HUMOR: Religion Can Be Funny

c. 2005 The Joyful Noiseletter (UNDATED) Words to start the New Year A New Year’s blessing: “May the sun shine on your day. May the clouds pass over your troubles. May the stars twinkle on your evening. And may the misty moonlight brighten your journey as you make your way to Heaven.” _ Rev. John H. Fahey, Washington, W.Va.

Authors Take Lighthearted Look at Hell

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The world has been going to hell in a handbasket for 4,000 years. That’s about the time someone gouged the epic hero Gilgamesh’s name into a ream of clay tablets and began, at least in writing, the human preoccupation with the netherworld. So say two writers, Chuck Crisafulli and Kyra Thompson, in their new book, “Go to Hell: A Heated History of the Underworld” (New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $15.95, 336 pages). What is it about us human beings?

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Few Priests Sign Petition Against Massachusetts’ Gay Marriage Law SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (RNS) Despite the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church urging support for a petition against same-sex marriage, only 20 percent of priests who work in one Bay State diocese signed the petition, according to a Web site tracking the issue. Of the 154 active priests in the Diocese of Springfield, only 31, or 20 percent, signed the petition that seeks to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. A Web site organized by pro-gay marriage organizations,, obtained the certified signatures from the secretary of state and published them on the Web.

Outgoing Baylor University Interim President

Quote of the Day: Baylor University Interim President Bill Underwood “If we are to be a great Christian university, we cannot be afraid to pursue the course of truth, wherever that course might lead. Indeed, if our pursuit of truth leads us to question our existing view of God, it may just be that God is trying to tell us something.” -Outgoing Baylor University Interim President Bill Underwood, speaking at the December commencement ceremony at his Waco, Texas, school before departing for a new position as president of Mercer University in Macon, Ga. He was quoted by Associated Baptist Press.

Like a Thief in the Night …

For one Philadelphia priest, Jesus’ prediction that he would return like “a thief in the night” has hit home a little too close for comfort. The Philadelphia Daily News has the story here.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Lawyers Predict Potential Backlash to Secret Surveillance of Muslims (RNS) Lawyers requesting the federal government turn over addresses of sites it had monitored surreptitiously say if records show religious profiling occurred, American Muslims will be more wary of cooperating with the war on terror. “If this demonstrates that Muslim sites were monitored just because they were Muslim sites, without law enforcement leads, it’s going to have a chilling effect on people’s free speech and hurt the war on terrorism,” said Kareem Shora, legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington. The ADC asked for the addresses in a Freedom of Information Act request made to the FBI and the Departments of Justice and Energy on Tuesday (Dec. 27),the same day the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council urged Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and FBI Director Robert Mueller to meet with American Muslim leaders about civil rights concerns.

Hanukkah an Opportunity to Address Pitfalls of Gambling

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) At a time when gambling has become increasingly popular, with poker matches online and on television, some in the Jewish community say Hanukkah can be an opportunity to address the addictive dangers of wagering. Among the festivities associated with the eight-day holiday is the children’s game of dreidel, a penny-betting game involving a spinning top. While no one claims dreidel creates gambling addicts, the game can become a discussion starter for children to look at the deeper issues, and pitfalls, of higher stakes gambling. Dreidel is “not something that’s going to drive the gambling problem or stop the gambling problem,” said Jerry Zeitchik, a clinical psychologist who directs guidance at the Ramaz Upper School, an Orthodox Jewish day school in New York City.

COMMENTARY: Don’t Teach Religion in Science Classes

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) The recent ruling by federal Judge John E. Jones III that it is unconstitutional for public schools in Dover, Pa., to offer intelligent design as a scientifically valid alternative to evolution is a graphic reminder that our schools are the most visible battlegrounds in today’s culture wars. The divisive struggles deciding our nation’s future are being fought at thousands of up-close-and-personal public school-board meetings. At such bitter sessions, board members argue with one another and with an audience of often angry parents. In October 2004, the Dover school board voted to make certain that “students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin’s theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design.” The clear aim was to present intelligent design (or ID) as a scientific explanation for the creation of the world and the human family.

St. Francis of Assisi, Patron Saint of the Left?

c. 2005 Religion News Service ASSISI, Italy _ He is a champion of animal rights to some and a hero of anti-globalism to others. There are even those who consider him heaven’s first vegetarian. Whether any of these causes actually crossed the 13th century mind of St. Francis of Assisi is doubtful.

Mainline Churches Lose Overall on Budget but Emerge With Clearer Voice

c. 2005 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ When mainline Protestant leaders came here last March to denounce President Bush’s proposed budget as “unjust,” they were received much like the Old Testament prophets they look to for inspiration. Another lonely voice, crying out in the wilderness. By year’s end, the budget they rejected as immoral had passed through Congress, although only by the narrowest of margins _ Vice President Dick Cheney was called in to break a 50-50 tie in the Senate. And even though they lost the budget battle, activists say they have succeeded at something more important and long-lasting.

Religion Year in Review: Death Loomed Large in 2005

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) They say death waits for no one and makes no appointments. There was little or no warning for the 1,000 people killed by Hurricane Katrina, the 70,000 dead in October’s Pakistan earthquake, or the 181,000 lives claimed by the Asian tsunami that hit in late 2004, overshadowing the dawn of 2005. Death came suddenly, unannounced and with extraordinary ferocity. But for the year’s biggest religion newsmaker, Pope John Paul II, death seemed to hover at a distance.

Now Jewish Girls Have Their Very Own Little Heroines

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Miriam, 10, is a Russian Jewish girl who in 1914 has her entire life uprooted when her family decides to flee from persecution and pogroms to America. Reyna, 12, is Chinese, part of a small population of Chinese “Israelites,” who live in Kaifeng on the Yellow River. Through her sharp intuition, Reyna saves her father from a disastrous business deal. The girls are the subjects of new illustrated paperback books in what will be a series of historical fiction combined under the title “Gali Girls.” Each book focuses on a young Jewish girl at a different time and place in history.

Rock Star’s Activism Inspires Muslims Worldwide

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) One of Salman Ahmad’s earliest gigs was a talent show at King Edward Medical College in Lahore, Pakistan, where he was studying to be a doctor. Moments after he strummed his first chords, Islamic fundamentalists barged in, smashed Ahmad’s guitar and drum set, and broke up the show. Ahmad wasn’t so much scared as confused. “I thought rock musicians were supposed to break their own instruments,” he said with a smile.

COMMENTARY: 2005: A Year of Continued Religious Persecution

c. 2005 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Faith-based organizations and people of faith stepped up to the plate in record numbers in 2005. The Indian Ocean tsunami and Hurricane Katrina along the U.S. Gulf Coast prompted millions of dollars in donations, thousands of volunteers, an unprecedented mobilization of food, shelter and medicine, and countless prayers lifted up by people of all faiths. We saw pain and grief on the faces of the disaster victims on our television sets and read about their plight in our newspapers. Protestant, Orthodox, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim as well as many other religious groups responded by facilitating emergency relief help and sending disaster teams to the sites.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2005 Religion News Service Pope Says God Considers Embryo `Full and Complete’ Human Life VATICAN CITY (RNS) The embryo is a “full and complete” human being even though it is “shapeless,” Pope Benedict XVI said on Wednesday (Dec. 28), underscoring Roman Catholic teaching that regards abortion and the destruction of embryos for stem cell research as acts of murder. Benedict made his comments during a general audience on the feast day of the Holy Innocents, which commemorates the thousands of male infants slaughtered by Herod around the time of the birth of Christ. “The loving eyes of God turn towards the human being, considered full and complete in its beginning,” Benedict said.