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Middle East

Who's to Blame for the Mideast's Unmerry Christmas?

Plus: The Pope and Ahmadinejad, Kansas' abortion battle, what happened to Jesus' foreskin, churchgoers remember Ford, and other stories from online sources around the world.

No "top five" today. Just a question: In the Christian calendar, Christmas continues until Epiphany (January 6). So if you take your decorations down this weekend, are you part of the "war on Christmas"? On a similar note, why have almost all the organizations that made such a big deal about putting Christ back in Christmas already dropped references to Christmas from their website home pages? Was all that really just about the shopping season?

Rowan Williams on Iraq and Israel | Iraq | Executing Saddam | Christmas in Israel and Palestine | Elsewhere in the Mideast | Christians and Islam | Boston Globe forum on interfaith relations | Iran | India | China | Religious freedom | Christmas wars | Holiday displays | More on Christmas | Church and state | Ministry lawsuits | Keith Ellison and Virgil Goode | Politics | Mitt Romney | Kansas abortion battle | Life ethics | Science and medicine | Money and business | Giving | Church life | New Life Church | Bellevue Baptist Church | Abuse | Crime | Immigration | Anglicanism | Catholicism | Atheism | Higher education | Education | Books | History | Year in review | People | Grahams | Tourism and travel | Spirituality | Music and entertainment | Film | Games | Surveys | Sexual ethics | Other stories of interest

Rowan Williams on Iraq and Israel:

  • Pray for the little town of Bethlehem | We mustn't forget the plight of Arab Christians (Rowan Williams, The Times, London)

  • Christians suffer for Iraq, says archbishop | Rowan Williams warns of war's deadly backlash (The Times, London)

  • Anglican leader blasts war in Iraq | The U.S.-led coalition's "shortsightedness and ignorance" in Iraq have endangered the lives of Christians across the Middle East, the Archbishop of Canterbury said in a scathing commentary Saturday (Associated Press)

  • Anglican leader criticizes Israeli wall | The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, said Friday during a pilgrimage to Bethlehem, that the Israeli-built wall around the traditional site of Jesus' birth symbolized what was "deeply wrong in the human heart," a British news agency reported (Associated Press)

  • Unholy alliance | Dr Rowan Williams' concern for Christians in the Middle East is an attempt to elevate Christians above those of other faiths in the region (Seth Freedman, The Guardian, London)

  • Perfidious pilgrim | Rowan Williams addresses Muslim attacks by blaming the Christian West and the Jews (Bradley Burston, Haaretz, Tel Aviv)

  • Christians in crisis | Williams' tendency to confuse causes and symptoms could actually contribute to the growing persecution he describes (Editorial, The Jerusalem Post)

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  • Archbishop: U.N. ignoring plight of Iraqi Christians | Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput says the United Nations is ignoring millions of Iraqi Christians who have been targeted by Islamic extemists for violence and persecution (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Iraq's embattled religious minorities | Beneath the violent Sunni-on-Shi'ite, Shi'ite-on-Sunni headlines, Iraq's sectarian violence has devastated the country's 2,000-year-old Christian community and its religious minorities generally. A tragedy of historic proportions is unfolding (Editorial, The Washington Times)

  • Protecting Iraq's religious minorities | An exodus has not only caused tragic hardships and uncertainty, but could mean the end of the presence in Iraq of ancient Christian and other religious minority communities that have lived on that land for 2,000 years (Felice D. Gaer and Charles J. Chaput, The Washington Times)

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Executing Saddam:

  • Vatican cleric hopes for clemency for Saddam | A senior Catholic cleric has said he hopes former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein will be spared execution, citing the Church's opposition to the death penalty (Reuters)

  • The rush to hang Saddam Hussein | Toppling Saddam Hussein did not automatically create a new and better Iraq. Executing him won't either ((Editorial, The New York Times)

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Christmas in Israel and Palestine:

  • Bethlehem's second coming | For Jews, the little town of Christmas carols has acquired a more sinister significance. According to the government of Israel, about half of all the terrorist attacks on Israel come from or through Bethlehem (Daniel Johnson, The New York Sun)

  • Is Christianity dying in Bethlehem? | When commentators apportion blame for the change, they inevitably tie it into the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Joerg Luyken, The Jerusalem Post)

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Elsewhere in the Mideast:

