FaithWorld

U.K. academic says Easter date can now be fixed

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(The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, 1498)

The Last Supper took place on a Wednesday — a day earlier than thought — and a date for Easter can now be fixed, according to a Cambridge University scientist aiming to solve one of the Bible’s most enduring contradictions.

Christians have marked Jesus’ final meal on Maundy Thursday for centuries but thanks to the rediscovery of an ancient Jewish calendar, Professor Colin Humphreys suggests another interpretation.

“I was intrigued by Biblical stories of the final week of Jesus in which no one can find any mention of Wednesday. It’s called the missing day,” Humphreys told Reuters. “But that seemed so unlikely: after all Jesus was a very busy man.”

His findings help explain a puzzling inconsistency between the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, who said the Last Supper coincided with Passover and John, who said the meal took place before the Jewish holy day commemorating the Exodus from Egypt.

Read the full story here.

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Almost two million vanish from Obama’s estimate of U.S. Muslims

dawn-front-page002 (Dawn front page for Sunday, 21 June 2009)

Almost two million people have inexplicably disappeared from the estimates of the U.S. Muslim population that President Barack Obama has given recently. In his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo on June 4, he spoke about “nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today.” On Sunday, the Karachi daily Dawn published an interview with him where he said “we have five million Muslims.”

There was no explanation for the change, but his reason for citing the figure seemed to be the same. Shortly before his Cairo speech, Obama told the French television channel Canal Plus that “one of the points I want to make is, is that if you actually took the number of Muslim Americans, we’d be one of the largest Muslim countries in the world.” He cited no figure there but mentioned seven million in Cairo three days later.

Many blogs, FaithWorld included, questioned that figure and noted that estimates of the U.S. Muslim population range from 1.8 to 7-8 million. The U.S. Census Bureau cannot ask about religion on a mandatory basis but refers on its website to a Pew Forum study pegging Muslims at 0.6% of the population. The CIA World Factbook uses the same percentage figure. It translates into about 1.8 million.

U.S. ideology stable, “culture trench warfare” ahead?

The U.S. Democratic Party has gained a larger following over the past two decades but America’s ideological landscape has remained largely unchanged over the past two decades, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. You can see the analysis here.

What is of interest for readers of this blog may be the implications of this “cultural trench warfare” — with neither side gaining much ground from the other — for red-hot social issues such as abortion rights and the future prospects for both the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Democratic Party’s advantage in party identification has widened over the past two decades, but the share of Americans who describe their political views as liberal, conservative or moderate has remained stable during the same period. Only about one-in-five Americans currently call themselves liberal (21 percent), while 38 percent say they are conservative and 36 percent describe themselves as moderate. This is virtually unchanged from recent years; when George W. Bush was first elected president, 18 percent of Americans said they were liberal, 36 percent were conservative and 38 percent considered themselves moderate,” the report, released late on Tuesday, says.

Pew report looks at media coverage of faith in U.S. election

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and its sister organization The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have just released a study on the media coverage of religion in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. A summary of the findings with links to the whole report can be found here.

“Religion played a much more significant role in the media coverage of President-elect Barack Obama than it did in the press treatment of Republican nominee John McCain during the 2008 presidential campaign, but much of the coverage related to false yet persistent rumors that Obama is a Muslim,” Pew said.

It added that there was scant scrutiny of the role of personal faith in the shaping of the candidates’ political values with the exception of Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

WashPost column: “Armband religion killing Republican Party”

Has religion turned into a vote loser in U.S. elections? In covering the U.S. presidential campaign, most analysts took religion as an important vote-getting factor and asked which candidate was appealing most to which religious group. Much was made about how the Democrats were more comfortable with “Godtalk” on the trail.

Now Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker has asked whether religion has turned into a serious vote loser for the more faith-friendly party, the Republicans:

“The evangelical, right-wing, oogedy-boogedy branch of the GOP is what ails the erstwhile conservative party and will continue to afflict and marginalize its constituents if reckoning doesn’t soon cometh. Simply put: Armband religion is killing the Republican Party … the GOP has surrendered its high ground to its lowest brows. In the process, the party has alienated its non-base constituents, including other people of faith (those who prefer a more private approach to worship), as well as secularists and conservative-leaning Democrats who otherwise might be tempted to cross the aisle.”

A new twist on the “Is Obama a Christian?” debate

The “Is Obama a Christian?” discussion is starting up again, this time not by people who suspect he’s a Muslim but those who think he’s a phony follower of Jesus Christ. The occasion for this is the posting on Beliefnet of an interview he gave to the Chicago Sun Times in 2004, while he was still an Illinois state senator. Conservative Christians have taken his religious views as proof he’s not a real Christian, but there’s support from a more liberal corner for his views.

