Monthly Archives: April 2008

Former North Korean agents infiltrated prayer meetings


Former police and security officers in North Korea told a U.S. government body that their superiors had instructed them to play the role of Christians and infiltrate “underground” prayer meetings in order to incriminate, arrest, imprison and sometimes execute believers in North Korea. Interviewed for a report issued on April 15 by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, the six officers were tasked – before they fled North Korea – with finding and eliminating small groups of Christians. “There are no preliminary hearings when religious people get caught,” one agent said. “[We] regard them as anti-revolutionary elements. When such an offender is caught in North Korea, the NSA officers surround the person and kick and beat the person severely before interrogating.” Another agent said, “The most important question asked to the repatriated is whether they have met South Korean missionaries or evangelists or encountered or experienced religion. If they confess that they have met missionaries or deacons…then without any further questions, they will be sent to the NSA and they are as good as dead.”

-Sarah Page of our affiliate, Compass Direct News

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Commission on religious liberty reveals North Korea’s systematic persecution of Christians


In a report released this month by a U.S. government body, refugee testimonies confirm severe persecution of Christians throughout North Korea.

In the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s report, refugees said that Christianity remained a key factor in the interrogation of people repatriated from China to North Korea.

Border guards reserved the harshest punishment for those who admitted having any contact with Chinese or South Korean Christians. The report, released April 15, found that consequences are harsh for those found violating state policies on religion.

“For example, recently many North Korean refugees have Bibles with them when they are repatriated,” one refugee said. “If you get caught carrying a Bible, there is no way to save your life.”

Refugees interviewed said that punishment for owning a Bible could include execution and the imprisonment of “three generations” of the owner’s family.

-Compass Direct News, our affiliate news service

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Vietnam’s insane approach to human rights and religious liberty


An unprecedented prayer appeal by the Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South) indicates that the government has stonewalled quiet, persistent attempts to obtain redress on confiscated church properties, interference in church affairs, and discrimination against Christians. Addressed to “The Church of God Everywhere,” the March 28 letter from the Executive Committee of the ECVN(S) followed several ultimatums in which the church threatened “collective action” and still did not obtain serious dialogue with authorities. It is uncommon for the ECVN(S) — which received full legal recognition in April 2001 and is Vietnam’s largest Protestant Church — to go public on such matters. The church leaders’ letter said some of 265 properties confiscated had been turned to other uses, some simply left to fall into disrepair and others demolished. The demolition of two church buildings, one in Ben Cat and the other in Go Vap, Ho Chi Minh City, occurred last year, and authorities also destroyed two Bible schools in the Central Highlands after legal recognition of the church in 2001.

-Compass Direct News, our affiliate news service

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The Pope’s advocacy of human rights


A Catholic News Service article provides an outstanding overview of the Pope’s speech to the United Nations today. I found his articulation of the basis for human rights very encouraging. Read it here.

Chinese authorities re-arrest Christian bookstore owner


A bookstore owner in Beijing has been re-arrested for publishing Bibles and Christian literature after he had been released in January due to “insufficient evidence.” Shi Weihan, a 37-year-old father of two, was re-arrested on March 19 and has been held without any family visits allowed, according to his wife Zhang Jing. Shi was first arrested on November 28, 2007, and held until January 4. His wife said she had received no word on her husband’s condition, and she has been prohibited from bringing him any food or change of clothing since his re-arrest. Zhang said she is “very concerned” about her husband’s health, as he has diabetes. Public Security Bureau officials have been known to use deprivation and torture to force detainees to reveal information about others. Another bookstore owner, Zhou Heng, was arrested and detained in Xinjiang province on August 3, 2007 for receiving a shipment of Bibles. Zhou revealed last week that he had been cleared of charges and released from prison on February 19.

-Compass Direct News, our affiliate news service

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C.S. Lewis, a ‘wannabe poet,’ and other Inklings praised acclaimed poet Ruth Pitter


Ruth Pitter was the first woman to win the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry. The English poet (and personal friend of C.S. Lewis) won the Hawthornden Prize for Poetry in 1937 for A Trophy of Arms and the William E. Heinneman Award in 1954 for The Ermine. She was admired by W.B. Yeats and members of the Inklings.