  • Middle East exodus part deux | The war in Iraq has made Christians in the Mideast less safe. But that's just one side of the story (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

  • Christianity faces crisis in Mideast | Christians living in this war-torn region -- some under foreign occupation, others under authoritarian rule and a rising tide of intolerant Islamists -- are a varied lot (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

  • The silent exodus | Vanishing Christians of the Mideast (Houston Chronicle)

  • Christmas all the rage in Muslim Dubai | Despite a growing rift between some Muslims and Christians, it's no surprise Christmas-as-spectacle is all the rage in Dubai, home of an indoor ski park and man-made islands in the shape of palm trees (Associated Press)

  • Religion: The forgotten people | These are not easy times for Christians living in the Holy Land. And the outlook is even bleaker (The Jerusalem Post)

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Christians and Islam:

  • Spanish Muslims ask pope about cathedral | Spanish Muslims said on Wednesday that they have appealed to Pope Benedict XVI to be allowed to pray in the Cathedral of Cordoba in southern Spain, which was once an ancient mosque (Associated Press)

  • Also: Spain cathedral shuns Muslim plea | The Roman Catholic bishop of Cordoba in southern Spain has rejected an appeal from Muslims for the right to pray in the city's cathedral, a former mosque (BBC)

  • German pastor's fiery protest leaves those who knew him mystified | The Rev. Roland Weisselberg wasn't known as a fanatic, yet he killed himself after complaining of Islam's growing influence (Los Angeles Times)

  • Ban veils in public, says Asian bishop | Muslim women should be banned from wearing the veil, to improve security and cohesion in Britain, Michael Nazir-Ali, the Church of England's only Asian bishop has said (The Telegraph, London)

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Boston Globe forum on interfaith relations:

  • A Christian imperative | Especially at this time of year, Christian believers have every reason to view the challenge of dialogue as essential (Mark A. Noll, The Boston Globe)

  • Faith and reason | Since religion is not going to go away, religious tolerance must itself be grounded in religion (Richard John Neuhaus, The Boston Globe)

  • Truth and power | For many Muslims today, 'interreligious dialogue' often looks suspiciously like religious coercion (Reza Aslan, The Boston Globe)

  • Face to face | Religion as leaders understand it is frequently very different than religion as followers appreciate it. Religions differ greatly. People themselves do not differ that much (Alan Wolfe, The Boston Globe)

  • Good neighbors | Interfaith dialogue is not happy hand-holding premised on agreement. It is the kind of encounter we need to build a society that bridges our deepest differences (Diana L. Eck, The Boston Globe)

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  • Pope welcomes Iranian delegation | Pope Benedict XVI met with an Iranian delegation that presented him with a letter from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (The New York Times)

  • Pope gets letter from Ahmadinejad | Pope Benedict XVI received a letter Wednesday from Iran's hardline president about the recent U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against Tehran for refusing to compromise on its nuclear program, Iran's state-run news agency reported (Associated Press)

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  • Christian missionaries held in Chhattisgarh | As many as 11 Christian missionaries have been arrested in Chhattisgarh for allegedly bribing poor Hindus to embrace Christianity, police said yesterday (IANS, India)

  • Also: Indian Christians suffer persecution on Christmas day | The worst episodes of anti-Christian violence occurred in Punjab and Chhatisgarh, where Hindu nationalist groups have threatened those who celebrate the birth of Christ (AsiaNews.it)

  • Indian rebel leader sings Christmas carol in Delhi | One of India's most powerful insurgent leaders, a devout Christian, sang "Silent Night, Holy Night" on Monday to supporters in New Delhi and said he hoped for "better things" to end a revolt that has killed thousands (Reuters)

  • Earlier: The Soul Hunters of Central Asia | The most Baptist state in the world&151;Nagaland&151;is vying to become a powerhouse for cross-cultural missions (Christianity Today, February 2006)

  • Christians thank Modi | For taking a stand against Sangh Parivar Strong police bandobust was made in the Christian-dominated areas, particularly the tribal district of Dangs (The Hindu, India)

  • Caste problem exists in Christianity in Tamil Nadu | For many Indians of lower caste, Christianity was a way out of the oppressive nature of the caste system. But as Christianity took on the trappings of Hinduism it also internalised caste hierarchies (NDTV, India)

