Tuesday’s religion round-up

Organized religion won’t be the same after the Great Recession, the Vatican is asking U.S. bishops to pitch in more than $1 million for the investigation of American nuns, and the Illinois Supreme Court declined to extend the statute of limitations on a child sexual abuse case. Christian advocates at Liberty Counsel have begun an “Adopt a Liberal” campaign and a retired cop turned pastor in Detroit shot an intruder in his church. Cardinal Sean O’Malley of Boston said kids must be protected from “hedonism, individualism, and … MTV,” high school cheerleaders in Tennessee are in trouble for displaying Christian banners at football games, and police arrested an Ohio teen who rolled a joint in Bible paper. The GOP says a pagan high priest in Queens can run for city council.

Supreme Court to weigh fate of Mojave Cross

WASHINGTON (RNS) Does an offended observer who drives by a cross-shaped war memorial in the middle of the desert have a right to call for its removal? And can that 7-foot cross stand without violating the constitution’s prohibition of government establishment of religion? The Supreme Court will consider those questions in the case of a cross-shaped World War I memorial that sits in California’s Mojave National Preserve when it hears arguments next Wednesday (Oct. 7). Church-state separationists are watching closely, along with veterans organizations concerned about how they are represented by memorials — and whether the case could lead to removal of other monuments.

COMMENTARY: Bruised by booze

NEW YORK (RNS) At 10:30 p.m., after a drive upstate to look at colleges, I returned a borrowed car to Greenwich Village, threaded my way through reeling and raucous revelers, and boarded the subway for home. A couple got on around 14th Street. She had dressed nicely for an evening out. He was wasted, talking to himself with jerky hand motions and nodding off. She looked resigned to another evening lost to drinks or drugs.

Fr. Polanski?

OK, I’ll bite. A lot of nice Catholic guys (Reese, Gibson, Martin…see the Paulson roundup) are in a lather about criticism of the arrest of Roman Polanski in the child rape case that he skipped out of decades ago. What, they ask, if Polanski had been wearing a (Roman) collar? No such slack would have been cut for him, they say. The moral according to Reese:The world has truly changed.

The Mojave Cross…

…now covered in plywood, goes before the Supreme Court next week, and according to WaPo: “If the court reaches the constitutional issues at hand, all sides agree
it could provide clarity to the court’s blurry rules on
church-and-state separation.” It could also not provide clarity–and that’s what I’m betting on.For sure, the court will in due course find that the cross either does or doesn’t violate the First Amendment’s ban on laws “respecting an establishment of religion.” And it has opened the door to doing the latter by ruling in its last Ten Commandments case (2005) case that the, ah, original intention of the erectors of a religious display means the difference between constitutionality and unconstitutionality. It seems that the Mojave cross was not erected for religious purposes, but simply as a World War I memorial. Over the years, the Mohave Cross has become a place where people gather for Easter sunrise services, so clearly religious significance has accrued to it.

The itsy-bitsy spider

In case you missed it, Pope Benedict XVI had an eight-legged friend pay a visit during a speech in the Czech Republic. The pope didn’t seem to notice, and didn’t make an attempt to get spider guts on his white cassock. And, in perhaps the latest sign of the divide between the pope and President Obama, Benedict certainly didn’t do this.

Anti-Semitic or most Jewish movie ever?

With the new Coen brothers’ movie, “A Serious Man,” opening on Friday (Oct. 2) reviews are beginning to trickle in. Those who have seen it (including Cathleen Falsani, who wrote a recently published book about the Coens and religion) say its the brothers’ most explicitly religious and personal film to date. Set in the Minnapolis suburb, among the middle-class Jewish millieu in which Joel (soon to be 55) and Ethan (52) Coen were raised, the film follows physics professor Larry Gopnik through a series of Jobian (Jobish? Jobite) trials.

Lutheran conservatives delay decision to leave ELCA

(RNS) Conservatives upset over the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s recent decision to allow non-celibate gay clergy have voted to create a free-standing synod and study for a year whether to leave the denomination. “Basically, what we’re saying is that a year from now, we’re going to have a proposal of some form,” said the Rev. David Baer of Whitewood, S.D., a member of Lutheran CORE, which hosted the meeting of 1,200 conservatives in an Indianapolis suburb last week (Sept. 25-26). The group approved a constitution for CORE and asked a steering committee to return in a year with recommendations on whether to leave the ELCA, merge with another Lutheran denomination, or start their own. Ultimately, the group hopes to “reconfigure” Lutheranism in North America to accord with traditional views of Scripture and homosexuality.

