Religion Dispatches: WikiLeaks Strikes the Vatican, a Camel in the Pews, and Luke Skywalker Tolerance

A Catholic nun with a gambling habit (no pun intended) pled not guilty to accusations that she embezzled over $850,000 from New York’s Iona College. She worked in the school’s finance office.

In West Palm Beach, Florida, a camel fell into pews full of spectators during a church nativity play. No people or animals were injured, though the camel will not be part of the Christmas pageant when it opens this weekend. A donkey and sheep will still take part. Elsewhere in Florida, a dispute in Boca Raton is raising questions about whether or not a menorah is a religious symbol. But the Loudon County Courthouse in Virginia stands out as a beacon of winter solstice tolerance. The courthouse grounds features ten different displays ranging from Nativities to atheist displays to Luke Skywalker.

Nothing says Christmas quite like an $11 million Christmas tree.

WikiLeaks is giving the Vatican some problems. Confidential cables released by the website claim that the Vatican pressured Ireland to grant immunity to church officials involved in the clergy abuse investigation and is responsible for hostilities toward Turkey in its bid to join the European Union. The cable states that “allowing a Muslim country into the EU would further weaken [then Cardinal Ratzinger’s] case for Europe’s Christian foundations.” In Ecuador, a Polish Catholic missionary was beaten to death with a crucifix. And in Phoenix, Arizona, the bishop is threatening to strip St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center of its Catholic status over a disputed abortion procedure.

So, apparently, former President George W. Bush was sloshed the first time he met Billy Graham. He had had “about four beers and five wines.” Well done, sir.

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Things Sacred & Profane: New FRC study, Star Wars Nativity, and Evangelical Environmentalism

- The conservative Family Research Council is jumping into the indices game. It’s soon to be released Index of Family Belonging and Rejection is an attempt to measure the health of families in our society. The study defines an ‘intact family’ as one where “a child’s birth mother and biological father (were) legally married to one another since before or around the time of the child’s birth.”

- Another story at USAToday about the recession’s impact on church collection plates.

- A Star Wars display appears next to a traditional nativity and eight other holiday set ups in a Virginia town.

- Evangelical environmentalism has reached a critical point–how aggressive and how far to the left should it be?

- A historian’s approach to WikiLeaks.

Religion Dispatches: Julian Assange Nativity, Castro’s Hanukkah, & a Burger Blessing

Jesus will return on May 21, according to a billboard in Omaha. He really can’t get here before tax day?

The Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights sent nativity scenes to all 50 state governors. WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is represented in nativity scenes in Naples, Italy. A Dallas, Texas megachurch pastor is compiling a list of business that fail to recognize Christmas and instead settle for ‘Happy Holidays.’ Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma is taking a stand in the war on Christmas by trying to keep the “Christ” in “Christmas parade.” And the three wise men may have been from China.

Always striving to sink to ever lower levels of human decency, the Westboro Baptist Church says it will picket Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral.

According to the latest WikiLeaks dump, Saudi Arabian King Abdullah once criticized themutaween, who enforce Islamic behavior in his country, for treating people like donkeys. He said they take a stick and hit you with it, saying “Come donkey, it’s time to pray.” A new survey of Muslims around the world reveals mixed feelings about Hamas and Hezbollah but an outright rejection of al Qaeda by the majority of Muslims.

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Religion Nerd: WikiLeaks and the Sacrality of American National Security

It seems like everyday a new story emerges from the hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables recently released by WikiLeaks. In the wake of Cablegate, WikiLeaks has found its site shutdown, its services from Amazon and Paypal refused, and its founder arrested. On one level this is to be expected. If you go around poking governmental bee hives you will get stung by very large angry governmental bees. But there seems to be something more going on here, at least to me. Every criticism and act of suppression against WikiLeaks always contains the same phrase: national security. The leaks are a threat to national security. But what do we talk about when we talk about national security?

National Security is a religious cult in the United States. It’s a cult in the anthropological sense—a combination of rituals and beliefs that a society holds sacred. It encompasses everything from war to legislation to surveillance to rhetoric. It relates to matters of life and death. It is sacred because it is a cult shared across our society and a cult that reflects America back to Americans. It is a force that binds American society together. We maintain National Security because we are American and we are American because we maintain National Security. It is woven into our national and social identity. Like religious cults from other cultures, National Security relies on secrecy, violence, mythology and morality for its sacred power. Through its online revelations, WikiLeaks poses a risk to all four of these sacred characteristics.

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The Art of Mary, Assange in a Manger, and sacrilege at the Smithsonian

One of my favorite religious historians, Robert Orsi, has gotten into some hot water with R. R. Reno over at First Things. Orsi wrote this brief statement regarding the “Contending Modernities” project at Notre Dame University. Reno responded here and then again here. It seems to me Reno is questioning who gets to decided what counts as Catholic Studies and just what kind of Catholics can do it.

Mary, in the Glass Coffin of the Museum moves between the spiritual and the artistic and back again.

Peter Berger writes about The Social Mission of the U.S. Catholic Church by Father Charles Curran.

WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange is the newest addition to the Naples nativity scene. Look for a dump of classified documents from St. Luke’s Gospel in the near future.

Video: National Portrait Gallery’s director on ‘sacrilege’ and the controversial Hide/Seek exhibit