Squatters’ (divine) rights: To a Pentecostal community of squatters in Caracas, Venezuela, studied by Rafael Sánchez, their occupation of an empty, 12-story building in what was once a posh part of the town makes good theological sense. The world really belongs to God, they explain, but the devil has taken it over, and Christians’ job, as agents of the Holy Spirit, is to take back what really belongs to God (Public Culture, Spring).
Cuddle and preach? Some people allege that Mattel’s Little Mommy Cuddle N’ Coo doll emits the words “Islam is the light.” The toy manufacturer says that the sound emitted resembles the word night, right or light. The company promises to eliminate the misleading sound in future production of the doll (UPI).
Mind-boggling: If the $700 billion bailout of Wall Street were paid out in $100 bills, it would amount to a stack 54 miles high. Given the magnitude of the plan, no wonder there is public outrage. But columnist James Carroll noticed another, similar figure: in the fiscal year just begun the Pentagon will spend $607 billion on regular military operations (as well as another $100 billion on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq).
True confessions: Michael Jinkins, dean of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, says that the pastor of a large evangelical church told him he had decided to do away with a corporate confession in worship services. It’s too much of a downer, the pastor explained. Jinkins asked him, “Isn’t it more of a downer for your people to leave worship without confessing their sins and hearing the assurance of God’s pardon?” (Cultural Encounters, Winter).
God’s chosen: A Marxist and a Muslim were having a discussion about Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac in obedience to God’s command. The Marxist said that if God were to ask him to sacrifice his son, he wouldn’t do it. The Muslim replied, “That is why you are not Abraham” (International Journal of Middle East Studies, August).
Not color-blind: Mahzarin R. Banaji, a Harvard researcher who created a way to test racial attitudes, has devised a method to test racial bias in children. She expected that children ages five or six would not show any bias, but discovered to her dismay that children as young as three display a bias—and as intensely as adults do. She still believes that overcoming racism is possible (Chronicle Review, July 25).
It isn’t funny: Timothy Shriver, chair of the Special Olympics, says that the movie Tropic Thunder is an unchecked assault on the dignity of people with intellectual disabilities. Boycott it, he says, and “talk to your children about language that is bullying and mean” (Washington Post, August 11).
Deceptive advertising: An ad produced by the American Petroleum Institute claims there is “enough untapped oil in the U.S. to fuel more than 60 million cars for the next 60 years.” While the claim is correct, the problem is that as of 2006, 60 million cars accounted for only a fourth of all registered vehicles in the U.S., according to FactCheck.org.
Think twice about ethanol: Before you buy a car that uses E85 (ethanol-based) fuel, consider this: ethanol-burning vehicles consume 25 percent more fuel. In this country ethanol is mostly made from corn, and the amount of corn used to fill an SUV with ethanol could feed a person for a year (caranddriver.com).
Giving up stuff: In an effort to combat consumerism, Dave Bruno is taking a “100 thing challenge”: he aims by November 12 to have whittled his personal possessions down to 100 items. By personal items he means things that are totally his, not items shared with family members. And some things, like books, he groups together as a category (though he is considering trying to get his own library down to 100 titles). Bruno, owner of a Christian audio book company, is blogging about his efforts at a guynameddave.com.
Faith in the media: Newsweek editor Jon Meacham reports that Meet the Press moderator Tim Russert once implored him to appear on his weekend cable show alongside Christopher Hitchens, who had just published a blistering attack on religion. Russert, knowing Meacham was an Episcopalian, wanted him to come on the show and defend the faith (Newsweek, June 23).
Poetic justice: Last winter some high school students in Vermont entered the home where poet Robert Frost spent many of his summers. Holding a raucous party, they smashed china, soiled carpets and burned furniture. Part of the students’ court-ordered punishment was to take a class on Frost’s poetry, in which the teacher tried to connect Frost’s poems to the students’ lives (insidehighered.com).
Post-Baptist? Nearly one out of five Georgians was a Southern Baptist in 1970. That ratio is now down to about one in ten. The shift is due to a flattening in denominational growth and rapid growth in Georgia’s overall population (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 15).
Suspect nuns: About 12 nuns in their 80s and 90s were turned away from the polls in South Bend, Indiana, on May 6 because they don't have state or federal identification bearing a photograph. Indiana's photo ID law is the strictest in the country. It was challenged by the state's division of the American Civil Liberties Union, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in a decision issued shortly before Indiana's presidential primary (AP).
Trained in satire: Comedian Al Franken intends to be taken seriously as a Democratic candidate for the Senate in Minnesota. "A satirist looks at a situation and sees the inconsistencies and hypocrisies, and he cuts through the baloney and gets to the truth," he says to those skeptical about his candidacy. "I think that's pretty good training for the Senate, don't you?" (Atlantic, May).