RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Former Faith-Based Official says Bush Fails on `Poor People Stuff’ WASHINGTON (RNS) A former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives says President Bush has failed to support the program as he had promised. David Kuo, who left the position in December 2003, said the White House didn’t push hard enough for Congress to deliver the $8 billion Bush promised to faith-based initiatives during his first year in office. “From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants,” Kuo wrote in a Beliefnet editorial. “It never really wanted the `poor people stuff.”’ When Bush ran for president, he promised $6 billion in charity tax incentives; $1.7 billion for groups that cared for drug addicts, at-risk youth and teen moms; and $200 million for a “Compassion Capital Fund,” Kuo wrote.

NEWS STORY: In the Supreme Court Itself, Moses and His Law on Display

c. 2005 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ When the Supreme Court justices consider whether the Ten Commandments should be displayed on government property, they will do so under the watchful eyes of Moses. The Jewish lawgiver is depicted several times in the stone and marble edifice that is the Supreme Court building, and so are the Ten Commandments. In sculpture, Moses sits as the prominent figure atop the building’s east side, holding two tablets representing the Ten Commandments. And on the wall directly behind the chief justice’s chair, an allegorical “Majesty of Law” places his muscular left arm on a tablet depicting the Roman numerals I through X. Believers are convinced those are indeed the commandments given to Moses as described in the biblical Book of Exodus.

NEWS STORY: Vatican Speaker Warns Against Emergence of a New `Religion of Health’

c. 2005 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ A participant in a Vatican conference on the ethical values of sickness and health warned Thursday (Feb. 17) against an emerging new “religion of health” that turns the sick into second-class citizens and supports euthanasia. “I believe that there really exists such a vision of man that is progressively becoming dominant throughout the world today, such a vision that could be called the `religion of health,”’ Manfred Lutz told a Vatican news conference called to discuss the forthcoming meeting of the Pontifical Academy for Life. Lutz said that the ailing 84-year-old Pope John Paul II exemplifies a Christian view that is the opposite of the “religion of health” and values life from its start to its natural end even in sickness and pain, which mirror Christ’s suffering on the cross.

COMMENTARY: Doctors Can Now List Heartbreak Right Before Heartburn

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Science now confirms what you learned the hard way: that there is such a thing as heartbreak. Plain and homely heartbreak, however, is abstracted into “myocardial stunning” marked by elevated “stress hormone levels,” according to the doctors’ Web site http://www.Medscape.com. Also termed the “broken heart syndrome,” and accompanied by chest pain and shortness of breath, it was found _ surprise, surprise _ in a small sample of people who “had experienced emotional jolts” including one woman “who had watched her mother die at the hospital. Another had been in a car accident …

NEWS STORY: In Ten Commandments Cases, Supreme Court Will Hear Passion From Both Sides

c. 2005 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ The call “God save this honorable court” will echo throughout the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court on March 2, just as it does every time the court’s marshall convenes a session for the nine justices. But this time those words will uniquely resonate because the court is scheduled to hear arguments about an issue addressing God, government and the display of what many people consider heaven’s essential set of instructions for humanity. Two cases _ Van Orden v. Perry and McCreary v. American Civil Liberties Union _ both ask essentially the same question: Can the Ten Commandments grace public property without overstepping the First Amendment boundary that prohibits government from endorsing religion? More than 55 amicus briefs have been filed on both sides of the issue, highlighting the fact that this isn’t just a technical legal battle but also a stark divide in American society.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Mormons Reported to Be Fastest-Growing U.S. Church (RNS) Mormons are the fastest-growing church in the United States and rose to the No. 4 slot of the country’s top 10 churches, according to annual church membership figures compiled by the National Council of Churches. The 2005 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches reports a 1.71 percent growth rate for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2003, for a total membership of 5.5 million in the United States. The numbers, obtained by Religion News Service ahead of their March 1 release date, are considered the most authoritative report on American church membership.

NEWS STORY: Religious Groups Say Environment Is a Values Issue

c. 2005 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ A broad spectrum of people of faith are declaring green a religious color and the environment a sacred treasure that must be protected. Calling global warming “one of the key religious issues of our day,” Episcopal Bishop John Chane of Washington joined Rabbi David Saperstein of the Washington-based Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism and Sayyid Syeed, secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, in releasing a statement Wednesday (Feb. 16), the day the Kyoto Protocol took effect. Praising the 128 signatory nations of the environmental treaty intended to reduce global warming, the leaders said the United States, which has not signed, should recognize that “true success cannot be measured by the size of one’s car but rather by the depth of one’s soul.” Two other recent declarations also championed environmental protection _ one from grass-roots clergy and congregants and one from the New York-based Council of Churches.

