Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bloomberg: 'Short Jewish billionaire from New York'

He'd probably be the most-qualified candidate running for president, certainly the best choice from New York. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg's not in the race, remember?

The slow-burning fire was stoked last week when Bloomberg defected from the Republican party. By going independent, speculators speculated, he could galvanize those disgruntled conservative voters while snaking some of the Clinton and Obama vote. But no one really thinks he could win -- unless the Protocoals of the Elders of Zion really are true -- just that he'd make a boring race a lot more interesting.

The Forward's Jennifer Siegel, whose work I find detailed and insightful, has this report about Bloomberg redefining the role of Jewish pol.

Bloomberg the mayor has transformed himself into a politician whom the vast majority of New York Jews can get behind, even though he does not present himself as a typically “Jewish” politician. It’s a characteristic that some say could prove beneficial if the mayor — who derides himself as “a short, Jewish billionaire from New York” — launches the independent bid for the White House that is suggested by his recent decision to quit the Republican Party.

“Bloomberg has never run away from who he is, but he’s not running around waving a lulav, and he’s not holding up a mezuza all day long,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a Democratic consultant who worked for Bloomberg’s opponent in 2001, Mark Green. “And why should he? It’s part of his identity, but it’s not way up front, nor is anything else.”


“Mike Bloomberg is proud of being a Jew, but he’s a ‘WASH’ — a white, Anglo-Saxon Hebrew,” said Morris Offit, a partner of Bloomberg’s at Salomon Brothers. Offit has served with him on the boards of John Hopkins and The Jewish Museum. “Given his class and his secularity, he is a Jew, but in an ethnic and cultural sense.”

Take Jesus out to the ballgame

Any sports fan has noticed athletes like to cross their chest or point to the heavens or take a knee after hitting a jack or scoring a touchdown or sinking a long putt or (fill in the blank). But it's not often that you hear about sports organizations getting involved with religious expression.

Not like the Promise Keepers who used to pack football stadiums with tens of thousands of weeping men. But, like I wrote about two years ago with the Inland Empire 66ers, a class A team for the Dodgers, a faith night for fans. Church at the ball park. Or, as the Cardinals call it at Busch, Christian Family Day. The idea is spreading, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Baseball has been called an American religion. Its players are worshipped, its rules memorized and debated like Scripture, its fields tended like sacred ground.

"The great, old ballparks ... are spoken of with the awe generally reserved for the great cathedrals of Europe," baseball historian Roberta Newman has written. "They are our Green Cathedrals."

For 17 years, St. Louis' Green Cathedral — Busch Stadium — and some of the gods who play there have hosted a group with a purpose higher than winning a pennant. They have come to the ballpark to win souls for Jesus Christ.

I've often wondered how many players are sincere when they give props to God, whether they are humble enough to believe their perfectly sculpted bodies and unreal talents come from someone beside themselves. I'm more cynical when it comes to business enterprises.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

'The sacred secrets of Saddam's super secret WMDs'

This scary mention of the non-truths being propagated by those who are supposed to be bearers of the truth comes from The Revealer:

Why do people still believe Saddam had WMDs? Because Jesus tells them so. Well, not Jesus, but his modern disciples. Rod Parsley, a rising star of charismatic fundamentalism who's had a heavy impact on national politics, features on his "Breakthrough" program tonight Dr. Perry Stone, an apocalypse scholar who claims top national security sources and Israelis assure him that inspectors discovered enough WMDs in Saddam's bunkers before the war to destroy the world three times over.

Why didn't he? Because he wanted to give them to his mortal enemy of Iran, using special airplanes -- with the seats torn out to make room for more nukes! It'd be easy to dismiss this kookiness as just that were it not for Parsley's flock -- they're ordinary Ohioans. His megachurch is one of the most racially-integrated in the country. His followers aren't classic fundamentalists, but in large part people who might have been liberals once -- before Pastor Parsley delivered them the news.
(Photo: Right Winged)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dept. of No-Duh

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs reported Tuesday that American interests would be better served if Muslims Americans were better integrated into society.

This is a group that is half-Muslim, half non-Muslim that came together because we believe that America is losing by not having the appropriate involvement of Muslim Americans in the civil discourse of politics," said task force co-chair Lynn Martin, a former Republican congresswoman and secretary of labor in the George H.W. Bush administration. "This is not whiny. This is not about what's wrong. What it says is, here are some potential solutions."

Among them: expanded counterterrorism partnerships between Muslim Americans and law enforcement, development of a leadership network of prominent Muslim Americans to work with youth and serve as "community ambassadors," building stronger Muslim American institutions and working with coalitions on common concerns like immigration and health care.

Gaza Christians ready to flee

The Lebanese experiment of Muslims and Christians living and governing together appears to have failed. Now, with Hamas controlling the Gaza Strip, there is concern that Christians there will have no choice but to flee.

Broken crucifixes and shards from a Jesus statue have been swept up, but Gaza's tiny Christian community says the violent warning sent by Islamic militants cannot be erased.

The ransacking of Gaza's Catholic convent and an adjacent Rosary Sisters school during Hamas' sweep to power this month broke more than wood and plaster: it signaled the end of a relatively peaceful, even if sometimes uneasy relationship between Gaza's 1.4 million Muslims and 3,000 Christians.

Despite Hamas promises of protection, Christians fear more attacks, and some say they want to leave. Gaza's flock has already been hit hard by emigration in recent years, and a new exodus could effectively wipe out one of the Arab world's tiniest and oldest Christian communities.

"We don't trust them (Hamas). Our time is coming," said a Greek Orthodox Christian.

Santeria shortstop

Few ball players want to talk about it, but Santeria is taking hold in the Major Leagues, according to the LA Times.
CHICAGO — On a shelf in the office of Chicago White Sox Manager Ozzie Guillen, mixed in among the family photos, the Roberto Clemente bobblehead and the Napoleon Dynamite figurine, are four small but intimidating religious icons.

"If you see my saints, you'll be like 'Golly, they're ugly,' " Guillen had said before inviting a visitor to come in. "They've got blood. They've got feathers. You go to the Catholic church, the [saints] have got real nice clothes.

"My religion, you see a lot of different things you never see."

Guillen's religion is Santeria, a largely misunderstood Afro-Cuba spiritual tradition that incorporates the worship of orisha — multidimensional beings who represent the forces of nature — with beliefs of the Yoruba and Bantu people of Africa and elements of Roman Catholicism. And Guillen, born in Venezuela, is one of a growing number of Latin American players, managers and coaches who are followers of the faith.


