Robby George, marital metaphysician

David Kirkpatick’s fine profile of Princeton’s Robert George, intellectual guru to the Conservative Catholic Bishops of America, shows a man as captivated by the potential of Reason to move the world as any Enlightenment philosophe. No doubt some will cavil at his elaborate argument for why only a one-man/one-woman, vaginal-intercourse-performing couple meets the Natural Law standard for marriage. As for me, I’m prepared to believe that somewhere Prof. George has an equally persuasive demonstration of why Reason frowns on positions other than the missionary. George does allow as how he worries that his carefully constructed rationales may, in the real world, be ambushed by “what Christians describe as original sin and what secular pessimists call history.” Or, perhaps, by “Nature,” which has a pesky habit of resisting the Rule of Reason.

Abortion and heath care reform: the Medicaid solution

So far as I can tell (from Wapo’s account), the key to bringing Ben Nelson on board for the health care bill was Medicaid. On the sausage-making front, Nebraska’s senior senator managed carve out a special Medicaid subsidy for…Nebraska. On abortion, the arrangement whereby states can opt out of permitting abortion coverage in the insurance exchanges parallels the existing Medicaid arrangement, whereby states can (with their own funds) opt in to providing full abortion coverage. Federalism is a beautiful thing.Not surprisingly, the right-to-lifers are not happy with the compromise, and Bart Stupak has promised to try to block it. My guess is that the Catholic bishops will end up opposing the final bill.

What’s up with Uganda?

Second reading of Ant-Homosexuality Act maybe delayed to February. Indications that President Musaveni’s administration doesn’t like the bill much and that the president might veto it. Probability that “neo-colonialist” pressure is having the desired effect. To keep up with the news, the place is Box Turtle Bulletin.

Survey: Two-thirds of Protestant pastors consider Islam ‘dangerous’

(RNS) Two out of three Protestant pastors believe Islam is a “dangerous” religion, according to a new survey from a Southern Baptist-affiliated research group. The survey of more than 1,000 Protestant clergy by LifeWay Research, released Monday (Dec. 14) found that 45 percent strongly agree with the statement “I believe Islam is a dangerous religion” and another 21 percent agree somewhat with it. Evangelical pastors were more likely to agree with the statement than mainline Protestant pastors — 77 to 47 percent. Likewise, pastors with a bachelor’s degree or less education are more likely to strongly agree than those with a master’s degree — 64 percent to 37 percent.

Anti-abortion group cites slain activist as `Person of the Year’

OWOSSO, Mich. (RNS) James Pouillon, the anti-abortion activist who was killed in September in Owosso, has been named “person of the year” by the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue. Pouillon and gravel pit owner Mike Fuoss were gunned down Sept. 11 in Owosso. Authorities have charged Owosso resident Harlan Drake, 33, with first-degree murder in the deaths of both men.

DisciplesWorld magazine to cease publication

(RNS) DisciplesWorld, an award-winning magazine that covered the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) as an independent journal, is shutting its doors after eight years of publication. “We made a valiant effort,” publisher and editor Verity A. Jones said in a Dec. 16 statement announcing the closure, citing declining subscription and advertising revenue and a decrease in charitable gifts. DisciplesWorld had come close to ceasing publication several times in recent years, though had been able to continue after receiving a major grant earlier this year “to formulate new strategies to adapt to the changing publishing landscape,” the magazine said. It had also switched to bi-monthly publication after originally being published 10 times annually.

Reports say John Paul II could inch closer to sainthood

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The late Pope John Paul II is expected to take another step toward sainthood on Saturday (Dec. 19). According to Italian media reports, Pope Benedict XVI will sign a decree that recognizes the “heroic virtue” of his predecessor and declares him “venerable,” leaving him eligible for beatification, the rank just below sainthood. Some Italian news outlets have said that John Paul will be beatified at a ceremony in Rome next Oct. 16, the 32nd anniversary of his election as pope.

SIDEBAR: Can’t choose your religious game? Here are some options

(RNS) “Toying with God” authors Rebecca Sachs Norris and Nikki Bado-Fralick offer a list of recommended religious toys and games. “This is a highly personal evaluation, of course, based on our perspective on religious games and dolls,” Norris said, “and even so this is not a `seal of approval’ on every item.” It is not an exhaustive list, but may help people who are overwhelmed when they first go to look for one of these items, she said. Dolls: — Gali Girls (Jewish) — Razanne, Fulla and Farah (Muslim) — Holy Huggables and Messengers of Faith (Christian) — Siva, Ganesh, Buddha plush dolls Snakes and Ladders games for many religious traditions: — Torah Snakes and Ladders; Leela (new-age); Sufi; Muslim; Sikh Various versions of the “-opolys”: — Bibleopoly; Mormonopoly; Episcopopoly; Catholicopoly Buddhist: — BuddhaWheel; Karma Chakra Christian: — Vatican: The Board Game; Journeys of Paul; Settlers of Canaan; Bibleland Jewish: — Kosherland; Let My People Go; The Holigame. Muslim: — Mecca to Medina; Hajj Fun Game; Race to the Kabah; Madinah Salat Fun Game Historical-cultural games: — Maharajah; Taj Mahal

