New computer program shows how faith may have evolved

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Religion, it seems, has always depended on the kindness of strangers. Like Blanche DuBois, the Southern belle of Tennessee Williams’ play “A Streetcar Named Desire,” faith is beset by a world that often tramples on imagination and rewards strict rationality. Fate led DuBois to a mental hospital, but religion has thrived for milliennia in every known culture, anthropologists say. For neo-Darwinists, looking at it from a strictly evolutionary standpoint, that poses a puzzle.

10 minutes with … Shawn Francis Peters

c. 2008 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Carl and Raylene Worthington are facing charges of manslaughter and criminal neglect in Oregon for the death of their 14-month-old infant daughter,Ava, from pneumonia and a blood infection. On June 17, the girl’s uncle, 16-year-old Neil Jeffrey Beagley, died from a urinary infection that caused his kidneys to shut down. Both deaths, officials said, could have been prevented with standard medical care. The family belongs to the isolated Followers of Christ Church, which shuns medical treatment in favor of prayer and annointing.

The Pope’s new wheels

Pope Benedict took possession yesterday of a pair of brand-new DR5 SUVs, given to him by the Italian automaker DR. “These cars are very beautiful, very beautiful, my compliments,” Benedict said with his characteristic politeness. According to one automotive Website, the DR5 has an Italian engine but a body made in China. One wonders: in accepting the gift, was the pope perhaps sending a symbolic message to Beijing about his hopes for finally reuniting the official Chinese Catholic church with the “underground” church loyal to Rome? On the other hand, sometimes an SUV is just an SUV.

McCain Marriage Politics

Brody has learned that John McCain has decided to put his straight shoulder to the wheel for the California ballot initiative that would disallow same-sex marriage in that state. Yesterday he issued a statement to that effect, saying, “I support the efforts of the people of California to recognize marriage as a unique institution between a man and a woman, just as we did in my home state of Arizona. I do not believe judges should be making these decisions.” But soft, wasn’t it McCain’s failure to weigh in on the pending constitutional (as opposed to mere legislative) ban on gay marriage in Arizona that got James Dobson so annoyed? And yesterday as well, didn’t the Arizona state senate fail by one vote to pass that amendment?

Walking the plank

The Rev. Jim Wallis, noted evangelical leader of the religious left, says his friend Barack Obama and the DNC should add “abortion reduction” to the party’s platform, according to ABC News. “Abortion reduction should be a central Democratic Party plank in this election,” Wallis told ABC, “I’ll just say that flat out.” Wallis said he pitched the idea to DNC chair Howard Dean last week; no word on Dean’s response. Wallis also said the Rev. Tony Compolo, another progressive evangelical, who is on the party’s platform committee, supports the plank and plans to push for it at the DNC convention in Denver in August. Wallis thinks the commitment will help Obama reach centrist evangelicals, who are already leaning his way over the environment and poverty.

Oh Joe

David Kurtz thinks Joe Lieberman played the Wright card in an audio interview with ABC’s Jake Tapper. Yeah, there was the more-in-sadness-than-in-anger schtick that Lieberman connoisseurs have come to treasure. But Tapper invited it and so the onus fell on him to follow up with a little Hagee. Such as why Joe’s man McCain decided to disavow the endorsement of the guy Lieberman has called a Moses-like Man of God, and why Joe isn’t heeding the many calls–including from the Hartford Courant–not to headline Hagee’s third annual Christians United For Israel summit next month. No such thing.

Church coalition against satellite radio merger

A group representing more than 16,000 black and Hispanic churches has urged federal media regulators to reject the merger of XM Satellite Radio Inc. and Sirius Satellite Radio Inc., citing its objections to a segment of Sirius shock jock Howard Stern’s show in which audio clips of country singer Dolly Parton were manipulated into racist and sexually vulgar comments.

Let them eat cake

Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Houston megachurch pastor who befriended President Bush and is now supporting Obama, has set up a Web site comparing the remarks of the Illinois senator and those of James Dobson. The Focus on the Family founder accused Obama of peddling a “fruitcake interpretation” of the Constitution earlier this week. Is this another example of religious moderates fighting back against the conservative cynosures of the religious right? Or is it plain old he-said, he-said politics. I guess it could be both.

For Iraqi Christians, money bought survival

In many cases, Christian families drained their life savings and went into debt to make the payments. Insurgents also raised money by kidnapping priests. The ransoms, often paid by the congregations, typically ran as high as $150,000, several priests and lay Christians said.

The devil may wear Prada…

…but the pope certainly does not. At least, that’s what the Vatican says in this AP piece. “Such rumors are inconsistent with the simple and somber man who, on the day of his election to the papacy, showed to the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square and to the whole world the sleeves of a modest black sweater,” says the Vatican’s newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The pope’s interest in clothes has nothing to do with fashion and everything to do with liturgy – the symbolism behind the duds, according to the Vatican.

F&M Poll

And now, a word of more than passing interest from today’s Franklin and Marshall national survey. Those identified as “born again or fundamentalist” favor McCain over Obama by only 41 percent to 33 percent, with eight percent backing other candidates and 18 percent in the “don’t know” category. That presumably includes African Americans but even so, it’s way too narrow a differential for the McCain campaign to feel anything but the willies. In the broad generics, McCain leads Obama 41-36 among Protestants and 42-36 among Catholics. For those of other religions, it’s 44-35 for Obama.