch__ch? U R." But what about "Do You Smell Like Jesus?" Blogger Ryland Sanders has developed the "Church Sign Generator" so you can create a funny church sign of your own. Just type in the text and press "Go."
Sanders also catalogues his favorite church signs. You can share yours on this message board.
Sniper's Spiritual Supporters
Today's Washington Post profiles a Rastafarian journalist couple (who also follow some teachings of Islam) who hope to uncover the hidden messages in the Washington-area sniper trial. Itai Iman I and Da Ura I, who have been covering the trial for their website, the Underground News Network, believe that the sniper shootings were part of a divine plan. As Iman I told the Post, the shootings were "like a message from a high priest, this initiation rite to take the world, especially black people, to a higher level, to get a higher consciousness." The couple's daily reports from the trial can be read on their website, along with their analysis of other journalistic coverage of the trial.
A Hollywood Chuppah
An article called "Oy Gay!" in this week's Nation calls TV's "Will & Grace" the "most radical" show in the history of television for its positive depiction of both Jewish women and gay men. Writer Kera Bolonik lauds "Will & Grace" for being the first show on network television to ever show a wedding between two Jewish characters (Grace, played by Debra Messing, married Harry Connick Jr.'s Leo) and calls the show "the antidote to this long legacy of marginalizing and stereotyping of Jews and gays." On the show, Bolonik writes, "These two über-gentiles [the characters Karen and Jack] are the eccentrics for a change."
Who Raises Moral Standards?
A new Gallup poll asks which groups were "raising the moral standards of the nation." The percent citing religious leaders dropped from 36% in 1994 to only 29% today. The good news is they're still cited more than anyone else but most other types of leaders or institutions (newspapers, movies, TV, advertising) actually saw growth in trust during that period.
They also asked "which national principles keep America strong." Belief in God was near the bottom of the list, with 63% citing that. "Honesty in government" was number one (94%).
Don't Mess With Catholic Schoolgirls
"Goretti girls"--the young women who attend St. Maria Goretti High School for Girls in Philadelphia--are known to be tough on guys who don't show them proper resepect. Rudy Susanto learned that lesson when he appeared at dismissal last Thursday and exposed himself, for what police say was the seventh time in a few weeks. This time, 20 to 30 angry, plaid-skirted girls dropped their books and chased him through the streets of South Philly. When two neighborhood men tackled Susanto, the girls beat the hell out of him. Fifteen-year-old Kelly Simone was the first to get a piece of Susanto. "He started grabbing at my feet, so I kicked him," said Simone. The girl turned to her schoolmates and said: "Let's show him what we can do." Susanto was treated at a local hospital and will be charged with indecent exposure and disorderly conduct.
It's unknown how many of Susanto's assailants knew that their school's patron, St. Maria Goretti, was canonized after forgiving her murderer (indeed, he attended the Vatican ceremony), who fatally wounded Maria after he "harrassed her with impure suggestions," according to a website devoted to her and attempted sexual assault. Goretti was only 11 years old.
Jewitches--Out of the Broom Closet
This week, the Forward examines the growing number of "Jewitches," Jewish women who practice witchcraft, Wicca, or other "goddess-directed worship." Examples of Jewitch practice include incorporating magic into Jewish rituals, welcoming the shekhina (the divine feminine), and lighting a yahrzeit candle to honor the dead. Now Jewitches--or witchy Jews, as some prefer to be called--have a gathering place on the web: Jewitchery.com. The site offers essays like "A Jewitch's Perspective of Deity" and "Shabbat as Goddess," reading suggestions, and links to mailing lists for Jewish pagans.
Some rabbis, however, warn of combining Judaism with witchery. "Witchcraft and magic are the antithesis of what the Torah teaches," Rabbi Manuel Gold told the Forward.
But Jewitches like Jennifer Hunter, author of "21st-Century Wicca" aren't deterred. "The goddess is just Yahweh in drag," she explained.
Our recent story, "Whatever Happened to Chastity Chic?" examined why Britney Spears gave up flaunting her spirituality in favor of flaunting her body. But an interview in Newsweek this week makes us wonder if it might be safer if the pop star stays away from the divine. Spears shared with Newsweek that she's "been into a lot of Indian spiritual religions." But when asked if one of them was Hinduism, she replied, "What's that? Is it like kabbalah?" Asked about the effect her steamy performances might have on children, Spears explains, "I'm here right now ... because I dreamed of these moments. Kids need that. If they don't dream, they have what? That's what makes you feel spiritual, connected with God."