Santeria — the name translates roughly as "the way of the saints" — has long been derided (think Pedro Cerrano, the character in the movie "Major League" who turns to the gods to get out of a batting slump) and dismissed in Judeo-Christian society as a primitive cult based solely on bloody animal sacrifices and voodoo, both of which it has. But the syncretic religion is much deeper than that, focused primarily on the worship of orisha, or saints, who govern a specific area of life.

"Santeria always was a religion that was persecuted," said Miguel De La Torre, professor of social ethics at Denver's Iliff School of Theology and author of "Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America."

"You had to keep it secret. For self-survival and to survive in this culture, you had to keep it secret because it was seen as a primitive religion. The U.S. culture has described Santeria as some type of a bloodletting evil religion. The media has really characterized Santeria as something that people from lower classes celebrate."
Among the players willing to talk about practicing Santeria were Angels pitcher Francisco Rodriguez, Marlins third baseman Miguel Cabrera and White Sox pitcher Jose Contreras.
"It's something beautiful," said Contreras, who became a babalao, or Santeria high priest, before defecting from Cuba in 2002. "And it helps me a lot. It gives me peace and tranquillity, but more than that."

Mitt Romney: Draft dodger? Not quite

As the Vietnam War raged in the 1960s, Mitt Romney received a deferment from the draft as a Mormon "minister of religion" for the duration of his missionary work in France, which lasted two and a half years.

Before and after his missionary deferment, Romney also received nearly three years of deferments for his academic studies. When his deferments ended and he became eligible for military service in 1970, he drew a high number in the annual lottery that determined which young men were drafted. His high number ensured he was not drafted into the military.

The deferments for Mormon missionaries became increasingly controversial in the late 1960s, especially in Utah, leading the Mormon Church and the government to limit the number of church missionaries who could put off their military service. That agreement called for each church ward, or church district, to designate one male every six months to be exempted from potential duty for the duration of his missionary work.

Romney's home state was Michigan, making his 4-D exemption as a missionary all but automatic because of the relatively small number of Mormon missionaries from that state.

That is a Web exclusive from part one of the Boston Globe's ambitious seven-part series that began Sunday, "The Making of Mitt Romney." Part two looks at Romney's mission in France. So far, Romney's Mormon faith has caused him a lot of grief as he seeks the Republican presidential nomination.

Monday, June 25, 2007

The righteousness of prancing in your underpants

This post has very little to do with religion, save maybe what it says about the vulnerability of college students to be sucked into a clearly odd movement.

See, five years ago, I was a sophomore at UCLA when my friends and I began running around Westwood in our underwear. We called this finals week act of rebellion "Undie Run." Some of my roommates hoped to start a tradition, but I don't think anyone believed it would actually happen.

Wow. Were we wrong. Two weeks ago, what was once a 13-man jog up and down Glenrock Avenue was 8,000 to 9,000 students running from the apartments to Powell Library.

Last fall, I wrote about the origins of Undie Run and my astonishment at seeing what it had become. LAist has some insane photos from the spring run; they might not be appropriate for work.

(Pictured in the cowboy hat and bikini briefs is a former roommate, Mark Chipello.)

Salman Rushdie can't catch a break

Two decades after Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses earned him a death warrant in the Muslim world, the outspoken author gets knighted by the Queen of England. His PR outside the West, however, could use some help. In case you missed the Wall Street Journal this weekend, here's a snippet:

Another Friday in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi -- and as if on cue, the hoarse, bearded and pyromaniacal pour out of the mosques into the streets armed with Union Jacks and effigies of Queen Elizabeth II, Tony Blair and the newly knighted Sir Salman Rushdie.

Having protested Danish cartoons and popish detours into Byzantine history to the point of exhaustion, the proverbial Muslim street is once again seething. Pakistan's minister of religious affairs said Mr. Rushdie's award justified suicide bombings, while a group of traders in Islamabad banded together to place a $140,000 bounty on his head. Fathi Sorour, the speaker of Egypt's parliament, declared that, "Honoring someone who has offended the Muslim religion is a bigger error than the publication of caricatures attacking Prophet Muhammad." Malaysian protesters besieged the British high commission (embassy) in Kuala Lumpur chanting, "Destroy Britain" and "Crush Salman Rushdie." With the irony perhaps lost in translation, Iran, whose president thinks nothing of threatening to wipe Israel off the map, condemned the award and called it a clear sign of (that mysterious new ailment) "Islamophobia."

For many of us, however, her majesty's conferral is a welcome example of something that has grown exceedingly rare: British backbone. After years of kowtowing to every fundamentalist demand imaginable -- from accommodating the burqa in schools and colleges to re-orienting prison toilets to face away from Mecca -- the British seem to be saying enough is enough. Nobody expects Mr. Rushdie to be awarded the Nishan-e-Pakistan, the Collar of the Nile or Iran's Islamic Republic Medal, but in Britain, as elsewhere in the civilized world, great novelists are honored for their work. A pinched view of the human condition or poorly imagined characters may harm your prospects. Blasphemy does not.

Can a real Christian stop sinning?

The first question, actually, should be: What is a real Christian? Once that has been established, which might take a few millennia and several hundred denominational rifts -- actually before that has been established, let's move on.

Some Christians believe that when a person starts following Christ, they have the ability to stop sinning, not immediately, but eventually. This doctrine of entire sanctification, however, has thrown the 100-year-old Church of the Nazarene, which began here in L.A., into a "theological crisis."

"A lot of the folks who have been around the church awhile thought of themselves as being characterized by things they don't do: You don't smoke, you don't drink, you don't go to dances, and in some parts of the denomination, you don't wear makeup or go to clubs or some parts of society," said Thomas Jay Oord, professor of theology and philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho, and co-author of Relational Holiness. "That kind of Christianity loses steam really quickly. It's not something you can give your whole life to."

That comment is from a short piece I have in next month's Christianity Today, online now. Which brings us back to the headline question: Can a Christian really stop sinning?

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Rudy's priest: the accused pedophile

For those of us not hot on history, the past six years have taught us plenty about the follies of presidents rewarding political loyalists with high-office jobs. Hurricane Katrina. The reconstruction of Iraq. The U.S. attorneys debacle. (It seems there should be some way to blame LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo's recent run on Bush favoritism, but, alas, there is not.)

