Why David Brooks is my rabbi (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) Is David Brooks becoming a Christian? That’s the question that some people have been asking about The New York Times’ op-ed columnist, especially in the wake of his new book, “The Road to Character.”

As Jonathan Merritt wrote: “Brooks claims to have written his latest book ‘to save my soul,’ and he told NPR that reading books by authors such as Christian convert C.S. Lewis has ‘produced a lot of religious upsurge in my heart.’”

Brooks also called St. Augustine “pretty much the most brilliant thinker I’ve ever come across.”

And as Merritt wrote: “At a meeting of The Gathering where Brooks revealed he had joined a Bible study, he exclaimed, ‘There’s something just awesome about seeing somebody stand up and imitate and live the non-negotiable truth of Jesus Christ.’”

Wait a second. Reading C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine?

5 faith facts about Ben Carson: retired neurosurgeon, Seventh-day Adventist

(RNS) Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon once best known for separating conjoined baby twins, announced Monday (May 4) that he will pursue the Republican nomination for U.S. president. Carson is now known as a culture warrior whose criticisms of President Obama have made him a favorite of conservatives. Here are five faith facts about him:

1. He’s a twice-baptized Seventh-day Adventist. In his book “Gifted Hands,” Carson, 63, describes being baptized as a boy by the pastor of Detroit’s Burns Seventh-day Adventist Church.

5 faith facts about Carly Fiorina: ‘What you make of yourself is your gift to God’

(RNS) Carly Fiorina formally launched her 2016 presidential run Monday (May 4). But she’s long been working the Christian talk and radio circuit, appealing to a traditional Christian voter base. Here are five faith facts about the former Hewlett-Packard CEO turned business consultant:

1. Born Cara Carleton Sneed, Fiorina grew up Episcopalian. At a recent Heritage Foundation event, she said when she was 8 years old her mother, who was also her Sunday school teacher, gave her a plaque that said: “What you are is God’s gift to you and what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” During her undergraduate years at Stanford, she studied medieval history, reading Thomas Aquinas, Maimonides and other Christian, Jewish and Islamic philosophers.

TV’s `Dig’ goes to the gates of hell and hopefully, back

(RNS) Detective Golan Cohen, one of the primary characters in “Dig,'' the USA Network's biblical conspiracy action-thriller series, said it best: “This thing is getting weirder by the minute.''
    Yes, Golan, it is.     Especially as the 10-part series, which airs Thursday nights at 10 p.m. EST, reached its penultimate episode this week. Thrown into what was already a heady mix of end-of-the-world predictions, secret sects and stolen relics are hidden passageways, cryptic messages and murder.     Through it all, religion and faith have been and continue to be major factors in the series. Here are the religious facts behind the latest fictional episode.

6 things to expect in the pope’s address to Congress

WASHINGTON (RNS) Everyone wants Congress to stop fighting and get working, and that includes Pope Francis, a top adviser said Wednesday (April 29) in a preview of the pope's upcoming U.S. trip.     The Argentine-born pontiff has never been to the U.S., but he will make history in September as the first pope to address a joint meeting of the House and Senate on Capitol Hill.     “The pope will come humbly but will talk clearly,'' Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, a top adviser to Francis, told an audience at Georgetown University.     The 72-year-old cardinal, who leads Francis' nine-member advisory council of cardinals, is spending several days in Washington and offered a look inside the pope's thinking as the nation's capital readies the papal welcome mat.     The papal address to the Republican-controlled Congress is likely to be one of the most closely watched talks during the pope's weeklong visit to Washington, New York and Philadelphia this fall, especially since the presidential campaign season will be growing more intense.

5 faith facts about Bernie Sanders: Unabashedly irreligious

WASHINGTON (RNS) Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a self-identified socialist who's perhaps the most left-leaning member of Congress, is expected to announce this week that he will seek the Democratic nomination for president. Sanders, 74, was born to Jewish parents and identifies as Jewish _ though culturally, not religiously. Most political observers call him a super long shot for the nomination, but he will appeal to Democratic voters who admire his constant exhortations against the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots.     Sanders has called for free higher education for all Americans, publicly funded elections and a $1 trillion program to restore the nation's bridges and roads.     Sanders has one grown son, Levi, from his first marriage, and three grown stepchildren from his current marriage to Jane O'Meara Sanders, the former president of Vermont's Burlington College.

Canadian Supreme Court rules against prayer at city council meeting

TORONTO (RNS) Canada’s Supreme Court has ruled that a small town in Quebec may not open its council meetings with prayer. In a unanimous ruling Wednesday (April 15), Canada’s highest court ruled that the town of Saguenay can no longer publicly recite a Catholic prayer because it infringes on freedom of conscience and religion. The case dates back to 2007, when a resident of Saguenay complained about public prayer at City Hall. Just last year, a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that legislative bodies such as city councils could begin their meetings with prayer, even if it plainly favors a specific religion. But the Canadian high court ruled that the country’s social mores have “given rise to a concept of neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs.

