Ryan Shrugged

If true greatness lies in the ability to think two contradictory things at the same time and not be destroyed, then I guess we’ll have to wait and see how things turn out for Rep. Paul Ryan. But over the past couple of days, the news for him out of New York has been less than stellar. Not only did his House-approved proposal to block-grantize Medicare lose the GOP a safe congressional seat, but Archbishop Timothy Dolan made clear on his blog that the letter he wrote complimenting Ryan on Ryan’s “assurances of your continued attention to the guidance of Catholic social justice in the current delicate budget considerations in Congress” did not constitute an endorsement of the Ryan budget plan (h/t MSW). Blogged Dolan:[W]e extol universal health care…demand that
every budget and program be assessed on whether it will help or hurt
those in need, encourage international aid, and promote the principle of solidarity, namely, society’s shared duties to one another, especially the poor and struggling.Dolan’s letter, of course, had been interpreted by Ryan and his boss, John Boehner, as a good housekeeping seal of approval. And over at ReligionDispatches, Sarah Posner was, not surprisingly, also disposed to interpret it as such.

Katrina volunteers still coming, even if they have to pay

NEW ORLEANS (RNS) A Methodist hurricane-recovery ministry that funneled nearly 68,000 hammer-wielding volunteers into metro New Orleans until it essentially ran out of money has reinvented itself — by asking volunteers to pitch in $225 to spend a week repairing houses. And the volunteers are still coming. Some were in Covington, La., recently, putting up drywall for Adelita Solarzano, an artist whose 100-year-old cottage is still barely livable nearly six years after it was hit by nine trees felled by Hurricane Katrina. In years past, volunteers’ donations to Solarzano or thousands like her would have meant giving up a week of vacation and paying their own transportation to the New Orleans area. Once here, they would set to work with tools and construction materials provided by some relief organization.

Same-sex relations, marriage receive record approval

(RNS) Nearly two-thirds of Americans say gay or lesbian relations between consenting adults should be legal, the highest percentage ever recorded by Gallup. Researchers found that 64 percent of American adults supported legal gay relations, which Gallup has included in surveys since 1977. In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas decision struck down state anti-sodomy laws that had been used to criminalize homosexual activity. Despite the high rate of support for gay relations, Americans are less likely — 56 percent — to consider them “morally acceptable,” even as that figure is the highest measured since Gallup first asked that question in 2001. Americans who believe same-sex orientation is inherent are much more likely to think legal gay relations are morally acceptable, with 81 percent approval, compared to just 33 percent who believe a person’s sexual orientation is due to environmental factors.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup

Lots O’ talk on the InterWebs today about a woman who was no mean schmoozer herself. I speak, of course, about Oprah, the O, the goddess of gab, the avatar of aspiration, the bishop of the boob tube, the … well, you get it. Her last live show broadcasts today. “I am the messenger to deliver the message of redemption, of hope, of forgiveness, of gratitude, of evolving people to the best of themselves,” Oprah once said, sounding very O-racular, WaPo notes.

Christians shatter taboos in talking about money

BEVERLY, Mass. (RNS) No sooner had 29-year-old Graham Messier joined a small group at his church earlier this year than he found himself breaking an American taboo: talking about how much he earns, and where it all goes. Others in the group did likewise as they kicked off an eight-week program aimed at reconciling personal finances with Christian rhetoric about economic justice. It’s countercultural, they said, but it works. By the eighth meeting, Messier’s group had raised $1,800 for three non-profits simply by cutting back on gourmet coffees, dining out and other non-essentials.

Couple faces trial as Ore. cracks down on faith-healing church

OREGON CITY, Ore. (RNS) A couple whose reliance on faith healing threatened their daughter’s eyesight will go on trial this week, one day after state lawmakers moved to strip legal protection for parents who rely on faith healing. The case returns the spotlight on Followers of Christ church, an Oregon City congregation that rejects medical care in favor of spiritual treatment, as state leaders wrestle with the church’s long history of child deaths. Timothy and Rebecca Wyland are charged with first-degree criminal mistreatment for failing to seek medical care for their daughter, Alayna, now 18 months old. Alayna’s left eye was affected by a hemangioma — an abnormal buildup of blood vessels — that put pressure on the eye.

Messiah alumni rally around gay student

GRANTHAM, Pa. (RNS) Alumni at evangelical Messiah College have launched an online petition urging the conservative Christian school to change its policies toward gay and lesbian students. The petition has collected hundreds of alumni signatures, with some indicating that they would withhold donations as long as the college continued to foster “an unsafe and noninclusive campus climate.” The group, InclusiveAlumni.com, is petitioning Messiah to become “a place of reconciliation, compassion, and true community.” The petitioners call on Messiah to take steps to prevent harassment and provide sensitivity training to staff.

