COMMENTARY: Going off the grid at Christmas

(RNS) Away from the seat of imperial power, away from religion’s holy places, members of the Holy Family were unregistered guests staying in a stable far from home, unknown to anyone. The Magi who came to pay respects went home “by another road,” themselves now “off the grid.” Jesus grew up “off the grid,” first as an exile in Egypt, then in an obscure Galilean village. His ministry, too, was spent largely “off the grid” — in outlying villages, among outcasts, across the borders of respectability. He was a nomad, not a rock star, and he led his followers into a world of new names, new occupations, new companions.

Muslim leaders probe problem of disaffected youths

LOS ANGELES (RNS) Muslim leaders are admitting disaffected Muslim youth such as the alleged Oregon bomber arrested last month are ripe for online recruitment by extremists. “Why do we in Muslim communities not have centers for at-risk youth?” said civil rights attorney Reem Salahi at the annual national convention of the Muslim Public Affairs Council on Saturday (Dec. 18) in Los Angeles. Speakers discussed the November arrest of 19-year-old Somali-born Mohamed Osman Mohamud, caught in an FBI sting after trying to blow up a bomb in a van parked near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in downtown Portland, Ore.

Pope links sex abuse to vices

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Benedict XVI deplored the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests and linked it to other vices, including child pornography, sexual tourism and drug abuse, which he said were all promoted by an ideology of social moral relativism. The pope made his remarks on Monday (Dec. 20), in his annual Christmas address to leaders of the Roman Curia, the Vatican’s central bureaucracy. Looking back over major events of 2010, Benedict put special emphasis on the clerical sex abuse scandals that broke out in several European and South American countries. “To a degree we could not have imagined, we came to know of abuse of minors committed by priests who twist the sacrament into its antithesis,” the pope said.

Muslims allege inappropriate questions by security agents

(RNS) American Muslims reentering the United States from abroad are alleging U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents inquired about their religious beliefs and practices — questions they say violate their constitutional rights. Two civil liberties groups, the American Civil Liberties Union and San Francisco-based Muslim Advocates, are now calling on the Department of Homeland Security to investigate. The two groups represent five Muslims, all U.S. citizens, who allege border officers asked them questions like how often they attended mosque and prayed, how they felt about America’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and whether they prefer Al-Jazeera or Fox News. In one account detailed in the letter, border officers asked Lawrence Ho, a Muslim convert from New Jersey, why he converted to Islam, although he had never told them he was a convert. Officials at the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol were not available for comment.

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

Pope Benedict XVI said Monday that the Catholic Church should think hard about how its message and its model of Christian life contributed to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, according to the AP. The Vatican tried to stop Dublin church leaders from defrocking a dangerous pedophile priest and relented only after he raped a boy in a pub restroom, according to an Irish investigation. Diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks show American diplomats pressing the Vatican to take a more positive line on the Iraq war. It’s a grim Advent for Iraqi Christians, and the U.N. criticized Sweden for deporting five of their brethren back to Iraq, where the embattled minority continues to suffer severe attacks. All eyes are on President Obama in the wake of Congress’s repeal on Saturday of Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell.

Military chaplains after DADT

GetReligion Commandante Mattingly and I have have been having a bit of a back-and-forth about chaplains in the military post-DADT over on Cathy Grossman’s Facebook page, and I thought the issue worth venting a bit more publicly. (Here’s his official review of the coverage.) TMatt’s view seems to be that it’s a question of (as Kierkegaard might say) Either/Or: “You either have no discrimination and equality, or you have no chaplains.” He believes that the current regime, which restricts what military chaplains can say, is intolerable, and seems to prefer something on the order of “equal access” for all clergy.My own view is more along the lines of the closest thing we have to a definitive legal standard: the Second Circuit Court of Appeal’s 1985 ruling in Katcoff v. Marsh. (The plaintiffs, who lost, chose not to appeal to the Supreme Court.) Katcoff makes clear that the reason hiring chaplains doesn’t violate the Establishment Clause is that the military must provide for the religious needs of its personnel. It’s not, in other words, the chaplains’ free exercise rights that count, but those of the people they have been hired to serve.

Secularism, via Culturomics

If you go to the Google Culturomics site and type in “Jesus” in English language publications, you’ll see that after sinking steadily from the middle of the 19th century, usage incidence plateaued between 1940 and 1980, and then began to climb, such that it’s now at the level it was it was in 1900. “God” and “Bible” are where it was in 1900; “Christian” and “Gospel,” to 1910.What does this say about secularization in contemporary society? Obviously, the appearance of these words in particular publications is not exactly determinative. But there’s certainly something to ponder in the apparent decline in the secularization of the printed word over the course of the past generation.

