RNB Roundup for May 15, 2008: Penthouse Christian Dating, Einstein vs. God, Narnia for Dummies, the Seeker-Sensitive Mega Church Guy, and more…

“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: Linked items may be online for a limited time only. Get them while they’re hot.

Christian Dating — brought to you by Penthouse

Hot on the heels of news items about — as NPR put it — “The Joy of Christian Sex Toys,” a pastor issuing a 30-day sex challenge for his congregation, and the launch of a so-called Christian sex magazine, the May 19, 2008, issue of Newsweek tells us that Penthous (yes, that Penthouse) is in the Christian dating business:

Christian dating web site BigChurch.com’s motto is “Bringing people together in love and faith.” A pointed quote from the Old Testament (“A man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Gen. 2:24) precedes the site’s Bible-verse search library. Further testimonial from a fresh-faced woman leaves little doubt as to the site’s higher purpose: “I feel like my prayers of finding a respectable man have been answered! Thanks BigChurch!!”

So it may surprise users that BigChurch.com has a decidedly promiscuous corporate parent: Penthouse Media Group Inc. At a time when ever-raunchier Internet porn has made such mainstream mags as Penthouse and Playboy seem like throwbacks to more innocent times, these well-established brands have been trying to diversify and reinvent themselves.

Bankrupt and racked with debt, Penthouse was acquired in 2004 by a group of investors led by entrepreneur Marc Bell. Bell’s agenda for revitalizing the company evolved significantly last December when Penthouse acquired social-network behemoth Various, Inc. for $500 million in cash and stock. Operating well under the media radar compared with other social-networking companies like Facebook and MySpace, Various, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., has a deceptively broad and profitable reach. Its subsidiaries now include a number of online dating sites—from BigChurch.com to Bondage.com—that have signed up a combined 250 million members since they were founded and 1.2 million current subscribers who pay for content. Its biggest, AdultFriendFinder.com—which bills itself as “the world’s largest adult sex and swingers site”—is one of the most highly trafficked Web sites in the world with more than 18 million members, the company says. Bell says in the coming months Penthouse Media Group will be renamed FriendFinder Networks, Inc., and he plans to take the company public by the end of the year. The Penthouse brand will be a well-known but admittedly smaller arm of the company. “Penthouse is just another Web site. We are in the social-networking business. We are not in the business of Penthouse,” Bell says.

The company’s strategy is to use its technology platform—and its well-established network of 600,000 online affiliates that link to its sites—to support a potentially unlimited number of sites catering to daters, friend seekers and adult-content consumers around the world.
– Source: Jennifer Ordoñez, Internet porn is forcing adult magazines to diversify their business, NEWSWEEK, May 19, 2008

Virgin Mary Tracker

Today the Virgin Mary is in Brooksville, Florida, where her image has appeared in a rock. Next stop: eBay

It’s sort of like that grilled cheese sandwich with the image of the Virgin Mary on it.

Only it isn’t edible.

It’s a fine-grained rock, allegedly created by nature and found by Brooksville resident Dena Patterson, who hopes to cash in on the rock by auctioning it off on eBay.

Patterson, 79, stumbled upon the rock when walking through the woods in West Virginia in 1996. She found it near a stream, where water had apparently poured over it and formed the image of a veiled Mary cradling the baby Jesus in her arms.

She knows about the other highly-publicized sales of unexpected Virgin Mary collectibles: For example, the 10-year-old grilled cheese sandwich that sold for $28,000 or the pretzel that sold for $10,600. Both items reportedly bore the image of Jesus’ mother.

“I expect to get a lot of money,” she said. “This is a rock. It’s not like it’s a piece of cheese.”
– Source: Linnea Brown, Woman Hopes To Sell Her ‘Virgin Mary’ Rock On eBay, Hernando Today, May 15, 2008

Blessing The Lakeland Center

The so-called “Florida Outpouring — which has been extended through May 25th — is a blessing to the Lakeland Center. The company is charging Todd Bentley’s ministry $15,000 a day for use of its arena facility.

No Einstein

Albert Einstein regarded religions as “childish” and “primitive legends”, a private letter he wrote a year before his death has revealed.

The great scientist’s views on religion have long been debated, with many seizing upon phrases such as “He [God] does not throw dice” as evidence that he believed in a creator.

But the newly-unveiled letter, a response to the philosopher Eric Gutkind, has cast doubt on the theory that Einstein had any belief in God at all towards to the end of his life.

In the letter, dated January 3 1954, he wrote: “The word god is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honourable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.

“No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.”

Einstein, who died the following year aged 76, did not spare Judaism from his criticism, believing Jewish people were in no way “chosen” by God.

He wrote: “For me the Jewish religion like all others is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions. And the Jewish people to whom I gladly belong and with whose mentality I have a deep affinity have no different quality for me than all other people.

Narnia for Dummies

Einstein’s comments about “primitive legends” and “childish” religons form a perfect segue to The Chronicles of Narnia — that wonderful, seven-part series of children’s books by C.S. Lewis. According to Amazon.com, the series is “one of the very few sets of books that should be read three times: in childhood, early adulthood, and late in life.”