Bring Out Yer Dead
Whether they observe the Feast of All Saints, All Hallows Day or the Day of the Dead, people the world over are preparing to honor their deceased loved ones. But don't expect John Schiffeler to be placing candles and mementos at his family's vault in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, Calif. He's already put a sign in the dusty window that reads: "Mausoleum for Sale: $250,000." A descendant of wealthy San Franciscans, the 63-year-old hopes to sell the large granite tomb that sits along Millionaire's Row, which features mausoleums modeled after Egyptian pyramids and Greek temples, because he is strapped for cash. Kicking out the dead, Schiffeler told the New York Times, is "a way to raise needed funds for the living."
Schiffeler plans to move his kin to a (presumably cheaper) resting place near Carmel Valley. The vault holds his parents, grandparents, two aunts and a family friend. Schiffeler shrugs off outrage voiced in the San Francisco Chronicle. "This is not public property," he said. "It is mine. It is my choice whether to keep it, sell it or offer a 'layaway plan' of 'condocrypts.'"
A cemetery spokesman said that Schiffeler can't legally disinter his earlier descendants or distant relatives, just his parents. "For him to sell the Wintermute family mausoleum," the representative said, "it must be unoccupied, which it's not."
But Schiffeler is open to ideas. A potential buyer suggested keeping Schiffeler's family put and using the empty spaces around them. "I told him for a quarter million, he's welcome to join the family," Schiffler said.
Ghost Hunting 101
Ghosts are big this time of year--and in many parts of the country, so is ghostbusting. Halloween week is the perfect time of year for amateur ghost tracking groups to offer special tours of haunted houses and to promote their year-round services. The Indiana Ghost Trackers offers "free ghost investigations for homes and businesses" and provides a link to a page explaining How to Conduct a Ghost Hunt. The Big Bend Ghost Trackers, in Northern Florida, compiles records of local ghost sightings and lists rules for ghost hunting, including: "Maintain a positive mental attitude during all investigations as skepticism generates negative energy."
If you're a ghost tracking novice, the Ghosthunter Store can outfit you with red lens flashlights, electromagnetic field detectors, motion sensors, and other necessary equipment. Positive mental attitude not included.
Jacko: Not Clear on Charity?
Michael Jackson's "What More Can I Give?"--a song he recorded two years ago with Luther Vandross, Tom Petty, Ricky Martin, Gloria Estefan and Beyoncé Knowles--was always billed as a fundraiser for charity, and at last Jackson has released it as a downloadable file for $2. But Fox News reports that much of the proceeds will go to programs founded and run by the Church of Scientology--a detail that may disturb both fans and the celebs who pitched in. (Scroll down.)
Well, it was a good week for Norwegian witches. Lena Skarning, a 33-year-old witch who's been casting spells and stirring the cauldron since she was 20, has won Norway's first state subsidy to run a business of fortune-telling, potions and cures, and magic. Officials, who deemed her business plan "pretty reasonable and well thought out," awarded Skarning a start-up grant of 53,000 crowns ($7,400) to launch "Forest Witch Magic Consulting," on the condition that she not attempt spells that harm anyone. She plans to use the subsidy to read Tarot cards, create products like magic-bath oil, and teach magic tricks at corporate seminars.
Skarning, who owns a white cat and dresses in black, calls herself a "nice witch" and attributes the growing tolerance of witches and sorcery to the success of J.K Rowling's Harry Potter books. "But Harry Potter is a fairy tale and I'm not," she told Reuters. "He rides brooms backwards. Real witches ride with the brush part in front."
"I'm the real thing," she said. "And now I'm Norway's only state-backed witch."
Called to Vocation, Via the Web
Hoping to fend off the decline in the number of priests and nuns, Catholic dioceses and seminaries are increasingly using the Internet to help bring in Catholics who feel a calling to become a priest or a nun. The New York Times (registration required) reports that since people who are considering ministry often want to keep their interest private at first, without scheduling a meeting with a priest or more fully committing to the process, vocation websites are flourishing. Father Regen, who hosts www.vocations.com, estimates that 85 percent of Catholic dioceses in the U.S. have a website for those who think they have been called.
'What If Terri Didn't Want This?'
Wow. What a rare thing: a politician admitting that while he tried to do the right thing, he's not completely certain. Jim King, the Republican president of the Florida State Senate--and a supporter of Governor Bush's intervention in the Terri Schiavo case-- nonetheless said, "I keep on thinking 'What if Terri didn't really want this done at all?' May God have mercy on all of us."
To me, it strengthens the authority of his argument that he's willing to admit to doubt.
Boykin's Edited Apology
Lt. Gen. William Boykin's apology for his remarks about terrorism and Islam was apparently edited by Pentagon lawyers. CNN has a story detailing what was taken out of his statement.
