Dutch Jesuit and Humanitarian Who Made Syria His Home Is Murdered in Cold Blood; Islamist Rebels Suspected

When the Dutch Jesuit priest Frans van der Lugt turned 65, about a decade ago, he could have returned to his birth country and lived out his days in comfortable retirement. But van der Lugt chose to stay in the civil-war-ravaged city that had grown dear to him: Homs, Syria.

Eight weeks ago, The Economist had this to say about him:

A trained psychotherapist who is now in his 70s, he has been living in the Middle East since 1966. In the 1980s he set up an agricultural project outside Homs where young people with mental health problems could work. At an earlier stage in the current war, many Christians left the city after rebel forces moved in; he chose to stay, telling objectors that “I am the shepherd of my flock”. He is said to be the last European living in the heart of the city, now besieged by government forces.

[Read more...]

A Glimpse of the Future of Christianity Portends, Perhaps, a Quieter and Humbler Faith

I would like to think that this personal essay in the New York Times exemplifies the future for religion in America. Faith in the U.S. will become more like faith in Western Europe: Subdued, modestly and self-consciously practiced, and just a little outside the mainstream.

As I drove home from church, I eyed the bright foam sign my 6-year-old daughter held. “Jesus is Alive” it read in kid scrawl. “We’re supposed to put them in our yards!” Noelle beamed, eyeing her creation proudly through pink-rimmed glasses.

I imagined our wide, open yard in Pennsylvania, the green grass stretching without fences from one neighbor to the next. Our best friends in the neighborhood, secular humanists, would easily see it. I cringed. What would they think?

[Read more...]

New Documentary, Narrated by Star Trek‘s Kate Mulgrew and With Atheist Interviewees, Says the Sun Circles the Earth

The belief that the Earth is at the center of the universe and that the sun circles our planet went out the window in the mid-1500s after Nicolaus Copernicus published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres. It became completely discredited when Johannes Kepler added in his two cents a century later. Copernicus, by the way, came 1,800 years after Aristarchus of Samos, who posited a similar theory: that the Earth circles the sun, not the other way around. In that regard, there’s nothing new under the, em, sun.

That is, unless you’re Katheryne Thomas, the director of The Principle, a soon-to-be-released Christian documentary that promises to turn the current knowledge of our galaxy on its head by allegedly returning to the old saw that our sun circles the Earth.

[Read more...]

Christian Couple in Pakistan is Sentenced to Death For Blasphemy Against Islam

A Christian couple, Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kausar, have been ordered to pay with their lives after they allegedly sent the imam of a local mosque a text message that a court deemed an insult to the Prophet Muhammad.

The exact content of the message is unclear. Pakistani media are mum about it, as quoting the offending text would be blasphemous all over again — an inevitable Kafkaesque twist in cases like these, which means that no one but the Islamic judges can gauge how serious the so-called offense was. Whatever the words used, Kausar and Emmanuel say they are are innocent, claiming that the text was sent from a cellphone that the couple had lost some weeks earlier.

[Read more...]

NPR: The IRS Lets Churches and Religi-Businesses Get Away With Stunning Bookkeeping Shenanigans

What’s the difference between running a church and running a religious business? The Internal Revenue Service is happy to pretend that there isn’t one, NPR’s John Burnett found in a two-part investigation:

Televangelists have a choice when they deal with the IRS. Some, like Pat Robertson and Billy Graham, register as religious organizations. They’re exempt from most taxes but still must file disclosure reports showing how they make and spend their money.

Daystar [one the largest religious TV networks in America] and dozens of others call themselves churches, which enjoy the greatest protection and privacy of all nonprofit organizations in America.

Churches avoid not only taxes, but any requirement to disclose their finances. And, as NPR has learned, for the past five years churches have avoided virtually any scrutiny whatsoever from the federal government’s tax authority.

[Read more...]