Signs and Wonders
Associated Press/Photo by Pat Wellenbach

Signs and Wonders: Airbrushing Jesus out of Christmas, Chinese doomsdayers detained …

Newsworthy

Airbrushing Jesus. The Telegraph in London reports that a team of “mystery shoppers from Nielsen brand auditors visited the card aisles in branches of supermarkets” and found that of 5,706 designs, only 34 had nativity scenes on the front. Overall, the study reported, religion played a role in only 66 designs. Ann Holt, a director at Britain’s Bible Society, which commissioned the study, said, “Do we really want to see Christ being airbrushed out of Christmas, the festival of his own birth.” The mystery shoppers visited 24 stores, all in the north of England. One of the stores “had no visibly Christian cards on sale at all.”

Doomsdayers detained. Chinese authorities have detained almost 1,000 members of the group Almighty God. What’s interesting—and troubling—is that state media variously refers to Almighty God an “evil cult”—the same description it applies to the banned Falun Gong group—and a Christian group. It is definitely not a Christian group, so the conflation of names, even if not intentional, is certainly damaging to legitimate Christian groups in China. According to the BBC, “The sect predicts Friday will usher in three days of darkness and has urged its members to overthrow communism.” Its adherents believe Dec. 21 is the last day in the Mayan long count calendar and thus signifies the end of the world.

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Christmas bullies. I visited Montana earlier this year and found it to be a great state, still full of rugged frontier folk. So imagine my surprise when I read that a group of parents in Missoula called a Christmas program “unfair, unconstitutional, and … a form of bullying” because it contained a few traditional Christmas carols alongside secular songs. The parents wrote a letter last week to the superintendent of the Missoula County Public Schools district. Matt Sharp of Alliance Defending Freedom said, “Courts have responded in favor of schools playing Christmas music, as long as it serves an overall educational purpose.” Candi Cushman, an education analyst with CitizenLink, which is associated with Focus on the Family, said, “From what we’ve seen, the school appears to have chosen a perfectly reasonable, balanced mix of songs like ‘Up on a House Top’ and ‘Joy to the World’ and has correctly emphasized that the musical program serves an educational purpose, reflecting long-standing, nationwide traditions.” I can respect the fact that Christmas songs might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but if this is bullying, then no public expression of Christianity, no matter how banal and innocuous, is safe from censure.

Surprise best-seller. A new translation of the Bible has become a surprise best-seller in Norway. Published in October 2011, the new Bible has been on the best-seller list there for 54 of last 56 weeks, according to The Guardian in London. Dag Smemo, project manager for the Bible’s publisher, the Norwegian Bible Society, said 157,000 copies sold in the last 14 months. Smemo said the new translation is both more readable by modern Norwegians and more faithful to the original Hebrew and Greek texts than previous translations. Since I know very little Greek, Hebrew, or Norwegian, I can’t vouch for that assessment, but I do find it interesting that the Bible is selling in one of the most secular countries in Europe. In 2005, only 32 percent of Norwegians said they believed in God.

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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