Now think about this: Rudy Giuliani, who continues to lead the polls among Republican presidential candidates despite losing the support of most evangelicals, employs his childhood friend despite Grand Jury accusations that the man is a pedophile. Salon has the story:

Giuliani employs his childhood friend Monsignor Alan Placa as a consultant at Giuliani Partners despite a 2003 Suffolk County, N.Y., grand jury report that accuses Placa of sexually abusing children, as well as helping cover up the sexual abuse of children by other priests. Placa, who was part of a three-person team that handled allegations of abuse by clergy for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, is referred to as Priest F in the grand jury report. The report summarizes the testimony of multiple alleged victims of Priest F, and then notes, "Ironically, Priest F would later become instrumental in the development of Diocesan policy in response to allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests."

Blogger Andrew Sullivan asks himself why Giuliani would affiliate with an alleged pedophile, even if charges weren't pursued.

Because he was Giuliani's childhood friend, best man at his first wedding, baptized his son, smoothed the way for his divorce annulment, and buried his mother. In Giuliani's world, family is family. Loyalty is loyalty. And the children can go to hell.

'Have you prayed for bin Laden today?'

Wow, that's a gut check, right? I found that headline on the Christianity Today homepage. It's an interesting question that leads into a Q & A with a Mid East missionary about the crisis in the Palestinian territories and Christian relations with Islamic fundamentalists.

Why have there been so many suicide bombers in recent years?

I challenge the Hamas leaders about the suicide bombers, which I'm terribly, terribly opposed to. I've preached against it. I contended in the strongest terms when speaking with the Hamas leaders, and they said, "Brother Andrew, we agree with you. The Qur'an forbids suicide." I said, "What is it that I see all around me?" They said, "But that is religious." I said, "Of course, you make it a million times worse because now you have a million volunteers."

There's no way we can cope with or challenge that level of dedication. They believe in something, and they're going to die for it. We fight [Islamic ideology] with bombs and armies. We're doomed to lose that battle. We have to go back to the root causes. We have to listen, we have to understand, we have to talk, and then I think we can still make progress.

Speaking as a Christian, they are not our enemies. God loves the world. And in my new book, Secret Believers, we propose the question, "Have you prayed for bin Laden today?" That question should shock a lot of Christians. Of course we haven't! That is why he is what he is. We have an evangelical black list of people we don't want to see in heaven and put bin Laden on top. Saddam Hussein is probably second.

Well, Team America has taken care of the latter, and look where that's gotten us. Who knows if we're even still looking for bin Laden. You'd think U.S. intelligence would have spotted him streaking the White House lawn.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ferrari: Not a sin to need the speed

Well, Ferrari, the other Italian pipeline to the divine, didn't care too much for the Vatican's Ten Commandments for drivers.

Turns out, according to Ferrari, that owners of the ultra-expensive, lust-driven sports cars simply spend more than a quarter million American because they like high-performance cars and don't use them "as a means for outshining other people and arousing a feeling of envy," which would violate the Fifth Commandment.

"Unless having fun has become a sin, I don't believe it (to be wrong)," Amedeo Felisa told Reuters this week at an event celebrating Ferrari's 60th anniversary in its hometown southeast of Milan.
I simply find it comical that his warranted a news story, no matter how short the story, not the car drivers -- yes, I'm envious of their Enzo.

Summer reading

I'll be getting a late start today, so for those also looking to not do anything productive until mid-morning, here's some God Blog highlights from the past week:

Wikipedia if Bill O'Reilly wrote it

Holy Land hotties bare (almost) all for Israel

... while the Mid East burns

Dr. Death not a fan of God

Thursday, June 21, 2007

If it's racist, it ain't anti-Semitic

Remember that "Seinfeld" episode where George's phone line gets crossed with a woman who goes by Donna Chang? Having called George, Jerry ends up spending a while on the phone with Donna Chang and decides to ask out this mystery woman. But when he shows up to the Chinese restaurant she suggested, he's startled to see a plain Long Island blonde.

Did you think I was Chinese?..

Oh. No. Oh, you mean because of the "Chang"?

Actually, the family name wasn't originally Chang.

I didn't think so.

It used to be "Changstein."

Well, I imagined a similar scenario just now as I leafed through the LA Times and saw an article about embattled San Francisco Supervisor Ed Jew. Jew, who is no yid, represents Frisco's Chinatown. He is the board's only Asian American.

I wonder if he dines out-of-towners at the House of Bagels.

Even Newton can't predict the End Times

Some Christians have an unhealthy fascination with Armageddon (even more unhealthy is a fascination with "Armageddon"). While some Christians, mindful of Jesus' "thief in the night" comment, avoid dwelling on when the end will come, others have obsessed for centuries.

The Millerites believed the date would be Oct. 22, 1844. If you are reading this now, you understand why that is referred to as the Great Disappointment. Today, the Rapture Index -- a synthesis of world events that some readers of Revelation say should precede the apocalypse -- stands at 158, well below the all-time high of 182 two weeks after 9/11.

It turns out, though, that minds far greater have attempted to predict the End Days. Isaac Newton's 300-year-old manuscripts, unveiled this week in Jerusalem, show one of the world's greatest scientists tried his hand at some apocalyptic algebra.

In one manuscript from the early 1700s, Newton used the cryptic Book of Daniel to calculate the date for the apocalypse, reaching the conclusion that the world would end no earlier than 2060.

"It may end later, but I see no reason for its ending sooner," Newton wrote. However, he added, "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall be, but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

Global warming threatens sacred Hindu river

What did God mean when he established his covenant with Noah? "Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth." Clearly he didn't mean massive flooding had lost its power to kill the masses, but He says a few verses later that "never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life."

OK. Well, scientists and policy wonks are increasingly saying that climate change -- which is not God's doing but our own -- is setting the stage for some cataclysmic future flooding.

Last week, I mentioned how Jewish leaders are beginning to frame global warming as a looming catastrophe for Israel. Then The Washington Post had this report on global warming's indirect threat to millions upon millions more people.

VARANASI, India -- With her eyes sealed, Ramedi cupped the murky water of the Ganges River in her hands, lifted them toward the sun, and prayed for her husband, her 15 grandchildren and her bad hip. She, like the rest of India's 800 million Hindus, has absolute faith that the river she calls Ganga Ma can heal.

Around Ramedi, who like some Indians has only one name, people converged on the riverbank in the early morning, before the day's heat set in. Women floated necklaces of marigolds on a boat of leaves, a dozen skinny boys soaped their hair as they bathed in their underwear, and a somber group of men carried a body to the banks of the river, a common ritual before the dead are cremated on wooden funeral pyres. To be cremated beside the Ganges, most here believe, brings salvation from the cycle of rebirth.

"Ganga Ma is everything to Hindus. It's our chance to attain nirvana," Ramedi said, emerging from the river, her peach-colored sari dripping along the shoreline.

