Thursday Godbytes: Google holiday treats; 3D printed dreidels; Vader Did You Know?

Google is getting getting into the holiday spirit. If you go to right now and search for the phrase “let it snow,” you’ll get a wintery surprise. The same is true if you search for “Hanukkah,” although with fewer snow flakes. (For more Google fun, search for “tilt” or “do a barel roll”) Despite the fun, a few folks are miffed at Google for not doing one its trademark holiday “doodles” for Hannukkah: As long as we’re talking about geekiness and Judaism, all you kids with 3D printers (yes, those exist, and no, you probably can’t afford one) can now 3D print your very own Dreidel! It’s the future, kids.

Evangelicals side with Catholics on insurance mandate

WASHINGTON (RNS) Catholics who have pushed back against a White House policy that would require many religious insurers to cover contraception are getting a high-profile assist from dozens of evangelical leaders. “We write in solidarity, but separately — to stress that religious organizations and leaders of other faiths are also deeply troubled by and opposed to the mandate and the narrow exemption,” the leaders wrote Wednesday (Dec. 21) in a letter to President Obama. Like Catholic officials, the evangelicals object to a mandate under the health care reform law that would require employers to offer insurance coverage for contraception to employees, including treatments that some equate with abortions. “It is not only Catholics who object to the narrow exemption that protects only seminaries and a few churches, but not churches with a social outreach and other faith-based organizations that serve the poor and needy,” they wrote.

ThursdayâÂ?Â?s Religion Roundup: Warm Solstice, Dobson novels, Driscoll’s sex lives, Santorum v. P

Happy Solstice! Shortest day of the year today, and Pagans and Druids and others, oh my, enjoyed unseasonably warm weather as they danced around Stonehenge. For we fathers of daughters, it’s time for another round of “Sunrise, sunset.” Washington Post blogger Alexandra Petri has fixed the Obama’s horrifyingly irreligious and un-American “holiday” card (or so Fox News and Sarah Palin said). That’s the new version above.

German Jews ride renaissance against tide of assimilation

LUEBECK, Germany (RNS) Yelizaveta Paliy arrived in this northern port city from Ukraine in 1995 on the second day of Hanukkah. After years of celebrating the Jewish festival of lights behind drawn curtains in her homeland, Paliy went to Luebeck’s historic synagogue and lit the candles in freedom for the first time. “I cried like never before. The tears came like a flood,” said Paliy, 55, who today is a social worker for the city’s Jewish community, mainly helping to resettle Jewish immigrants. “The lights, the singing, the warm welcome we received, the friendship, it was wonderful.”

Tebow is top religion author of 2011

(RNS) Critics have hammered Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow for everything from his throwing style to his trademark professions of evangelical faith. But this much is now beyond dispute: the guy has a gift for selling books. Tebow’s Christian life story, “Through My Eyes,” has become the top-selling new release of 2011 from HarperOne, a leading religion book publisher. With 220,000 copies sold since its June launch, “Through My Eyes” has even outsold Rob Bell’s best-seller “Love Wins,” which sparked intense debate with its unorthodox views about hell. As soon as “Through My Eyes” hit bookstores, it was a hit with Christian football fans, especially in the Southeast where Tebow won the Heisman Trophy for the University of Florida.

Magi would have a tough time finding frankincense

(RNS) The world may still have gold and myrrh, but it's quite possible that frankincense could become a thing of the past, given ecological pressures on the arid lands where it grows in Ethiopia. The storied resin — known to millions as one of the three gifts of the Magi, the wise men who visited Jesus after his birth — is made from gum produced by the boswellia papyrifera tree. Its “bitter perfume” is used as incense in religious rituals in many cultures, as well as an ingredient in perfume and Chinese traditional medicine. Dutch and Ethiopian researchers studying populations of the scraggly, scrublike trees in northern Ethiopia found that as many as 7 percent of the trees are dying each year, and seedlings are not surviving into saplings. Their paper in Tuesday's (Dec.

Pope pins financial mess on ‘crisis of faith’

VATICAN CITY (RNS) Europe’s economic and financial crisis is the consequence of an “ethical crisis” and a “crisis of faith,” Pope Benedict XVI said Thursday (Dec. 22), resulting in the triumph of selfishness over social responsibility. Benedict made his remarks in his annual Christmas speech to the Roman Curia, the Catholic Church’s central administration at the Vatican. The pope acknowledged that “such values as solidarity, commitment to one’s neighbor and responsibility toward the poor and suffering are largely uncontroversial,” but said the “motivation is often lacking … to make sacrifices.”

