Friday, May 12, 2006
DOES HOLLYWOOD GET RELIGION RIGHT? -- Does Hollywood get religion right when it makes movies? Catholic News Service reports the answers are diverse as cinematic fare. "Some people do their homework and get it right; other people exploit it," said Paulist Father Frank Desiderio. "If you mean the studios, then no they don't," said Barbara Nicolosi, who runs the Act One screenwriting program for Christians. "Studios are not in the habit of hiring people of faith to either write, direct or be in any creative capacity for projects that involve religion." Harry Forbes, director of the U.S. bishops' Office for Film & Broadcasting, said, "In the old days, Hollywood would bend over backward not to offend." While that era may have been inaccurate by portraying "an overly idealized view of religious types," Forbes added, "that is preferable to a disparaging view of religion, as you often get today." Nicolosi commented on several recent releases, including ABC's miniseries The Ten Commandments ("[They] missed "the entire theological heart of the Moses story"), blockbuster movie The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (" [It] didn't pack the punch it could have" because the screenwriters "didn't get Aslan"), and the forthcoming The Da Vinci Code (she dreads the May 19 release, and is advocating an "othercott," exhorting moviegoers to see the animated feature Over the Hedge that weekend instead).
LONGER LIVES FOR THOSE WHO GO TO CHURCH? -- According to a study recently published in the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, regular church attendance is an effective way to increase life expectancy. Specifically, people who attend a religious service on a weekly basis tend to prolong their life 1.8 to 3.1 years. In comparison, regular physical exercise prolongs life 3.0 to 5.1 years, while proven therapeutic regimens add 2.1 to 3.7 years to a person's life. Since the study is a review of existing research, it does not explain the link between faith and health. But Daniel Hall, leader of the study and a resident in general surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, speculates that the social aspect of religion may have something to do with the results. "There is something about being knit into the type of community that religious communities embody that has a way of mediating a positive health effect," Hall said. Therefore, being religiously active may decrease your stress level or increase your ability to cope with stress. "Being in a religious community helps you make meaning out of your life," he added. In addition to health data, Hall also examined the annual cost of these typical life-gaining activities. He found that people spend about $4,000 a year on physical exercise, $10,000 a year on therapy and $7,000 a year per household on contributions to religious institutions. "[Yet] there is no evidence that changing religious attendance causes a change in health outcomes," Hall warned.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
DA VINCI CODE POLL -- Despite sensational reports to the contrary, most Americans are not buying the key theological premises of The Da Vinci Code says a poll commissioned by the North American Mission Board (NAMB). Baptist Press reports that NAMB commissioned Zogby International to conduct the poll, which involved a sample of 1,200 adults surveyed by telephone in March. 23% of Americans have read the novel, while 43% said they were familiar with the content. Among those who had read it, more than 60% believed that the Bible is closer to the truth, while only 10% believed Dan Brown's novel is more truthful. Among the entire sample, 72% believed that the Bible was closer to the truth. "The most striking result from the survey is that after either reading or hearing about The Da Vinci Code, 44% of respondents were more likely to seek the truth by studying the Bible, while only 20% were less likely to study the Bible," said Ed Stetzer, missiologist and director of NAMB's Center for Missional Research.
MARY MAGDALENE, THE TRUTH -- The fictions in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code are not the only errors about Mary Magdalene that modern scholars are seeking to correct. Catholic News Service reports that historians are also trying to set straight centuries of erroneous Christian tradition regarding her that evolved over time in the West. While Greek Orthodox tradition always held that Mary Magdalene, the unnamed repentant sinner who cried on Jesus' feet, and Mary of Bethany were three distinct women, a sermon by Pope St. Gregory in 591 identified the three figures as one woman, creating the notion of Mary Magdalene as a repentant sinful woman, possibly a prostitute. Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson, a theologian at Fordham University, said the version of Mary as "the prostitute to whom Jesus forgave much and who loved him... took on a profound Christian ideal of a sinner who repents and therefore is a model for Christians in that way. But what got lost in the process was her actual role as a leader of witnessing to the Resurrection in the early church." Sister Elizabeth said that when one looks at Mary being the one the risen Christ appears to and commissions to announce the good news to the others, it has "many implications for how we tell the story... There is the typical story where Jesus chose the 12 and put Peter in charge, and the women were accessories. When you put Mary Magdalene into the picture, you can't tell the story that way so simply anymore."
PEACE CELLS INSTEAD OF TERROR CELLS -- According to a Catholic News Service story, a group of parishioners at St. Joseph Parish in Lincoln Park, NJ is trying to turn the term "terror cell" inside out by forming a "peace cell" and using prayer to promote peace. Led by four Franciscan Sisters of Peace, about 20 parishioners meet on Sundays to spend 24 minutes praying for an end to violence around the world and close to home. Franciscan Sister Ellen Byrnes said, "We want to counter the terror cells, which people are concerned about. Our focus is to pray for peace and to trust in the power of prayer. In this time of fear and terror, the sisters believe that prayer is an untapped source needed in our world." Father Philip LeBeau, St. Joseph's pastor, called the peace cell "a great idea. To get 20 people out on a Sunday is great. It's short, and people come when they can. They get together and pray for peace the way they want to." Originally, the Sisters had planned to devote themselves by praying in their convent. Instead, they decided to extend an invitation to the parish.