Nonbelievers Experience an American Resurgence

c. 2007 Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly NEW YORK _ The United States, the polls repeatedly show, is a religious country, with 90 percent of Americans saying they believe in God or a supreme being and more than 40 percent saying they attend religious services each week. But there is another group, much smaller and less often heard from: unbelievers. In recent months, in books and on a sold-out off-Broadway stage, these religious skeptics have been raising their voices and asking to be heard. In the one-woman off-Broadway show “Letting Go of God,” for example, Julia Sweeney, the former “Saturday Night Live” star, tells the audience: “This Old Testament God makes the grizzliest test to people’s loyalty.

Buddhist Sect Draws Notice, and Black Converts

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. _ one of the first Buddhists ever elected to Congress _ seems to have slipped in through a side door while all eyes were focused on the first Muslim ever elected. Johnson may prefer the spotlight to remain on his Muslim colleague, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn. A spokeswoman said Johnson “considers it a private matter.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service School Issues New Guidelines on Preaching in the Classroom KEARNY, N.J. (RNS) In response to allegations that a high school history teacher told students they belonged in hell if they did not accept Jesus, school officials will start a new training program to ensure that educators understand legal boundaries about voicing personal religious beliefs in the classroom. Kenneith J. Lindenfelser, an attorney for the Kearny Board of Education, said the training will include all public school teachers and could begin as early as February. “The new board policy reiterates the law between church and state, and that any violation will be dealt with strictly,” Lindenfelser said. The new policy arose in response to charges by Kearny High School junior Matthew LaClair that his history teacher, David Paszkiewicz, spent the first few days of the school year preaching instead of teaching.

NEWS STORY: With China Watching, Vatican Thaws Ties with Vietnam

c. 2007 Religion News Service VATICAN CITY _ The Vatican’s push to restore diplomatic relations with Vietnam took an “important step” forward, the Vatican said on Thursday (Jan. 25), as Pope Benedict XVI met with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. The encounter in the papal library was the first of its kind in decades, thawing tensions that date back to the rise of Vietnamese communism. The talks also burnish the Vatican’s credentials in negotiating with communist governments as it pushes for greater religious freedom in China and reestablishment of diplomatic ties with Beijing.

South African Church Torn Between Liberalism, Tradition

c. 2007 Religion News Service MOWBRAY, South Africa _ Life is often violent at the intersection of white and black in this scrappy Cape Town suburb. Wedged between the exclusive neighborhoods near the mountain and the vast squalor of the townships, Mowbray sits at the front lines of South African integration. Anglican Bishop David Russell, who lives here with his wife behind a large security fence, fought the apartheid regime that exploited and fanned these racial tensions. Now the retired bishop sees the nation dividing along new lines _ this time over sexuality.

COMMENTARY: A Loss That Must Be Replaced

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) “The end of an era.” That’s what entered my mind last week when I heard the distressing news that Eugene Fisher, the director of Catholic-Jewish relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops since 1977, will be taking an early retirement on July 1. In the interests of full disclosure, Fisher has been my professional colleague and personal friend for more than 30 years, and his departure creates a large void on the interreligious scene. His retirement comes as the bishops cut their staff by 35 percent; a sign that the clergy sexual abuse scandal and its legal costs _ now at the $2 billion mark _ are inflicting severe personal, programmatic and pastoral pain on Catholics and church institutions. The bishops’ action comes at a moment in history when America, in a world of increasing religious extremism, seeks to become a truly multi-religious, multi-ethnic, multi-racial nation of 300 million people _ a society built upon mutual respect and understanding.

Beatle Religion

The Gospel According to John, Ringo, Paul and George Bob Carlton takes a look at rock music writer Steve Turner’s “The Gospel According to the Beatles,” in this week’s full-text RNS article, linked above. Quote: “Religion seemed sort of dull and conformist and rock’n’roll was sort of shiny and exciting, and the two didn’t seem to meet at all. Then when the Beatles started asking questions about meaning and singing songs like ‘Nowhere Man,’ they actually investigated religion.”

