Saturday, December 31, 2005

Top Ten Religious Stories of 2005

  1. Churches and faith-based agencies respond to Hurricane Katrina, the tsunami in Southeast Asia and a devastating earthquake in Pakistan.
  2. Papal transition. John Paul II, the celebrity pope of the modern era, died April 2. In 26 years he helped topple communism, decried materialism and campaigned against abortion and the death penalty. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, was elected pope April 19 and promised, as Benedict XVI, to continue John Paul's path.
  3. Terri Schiavo Dies: Controversy over pulling feeding tube and Congress's response sparks firestorm regarding end-of-life decisions and evangelical politics. Terri Schiavo, who spent 15 years in a persistent vegetative state sustained by artificial food and hydration, died in a Florida hospice March 31 after her feeding tube was removed.
  4. Churches and homosexuality: Disputes about homosexuality continue to split the global Anglican Communion, as well as cause tensions among Evangelical Lutherans, United Methodists and, in a dispute that finally went public, the American Baptists. Also, Pope Benedict XVI approved a long-awaited Vatican "instruction" that sexually active gay men should not be admitted to seminary or ordained. Vatican releases long-awaited document on gay seminarians, barring from ordination those who are actively homosexual, have "deeply rooted" gay tendencies or oppose the church's teachings on the subject.
  5. Advocates of "intelligent design" continue to push for the right to question Darwinism in public schools, but suffer stinging defeats in Pennsylvania. Public schools also were arenas for conflict as supporters of "intelligent design," which holds that life is too complex to be explained without a "designer," tried to unseat evolution in science classes. The efforts succeeded in Kansas, where the State Board of Education reset science standards to downplay Darwin.
  6. U.S. Supreme Court approves posting of Ten Commandments outside the Texas state capitol and disapproves their posting inside Kentucky courthouses - both by 5-4 votes. A federal judge reinstates a ban on "under God" in Pledge of Allegiance in three California school districts. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on two very different displays of the Ten Commandments - approving one outside the Texas State Capitol but blocking displays inside Kentucky courthouses.
  7. Supreme Court Vacancies Trigger Debate: Voices on the religious right and left question President Bush's three nominees to the Supreme Court, with some evangelicals supporting and some opposing born-again candidate Harriet Miers. Evangelical groups were loud and clear that they expected Bush to fill two U.S. Supreme Court vacancies with "strict constructionists" - a phrase liberals called code for opposition to abortion and privacy rights. Bush named John Roberts, a Roman Catholic, to the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist's seat and another Catholic, Samuel Alito, to succeed retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. If confirmed in January, Alito would be the fifth Catholic on the current court.
  8. Graham Leads Final Crusade: New York City marks the end of renowned evangelist's public ministry. Billy Graham holds a final evangelistic campaign in New York City.
  9. Stem-Cell Research Worries Many: Cloning and funding continue to grow; evangelical and religious opinion seems split but there is plenty here to concern the religious community into the future.
  10. Tmatt suggests, like Elijah, “Guess I really am alone in thinking that terrorism and the Paris rioting remained one of the major religion news stories of the year. I agree with Tmatt and even attempted a bit of a summary in my blog.

I need finally to mention that Narnia Hits the Theaters!

He has risen, indeed!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Satanist Jeans!

Did you ever hear of "satanist jeans"? The lastest is that they are selling like hot cakes! The concept is simple. A Swedish designer wanted to make a statement against Christianity so he decided to do so with jeans.

Cheap Monday jeans are a hot commodity among young Swedes (and now young Americans) thanks to their trendy tight fit and low price, even if a few buyers are turned off by the logo: a skull with a cross turned upside down on its forehead.

Logo designer Bjorn Atldax says he's not just trying for an antiestablishment vibe. "It is an active statement against Christianity," Atldax told The Associated Press. "I'm not a Satanist myself, but I have a great dislike for organized religion." In another place he adds that the Bible is "probably the most dangerous book ever written" and that it is "filled with a lot of contradictory things."

From what I have read, Atldax could have saved himself the trouble because the state Lutheran Church of Sweden has been making effective statements against Christianity for generations. After all, when even the church doesn't believe in Jesus, there aren't many Christians left to attack. But in Sweden, apparently even the existence of Christianity is such a problem that "statements" against it need to be made.

