Jesus Appears in a Tree! Only from a Distance at the Right Angle in the Right Light! Once! It's, um, a Miracle?

Pilgrims Flock to Image of Jesus on Tree

from Reuters

SARAJEVO - Christians are flocking to a northwestern Bosnian town to view an image of Jesus Christ that allegedly appeared in a section of a cut tree branch two days ago, Bosnian media reported Friday.

The image resembling Jesus' face cannot be seen from a close distance but only from a few meters away. The branch in the town of Bijeljina was cut about a year ago, said Oslobodjenje daily.

Sceptics have dismissed the image as a freak of nature, but pilgrims have been streaming to the tree, kneeling before it to pray, lighting candles, leaving money, and cutting off bark to take home.

The region's Serb Orthodox bishop Vasilije visited the site and said church officials would discuss the phenomenon and advise believers how to behave. He appealed to visitors not to destroy the tree and not to leave money at the site.


Virgin Mary = Virgin Mobile = Attention Whore? (Nice Legs, btw)

Pilgrims Try To Catch 'Miracle' on Mobiles

from Reuters

ROME - Thousands of Italians have flocked to a small town outside Naples armed with mobile phones in the hopes of filming a statue of the Virgin Mary that residents say has miraculously moved her legs.

Parishioners at St. Peter's church in Acerra said they had witnessed the plaster statue's legs turn flesh colored and move "as though she were walking toward us." One man told reporters last week that he had filmed the "miracle" on his mobile phone.

Hundreds of pilgrims have since converged every day on the southern Italian town of 40,000 bearing video cameras and cellular telephones in a bid to capture the miracle themselves.

A spokesman for the local bishop said a team of Church experts was investigating the incidents to verify if "there is a natural cause that we still cannot explain or whether we are looking a preternatural phenomenon."

Monsignor Antonio Riboldi, the Bishop Emeritus of Acerra said he was skeptical. "In the past, the Madonna has made apparitions in a field or in a cave, but she has never appeared on a mobile phone or a video camera. She doesn't tend to make a spectacle of herself."


Pro-Abortion... Anti-Christ... Vampire Penis... Name That Religion!

'And this is the best part, Louis: He told her he was a cabaret-singing vampire and threatened to impregnate her with the Anti-Christ - and she believed him! Have you ever heard anything so absurd?! A heterosexual cabaret singer?! I swear, I laughed so hard blood shot out of my nose. And people think I'm crazy!'

Who Wouldn't Fall for Such a Clever Trick?

from Reuters

PALERMO, Italy - An Italian couple stole 50,000 euros from a woman in the Sicilian city of Palermo after convincing her they were vampires who would impregnate her with the son of the Anti-Christ if she did not pay them.

The man, a cabaret singer, and his girlfriend took the money from their victim over four years by selling her pills at 3,000 euros each that they said would abort the Anti-Christ's son.

Police uncovered the fraud after the 47-year-old woman's family became concerned when they discovered she had spent all her savings.

'You don't say! A blood-sucking con artist who sings cabaret but claims to be straight - and who has his own pill supply? He sounds dreamy...he isn't married, is he?'


'Hello, Can I Speak to God?'

Phone Number Brings Almighty Problems

from The St. Petersburg Times

Five or six times a week, week in and week out, stretching now into year in and year out, somebody calls Dawn Jenkins' cell phone and asks to speak to God.

It's not a hoax. It's not somebody trying to drive Jenkins crazy, although she acknowledges it might be having that effect.

The St. Petersburg resident is the victim of a bad decision by a very big and important movie maker. Universal Studios used Jenkins' number in the 2003 Jim Carrey hit Bruce Almighty. In fiction, it was supposed to be God's phone number. In reality, Universal thought it was nobody's phone number.

Universal was wrong.

The St. Petersburg Times originally spoke with Jenkins shortly after the movie came out. Back then she was getting 15 to 20 calls an hour from people asking for God. The calls have decreased, but not disappeared.

"Why this is still going on two years after the movie came out, I don't know. I don't even ask people any more why they're calling. I don't have time. I've had two calls for God already today, and it isn't even 2 o'clock."

Bruce Almighty was set in Buffalo, N.Y. Producers did not use a 555-prefix number for the direct line to God, but instead one that, at the time, had not been issued to anyone in Buffalo's area code, according to a Universal spokesman.

But in some area codes, including 727, the number had been claimed. In Pinellas County, Jenkins had the number. It's a nonworking number in 813 and 352 area codes.

Since the movie didn't specify an area code, people across the country began calling the local version of the number that came up on the movie screen, and so began Dawn Jenkins' ordeal.

"The people at Universal were very responsive," said Jenkins, a database administrator and part-time jewelry maker. "It was a mistake. They were very apologetic. When the video came out, they had changed the number to one with the 555 prefix."

Jenkins plans to keep her number despite the headaches. It is a custom number that spells out the name of her jewelry business.

"I'm not giving it up for anybody," she said. "Not even for God."