The Controversies Within the Terri Schiavo Controversy
As if the case of Terri Schiavo, a brain-damaged woman whose feeding tube was recently removed, wasn't complicated and heartbreaking enough, tangential Christian battles have erupted around it.
At an ecumenical prayer vigil for Terri, Catholics prayed for the intercession of Terri's name saint, Theresa of Avila (some Catholics have noted that irony of Schiavo's feeding tube being removed on St. Theresa's feast day, Oct. 15). Envoy Magazine reports that evangelicals approached the Catholics, saying "Why pray to St. Theresa? ...You can go directly to Jesus." Later, however, the two groups put aside their differences over sandwiches.
Separately, many anti-euthanasia Catholics are incensed that the bishop of Schiavo's diocese put out a statement calling for clemency in the case of Paul Hill, who was recently executed for killing an abortion doctor, but failed to take a strong stand on Schiavo. Bishop Robert Lynch's statement on Paul Hill deplores Hill's acts, but says "his execution will only perpetuate a cycle of violence and further promote a sense of vengeance in our society."
Lynch's statement on Schiavo, some Catholics argue, is wishy-washy in comparison. The August 12 statement says it is "sad" that Schiavo's family could not come to a "unified... decision concerning Terri's situation" and notes that the case "is especially difficult because her actual medical situation is in dispute." The August 12 statement has since been followed up by a similar statement from all Florida bishops with slightly stronger wording, including the sentence "We reject outright the euthanasia movement and its utilitarian standard that some lives are not worth living."
Gregg Easterbrook's Record
I'm heartbroken to see what's happening to Gregg Easterbrook. In a column for the New Republic, he wrote a terrible passage criticizing "Jewish executives" at Miramax and Disney for making violent films, and then immediately and profusely apologized for it. He explained what he was trying to say, which was not at all anti-Semitic.
It's horrifying to see headlines with the words "Easterbrook" and "anti-semitic" in them. In no way do I defend what he initially wrote, but I can think of few people less deserving of being labeled intolerant. Now I hear that ESPN, which is owned by Disney, has fired Gregg, even though none of this appeared on ESPN.com.
I've known and admired Gregg for many years; he's one of the most honest journalists around. When I first hatched the idea that became Beliefnet, most heavyweight reporters thought it was odd. Gregg was one of the few who urged me to press forward-in part because he felt that journalists had a greater obligation to write well about religion and promote religious understanding. He volunteered to write for this fledgling website.
Promoting religious understanding is at the very heart of what we do at Beliefnet, and Gregg has helped us with that mission since 1999. In one piece, he praised Pope John Paul II's declaration that one need not be Christian to go heaven. He wrote another arguing that a Jewish vice president could indeed win. After Jerry Falwell declared that the anti-Christ was a "male Jew," Gregg wrote a piece ripping apart Falwell's logic and Biblical justifications. He posted another article arguing that public displays of the 10 commandments should be replaced by displays of six principles that could be agreed upon by Christians, Jews, Buddhists and Muslims.
Gregg has done more to promote religious understanding than most journalists I know. I hope that one very bad column-followed almost immediately by a very effusive apology-will not displace that record.
Mother Teresa, the Musical
As the Catholic Church prepares to beatify Mother Teresa this Sunday, Italians are paying unique homage to the Calcutta nun. If you're in Rome for the festivities, you can see "Mother Teresa -- The Musical," described by the Washington Post as a "foot-stomping razzamatazz" in which actors belt out pop tunes (and the lead character wears a sari with a slit up the front).
The Post article goes on to say that members of Mother Teresa's order, the Missionaries of Charity, have not authorized the musical and are "not amused."
Follow the Money
Even canonical battles have money trails, and the current set-to in the Anglican church over American gay bishops and Canadian gay unions is no different. Reports this week have traced funding for the American Anglican Council, which sponsored the confab of conservative Episcoplians in Dallas earlier this month, to the Ahmanson family. Howard Ahmanson, an Episcopalian whose father made a fortune in banking, has pledged $200,000 a year to the AAC, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. His wife, Roberta, the paper goes on to say, also sits on the board of the Institute for Religion and Democracy, a group dedicated to "fighting for the reform of American churches," and which is supported in part by Richard Scaife, the same conservative Christian philanthropist whose funding was critical to the investigation of Bill Clinton's relationship to Paula Jones.
Pledge of Allegiance Blues
Today's announcement that the Supreme Court will hear the Pledge of Allegiance case is sure to increase web traffic to Restore the Pledge, plaintiff Michael Newdow's official pledge litigation site. This is good news for Newdow, who is now offering for purchase his own music album inspired by the case. The CD, which is called "Liberty and Justice for All" and costs $14.92, includes 11 songs, all written and performed by Newdow, like "(Won't You Play Fair) Bill O'Reilly" and "Let 'Em Leave," a reference to Senator Robert Byrd's quip that atheists should leave the country if they don't like how it is run.. Complete lyrics and samples of some songs are available online, including "Old Religion Blues" and "Establi-Rap."