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  • Sack China's bishops, cardinal tells Vatican | The leader of Hong Kong's Roman Catholics has called on the Pope to excommunicate China's state-appointed bishops, as relations between Beijing and the Holy See plunge to new lows (The Telegraph, London)

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Religious freedom:

  • The real 'war on Christians' | Our manufactured cultural strife here is nothing compared to what's being done to Christians &151; and people of other faiths &151; around the globe (Charles C. Haynes, First Amendment Center)

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Christmas wars:

  • A lull in the war on Christmas | The relative absence of yuletide battles this year hardly means a truce has been declared (M.Z. Hemingway, Los Angeles Times)

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Holiday displays:

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More on Christmas:

  • Pope offers Christmas prayers for peace | Urges people not to lose sight of their need for God in an age of technological marvels (Associated Press)

  • In humanity's failings, pope sees need of God | Benedict XVI delivers his Christmas message from St. Peter's balcony (Los Angeles Times)

  • Overwhelmed by the Masses | With Christmas falling on a Monday, weary priests at San Gabriel Mission endure two-day, 18-service marathon (Los Angeles Times)

  • Tapped-out trees threaten frankincense | Trees in the Horn of Africa provide most of the world's supply of the prized incense that was carried to the infant Jesus by the wise men from the East, in the New Testament's Nativity story. But researchers say the trees are failing to reproduce because they are overexploited for the sap that yields the Christmas staple (Associated Press)

  • Protestants find room in faith for Mary | This Christmas, growing numbers of Protestants are looking at the Virgin Mary in a new light (The Miami Herald)

  • The primary Christmas story: Mary vs. the empire | It is hard to imagine now, when Christmas is the ultimate feast of domesticity, but the sweet tale of the coming of this child was, in its origin, an act of political treason (James Carroll, The Boston Globe)

  • Christmas, now and then | God, war and good old shopping have been featured on this editorial page over the last 125 years (Editorial, Los Angeles Times)

  • Discomfort and joy | Behind the opposing impulses of conflict and harmony that underlie the Christmas story, and religion itself (Rich Barlow, The Boston Globe)

  • Church leaders stress value of shared beliefs | Britain must talk less of multi-culturalism and more of what made it great, was one of the messages from Christmas sermons yesterday (The Telegraph, London)

  • Computerised bellringing confuses church bells | The bells of a church in the Norwegian city of Bergen went on pealing non-stop all evening on Christmas Eve due to a fault in automatic programming that was supposed to regulate them, the clergyman said (AFP)

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Church and state:

  • One icon may doom another | A historic church is threatened by redwoods, the official tree of California. The church wants to ax the trees, and the city of Monterey seeks a compromise (Los Angeles Times)

  • Wiccan lawsuit's goal: Acceptance | With an estimated 400,000 members nationwide, and a high-profile fight with the federal government over veterans' grave markers, Wiccans are moving into a more prominent place in the religious landscape (Associated Press)

  • Elgin church's appeal rejected | Court says city okay needed to operate in strip mall location (The Courier News, Elgin, Ill.)

  • Fury at general's army flight to prayer group | The general who has been in charge of supplying British troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan used a military helicopter to fly a round trip of 1,000 miles to address a religious meeting (The Observer, London)

  • Should churches be used for voting? | Churches and similar sites are needed, but religious messages should be removed before voters arrive. (Editorial, South Florida Sun-Sentinel)

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Ministry lawsuits:

  • Sinton case goes to state's top court | Issue is location of rehab home close to a church (Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Tex.)

  • Also: Texas city tests religion law | When a pastor created a rehabilitation program for parolees near his church, the city of Sinton stepped in to stop it. Within months of the program's start in 1998, officials in the small city just north of Corpus Christi barred prison parolees from living within 1,000 feet of churches, schools and other certain areas (Associated Press)

  • Affluent freeze out homeless | Beach residents threaten legal action to stop church's plans for a once-a-week 'Out of the Cold' drop-in centre (Toronto Star)

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Keith Ellison and Virgil Goode:

  • Holocaust museum rebukes member for Koran comment | A member of the museum's board was criticized for condemning a member of Congress for planning to use a Koran in his swearing-in ceremony (The New York Times)

  • Bush is urged to act on criticism of Muslim | White House officials said they were aware that some Democrats and Muslims were urging President Bush to admonish Representative Virgil H. Goode Jr and Dennis Prager (The New York Times)