But the prayer rituals carried out at the water's edge may not last forever -- or even another generation, according to scientists and meteorologists. The Himalayan source of Hinduism's holiest river, they say, is drying up.

In this 3,000-year-old city known as the Jerusalem of India for its intense religious devotion, climate change could throw into turmoil something many devout Hindus thought was immutable: their most intimate religious traditions. The Gangotri glacier, which provides up to 70 percent of the water of the Ganges during the dry summer months, is shrinking at a rate of 40 yards a year, nearly twice as fast as two decades ago, scientists say.

"This may be the first place on Earth where global warming could hurt our very religion. We are becoming an endangered species of Hindus," said Veer Bhadra Mishra, an engineer and director of the Varanasi-based Sankat Mochan Foundation, an organization that advocates for the preservation of the Ganges. "The melting glaciers are a terrible thing. We have to ask ourselves, who are the custodians of our culture if we can't even help our beloved Ganga?"

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The revered rebbe

Thousands of Hasidim have gathered over the past two days at the New York grave of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson. Known as The Rebbe, Schneerson was the heir to the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Some believed him to be the Moshiach that he taught his Lubavitcher followers to pray for.

He was sort of a big deal.

Can a minister put the fear of God in gang members?

It appears LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa -- who himself could use the fear of God -- thinks so. Today he introduced the Rev. Jeff Carr as L.A.'s first gang czar. Carr has been the COO of Sojourners, the Washington-based liberal evangelical organization run by Jim Wallis. For 17 years before that he led the Bresee Foundation, named for Church of the Nazarene founder Phineas Bresee, which ministers to L.A.'s poor.

"I've been a minister my whole life and deeply rooted in my faith that calls me to deal with respect with every individual, to treat people as creative human beings with dignity," Carr said. "I try to see the positive in every life, regardless of where they live, the color of their skin or the economic status."

But with that, Carr said he brings a practical approach in dealing with young people.

"I tell them they have to get their tail in school and get a job," Carr said. "I agree with (Father Gregory Boyle of HomeBoy Industries) that the best way to stop a bullet is with a job."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Conservapedia: The wiki with a Fox News attitude

The newest online encyclopedia is called Conservapedia. Its homepage includes daily Bible verses and historical quotes and offers breaking news, such as this tidbit today: "Democratic Congressional Approval Ratings Worse than Bush's."

It's like Wikipedia, only through a conservative lens. Try searching for evolution, for example, and you'll be redirected to "Theory of evolution" and informed that "a majority of the most prominent and vocal defenders of the naturalistic evolutionary position since World War II have been atheists."

Conservapedia defines environmentalists as "people who profess concern about the environment" and notes that some would want to impose legal limits on the use of toilet paper.

Femininity? The quality of being "childlike, gentle, pretty, willowy, submissive."

A hike in minimum wage is referred to as "a controversial manoeuvre that increases the incentive for young people to drop out of school."

And the state of the economy under President Bush? Much better than the "liberal media" would have you think: "For example, during his term Exxon Mobile has posted the largest profit of any company in a single year, and executive salaries have greatly increased as well."

With fewer than 12,000 entries and typos galore (the misspelling of Mobil above; the mayor of L.A. is referred to as "Anthony Varigoso"), Conservapedia isn't about to supplant Wikipedia — which boasts 1.8 million articles in English alone.

But the all-volunteer site has several thousand active readers and writers. (Founder Andy) Schlafly encourages his students to use it as a reference, saying that the articles are more concise than those on Wikipedia. On the home page, just above the daily Bible verse, he tallies total views: 12.3 million and counting.

This story is from today's LA Times, which garners reporter Stephanie Simon her third-straight day of getting mentioned on The God Blog.

The circumcision decision

As I noted last month, the story about how fewer American parents -- even among the covenant people -- are having their sons circumcised keeps popping up. Yesterday, took a not-so-fresh scalpel to the ultimate evergreen story. This lede, however, deserves repeating:

On the eighth day of her son's life, Julia Query welcomed friends and family to celebrate his birth and honor their Jewish heritage.

But there was no crying, no scalpel, no blood, no "mohel" -- the person who traditionally performs ritual circumcisions in the Jewish faith. In fact, Elijah Rose's "bris" differed markedly from the ceremony long used to initiate Jewish boys into a covenant with God: There was no circumcision.

"I knew before I was even pregnant that I would not circumcise," said Query, 39, a San Francisco, California, filmmaker whose son was born in 2002. "It's not like you're just cutting a piece of paper off a pad -- there's no 'cut here' line. It's not made to be cut off, and I would never, ever do that to my baby."

Vatican: Drivers 'shall not kill'

People always say God has a good sense of humor. I heard the same about Pope Benedict XVI will he was elected two years ago. It's hard to tell how tongue in cheek the Vatican's just-issued Driver's Ten Commandments are.

1. You shall not kill.

2. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

3. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

4. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

5. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

6. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

7. Support the families of accident victims.

8. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

9. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

10. Feel responsible toward others.

The Vatican said the unusual document was needed because cars can be "an occasion of sin."
"We know that as a consequence of transgressions and negligence, 1.2 million people die each year on the roads," Martino said. "That's a sad reality, and at the same time, a great challenge for society and the church."
As Friendly Fire notes, the translation leaves something to be desired. The blog also offers three additional commandments:

11. Thou shall not apply make-up, talk on your cell phone, and eat a cheeseburger while trying to make a left-hand turn into four lanes of oncoming traffic.

12. Thou shall not drive 50 mph in the left lane.

13. Thou shall not scream at the motorist in front of you just because he or she had the good sense not to run that yellow light.

The Catholic Church's mandates seem simple enough, but I'm not sure I can agree with, or by any means obey, 11 and 13. For some reason, perhaps connected, the report also covers hookers, abandoned children and the homeless.

Holy Land hotties look to boost Israeli tourism

Seeing Miss Israel in a Maxim spread can't be the religious experience most people associate with the Holy Land. But according to Israeli officials, nothing about the tiny nation appeals to foreign men -- except, of course, holy hotties.

"All the surveys we have done shows that the biggest hasbara problem that Israel has is with males from the age of 18-35," said David Saranga, the consul for media and public affairs at Israel's consulate in New York.

"Israel does not seem relevant for them, and that is bad for branding," he said. "In order to change their perception of Israel as only a land of conflict, we want to present to them an Israel that interests them."

To promote the "Israeli Defense Forces" spread in the July Maxim, the lad mag and the Israeli consulate in New York are throwing a party in Manhattan tonight.