Pat Robertson Drops a Bombshell
Earlier this year, Pat Robertson mounted "Operation Prayer Shield" to shelter the United States in the "shadow of the Most High" against "somebody with a nuclear device using them against one of our cities or one of our installations." Who knew that "somebody" might be Robertson himself? This weekend the State Department condemned Robertson's on-air suggestion that the department's headquarters ought to be blown up by a nuclear device.
Robertson's comment came during a "700 Club" interview with Joel Mowbray, author of "Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Endangers America's Security." "I read your book," Robertson said. "When you get through, you say, 'If I could get a nuclear device inside Foggy Bottom, I think that's the answer.' I mean, you get through this, and you say, 'We've got to blow that thing up.'"
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called Robertson's comment "despicable." The Associated Press reports that Robertson had endorsed blowing up the State Department in an earlier interview with Mowbray. "Well, it looks like the Congress had better do something," Robertson said in June, "and maybe we need a very small nuke thrown off on Foggy Bottom to shake things up."
Robertson has now posted a clarification on his site: "I want to correct my remarks. Joel did not say 'Nuke the State Department,' so we've changed. We're not going to nuke it, we're going to gut it."
A Week Promoting Marriage
Next week, Oct. 12 through 18, is "Marriage Protection Week," a new initiative announced by President Bush. "Marriage Protection Week provides an opportunity to focus our efforts on preserving the sanctity of marriage and on building strong and healthy marriages in America," he said. "Marriage is a union between a man and a woman, and my Administration is working to support the institution of marriage by helping couples build successful marriages and be good parents. ...I call upon the people of the United States to observe this week with appropriate programs, activities, and ceremonies."
The Family Research Council, a conservative Christian political action group, has declared "marriage protection" to be the primary issue in the 2004 presidential election and has drafted a "Marriage Protection Pledge." Meanwhile, gay groups are opposing the Bush proclamation. Read other blogs that discuss Marriage Protection Week. (Thanks to Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute for pointing out this story.)
Don't Bother Passing the Collection Plate
In the U.K., a priest is encouraging parishioners to tithe by credit card. The Rev. Geoffrey Fenton has installed his "Donorpoint" credit card machine in three cathedrals so far. Churchgoers can donate from 30 to 100 pounds per visit, according to Church times. "No one carries cash much any longer," the Vice Dean of Norwich, Canon Richard Hanmer, told the paper. "In two years, everyone will have one of these."
Less Religious I Do's
USA Today reports that the rate of civil marriage is increasing. Though there is no national data on the rate of civil marriages--wedding ceremonies performed by a notary, judge, justice of the peace, or other civil authority--the paper analyzed marriage licenses from 18 states that have kept records since 1980. It found that in 2001, 40% of wedding ceremonies were civil marriages, up from 30% in 1980. University of Washington sociologist Pepper Schwartz credited the trend in fewer religious ceremonies to high divorce and remarriage rates, a rise in interfaith marriage, and increasing personal spirituality in lieu of participation in institutional religion.
Seeking God in Rush Hour
Most drivers tend to spend so much time in the car that it's common for people to make phone calls, eat, parent, apply makeup, and change clothes while attempting to stay in lane and notice stop signs. I heard on NPR's "Car Talk" (while driving) that some people even clip newspaper coupons during their morning commute. According to a recent survey by the Royal Automobile Club Foundation an organization that works with the British government to promote vehicle and road safety, almost 75% of British drivers said they pray in their cars, and 22% said they talk to God in traffic on a regular basis. Many beseech God to "get me out of this," the survey said, while others beg not to get caught speeding.
The survey, which polled 898 drivers, also found that 16% pray for lighter traffic or no delays, and that 6% pray to saints, such as St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers. Not all supplications, however, are as self-absorbed. More than 50% said they pray for others who were suffering, or for the well-being of family and friends. "A lot of people view motoring as a necessary evil," said Edmund King, executive director of the RAC Foundation, "but it might well be the opposite-a necessary good."
"Society has changed," he said, "with many people choosing to talk to whatever power they worship in ordinary places where they feel relaxed and uninhibited, like motor cars. For some the car has simply become the new church." In which case, here's a prayer I plan to recite: "Lord, don't let the new church run me off the road."
