Oprah meets Dr. Phil meets Bishop Sheen

From Share the Bread, the evangelism blog of DioBeth:

The Hollywood Reporter says that Fr. Alberto Cutie, aka "Father Oprah," is starting a weekday syndicated daytime talk show. It will show up in the New York City and Los Angeles markets on local Fox-owned stations, and maybe in other markets.

Father Alberto Cutie, a bestselling author of self-help books and radio talk show host as well as a former Roman Catholic priest, will join the ranks of gabbers and host a daily syndie strip devoted to life matters.

"It'll be everything from sex to salvation," Father Alberto told The Hollywood Reporter Tuesday in Miami during the NATPE TV trade show.

Hopefully it'll invite "greater dialog" with the audience, he added. Sorta Oprah meets Dr. Phil meets Bishop Sheen, the only other religious personnage who ever fronted a national TV show. (And that was in the 1950s!)

The show is being licensed by Debmar-Mercury and the first station group to step up for a launch test is Fox.

The show will preview on a number of as yet unspecified Fox stations this summer. The Fox test markets will include N.Y. and L.A., the country's top two markets. Other non-Fox outlets may be invited to join the test as well.

Jack Abernethy, CEO of the Fox TV station group, said there has been a crying need for an inspirational show for stations for many years. "Something not dogmatic or rigid but uplifting and helpful to viewers. Such things are big business in other media like book publishing and the radio but not on television," he pointed out.

Father Cutie is not new to this kind of of work. He developed a huge following on Telemundo and in syndication in Latin America when, as a Roman Catholic, and became known as "Father Oprah."

The fact that an Episcopal priest has snagged a syndicated television project like this for a mass market audience (in two languages, no less!) is a very big deal. If it passes the test markets--mainly to see how well Cutie is received among non-Hispanic viewers who did not know him when he was on Telemundo--this will be a huge entry for the Episcopal Church in an audience that we do not often reach out to, in a forum that is new to us.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

Different hymns, different tunes

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, has written a new book saying that there are differences in the world's major religions, that we cannot harmonize or homogenize them, and to try to do so is both naive and, very possibly, dangerous.

Here is an excerpt from The Boston Globe:

At least since the first petals of the counterculture bloomed across Europe and the United States in the 1960s, it has been fashionable to affirm that all religions are beautiful and all are true. This claim, which reaches back to “All Religions Are One” (1795) by the English poet, printmaker, and prophet William Blake, is as odd as it is intriguing. No one argues that different economic systems or political regimes are one and the same. Capitalism and socialism are so self-evidently at odds that their differences hardly bear mentioning. The same goes for democracy and monarchy. Yet scholars continue to claim that religious rivals such as Hinduism and Islam, Judaism and Christianity are, by some miracle of the imagination, both essentially the same and basically good.

This view resounds in the echo chamber of popular culture, not least on the “Oprah Winfrey Show” and in Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller, “Eat Pray Love,” where the world’s religions are described as rivers emptying into the ocean of God. Karen Armstrong, author of “A History of God,” has made a career out of emphasizing the commonalities of religion while eliding their differences. Even the Dalai Lama, who should know better, has gotten into the act, claiming that “all major religious traditions carry basically the same message....”

...This is a lovely sentiment but it is untrue, disrespectful, and dangerous.

The gods of Hinduism are not the same as the orishas of Yoruba religion or the immortals of Daoism. To pretend that they are is to refuse to take seriously the beliefs and practices of ordinary religious folk who for centuries have had no problem distinguishing the Nicene Creed of Christianity from the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism from the Shahadah of Islam. It is also to lose sight of the unique beauty of each of the world’s religions.

But this lumping of the world’s religions into one megareligion is not just false and condescending, it is also a threat. How can we make sense of the ongoing conflict in Kashmir if we pretend that Hinduism and Islam are one and the same? Or of the impasse in the Middle East, if we pretend that there are no fundamental disagreements between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam...?

What the world’s religions share is not so much a finish line as a starting point. And where they begin is with this simple observation: Something is wrong with the world.