Lewis had been a staunch atheist before converting to theism (1929), and later to Christianity (1931). The Chronicles are widely seen as a Christian allegory, and Lewis has said as much in a letter to one of his young fans.

The series is in the process of being committed to film. The first movie, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe was released in December, 2005. The next installment will be in cinemas across the USA on Friday, May 16:

Some of Narnia’s magic may have gone, but the first reviews of The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian suggest the sequel directed by New Zealander Andrew Adamson will still cast a spell on cinemagoers.

Hollywood trade magazines Variety and the Hollywood Reporter have both reviewed the film, which forms the second part of CS Lewis’ fantasy series, ahead of its opening in the United States on Friday.

Variety’s review described the 144-minute movie as closer to a medieval battle picture than the fantastical other-worldly journey depicted in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which grossed $589 million internationally.

The still enchanting but older core cast of English children transported from wartime London remain, but the assortment of talking creatures from the initial story take a backseat to a power struggle that makes Prince Caspian a much darker offering.

The Hollywood Reporter described it as more sombre than the first and “shares elements with the second Lord of the Rings instalment, The Two Towers, as well as the later, moodier Harry Potter editions.”

Tilda Swinton returns to her role as the White Witch, but like the first film it is the special effects, many by Wellington’s Weta Digital, which take centre-stage.

Both magazines expect the film to closely match its predecessor in box- office revenues.
– Source: Narnia critics hail more sombre sequel, The Dominion Post, May 12, 2008.

People with an Einstein-like view of Christianity may benefit from C.S. Lewis & Narnia For Dummies.

Memo to Book Burners

Memo to book burners and boycotters: Stephenie Meyer, a teetotal Mormon mother of three, has sold seven million novels about high school vampires and knocked Harry Potter off the No1 bestseller spot in the US.”

So says The Times (of London), which also reports:

On the face of it, the formula for Meyer’s fantasy series sounds unlikely. These are vampire novels with little blood shed and a strong moral message, written by a woman with a robust Mormon faith who does not like horror books (she hasn’t even read Dracula) and has never seen an R-rated film on principle.

The books are essentially high-school romances with a twist. The protagonist is an ordinary pupil called Bella, who falls for Edward, the best-looking guy in the class. The twist is that he happens to be a vampire and, while he is very taken with her, too, he has to watch out that he doesn’t get carried away and have her for lunch. How their relationship develops in these awkward circumstances and how the heroine deals with other less scrupulous blood-guzzlers, is the basis of the books. There is dark stuff lurking off stage but it is not explicitly presented to the reader.

Twilight was published in 2005 and two sequels followed at yearly intervals. The phenomenal success came largely from teenagers spreading the news on social networking sites. Then adults – especially mothers wanting to find out what their kids were up to – began to buy as well.

There is no pre-marital sex in Meyer’s books but sex – or the lack of it – is much of what they are about. The pages swim with teenage hormones. Edward’s battle to restrain himself from sinking his canines into Bella’s neck is an obvious metaphor for the importance of sexual abstinence.

That is hardly surprising perhaps from a Mormon who attended a college where pre-marital sex is a violation of the college honour code.

Meyer, who does not drink alcohol or caffeine because her church teaches that such drugs can interfere with her ability to express free will, writes books that convey a message about the importance of making careful choices in life. As well as the lack of pre-marital sex, drugs and underage drinking also do not feature.

She says that some people are surprised that a Mormon is writing vampire novels, but they generally haven’t read her. “When you think about vampire novels, there is a lot of gruesomeness, a lot of sexuality, a lot of darkness, blood obsession. When you read my books it is completely different. Really, the whole vampirism thing is a metaphor for feeling trapped in a certain role. I never got into any trouble from the Latter Day Saints people. My strongest fan base is probably in Utah.” How Meyer came to write about vampires, however, is a mystery to her, given that she was very far from steeped in the vampire tradition. She is too “chicken” to read horror and doesn’t watch R-rated films because “there are things that you don’t need to have in your head. There are R-rated movies that I would like to go and see – I heard The 40-Year-Old Virgin was hysterical. But when you have an unbroken streak, you don’t want to mess that up.”

The film of Twilight, the first book in her vampire series, will star Robert Pattinson, who was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Kristen Stewart, whose films include Panic Room and Into the Wild. It will not be a gore-fest. “I put in a clause in the contract that the movie had to be PG-13 so I could go see it,” says Meyer.

There will probably be more films, and possibly more vampire novels, although the fourth book will be the last written from the perspective of Bella. Meyer’s adult sci-fi novel, Host, is published this month.
– Source: Harry who? Meet the new J.K. Rowling, The Times, May 13, 2008

Real Preachers of Genius: Seeker-Sensitive Mega Church Guy

Question: “Are seeker sensitive churches Biblical?”

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)

Religion News Blog posted this on Thursday May 15, 2008.
Last updated if a date shows here:


More About This Subject


Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission -- at no additional cost to you -- for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate, Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this research service free of charge.

Speaking of which: One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at Amazon.com.