Don W. King recently completed Hunting the Unicorn: A Critical Biography of Ruth Pitter (Kent State University Press), the first work of its kind on Pitter and her poetry. The book will be released in May or June.

King is Professor of English at Montreat College in Montreat, N.C., and editor of Christian Scholar’s Review.

He is author of C.S. Lewis, Poet: The Legacy of His Poetic Impulse. Our parent site, LiturgicalCredo, recently interviewed King about Pitter and the story behind Hunting the Unicorn.

The following is an excerpt from the interview; click here to see the full interview.

What kind of relationship did [Pitter] have with some of the other Inklings?

Well, Pitter did not have a university education. She came to maturity during World War One and actually had matriculated at London University but when the war came basically she had to drop out, and she took a job in the Foreign Office. So she didn’t have the background that Lewis and his friends, most of the other Inklings, would have had – she didn’t have a university education.

Her first contact with one of the Inklings was with Lord David Cecil, who came across her poetry and was quite moved by it, and basically wrote her fan letters. He was, by the way, a professor of literature at one of the Oxford colleges, so you can imagine how that must have made her feel –“Here’s an academic writing me and telling me how much he enjoys my poetry.”

Pitter and Cecil began corresponding but it was through another common friend in the mid 1940s that Lewis came across Pitter’s poetry, and basically he did the same thing that David Cecil had done; he communicated to this friend that he thought she was a quite good poet. That emboldened Pitter to ask if she could come visit Lewis in Oxford. She had really been impressed during World War Two listening to Lewis’ radio broadcasts that eventually became Mere Christianity. And in many ways – she says in many letters – that her own movement toward Christianity was a direct result of having heard Lewis on the radio.

So by the time she writes him in the mid 1940s – I think it was 1946, their first letter – she is nearing faith in Christ but she’s not quite there. But she writes to Lewis and says can she come to Magdalen College, and he invites her up to have lunch in his rooms. And that began the relationship. It was
initially, primarily, about poetry – I mean, that’s what they had in common, their interest in poetry. And as I said earlier, he was the wannabe poet and she was the established well-known poet. He shared her view of poetry, what poetry should do, the kind of poetry they both liked. In a way it was
only natural, once he befriended her, that they would begin this correspondence.

You talked about the surprise of running across the Perelandra transcripts. Once you started digging into Pitter for the sake of doing a book on her, were there new surprises waiting for you?

I think one of the surprises was that she wasn’t university educated. She was an artisan. She worked hard all of her life, basically doing ornamental painting on furniture. She and a friend of hers . . . eventually set up a business – this was after they learned the trade…they decided to set up their own business. From the 1930s they had quite a successful business doing this, sending their goods all over the British Empire. World War Two put a squash on that as it did on many things. But I think that was the first thing that surprised me, that she wasn’t an academic. She was a hard-working woman who happened to have the gifts of poetry.

The second thing that surprised me was that her first poem was published when she was about nine years old. Her father had been friends with a man whose name was A.R. Orage, who was well-known at the beginning of the 19th Century as the editor of a socialist newspaper, and through that contact, Pitter had a lot of her poetry published. I think her first poem was published about 1911. So from 1911 through the early 1920s she had a lot of poetry published in that periodical, called The New Age. It wasn’t particularly good poetry as she herself later admitted but then again you can imagine the good of the encouragement she must have had, to have some of her poetry published at such a young age. This was in a periodical where poetry by Ezra Pound appeared, and Kathryn Mansfield, so some of these people who were published, who she was published alongside of, were quite significant poets. There were a lot of other bad poets published in the same thing, but, you know, interesting that she made some early contacts like that.

