We Don’t Think So—
In early May, New Hampshire lost its state symbol, and main tourist attraction, when the rock formation known as the Old Man of the Mountain crumbled and fell. Experts had predicted such a fate would befall the 700-ton, 40-foot-high stone profile as part of the natural cycle of freezing and thawing. Nevertheless, efforts had been made over the years to put off the inevitable by installing cables to hold it together. But the mighty forces of nature weren’t enough of an explanation for some glum observers of the collapse. “I’m absolutely devastated by this,” said one. “It makes you wonder if God is unhappy with what is going on.”
Saved by His Fellow Man, Not God—
Until last fall, Michael Braithwaite owned and operated Love World, a sex shop in Putney, Kentucky. Then he said God persuaded him to burn his $10,000 lot of sex toys, close the store, and reopen it as a Christian bookstore named Mike’s Place. But business was so slow that Braithwaite considered closing for good. Then a couple arrived from Ohio, bearing Bibles and religious books and other items worth $80,000 to stock his shelves. “Praise the Lord. It’s just heaven sent,” said Braith waite.
Pride Before the Fall—
In a recent USA Today survey, 75 percent of all Christians polled who believe in an afterlife said that they were going to heaven. Only 1 percent thought they might go to hell, and 6 percent were headed for purgatory. Eighteen percent opted for the vague category of “Somewhere Else” and “Don’t Know.” By contrast, 29 percent of non-Christians said that they were going to Heaven, 2 percent Hell, and 5 percent Purgatory. The biggest percentage of non-Christians, 33 percent, said they didn’t know what would happen after they died, and 32 percent said they would be “Somewhere Else.”
Indian Exorcism Fair Attracts Thousands—
The Indian village of Malajpur’s claim to fame is its two hundred Hindu priests who every year hold a month-long-fair to drive evil spirits out of people. On the event’s first day alone this year, 70,000 people made the pilgrimage. The clients are mainly women with postnatal problems who are brought by their families to end their undesirable behavior. One husband charged his wife with using bad language, abusing the neighbors and the children, and refusing to wear clothes or speak in a normal voice. Psychiatrists say the women are suffering from treatable mental disorders, but may show some improvement after visiting the priests because hysteria responds to authority. The priests’ treatment includes beatings and rituals involving chanting, sprinkling with water, and walking around the temple, sometimes backward in severe cases.
Missionaries Move in to‘rebuild’ Iraq
While criticism of the Bush administration’s plans for post-war Iraq focus on the American companies awarded contracts for rebuilding the country’s infrastructure, there is another aspect that has more long-term significance—evangelical missionaries who are being allowed to provide humanitarian aid.
Among them is the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), which hopes to have 25,000 evangelists go to Iraq. “That would mean a heart change would go on in that part of the world,” said Mark Liederbach of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in a speech to the SBC. “That what’s we need to be praying for. That’s how a Christian wages spiritual warfare.”
U.S. Baptist families have been asked to assemble “gift of love” food boxes that would nourish a family of five for a month.
The SBC is run by Billy Graham’s son Franklin. The association is not comforting to those concerned that the missionaries’ involvement in aid to Iraq will give the appearance of a Christian attack on Islam. Franklin once dubbed Islam “wicked.” Although he has sought to cultivate a more tolerant image, he has not backed away from his organization’s goal of converting Muslims to Christianity. “I believe as we work, God will always give us opportunities to tell others about his son,” Franklin told Beliefnet. “We are there to reach out to love them and to save them, and, as a Christian, I do this in the name of Jesus Christ.” In fact, Southern Baptists are required to attempt conversions.
Evangelical zeal is not only a problem for the Iraqis. Pentagon officials are investigating allegations that an Army chaplain refused to release water, which is in scarce supply in Iraq, to U.S. soldiers for bathing until they agreed to hear a sermon and be baptized.
Chaplain Joshllano had relayed his terms of distributing water to a Knight Ridder reporter, but later denied it. The reporter wrote that soldiers, some of whom had gone ten days without a shower, were told that they had to listen to a ninety-minute sermon and then be baptized—from a 500-gallon container Llano was reserving for just that purpose. She quoted him as saying, “It’s simple. They want water. I have it, as long as they agree to get baptized.” Llano’s résumé includes a stint at a military chaplain through the SBC’s North American Mission Board.
Missionaries may find they have worries other than a cold reception to their over-tures in Iraq. At his trial, the accused killer of three workers at a Southern Baptist hospital in Yemen last year said he killed them because they were missionaries. “I acted out of a religious duty . . . and in revenge from those who converted Muslims from their religion and made them unbelievers.” He added that women were being sterilized at the hospitals, a “violation of Islam.” Yemini law prohibits non-Muslims from proselytizing.