Nigh Time for Nuwaubians
Time seems to be running out for Malachi (aka Dwight) York, the founder of a religious sect known as the Nuwaubian Nation of Moors. Variously claiming to be a reincarnated leader of a Native American tribe and a visitor from a galaxy called Illyuwn, York once predicted that that in 2003 spaceships would appear to take up a chosen 144,000 people for a rebirth.
They'd better come soon. York has been undergoing psychiatric evaluation in New York after being charged with 74 counts of child molestation last year and is expected to go on trial in January, after a judge ruled a plea bargain too lenient. The Nuwaubians, a primarily African-American group, came to the attention of the FBI in 1993 for alleged "arson, welfare fraud and extortion." Soon afterward, they moved from upstate New York to Georgia, where they built themselves a compound. At one point the group numbered in the thousands, but since York's arrest, membership has dwindled, and the situation in Georgia seems to be degrading: last week, two members were arrested in a real-esate fraud case.
Saturday Night Suicide Stunt Banned
A Florida judge issued an injunction Thursday forbidding a rock band from hosting an on-stage suicide during one of its shows.
The band, called Hell on Earth, planned to help a terminally ill man commit suicide on a St. Petersburg, Fla. stage Saturday night, October 4, in order to raise awareness of the right-to-die movement. Hell on Earth's previous on-stage antics include blending dead rats and feeding the mixture to an audience member.
In Rolling Stone, band member Billy Tourtelot accused Florida Gov. Jeb Bush of "getting people to ban this show." The owner of the planned venue for Saturday's show has canceled the event, but Tourtelot insists the show will go on in an undisclosed location.
A winning sculpture in the annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition at Washburn University, in Kansas, is being called "Catholic bashing at its worst." The controversial sculpture, depicting a heavyset priest in an ecclesiastical cap, which critics say resembles a penis, is on view near Washburn's student center and was selected for display by the Campus Beautification Committee. The artist, Jerry Boyle, said he created his "Holier Than Thou" sculpture as a "humorous piece," inspired by his Catholic upbringing. "Everybody sees something different," he told the Associated Press.
Not Your Typical Freedom Ride
Organized by several Christian groups under the name "Spirit of Montgomery," a truck labeled the "Save the Commandments Caravan" is making its way from Montgomery, Alabama to Washington D.C. this week to show support for Alabama Judge Roy Moore. Moore petitioned the Supreme Court this week to review a ruling by lower courts that he violated the Constitution by placing a Ten Commandments monument in his courthouse.
The caravan includes a "lighted billboard of the Ten Commandments," and each stop along the eight-day tour will feature a rally, a prayer vigil, and a model of the controversial Ten Commandments monument. The Spirit of Montgomery's mission is to reclaim "the spiritual and moral heritage [of the U.S.] lost to a progressively more militant and anti-religious secularism imposed by the federal courts."
Organizers are also collecting signatures for a "virtual caravan," an online petition to which they hope to have 250,000 signatories by the time the real caravan reaches the U.S. Capitol building.
Stockbrokers Need Prayers, Too
A "Christian think-tank" is urging people to pray for bankers and stockbrokers, saying that those working in finance tend to get overlooked in favor of those in "caring" professions, like nurses and teachers.
"There is a feeling that you cannot mix God and Mammon" says John Raymond of the Industrial Christian Fellowship. "But I think that is exactly the opposite of how Jesus would see it."
The group has prepared some suggested prayers for use in church services. One prayer asks God to "bless entrepreneurs, those in business, investors and those responsible for pension funds."
Warning: Smoking May Be Hazardous to Your Karma
The last country in the world to turn on television (it was introduced in 1999) may be the first nation to ban smoking. The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan has outlawed cigarettes in 18 of its 20 districts, and hopes to break the habit completely by the end of the year.
The Independent reports that government officials are concerned not only about the physical health of its citizens (the life expectancy for men is 62), but also their spiritual health. According to the director of Bhutan's health department, people in this deeply religious Buddhist country consider smoking a sin.
The ban isn't limited to tobacco cigarettes. The Independent notes that the people of Bhutan have discovered "uses other than as pig fodder for the cannabis that grows freely in its hills."
Gold Medals for Yoga
If you think yoga is just people sitting in the dark twisting themselves into pretzels, catch up with this week's world yoga competition in Los Angeles.
The yogathletes are judged on grace, proportion, flexibility, endurance and balance, completing five compulsory and two optional poses in three minutes. Says the competition's host, Bikram Choudhury, "There have been yoga championships in India for hundreds of years. Competitions have also been held in Japan, Uruguay, Brazil. Argentina and Italy."
Next stop for Bikram? He asks, "Why not yoga at the Olympics?"
Text Messaging Prayers
Need to get a prayer to Jerusalem's Western Wall, pronto? For a little more than a dollar, cell-phone-toting Israeli Jews can now dial a number and text-message their prayers to the holy site. An enterprising company faxes the prayers to a rabbi, who tears off each message and places it between the stones of the ancient wall.