The title of his book says that "God is not one." More accurately, his point is that all religions are not fundamentally the same.

Read the rest here.

His book, God is Not One:  The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World--and Why Their Differences Matter may be found here.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

Two sides of the same coin

Evangelical pastor and editor of Christianity Today's companion publication Leadership Journal, Skye Jenthani, says that the new breed of atheists and modern American evangelicals, even though they are frequently at odds, may have more in common than they'd like to admit.

Jenthani writes in the Huffington Post

I can't help but see the irony. It appears some New Atheists are incorporating the very traits they've often condemned about evangelicals -- intolerance, dogmatism, and now even the church's penchant for schism. It seems anything can be turned into a religion, even anti-religion.

But evangelicals should take no delight in pointing out the speck in the atheists' eye while a log remains firmly lodged in our own.

The common criticism levied on atheists by evangelicals is that they are prideful -- seeking to live "above God" with no regard for his existence or instructions. Atheists, the argument says, have given up on a theistic universe in favor of a humanist one -- a world in which purpose and truth are fluidly defined by the individual or at best one's community. As a result, some Christians view atheists as adrift, lost, and susceptible to all kinds of error and evil. The solution, say these evangelicals, is to embrace a life "under God" by submitting to his ways.

This "over God" versus "under God" split is what has led to a great many cultural conflicts about same-sex marriage, abortion, stem cell research, public display of religious symbols, prayer in school, and even last month's decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to retain "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance despite arguments from atheists that it violates the First Amendment.

But in their attempts to conform the United States' law and society to God's commands, these culturally crusading evangelicals have exchanged the Gospel of Jesus Christ for a Gospel of Morality. And in the process many of my evangelical sisters and brothers find themselves guilty of the very sin they peg on atheists -- seeking a position of authority above God. Let me explain with a few examples.

Read the rest here.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

Now will you read the fine print?

If your dog won't play with you, automatic doors won't open for you, or you are missing your reflection in the mirror, it could be that either you sold your soul to your best friend for five bucks or you did not read the fine print on that software you just downloaded.

FoxNews.com reports that a computer game software developer in Great Britain put a clause in the fine print of their user agreement that, unless the user opted out, granted the "non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul." They did this partly as an April Fool's Day prank and partly to prove a point: everyone should read the fine print on those user agreements and most people do not.

The retailer, British firm GameStation, added the "immortal soul clause" to the contract signed before making any online purchases earlier this month. It states that customers grant the company the right to claim their soul.

"By placing an order via this Web site on the first day of the fourth month of the year 2010 Anno Domini, you agree to grant Us a non transferable option to claim, for now and for ever more, your immortal soul. Should We wish to exercise this option, you agree to surrender your immortal soul, and any claim you may have on it, within 5 (five) working days of receiving written notification from gamesation.co.uk or one of its duly authorised minions."

GameStation's form also points out that "we reserve the right to serve such notice in 6 (six) foot high letters of fire, however we can accept no liability for any loss or damage caused by such an act. If you a) do not believe you have an immortal soul, b) have already given it to another party, or c) do not wish to grant Us such a license, please click the link below to nullify this sub-clause and proceed with your transaction."

The terms of service were updated on April Fool's Day as a gag, but the retailer did so to make a very real point: No one reads the online terms and conditions of shopping, and companies are free to insert whatever language they want into the documents.

The company says it would not be enforcing the ownership rights, and planned to e-mail customers nullifying any claim on their soul.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

The Church and the S*p*r B*wl

The blog Religion Clause reports that the NFL has loosened their guidelines for churches that want to show a certain championship football game in their parish halls this coming Sunday. But if you don't follow their guidelines, you can still get in trouble.

...the NFL adopted new Guidelines last year to ease limitations on churches showing the copyrighted Super Bowl Game. Churches are no longer limited to projecting the game on screens of 55 inches or less. Now they can use bigger screens and sound equipment so long as those are used regularly in their ministry. Churches may not charge admission for the showing, but can take up a collection to defray expenses of the party. Finally churches are encouraged to call their events something other than a "Super Bowl" party. The NFL continues to send cease and desist letters to venues other than churches that plan to show the Super Bowl on large screens.