  • Fear and bigotry in Congress | The flap over whether one newly elected member of Congress can use the Koran rather than the Bible in a private ceremony demonstrates the founding fathers' wise decision to avoid institutionalizing any religious faith (Editorial, The New York Times)

  • 1st Muslim Congressman: I'm not a religious leader | Detroit native Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, told a group of metro Detroiters on Wednesday that he will not impose Islam on others, but will use the religion to help inform his politics (Detroit Free Press)

  • Warning on Muslim gets it all wrong | It's hard to decide where to start when criticizing Rep. Virgil H. Goode Jr. (R-Va.), who thinks Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, poses a serious threat to American values (Editorial, Chicago Sun-Times)

  • Doing good by the book, but which book? | Should the Bible be the only book a public servant is allowed to touch while swearing to do right by America? (John-Henry Doucette, The Virginian-Pilot)

  • A bigot in Congress | One Muslim congressman is one too many for Virgil Goode (Editorial, The Washington Post)

  • An open House for all | What part of "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof" does congressman Virgil Goode not understand? (Editorial, The Boston Globe)

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  • We'll pretend to like you, too | So the Democratic Party is reaching out to evangelical Christians, which at first glance seems absurd (Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times)

  • The Bush Library's Methodist critics | What happens when the disingenuous arguments so popular in academia are parroted by the clergy? (Matt May, The American Spectator)

  • The John Edwards evasion | Why won't he say "marriage"? (Rich Lowry, National Review Online)

  • The true face of politics comes to light | Not only have those theocrats seen their political clout erode with Republican losses in the midterm elections, but their brand of Christianity is also losing its monopoly on the public square (Cynthia Tucker, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

  • Jason Christy's mission | Is the twenty-first century evangelical entrepreneur ready for prime time? (Bill Berkowitz, Media Transparency)

  • A new evangelical agenda | Although embryonic, a remarkable trend is emerging among evangelicals today: the embrace of a social agenda that includes not only abortion and marriage but poverty, AIDS, the environment and human rights (Mark Totten, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

  • Politics: The new religion | As we approach the day once known as Christmas, before it became "holiday," there is a sense that the Messiah, Whom the day is supposed to acknowledge, is rapidly being supplanted in the public consciousness by a new American religion called politics (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times)

  • Resolution for the right | With Democrats about to assume control of the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years, Republicans in general, conservatives in particular and conservative Christians especially face an important choice (Cal Thomas, The Washington Times)

  • God doesn't take sides in politics | Religious leaders can afford a more objective approach than politicians (George Pell, The Australian)

  • Vatican warns retired Paraguayan bishop | The Vatican on Tuesday called on a retired Roman Catholic bishop to give up his plans to run for Paraguay's presidency or face canonical sanctions (Associated Press)

  • Also: Paraguayan bishop crosses point of no return on church and politics | In much of the developing world, the Catholic Church plays a robust political role, especially in societies where the political class is perceived as corrupt, or democracy is under-developed, leaving the church as the only meaningful expression of civil society (John L Allen Jr., National Catholic Reporter)

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Mitt Romney:

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Kansas abortion battle:

  • Morrison: I won't keep McKinney | Kansas Attorney General-elect Paul Morrison made it clear Thursday that he will not retain the special prosecutor who was appointed to look into a criminal case against Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller (The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)

  • Kline action seen as messy | Sebelius faults efforts aimed at abortion doctor (Topeka Capital-Journal, Kan.)

  • Judge rejects appeal, Kline names prosecutor | Turf issues over Tiller case collide in district court (The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)

  • Judge won't reinstate abortion charges | Attorney General Phill Kline suffered another setback Wednesday when a judge refused to reinstate 30 misdemeanor charges Kline had filed against Dr. George Tiller, alleging he performed illegal late-term abortions. The same judge dismissed the charges last week. (Associated Press)

  • Kansas judge dismisses abortion charges | The outgoing attorney general's case against a doctor is tossed. 'This is war,' says the head of Kansans for Life (Los Angeles Times)

  • Kline's charges likely about ideology | Outgoing Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline may or may not have a good case against Wichita abortion doctor George Tiller. But given Kline's history of showing more ideological zeal than legal expertise, don't be surprised if his case doesn't hold up (Editorial, The Wichita Eagle, Kan.)

