Raelians want to rehab `reputation’ of the swastika

(RNS) The Raelians have designated this Sunday (June 27) as “World Swastika Rehabilitation Day,” saying the ancient symbol should no longer be damned by its ties to Nazism. A cross with arms bent at 90-degree angles, the swastika was adopted by the Nazi Party in the 1920s. A version of the swastika dates to ancient India, where it is still used as a religious symbol. Raelian Movement spokesman Ricky Roehr said the “extraordinary emblem was given to us by our creators, advanced extraterrestrial scientists who came to Earth thousands of years ago.” “We hope World Swastika Rehabilitation Day will help restore its reputation and integrity because it’s is an integral part of our Raelian symbol,” Roehr said.

Deputies looking for sweet-toothed bandit

LaPLACE, La. (RNS) Was it frequent trips to the dentist for cavities? Or a trail of sugar ants? Sheriff’s investigators in St. John the Baptist Parish aren’t saying how 31-year-old Jason Dumas became their chief suspect in a scam that left a church on stuck with a nearly $10,000 bill for a fraudulent order for the World’s Finest Chocolate.

Is Facebook a sin? Some Muslims think so

(RNS) Do a Google search on Shirien Elamawy and you’ll find her Tweets, her Egyptian Gumbo website, her college newspaper columns, and the beginnings of her Muslim children’s book. What you won’t find anywhere is an image of Elamawy herself. It’s not attached to a screed she wrote against Oprah Winfrey, nor a speech she gave on Allah, and definitely not on her Facebook account. In an effort to be modest in both real and digital life, the 23-year-old Elamawy doesn’t post photos of herself online, and is careful of her interactions with men on the Internet. “If I could go back in time and not take yearbook pictures, I wouldn’t do that either,” said Elamawy, a marketing consultant who lives in Paramus, N.J. In the right hands, Facebook can be a powerful social networking hub to keep tabs on far-flung friends, find a job or push a cause.

Thursday’s roundup

A Pakistani court sentenced five American Muslims to ten years of hard labor for conspiring to carry out terrorist attacks. The Illinois State Police revoked the appointment of its first Muslim chaplain, citing links to a Muslim charity with ties to Hamas, the militant Palestinian group. Muslims are criticizing the Supreme Court’s ruling on Monday that upheld a ban on providing “material support” including advice, to terrorist groups. Spain’s Senate voted to ban the burqa. Kyrgyzstan’s security agency claims that the Taliban and other Islamic militants provoked the ethnic violence that has wracked the Central Asian nation.

Secrecy keeps victims, accused in the dark

(RNS) Daniel Donohue doesn’t know when the call will come. He could be anywhere — at the supermarket, poolside with his four children, or in a classroom studying social work — when he learns the fate of the priest he says molested him as a teenager. Donohue testified against the priest at a church tribunal in 2006 and again 2007. Since then, he has heard almost nothing about his case from the Archdiocese of New York or the Vatican. “There is nothing I can do, no one I can talk to, no information forthcoming,” said Donohue, who now lives in Portland, Ore.

COMMENTARY: Doctor’s orders

(RNS) There’s an illness that stubbornly resists both treatment and cure. I call it “Israelphobia,” and it is, unfortunately, a chronic condition. The malady’s major symptom is a negative obsession about Israel that involves a hypocritical double standard when judging Israeli actions in comparison with all other nations’ behavior. Other signs of the disease include an inability to accept the reality of Jews, and an unwillingness to recognize the Jewish state as a permanent — and legitimate — member of the international community. The ailment is frequently accompanied by an obsequious uncritical celebration of all things Islamic and/or Palestinian; a belief that the existence of Israel threatens the West’s access to the Middle East’s oil reserves; and a depressing failure of nerve in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons that can be used against Israel and other enemies.

For the Mormon political scoop…

…the go-to source is Joanna Brooks, over at Religion Dispatches. In the latest of her posts, Brooks explains why Mike Lee’s victory in Utah’s GOP Senate primary Tuesday was not the clear-cut Tea Party triumph that some–i.e. WaPo’s David Weigel–imagine it to be. In Utah, Mormon roots run very deep, and you can’t tell the players without a genealogical scorecard. Bottom line: Lee’s as hooked into the multi-generational Mormon past as you can be, while his opponent, Tim Bridgewater, is not. That’s not to say that Lee didn’t have some Tea Party support.

