Age-old Lent gets a 21st-century makeover

(RNS) For Janis Galvin fasting for Lent has long meant saying no to candy for the 40 days before Easter. But when the season begins this year on March 9, it’s apt to mean something more: walking when she’d rather drive, for instance, or turning the thermostat way down. Galvin, an Episcopalian, will join with about 1,000 others who’ve signed up for the 2011 Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast, a daily regimen for reducing energy consumption and fighting global warming. Lent is getting a makeover, especially in some Protestant traditions where it hasn’t always drawn strong interest. The carbon fast is one of several initiatives aimed at reinvigorating Lent by linking themes of fasting and abstention to wider social causes.

Bad News for al Qaeda

That’s what the tide of revolt in the Arab world signifies, at least according to Scott Shane’s news analysis in today’s NYT:For many specialists on terrorism and the Middle East, though not all,
the past few weeks have the makings of an epochal disaster for Al Qaeda,
making the jihadists look like ineffectual bystanders to history while
offering young Muslims an appealing alternative to terrorism. That could of course be wishful thinking, and Shane provides himself with plenty of wiggle room by quoting hopeful Islamists and contrarian experts. But if his thesis is right, then the only operatives more distressed than Al Qaeda’s will be the Republican Party’s. For how are you going to be able to sharpen Muslim terror and shariah law into the Great Wedge of the 2012 election cycle when the jihadis are yesterday’s news in the Dar al Islam?

Monday’s Religion News Roundup

As Newt Gingrich appears poised to launch a 2012 bid for the White House, the NYT says he remains dogged by questions over his two divorces, even as he emphasizes his conversion to Catholicism. Speaking of Catholic converts, CT sits down with Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal for a chit-chat on faith and politics. Looking back on 2008 with an eye toward 2012, Mark Silk breaks down Nate Silver’s number crunching on union members voting Democratic and churchgoers voting Republican. House Speaker John Boehner told religious broadcasters that lawmakers have a “moral responsibility” to cut the debt. Don Armstrong, a former big-shot conservative Episcopal priest, was sentenced to four years probation and ordered to pay $99,000 to his former church, where he skimmed the money to pay his kids’ college tuition.

Union = D as Religion = R

That’s pretty much the bottom line in Nate Silver’s regression analysis of the impact of 23 demographic factors on partisan voting in the 2008 election. His object was to see how much of a difference union membership makes to the likelihood of voting Democratic. The answer is: in the same ballpark as evangelicals and weekly worship attenders (God gap) were likely to vote Republican.Of course, the relative impact of these demographic preferences varied, because the size of each group varies About 10 percent of 2008 voters were union members. Roughly a quarter were evangelicals. And nearly a half were weekly attenders.

Islam dominated religion coverage in 2010

(RNS) Islam was the most frequent topic of religion news coverage in 2010, as the media doubled the amount of time and space devoted to religion compared to 2009. An analysis by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that more than 40 percent of religion coverage centered on three issues: plans to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero, a Florida pastor’s threat to burn the Quran, and commemorations of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The news media devoted more time to elections (11.9 percent), foreign affairs (9.3 percent) and the economy (8.3 percent), but religion coverage reached 2 percent in 2010, doubling from about 1 percent in 2009. The study, in conjunction with the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, marked the first time since 2007 that neither the Catholic Church nor religion and politics ranked as the No. 1 news story.

Alumni defend paddling at Catholic school

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) One by one, alumni of St. Augustine High School took the microphone on Thursday (Feb. 24), recalling one paddling at the hands of a St. Augustine teacher that turned them around and taught them a lesson. The 60-year-old tradition of corporal punishment at St.

Shattered churches yield their dead in New Zealand

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand (RNS/ENInews) Churches shattered by a 6.3-magnitude earthquake were yielding up their dead on Friday (Feb. 25) as clergy and parishioners grieved and searched for places to worship on Sunday. The overall death toll from the Feb. 22 quake reached 113, with more than 200 people missing and hundreds injured. Rescue workers began the grim task of removing bodies from the Anglican Cathedral in Christchurch as hopes of finding survivors faded, according to Anglican Taonga, a local church publication.