COMMENTARY: A Possible Solution for the Vatican’s China Problem

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Last weekend (Jan. 19-20), Pope Benedict XVI convened his top advisers to consider his options in dealing with China’s state-run Catholic church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), and its continued defiance in ordaining bishops without the pope’s approval. The CPCA was formally excommunicated in 1957 because it cooperated with communism and was controlled by the state. Prior to 1949, when communism tightened its fist around China, Catholic missionaries were relatively free to aid the huge peasant population and convert a few souls along the way.

COMMENTARY: A Possible Solution for the Vatican’s China Problem

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Last weekend (Jan. 19-20), Pope Benedict XVI convened his top advisers to consider his options in dealing with China’s state-run Catholic church, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association (CPCA), and its continued defiance in ordaining bishops without the pope’s approval. The CPCA was formally excommunicated in 1957 because it cooperated with communism and was controlled by the state. Prior to 1949, when communism tightened its fist around China, Catholic missionaries were relatively free to aid the huge peasant population and convert a few souls along the way.

Evangelicals Debate Who Comes First in the Holy Trinity

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ For centuries, theologians have debated the Holy Trinity. For decades, evangelical Christians have argued over proper roles for men and women. Now, the two fights are merging into one. Some scholars, drawing support from their interpretations of the Bible, link a belief that women should be submissive to men with a belief that Jesus is eternally subordinate to God the Father.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Religious Leaders Defend Obama Against Madrassa Allegations WASHINGTON (RNS) A host of religious leaders have condemned “the bitter, destructive politics” that they say resulted in a political smear campaign against presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill. Several Web sites and a Fox News program reported that Obama was hiding the fact that he was educated in a madrassa, or a fundamentalist Islamic school, during his childhood in Indonesia. Obama, who denied the allegations, has acknowledged attending a school that enrolled mostly Muslims for two years, as well as a Catholic school for another two while living in Indonesia. A number of clerics signed an open letter that sharply criticized the smear tactics.

Carter Defends Palestine Book, Answers Critics at Brandeis

c. 2007 Religion News Service WALTHAM, Mass. _ Former President Jimmy Carter on Tuesday (Jan. 23) faced critics at predominantly Jewish Brandeis University, apologizing for failing to make clear in a new book that terrorism is never justified as a political tool. But Carter defended his book’s controversial title _ “Palestine Peace Not Apartheid” _ by telling a capacity crowd of about 1,700 that he aims to be “provocative” and draw attention to the fact that “Palestinians are being terribly treated” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

10 Minutes With … Alexandra Pelosi

c. 2007 Religion News Service SAN FRANCISCO _ Alexandra Pelosi, the camera-toting daughter of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, first gained notice for her 2002 documentary, “Journeys With George,” which followed then-candidate George W. Bush on the 2000 presidential campaign. Her newest project, “Friends of God: A Road Trip With Alexandra Pelosi,” finds Pelosi, 36, criss-crossing the country with a hand-held camera, this time exploring the lives of evangelical Christians. It airs on HBO on Thursday (Jan. 25).

A Year Later, Burned Alabama Churches Rise From the Ashes

c. 2007 Religion News Service BIRMINGHAM, Ala. _ It has been nearly a year since nine Alabama churches were set on fire by three Birmingham college students, but a lot of rebuilding remains to be done. By late 2007, those nine churches expect to be restored or have larger, more modern facilities. “It’s been a great struggle and there is a lot still to do,” said the Rev. Robert Murphy, pastor of Pleasant Sabine Baptist Church in Bibb County.

Carter at Brandeis; 10 minutes with Alexandra Pelosi; Birmingham churches; the Trinity debate

G. Jeffrey MacDonald writes in Wednesday’s RNS report about Former President Carter’s defense of his controversial book at Brandeis: Former President Jimmy Carter, speaking Tuesday (Jan. 23) before critics at a predominantly Jewish university, apologized for failing to make clear in a new book that terrorism is never justified as a political tool. But Carter defended the book’s controversial title-“Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid”-by telling a capacity crowd of about 1,700 that he aims to be “provocative” and draw attention to the fact that “Palestinians are being terribly treated” in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. In our feature 10 Minutes WithâÂ?¦, Shona Crabtree talks with Alexandra Pelosi about her HBO documentary on evangelicals, “Friends of God”; her changing relationship with the church; and what role she thinks evangelicals will play in the 2008 presidential election.