  • Earlier: Kline charges Tiller; Foulston intervenes (The Wichita Eagle, Dec. 23)

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Life ethics:

  • Notification repeal on agenda | Hager proposes eliminating statute (Concord Monitor, N.H.)

  • Togo legalizes abortion in rape cases | Togo has become one of few African countries to legalize abortion if the pregnancy is the result of rape or an incestuous relationship, according to a copy of the new law seen by Reuters on Thursday (Reuters)

  • Church denies Italian religious funeral | The Roman Catholic Church on Friday denied a religious funeral for the paralyzed Italian author who died after a doctor disconnected his respirator, saying it would treat his public wish to "end his life" as a willful suicide (Associated Press)

  • Clone on the range | The FDA is about to make another controversial decision. It's long overdue (Editorial, The Washington Post)

  • What we know about embryonic stem cells | The promised miraculous cures have not materialized even for mice, much less for men. (Maureen L. Condic, First Things)

  • Murdered to order | Opponents of stem cell research see their worst fears realized in the Ukraine (Ryan T. Anderson, The Weekly Standard)

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Science and medicine:

  • When faith and medicine collide | Any nurse can walk into a bad situation. The one Luanne Linnard-Palmer can't forget came as she readied a little boy for a blood transfusion only to be told by his mother "You know you're damning his soul to hell!" (Reuters)

  • Scientists study how religion affects behaviour | Emerging scientific field studies how belief in God can promote intolerance or altruism (The Vancouver Sun)

  • The other war | Progress against AIDS, and now malaria (Editorial, The Wall Street Journal)

  • The carbon and the Christian | Most of us assume that our beliefs are products of an evolved brain; but this is no longer being treated as a knock-down argument either for or against religious faith (Thomas Dixon, Times Literary Supplement, London)

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Money and business:


  • In God we trust; all others must file documentation | The IRS will begin requiring documentation to deduct cash donations of any amount next year. That means church-goers who put cash in collection baskets may have to switch to checks if they want to claim it on their taxes (Day to Day, NPR)

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Church life:

  • N. England churches shy from 'Baptist' name | Many New Hampshire Baptists, traditionally more liberal than their fellow Baptists in other parts of the country, are worried that the Baptist name has become so associated with "conservative" that it keeps people away. Some are dropping the name entirely (Morning Edition, NPR)

  • A rural church loses its old moniker to Atlanta's growing suburbs | As a sign of changing times and urban development, the Hog Mountain Baptist Church spent its first Christmas Eve as Hamilton Mill Baptist (The New York Times)

  • Russian Orthodox churches to reconcile | The Russian Orthodox Patriarchate and a breakaway church-in-exile will formally reconcile in May, ending a split that dates back to the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Russian news reports said Tuesday (Associated Press)

  • Hand-built 'cathedral' headache for town | To some, the 10-story-high product of Justo Gallego's labor of love is an awesome monument to faith and perseverance. But to municipal officials in this gritty industrial town on the southeastern fringe of Madrid, it's something of an eyesore (Associated Press)

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New Life Church:

  • 2nd New Life pastor steps down | Church says man had an inappropriate sexual encounter (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

  • Also: New Life director admits misconduct | Sexual misconduct has driven a senior staff member at New Life Church out the door, six weeks after scandal enveloped his former boss, evangelical leader Ted Haggard (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

  • Holiday spirit alive at New Life | This has been a hard Christmas season for many congregants in Colorado Springs' New Life Church. But most believe that even in the midst of scandal, the show must go on (The Gazette, Colorado Springs)

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Bellevue Baptist Church:

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  • Immigrants forced from San Diego canyons | For 20 years, many of the illegal immigrants drawn by jobs in tomato fields have worshipped at an outdoor church, a concrete altar in a canyon where they slept under the shelter of plywood and plastic tarps and bathed in a stream (Associated Press)

  • Effect of immigration raid evident at church | The shiny wooden pews at Our Lady of Peace Catholic Church were overflowing with parishioners Monday night. But fellow churchgoers who might otherwise have been at the 6 p.m. Spanish Christmas Mass were missing from the rest of the flock (Rocky Mountain News, Denver)

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  • The liberal church in meltdown | The rift within the Episcopal Church is a sign of the failure of liberal Christianity (Charlotte Allen, The Guardian, London)

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  • Priests campaign to win back flock | Paulists aim for alienated Catholics (The Boston Globe)