Famed Unitarian preacher Forrest Church dies at 61

(RNS) The Rev. Forrest Church, perhaps the nation’s best known Unitarian Universalist preacher, died Thursday (Sept. 24) after a three-year battle with cancer that shaped his final years of ministry into an extended reflection on death and dying. Church, 61, had been pastor of New York’s Unitarian Church of All Souls for more than 30 years, transforming a once-sleepy parish of 100 worshippers into a flagship pulpit that regularly attracted crowds of 1,000 or more. Church died of esophageal cancer, a condition that caused him to step down as senior pastor in 2006 and take on the title of minister of public theology. During his illness, he wrote two books, including his most recent, “Love and Death.”

Irish seminarians reach 10-year high after record lows

DUBLIN (RNS/ENI) The number of Irish men entering the seminary to become Roman Catholic priests has risen to a 10-year high following years of dwindling vocations. The Conference of Diocesan Vocation Directors for the Catholic Church in Ireland said that 36 new seminarians were about to begin studying for the priesthood in Irish dioceses. The announcement came against the backdrop of a recent damning government report about the abuse of children in Catholic institutions. “Despite ongoing challenges to the gospel values in the modern world, it is encouraging to see evidence that God continues to inspire people to answer his call of service in the priesthood,” said the Rev. Patrick Rushe, national coordinator of diocesan vocations. The number of seminary entrants represents the highest intake of new students since 1999, and is almost double the number that entered in 2003.

Dalai Lama, Tutu awarded forgiveness prizes

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (RNS) After a worldwide search, the first $100,000 Fetzer Prizes for Love and Forgiveness were awarded Sunday (Sept. 27) to the Dalai Lama and retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu. “We wanted this prize to recognize people who live with the reality of fear and violence and yet are inspiring examples of both the promise and power of love, forgiveness and compassion,” Tom Beech, president of the Michigan-based Fetzer Institute told more than 1,000 people at the 2009 Vancouver Peace Summit. The Dalai Lama, 74, accepted the prize on behalf of his Tibetan Buddhist community, while Tutu’s daughter, the Rev. Mpho Tutu, accepted on behalf of her 78-year-old father, who had to cancel due to a back injury. “For more than 50 years, each of you has faced with great courage a world that is weary from being in the grasp of fear and violence.

Pope urges Czechs to reclaim Christian heritage

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Visiting the Czech Republic 20 years after a Velvet Revolution overthrew the nation’s communist regime, Pope Benedict XVI called on one of the world’s most secular societies to reclaim its Christian heritage as the basis for “true freedom.” “True freedom presupposes the search for truth — for the true good — and hence finds its fulfillment precisely in knowing and doing what is right and just,” Benedict told a gathering of politicians and diplomats in Prague on Saturday (Sept. 26), the first day of a three-day papal visit. “For Christians, truth has a name: God,” he said. “And goodness has a face: Jesus Christ.”

SIDEBAR: The 14 ‘Coenmandments’

(RNS) In her new book, “The Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers,” columnist and author Cathleen Falsani lists 14 “Coenmandments,” or moral lessons derived from each of Joel and Ethan Coen’s films. They are: 1. What goes around comes around. 2. Every action has a reaction. 3.

SIDEBAR: Coens’ acolytes worship at Church of the Latter-Day Dude

(RNS) Cathleen Falsani isn’t alone in finding a spiritual role model in the Dude, the slacker anti-hero of the 1998 film “The Big Lebowski.” In fact, the character has spawned a new religion, the Church of the Latter-Day Dude, which says it has ordained more than 60,000 members. — Key tenets of Dudeism are explained in “The Take it Easy Manifesto” and, of course, the Book of Duderonomy. They include “keep your wits about you even when you’re bummed out” and “when confronted by unfortunate circumstances, forget about it.” — Great Dudes in history include Mohandas Gandhi, Julia Child, and Snoopy, Charlie Brown’s dog.

The Coen brothers’ complicated gospel

(RNS) In the beginning was the Dude. And the Dude was with God, and the Dude himself was kind of godly, if you’re into that sort of thing. In his right hand the Dude carried a cocktail, and in his left, a bowling ball, and all of his ways were righteous and mellow altogether. And Cathleen Falsani saw the Dude, and saw that he abides, and was so smitten that she wrote a book about his creators. “The Dude,” for those not versed in the films of the Coen brothers, is Jeffrey Lebowski, the slacker-saint anti-hero of the 1998 movie “The Big Lebowski.”