“The Lord rebuke you Satan!” (NIV, Zechariah 3.2)

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Tony Dungy's Faith!

Just hours before the news of the death of James Dungy, son of Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy, I was praying and studying the Bible with Linden (Tony’s brother). I shared with Linden that I had been praying for Tony, specifically, with regard to the hype surrounding the Colts winning streak. We were even talking about the Super Bowl – making preliminary plans for going together.

Like Linden, Tony is a man of faith! That became even more public as Tony left his team Thursday to be with his family. It was encouraging to note that team officials seemed to repeat one word more than any other: faith! Remarkably, in the world of cynical sportswriters, no one failed to acknowledge that Dungy was a man of faith.

Local Star sports columnist Bob Kravitz weighed in with an excellent a column that summarized nearly everyone who associated with Tony Dungy either as a fan or as a friend:

In Dungy’s life, service to God and his family rate as his two most important jobs, with his role of a football coach a distant third. From the moment he arrived on the scene as the head coach in Tampa Bay, Dungy has promoted faith-based initiatives that were aimed at turning men into solid, nurturing fathers. That’s what makes this so horribly ironic, so painfully difficult to comprehend.

It’s the hard lesson of parenthood you never want to learn: Sometimes, you can do everything right and it’s still not enough.

“I’ve learned many things from coach Dungy,” linebacker David Thornton said. “About fatherhood, about being a man of faith, about being a man of integrity.”

Tony has God’s call on his life! He has talked in the past of retiring and going into prison ministry and spending more time with his family. How his son’s death may play in this decision only time will tell. And what the public learns of all this will be Tony’s decision to reveal. He is entitled to a certain amount of privacy, especially if he chooses to retire.

Tony’s faith is in the Person and Work of Jesus Christ and his dedication to his family finds its roots in the Holy Scripture (Bible). He is a man after God’s own heart and knows that his future is in God’s gracious hands.

Pray for the Dungy family in this time of great lose.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

A Devilish Daniel Webster!

According to this story from Beliefnet, NBC Television has a real treat in store for people interested in religion: their upcoming drama series, The Book of Daniel, is about a married Episcopal priest, Daniel Webster, who is addicted to Vicodin, who is married and has a gay Republican son and a drug-dealing 16-year-old daughter. The American Family Association notes that the priest's secretary is a lesbian who is sleeping with his sister-in-law. Did I mention he also has a 16-year-old adopted son who is sleeping with the bishop's daughter?

The writer for the series, Jack Kenny, who describes himself as a real "spiritual" person, is also a practicing homosexual "in recovery from Catholicism" and studying Buddhist beliefs.

His main character, Daniel Webster, talks to Jesus, who appears to him every now and then in times of great stress. Kenny does "believe in Jesus, but not necessarily all the myth surrounding him."

NBC purportedly is launching the series in an effort to recover from a fourth-place finish in recent ratings. It’s not that the Episcopalians haven’t had enough bias press. With friends like NBC who needs enemies. After all who says the media is not paying enough attention to religion?

It’s a drama with comedic aspects and is being kicked off Jan. 6 with back-to-back episodes. It is scheduled to air regularly Friday nights at 9 p.m. The troubled, pill-popping Episcopal priest is played by veteran actor Aidan Quinn, who talks with a hip manifestation of Jesus, played by Garret Dillahunt.

Of course, “The Book of Daniel” is being touted as the riskiest new show of the year. It is also billed as the only show on television in which Jesus appears as a recurring character.

As NBC itself explains the show, it focuses on “an Episcopalian minister and father. He finds himself conversing with Jesus - his mentor and friend - who helps navigate family problems, church politics and even his nagging reliance on prescription painkillers.”

Comedienne Phyllis Diller, as a member of Daniel Webster’s flock, will help to keep us laughing.

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked” (NIV, Galatians 6.7)

Protest: Email NBC:

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From Valhalla to Nirvana to Heaven to Hell!

Nearly nine out of 10 people in the United States say they believe in heaven, according to a recent ABC News poll. I got back from my 4th grade son’s basketball game in time to watch Barbara Walters interviewing religious leaders, scientists, believers and non-believers alike from India, Israel and throughout the United States. She was fishing for the agreed upon range of perspectives on heaven and the afterlife in our world (televised on ABC, 12/20/05).