Save Your Prayers for That New Bike

Prayer's Power to Heal Strangers Is Examined

from The Washington Post

Praying for sick strangers does not improve their prospects of recovering, according to a large, carefully designed study that casts doubt on the widely held belief that being prayed for can help a person heal.

The study of more than 700 heart patients, one of the most ambitious attempts to test the medicinal power of prayer, showed that those who had people praying for them from a distance, and without their knowledge, were no less likely to suffer a major complication, end up back in the hospital or die.

While skeptics of prayer welcomed the results, other researchers questioned the findings, and proponents of prayer maintained that God's influence lies beyond the reach of scientific validation.

Surveys have shown that millions of Americans routinely pray when they are ill or when someone they know is. A growing body of evidence has found that religious people tend to be healthier than average, and that people who pray when they are ill are likely to fare better than those who do not. Many researchers think religious belief and practice can help people by providing social support and fostering positive emotions, which may produce beneficial responses by the body.

But the idea that praying for someone else - even when he or she is unaware of it - can affect a person's health has been much more controversial. Several studies have purported to show that such prayer is beneficial, but they have been criticized as deeply flawed. The debate prompted a spate of new studies aimed at avoiding those shortcomings, including the new study, which is the first to test prayer at multiple centers.

For the Mantra II study, Mitchell W. Krucoff, a cardiologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., and his colleagues designed an experiment involving 748 patients who underwent treatment for heart problems at nine hospitals around the country between 1999 and 2002.

The researchers enlisted 12 congregations of various Christian denominations, Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists around the world to pray for some of the patients, giving them names, ages, and descriptions of the illness. The researchers then divided the patients into four groups. The first quarter had people praying for them. The second quarter received a nontraditional treatment known as music, imagery, and touch (MIT) therapy, which involved breathing techniques, soothing music, touch, and other ways to relieve stress, such as calming mental images. The third group received both prayer and MIT, while the fourth received nothing.

In the final year of the study, the researchers took the additional step of asking more religious congregations to pray for the prayers of the initial group to work. Neither the patients nor their doctors knew whether someone was praying for them. The prayers varied depending on the religion, lasting between six and 30 days.

The researchers then followed all the patients for six months to see which patients suffered serious complications, were re-hospitalized, or died from heart problems. Overall, there was no difference among the four groups, the researchers report in Saturday's issue of the Lancet medical journal.

The researchers did find evidence, however, suggesting that those receiving the MIT therapy experienced less distress before their procedures, and those who received both MIT therapy and the "high-dose" prayer may have been slightly less likely to die in the following six months. Those findings provide avenues for future research, Krucoff said.

The researchers acknowledged that it was impossible to make any firm conclusions because of the difficulty of studying something such as prayer. The study, for example, could not accurately measure factors as fundamental as the "dose" of prayer administered and could not account for the possible effects of family members praying for patients on their own, the researchers noted.

"I really don't want people to think we're dissing prayer," Krucoff said. "This study gives us a sense of where there might be therapeutic benefit that might be worth pursuing in future trials."

Skeptics, however, said they were far from surprised by the findings.

"There's nothing that we know in the universe that could account for how prayer or the healing intention of one group of people could influence the health outcomes of another group at a distance," said Richard P. Sloan, a professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.

"It's preposterous."



Tonight @ The Temple of Poseidon

The full moon rises behind the ancient temple of Posseidon, in Sounio about 45 miles south-east of Athens, on Thursday, July 21, 2005. Tonight's full moon appear bigger than usual, as the distance between the Earth and its only natural satellite was the closest until 2007, at about 223306 miles. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Oy Vey! Jews Protest - That's Right - Daylight Savings Time

Observant Jews Say Daylight Savings Extension Hurts Morning Prayer

from Religion News Service

Observant Jews are expressing concerns over legislation extending daylight savings time by two months, saying that the late sunrises would impact their ability to pray in the morning and still reach work by 9 a.m.

The provision, which set daylight savings time between March and November instead of April and October, was approved July 19 by a joint House-Senate conference committee. The committee met to finalize the energy legislation package Congress will present to the president by Aug. 1.

According to Jewish law, certain prayers, including the prayer recited each day by people in mourning, cannot be recited without a minyan, or a quorum of 10 members, present. Further, those prayers, which last between 30 and 40 minutes, cannot be recited before sunrise.

Under the daylight savings extension, sunrise in the month of November would come between 8:30 and 8:45 in most locations, said Mark Waldman, director of public policy for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

Waldman said that he did not believe the legislation intentionally levied this hardship, but that nonetheless it was something he wished they had considered.

Supporters of the provision say that extending daylight savings time would save 100,000 barrels of oil each day by extending daylight hours into the afternoon and requiring businesses to use less energy to stay open.

What Would Jesus Boycott?

Conservative Christian Groups Apply Economic Pressure on Gay-Friendly Firms

from Religion News Service

As more companies adopt gay-friendly business policies, they risk the wrath of conservative Christian groups prepared to take action with their collective buying power.