  • Nuevo Catholics | Are Latinos just the latest wave of immigrant Catholics? Or is the American church being permanently Hispanicized? (The New York Times Magazine)

  • Catholicism absorbing Latino culture | The New York Times magazine last Sunday suggested that American Catholicism is being ''Hispanicized.'' As usual, when the subject is the Catholic Church, the "good, gray" Times is tone-deaf (Andrew Greeley, Chicago Sun-Times)

  • Worried man on worrisome mission | The Pope wants God to remain as traditional Christianity sees him - the God of the Crusaders, a God whose followers are on a short leash and allowed little by way of interpretation, questioning or free-thinking (Bonnie Erbe, syndicated columnist)

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  • A Christmas thunderbolt for the arch-enemy of religion | Professor Richard Dawkins has caused a sensation this year with the runaway success of his anti-religious book The God Delusion. Here, through the pen of John Cornwell, the Almighty delivers a counterblast (The Times, London)

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Higher education:

  • Also: Religious freedom or bias? | Geneva College, a Christian college in Pennsylvania, is suing the state for refusing to include its jobs &151; which have religious requirements &151; in a database of available positions (Inside Higher Ed)

  • MU approves Christian fraternity | The University of Missouri at Columbia has dropped its opposition to a Christian fraternity that restricts membership to students who "share the common bond" of Jesus Christ (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

  • University 'coat' change sparks uproar | Simon Fraser University is in the final stages of removing images of two crosses from its four-decade-old coat of arms and replacing them with representations of books (CanWest News Service)

  • Belmont names first non-Baptist trustees | It defies TBC, adds seven from other churches (The Tennessean, Nashville)

  • Zion bows out of plan to buy Bradford College site | Zion Bible College of Barrington, R.I., has withdrawn its agreement to buy much of the former Bradford College campus in Haverhill, vacant since 2000 (The Boston Globe)

  • The devoted student | The task of thinking and teaching, especially in an age of emergent fundamentalisms, is to cultivate a faith in doubt that calls into question every certainty. (Mark C. Taylor, The New York Times)

  • Also: Faith and doubt: Can they coexist? | Readers respond to Mark Taylor's op-ed (The New York Times)

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  • Worth saving | Essential books for understanding Christianity (George Weigel, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Divine mysteries | Why are so many detective stories set in churches? (Lauren F. Winner, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Medieval times | Thomas Cahill presents a gallery of portraits from the Middle Ages (The New York Times Book Review)

  • The resurrection of Paul | A noted historian aims to rehabilitate the epistle-writing saint's reputation. Harvey Cox reviews What Paul Meant by Garry Wills (The Washington Post)

  • Carl Sagan and the search for God | Barbara Fisher reviews Sagan's The Varieties of Scientific Experience (The Boston Globe)

  • A religious problem | Jimmy Carter's book: An Israeli view (Michael B. Oren, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Religion 'rock star' turns his eye inward | Huston Smith, honored for his 14 books analyzing the world's faiths and their leaders, is persuaded to work on his memoirs (Los Angeles Times)

  • A tale for slavery's children | Allen Dwight Callahan's The Talking Book describes the rich and intense relationship between the Bible and the African American imagination. But even more powerfully, it suggests -- without making the case directly -- that the reading of the Christian tradition offered by African Americans is as close as any to the authentic meaning of Christianity (E. J. Dionne, The Washington Post)

  • Scripture by the plateful | Rayner Hesse and Anthony Chiffolo combed seminary libraries and pored over at least 60 translations of the Old and New Testaments to figure out who ate what &151; and make an educated guess as to how the dishes were spiced. They have packaged their findings in an encyclopedic new book, Cooking With the Bible: Biblical Food, Feasts and Lore (Los Angeles Times)

  • A blessed season: winter, despite the hardships and much because of them | Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Susan M. Felch and Gary Schmidt, explores the impact of winter on our spiritual lives (Peter Steinfels, The New York Times)

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  • Fore shame | Did the Vatican steal Jesus' foreskin so people would shut up about the savior's penis? (Slate)

  • 13th century text hides words of Archimedes | The pages of a medieval prayer text also contain words of ancient Greek engineer Archimedes. It takes high-tech imaging to read between the lines (Los Angeles Times)

  • Tuscan church reveals answer to mystery of Medici deaths | Picking through centuries-old rubbish, masonry and discarded body parts beneath an abandoned Tuscan church, an Italian historian believes she has solved one of history's great crime mysteries (The Guardian, London)