Just to prove that even Christians watch the S*p*r B*wl mostly for the ads, Religion Clause guesses that more church groups will want to tune in to watch a controversial anti-abortion ad featuring University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow.

Ironically, Focus on the Family was able to place their ad CBS because the United Church of Christ got CBS to drop their "no advocacy ads during the Super Bowl" policy so that the denomination could run one of their "God is Still Speaking" ads called "Bouncer" during the game. When the earthquake struck Haiti on January 12th, the UCC pulled the ad and redirected the $2 million or so fee for 30 seconds of air-time to earthquake relief. Focus on the Family still plans to run their ad. (The deflated advertising market may have been a motivator for the change in policy.)

Episcopal Cafe says that one "mega-church" in California has created a Dorito's ad through a company-sponsored contest that will run as one of six ads that viewers can then vote on on-line or via text message. Believe it or not, the groups says they found a way to at once hawk Doritos and the resurrection by way of a "light-hearted spoof."

One good way to redirect all that S*p*r B*wl hype is to take part in the Souper Bowl of Caring. This is a nationwide project where youth from local schools and churches collect money on the day of the Big Game in large Soup Bowls, and then direct 100% of those funds to a local food bank, soup kitchen or feeding ministry.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

Judge orders property returned to Episcopal diocese of Pittsburgh

Episcopal Life OnLine reports that Allegheny (PA) County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James has ordered a breakaway group of former Episcopalians to return all property and assets to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. 

The inventory includes $22 million in cash, cash equivalents, receivables, and investments including about $2.5 million in pooled parish investments and real estate and other real property.

"The diocese plans to quickly make arrangements so that all parishes may again have access to their investment funds that were frozen by financial institutions during the legal proceedings," according to a news release from the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

On Oct. 4, 2008 a majority of the delegates to the diocese's 143rd annual convention approved a resolution by which the diocese purported to leave the Episcopal Church. The leaders who departed have said that they remain in charge of an entity they have been calling the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh that is now part of the Argentina-based Anglican Province of the Southern Cone. And they say that in that capacity they control all the assets that were held by the diocese when they left....

The group led by Duncan said Oct. 29 that it would appeal the ruling once the court issues a final order directing it to transfer the property to the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Episcopal Church of the United States of America.

Read the rest here. Episcopal Cafe coverage is here and here.

--posted by Andrew Gerns

News, Commentary, Information

To keep up with Episcopal Church news and commentary, to track how our church is faring in news coverage across the country, even around the world, and to find useful info about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion, you may find the following resources helpful:

(1) Episcopal Life Online offers the most up-to-date info about the news, people, life and mission of the Episcopal Church. Updated daily, even hourly.

(2) epiScope, a news blog of the Episcopal Church’s Communication Office, features the latest stories in the media about the Episcopal Church plus links to resources and comment from insiders. It provides us with the capacity to see ourselves as others see us. Updated daily.

(3) Episcopal Café includes four blog sites. "The Lead," is devoted to breaking news about the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. "Daily Episcopalian" is a blog of commentary. "Speaking to the Soul" features reflections, multimedia meditations, and excerpts from books on spirituality. The "Art Blog" comes from the Episcopal Church in the Visual Arts (ECVA).

(4) Anglicans Online, a comprehensive site for news, info, commentary and archives, updated weekly, usually late Sunday evenings.

(5) NewsLine, serving media representatives reporting on the mission and ministries of the Episcopal Church. Links to statistics, bios, photos, background information, and other resources. NewsLine is a service of the Communication Office at the Episcopal Church Center.

(6) InfoLine, located at the Episcopal Church Center. InfoLine can help you make connections to churchwide ministries, events and activities. Got a question? Ask it by email or by phone. InfoLine staff members will do their best to answer your questions.

(6) The newSpin blog: You are there. Many of the links pointed to within our newSpin newsletter take you to this newSpin blog, where you will find a lot of news, information and commentary that is fit to print but just doesn’t fit in Diocesan Life.