Jesus Hits the Bar Scene
Several Wales churches and Christian leaders have figured out a new way to connect to young people--through pubs and nightclubs. "Pubs by definition are public space, they feel inhabitable and unpretentious, a quality that, unfortunately, is not shared by many churches," the website for one church-in-a-pub called Bar None explains. Bar None, affiliated with an actual church in Cardiff, Wales, offers music, storytelling, and discussion group, and a newsletter called "The Tab."
The national website of Wales reports that "the first chaplain for nightclubs" is about to begin work. Wendy Sanderson, 26, will lead a team of volunteers in Cardiff's bars and nightclubs. "When you look at the influence of drugs and the hunger for the ultimate high, it kind of all links in," she told the website.
One of the earliest churches in a pub was started by an evangelist In Swansea, Wales, in 1998. He began "Zac's Place," a weekly Christian meeting to "provide opportunity for expression of and enquiry into the Christian faith in a relaxed pub environment."
I'm Too Sexy for My Vestment
Tomorrow in England, more than a dozen Christian ministers will show off their style in "Clergy on the Catwalk," a fashion show for the priestly set. Anglican Communion News Service reported the show will "feature colourful, contemporary vestments from leading ecclesiastical designers."
The top model for the show is the Rev. Shannon Ledbetter, known for her role in 1997's "Tomorrow Never Dies" James Bond flick. Ledbetter, a former model, was ordained a deacon in the Anglican Church this summer. "The only place Western culture appears to idealise the human form today is on the catwalk," Ledbetter explained. "The supermodel has become the form we place on a pedestal draped with exotic fabrics and captured on film. I hope Clergy on the Catwalk will direct attention away from the superficial to the spiritual."
The event is part of the Christian Resources Exhibition, a British trade show for Christian products and learning tools.
Is Mel Gibson Anti-Semitic?
The Mel Gibson controversy has splintered now into two different disputes: whether the movie is anti-Semitic and whether Gibson is anti-Semitic. As for the movie, some who've seen it say yes; most who've seen it, say no and others have expressed opinions without having seen it.
But what about Gibson himself and his defenders? Amy-Jill Levine argued in these pages that the film aside, the movie's advocates stepped over some lines.
Then came Gibson's interview with the New Yorker. Relevant comments:
"Modern secular Judaism wants to blame the Holocaust on the Catholic Church. And it's a lie. And it's revisionism. And they've been working on that one for a while."
Later in the article: "I didn't realize it would be so vicious, he says of the criticism. "The acts against this film started early. As soon as I announced I was doing it, it was 'This is a dangerous thing.' There is vehement anti-Christian sentiment out here, and they don't want it. It's vicious. I mean, I think we're just a little part of it, we're just the meat in the sandwich here. There's huge things out there, and they're belting it out--we don't see this stuff. Imagine: There's a huge war raging, and it's over us! This is a the weird thing. For some reason we're important in this thing. I don't undersand it. We're a bunch of dickheads and idiots and failures and creeps. But we're called to the divine, we're called to be better than our nature would have us be. And those big realms that are warring and battling are going to manifest themselves very clearly, seemingly without reason, here--a realm that we can see. And you stick your head up and you get knocked."
Finally, commenting on his decision to cut out a scene in which a Jewish crowd says "His blood be on us and our children," Gibson said, "I wanted it in. My brother said I was wimping out if I didn't include it. It happened; it was said. But, man, if I included that in there, they'd be coming after me at my house, they'd come kill me." The New Yorker said Gibson was referring to critics such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Sandy Koufax Redux
Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Shawn Green has already announced that, should the Dodgers make it to the National League playoffs, he will probably not play in Game 5, scheduled for the night Yom Kippur begins.
"It's something that I'm giving a lot of thought to because it's an important decision," Green told the Los Angeles Times.
Former Dodger and Jewish sports icon Sandy Koufax is perhaps most famous in the Jewish community for his refusal to pitch the first game in the 1965 World Series. The game fell on Yom Kippur, the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. Green said he did not plan to ask Koufax for advice about what he should do.
Does Your Faith Determine Your Net Worth?
A sociology professor at Ohio State University has found that religion helps determine how much wealth Americans accumulate. "Religion is ... a factor that hasn't received a lot of attention," said Lisa Keister, the author of the new study.
"What I'm finding is that families have a powerful influence on how people learn to save, and religion is often an important part of family life," Keister said. "The things children are taught in Jewish homes are very different than those that are taught in conservative Protestant homes." Jews in the study had a median net worth of $150,890, while conservative Protestants had a median net worth of $26,000. Keister said the difference could be partially attributed to Jews encouraging their children to go into high-income careers and invest early, while conservative Protestants may place more of their trust about wealth in God.