  • Appeal to restore Christian site church | Although the church is less than 200 years old, it stands on one of Scotland's earliest Christian sites (Scotland on Sunday)

  • The peaceful crusader | Amid the useless bloodshed of the Crusades, the story of the early 13th-century friar Francis of Assisi suggests an extended clash of civilizations between Islam and the West was not preordained (Thomas Cahill, The New York Times)

  • Addressing abomination | How Christians should respond to Holocaust denial (Marc Gellman, Newsweek)

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Year in review:

  • The year in Jesus | From mega churches to the controversy of Hollywood stars and their religious beliefs (Nightline, ABC News)

  • Faith brings people together and tears them apart | This year offered a window on religious faith at its most inspirational &151; as well as ample reminders of ideological conflict and garden-variety sexual scandals. USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman looks back (USA Today)

  • The year that religion learned humility | The new millennium saw the rise of fundamentalist faith as a cultural force. In 2006, the religious monoliths began to break down (Andrew Sullivan, Time)

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  • Ford's fellow parishioners remember him | Staff at St. Margaret's Episcopal Church paused Wednesday to remember its most famous parishioner, former President Gerald R. Ford, as they prepared for a private family prayer service and public viewing at the church Friday (Associated Press)

  • The Rev. Robert Bilheimer, 89, leader in ecumenical movement, dies | Presbyterian minister with an ecumenical vision organized religious leaders against the war in Vietnam and apartheid in South Africa (The New York Times)

  • 'Drunk' bishop: I still have amnesia | The Bishop of Southwark has admitted that he is still unable to explain the bizarre events that occurred when he left a drinks reception at the Irish embassy earlier this month, but said he does not think he was drunk (The Telegraph, London)

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Tourism and travel:

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  • A time to relearn an ancient form of prayer? | Believers in contemplative prayer say Christmas offers a chance to try a more complex way of talking with God (Los Angeles Times)

  • Evangelical revival is a leap of faith | The rapid growth of evangelical and Pentecostal congregations in Britain and the United States has astonished almost everyone, save the evangelicals and Pentecostals themselves (The Times, London)

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Music and entertainment:

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  • Agenting for God | How pastor Kim Dorr found her calling and began saving souls in Hollywood (Los Angeles Times)

  • Scary fairy tale from Guillermo del Toro | Guillermo del Toro was asked to direct The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but he turned it down because, as a lapsed Catholic, he couldn't see himself bringing Aslan the lion back to life (Associated Press)

  • Why the Life of Brian beats The Passion of The Christ | At a time when secularism is being blamed for the erosion of Christian values, cinemagoers should perhaps ask themselves whether the true spirit of Christmas can indeed be found in such flawed fare as The Nativity Story (Mark Kermode, The Observer, London)

  • A rotten year for Jesus Christ, American | They say the devil has all the best tunes. It's been a rotten year for Jesus at the movies, too (John Patterson, The Guardian, London)

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  • Religion today: God games | The market for religious board games and toys like these is tiny, and a bit quirky. But sales numbers indicate demand is growing as families demand wholesome entertainment, selections expand and the Internet gives greater access to retailers (Associated Press)

  • Faith-based killing? Critics rip Christian video game | 'Left Behind: Eternal Forces' bashed for intolerance and violence, but maker says game can be won with prayer (World News Tonight, ABC)

  • 'Left Behind' video game draws fire | A video game based on the popular "Left Behind" series of Christian novels draw criticism. The game allows players to be tempted by the forces of evil, convert others to Christianity &133; or even kill them (Weekend Edition, NPR)

  • Oh, unholy night | Give the gift of bigotry this Christmas with 'Left Behind: Eternal Forces,' a so-called "Christian" video game that celebrates religious interolance (Emilio Bombay, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)

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Sexual ethics:

  • Contempt in Boston | The Massachusetts Supreme Court's foray into the marriage debate (Editorial, The Wall Street Journal)

  • Senator Brownback and the judge | Whether someone has attended a same-sex commitment ceremony is not a worthy litmus test to impose on someone seeking an important office (Editorial, The New York Times)

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Other stories of interest:

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October 11 | 6 | 5 | 4
September 21 | 15b | 15a | 14
September 6 | 1 | August 29
August 25 | 24 | 23

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