She was befriended at a number of times by some rather significant literary luminaries of the time, and they helped to push her poetry forward. Maybe another thing that surprised me is that – and a reason I like her too – she was pretty self-effacing, and didn’t try to do much to try to push her name and her poetry into the forefront. It was just like she wrote poetry because she loved it, and of course she would like people to be interested in it. You know, the whole P.R. thing was just something that was anathema to her. It embarrassed her to see some of her friends who spent all their time trying to get their name out in public. At the same time, she was fortunate to have Orage and Hillaire Belloc – Belloc was a pretty important writer and member of Parliament [and] through the 1920s he took Pitter under his wing, and David Cecil did. She was fortunate to have some people who saw the merit of her poetry and were able to help her get some of that poetry published.

(Read the full interview, and find links to some of the books mentioned above, here.)

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U.N. Human Rights Council questions Algerian delegates about deteriorating religious freedoms


Following an increase in church closures and convictions of Christians in Algeria this year, a United Nations body this week questioned Algerian delegates on an “alarming deterioration” of religious freedom there. Participants at Monday’s (April 14) Human Rights Council review in Geneva cast the issue of religious rights abuses in Algeria into the spotlight. Algeria’s 2006 decree threatens up to five years imprisonment and a 1 million dinar (US$15,430) fine for anyone attempting to convert a Muslim to another religion. Producing, possessing or distributing material for this purpose warrants the same punishment. A Vatican representative questioned the delegates on how the decree could be reconciled with religious freedom, enshrined in Article 36 of Algeria’s constitution. “[The decree] de facto has limited the rights of all other religions except the majority religion,” Archbishop Silvano M. Tomasi said. In response to the criticisms, Algerian delegate Lazhar Soualem said the 2006 decree had been enacted to stop “people who are not skilled, and who are not qualified and who are not authorized to exercise religious rights.”

-Compass Direct News

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Video: Father Robert Sirico on the Pope’s visit


Father Robert Sirico of The Acton Institute was interviewed twice by Fox News yesterday. He offers some perspective on the Pope’s visit.

Clip One

Clip Two

Lament for the lack of liturgical libertarians


The Pope is visiting during an election year, and that’s got me thinking about the relationship between politics and religion. A NPR reporter this morning said that the Pope and the President like each other, even though they disagree with each other on some issues, especially and most currently Iraq.

Consider that a Christian in politics will tend to err, if he’s on the right, by advocating state power for the enforcement of behavioral codes (moralistic laws); if he’s on the left, by advocating state power to force people to be compassionate with their money (tax code).

Why not have some Christians in politics who advocate freedom?

I think there’s space for Christians, especially those of the old liturgical traditions, to support libertarianism, even in this year of Obama versus McCain (OK, maybe Hillary still has a shot). Not that we can find a candidate representative of liturgical libertarianism.

Think about the ways in which New Testament teachings match up with libertarianism:

1. True morality comes from within, from a person’s character, when an individual has the opportunity to do wrong, yet chooses to do right. When someone cannot choose to do wrong, and therefore does not do wrong, that is no reflection of morality. Jesus criticized people who prided themselves on externally observable rules when their hearts were rotten. The rule-obeying was white-wash. In a related passage — and one that certainly suggests that liberty is a good thing — he condemns the Pharisess by saying, “They pile up back-breaking burdens and lay them on other men’s shoulders, yet they themselves will not raise a finger to move them.” I think of regulations, moralistic laws, and even taxes (reference Exodus 5:6-9 as an example of a state burdening people).

2. Libertarianism teaches that coercion is wrong, and the New Testament would seem to provide ample teaching for that view. In the New Testament, Paul writes that repentance comes from recognizing God’s kindness; God is not forcing people into conversion or submission. At one point in the Gospels, Jesus rebuked his disciples for wanting to call down fire on a city. Plus, we know the familiar phrases “turn the other cheek, bless those who persecute you,” etc., but how many apply that to a view of state power? (I don’t say that to nullify Thomas Aquinas’ just war theory; it seems to me that governments, from time to time, will have to use force to protect people from violent aggressors.) Consider that in terms of victimless crimes and the tax burden of imprisoning people who commit them.

Some will say, “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” but can we really compare the U.S. to ancient Rome? Don’t you think the American people are supposed to be their own Caesar? “We the people,” democracy, and all that ought to de-centralize power, correct? The beneficiaries of de-centralization would be “we the people” in the U.S. For better or worse, we are Caesar. Or, maybe that’s too popular of a view. It’s probably better to say that we’re ruled by law, not by a king, and that the laws are formed within a representative democracy. We have a hand in creating our laws.