"People are willing to fight back with their pocketbooks," said Tim Wildmon, president of the Tupelo, Miss.-based American Family Association (AFA), a conservative group that has boycotted such companies.

Liberal and moderate religious groups have long used economic pressure to leverage what they consider social justice.

A four-year boycott of Taco Bell, led by mainline Protestant and Orthodox denominations, ended in early March after the company agreed to raise pay for tomato pickers in Florida.

And during the past year, some of those same churches - led by the Presbyterian Church - have considered withdrawing millions of dollars in investments from Israeli companies to protest that country's treatment of Palestinians.

Now Christian conservative organizations like AFA are employing some of those same tactics to target companies for practices that don't align with their values and beliefs, especially gay rights. And they say they're just getting started.

"The companies that are aggressively promoting the homosexual agenda, we are going to highlight," Wildmon said.

Wildmon said boycotts are used only in cases they consider egregious. As examples, he mentioned donating money to gay rights parades and groups like Human Rights Campaign or buying advertising during the television shows Will and Grace or Queer Eye for the Straight Guy or in gay magazines like Out.

Wildmon said AFA may launch a boycott against Kraft Foods because of the company's support of the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago. "If most people knew Kraft sponsored the Gay Games, they probably wouldn't buy their macaroni and cheese anymore," Wildmon said. The decision to boycott Kraft, said Wildmon, will depend on whether the company agrees to never sponsor the games again.

Economic efforts by religious conservatives have had mixed results. In 1997, the country's largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, launched a boycott of the Walt Disney Co., in part for festivities at its theme parks reaching out to gays. In
June, that boycott was lifted. Critics of the boycott said it failed because Disney has not changed its position on gays. But Southern Baptist leaders argued the boycott contributed to financial troubles at Disney and an increasing receptivity to their values. They cited Disney's upcoming film of C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia as an example of positive change.

Religious conservatives say other cases of economic pressure have been at least partially effective:

* Microsoft received harsh criticism and boycott threats from an area evangelical minister earlier this year after it voiced support for legislation that would outlaw workplace discrimination against gays in the company's home state of Washington. Microsoft pulled back its support for the bill, then returned to its original position after feeling pressure from gay-rights activists inside and outside the company.

* In September 2004, conservative Christian groups including the AFA and Focus on the Family asked supporters to suspend purchases of Procter & Gamble's Tide laundry detergent and Crest toothpaste after the company donated $10,000 to a campaign to repeal a Cincinnati ordinance barring the enactment of gay-rights laws. The boycott was dropped in April because AFA said P&G was "backing off its support for the homosexual agenda."

* The AFA launched a boycott against Ford Motor Company on May 31 because of the company's support of gay marriage, according to Wildmon. After meeting with a group of Ford dealers one week later, AFA agreed to suspend its effort until at least Dec. 1.

Companies are being forced to consider complicated and charged issues surrounding such threats, according to Bradley Googins, executive director of the Center for Corporate Citizenship at Boston College.

"Now a company has to weigh who is going to be putting pressure and how to calculate impact," Googins said.


Is Evolution Saving the Elephant?

Tuskless Elephants Evolving in China Due to Poaching

from AFP

BEIJING - A recent study has predicted that more male Asian elephants in China will be born without tusks because poaching of tusked elephants is reducing the gene pool, the China Daily reported Sunday.

The study, conducted in the Xishuangbanna Dai Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Yunnan province, where two-thirds of China's Asian elephants live, found that the tuskless phenomenon is spreading, the report said.

The tusk-free gene, which is found in between two and five percent of male Asian elephants, has increased to between five percent and 10 percent in elephants in China, according to Zhang Li, an associate professor of zoology at Beijing Normal University.

"This decrease in the number of elephants born with tusks shows the poaching pressure for ivory on the animal," said Zhang, whose research team has been studying elephants since 1999 at a reserve in Xishuangbanna.

Only male elephants have tusks, which are said to be a symbol of masculinity and a weapon to fight for territory. However, due to poaching for ivory, the elephants' pride has become a death sentence, the report said.

"The larger tusks the male elephant has, the more likely it will be shot by poachers," said Zhang. "Therefore, the ones without tusks survive, preserving the tuskless gene in the species."

A similar decline in elephants with tusks has been seen in Uganda, which experienced heavy poaching in the 1970s and '80s, the report said.

However, Zhang's findings of the spread of the tuskless gene due to poaching must be tested, according to some academics.


'Under God' Lawsuit Cropped

Judge Narrows Pledge of Allegiance Lawsuit

from The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - An atheist who convinced a federal appeals court three years ago that the words "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance are unconstitutional returned to court Monday and made his case a second time.

Michael Newdow, a doctor and lawyer, is suing four Sacramento-area school districts on behalf several atheist children and their families. The U.S. Supreme Court dismissed his first case last year, saying he lacked standing to bring it on behalf of his elementary-aged daughter because he did not have custody of her.