Christian, Jewish scholars urge changes to Oberammergau script

(RNS) Jewish and Christian scholars have called for a full edit of the script for the world’s largest Passion play, currently on stage in southern Germany, even as changes couldn’t be made until at least 2020. Produced once every 10 years, the Oberammergau Passion Play in Bavaria is the largest and one of the oldest theatrical reenactments of the final days of the life of Jesus. The Oberammergau play attracts hundreds of thousands of spectators and employs approximately half of the town’s 5,200 residents. Like many Passion plays, however, Oberammergau has been criticized for its anti-Jewish elements and stereotypes. The Council of Centers on Jewish-Christian Relations, an umbrella group for more than 30 academic and educational interfaith centers in the U.S. and Canada, drafted a list of 17 recommendations for a new script, even though the play won’t be staged again until 2020.

Four in 10 Americans see Jesus’ return by 2050

(RNS) Four in 10 Americans believe Jesus Christ will return to earth by 2050, while a slightly larger portion (46 percent) don’t believe they’ll see a Second Coming by mid-century, according to a new survey. As part of Smithsonian Magazine’s 40th anniversary issue, 1,546 adults were asked to guess the forecast of war, energy, science and religion in the next 40 years for a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press. Evangelicals were most likely (58 percent) to predict a Second Coming, followed by 32 percent of Catholics, and 27 percent of mainline Protestants. Fifty-two percent of people living in the South, and 59 percent of people without a college degree, expected a Christ comeback more readily than their counterparts, according to the survey. The survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Study: Devout are less stressed than non-believers

TORONTO (RNS) Religion may provide a “buffer” allowing the devout to feel less anxiety when they make mistakes, compared with non-believers, according to new scientific research. Researchers at the University of Toronto measured “error-related negativity” — people’s defensive response to errors — and compared it to religious belief. Their findings were published in the journal Psychological Science. In the experiments, participants had electrodes measuring their brain activity as they performed cognitive tests. One test of 40 students involved making a grammatically-correct sentence out of jumbled words; some of the sentences contained words with religious connotations, like “sacred” or “divine.”

Mormon influence, imagery runs deep through `Twilight’

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Ever since Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” began haunting the imagination in 1897, popular culture has identified Christian symbols — crucifixes, holy water, Communion wafers — as weapons to ward off a blood-thirsty vampire. The “Twilight” novels and film franchise have religious associations, too — but most of them come from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). As the film’s “Twi-hard” fans get ready for the third “Twilight” installment, “Eclipse,” to open in theaters on June 30, few are likely to recognize the religious references in the film based on the novels by Stephenie Meyer, herself a Mormon. “I think people make up all these Mormon references just so they can publish `Twilight’ articles in respectable publications like The New York Times,” actor Robert Pattinson (Edward, the film’s central vampire character), told Entertainment Weekly. “Even Stephenie said it doesn’t mean any of that.”

Wednesday’s roundup

An 83-year-old nun in Harlem died when a minivan involved in a police chase crashed into a crowd of pedestrians. Nikki Haley, a Sikh-turned-Christian GOP state senator in South Carolina, won her run-off race last night and is poised to become the state’s next governor, despite 11th-hour charges that she’s not really a Christian. In Connecticut, New Haven high school diplomas will no longer contain the words “in the year of our Lord.” An Indiana judge cleared the way for a state investigation of a homeschooling group on charges of discrimination after group leaders declined to serve a steak dinner to a girl who was allergic to chicken. Or something like that.

Abuse scandal may lead to exodus for German Catholics

BERLIN (RNS) In the months since news of child sexual abuse scandals roiled German society, barely a week goes by without news of yet another Catholic parish reporting declining membership. While it may be premature to estimate the long-term impact of the scandal — especially since many of the cases were decades old — the latest figures were startling enough to raise concern in the German Conference of Bishops. Last year, well before the scandal erupted in earnest this spring, 125,585 Germans chose to leave the Catholic church, up from 121,155 in 2008, according to the bishops. “This high number of departures cannot leave us at peace. Anyone who leaves the church wants to fulfill his faith and his life’s desires without the church in the future,” said Archbishop Robert Zollitsch of Freiburg, the bishops’ president, in a recent statement.

COMMENTARY: We’re all in this together

(RNS) Pope Benedict XVI could not have predicted the heartbreak in the Gulf of Mexico when he wrote his World Day of Peace Message for 2010, “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation.” Still, his words now hit home in the combined mistakes and insensitivity of mega-corporation British Petroleum and the disaster unfolding in the Gulf. I am no scientist, but what happened seems pretty clear: BP drilled an oil well in mile-deep water and something broke. Now hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil and methane gas pump 24/7 into some of the Unites States’ most beautiful and life-filled waters. We are watching, nightly, the destruction of creation, which Benedict points out is “God’s gift to humanity (that) helps us understand our vocation and worth as human beings.”