Religion News Blog Roundup for Feb. 4, 2008

“RNB Roundup” is a collection of clippings, snippets, links, commentary and other items that, in one way or another, relate to the topics normally covered in Religion News Blog.

Note: This page may grow throughout the day€¦ Too, linked items may be online for a limited time only. Get them while they’re hot.


Advanced Warning!
We start off with a serious heads-up. You’ve got 330 days left until New Year’s Eve. (That isn’t it).
It’s also 330 days — and, at the time of this writing, 12 hours, 44 minutes, and 32 seconds — Until Mohammed’s Image (That’s it).
See links at the bottom of this item for more info.


No Jokes, Please. We’re Scientologists.

Kirstie Alley, a well-known member of Hollywood’s Scientology clan, had her lawyer sent off a letter to gossip mag UsWeekly, demanding that they drop one of their fashion critics over a quip she made about Scientology.

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In the January 7, 2008 issue of UsWeekly, fashion critic Danico Lo critiqued a silver suit that Nicole Kidman wore to the Golden Compass premiere. Commenting on the outfit in the “Fashion Police” section she said: “Bonus: This specially designed suit repels Scientologists.”

Nicole Kidman was once married to Tom Cruise, arguably the world’s most famous Scientologist. The two divorced in 2001, after nearly a decade of marriage. Catholic born Nicole never embraced Tom’s religion.

In a letter sent to UsWeekly, Kirstie Alley’s lawyer, Barry Felsen, wrote:

“Ms. Lo should be discharged for her narrow-minded comment. You should apologize and commit to a thorough examination of why you have chosen to foster animosity and bias against Scientologists.”

Apparently he and Kirstie recognize that the comment was “attempting to be sarcastic and funny”, but says that the comment “[perpetuates] the unfair prejudice against Scientologists.”

Well, we play a fair game, and thus warn Scientologists not to look at these Scientology cartoons, the Scientology parody graphics, or this collection of Scientology humor.
Did I say ‘fair game‘? Let’s hope they don’t claim doing so is a copyright violation.
Researchers Launch ‘Pseudo-Scientology Website’

A new online research group called PseudoScientology is serving up a large helping of spiritual resources and practical information at

“We’ve seen our web traffic increase wildly in recent days, with visitors checking us out from every continent,” said Dr. J.D. Hunter, webmaster and religious studies professor. Built around a WordPress blog format, the site features a variety of newsworthy posts on its blog page and a growing library of religious essays and other writings. Many of the resources are meant for general comparative religious study, but one of the site’s primary purposes is to use philosophical concepts, as well as Christian theology, to debate the claims of Scientologist practitioners and provide an open forum for reasonable dialogue.
Press release

Money, Money, Money

2008 Salary Review for the Top 20 Christian Ministers
We could have gone from Scientology straight to “Making up your own religion”, but we’ll detour via the equally appropriate topic of money. Bernie Dehler writes:

I just finished a quick salary review of the top 20 Christian ministry leaders. What is a “top leader?” It is defined as one of the top 20 leaders of a ministry that brings in the most money (revenue).

His survey can be found at, er,, along with follow-up posts.
The Christian Research Institute, which recently had a defamation lawsuit against one of its critics thrown out of court (a costly affair), is near the top of the list. If you follow this link in the article to a previous report, total compensation for Hank Hanegraaff and his wife appears to be even higher than listed in the recent survey.
No one would claim that a workman is not worthy of his hire. However, the Bible does have something to say about people who “think that Godliness is a means to financial gain.”

Religion Trends

Make up your own religion
If you asked college students in an introductory religion course to create their own faith, what might you get? That is the question Stephen Prothero, the chair of Boston University’s Department of Religion and the author of Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know — And Doesn’t, asked himself. Brace yourself for a longish quote:

Religions seem ancient, and many are. But they all began somewhere, and a considerable number began in the USA. The most successful new religious movements of the 19th and 20th centuries — Mormonism and Scientology — were both “made in America.” And according to J. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of American Religion, Americans continue to pump out new religions at a rate of about 40 to 50 per year.