Colette Avital, who previously served as consul general in New York and last week became the first woman to seek the Israeli presidency, deemed the photo spread "pornographic" and asked whether "the best way to encourage tourism to Israel is by developing sex tourism."

Monday, June 18, 2007

Mid East meltdown

No, not that meltdown, but with the nuclear ambitions of so many Arab nations, not to mention Iran, such a future is not hard to imagine. I'm talking about the epidemic fragmenting of Middle East nations under the weight of sectarian enmity and economic volatility that historian Niall Ferguson writes about in today's LA Times.

Any lingering hopes of a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians evaporated last week as the Islamist extremists of Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the more secular Fatah party, now finds himself president of the West Bank only. The next Middle Eastern peace plan will have to be a three-state solution: Israel, Hamastan and Fatahland.

Did I say three? I meant four. Because no peace could last long if it didn't somehow end the threat to Israel posed by Hezbollahstan — the strip of Lebanon controlled by the Iranian-backed terrorists whom Israel failed to obliterate last summer.

Meanwhile, even as hooded Hamas gunmen and Fatah forces traded bullets in Gaza, and even as another anti-Syrian politician was blown to pieces in Lebanon, Sunni militants in Iraq destroyed the twin minarets of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, finishing the job they began last year, when they demolished its golden dome. Nothing could be better calculated to intensify the sectarian conflict there and push the country another step closer to bloody partition.

And don't forget Kurdistan, the semiautonomous republic in northern Iraq that is set to be the third state in Iraq's three-state (dis)solution. The Turks haven't. They're currently massing troops on its border.

Last week in the Forward, Martin van Creveld, professor of military history at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, suggested that once the Palestinian divorce is over -- leaving Fatah to rule the West Bank while Hamas controls Gaza -- perhaps at least the Levant will be a better place for Israelis and Palestinians.

Today, President Bush and the European Union said they will recognize the Fatah government of Mahmoud Abbas and will resume dialogue and aid. Hamas, written about by David Remnick last winter after they won a majority of parliament, shouldn't expect any western love.

No 'curing' gays?

Christian organizations that try to "cure" gays are increasingly uncertain they are dealing with a personal choice. The Rev. Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gave this discussion national prominence this winter when he suggested homosexuality might be a genetic trait. Today, Stephanie Simon of the LA Times warrants back to back mentions on The God Blog for this story:

Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation's largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group's Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won't celebrate successful "ex-gays."

Truth is, he's not sure he's ever met one.

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he's a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he's come to resent the term "ex-gay": It's too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. "By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete," Chambers said.
In related news, President Bush's controversial -- aren't they all? -- nominee for surgeon general believes in ex-gay therapy, which "puts him in direct conflict with virtually the entire American medical community."

'I am both Muslim and Christian'

The Pacific Northwest is the least religious region of the United States, with less than 40 percent of Washington state residents religiously affiliated. Which makes the story of Ann Holmes Redding all the more surprising.

While most her compatriots can't even pick one religion, Holmes recently chose to affiliate with two starkly different -- and wars throughout history attest to that -- monotheistic faiths. From the Seattle Times:

SEATTLE -- Shortly after noon on Fridays, the Rev. Ann Holmes Redding ties on a black headscarf, preparing to pray with her Muslim group on First Hill.

On Sunday mornings, Redding puts on the white collar of an Episcopal priest.

She does both, she says, because she's Christian and Muslim.

Redding, who until recently was director of faith formation at St. Mark's Episcopal Cathedral, has been a priest for more than 20 years. Now she's ready to tell people that, for the last 15 months, she's also been a Muslim — drawn to the faith after an introduction to Islamic prayers left her profoundly moved.

Her announcement has provoked surprise and bewilderment in many, raising an obvious question: How can someone be both a Christian and a Muslim?


"There are tenets of the faiths that are very, very different," said Kurt Fredrickson, director of the doctor of ministry program at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. "The most basic would be: What do you do with Jesus?"

Proving controversial statements by leaders of the Episcopal Church will never cease, Redding's bishop, the Rt. Rev. Vincent Warner, told the Seattle Times he accepts her as an Episcopal priest and a Muslim, and that he finds the "interfaith possibilities exciting."

Religion safe at secular universities

A study appearing this month in the journal Social Forces reports that the widely held belief that religious students abandon their faith at a altar of secular colleges is flat wrong.
It’s not that colleges necessarily encourage faith, said (Mark D. Regnerus, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas and an authors of the study), but for all the talk about how intellectuals are out to destroy students’ relationships to their religions and God, the main obstacles to such relationships have to do with maturing and how young people spend their time. “Some kids were bound to lose [their faith] anyway and they do,” Regnerus said. But the evidence suggests that college isn’t responsible.
Last month, the International Herald Tribune surveyed scholars, academic administrators and students and found that not only were students not losing their faith, but they were pursuing it more fervently than any other time in recent history.

(Hat-tip: Bible Belt Blogger)

The New Atheists

The Nation covered an analysis last week of the ascent of The New Atheists, four bestselling, unbelieving authors -- Sam Harris, Richard Hawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens -- who "each sees himself as breaking a taboo."

The most remarkable fact is not their books themselves--blunt, no-holds-barred attacks on religion in different registers--but that they have succeeded in reaching mainstream readers and in becoming bestsellers. Is this because Americans are beginning to get fed up with the religiosity of the past several years? It would be comforting if we could explain this as a cultural signal of the end of the right-wing/evangelical ascendancy. Such speculations are probably wishful thinking--book buyers are such a small slice of the population that few sociologists would stake their careers on claiming that book buyers' preferences reflect anything like a national mood.

The success of the New Atheists may, however, reflect something significant among their audience.
In fact, it seems the taboo that is being broken is not by the book writers but book readers. As I wrote about in November, more and more non-theistic Americans are "coming out of the closet," speaking confidently about their lack of faith and mobilizing politically. In March, U.S. Rep. Peter Stark, D-CA, became the first member of Congress to out himself as an atheist.

While atheists remain the most reviled of socio-religious groups -- according to a 1999 Gallup poll, only 49 percent of Americans would be willing to vote for an atheist president, 40 percentage points lower than for a Catholic, Jew or African-American and 10 points lower than for a gay candidate -- The New Atheists and their followers are trying to change that.

"People tend to think of religiosity or being involved in religion as something that is a proxy for being a good person, being a moral person, being a trustworthy person and being a good citizen," said Penny Edgell, University of Minnesota associate professor of sociology and the study's lead researcher.

"Most people don't even know an atheist. It becomes this label that people respond to that doesn't say much about the group in question but says a lot about people's assumptions."