Friday’s roundup

Seems to be a lot of stories out there this morning on crime and punishment … On the topic of punishment, the stepfather of a 2-year-old Brazilian boy found with 42 needles in his body (X-ray at left) has confessed to jabbing them into the toddler as part of a religious ritual, Brazilian police said Thursday. An Alabama woman has been charged with attempted murder after allegedly stabbing her common-law husband in a church parking lot; apparently they got into a fight over her sharing his bottle of bourbon with others. A 57-year-old member of a polygamist group raided by Texas authorities last year has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for the sexual assault of a child. In North Carolina, meanwhile, a judge says a ban on convicted sex offenders attending church (with an attached day care facility) is too vague.

Book finds that religious toys are more than child’s play

(RNS) On the first day of her introductory religion class at Merrimack College just north of Boston, professor Rebecca Sachs Norris put her students to work at having some fun. She assigned teams of three or four students to play some of the many religious board games that fill her office shelves. Weeks later, they had to present their classmates with what they gleaned from each game. As one team discussed BuddhaWheel, a game that teaches about Buddhism, Norris, chair of Merrimack’s religious and theological studies department, asked, “Can you win this game? “One of them said, `Well, yes, but it takes a very, very long time!

Sen. Nelson, hearing from the clergy

As the last big Democratic holdout, Ben Nelson, negotiates with his leader, progressive religious leaders are weighing in, in response to his request to hear from them. There’s an interfaith group that sent a letter to the Omaha World-Herald as well as a lot of weighing in from Nelson’s co-religionists in the United Methodist Church. According to my sources, this includes a letter from the Methodist Bishop of Nebraska, Ann Brookshire Sherer-Simpson. If any  religious denomination stands out for social reform in American history, it’s the Methodists. From anti-slavery to temperance to women’s rights, the Methodists were the ones in front, providing the leadership and organizational muscle.

Medieval blasphemy, today!

St Matthew-in-the-City Catholic Church in Auckland, New Zealand, has caused a commotion by erecting the above billboard with the aim of “challenging stereotypes.” But actually, the portrayal of Joseph as a feckless cuckold is pretty stereotypical–or at least it used to be. In Merrye Olde Englande, Christmas plays regularly indulged in such bawdry. Take, for example, the following lines from the late 15th-century “Trial of Mary and Joseph” (from the N-Town Plays):DETRACTOR 1 Syr, in the tempyl a mayd ther was
Calde Mayd Mary, the trewth to tell. Sche semyd so holy withinne that plas.

Uganda Bill, up for second reading

As the Uganda Parliament prepared to take up the proposed anti-homosexuality act for the second time today, Episcopal Cafe has rounded up the latest in the way of opposition, including statements of opposition from the European Union, the Church of Scotland, the Episcopal Church of Brazil, and the Archbishop of Canterbury (kind of). The latter comes to the world indirectly via a press release from the UK’s Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement (LGCM), which quotes the archbishop’s press secretary as saying that the ABCis “very clear that the
private Member’s Bill being discussed in Uganda as drafted is entirely
unacceptable from a pastoral, moral and legal point of view.” The press
office went on to tell LGCM that the proposed Bill was “a cause of deep
concern, fear and, to many, outrage.”The press office also claimed that the ABChas been working intensively behind the scenes (over
the past weeks) to ensure that there is clarity on how the proposed
bill is contrary to Anglican teaching.Yes, and Catholic teaching and Jewish teaching etc. But it’s past time to address directly the bogus anti-colonialist argumentation conveyed most recently  to the London Times by James Nsaba Buturo, Uganda’s Minister of State
for Ethics and Integrity. Mr Buturo maintained that it was a question of maintaining traditional
Christian values as prescribed in the Bible.

Bell choir cancels concert when mall demands no religious songs

HARRISBURG, Pa. (RNS) Sometimes, the Rev. Phil Cockrell says, people just need to use common sense. Cockrell, minister of music and worship at Country and Town Baptist Church in suburban Mechanicsburg, said that would have brought harmony to the flap over what music his hand-bell choir could play at the Capital City Mall. Mall management on Friday (Dec. 11) told the church that only secular music would be allowed — which caused the church to cancel its performance.

Report: Near 70 percent of nations face religious restrictions

WASHINGTON (RNS) About one-third of the countries in the world have high restrictions on religion, exposing almost 70 percent of the globe’s population to limitations on their faith, new research shows. The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life based its analysis, released Wednesday (Dec. 16), on 16 sources of information, including reports from the U.S. State Department and human rights groups as well as national constitutions. Overall, one-third of the countries were found to have high or very high restrictions on religion as a result of government rules or hostile acts by individuals and groups. Religious minorities often feel the brunt of hostilities because they are perceived as a threat to the culture, politics or economy of a country’s majority population, the 72-page report said.