Every culture has wrestled with the question of an afterlife, and most have come to a similar conclusion: The bad end up in Hell, the good go to Heaven.

If you were a Viking who died in battle, fierce goddess warriors known as the Valkyries would carry you to Viking Heaven, Valhalla, where you would join an eternal feast. The Romans thought they became immortal and were spirited off to Paradise on a fiery four-horse chariot.”

Dalai Lama says that the purpose of life is to be happy (smiley face!), and that you can accomplish that by warm-heartedness. He tells Walters heaven is [the] best place to further develop the spiritual practice … for Buddhist the final goal is not just to reach there, but to become Buddha. [It's] not the end. Think of it, heaven is just another proving ground for the higher life, namely, Buddha! God, by any name, is great! Allahu Akhbar!

Of course, the promise of heaven plays a central role in the life of Pastor Ted Haggard, president of the National Association of Evangelicals, and his congregation. Haggard believes if you are not a born again Christian, you have no assurance of going to heaven. He makes it clear that … if you are born again in the belief that Jesus Christ is your personal savior, you are assured a place in Heaven. Amen! Haggard further stated: Jesus Christ guarantees eternal life to anybody that'll follow him. … The purpose of life is to glorify God and go to heaven … 'cause heaven is our home’. May I add, Jesus makes this clear in an ancient dialogue with Nicodemus (John 3: 1-21).

But for the warm-hearted and obviously happy, Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists, heaven is a myth! OK! Remind me… What is a myth? Perhaps it has something to do with those 18 million Americans (since late 1900’s) who believe they have had near-death experiences that gave them a glimpse of the afterlife. “They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” (NIV, 2 Timothy 4.4).

By the way, who are the first five people you want to meet in Heaven”? After all Jesus said “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (NIV, John 14.1-3).

For more on this story see:

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Whats going on in Iraq?

Eleven of fifteen million Iraqis went to the polls on Thursday (12/15/05) to elect their new, homegrown government in an unprecedented, almost miraculous exercise in democratic freedom! The interim government, elected in January, will step down for the new rulers.

There were about 7,000 candidates, from hundreds of political parties, vying for just 275 parliament seats. So it's safe to say the Iraqis have lots of different opinions about how to govern their country. Of course it will be a few weeks before we know the outcomes, but by all accounts Election Day was a success: Which is to say that lots of Iraqis voted and there was very little violence.

Today just about everyone is celebrating. "Happy days!" cheered Salim Saleh to a New York Times reporter. "Before, we had a dictator, and now we have this freedom, this democracy," Emad Abdul Jabbar, a 38-year-old Sunni, told the Times. "This time, we have a real election, not just the sham elections we had under Saddam, and we Sunnis want to participate in the political process." "We are so happy," Sahera Hashim told the Financial Times. "We hope for security, good life. We have suffered too much in the past." The mayor of Ramadi, an insurgent and Sunni stronghold, compared the elections to a wedding: "Right now, the city is experiencing a democratic celebration." Another Sunni man told a Post reporter, "All my neighborhood is voting. God willing, after the elections things will be good."

Moreover we're blessed to have Christian Lowe reporting from the ground in Iraq these days. Lowe is posting dispatches from his two-month stint in Iraq on his blog and they are so well-observed and honest that everyone should read them.

In one post last week, he reported on the horrifying aftermath of an IED. And yesterday he posted his reporting from Thursday's elections:

Calls over the minarets told Ramadians to got to vote. Lines were reportedly long. Some polling stations ran out of ballots. One site had 2,400 people standing in line. . . . An intel Marine told me the other day that this is his third time over here and finally he's seeing things beginning to change. It's weird, because I was having a conversation with a captain yesterday who didn't understand why the public back home doesn't see success here. He sees it in the growing professionalism of the Iraqi army, the gradual disenchantment of the people towards the insurgency, the hatred they're gaining toward the terrorists. These are benchmarks that can't be easily explained. I've been through almost all of the city during the day--granted it's been behind the bullet-proof glass of a Humvee--and life seems relatively normal . . .

Dispatches such as Lowe's don't tell the whole story - but they give us important detail.

Get a graphical, at-a-glance look at Iraq's big election

Blessed are the peacemakers (Matthew 5.9)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Atheism, Alister & Aslan!