Newdow suffered a setback Monday in his latest case when the judge said he plans to throw out several parts of Newdow's lawsuit.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton indicated that he planned to block Newdow from having the pledge itself and the words "under God" declared unconstitutional. His lawsuit instead would focus strictly on whether reciting the pledge in public schools is an unconstitutional endorsement of religion, meaning Newdow could still have the pledge barred from schools if he prevails in the long-shot effort.

"What I'm doing is cutting out a whole lot of your case and making it narrow," Karlton said during the first hearing on the lawsuit.

Terence Cassidy, a lawyer for the Elk Grove Unified School District, urged the judge to dismiss the entire case. He said reciting the pledge in school was not about religion, but rather is designed "to teach children about patriotism."

Despite his indication about limiting the lawsuit, the judge acknowledged that Newdow may have a valid point about the pledge in schools. The words "under God" were inserted into the pledge by Congress in 1954.

"There is nothing whatsoever that requires acknowledging God to love this country," Karlton said.

After Monday's hearing, Newdow appeared unmoved by the judge's expected narrowing of the lawsuit. He said any decision was likely to be appealed.

Newdow won his initial case before a San Francisco federal appeals court. That court said it was an unconstitutional blending of church and state for public school students to pledge to God. In June 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the case.

Eight co-plaintiffs have joined the latest lawsuit. The plaintiffs' names have been withheld for fear of physical harm.

"We're a despised minority," Newdow told the judge.

'At Least Being Gay Is Socially Acceptable'

A Time of Doubt for Atheists

from The Los Angeles Times

It's been years, decades even, since the Almighty was so hot.

The evidence is everywhere. President Bush rallied the faithful to hold on to the White House. A book by an Orange County preacher extolling God's purpose in our lives stays a bestseller for more than two years. And Hollywood, frequently seen as a den of iniquity, is courting a more spiritual audience in movies and TV.

Faith is the new must-have, evident when a major leaguer points skyward after his base hit, when a movie star credits the Big Guy for his Oscar, when the Justice Department backs the display of the Ten Commandments at two state capitols, and when it defends the Salvation Army's requirement that employees embrace Jesus Christ.

So where does that leave the fraction of Americans who define themselves as godless? Although the percentage of Americans who claim no religion is about 14%, less than a quarter of them identify themselves as atheists, according to recent polls.

Some are using humor to cope, such as actress Julia Sweeney in her one-woman play Letting Go of God, which ran in Los Angeles for several months this year. "It's really because I take you so seriously," she tells an imaginary God, "that I can't believe in you."

Others see the future as a time when nonbelievers are outcasts and religion dictates law, social protocol, even private life.

"The McCarthy era is the last time this climate existed," says Simi Valley resident Stuart Bechman, co-president of Atheists United, a local affiliate of Atheist Alliance International.

Although the comparison sounds melodramatic, atheist activists believe the climate to be so perilous that they're considering something drastic: unity.

Atheists aren't by nature of one mind. There's a godless organization for every wrinkle of nonbelief — the prayer-never-hurt-anyone, live-and-let-live atheists; the prove-the-God-fearing-world-wrong, keep-America-secular atheists; and the contrarian I-don't-believe-in-God-but-don't-call-me-an-atheist atheists.

Fear, however, is a great motivator, and politically active atheists know that they need an advocate in government to be heard. Unfortunately, as one activist noted, most politicians are as eager to align with the godless ranks as they are to lobby for pedophiles. Hence the need for an image makeover.

Keen to cast off stereotypes of immorality, atheists are stressing their integrity, patriotism and respect for the faithful while staying true to their age-old commitment to the separation of church and state. Some even bristle at the terms "atheist" or "nonbeliever." Others have begun raising funds, lobbying politicians and building online communities.

There have been larger-scale actions as well. The first godless march on Washington drew thousands in fall 2002, and a few months later the Godless Americans Political Action Committee was formed. This year, an Inauguration Summit of 22 like-minded groups was held in Washington to stimulate cooperation days before Bush's swearing in. And this Veterans Day, so-called foxhole atheists (servicemen and women who are nonbelievers) will be honored in the capital.

If all goes as planned, says Ellen Johnson, longtime president of American Atheists, at least one presidential candidate will be courting their vote in 2008.

"We can't complain about what the religious do," she says. "All we have to do is copy their strategy."

Some among the nonbelievers say life is pretty good compared with decades past when violence was a common threat and professed nonbelievers were driven from their jobs and homes.

"I actually think it is getting better for atheists in the U.S., despite the religiosity of the current administration," Las Vegas atheist Clark Adams writes in an e-mail. "Many celebrities are on record as nonbelievers, and it's not too uncommon to see an atheist positively portrayed on TV or in movies."

Others, though, label this argument "denial." They're quick to reference the many atheists who so fear harassment that they join atheist groups anonymously and others who are cast out of their families, refused positions involving children or relieved of jobs because of their nonbelief.

It's this group that pushes the separation of church and state, a debate energized during the 1960s by legendary atheist activist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, who proclaimed herself "the most hated woman in America."