Of course, political libertarianism will be hard for many politically-active U.S. Christians to swallow, because whether they advocate state-enforced behavioral codes or state-enforced compassion, they believe the primary goal of the Christian faith is moral and ethical, so any means (including force) by which people will behave properly is good, when the actual goal of Christianity is for each individual to receive grace through faith, and then reflect grace to others.

No force involved, just freedom of conscience and freedom of expression.

-Colin Foote Burch

P.S. The Acton Institute has the right idea. Check out the Web site here.

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De-converted and still studying the Bible


I enjoyed reading this post regarding personal study of the Bible over at De-conversion.com. Although the site’s writers are describing their reasons for leaving faith behind, they are thoughtful and interesting writers with good grasps on cultural, social, and existential matters of belief. I raise a glass of Belgian Trappist ale to them; here’s hoping for constructive, peaceful, and civil dialogues on matters of faith and philosophy.
-Colin Foote Burch

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The Pope who might have been a professor


In advance of the Pope’s visit to the United States, and especially in anticipation of his speech at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, today’s Wall Street Journal has an interesting interview with University of Nortre Dame President John I. Jenkins. Read it here.

Algerian court violates U.N. Declaration of Human Rights; religious expression forbidden


An Algerian Christian was handed a two-year suspended sentence for “proselytism” Wednesday amid an ongoing government crackdown on 26 of Algeria’s 50 Protestant congregations, a church leader said.

A court in Tiaret, 150 miles southwest of Algiers, delivered the written verdict yesterday after convicting the Christian on April 2, said Mustapha Krim, president of the Protestant Church of Algeria (EPA). Prosecution of “proselytism” violates Article 18 of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which affirms the inherent right to publicly manifest one’s faith.

The Christian, who requested anonymity, plans to appeal the two-year suspended sentence and a 100,000 (US$1,540) dinar fine, Krim said. Because it is suspended, the man will not have to serve his jail term unless he commits a repeat offense.

According to Krim, authorities brought charges against the man after he reluctantly gave a Bible to an undercover police officer who posed as someone interested in Christianity and insisted that he needed one.

Police have detained several other Christians in past weeks, apparently part of an effort to implement stringent regulations put in place two years ago to govern non-Muslim places of worship.

In addition to restricting church buildings and worship locations, the 2006 religion law also bans attempts to “shake the faith of a Muslim.”

“If you take this law to the extreme, it means that carrying more than one Bible is illegal,” said one long-time resident of Algeria who requested anonymity.

On March 29 police detained a Christian woman for 24 hours when they discovered she was carrying six books about Christianity during a routine check on the outskirts of Tiaret. Christian sources reported that she is scheduled to appear before a judge on May 7.

Two Christian men traveling by public bus from Tizi Ouzou to Bjaia on the evening of March 21 also were detained by police after they were found with 11 Bibles. The men were held for 24 hours and then released.

Authorities in Algeria have accelerated church closures, with half of the country’s Protestant congregations now ordered to cease all activity, Christian support organization Open Doors reported Thursday.

The Holland-based organization reported that 26 congregations have now been give orders to close. At least 16 belong to the EPA, which counts 32 members, while another 10 are from approximately 20 small independent house groups that exist around the country.

During an interview on national television on March 30, Religious Affairs Minister Bu’Abdallah Ghoulamullah claimed to be closing churches for not functioning “according to the law.” He said that the churches would be allowed to reopen after conforming to government regulations.

But several congregations report that they have decided to reopen their doors after multiple attempts to meet official regulations have failed to produce government approval.

“We have done everything, and we are conformed to what the religious minister said, and the provincial governor,” said one member of the Full Gospel church in south Tizi-Ouzou. “The result is nothing for the moment.”

The congregation has continued meetings despite an order to close their doors last month, prompting a visit from local police during their weekly meeting last Friday (April 4).

