Monday’s Religion News Roundup

Protests continue in Egypt, as a coalition that includes the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood is demanding the removal of President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood, which wants to form an Islamist state in the Arab world’s largest nation, has subordinated it religious aims, and said it would not take a leadership role in the opposition coalition, according to reports. For decades, the U.S. has assumed that secular Arab governments are preferable to religious ones. Meanwhile, Copts in Maryland, and Egyptians elsewhere in the U.S., are nervously keeping tabs on the violence in their homeland. Counter-terrorism officials from more than 30 countries are launching a counter-attack on the InterWebs against Islamists, according to the NYT, working “to undermine the appeal of terrorists, expose their lack of legitimacy, and attack the credibility of their ideology and online messengers.”

Does God play favorites on the gridiron?

(RNS) When the Auburn Tigers won the BCS college football championship against the Oregon Ducks, Auburn coach Gene Chizik thanked God. The team’s star quarterback, Cam Newton, said he felt his performance showed what God can do. Thanking God has now become almost commonplace among athletes. With the Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers about to face off in Super Bowl XLV, does God play favorites in sports? These 12 are among the most notable God-thankers in sports.

Chat With a Strongman’s Wife

With democratic change afoot in Tunisia and anti-government riots in Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East, some 20 American college students were in Syria and, among other things, wrapped with Asma al-Assad, the very accomplished wife of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad. This news comes from George Mason University’s (Va.) Center for World Religions, Diplomacy, and Conflict Resolution, which supported the trip. Assad, 35, belies the image that some people have of Muslim women as dowdy and oppressed. Born in London, Assad went into investment banking after university. She married Assad in 2000, and according to her bio, seems to be trying to do some good – youth advocacy, rural development, cultural heritage.

After controversy, Christian university changes gay policy

(RNS) A Christian university in Nashville, Tenn., has amended its nondiscrimination policy to include sexual orientation after a recent controversy involving a lesbian former soccer coach. “We are a Christian community that is welcoming, loving and inclusive of everyone,” said Belmont University President Bob Fisher in a Wednesday (Jan. 26) statement. The change comes a month after the university’s soccer coach, Lisa Howe, left her position after revealing that she and her lesbian partner were expecting a child. In his announcement, Fisher said that sexual orientation was not a consideration in “hiring, promotion, salary or dismissal decisions” during the 11 years he has been president.

Vatican to launch dialogue with atheists

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The Vatican announced a new initiative aimed at promoting dialogue between theists and atheists to be launched with a two-day event this March in Paris. The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture will sponsor a series of seminars on the theme of “Religion, Light and Common Reason,” at various locations in the city, including Paris-Sorbonne University. The events will conclude with a party for youth in the courtyard of the Cathedral of Notre Dame, followed by prayer and meditation inside the cathedral. The initiative, called “Courtyard of the Gentiles,” takes its name from a section of the ancient Temple of Jerusalem accessible to non-Jews, which Pope Benedict XVI has used as a metaphor for dialogue between Catholics and non-believers. “I believe that the church should also today open a sort of `courtyard of the gentiles’ where men can in some way hook on to God, without knowing him and before having gained access to his mystery,” Benedict said in Dec.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

A “Friday of Wrath” has arrived in Egypt, with tens of thousands of protesters pouring into the street in what the AP calls “the most violent and chaotic scenes yet in the challenge to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.” Surprisingly, religion, often a powerful mobilizing force in Egypt, has not played a large role in the protests, according to the NYT. But that may soon change, says the Old Gray Lady. The Vatican will launch a new permanent structure in March called “Courtyard of the Gentiles” to promote dialogue with nonbelievers. As a young priest, Pope Benedict XVI signed a petition calling for the Catholic Church to seriously investigate the priestly celibacy requirement, according to a German newspaper.

`Miracle Detectives’ on the hunt for answers

(RNS) Dirt at an ancient holy site in Chimayo, N.M. reputedly cures a woman’s rare bone cancer. In North Carolina, a 14-year-old girl stricken with pneumonia is removed from life support but survives after an angelic image appears on a security monitor outside her hospital room. A Texas man lives despite being cut in half after being run over by a train. Were these acts of God, or is there a scientific explanation for events that seem to defy reason? For an hour every Wednesday night (10 p.m. EST), that divisive question is the focus of “Miracle Detectives,” one of prime-time television’s first forays into exploring the miraculous.

Holocaust Abuse

As yesterday’s public letter from 400 rabbis declares, Glenn Beck’s promiscuous use of Holocaust and Nazi imagery to characterize those with whom he disagrees is disgraceful, and perhaps the recent outcry against the use of such imagery will tamp it down. But Beck’s effort to discredit George Soros by painting the financier of liberal causes as a 14-year-old accessory to genocide comes from a different playbook.It’s the one used by Fox News’ Republican allies in campaigns against Democratic senators Max Cleland of Georgia and Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts. Both were Vietnam war heroes, Cleland a triple amputee; and their moral statue derived in large measure from this service to their country. So the GOP tore them down by discrediting their military service.Call Beck’s assault on Soros Holocaust Swift-boating. Naturally, Fox has responded by characterizing the rabbis as “a George Soros backed left-wing political organization that has been
trying to engage Glenn Beck primarily for publicity purposes.”