Muhammad Ali pleads for prisoners’ release

WASHINGTON (RNS) Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali joined other prominent Muslim Americans on Tuesday (May 24) to plead for the release of two American hikers who have been imprisoned in Iran for nearly two years. Ali, who attained heroic status among Muslims worldwide when he converted to Islam in 1975, sat speechless behind dark glasses during a Washington press conference on behalf of journalist Shane Bauer and environmentalist Josh Fattal. Ali’s wife Lonnie said she spoke for her husband, 69, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and makes few public appearances. The Iranians are good people and “love this man,” she said of her husband. “And it is based on that compassion — the love of Allah, the love of (the Prophet) Muhammad — that we ask for their release.”

Evangelist says Rapture date was off by five months

(RNS) Radio evangelist Harold Camping, who predicted the Rapture would occur on May 21, now says his calculations were off by five months. The 89-year-old president of the Family Radio network in Oakland, Calif., said life on Earth will continue until October 21. “At that time the whole world will be destroyed,” Camping said Monday (May 24) in a broadcast and news conference. “God had not opened our eyes yet to the fact that May 21 was a spiritual coming, whereas we had thought that it was a physical coming. But he has come.

Tuesday’s Religion News Roundup

It’s deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say. Taking to the airwaves on Monday, Doomsday Prophet Harold Camping said May 21 was an “invisible Judgment Day,” rather than, you know, the fire-and-brimstone, earthquakes-and-tsunamis type Judgment Day. The real destruction of the world will be October 21, saith Camping. The fringy, 89-year-old radio preacher brushed off questions from reporters, according to the NYT, and said he won’t do any more interviews. The Family Radio website has been scrubbed of dire predictions.

Guilt by Ayn Rand Association

I confess to feeling a little bit queasy about the American Values Network’s new video
hoisting Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rand Paul, Rush Limbaugh, and other GOP
luminaries on the petard of Ayn Rand and her atheistic philosophy of
objectivism. Take a look. Yes, it’s delicious. But what’s the precise point? In his email announcement, AVN executive director Eric Sapp puts it this way:
Republican leaders are praising Ayn Rand and saying her
teachings inspire their politics and the values in their budget.  Yet
Rand not only rejected Christ, but she condemned all those who believed
in him and said his teachings were evil.

Study suggests `born-again’ believers have smaller brains

DURHAM, N.C. (RNS) For decades, mainline Protestants have been beset by bad news: declining numbers, aging membership, waning cultural influence. A new study from Duke University Medical Center, however, gives these Protestants one reason for cheer: they seem to have larger brains than born-again Christians, Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated. The study, which examined the hippocampus region of the brain, found that Protestants who did not have a “born again” experience had significantly more gray matter than either those who reported a life-changing religious experience, Catholics, or unaffiliated older adults. The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Templeton Foundation, included at least two MRI measurements of the hippocampus region of 268 adults between 1994 and 2005. It found an association between participants’ professed religious affiliation and the physical structure of their brain.

Vatican to weigh condoms in fighting AIDS

VATICAN CITY (RNS) The morality and effectiveness of using condoms to prevent HIV/AIDS will be on the agenda at a Vatican conference this weekend (May 27-28), six months after comments by Pope Benedict XVI again touched off worldwide controversy. The conference, which will focus on “the centrality of care” in preventing and treating HIV/AIDS, is sponsored by the Pontifical Council for Health Care Workers, and is scheduled to include two dozen speakers from across the globe. One speaker will be Edward C. Green, former director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard School of Public Health, who in March 2009 defended Benedict’s statement that condoms actually “increase the problem” of AIDS in Africa. “Current empirical evidence supports” the pope, Green wrote in a widely discussed article. Another talk will address Catholic teaching on HIV/AIDS, a highly sensitive subject that Benedict touched on in a book-length interview published last November.

COMMENTARY: The (real) coming Judgment Day

(RNS) If you are reading this, then you apparently didn’t qualify for the Rapture on May 21. Or Judgment Day predictors need better math. Either way, last Saturday belonged to God, not to fundamentalist cranks who peddle absolute certainty encased in right-wing theology. If religion is correct in positing the victory of righteousness and the defeat of evil, we need to look beyond the culture wars for what “righteous” and “evil” mean. Anti-gay, anti-liberal, anti-women, anti-science positions might appeal to fundamentalists who cherry-pick their way through Scripture, but they don’t constitute any righteousness that Jesus lived.