NEWS FEATURE: Preachers and Rabbis Struggle With `Thou Shalts’ and `Thou Shalt Nots’

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) As the Rev. Frederic Baue prepares for his Lenten services, he’s thinking about what he will preach each week on the Ten Commandments. He’s already covered “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” reminding his worshippers at Bethany Lutheran Church in O’Fallon, Ill., that focusing on success and material objects can be subtle forms of idolatry. But Baue and other experts say he may be in the minority of preachers in choosing to focus on the commandments, which are also called the Decalogue. “So many sermons that the average long-suffering parishioners hear today basically amount to motivational talks” lacking the force of the commandments, said Baue, pastor of the 250-member church affiliated with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

COMMENTARY: Arthur Miller Battled Anti-Semitism From the Start

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Arthur Miller, who died recently at age 89, was one of America’s greatest playwrights along with Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams. While most attention centers on Miller’s best known dramas: “Death of a Salesman,” “All My Sons,” “After the Fall,” and “The Crucible,” I am especially drawn to two other works in which Miller probes into the irrational sources of anti-Semitism, and the imperative to confront and defeat this social pathology. Miller, an American Jew born in New York City, initially faced anti-Semitism in his first job as an employee in an auto parts warehouse. He saved enough money to finance his college education at the University of Michigan, and during World War II he worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. In 1945 he published “Focus” a novel about an anti-Semitic Gentile, Lawrence Newman, who is mistakenly taken to be a Jew.

NEWS FEATURE: New Dean of National Cathedral Brings Savvy, Boldness

c. 2005 Religion News Service BOSTON _ One year ago, when Mel Gibson’s film “The Passion of the Christ” was stirring sharp debate about anti-Semitism, Rabbi Ronne Friedman marveled that an Episcopal priest would convene a public panel on such a touchy issue and include him among the speakers. But what impressed Friedman even more than the Rev. Dr. Samuel T. Lloyd III’s staging of a forum at Trinity Church was the way his Christian colleague _ who takes the pulpit as sean of Washington National Cathedral Feb. 20 _ handled religious conservatives who rose to disagree with him. “He doesn’t shut down,” said Friedman, who serves as senior rabbi at Temple Israel, Boston’s largest Jewish congregation.

NEWS FEATURE: Roadside Religious Displays Capture Spiritual Journeys of a Highway Nation

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) From golf courses to cross gardens, believers are sharing personal religious experiences in very public ways along America’s highways and back roads. “If you talk to these artists about their work, they will describe it as a sacred process, as a form of prayer,” says scholar Timothy Beal, who has studied this “roadside religion” over the past several years. The founders of offbeat sacred spaces such as the World’s Largest Ten Commandments in Murphy, N.C., or the World’s Largest Rosary Collection in Skamania County, Wash., immerse themselves in spiritual disciplines that are close kin to traditional practices. Beal is a religion professor at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and author of the soon-to-be released book, “Roadside Religion, In Search of the Sacred, the Strange and the Substance of Faith” (Beacon Press).

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Doctors Say Pope Recovered From Medical Crisis Faster Than Expected ROME (RNS) Pope John Paul II made a faster-than-expected recovery from the breathing crisis that forced his hospitalization, but he will need more time to complete his convalescence, the head of his medical team said Wednesday (Feb. 16). Rodolfo Proietti said in an interview with L’Avvenire, a Catholic daily newspaper with close ties to the Italian Bishops Conference, that the pope’s general condition is good. An anesthesiologist and reanimation specialist who is head of the Emergency Department of Agostino Gemelli Polyclinic hospital, Proietti led the medical team that treated the 84-year-old Roman Catholic pontiff during his nine-day hospitalization earlier this month.

NEWS FEATURE: `Immigrant Hinduism’ Takes Distinctly American Shape

c. 2005 Religion News Service NORTHRIDGE, Calif. _ On a cold, rainy Sunday morning in the parking lot of a Hindu temple, a group of Indian-American medical students sign up devotees for free diabetes and cholesterol tests. Inside, M. Kalyan Sharma, a 69-year-old priest, hands out fruits and little plastic pouches filled with an assortment of nuts. This is prasad, the sacred offering given after prayers.

COMMENTARY: Is It So Bad to Teach That the `Big Guy’ May Have Designed the Universe?

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) It’s almost a cliche, or a reality TV show: New York family moves to the Shenandoah Valley and learns that the elementary school breaks in the middle of the day for Bible lessons. You can hear the lawsuits barreling down I-81, can’t you? The family has asked the school district to knock it off, but according to CNN.com, the locals want the tradition preserved. “The classes,” said CNN, “began in Virginia in 1929 after a majority of students failed a simple Bible test.” One suspects that students might fail a Bible test today as well; if they cannot correctly place the American Civil War in the proper millennium, they are likely to seize up and fall to the floor like stiff boards when asked to conjugate the begats of Old Testament genealogy.

RNS Weekly Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Former Faith-Based Official says Bush Fails on `Poor People Stuff’ WASHINGTON (RNS) A former deputy director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Community Initiatives says President Bush has failed to support the program as he had promised. David Kuo, who left the position in December 2003, said the White House didn’t push hard enough for Congress to deliver the $8 billion Bush promised to faith-based initiatives during his first year in office. “From tax cuts to Medicare, the White House gets what the White House really wants,” Kuo wrote in a Beliefnet editorial. “It never really wanted the `poor people stuff.”’ When Bush ran for president, he promised $6 billion in charity tax incentives; $1.7 billion for groups that cared for drug addicts, at-risk youth and teen moms; and $200 million for a “Compassion Capital Fund,” Kuo wrote.