Five faith facts about Marco Rubio: “Once a Catholic always a Catholic”

(RNS) Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who launched his presidential campaign Monday (April 13), often talks about faith and wrote about his religious convictions in his 2012 book, “An American Son: A Memoir.” Here are five faith facts about this Catholic son of Cuban immigrants who has also found comfort in Mormonism and a Southern Baptist church:

1. He was once a serious, young Mormon. Rubio's parents baptized him Catholic and he is now a practicing Catholic, but when he was 8, his family moved from South Florida to Las Vegas, where his mother attributed the wholesomeness of the neighborhood to the influence of the Mormon church. Young Rubio was baptized again, this time in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

5 faith facts about Hillary Clinton, social gospel Methodist to the core

WASHINGTON (RNS) As she embarks, again, on a presidential campaign, one facet of Hillary Clinton, 67, is unchanged across her decades as a lawyer, first lady, senator and secretary of state: She was, is and likely always will be a social-justice-focused Methodist. 1) She was shaped by a saying popular among Methodists:  “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can,” says Paul Kengor in his book “God and Hillary Clinton.”

As a girl, she was part of the guild that cleaned the altar at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill. As a teen, she visited inner-city Chicago churches with the youth pastor, Don Jones, her spiritual mentor until his death in 2009.  During her husband’s presidency, the first family worshipped at Washington’s Foundry United Methodist Church, and Time magazine described her membership in a bipartisan women’s prayer group organized by evangelicals. 2) Clinton’s been known to carry a Bible in her purse but, she told the 2007 CNN Faith Forum, “advertising” her faith “doesn’t come naturally to me.” Every vote Clinton made as a senator from New York, she said, was “a moral responsibility.” When asked at the forum why she thought God allows suffering, Clinton demurred on theology, then swiftly turned her answer to activism: “The existence of suffering calls us to action.”

In a 1993 speech at the University of Texas, Clinton declared: “We need a new politics of meaning. … We have to summon up what we believe is morally and ethically and spiritually correct and do the best we can with God’s guidance.”  A month later, she was pictured as a saint in a Sunday New York Times Magazine exploration of that “politics of meaning” phrase.

Five faith facts about Rand Paul: ‘My faith has never been easy for me’

(RNS) Sen. Randal Howard “Rand” Paul, the junior Republican from Kentucky, launched his 2016 presidential campaign on Tuesday (April 7) in Louisville. Here are five facts about the faith background of this libertarian conservative:

* Paul, 52, was baptized an Episcopalian. It didn’t stick. He attended Baylor University, a Baptist school in Texas, then Duke University. He now attends a Presbyterian church.

What Americans can learn from the British about setting a religious vision for change (COMMENTARY)

(RNS) Nearly three months before the U.K.’s general election, the bishops of the Church of England are trying to frame the vision and values that should guide their country. Recently, those bishops published a nearly 52-page letter that received a public response by the Labour Party’s policy review coordinator, Jon Cruddas. The fact that Cruddas, a member of Parliament, was inclined to respond says something about the role of the Church of England and also very significantly about the evolution of the Labour Party. Their public exchange reveals a glimpse into what role religion can play in politics; not simply because it is the established Church of England, but because religious frameworks are how many people make meaning of their lives. Meanwhile, many contemporary American progressives seem to believe that the work of social progress and change stands outside of religious frameworks.

N.J. to Archdiocese of Newark: Get out of the headstone business

NEWARK, N.J. — The Archdiocese of Newark, the largest single provider of in-ground burials in New Jersey, must give up a lucrative companion business — the marketing of headstones and private crypts — under a bill signed into law Monday (March 23) by Gov. Chris Christie. The measure, which passed both houses of the Legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, goes into effect in one year, allowing the archdiocese time to wind down without imperiling sales in progress at its Catholic cemeteries. The archdiocese became the first religious group in the state to enter the headstone business two years ago, alarming dozens of small, independent companies that produce monuments and crypts. The dealers’ trade association, the Monument Builders of New Jersey, waged an 18-month legal fight and lobbying campaign against the move, contending the practice would spread to other dioceses and then to the owners of other religious cemeteries. The archdiocese returned fire with a lobbying effort of its own, along with a personal appeal from Archbishop John J. Myers, who exhorted Catholics to fight the law.

Meet the Muslim actor playing Jesus in Bill O’Reilly’s ‘Killing Jesus’

(RNS) “Bless you for playing Jesus, peace be upon him.”

This was the reaction of Lebanese-born actor Haaz Sleiman’s mother after she learned that her son had been cast as Jesus in National Geographic Channel’s “Killing Jesus.” The three Abrahamic religions will collide on Palm Sunday (March 29) when the television special premieres, with a 24-year-old Muslim actor playing Jesus, the Jewish rabbi who Christians believe was God made flesh. The television movie is adapted from the New York Times best-selling book by Fox News host Bill O’Reilly and co-author Martin Dugard. Sleiman digested the book, among others, in preparation for the role. He says he was excited to portray Jesus, a person he described as “the ultimate teacher,” who has “heavily influenced” his life. Both the book and film retell Jesus’ crucifixion and accounts of his resurrection — two events that are central to Christianity but not embraced by Islam.