I was born curious. I would rather read economic history than history, for example, because I liked explanations. And so if you wanted an explanation for life, it had to be about the molecular basis for life. I never thought there was a spiritual basis for life; I was very lucky to be brought up by a father who had no religious beliefs. I didn’t have that hang-up. My mother was nominally Catholic, but that’s as far as it went.
— James P. Watson, speaking on the fiftieth anniversary of his breakthrough work on DNA, in the April 2003 Scientific American.
Minister Convicted Over Gay Marriages
A Presbyterian Church court has rebuked the Reverend Stephen Van Kuiken for performing marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. He was acquitted on the charge of ordaining as church elders and deacons homosexuals who will not promise chastity.
This was the church’s first trial on the practice of same-sex marriages. Since 2000, Presbyterian ministers have been told that they can bless same-sex couples but not marry them. Van Kuiken, pastor of a Cincinnati, Ohio, church and a minister for nineteen years, said he will continue to officiate at same-sex marriages and to ordain homosexuals. He plans to appeal his conviction to a Presbyterian commission that oversees Michigan and Ohio churches.
AIDS Complacency Alarms Swiss
The Swiss are embarking on an aggressive campaign to combat rising numbers of AIDS cases.
Switzerland once suffered the highest rate of HIV infection in Europe. A government campaign that used explicit materials to encourage safe sex drop-ped levels in the 1990s, but they are on the rise again, up 25 percent in 2002. Officials believe young people do not feel threatened and the gay community has developed a false sense of security because of new drugs that make the disease survivable.
The tactics include signs outside Catholic Churches that read, “Dear Father, if Rome won’t let you talk about contraception, then talk about condoms instead.”
Sainthood for Inquisition Queen?
She wiped out vital Jewish communities and launched the Inquisition. Yet Spanish clerics think Queen Isabella is worthy of sainthood.
Jews and liberal Catholics are protesting, and even the Vatican seems reluctant to proceed. Canonization is proposed for 2004, the 500th anniversary of Isabella’s birth. The Spanish Church says she is a good example for modern-day Spanish Catholics for her accomplishments in sparking a Spanish renaissance and spreading Christianity.
Trouble is, Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand, achieved their goals by driving Jews and Muslims out of Spain and persecuting the ones who remained and didn’t convert. But, sainthood supporters are blaming Jews for negative reactions. “The worldwide Jewish lobby, which apparently has much influence in the Vatican, doesn’t look favorably on this beatification,” reported the newspaper El Mundo.
Turning the Tables?—
President George W. Bush has been fond of using the word evil to describe countries and actions he disapproves of. But now his own church is saying he’s the one who is evil because of his policies, and it wants him to repent. United Methodist officials recently took a full-page ad in Christian Century magazine calling on Bush to “repent from domestic and foreign policies that are incompatible with the teaching and example of Christ.” The church objects to Bush’s contemplation of using nuclear weapons and his actions of “redemptive violence” in Iraq. It also charges that his domestic policy belies his claims of being a “compassionate conservative.“ The president has so far rejected the church’s call for a meeting.
Does He Lack Faith?—
When television preacher Pat Robertson was diagnosed with prostate cancer recently, he didn’t turn to God to heal him. Instead, he sought the best medical advice he could find and underwent surgery. Doctors declared him cancer-free. Although Robert son does not encourage his followers to avoid medical treatment or medicine, his books and program are full of tales of people being cured by “miracles.” In one of his more outrageous claims, he told of a man in Ghana whose amputated leg regrew after his conversion.
Evangelical colleges are modifying their behavior codes to allow practices enjoyed by most Americans, with caveats. Leading the trend is Wheaton College in Illinois, which will now allow faculty members to drink alcohol and smoke tobacco in private and without undergraduates present and students to attend college-sponsored and off-campus dances. The new Community Covenant drops the prohibition against gambling. The school’s original 1867 code banned playing cards, games of chance, and billiards and membership in secret societies. Some of those rules were later dropped, as well as a later one against watching movies and theater-going. Wheat on has justified its changes by pointing out that these rules were school traditions, not ordered by the Bible.
Driving Out the Demons—
New Mexico has asked American Association of State Highway and Transportation officials to change the name of route U.S. 666. They cited the demonic connotation of the digits and said that motorists were concerned that “the devil controls events” on the road. “We just don’t want to be associated with this” said one. The road winds and has a high accident rate. Colorado and Utah, which U.S. 666 also passes through, support the change and have suggested it be called “U.S. 393” instead.