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Evangelicals: Romney not 'guided by God'

As I've written about before, Mitt Romney is suffering heavily in his quest to become the next American president because of his Mormon faith. In yesterday's LA Times, Stephanie Simon illuminated the problems surrounding the Mormon factor by talking to evangelicals -- the politically active and conservative brand of Christians who were so influential in electing, and somehow re-electing, President Bush.

"When it comes right down to it," says (Bible book store worker Marty) Thomas, 40, "a Mormon's strength is human. A Christian person's strength is superhuman. I want [a president] who has that extra on his side."

In his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney — a lifelong Mormon — has often reminded voters that he's running for commander in chief, not pastor in chief. What's important, Romney says, is that he has strong faith; the details are irrelevant.

But a sharp concern about the Mormon Church shows up in poll after national poll. About one in three voters would be less likely to support a Mormon candidate. The faith draws among the most unfavorable ratings of any religion. Doubts run especially deep among evangelicals, who may account for as many as half the votes cast in Republican primaries in the South.

Some evangelicals can articulate specific Mormon beliefs that disturb them — for instance, the teaching that only married couples can achieve the most exalted realms of heaven.

Many others want to give Romney a chance; they like his conservative politics. Yet they feel uneasy about turning over the country to a man who has a radically different — and in their view, heretical — understanding of God.

This is not an arcane theological dispute; to some born-again Christians, it's at the very core of presidential leadership. If Romney does not understand what they take to be God's true nature, can he still receive divine guidance? If he doesn't accept the Trinity as they conceptualize it, can he still be filled with the strength of the Holy Spirit?

Such concerns about Romney's faith, are, of course, based on the premise that government officials, particularly the once-clear-though-now-disputed leader of the free world, should share the religious views of their constituents.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Dr. Death: Not a religious man

Jack the Reaper has been making the media rounds since being released from prison two weeks ago. Mike Wallace gave him a friendly interview on "60 Minutes" and then attacked a NY Times editorial that said Dr. Jack Kevorkian "has emerged from prison as deluded and unrepentant as ever."

Mitch Albom, the Detroit Free Press' famed columnist and author of The Five People You Meet in Heaven, wasn't quite so kind after sitting down with Kevorkian.

Are you at all religious, I asked him?

"Religion is all bunk. ... If you're really religious, you can't think for yourself."

Would you call yourself an atheist?


What do you think happens when we die?

"You stink. You rot and stink."

No soul?

He laughed. "What's a soul?"


I don't know what's the way to go. But after an hour, I knew I wouldn't want to go via Jack Kevorkian, a man for whom the world is bleak, happiness is rare, belief is a waste of time and life is a finite, meaningless entity. The act he champions may indeed be one of compassion, but how can it be delivered by such a cold, cold heart?

Why it's not good to keep it in the 'family'

Polygamy is one of the dark not-so secrets of Mormon Church history. Until about 100 years ago, it was common practice. In fact, presidential contender Mitt Romney is the great-great grandson of a venerated polygamist martyr.

Only its fundamentalist break-away sect, lead by previously most-wanted Warren Jeffs, still practices polygamy, which has caused them plenty of problems, including health, according to ABC News.

In a dusty neighborhood under sheer sandstone cliffs studded with juniper on the Arizona-Utah border, a rare genetic disorder is spreading through polygamous families on a wave of inbreeding.

The twin border communities of Hildale, Utah, and Colorado City, Arizona, have the world's highest known prevalence of fumarase deficiency, an enzyme irregularity that causes severe mental retardation brought on by cousin marriage, doctors say.

"Arizona has about half the world's population of known fumarase deficiency patients," said Dr. Theodore Tarby, a pediatric neurologist who has treated many of the children at Arizona clinics under contracts with the state.

"It exists in a certain percentage of the broader population but once you get a tendency to inbreed you're inbreeding people who have the gene there, so you markedly increase the risk of developing the condition," he said.

The community of about 10,000 people, who shun outsiders and are taught to avoid newspapers, television and the Internet, is home to the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a sect that broke from the mainstream Mormon church 72 years ago over polygamy.

The group, who wear conservative 19th-century clothing, is led by Warren Jeffs, who was arrested in August and charged as an accomplice to rape for using his authority to order a 14-year-old girl against her wishes to marry and have sex with her 19-year-old cousin.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Ruth Graham heads home

MONTREAT, N.C. -- Ruth Graham, who surrendered dreams of missionary work in Tibet to marry a suitor who became the world's most renowned evangelist, died Thursday. She was 87. Graham died at 5:05 p.m. at her home at Little Piney Cove, surrounded by her husband and all five children, said a statement released by Larry Ross, Billy Graham's spokesman.

"Ruth was my life partner, and we were called by God as a team," Billy Graham said in a statement. "No one else could have borne the load that she carried. She was a vital and integral part of our ministry, and my work through the years would have been impossible without her encouragement and support.

"I am so grateful to the Lord that He gave me Ruth, and especially for these last few years we've had in the mountains together. We've rekindled the romance of our youth, and my love for her continued to grow deeper every day. I will miss her terribly, and look forward even more to the day I can join her in Heaven."

Ruth fell into a coma yesterday. There had been some debate about whether she would be buried with Billy in Charlotte or in the mountains, but it seems she decided to stand behind her husband. More from the Associated Press.

Global warming: Israel wipe out

Will global warming beat Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the job of wiping Israel off the map? Jewish groups long have been concerned about the consequences of global warming, but, according to the Forward, they're now framing that debate around the catastrophe global warming would spell for Israel.

In a series of briefings last week on Capitol Hill and with Jewish organizations, a team of experts from Israel presented data indicating that if action to stop global warming is not taken immediately, moderate regimes in the Middle East might collapse and tensions between Israel and its neighbors might rise due to a decrease in rainfall, loss of water sources and increase in extreme weather phenomena.
Already, according to Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, rainfall is down and summer is getting hotter. (That sounds a lot like Los Angeles.)

The main changes, the Israeli experts predicted, would be a drop in the water supply — already a scarce commodity in the Middle East — and an expected rise in temperature that will make it even more difficult to replenish water sources. According to the information presented this week, if action is not taken, then Israel might be facing a loss of up to 100 millimeters of rain a year — almost 20% of the country’s annual rainfall.

For Israel, water shortages could influence not only its population but also the future of its relations with neighboring countries. Israel is already facing difficulties fulfilling its agreement — as part of its 1994 peace treaty with Jordan — to transfer water to the Hashemite kingdom, and will face great problems when trying to work out water arrangements with Palestinians in a final status agreement. The Jordanian monarchy, which is based on support of the agricultural communities, might be in danger. The same is true for the Palestinian leadership, which might encounter an uprising of extremists who will feed on the poverty and despair caused by the collapse of agriculture due to lack of water.