DADT and the Anti-Gay Agenda

Today is a tragic day for our armed forces. The American military
exists for only one purpose – to fight and win wars. Yet it has now been
hijacked and turned into a tool for imposing on the country a radical
social agenda. This may advance the cause of reshaping social attitudes
regarding human sexuality, but it will only do harm to the military’s
ability to fulfill its mission. So begins the reaction statement from Family Research Council president Tony Perkins.

Lutheran leader seeks Communion agreement with pope

ROME (RNS/ENInews) The president of the Lutheran World Federation is calling on Lutherans and Catholics to issue a common statement on Holy Communion to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation in 2017. “Our intention is to arrive at 2017 with a common Roman Catholic-Lutheran declaration on Eucharistic hospitality,” Bishop Munib Younan told the Italian Protestant news agency NEV before meeting with Pope Benedict XVI on Thursday (Dec. 16). “Eucharistic hospitality,” means that Catholics would be able to receive Communion at Lutheran worship services, and Lutherans would be able to do the same at a Catholic Mass. In a speech during his meeting with Younan, Benedict praised progress in Catholic-Lutheran dialogue but did not make any reference to the bishop’s Eucharist proposal.

New York mosque named top religion story of 2010

(RNS) The protracted and contentious debate over plans to build an Islamic community center near Ground Zero in New York was the top religion story of 2010, according to a survey of religion journalists. The imam piloting the project, Feisal Abdul Rauf, was voted the Religion Newswriters Association’s top newsmaker of 2010, besting Pope Benedict XVI, Sarah Palin, and aid workers in earthquake-ravaged Haiti. Though the mosque project, known as Park51, is far from completion, the story dominated headlines for weeks, especially as the anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 approached. President Obama weighed in, saying Muslims have a right to build houses of worship, but other political leaders called the proposal insensitive to Americans still grieving over the loss of friends and family. The response of faith-based charities to Haiti’s devastating earthquake last January — including child-smuggling accusations against Idaho evangelicals — was voted the No.

Despite sour economy, religious card sales are up

(RNS) The sour economy may mean fewer presents under the tree for many families this year, but one thing some Christians won’t give up on is sending Christmas cards — especially religious cards. “It’s the whole message of Christmas,” said Velma Fann, who returned to the Shrine of the Black Madonna bookstore in Atlanta this year to purchase her cards. “It’s what Christmas is really about.” Fann, who lost her writing job in October, said she doesn’t have “gift money” for presents this year, but she’s still sending cards that feature a trumpet-playing angel, not Santa Claus. “The cards are just flying out of the door,” said Ewa Omo Aba, manager of the bookstore, which carries religious cards aimed at her African-American clientele and produced by Carole Joy Creations.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

Progressive religious groups are licking their wounds after the House approved the bipartisan tax-cut deal that preserves Bush-era tax rates on all income levels, including the super rich; anti-hunger activists from Bread for the World, however, call it a “major victory.” A New York grand jury declined to indict one of the two men accused of beating up a Muslim imam in what was seen as a possible hate crime. The incoming GOP chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee says he’ll hold hearings next year on the “radicalization” of American Muslims. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan is showing some love for Catholic League President Bill Donohue, who led the charge in getting that ants-on-a-crucifix artwork removed from the Smithsonian. After clergy who didn’t like atheist ads on buses threatened a boycott, transit officials in Fort Worth, Texas, say they won’t accept any religious ads starting Jan. 1.

Culturomics rules!

Fifteen billion printed words from 5.2 million books, or 4 percent of all books published! Graphed and searchable! Thank you, Google! Thank you, Harvard!Why am I ecstatic? The project, reported in the journal Science yesterday and available for the use of all, at once creates a new tool for cultural history (dubbed “Culturomics”) and vastly facilitates one of the oldest (known in German as Begriffsgeschichte, or the history of concepts).

Religious leaders join White House in Dream Act push

WASHINGTON (RNS) Religious leaders joined White House officials Thursday (Dec. 16) in urging the Senate to pass the DREAM Act, calling it a moral solution to help students hurt by the country’s immigration system. The legislation, which would permit young illegal immigrants to gain citizenship through a college education or military service, passed the House on Dec. 8. Advocates are pressing the Senate to take up the measure before the end of the lame-duck session this year.

Christian and atheist groups in race to raise money for charity

(RNS)Christians and atheists are fighting again — this time over who can raise more money for charity. The Christian and atheist communities on the online forum Reddit are in a battle to raise the most money for their causes. In the spirit of Christmas (or in atheists’ case, human generosity), community members are even donating money to each other’s groups. The social networking site allows users to rate the popularity of various websites, as well as join like-minded communities, including groups like and Nearly $45,000 has been raised as of Thursday (Dec.