For the past two years, I have asked students in my introductory religion courses at Boston University to get together in groups and invent their own religions. They present their religious creations to their classmates, and then everyone votes (with fake money in a makeshift offering plate) for the new religions they like best. This assignment encourages students to reflect on what separates “winners” and “losers” in America’s freewheeling spiritual marketplace. It also yields intriguing data regarding what sort of religious beliefs and practices young people love and hate.

The new religious concoctions my students stir up might seem to mirror the diversity of American religion itself. Students tantalize one another with a religion (Dessertism) that preaches the stomach as the way to the soul, another (The Congregation of Wisdom) that honors Jeopardy! phenom Ken Jennings as its patron saint, and yet another (Exetazo) dedicated to sorting out the pluses and minuses of all the other religions so you can find a faith tailored to your own unique personality.

What strikes me most about my students’ religions, however, is how similar they are. Almost invariably, they mix fun with faith. (Facebookismianity anyone?) But they do not mix faith with dogma. My students are careful — exceedingly careful — not to tell one another what to believe, or even what to do. Above all, they want to be tolerant and non-judgmental. Most of the religions my students developed were fully compatible with other religions.

They made few demands, either intellectually or morally. Repeatedly, their founders stress that you can join their religion without leaving Catholicism or Judaism or Islam behind.

Yes, the religions that students conjure up in my courses tend toward vagueness and relativism. Often they seek to entertain as much as to enlighten. But because they are invented rather than inherited, these religious creations provide a glimpse into the concerns and convictions, hopes and fears of young Americans, who are slouching not toward Bethlehem or even atheism, but toward new ways of being religious — innovative ways that ancient religions ignore at their peril.
– More: Is religion losing the millennial generation?


Mitt Romney’s Mormon detour
Speaking of making up your own religion — which is exactly what Mormon Church founder Joseph Smith did — Salon writes about Mitt Romney’s visit to the funeral of the LDS Church’s president and “prophet”:

There’s never a good time for a funeral, but the one Mitt Romney went to Saturday may have been particularly inopportune. In the closing stage of a campaign where he has tried his hardest to manage scrutiny of his faith, Mitt Romney, candidate for president, pulled himself off the campaign trail for the morning and became Mitt Romney, grieving Mormon.

But the way Romney’s campaign handled his visit betrayed a more complicated set of calculations. Attending the funeral was, in some ways, an even more public declaration of his faith than Romney’s heavily hyped speech on religion in December; there was no on-message way for him to frame the service for a man Mormons called, in addition to president, “prophet, seer and revelator.” Barely 170 years after the religion burst into existence, it still apparently makes some mainstream Christians squeamish enough that only Mormon bigwigs in national politics (Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada; Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt, attending on behalf of President Bush; Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett) came to the service. Compare that to the scene three years ago, when Catholic and Protestant elected officials alike made a big show of flocking to Rome to see Pope John Paul II buried, and you can understand how the visit posed a dilemma for Romney.

His campaign didn’t exactly go out of its way to play up his trip this week. Media advisories announcing his schedule for the weekend covered a campaign stop in Denver Friday afternoon and a swing through Minneapolis Saturday night, but only reporters traveling with the campaign got the details of the funeral. He came and went through an underground garage, leaving his press entourage behind, and stayed at his son Josh’s house near Salt Lake City Friday night. The church-owned Deseret Morning News led Saturday’s paper with Romney’s visit to the state — giving it more attention than his own campaign did.

Aides said that was a sign of respect, not concern.
– More at Salon (May require registration or the viewing of an ad)

Quick Links

Confessions of a Recovering Pharisee (see how the blog got that name)

• Steve Beard’s dream dinner companions are “Elvis, Mother Teresa, Joey Ramone, Tony Hawk, John Wimber, Martin Luther King Jr., Bono, John Wesley, Ben Stein, John Lee Hooker, Ronald Reagan.” No wonder Thunderstruck his blog — which, along with some relevant quotes, consists of links to culture stories with a religion/spiritual edge — is every bit as interesting.

Regarding the Advanced Warning posted at the start of this Roundup:

Q&A: Depicting the Prophet Muhammad (BBC)
Does Islam really prohibit images of religious figures? (Slate)
Images of Mohammed (Google search)

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