In Egypt, the expected rise of the Mediterranean Sea level could flood rich areas in the Nile’s Delta and lead to food shortages, which could destabilize the regime.

It's hip to be anti-Muslim

Those aren't my views, but according to a report today by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, they belong to an increasing number of Americans. The "Presumption of Guilt" study reported that anti-Muslim incidents increased 25 percent last year, with California accounting for 29 percent of cases. Click to read the entire report.

This is not a new phenomenon. Muslims feel more discriminated against now than in the months following 9/11. I've written many times about this growing concern of Islamophobia.

In related news, Investor's Business Daily published an editorial Tuesday indicting CAIR as a foreign front group -- as others have claimed, or worse.

The days of legitimizing and mainstreaming CAIR — now an official unindicted co-conspirator in a major terror case — must end before it can lobby against one more antiterror measure, boycott one more airline for protecting passengers from suspicious Muslim men, or sue one more John Doe tipster who could save hundreds of lives.

Billy Graham's wife in a coma: Where will she rest?

I was on the phone with an editor at Christianity Today yesterday when the news of Ruth Graham's failing health was breaking. Her husband, the famed evangelist Billy Graham, founded CT 50 plus years ago, and since then he has led the evangelical wing of Christianity, if not always physically at least spiritually.

The word today is that Ruth Graham is in a coma, waiting patiently for the gates of heaven to open. There was much speculation yesterday about where she would be buried: The Washington Post reported in December that she didn't want to be buried in Charlotte at the plot selected by her husband but in the mountains where she raised five children.

But, according to a statement from Billy Graham on the Web site of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, Ruth recently changed her mind about her earthly body's final resting place:

Earlier this spring, after much prayer and discussion, Ruth and I made the decision to be buried beside each other at the Billy Graham Library in my hometown of Charlotte, North Carolina.

We have held this decision privately and only decided to announce it now that she is close to going home to Heaven.

Ruth is my soul mate and best friend, and I cannot imagine living a single day without her by my side. I am more in love with her today than when we first met over 65 years ago as students at Wheaton College.

Ruth and I appreciate, more than we can express, the prayers and letters of encouragement we have received from people across the country and around the world. Our entire family has been home in recent days and it has meant so much to have them at our side during this time. We love each one of them dearly and thank God for them.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

President Joe Lieberman and war with Iran

Robert Scheer posed an interesting question today: What if Al Gore had prevailed in 2000 but died in the White House?
Would President Joe Lieberman have been worse than George W. Bush? His recent actions suggest that he could have descended even lower in his illogical and immoral responses to the tragedy of 9/11. Although now an independent, Lieberman provides a cautionary tale for folks who talk of backing "any Democrat" who can win.

At a time when even President Bush has recognized the need for negotiations with Iran in order to stabilize Iraq, where disciples of Tehran's ayatollahs have risen to power, thanks to the U.S. occupation he fervently supports, Lieberman urges war with Iran. "I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," he told CBS on Sunday, "and to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran."

The breast-feeding fatwa

CAIRO -- First came the breast-feeding fatwa. It declared that the Islamic restriction on unmarried men and women being together could be lifted at work if the woman breast-fed her male colleagues five times, to establish family ties. Then came the urine fatwa. It said that drinking the urine of the Prophet Muhammad was deemed a blessing.

For the past few weeks, the breast-feeding and urine fatwas have proved a source of national embarrassment in Egypt, not least because they were issued by representatives of the highest religious authorities in the land.

Issued by religious scholars, fatwas are supposed to provide Muslims a road map for transforming the values of the Quran to societal mores. Famous proclamations include the order for Muslims to boycott American and Israeli products and the bounty put on Salman Rushdie's head after he wrote The Satanic Verses in the late '80s.

In Egypt alone, thousands are issued every month, according to The New York Times. Most are mundane and without controversy. But it seems some Islamic jurists are going overboard, and in the past few weeks have issued a few embarrassing religious edicts like the breast-feeding and urine fatwas, or fatawa.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The ministerial high-life

Randy and Paula White say they were following God's call when they moved to Tampa Bay and started a ministry that now has more than 20,000 members and $40 million in annual donations. But as the success of Without Walls International Church soared, so did the luxurious lifestyles of its founders.

According to an investigation published last month by The Tampa Tribune (and resurrected by the DMN religion blog), the Whites travel in a $1.9 million business jet, own a $2.1 million on Bayshore Boulevard and a $3.5 million Trump Tower condo in New York and rent a waterfront villa in Malibu.

"Mansions, big planes, money, fame. That's what it's all about now," said the Rev. Hector Gomez, a former Without Walls staff member who left in 2000. "There are prophets for God, and there are prophets for profit. That's the category they fit in."

Jews get polygamous

Right now, in the boardrooms of Jewish philanthropic organizations throughout the U.S., program officers are locked in heated discussions about your love life. Whirlwind trips to Israel, boozy mixers at community centers, film screenings in darkened theaters, online endogamous dating sites—all meticulously designed to lead young Jews into lasting romantic relationships. So, in an American social climate where divorce is pandemic and for the first time in decades, more than half of the population is unmarried, wouldn’t the powers-that-be be pleased to know that some Jews yearn to be in as many Jewish relationships as possible... at the same time? Polyamory, while hardly a sweeping mainstream trend, is a lifestyle that an increasing number of Jews are embracing.

That's part of a surprising feature in Heeb magazine. The article gives the example of what happened when Rabbi Jacob Levin, 62, came out to his Northern California congregation.

(H)is disclosure was met with a mix of confusion and dismay. Homosexuality they understood—there was growing acceptance, some synagogues more conservative than theirs were even supporting gay marriage—but polyamory? This was different, this was weird. They were Jews after all, people of the Book, not pagan nature worshipers or—God forbid—Mormons.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Paris Hilton finds God?

Barbara Walters received a collect call yesterday from Twin Towers prisoner Paris Hilton, who talked about, ehem, growing up (no mention was made of the temper tantrum she threw in court Friday) and wanting to get involved in charity work when she finishes her 45-day sentence for driving with a DUI-inflicted suspended license.

I'm not the same person I was. I used to act dumb. It was an act. I am 26 years old, and that act is no longer cute. It is not who I am, nor do I want to be that person for the young girls who looked up to me. I know now that I can make a difference, that I have the power to do that. I have been thinking that I want to do different things when I am out of here. I have become much more spiritual. God has given me this new chance.