That there is disagreement isn’t really a surprise. Theologians have been debating who is a Christian almost since the dawn of the faith and still dispute where the dividing lines lie. What is more interesting is that critics are picking apart his views — or purported views — on theological issues that have no obvious importance for his job as president. (Photo: Obama at Apostolic Church of God in Chicago, June 15, 2008/John Gress)

Bloggers Joe Carter and Rod Dreher read in Obama’s interview a denial of the Nicene Creed since he called Jesus “a bridge between God and man” rather than clearly saying he is the Son of God (hat tip to Steve Waldman). “Unless Obama was being incredibly and uncharacteristically inarticulate, this is heterodox. You cannot be a Christian in any meaningful sense and deny the divinity of Jesus Christ. You just can’t,” Dreher writes. Has Obama denied the divinity of Jesus Christ here? That’s not clear here. Another point that Carter notes is that he doesn’t believe that people who have not embraced Jesus as their personal saviour will automatically go to hell. “I can’t imagine that my God would allow some little Hindu kid in India who never interacts with the Christian faith to somehow burn for all eternity. That’s just not part of my religious makeup,” he said.

Did Muslim rumours, terrorism DVD actually help Obama?

Did the “Obama-is-a- Muslim” whisper campaign energise Muslim voters to turn out en masse for him? Did the widely circulated DVD “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West” actually end up helping him at the polls? That seems to be the case, our Chicago religion writer Mike Conlon reports in this analysis.

“Unpublished polling data indicated that the Democratic President-elect got somewhere between 67 percent and 90 percent of the Muslim vote, probably nearer the higher end, Ahmed Younis of Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, said in a telephone briefing,” Conlon writes.

“Mukit Hossain, executive director of the Muslim American Political Action Committee, said at the briefing that support for Obama among Muslims ‘changed dramatically’ in the last three to four weeks of the campaign ‘when people started calling Obama a terrorist’ in the crowds at Republican rallies.”

Muslims and the U.S. election — two sobering reminders

Muslims protest against Iraq war at Republican convention in St. Paul 1 Sept 2008/Damir SagoljTwo Reuters colleagues in the United States have written sobering accounts of the place of Muslims and Islam in the U.S. presidential election campaign.

“These are uneasy times for America’s Muslims, caught in a backwash from a presidential election campaign where the false notion that Barack Obama is Muslim has been seized on by some who link Islam with terrorism,” writes Chicago religion writer Mike Conlon in “Sour note for American Muslims in election campaign.”

“Incidents during the U.S. presidential election campaign, now in its final sprint towards November 4, show that fear and suspicion of Muslims persist undiminished and are being used as a political weapon,” writes Washington columnist Bernd Debusmann in “In U.S. elections, fear of Muslims.”

Storm in a cappuccino cup? 106-year-old nun supports Obama

Sister Cecelia Gaudette/CBS photoSister Cecilia Gaudette is an American Catholic nun who is spunky despite her 106 years.  She was born in Manchester, New Hampshire on March 25, 1902 — when Republican Teddy Roosevelt was president  — and has been living (until recently) in obscurity in a convent in Rome.  The last time she voted was in 1952, for Dwight Eisenhower, another Republican. Now she is voting for Barack Obama. Read the Reuters story here and watch the CBS video to find out why.

Not surprisingly, the blogosphere has reacted with both praise and condemnation for Gaudette for backing a candidate who supports abortion rights.  Some readers even see the story as a kind of covert media campaigning for Obama. Last month a Roman Catholic with a much higher profile,  Archbishop Raymond Burke, a senior American official at the Vatican, caused a stir when he said the Democratic Party risked becoming a “party of death” because of its choices on abortion, embryonic stem cells and other bioethical questions.

With the Obama button on her habit and little American flag in hand, Sister Cecelia seems to be a perfect subject for a nice little story. Is that all this is? Or do you think her critics are right to read much more into this?

U.S. Catholic Democrats and the “party of death” charge

Catholic Democrats logoWith the charge about the “party of death” still ringing in its ears, a group called Catholic Democrats has issued a Q&A on abortion setting out its case that faithful Roman Catholics can vote for Barack Obama despite his consistent pro-choice record. Catholic Democrats makes the same argument as the Matthew 25 network, i.e. that Democratic policies would actually reduce the abortion rate, which spiked under Republicans in the 1980s, fell during the Clinton administration and have leveled off — and may have begun rising again — in the Bush administration.

Archbishop Raymond Burke/Archdiocese of St. LouisFormer St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, who is now prefect of the Vatican’s Supreme Court of the Apostolic Signature, told an Italian newspaper two weeks ago that the Democrats risked becoming the “party of death” for their support for abortion rights. Other U.S. bishops have criticised two prominent Catholic Democrats — vice presidential candidate Joe Biden and House speaker Nancy Pelosi — for suggesting the Catholic Church was anything but totally against abortion.

Catholic Democrats cites the bishops’ own guidebook, “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” to stress that Catholics should not be one-issue voters and could vote for a candidate if his overall platform is morally good, despite a pro-choice plank that the Church regards as intrinsically evil. “If the only difference between two candidates is that one is pro-life and the other is pro-choice, then a pro-life voter should obviously vote for a pro-life candidate,” Catholic Democrats says. “However, elections are never so clear cut. Republican and Democratic candidates differ on many issues: healthcare, the war, the economy.”