Seven policemen and a policewoman approached the church pastor at the end of the service at 1 p.m. to deliver written notice for the Christians to cease all activity. The officers apologized for interrupting the individual prayer that the pastor and other elders were carrying out for members of the 400 Christians in attendance but re-ordered the church to close down.

The head pastor immediately went to the local police station and explained why the congregation had decided to continue meeting. Police noted the explanation and again told the pastor to cease all activity before letting him go.

Other churches have faced similar difficulties in obtaining government approval for their activities.

“There was another church who went 11 times to the provincial governor and each time he sent them to get this paper or that paper, and so on,” a member of the Full Gospel church said.

-Peter Lamprecht, Compass Direct News

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Interview: Pushcart Prize-winning writer uses dogs to explain the Christian Gospel


The extraordinary fiction writer Pinckney Benedict was recently interviewed by Image; here’s an interesting excerpt:

Image: You have a novel titled Dogs of God, and in this story a feral dog is one of the two main characters. What do dogs have to teach us?

Pinckney Benedict: Dogs give us an excellent metaphor for our own relationship to God: We can see, from our human perspective, how limited their understanding is. And sometimes they make terrible blunders—which we could prevent them from making, if they would listen to us—because they have relatively short horizons. And sometimes they do astonishingly well, by our lights, on very little information and with no moral boundaries.

We’re something like that—magnified to the nth degree, of course—in relation to God. The way I love my dog, even though he’s a spastic moron who eats things that no one or nothing should eat, and then he comes home and vomits on my carpet: that, multiplied infinitely, is how God sees me and also how he loves me. So I can be aware of how limited and shameful I am, and not want to simply burst into flames with humiliation. What I want for my dog is what God wants for me, times one billion.

Continue with the interview here.

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That’s the trouble with diversity — so many wrong-headed people get free speech


It’s good to see the Alliance Defense Fund defend the free-speech rights of a professor with unorthodox views. “No university should refuse promotion to a gifted and accomplished professor simply because it disagrees with his religious and political views,” said ADF Senior Counsel Steven Aden in a press release.

Aden was referring to the situation of Mike Adams, a criminal justice professor at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington denied tenure, allegedly due to his opinions.

I want to point out what I think is an inappropriate use of language in an article about Adams that appeared in today’s Daily Tar Heel.

Apparently the “conservative beliefs” of Adams include a Christian faith, if I’m correctly reading this article in The Daily Tar Heel.

I’m not sure how “conservative beliefs” became the umbrella term under which Christianity resides. After all, we’re watching a political campaign in which Barak Obama and Hillary Clinton are trying to out-Christian each other, while Jim Wallis, editor of Sojourners magazine, has created plenty of space for liberals and progressives to espouse evangelical faith. Certainly the Committee of Concerned Journalists and even Associated Press style guidelines would steer editors at The Daily Tar Heel away from blurring “conservative beliefs” and Christianity.

Now, back to the matter of diversity and free speech.

From The Daily Tar Heel article:

A UNC-Wilmington professor who claims to be a victim of discrimination for his conservative beliefs will speak at UNC-Chapel Hill today about promoting a diversity of ideas on university campuses.

Criminal justice professor Mike Adams has been battling UNC-W since last year, when he filed suit against the university for harassment and discrimination after a promotion refusal.

Adams says the refusal stems from prejudice toward his religious and political beliefs.

UNC-W’s motion to dismiss the suit was denied earlier this month.

The Alliance Defense Fund, a legal organization that handles issues of religious freedom, filed suit on behalf of Adams.

“Christian professors should not be discriminated against because of their beliefs,” stated ADF Senior Legal Counsel Steven Aden in a press release….

UNC-W officials declined to comment on the case because the lawsuit has not been resolved.

The ADF said it is defending Adams in an effort to protect the rights of professors who fall outside the perception of the typical liberal professor.

The university is supposed to be the marketplace of ideas, and university officials should not treat religious or conservative professors as second-class citizens on campus,” stated ADF Senior Legal Counsel David French, director of the organization’s Center for Academic Freedom, in an earlier press release.