Muslim leaders condemn Holocaust denial on remembrance day

(RNS) Prominent Muslim leaders who toured Nazi concentration camps last summer marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day by decrying attempts to deny the Holocaust that killed 6 million Jews. “We condemn any attempts to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics,” the leaders wrote in a joint statement issued Thursday (Jan. 27). Signatories included Imam Mohamed Magid, president of the Islamic Society of North America; Sayyid M. Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America; and Laila Mohammed, daughter of the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, who once led but later disbanded the Nation of Islam. The leaders condemned “anti-Semitism in any form” and called for people of faith to “stand together for truth.”

Mich. bill would allow guns in churches, colleges

LANSING, Mich. (RNS) Individuals with valid concealed weapons permits could carry guns in Michigan areas currently prohibited by law, including schools, churches, bars and sports stadiums, under proposed legislation. The state’s current gun restrictions date to 2000 as part of a law that relaxed permitting requirements. The original House sponsor of that law, Republican Mike Green, is now pushing to relax those rules as a member of the state Senate. Green has introduced legislation allowing the 255,870 permit holders in Michigan to carry firearms into hospitals, casinos, entertainment facilities with a seating capacity greater than 2,500, churches (if the presiding official doesn’t object), and college dormitories or classrooms. A separate measure introduced by Green would transfer permitting authority from local gun boards to the Michigan Secretary of State.

Rabbis petition Murdoch to crack down on Fox’s Holocaust language

(RNS) Hundreds of American rabbis used Holocaust Remembrance Day on Thursday (Jan. 27) to push media mogul Rupert Murdoch to “sanction” Glenn Beck and other Fox News personalities on the use of Nazi and Holocaust references. The “Sanction Glenn Beck” letter responds to the Beck’s three-part series last November on billionaire philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros, whom Beck smeared as a “Jewish boy helping send the Jews to the death camps.” Fox News chief Roger Ailes has dismissed critics as “left-wing rabbis who basically don’t think that anybody can ever use the word `Holocaust’ on the air.” Mik Moore, chief strategic officer of Jewish Funds for Justice, said his nonprofit group organized the response over the past two months, prompted by “a lot of calls from rabbis expressing their outrage.”

U.S. Muslim population to double in 20 years

(RNS) The U.S. Muslim population is expected to double over the next 20 years, fueled by immigration and higher-than-average fertility rates, according to a new report released Thursday (Jan. 27). The authors of the report, “The Future of the Global Muslim Population” from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, said fears of a Muslim takeover of Western society or Muslim global domination are overblown. The number of Muslims in the United States is projected to rise from 2.6 million, or 0.8 percent of the U.S. population, to 6.2 million, or 1.7 percent in 2030. That rate of growth would make Muslims about as numerous as Jews or Episcopalians in the U.S. today.

Thursday’s Religion News Roundup

Muslims around the world are expected to grow at twice the rate of other groups over the next 20 years before leveling off, a new Pew report says; in the U.S., they’re expected to meet rough parity with Jews by 2030. The U.K. has new numbers that say fewer than 1/3 of Christians actively practice the faith, compared to more than 2/3 of Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Hindus. Remember Michael Enright, the drunk college kid who stabbed a NYC cab driver because he was Muslim? He was indicted on hate-crimes charges, and faces trial on March 30. And who could forget Ted Haggard — he says he’s bisexual, but perfectly content only having sex with his wife.

Jewish patrol group creates tensions with blacks in Baltimore

BALTIMORE (RNS) When Pauline Watson felt threatened by teenagers loitering outside her condominium in this city’s Park Heights neighborhood, she didn’t call the police. She called Shomrim. “We were scared, OK?” said the 65-year-old African-American, adding that most tenants in her building are elderly. Police in this crime-ridden city have their hands full with more serious matters, Watson said, and often cannot respond quickly to non-emergency calls in her working-class neighborhood.

COMMENTARY: A wake-up call from the Middle East

(RNS) For too long, too few people have been willing to openly discuss the persecution and killing of Christians in the Middle East and Africa by Islamic extremists. Spineless apologists for radical Islamic groups in the U.S. and Europe ignored, or even excused the growing number of lethal assaults. Their answer too often is that “angry” Muslims attack Christians because they represent Western imperialism and modern-day Crusaders, which itself is an old story: victims’ behavior cause their own victimization. Recent attacks in Iraq and Egypt, thankfully, have prompted a different response, and the callous, look-the-other-way attitude may finally be changing. Christian leaders — including Pope Benedict XVI, the World Council of Churches, the National Council of Churches and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops — have publicly denounced recent Muslim attacks on Christians.