Raising a Non-Material Girl
We all want to give our kids a better childhood than we had, and Madonna is no exception. The star revealed on Oprah yesterday that she has been sending her daughter Lourdes, 7, to a children's program in Los Angeles called Spirituality for Kids, an offshoot of the controversial Kabbalah Centre. The program teaches the wisdom of the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, to 6- to 12-year-olds. The Spirituality for Kids curriculum offers three levels of courses, which move from teaching kids basic values, such as empathy, tolerance, and sharing, to more esoteric ideas about negativity, colors, and "the staying power of words."
Madonna gives the program a ringing endorsement on its website, noting: "Since my daughter has been going to the Spirituality for Kids program I have noticed a profound change in her. She has become more loving and much more aware of her behavior and how it affects the world around her. I only wish I had been exposed to understanding the laws of the Universe when I was a kid. I could have saved myself a lot of pain and suffering."
Even Madonna's new best-selling children's book, "The English Roses," a moral tale about four little girls who are envious of another girl and learn the importance of compassion, was inspired by her Kabbalah studies.
Mormons on the Big Screen
Screenings began in Utah and other western states last week for the new "Book of Mormon" movie, a film version of the sacred Mormon text. "Ever since I saw the "Ten Commandments," nearly 48 years ago, I have been dreaming of seeing a motion picture about the Book of Mormon," writes director Gary Rogers in his Director's Notes.
The movie website features a trailer and also includes a note for Mormons concerned about the movie's expected PG-13 rating. "The Book of Mormon Movie may receive a PG-13 rating because of a scene dealing with cutting off Laban's head. You will not see his head come off, nor will you see guts coming out of his neck, but you will see a VERY powerful scene where parental guidance is appropriate. . I personally do not think it is possible to do justice to certain parts in the Book of Mormon with just a PG rating."
The first movie concludes with the fifth chapter of the second book of Nephi. Rogers says he will produce eight more volumes of the Mormon epic, depending on the success of this movie.
Faith Is a Battlefield
A British philosophy site features an interesting online game that tests the intellectual rigor of players' religious beliefs. In a series of questions, "Battleground God" determines whether your beliefs about God follow a logical pattern. When your logic fails, the game spits out reprimands like "The intellectual sniper has scored a bull's-eye!"
For Your Little Cherub
Catholic parents who already have Baby Mozart--and other items for raising a high-performance child--now have an option if they want their little one to be holier than the average tot.
Inspired by the popular Baby Einstein series, the new "Holy Baby" DVD uses 3-D animation, music, and colorful images to introduce infants to the prayers of the rosary.
Watching the DVD can be a slightly trippy experience for adults (think back to when Teletubbies first premiered), but could entrance the playpen set. Bright moving shapes, Fisher Price toys, Mary statues, crosses, and real-life toddlers appear and disappear as prayers like the Our Father and the Hail Mary are read in seven different languages. The theme song "Holy Baby, you're the one/Lovin' Jesus, havin' fun" plays at the beginning and end. A bewimpled and presumably diapered nun, Baby Scholastica, gurgles and coos before each prayer is introduced.
Creator Wayne Laugesen says the Holy Baby DVD reflects his family's "experience with our own children," who are stimulated by the "colorful parade of objects." If "Holy Baby" is anything like the Baby Einstein phenomenon, very young children may be mesmerized--and, potentially, canonized.
Barbie, Enemy of Islam
Citing her "revealing clothes" and "accessories," Saudi authorities have declared Barbie a threat to morality. Though the dolls were already banned in Saudi Arabia, they are now referred to as "Jewish" dolls and listed among items considered offensive to Islam. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that the website of the country's Committee for the Propogation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice asserts: "Jewish Barbie dolls, with their revealing clothes and shameful postures, accessories and tools are a symbol of decadence to the perverted West. Let us beware of her dangers and be careful."
The Middle East Media Research Institute reports that the website continues: "The enemies of Islam want to invade us with all possible means, and therefore they have circulated among us this doll, which spreads deterioration of values and moral degeneracy among our girls."
A quick scan of the Barbie website reveals no information about Barbie's alleged Jewishness. But young Muslim girls in Saudi Arabia do have another option if they're desperate for Barbie: Razanne dolls, outfitted in Islamic dress.
