Scientific search for God leads reporter back to faith

(UNDATED) For more than a year, Barbara Bradley Hagerty was a sleuth on God’s trail, hunting for evidence of the divine as far afield as a Native American tepee, brain scans, and epilepsy clinics. As chronicled in her new book, “Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality,” the award-winning National Public Radio correspondent donned a high-tech “God helmet,” parsed the human genome, and interrogated religious mystics — all in an attempt to satisfy a hunch that there’s more to life than meets the eye. But rather than lure her to some strange new world, Bradley Hagerty’s odyssey — equal parts scientific quest and religious pilgrimage — circled back to her spiritual birthplace: the Christian Science she had once practiced, but left during her 30s. “It’s kind of nice to have a homecoming,” she said in a recent interview. Though she has not rejoined Christian Science, after poring over studies showing the power of mind over matter — an idea long-held by Christian Scientists — she has a renewed appreciation of the faith.

COMMENTARY: Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

(UNDATED) When it comes to patriotic celebrations and the role of religion in America’s founding, views typically range from a nostalgic exaggeration of our Christian roots to an outright (and equally misleading) denial of religion’s role. To find the truth, it might help if we could return to two original founding documents, both of which promise “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It’s not uncommon to trace the origins of this memorable Jeffersonian phrase to Enlightenment political philosopher Thomas Paine. But Thomas Jefferson acknowledged a deeper, older source when he penned the famous lines, “we hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Jefferson, a deist, believed “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” flowed not from a political philosophy or from any man or government, but rather from the creator described in a second founding document, the Bible itself.

Mark, we hardly knew ye

In  his at times barely comprehensible press conference remarks yesterday, Mark Sanford did manage to make it clear that he’d been spending time wandering through the woods of Bible-based therapy, seeking to recover his moral compass and repair his marriage. It’s about what one would expect of a Southern Republican politician these days.But Sanford does not hail from the religious right wing of his party. As noted in Sarah Pulliam’s recap of Sanfordiana yesterday, he’s kept clear of political evangelicalism, and just last month opined that the religious right has wielded too much influence. In a Back-to-Basics-for-the-GOP column on Politico after the election, his prescriptions had everything to do with small governmentism, with nary a mention of moral values. At the South Carolina state party convention last month, Lindsey Graham heatedly told some libertarian hecklers, “I
am not a libertarian.

Liberty offers compromise on student political clubs

(RNS) Liberty University has decided to detach itself from all campus political clubs that misrepresent the schools’ Christian mission, stripping them of funding, but compromising on regulations. Classifying them as “unofficial clubs,” the conservative Baptist school founded by the late Jerry Falwell adopted new policies to regulate school groups that “are not aligned with Liberty’s core values — mainly pro-life and pro-traditional marriage.” These clubs can still use the school’s name, but only if they publicize that the school does not endorse them. They can also assemble on school grounds and use campus resources if their purposes are not in conflict with the religious doctrines of the university. The new regulations, which will take effect in the 2009-2010 academic year, stem from reports that Liberty had banned the College Democrats.

France to consider banning burqas

PARIS (RNS) Five years after France banned Muslim girls from wearing headscarves in public schools, the government has launched a probe into another Muslim garment — all-covering burqas or niqabs — that may lead to a similar injunction in public spaces. In July, a 32-member parliamentary commission will begin a six-month investigation into the burqa in France — particularly whether it clashes with the country’s fiercely secular creed and violates the dignity of the women who wear it. The burqa or niqab — head-to-toe coverings that hide the face except for a narrow slit for the eyes — are rarities on French streets. No estimates exist about how many women wear them. Nonetheless, the issue has sparked hot debate, dividing not only the center-right government but also France’s estimated 5 to 6 million-strong Muslim community, Europe’s largest.

Obama and pope to meet on July 10

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI has agreed to meet President Obama at the Vatican on July 10, the pope’s spokesman said on Wednesday (June 24), for what would be a rare afternoon encounter arranged to accommodate Obama’s travel schedule. The Rev. Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican press office, stopped short of officially confirming the news of a meeting, which was first reported by Catholic News Service, but told media outlets that the pope was “willing” to meet the president on the “afternoon of July 10.” Obama will be in Italy July 8-10 to participate in a meeting of leaders of the world’s eight richest nations. The Group of Eight (G8) summit will take place in the city of L’Aquila, 75 miles northeast of Rome, where an April earthquake killed nearly 300 and left some 50,000 homeless. Although the pope ordinarily receives heads of state or government only in the mornings, Benedict will meet with Obama at 4 p.m. on the 10th, according to the CNS report, so that the president can leave for Ghana the same day.