They reject the argument often cited by Christian activists that the nation's government was founded by Christians. They argue that although some of the authors of the Constitution may have been religious men, they consistently maintained a clear boundary between their faith and their government. They note that until the communist scare of the 1950s, "In God we trust" wasn't the national motto, nor did it appear on paper currency, and "under God" was absent from the Pledge of Allegiance.

They point out that Bush — who as Texas governor declared April 17, 2000, Jesus Day — has awarded religious "armies of compassion" and other faith-based groups more than $3 billion in public funds since 2003. And they feel the steel in remarks by former California Supreme Court Justice Janice Rogers Brown, now on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, who told Roman Catholic legal professionals in April that people of faith were embroiled in a "war" with secular humanists.

"I have been threatened with damnation so many times it's stupid," says Dave Silverman of Piscataway, N.J., communications director of American Atheists and founder of NoGodBlog.com. "The amount of intolerance in this country is staggering."

Atheists often keep quiet about their worldview. Some say that to volunteer their atheism offends believers.

"We have a social idea that it's rude," says Bobbie Kirkhart, Los Angeles-based president of Atheist Alliance International.

Others say it instantly taints society's perception of them.

Silverman says his 8-year-old daughter, who he says is also an atheist, has been taunted as a Satanist by some of her Christian playmates. Atheist United's Bechman says he usually receives hate mail or prank calls after he takes a stance on church-state issues. Los Angeles acting teacher and Thomas Jefferson impersonator Dale Reynolds says he's sometimes consoled by believers saddened by his lack of faith.

"It is the kind of thing that if you bring it up, there are ramifications," Reynolds says.

Still, there are those outspoken nonbelievers doing their best to influence the masses.

American Atheists' Johnson, whose national organization claims 2,200 members, is a regular on news talk shows. She is also executive director of the Godless Americans PAC, and meets with politicians to build awareness and support for church-state separation legislation. She helped organize the 2002 march on Washington and is organizing November's Atheists in Foxholes parade and ceremony. Yet, she acknowledges, atheism is a hard sell.

"The candidate is in an awkward position," she says. "They're wary to be endorsed by an atheist...We have to be able to deliver the votes to get them into office. I can't do that yet."

Mynga Futrell and Paul Geisert of Sacramento hope to change that with a new name and an online community. They founded the Brights' Net in 2003 to create a place for people who share "a worldview free from supernatural and mystical elements." They chose the term "brights" because, unlike "godless," "atheist" and "nonbeliever," it did not define them in religious terms. By creating this label, Futrell and Geisert hope to "level the playing field" and recast members of their community as independent thinkers who celebrate knowledge without identifying themselves as vociferous anti-theists.

They want to build a large, influential community, similar to MoveOn.org, to sway public opinion. So far, they say, there are Brights in more than 115 countries.

"There's this tremendous feeling of being a second-class citizen when you know you're patriotic and working for all kinds of good things for the country, and yet you're ranked with the pedophiles," Futrell says. "You have to have political influence in order to get cultural change of any kind."

If the politicians don't come, it doesn't hurt a cause to have a celebrity.

In 1999, then-Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura became a hero for the movement when he refused to endorse the National Day of Prayer and told Playboy magazine that organized religion was "a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."

Actress-writer Sweeney emerged this year as a sort of amiable advocate for nonbelief. Letting Go of God, which played at a small Hollywood theater, proved so popular that Sweeney is recording a CD of the performance, writing a book based on it and has plans to release it as a film.

Her show aims to entertain and disarm audiences as it traces Sweeney's path away from Catholicism.

In one scene, a Bible study class causes her to find the book outrageous and disturbing. She asks herself, "Is this one big practical joke?" Her skepticism isn't limited to one religion; after a journey to the Far East and a run-in with Deepak Chopra, she chooses science over faith because "for the first time, knowing too much didn't ruin it."

Breaking the news to her devout Catholic parents, however, didn't go well. Her father forbade her from attending his funeral. Her mother complained that "at least being gay is socially acceptable...Why can't you just say you're still searching?"

Sweeney didn't respond to interview requests, but on her blog at juliasweeney.com, she described the fallout of the recent publicity.

The mail was so voluminous and, she writes, "so outraged and so filled with hate" that on June 13 she decided to stop blogging for a while and has considered moving.

"I think I tried really hard not to be hateful in my monologue," she writes. "I tried to make a case for faith and show the struggle with compassion to all sides...I think I have a lot in common with Christians...because I think it's majorly important if someone is religious or not. Only I think it should be on the 'not' side."


Genesis 2.0e: Adam Descended from Apes?

They Blinded Me with Science: Pope B-16 has some 'splaining to do.

Scientists Ask Pope to Address Evolution

from International Herald Tribune

Three scientists, two of them Roman Catholic biologists, have asked Pope Benedict XVI to clarify the church's position on evolution in light of recent statements by Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, an influential theologian, that the modern theory of evolution may be incompatible with Catholic faith.