`Thoroughly radicalized’ student sentenced to five years

LONDON (RNS) A Muslim student described by a judge as “thoroughly radicalized” has been sentenced to five years in prison in Britain for creating terrorist movies and “inflammatory” videos he fed to the Internet. A jury in London’s Old Bailey criminal court convicted Mohammed Gul of five terrorist offenses with publications that police said “could have encouraged the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism.” In passing sentence on the 23-year-old student on Friday (Feb. 25), Judge David Paget said Gul’s actions amounted to “pouring petrol on the fire.” He told the defendant, “I am in no doubt that you have been thoroughly radicalized” in extremist Islamism.

Friday’s Religion News Roundup

You love us. You really love us!* According to a new survey, religion news increased all of 1 percent in 2010, with much of the fresh ink spilt on Islam – specifically the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque. The Catholic sex abuse scandal and Pastor Terry Jones’ bonfire of inanity were also big news, relatively speaking. In other news, plenty of conservative Christians are willing to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court, now that President Obama says he won’t. The expected success of a gay marriage bill in Maryland, despite the Catholicism of the state’s top leaders, is a sign of the church’s waning influence in the heavily Catholic state, according to WaPo.

Jews hope Vegas will draw lost members back to the fold

(RNS) A coalition of American Jewish groups are placing their bets on Las Vegas, a destination they hope will simultaneously lure back young adults and groom their next generation of leaders. More than 1,200 22- to 45-year-olds have signed up for TribeFest 2011, a combination mixer and symposium at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. The March 6-8 event, sponsored by the Jewish Federations of North America, aims to engage Jewish young adults culturally and spiritually. “It’s about widening the tent,” explained Beth Mann, the Jewish Federations’ associate vice president. “There will be people from across the religious spectrum.

For Buddhist master, you are how you eat

CLATSKANIE, Ore. (RNS) It’s Friday night at Great Vow Zen Monastery. Supper’s over and Noble Silence, the quiet that stretches from bedtime through breakfast, is still two hours away. Two dozen people sit in a circle, explaining why they’ve come to a refurbished grade school sprawled on a hilltop for a retreat about eating mindfully. “I’ve struggled with food all my life.”

Huckabee, looking good

Gallup’s new portrait of GOP presidential candidate preferences by issue preference displays some moderately interesting features. Among frontrunners Huckabee, Romney, and Palin, Huckabee is the choice of social conservatives; Romney, of economic conservatives; and Palin, of foreign policy conservatives. Mostly the differences are not great but a couple stand out. Huckabee is weak with those Republicans who care most about business. And Romney is very weak with the moral values crowd, who prefer Huckabee to him by a 4-1 margin.

Forgiveness scholar opens up on role of faith

VATICAN CITY (RNS) For more than a quarter of a century, psychologist Robert D. Enright has been a pioneer in the scientific study of forgiveness — the kind of guy Time magazine once dubbed “the forgiveness trailblazer.” He’s probed the mental and physical benefits that incest survivors, adult children of alcoholics, cardiac patients and others can enjoy if they choose to show mercy to those who have done them wrong. His work has taken him to global hotspots, with a schools program of “forgiveness education” for Catholic and Protestant children in Northern Ireland, and a new project to promote e-mail dialogue among Jewish, Muslim and Christian children in Israel and Palestine. But while forgiveness carries strong associations with religion, Enright has always supported his claims with empirical data alone, insisting that his method is usable by “theists and nontheists” alike. The study of forgiveness has nevertheless ended up nurturing Enright’s own faith, ultimately bringing him back to the Roman Catholic Church of his youth.

Do Christian athletes strike out on big-dollar contracts?

ST. LOUIS (RNS) As contract talks broke down between Albert Pujols and the Cardinals, St. Louis baseball fans began nervously asking themselves a host of questions. He’s a Cardinal for life, right? He wouldn’t go to Wrigley Field because he likes winning too much, right?