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Will Chinese Christian be executed? Fear in Xinjiang province of China


From Compass Direct News:

As China deals with the fallout of protests in Tibet and alleged protests in neighboring Xinjiang province, the family of a Christian in the Uyghur Autonomous Region of Xinjiang fears he may be sentenced to death this month after officials accused him of endangering national security. Officials closed Alimjan Yimit’s business last September and accused him of using it as a cover for “preaching Christianity among people of Uyghur ethnicity.” When they detained the former Muslim on January 12, they told his family only that the arrest was a matter of “national security.” Friends said a verdict is expected by the end of April. Alimjan’s arrest followed that of another Uyghur Christian, Osman Imin, on November 19, 2007, accused of assisting foreigners in illegal religious activities and revealing state secrets. Compass sources said authorities have arrested at least one other Uyghur Christian in Urumqi, the provincial capital, and another in the city of Kashgar, since the beginning of the year. Alimjan is a convert to Christianity from Islam.

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Bonhoeffer Day: Remembering Dietrich Bonhoeffer


My liturgical calendar notes that we remember Dietrich Bonhoeffer today.

One of my favorite things Bonhoeffer said:

“We should love God eternally with our whole hearts, yet not so as to compromise or diminish our earthly affections, but as a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the counterpoint. Earthly affection is one of these contrapuntal themes, a theme which enjoys autonomy of its own.”

Click for…

An interesting Web site devoted to Bonhoeffer.

The International Bonhoeffer Society, a page with links to works and related materials.

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Are college students changing their minds about casual sex?


Author Donna Freitas recently wrote this shocking article in the Wall Street Journal; here’s an excerpt:

After conducting a national college survey of over 2,500 students, I found that among those who reported “hooking up” — a range of sexually intimate acts, from kissing to intercourse, that occur outside a committed relationship — at Catholic and nonreligious private and public colleges and universities, 41% are profoundly upset about their behavior. The 22% of respondents who chose to describe a hook-up experience (the question was optional) used words like “dirty,” “used,” “regretful,” “empty,” “miserable,” “disgusted,” “ashamed,” “duped” and “abused” in their answers. An additional 23% expressed ambivalence about hooking up, and the remaining 36% were more or less “fine” with it. And 45% of students at Catholic and 36% at nonreligious private and public schools say that their peers are too casual about sex. Not a single person at these schools said that their peers valued saving sex for marriage, and only 7% said that they felt that their friends wanted to reserve sex for committed, loving relationships.

When last semester I taught Wendy Shalit’s “A Return to Modesty,” in a class at Boston University called “Spirituality & Sexuality in American Youth Culture,” I assumed that my mostly left-leaning students would reject her arguments about the terrible effects that the hook-up culture has on young women and the positive effects of traditional religion and morality on young women’s well-being. Instead, my students ate up her critique and were fascinated by her descriptions of modesty as a virtue, especially within the context of faith. One student said that she felt empowered to stop tolerating vulgar remarks about sex made by peers in her presence.

The class was equally attracted to some evangelical dating manuals, like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Joshua Harris and “Real Sex” by Lauren Winner, that I asked them to read. They seemed shocked that somewhere in America there are entire communities of people their age who really do “save themselves” until marriage, who engage in old-fashioned dating with flowers and dinner and maybe a kiss goodnight. They reacted as if these authors describe a wonderful fantasy land. “It would be easier just to have sex with someone than ask them out on a real date,” one student said, half-seriously.

Interestingly, most of the study respondents do identify with religious traditions that have rules about sexuality. But, with the exception of evangelicals, American college students see almost no connection between their religious beliefs and their sexual behavior. This radical separation of religion and sex tells us important things not only about the power of the college hookup culture but also about the weakness of religious traditions in the face of it.

Donna Freitas is the author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses, new this month from Oxford University Press.

Related issues were briefly addressed in the LiturgicalCredo.com interview with Peter Augustine Lawler.

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BustedHalo.com interviews Anne Rice about her Catholic faith; video of interview with Anne Rice


Bill McGarvey of BustedHalo.com conducted this interview with Anne Rice.

See more clips from the interview here.