My wife is in PR, and yesterday we talked Paris-damage-control strategy. The repentant sinner is, of course, a textbook response. Two weeks ago, it was Britney Spears going apoplectic.

'Ex-gay' therapy on trial

The Bible Belt Blogger has been writing like crazy about the story he broke last month: President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, James Holsinger, has taken a strong stance against homosexuality. Yesterday, he noted this article on The Huffington Post:

Holsinger believes in ex-gay therapy. He therefore views homosexuality as a curable disease. Every major, reputable medical organization rejects ex-gay therapy and the notion that homosexuality constitutes a mental illness. Every single one. The most notable of these organizations is the American Psychological Association, the country's largest organization of mental health professionals. In 1974, the APA stopped listing homosexuality as a mental disorder; last year, the group issued a pointed repudiation to the ideological proponents of ex-gay therapy. (It's worth adding that conversion therapy supporters have not produced one single word of peer-reviewed work to support their theories).

Holsinger's belief in discredited, crack-pot "conversion" therapy puts him in direct conflict with virtually the entire American medical community.

Kosher 'Endless Summer'

Orthodox Jews are finding spiritual sanctuary in the Pacific surf. From The Jewish Week:

The group wakes before 8 a.m. so they can daven Shacharit. By 9:30, they’re on Venice Beach, suited up and riding the waves as the sun heats up the Pacific on the Southern California coast. They’re on their boards until noon, then after lunch it’s time to learn about the ocean, get training in First Aid and play sports. They’re back home for Mincha, followed by discussions on the Mishna and Pirkei Avot.

Welcome to a typical sun-drenched day in the life — kosher “Endless Summer” style — at Joe V. Surf Camp, a five-week program for high school students that combines love of Judaism with a love for the ocean.
My colleague Amy Klein wrote about surfer Joe and his band of observant Jews back in February, when the water was a lot colder.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

'Secret life of a porn-addicted minister'

Sheryl and Paul Giesbrect are preparing to celebrate their 26th wedding anniversary. The sweethearts cherish their life together, which began when they met while attending a Christian university.

It's where they found religion and each other. Today, Paul is a minister in California and Sheryl broadcasts spiritual messages. Both counsel troubled couples, but now they find themselves in need of counseling. Their marriage holds a secret, one the 50-year-old parents of two say rattled their union.

Porn. That's Paul's secret. In fact, it's the secret of millions of American men and increasingly women. (Anti-porn groups claim as much as 70 percent of Christian men are enslaved by lascivious computer images.

I missed Paul's story when it ran on "Good Morning America" last week, but noticed it just now at The LA Daily News just concluded a six-day porn series, for which I wrote articles about XXXChurch, which is leading the new paradigm for fighting porn addiction, and the born-again porn star.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Born-again porn star

CHATSWORTH -- In need of grace, Keri Humble walked into The Church at Rocky Peak one Sunday and received the recognition that shamed her.

"I love your show on the Playboy Channel," a door greeter told her, referring to "Spice Hotel."

There are many lifestyles born-again Christians can leave behind and begin with a clean slate. Porn star is not one of them.

"Once you do it, you are putting a permanent black fingerprint on your life that is going to follow you the rest of your life," Humble said. "You can't take it back: It's on film."

Every church pastor in America deals with porn's effect on their flock. But in the San Fernando Valley -- the heart of the adult-film industry -- ministers and churchgoers also must mend the fractured souls of people like Humble.


"After I did it once, it was almost just like, `Now I've screwed up. I might as well just do a couple more,"' she recalled. "And then after that, it just kept going and progressing and progressing. That's how it works with sin. You feel like you have already made the mistake. You can't take it back so you just might as well keep on sinning."

That is one of my two final stories for the LA Daily News, both of which ran Thursday in the paper's "Valley Exposed" porn series. Click to read the rest of Keri Humble's story or the main story I wrote about the friendship between porn legend Ron Jeremy and an evangelical minister.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Jews mugged leaving shul

Fifteen years ago, Mordechai Naor walked to Congregation Shaarei Tefila in the Fairfax district with a handgun as his companion. Six years after moving to the Pico-Robertson neighborhood and leaving those fears of mugging behind, Naor is considering re-kindling an old relationship.

"Since we moved over here, I always felt safe," said Naor, 60. "It's not extreme to go armed again, but I never even thought to worry about who was walking behind me."

His new sense of vulnerability stems from a recent spate of attacks against Jews in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

As dusk turned to dark on the first night of Shavuot, one rabbi, who asked not to be named, was mugged at knifepoint on Rodeo Drive near Olympic Boulevard as he was walking home after services. Eight hours later, five Orthodox men were walking down Pico Boulevard near Sherbourne Drive when a van pulled up and two men jumped out waving handguns. Less than a week later, another Jewish man was mugged in Beverlywood.

That's the beginning of my story in today's Jewish Journal. The muggings have evoked memories of a rash of attacks in early 1990s.

Observant Jews were targeted as easy marks, because they walked at night, sometimes alone, and even though they didn't carry cash, they often wore expensive jewelry.

"It was like an epidemic," said Isaac Naor, Mordechai's son. "Every week, somebody else was getting mugged. Everybody was walking to shul with a gun."

Among those attacked was the then-president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, Rabbi Jack Simcha Cohen, who also was the leader of the Naor's synagogue.

On Shabbat, Cohen was walking near his home with his son when two strangers approached, one asking for directions.

"Before I knew what was going on," Cohen said, "he put me in a stranglehold and started banging my right arm across the sidewalk. Just kept smashing it and snapped it."

Read the rest of the story, including whether police think Jews are being targeted and the Halachic implications of carrying a handgun on Shabbat.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Rudy's crisis of faith

It seemed for the past few months that former NY Mayor Rudy Giuliani could keep Republican voters so mesmerized by talking about 9/11 that he wouldn't have to confront the fact his politics are quite liberal for conservatives -- and way out of touch with evangelical Christians, who have been essential to Republican success since the early '80s.

But last month Giuliani's popularity began sliding. A week later, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson, a man who's had Bush's ear, opined -- divined? -- that "Rudy's not the one." It seemed Giuliani's pro-choice, liberal leanings -- and his incredibly messy personal life (he married his second cousin and via news conference told his second wife he was filing for divorce) -- were just too much too swallow.

Today, Christianity Today, the sentinel of evangelicalism, added to the criticism, reporting "Conservative leaders doubt his support among evangelicals will last."

"I think a lot of evangelicals are just getting to know Rudy," said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"As they get to know him—not as the hero of 9/11 but as a supporter of tax-funded abortions—his support will decline precipitously."