Bible Book Made for Public Schools

At a time of increasingly heated debate over the proper role of religion in public schools, a Fairfax-based nonprofit group took on a sensitive mission: creating a high school textbook about the Bible that would be equally acceptable to evangelicals and civil liberties activists.

The product of those labors, "The Bible and Its Influence," was unveiled last month. And so far the textbook has won plaudits from religion and First Amendment scholars, who say that it succeeds in explaining the Bible's themes and impact on art, literature and music without promoting religion or endorsing any particular faith.

"Simply put, there was nothing out there -- no Bible textbook, no curriculum guide, no secondary resource -- that I would recommend for use in a public school. Nothing, that is, until now," said Charles C. Haynes, senior scholar of the Freedom Forum's First Amendment Center.

Eight percent of teenagers in public schools have access to an elective Bible course, according to the Bible Literacy Project, the nonprofit group that spent six years developing the textbook. Leaders of the group, noting that there are more than 1,300 biblical references in the works of Shakespeare alone, say failure to teach about the Bible has made students culturally illiterate.

Magazine Refuses Ad for Jesus Doll

Scholastic Parent & Child has refused to run a $14,000 ad for a Jesus doll that recites popular biblical verses at the push of a button.

The national magazine is often distributed in public school classrooms, and the ad -- which would have run in the November/December holiday gift guide -- might have offended non-Christian families, Scholastic official Kyle Good explained to Religion News Service.

Officials with the company that makes the new dolls, One2believe, said Scholastic is being inconsistent. In last year's gift guide, they noted, the magazine ran an editorial about a Noah's Ark play set.

"We're just trying to bring faith to the community that we know -- the Christian community," said One2believe director Joshua Livingston. "We're not trying to force it on anyone."

Day of Solidarity Among Faiths

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins Tuesday -- the same day as the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah. It's a coincidence of the calendar that occurs only once every 33 years, and some Muslim, Jewish and Christian clergy are seizing the opportunity to launch interfaith events.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, is planning a day of ecumenical discussion near the Liberty Bell on Oct. 23, focusing on issues such as terrorism, war and poverty. Waskow is calling on members of all three faith communities to fast that day as a gesture of solidarity.

"At this moment, more than most in the previous generation, these three traditions are being dragged by some elements in each of them -- not majorities -- but they are being taught to voice hatred or even to act violently toward one or both of the others," Waskow told Religion News Service.

Among other events, an imam in New York's Harlem neighborhood is organizing a joint celebration of the October holidays; a rabbi in Traverse City, Mich., has put together a concert that will include presentations by area Muslim students; and a Jewish congregation in Boulder, Colo., has invited Muslims and Christians to its Yom Kippur service.

Dodgeball a Church Recruiting Tool

The cardinal rule of dodgeball -- fling the ball as hard as you can at the most vulnerable parts of your opponent's body -- doesn't seem particularly Christian. But at several churches around the country, dodgeball has become the latest tool in youth outreach.

"It's easier to get them to something like that than Bible studies," Gary Branae, youth director at American Lutheran Church in Billings, Mont., told the Associated Press.

His church, like several in Billings, sponsors dodgeball teams. Before one recent game, a pastor gathered the teenagers, read from the Bible and briefly talked about standing together and pursuing more than one's own pleasure. The youths then prayed, asking God to be with them and to spare them any broken bones.


This month's spotlight Dusserah

Date Oct. 12

Description Dusserah, meaning 10th day, is a Hindu festival marking the triumph of good over evil. Its origin is in the story presented in the Hindu scripture Ramayana, of how Rama defeated the 10-headed demon king Ravana because he had abducted Rama's wife, Sita. Some Hindus celebrate the day with outdoor gatherings at which actors portraying Rama shoot flaming arrows at effigies of Ravana, which are stuffed with firecrackers. This act is an invitation to people to eradicate the evil within themselves and follow the path of goodness. It is believed that new ventures begun on this day have a good chance of success.

Religion 101

Why is incense used in religious rituals?

The sweetly fragrant smoke given off by burning aromatic gums or spices can be a sign of many elements in religious devotion, notably reverence, cleansing and forgiveness. For example, Roman Catholic priests use incense at the altar because it is where the central act of the Mass takes place. Incense also is used to create a mystical atmosphere, conducive to prayer. And the physical ascension of incense is a symbol of the human desire for prayer to rise to God.

-- Compiled from staff reports and news services