Worldwide the prospects for atheism are being thwarted by the likes of Aslan, the lion and Alister, the Author.

Let’s start with Alister McGrath. From his highly influential position as a professor of historical theology at Oxford, Alister exclaims in his 2004 book, The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World: “Atheism, once seen as Western culture’s hot date with the future, is now seen as an embarrassing link with a largely discredited past”.

Not coincidentally, in the 2005 October/November issue of Free Inquiry, the influential secularist publication edited by popular atheist Paul Kurtz, contributors from around the world discussed whether unbelief can even survive. Rising religious fundamentalism, post-modernism’s challenges to scientific objectivity, and growing concerns about the role of science in various crises - from militarization to the environment - have put secular humanists on the defensive. Moreover, Harvard University psychologist and atheist Steven Pinker concedes that while atheism has grown in the West, it “has made no inroads in various backward parts of the world.”

As a matter of fact, in the apparent twilight of atheism, the not so backward parts of the world (of which I’m a member) are currently flocking to see the blockbuster movie starring Aslan, Lion of the Tribe of Judah (I highly recommend it). All this because the famous Chronicles of Narnia author C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) began to reconsider his atheism as a young literature professor after reading the works of fantasy writer George MacDonald. The stories “baptized” his imagination, Lewis said. Apparently, as an atheist, Lewis’ imagination lacked true creativity.

Talk about a major blow to atheism, in 1929, Lewis became a theist. “In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed,” he wrote. Then, two years later, he converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England. At that moment of his conversion he described himself a “most reluctant convert.” Later in life he wrote a spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy (1955).

Joy comes in the morning! Aslan’s risen! He’s risen indeed!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Americas Most Literate Cities!

I’m from Minneapolis and I love to read. How about you? Do you love to read? Then maybe you should move to Seattle or Minneapolis. According to Dr. John Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, Seattle is now the most literate big city in the United States. Minneapolis was number one last year and ranks second in 2005.

Dr. Miller draws from a variety of available data resources, the America’s Most Literate Cities study ranks the 69 largest cities (population 250,000 and above) in the United States. Previous editions of this study focused on five key indicators of literacy: newspaper circulation, number of bookstores, library resources, periodical publishing resources, and educational attainment. The 2005 study introduces a new factor - the Internet - to gauge the expansion of literacy to online media.

Dr. Miller hopes the list - released again last week - will spur cities to spend more on books, libraries, and other literary stuff.

The original study was published online in 2003 at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. A link to the 2004 rankings is provided here.

By the way, who's the most read writer in the history of the English language? William Shakespeare? Geoffrey Chaucer? Charles Dickens? Nope! The answer is William Tyndale - the man who first printed the New Testament in English.

Want a Christmas blessing? Click on the following phrase and Read Tyndale's translation of the Christmas story!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Atheist Jerk Watch #1

A recent Wall Street journal opinion blog item accused atheists of acting "like jerks all the time." They admit to engaging in a little hyperbole, but they think they are entitled since the authors used to be militant atheists, from roughly ages 5 through 17, when they realized that militant atheism is silly and that being a militant atheist is tantamount to, well, being a jerk!

From a local newspaper in San Antonio, here's the latest example of atheist jerkiness:

A group of atheists at the University of Texas at San Antonio was asking students to exchange bibles for porn magazines: “We consider The Bible to be a very negative force in the history of the world,” student Ryan Walker said. He is part of a student group calling itself the “Atheist Agenda.” So they sponsor a “Porno for Bibles” event, where they gave free pornography to people who traded in religious scripture. These people are not jerks, they are fools!

Club members were on campus asking students to exchange religious materials for pornographic magazines like Black Label and Playboy: Smut for Smut! Forgive me Lord!

Now, it's true that religious people can be jerks too. As agnostic David Gelernter writes, "when a deadly earnest young Christian approaches, displays an infuriating though subliminal holier-than-thouness, and tries to convert me - it happens rarely, but occasionally - I metamorphose for an instant into a raging leftist." But one can at least understand the overeager Christian: He thinks he's trying to save your soul! On the other hand, the militant atheist wants to make sure you know you don't have a soul!