Woody Harrelson, Yoga Guru
Move your mat over, Christy Turlington, yoga has a new celebrity poster child-Woody Harrelson. Last weekend, the actor, vegan, and marijuana activist led an estimated 2,000 people in a two-hour yoga session he hopes will make the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest outdoor yoga class ever. "We'll be able to say we remember this day," he told the crowd gathered at the University of Toronto campus. "Your grandkids and you will be looking at the picture and you can say, 'I was there, darn it.' Some hung-over maniac was leading it for us."
The former "Cheers" star and self-proclaimed yoga addict was in town to promote his new film, "Go Further." The documentary follows Harrelson and some like-minded friends as they cycle from Seattle to Los Angeles trailed by a hemp-fueled bus, stopping for Harrelson to lead impromptu yoga classes and extol the virtues of an eco-friendly lifestyle.
"When I was in college I wanted to be a minister," Harrelson told the Globe and Mail. "I guess I'm a preacher with a different message, but no less important. My god is nature and naturalness."
The Heebie-Jeebies Explained
When old man Scrooge had the dickens scared out of him by the ghostly appearance of his dead partner Jacob Marley, he may have actually been spooked by a low-frequency vibration created naturally. Scientists at a recent meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science presented research showing that infrasound, a very low, inaudible bass sound, can produce that creepy, haunted feeling--shivers down the spine, weird sensations, anxiety. "It makes people feel extremely strange, even though they can't tell whether it's there or not," said Richard Wiseman, a psychologist at the University of Herfordshire in southern England. Wiseman and his colleagues produced infrasound with a 23-foot pipe and tested its effects on 750 volunteers at a concert hall in London. They played four contemporary pieces of live music, two of which were laced with infrasound. The audience didn't know the infrasound was present, but 22 percent described more unusual experiences-getting chills down the spine, or feeling nervous, uneasy or sorrowful-when it was included. Infrasound can be produced by church organs, traffic, wind, storms, weather patterns and earthquakes. Animals such as elephants use infrasound to communicate and to fend off enemies.
"It has implications for claims about hauntings, and things people think they feel in religious settings like cathedrals," said Wiseman. "What appears to happen is that people have odd sensations that they cannot explain, and so they attribute them to God. If you are in an old house, you might attribute the same thing to a ghost."
Recalling His Religion
With Arnold Schwarzenegger's pro-choice stance (not to mention his days as a '70s swinger) putting off Christian voters, the religious vote in California's recall election may be up for grabs. It may be no coincidence, then, that Gov. Gray Davis has stepped up his references to the almighty, catalogued in this piece from The Weekly Standard. Over Labor Day weekend, Davis, a Roman Catholic, occupied the front pew at a Mass at Los Angeles's Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral, and he claimed at the Walnut Creek debate and in an interview with NBC that his "strong faith in God" has seen him through the worst moments of the recall effort. If they take him at his word, that kind of talk may serve Davis well among evangelicals as well as the largely Catholic Hispanic voters.
Diet for the Days of Awe
For Jews who are worried that High Holiday season might result in weight gain, Atkins Nutritional, Inc., founders of the popular Atkins diet, provide a low-carb plan for Rosh Hashanah. The holiday, an Atkins press release declared this week, "is a time for reflection, self-evaluation and the consumption of sweet, traditional dishes symbolizing the hope for a prosperous year to come. Fortunately, celebrating this meaningful holiday doesn't have to be a challenge for the millions of people who are watching their weight and their health by pursuing a controlled carbohydrate diet."
Atkins offers special low-carb Rosh Hashanah recipes, including fish terrine (3 g carbohydrates), homemade chicken soup (1.5 g carbohydrates), and brisket with mushrooms (7.5 g carbohydrates). The company also suggests making challah, the traditional braided bread used on Shabbat and holidays, using the Atkins Kitchen(TM) Quick & Easy White Bread Mix.
"It's about balance," Atkins food editor Stephanie Nathanson said in the release. "Tradition is very important, but so is good health."
Britain's David Kelly Inquiry: Was Faith a Factor?
As Britain's official inquiry into the death of David Kelly, the scientist who committed suicide after being named as a source for a BBC report questioning the validity of British intelligence about Iraq, continues, British papers report that Kelly's faith is playing a role in the investigation. The late scientist converted to the Baha'i faith four years ago, and one friend says that his religion could reveal something about his frame of mind in the days before his suicide on July 17. Manoocher Samii told the BBC that the Baha'i faith's emphasis on the unity of the world, religion's coexistence with science, and the importance of honesty, shaped the scientist's thoughts.
The inquiry into Kelly's death received today a report from Barney Leith about the faith. "The act of suicide is strongly condemned but we in Baha'i do not take a condemnatory attitude to those that do it," Leith, head of the Baha'i faith in Britain, told Reuters.
Out of approximately five million followers of the Baha'i faith worldwide, only about 6,000 live in the United Kingdom.