A soupcon of anti-Mormonism

As the Gingrich balloon sinks  back to earth under the weight of its own bombast, Airship Romney motors along, buoyed by the improbability of the alternatives and imperilled only by…the Dark Cloud of Mormonism. Maybe. To find out, the Salt Lake Tribune engaged Mason-Dixon to do some polling on religion and the GOP’s Great Race, and came up with the interesting info that while half of Democrats consider Mormons to be Christians, nearly two-thirds of Republicans do. What happened to all that anti-Mormonism in the Republican base? I’m thinking that the prospect of having Mitt Romney in the White House is driving (some) Republicans to reassess their exclusion of Mormons from the Christian fold.

Feds charge 12 in Amish beard-cutting attacks

CLEVELAND (RNS) Federal prosecutors have expanded their case against members of a breakaway Amish sect for their roles in shaving the hair and beards of people considered to be their religious enemies. An indictment issued Tuesday (Dec. 20) in U.S. District Court lists 12 suspects, including the sect’s leader, Samuel Mullet, 66. The FBI originally arrested Mullet and six other men on Nov. 23 when authorities feared that more attacks were imminent.

Wednesday Godbytes: Politician Hanukkah Tweet-Off; Shroud of Turin; The New Dominionists

Yesterday, as mentioned, was the first day of Hanukkah. We all know what that means: It’s time for a good, old fashioned Politician Holiday Well-Wishing Tweet Off! This year most of the Republican presidential candidates got in on the holiday tweet-fest (although apparently nothing yet from Ron Paul or Rick Santorum?), each with their own particular flair. Michele Bachmann lead the pack with an enthusiastic well-wishing (exclamation points are awesome!!!!!!), followed closely by a personal greeting from Mitt Romney’s family and an Unnecessarily Capitalized Message from Jon Huntsman. The two southern candidates displayed contrasting styles.

Wednesday’s Religion News Roundup: Christianity moves south; Heaven moves to New Jersey

Ever wonder why you don’t get Christmas cards from your congressional representative? Well, a 1974 statute prohibits members of Congress from sending holiday cards, personal greetings and the like. The point is that taxpayer dollars should only be used for official business. Rep. Joe Walsh, R-Ill., he of the “Save Christmas Act,” is pushing the House to stop all this “political correctness” and let him send some durn Christmas and Hanukkah cards. Speaking of holiday fun, a WaPo blogger is offended that a local Whole Foods stocked its Hanukkah display with matzoh, which is a Passover tradition.

Atheists aim to change image of penny-pinching Scrooges

(RNS) If Dec. 10 had been an average day for Doctors Without Borders, the Swiss charity that sends medical help into crisis areas, its website would have logged 4,000 hits. Instead, it was bombarded with more than 10 times that amount as atheists from the user-driven news site participated in a fundraiser that has so far raised more than $200,000. “It's amazing, what's going on,” a DWB spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency. “The amount being raised is amazing, definitely.”

Church says N.Y. woman is source of sainthood miracle

SYRACUSE, N.Y. (RNS) A 65-year-old woman from Chittenango, N.Y., was inexplicably healed of pancreatitis in 2005, Catholic leaders say, and is the source of the second miracle that will make Blessed Mother Marianne Cope a new U.S. saint. “I’m very happy to be here and I thank the Lord,” Sharon Smith said Tuesday (Dec. 20) during a news conference at the Syracuse Motherhouse Chapel of the Sisters of St. Francis of the Neumann Communities. “I’m very happy to be Mother Marianne’s vessel for her to become a saint,” Smith said.

Boy is source of Native American saint’s miracle

(RNS) Jacob “Jake” Finkbonner of Ferndale, Wash., was 5 years old in 2006 when he split his lip playing basketball, developed a deadly flesh-eating strep infection and lay near death for months at Seattle Children’s Hospital. Jake’s father, Don, is Native American and a member of the Lummi tribe. The family’s priest at the time, the Rev. Timothy Sauer, urged Jake’s parents to pray to a 17th-century Mohawk-Algonquin woman to seek God’s miracle. Sauer said he suggested Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha because “I knew Kateri herself had been deeply disfigured by smallpox, so it seemed like she would be a good person to call on for this young boy whose face and head were infected. “And I knew that Native American Christians have been looking forward to the church’s acknowledgment of their contributions in a more public way.

Ala. governor rejects bishops’ immigration plea

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (RNS) Gov. Robert Bentley won’t support a repeal of the state’s get-tough immigration law, rejecting a Christmas appeal from a group of top religious leaders. “Gov. Bentley believes Alabama needs an effective illegal immigration law because the federal government has failed in its duties to enforce the law,” wrote Bentley’s press secretary, Jennifer Ardis, in an email. A half-dozen religious leaders on Tuesday (Dec. 20) delivered a letter to Bentley’s office asking him, in the spirit of the Christmas season, to support the repeal of the law, which one bishop called one of the nation’s “meanest.”