The scientists asked the pope to reaffirm statements on the subject by Pope John Paul II and others "that scientific rationality and the church's commitment to divine purpose and meaning in the universe were not incompatible."

It is crucial, they say in a letter, that "the Catholic Church not build a new divide, long ago eradicated, between the scientific method and religious belief."

Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, wrote the letter on behalf of himself and the two biologists, Francisco Ayala of the University of California at Irvine and Kenneth Miller of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Ayala is a former Dominican priest, and Miller is a Roman Catholic who has written on the reconciliation of science and faith. Krauss and Ayala said that they had spoken to other American scientists who are members of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and who supported their effort. The academy is a 400-year-old international nonsectarian organization.

Krauss said Tuesday that a copy of the letter was en route to the pope.

Schonborn's remarks, which appeared in an essay on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, were prompted in part by an essay that Krauss wrote in The Times in May on the compatibility of religion and evolution. In his essay, Schonborn, the archbishop of Vienna, said that the theory of evolution, as it is understood by scientists today, is not true.

So the Pope Says: Harry Potter? Evil

Pope Gives Potter the Finger (Thumbs Down)

from Cinescape

LifeSiteNews.com has obtained and made available online copies of two letters sent by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who was recently elected Pope, to a German critic of the Harry Potter novels. The note was a show of "support" for the critic's attack on J.K. Rowling's series of books.

Pope Benedict XVI had been concerned that earlier statements made by English press throughout the world had inaccurately proclaimed that Pope John Paul II approved of the Harry Potter novels. Apparently Benedict XVI has "expressed serious reservations about the novels" and he is bothered by the impression the Vatican approves the Potter novels. He feels that the books "corrupt the hearts of the young, preventing them from developing a properly ordered sense of good and evil, thus harming their relationship with God while that relationship is still in its infancy."


'What the Hell Is That?!'

Mystery 'Sex Change' Has Curious Flocking to Myanmar Monk-To-Be

from AFP

HLAING THAR YAR, Myanmar - Thin Sandar, a chicken seller in Myanmar, had always dreamed of being a man. When she inexplicably grew a penis last month, the 21-year-old treated it as an awe-inspiring omen - as have the thousands of stunned villagers who have traveled to a pagoda [temple] to see him.

"On the morning of the full moon day of June 21, I noticed my thing (sex organ) was not the same as before," Thin Sandar, who now goes by the male name Than Sein, told AFP in an interview at his home.

"And my breasts disappeared. So I called out and showed it all to my mom and dad. It was very strange."

Strange enough that he has attracted significant attention in this deeply superstitious country, where the unexplained can quickly be exalted to hold powerful spiritual significance.

Local villagers and other curious Myanmar nationals are flocking to the Aung Myay Thar Yar pagoda. Up to 400 gather at the pagoda each day, often in a courtyard under colorful umbrellas to ward off the sun's rays, waiting for the chance to talk with and touch Than Sein.

"I have never heard of anything like this, so I came to see him," 21-year-old housewife Thandar Win told AFP.

"If I was not married, then I too would want to become a man!"

People privately concede Than Sein is a hermaphrodite. Several medical experts have examined him, and he awaits test results from the central women's hospital.

But few have come forward with a medical explanation of the transformation as they await an official report by the health ministry, whose experts have also examined Than Sein.

"We can not say right now if she has really undergone a sudden gender change," said a township official who declined to be named, adding that Than Sein's birth certificate shows that he was born a girl. "Although some medical checkups have shown her to be a true man."

Hermaphrodites, also known as intersexuals, are often born with ambiguous genitalia, or have both testicular and ovarian tissue in a single person.

Medical doctor Aye Sanda Khaing put it in layman's terms in a local journal: "Her penis appeared at the site of her clitoris."

As he waits for the final test results, Than Sein said he firmly believed he had been transformed, and would enter the Buddhist monkhood for a period of time and seek spiritual contemplation and guidance before deciding whether to marry and raise a family.

"Whenever I went to the pagoda I prayed to become a man in my next life," he said.

"Now I'm happy because my dream won't have to wait until my next life, it's already come true."


Shadow Puppetry of the Jesus Shut Down

Chicago Officials Turn Off 'Jesus' Light

from The Associated Press

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. - City officials have turned off a streetlight that drew more than 250 people to see a shadow that some say resembles the image of Jesus Christ.

East Chicago Police Chief Angelo Machuca called an emergency meeting Sunday to recommend the light be turned off in the interest of public safety after nearby residents complained about blocked cars and visitors congregating until 5 a.m.

Several arrests were made Friday night after a large fight broke out in the area.

"The city respects everyone's religious beliefs, but it's getting to the point now where it's almost too dangerous" to leave the light on, said Damian Rico, the city's public relations director.

People have flocked to the site since Wednesday, when a woman first claimed to see the image on the side of a tree. The image is only visible at night when the streetlight near the tree is illuminated.

"The light will remain off until we can get some kind of solution," he said.