Evangelicals tap new top lobbyist

WASHINGTON — The nation’s largest evangelical umbrella group has tapped a veteran expert on refugee settlement and international relief efforts as its new top lobbyist in the nation’s capital. Galen Carey was announced Wednesday (June 24) as director of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals. Carey, 53, has worked for more than 25 years with World Relief, the NAE’s humanitarian relief agency. Carey succeeds the Rev. Richard Cizik, who resigned last December under pressure. Cizik had angered some evangelicals with his outspoken work on the environment and, finally, by seeming to signal support for same-sex civil unions in a National Public Radio interview.

Blame Calvin

Southern Baptist Convention bigwig Morris Chapman left little doubt yesterday about who’s to blame for his denomination’s decline in members (pssst…it’s John Calvin). See our story on how Calvin is shaking up the evangelical world 500 years after his birth here.

The Awakened Ones

Why do some Buddhist monks sleep in an upright position? (I wasn’t aware that they do.) The monks at the Samye Dechen Shing Buddhist retreat in Dumfriesshire, England are supposed to sleep upright for five hours a night in a “meditation box,” according to the BBC. The idea is, you’re not as groggy when you wake up, having not descended into deep sleep, and thus sharper when you meditate. Says the head monk: “If possible, if somebody is well-attuned to that kind of thing, they can develop the amount of time eventually to be able to use the sleeping time [for meditation]. Also if you are more upright when you sleep, when you wake up you haven’t slept so deeply, and it is easy to wake up quickly and get going.”

Coffee talk

The Montana group “Gay Loggers for Jesus” has neither gays, nor loggers, nor Christians. Discuss. Apologies to Linda Richman.

Religious twits

Religion professor/prolific author Stephen Prothero is tweeting the world’s great religions, boiling them down to 140 characters. Or, as he says, “wiping out religious illiteracy 140 characters at a time,” which seems like slow-going, but to each his own. Some e.g.’s: “Buddhism140: Life=suffering. Clinging=the disease. Nirvana=the cure.

Nixon and the Jews

The Nixon Presidential Library has just released 150 more hours of recorded Oval Office conversations featuring Tricky Dick’s musings on, among other things, good-looking Republic women, punishing political opponents and the Jewish diaspora. During a 1973 telephone conversation with Billy Graham (yes, that Billy Graham) he says: Anti-Semitism is stronger than we think. You know, it’s unfortunate. But this has happened to the Jews. It happened in Spain, it happened in Germany, it’s happening – and now it’s going to happen in America if these people don’t start behaving.

COMMENTARY: A heart is a terrible thing to waste

(UNDATED) The hole in Vasco Sylvester’s heart isn’t there anymore. In a three-hour operation on June 10, surgeons at Hope Children’s Hospital outside Chicago, using a piece of white Gore-Tex, patched the quarter-size hole that had been there since Vasco was born. The doctors also removed an extra membrane between the top and bottom chambers of his heart and closed another tiny hole at the top of his aorta. Now, thanks to the miraculous handiwork of his surgical team, Vasco’s heart is working as God intended. In the days since surgery, each time I’ve looked at Vasco, the 10-year-old Malawian AIDS orphan we met nearly two years ago while traveling in Africa, a line from Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters” has echoed in my mind: “The heart is a resilient little muscle.”

Southern Baptists asked to `honor’ Obama’s election

(UNDATED) Southern Baptists on Wednesday (June 24) overwhelmingly expressed their “pride” in President Obama’s election as the nation’s first African-American president while also criticizing his policies that they oppose. The resolution, adopted at the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., said Baptists “share our nation’s pride in our continuing progress toward racial reconciliation signaled by the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th president of the United States of America.” The statement also commended Obama for his “evident love for his family” and retention of security policies that “continue to keep our nation safe from further terrorist attacks.” At the same time, Baptists voiced strong opposition to his expansion of federal funding “for destructive human embryo research,” increased “funding for pro-abortion groups” and a reduction of abstinence-education funding. The resolution also opposed Obama’s declaration of June as “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.”

10 minutes with … Julie Lyons

(UNDATED) As a crime reporter working in a rough stretch of South Dallas in the early 1990s, nothing shocked Julie Lyons. Prostitutes wandering the streets, addicts getting high on the corner, gunshots ringing through the air — it was all the norm. There was something, though, about a tiny church that got her attention. In her book, “Holy Roller,” Lyons, 46, writes about how she “got a news tip from God” that lead her to a preacher and his small black Pentecostal church that was changing lives. After writing about The Body of Christ Assembly for her alternative newspaper, Lyons, a middle-class white woman, went back and became a member.