Besides, organized religion does a lot more than try to convert people; it also engages in various humanitarian good works. To the extent that there is such a thing as organized atheism, it seems to be about nothing other than getting in people's faces.

By the way, if there is a United Atheist Society (UAS not USA), I nominate Sam Harris for its President. He is notorious for inveighing against “the mad hordes of religious imbeciles” as he does in a recent article in Free Inquiry. Also see Harris’ recent article on Katrina titled There is No God (And You Know It).

Bottom line: The fool says in his heart: there is no God! (Psalm 14.1 & 53.1) And you know it! (John 17.3)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Vampires and Jesus and Politics!

Check out Cindy Crosby’s recent Christianity Today interview with a penitent Anne Rice. It makes my blood chill as Anne tells how she moved from fascination with vampires to renewed faith in Christ.

Anne Rice, who developed a cult following with her novels of witches and vampires, warns her fans they may not want to follow her into the light of her new subject - Jesus Christ. Her new book, entitled Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, is narrated by Christ himself as a seven-year-old boy. The best-selling author of 26 books is already planning three sequels for her new character. Dedicated fans beware!

Rice made news with her testimony that she has returned to the Roman Catholic faith. Consider this update on the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc’s recent post about the religious revival in the life of this controversial author. She said she needed a more inspirational subject: "I mean, I was in despair."

In the afterword of the new novel, she boldly refers to Christ as "the ultimate supernatural hero . . . the ultimate immortal of them all."

Some more details are found in a lengthy report in the New York Times. A feature story about Rice’s new home in California by reporter Laura Millier gives us a little insight:

In 1998 Ms. Rice rejoined the Roman Catholic Church for the first time since suffering a “total breakdown of faith” at age 18. “That was in 1960, before Vatican II, and I was a very strictly brought-up Catholic,” she explained. “I lost my faith because what I had been taught was so wrong.” An overwhelming desire to “return to the banquet table” and assurances from a priest in New Orleans that she didn’t have to resolve all her differences with the church (most notably over the issue of homosexuality) led to the reconciliation.

Pardon me, but did you say homosexuality? Now there is a dark topic that seems to shows up everywhere these days. Terry Mattingly over at says: “I would not be surprised in Rice’s series turns out to be a major event on the Christian left.

He may be on to something. Rice's own website,, is a platform for everything from impassioned updates on the needs of post-hurricane New Orleans to Democratic politics and her views on controversial issues (her son, Christopher, also a novelist, is homosexual, and Anne is "an advocate for Christian and Jewish gays and their right to worship and to take the sacraments").

The darkness did not occult the Light!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Nonbelievers Too Can Be Saved, Says Pope!

VATICAN CITY, NOV. 30, 2005 (

Whoever seeks peace and the good of the community with a pure conscience, and keeps alive the desire for the transcendent, will be saved even if he lacks biblical faith, says Benedict XVI. Honestly, who do you know that fits such an outlandish stereotype? Remind me again… Why do I need the Holy Bible and why did Christ die?

The Pope made this affirmation today at the general audience, commenting on a meditation written by St. Augustine. “They (perfect unbelievers) have a spark of desire for the unknown, for the greatest, for the transcendent, for a genuine redemption," explained the Pope, quoting Augustine.

It only takes a spark! "And he (the Pope) says that among the persecutors, among the nonbelievers, there are people with this spark, with a kind of faith, of hope, in the measure that is possible for them in the circumstances in which they live," the Holy Father continued.

"With this faith in an unknown reality, they are really on the way to the authentic Jerusalem, to Christ," he clarified (better, muddled).

Forgive me for interrupting Mr. Pope but Faith in an unknown anything will not save anyone! Augustine knew that the restless heart of the lost person needed more than a spark. Jesus is no spark! He is the Light of the World. Now that makes a tremendous difference to those of us who have faith in a known reality, namely, Jesus. Because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (biblical faith is necessary).

The Light of the world has entered into the darkness of evil and unbelief and lostness and death, and this darkness (call it a spark) does not understand Jesus. In John 12:46 Jesus says, "I have come as light into the world that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness." So believers have passed from darkness to light! John 12:36 says, "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of the light." When you believe in Jesus not only do you leave the darkness and enter the light; you actually join the family of the light - you become children of the light. Paul said, "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light" (Eph. 5:8).