Damn Right I'm an Angel

What Mythological Creature Are You?
created with QuizFarm.com

You scored as angel. Angels are the guardians of all things, from the smallest ant to the tallest tree. They give inspiration, love, hope, and positive emotion. They live among humans without being seen. They are the good in all things, and if you feel alone, don't fear. They are always watching. Often times they merely stand by, whispering into the ears of those who feel lost. They would love nothing more then to reveal themselves, but in today's society, this would bring havoc and many unneeded questions. Give thanks to all things beautiful, for you are an Angel.














Pentagon Told Hands Off Boy Scouts

Pentagon Barred From Funding Boy Scouts

from United Press International

Chicago - The Pentagon has been barred from contributing funds to a summer Boy Scout function because of the religious aspect of the Boy Scouts of America.

U.S. District Judge Blanche Manning apparently accepted arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union and two Chicago-area religious leaders that the Boy Scouts shouldn't receive the funding because public funds should not be given to groups that exclude people who do not swear an oath to God, the Chicago Sun-Times reported Friday.

The plaintiffs claimed no other youth organizations could compete for the same monies.

The Boy Scouts countered that the group is not controlled by an organized religion and that participation in religious aspects of the Jamboree is voluntary.

Creationism Aborted from Tulsa Zoo

Board Nixes Creationism Show at Oklahoma Zoo

from Associated Press

Tulsa, Okla. - A city board reversed direction on Thursday and rejected plans to add a creationist exhibit to the Tulsa Zoo.

Board members voted 3-1 against installing an exhibit on the origin of life from the Bible. The vote, made at a special meeting of the board, reversed a June 7 decision to add a Genesis story to the zoo.

Dale McNamara, who voted against the display at the June meeting and again on Thursday, told the packed house of onlookers that she carefully considered her vote.

"My 'no' vote was, on reflection, absolutely correct," she said.

As one of only nine "living museums" in the country, the Tulsa Zoo should develop displays that explain the cultural significance of animals, McNamara said. She said an elephant-like stone statue of a Hindu god near the elephant exhibit fit within that mission.

The statue has been one of the key items in the fight over Genesis display. Tulsa resident Dan Hicks had argued for the creationism display as a balance to other religious items at the zoo.

Hicks, an architect, had agreed to pay for a Genesis exhibit and came to Thursday's meeting with a 5-foot by 3-foot plan for the display as he envisioned it.

Hicks said he wasn't pleased by the board's solution on Thursday.

"This board has deviated from their past practice of allowing religious displays to be erected at the Tulsa zoo without censorship by voting today to censor the Genesis account of creation and in doing so has stepped on the constitutional liberties of Tulsa taxpayers," Hicks said.

The board's original decision to include a biblical story on the Earth's origin had divided residents and thrown Tulsa into the national spotlight.

In the meantime, Hicks said the zoo continues to have a representation of a Hindu god, a globe sculpture that promotes pantheism, and a Maasai display that contains the equivalent of posting Scripture. Presenting this material represented an affront to the majority Christian population of Tulsa.


Believe It Or Rot: The Museum of Science Fiction & Supernatural History

The Newborn Earth, 6,000 Years Ago, Kentucky, About 2pm...: And on the 6th day, God created man, and then the dinosaurs, who immediately died laughing. And God saw that it was good. Then he noticed Adam had been crushed by the falling reptiles. God said "D'oh!" At about 10pm, God created Adam 2. (With a damp cloth and some soda water, Adam 1 cleaned up nicely.) On the 7th day, after a nap and some mac & cheese, God awoke with a silly, silly gleam in his eye and created rocks millions of years older than the earth itself, hiding the dead dinosaurs under them. And God saw that it was good - in fact, better than good, goddam hysterical. God laughed until milk shot out of this nose. "Jesus Christ! That is sooooo gonna fuck with them!"

Creation Museum Being Built in Kentucky

from FOXNews

BOONE COUNTY, Ky. — A new museum being built in Kentucky will have some of the classic staples of natural history museums — dinosaurs, fossils and a mineral collection. But it will also have something most museums don't: a viewpoint based solely on the Bible.

"We wanted to present an alternative, a scientific alternative to the natural history museums, which present evolution as fact," explained Mark Looy, spokesman for Answers in Genesis, the Australia-based group building the Creation Museum.

Challenging a widely held belief of modern scientists, the museum founders aim to counter the notion that man evolved from apes.

"We believe that dinosaurs were created alongside of man on day six of creation," said Looy. "They did not die out 65 million years ago."

Critics such as the Rev. Mendle Adams, pastor of St. Peter's United Church of Christ in nearby Cincinnati, say museum leaders are twisting Bible verses to support an agenda.

"It's silly. It's a silly, silly argument," said Adams. "They use what I consider to be a flawed analysis of Scripture."

But the Creation Museum is getting a great deal of support. Millions of dollars in donations have come in from around the world.

The money's been used to build a theater, a planetarium and a nature trail on 50 acres of land, all focused on teaching the Bible in some way.

Half a million visitors a year are expected. That worries many scientists, who say the museum will attempt to undo a person's scientific education.

"They're pretty much saying that scientists around the world have colluded to pretty much lie to people," said Dr. William Anyonge, a paleontologist and assistant professor of biology at Xavier University in Cincinnati. "I think that is really a slander to science."

The museum plans to open in the spring of 2007.


What Do Nazis, the KKK & the Religious Right Have in Common? Hate

If the Hood Fits...: "They seek to discredit groups like [us] precisely because our message is resonating with the public, so they have to smear us, put words in our mouths and liken us to the Klan and Nazis to direct attention away from the fact that their radical agenda is being exposed and repudiated by the American people. They're vilifying pro-family groups in order to energize their base of washed-up hippies and tree-hugging environmental extremists." Gee, you're right. You aren't a hate group. Our bad.

Christian 'Hate Groups' Accused of 'Anti-Gay Crusade'

from CNSNews

A civil rights organization that has spent the last 25 years monitoring "hate groups" and "extremists" such as the Ku Klux Klan now has a new target - the religious right - which the group claims is conducting a "holy war" against homosexuals.

In the current issue of its quarterly magazine Intelligence Report, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) contends that "religious leaders have engaged in 30 years of name-calling and bogus 'science' in their attack on gays. But only now is their crusade reaching biblical proportions."

In response, the spokesman for one pro-family group said it's the SPLC that is guilty of "engaging in hate speech." Another conservative said his group wears the criticism from the SPLC as a "badge of honor."

Along with an article on "Curious Cures" for homosexuality and a feature on the myth that homosexuals helped mastermind the Holocaust, the SPLC's latest Intelligence Report contains a timeline of the "anti-gay movement" from Anita Bryant's efforts to repeal a "gay rights" ordinance in Florida in 1977 to the present.

In an editorial, SPLC spokesman Mark Potok asserted that "the religiously-based crusade against homosexuals in America" reached a turning point in 2003, when the U.S. Supreme Court's Lawrence v. Texas decision struck down state anti-sodomy laws.

Since then, the Christian right has increased fund raising and poured millions of dollars into TV, newspaper and radio ads, including during last year's successful campaign to pass constitutional amendments in 13 states to define marriage as between one man and one woman. More such measures are set to go before voters in November of 2006.

Potok in his editorial also charged that leaders of the religious right were guilty of using "bully-boy tactics" such as "cruel name-calling." The contention of many Christians, that they hate the sin but love the sinner, is "a hard one to swallow," according to Potok. "When perpetrators of hate crimes against gays use identical words to describe their victims, you have to wonder where it began," he states.

Under the heading, "A Mighty Army," the SPLC's Intelligence Report lists "a dozen of today's most influential anti-gay groups" that it claims "help drive the religious right's anti-gay crusade." The list includes the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family.

"Fundamentalist Christians have every right to their views of religion," Potok states. "But when they use that right to launch vicious personal attacks on an entire group based on characteristics that most scientists see as immutable, they poison the political debate and subject the objects of their scorn to the very real possibility of violence and even death.

"And that can only damage a healthy democratic society," Potok adds.

According to its website, the Southern Poverty Law Center "was founded in 1971 as a small civil rights law firm." Today, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization "is internationally known for its tolerance education programs, its legal victories against white supremacists, and its tracking of hate groups."

Cybercast News Service contacted representatives of several organizations on the SPLC's list, and most agreed with Tim Wildmon, president of the American Family Association, that "the company looks pretty good to me from here.

"I would use different terminology" than the center does, he said, "but to the extent that we oppose the homosexual social and political agenda and were named by this group, we wear it as a badge of honor."

Wildmon stated that the list represents "the pro-family movement in America today" and added that the AFA "joins those groups in standing up for traditional marriage and traditional family values."

Robert Knight, director of the Culture Family Institute for Concerned Women for America (CWA), accused the SPLC of "engaging in hate speech" against people they disagree with because they're "less concerned with poverty than in advancing a radical left-wing agenda on all fronts.

"They seek to discredit groups like CWA precisely because our message is resonating with the public," he said, "so they have to smear us, put words in our mouths and liken us to the Klan and Nazis to direct attention away from the fact that their radical agenda is being exposed and repudiated by the American people."

Melissa Fryrear, gender issues analyst for Focus on the Family, took a different view of her organization's inclusion on the SPLC's list.

"The real issue is what we're for," Fryrear said, "and we're for marriage being what it's been for 6,000 years - a man and a woman for a lifetime and not being redefined by judicial activists."

Fryrear also disagreed with the contention that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic. "I'm a former homosexual," she noted. "There are tens of thousands of men and women who have overcome homosexuality, who know first-hand that it's not an immutable characteristic, so it cannot be equated to race or gender."

Knight from CWA conceded that the SPLC will probably benefit from taking on the religious right: "They're vilifying pro-family groups in order to energize their base of washed-up hippies and tree-hugging environmental extremists."