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China's thirst for oil

China's need for energy is growing faster than any other country's, according to a June 9 report by International Crisis Group. With record economic growth creating demand that outstrips supply, China's state-run oil firms are buying into oil stakes around the world, often in countries shunned by Western firms, like Sudan. In a global climate of short supply and high prices, however, China's oil development means it is expanding the world supply, benefiting consumers. Surprisingly, the study found, most Chinese-backed joint ventures produce oil that is sold on the open market, not shipped back to China: "Beijing's idea of energy security is showing signs of evolving from a mercantilist approach based on distrust of international markets . . . to a more open approach favoring international energy markets and cooperation."

Teaching violence

A federal investigation of a Saudi-funded school reveals that its textbooks condone violence against apostates, adulterers, and polytheists, but the State Department has said it has no plans to close the Virginia-based Islamic Saudi Academy. It came under scrutiny last year when the U. S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recommended it close until the Saudi government kept its promise to excise textbook passages promoting violence. The school and Saudi embassy refused to give the commission textbook copies, but the panel collected 17 textbooks containing passages that justify intolerance, violence, and murder.

Taking a stand

On June 16 at 5:01 p.m., the California Supreme Court's ruling legalizing gay marriage took effect, and homosexual weddings began across most of the state. A handful of county clerks, however, shut down all civil ceremonies rather than wed same-sex couples. Clerks in Kern, Butte, and Calaveras counties are issuing same-sex marriage licenses as required by law, but are no longer solemnizing vows of any kind, citing strains on staff and budget. Near Sacramento, the Sutter County clerk-recorder's office is both issuing licenses and performing ceremonies, albeit with a mainly reluctant staff. Assistant clerk-recorder Cindy MacMillan told WORLD that most of her staff will issue licenses to same-sex couples, but have refused to perform same-sex weddings, saying to do so would violate their rights of conscience. A couple of staffers refuse to do either, MacMillan said: "They want nothing to do with it at all."

Zimbabwe at the brink

At a June 17 Nairobi press conference, Zimbabwe's civil society representatives spoke out on their country's current political crisis ahead of a June 27 runoff election. "ZANU-PF and Mugabe intend to attempt to reverse the people's verdict," said Takura Zhangazha, director of the Media Institute of Southern Africa, charging Robert Mugabe's regime with "murder, torture, illegal arrests, and disappearance of people."

Observers readily believe that the military is now running the country, said Goden Moyo, executive director of Bulawayo Agenda: "We believe that the military is in charge. It is positive that we are under coup. The coup is against the opposition."

Moyo said that on June 27 Mugabe will "win using manipulating, coercion, and structures of violence" or he will "wage war against the people of Zimbabwe."

Two on the panel have been imprisoned since March 27 elections. One lost his home in a midnight militia raid. "The world must act, there is no need for this quiet diplomacy," said panelist Maureen Kademaunga.

The natural

Barack Obama met privately with about 30 prominent Christian leaders and authors earlier this month, just after he resigned as a member of Trinity Church over controversial statements made from its pulpit, in an effort to better understand the concerns of religious people and perhaps attract their votes. Franklin Graham, T.D. Jakes, and Max Lucado were among those at the Chicago gathering, where topics reportedly ranged from politics to theology. The attendees agreed not to share specifics about Obama's remarks, but a spokesman for Graham told the Associated Press that he asked the Illinois senator whether he believed Jesus was the only way to God (Obama's response was off the record).

Obama has made a point throughout his campaign of reaching out to Christians. Obama religious outreach adviser Joshua DuBois is a professing evangelical with connections to the Assemblies of God. Douglas Kmiec, a pro-life Catholic legal scholar who worked in the Reagan administration and served as an adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign, endorsed Obama for president. Kmiec, who also attended the meeting in Chicago, wrote earlier this year that "an audaciously hope-filled Democrat like Obama is a Catholic natural."

High court overreach

In a decision that outraged conservatives, the U.S. Supreme Court declared on June 12 that terror-war detainees at Guantanamo Bay may petition federal courts for their release. In Boumediene v. Bush, the high court ruled unconstitutional a provision in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that strips enemy combatants of habeas corpus rights, or the right to challenge the legality of their detention (see "Trial of the century," June 14/21). In a dissent joined by justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Antonin Scalia, chief justice John Roberts called the majority's opinion "overreaching," and "egregious," an attempt to usurp constitutional power over the fate of enemy combatants.

Iran vs. the world

Opening his farewell tour of Europe in Slovenia, President George Bush won European support to consider additional punitive sanctions against Iran, including banking restrictions, if Iran refuses a package of incentives to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

The agreement came just ahead of a new draft report by UN arms inspector David Albright, who said blueprints for an advanced, compact nuclear weapon-that can be mounted on ballistic missiles used by Iran-may have been smuggled to Iran by the now-defunct smuggling ring previously led by Pakistani nuclear scientist Abdul Qadeer Khan. The International Atomic Energy Agency said it has "serious concern" about Iran's suspected research into the development of nuclear weapons. Israel's transportation minister, Shaul Mofaz, warned in June that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear sites would be "unavoidable" if weapons programs proceed.

Hamas vs. Israel

Rocket launches over Gaza Strip may be silenced if a June 17 ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas holds. Brokered by the Egyptian government, the truce could halt months of escalating attacks. Palestinian groups said they would stop firing rockets at Israel. In exchange, Israel said it would stop all military action in Gaza. Israel also would relax restrictions on the flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza, if there is an end to rocket fire from Gaza into Israel and weapons smuggling through tunnels that connect Egypt and Gaza. It is the first time in two years an arrangement to halt hostilities has been reached. The 2006 agreement, however, was short-lived.

Keep out

Just the name Dan Brown was enough to have the Da Vinci Code author barred from shooting a film version of his mega-selling book at the Vatican. "It would be unacceptable to transform churches into film sets so that his blasphemous novels can be made into films in the name of business," Vatican officer Archbishop Velasio De Paolis told reporters. He said Brown's work "wounds common religious feelings."

Father Marco Fibbi, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rome, said: "Normally we read the script but this time it was not necessary. The name Dan Brown was enough."

Water woe

Don't try selling this in the Midwest, but what's a potentially greater threat than soaring food prices and oil demand? A catastrophic shortage of water, according to a panel of global experts at the Goldman Sachs "Top Five Risks" conference. A Goldman Sachs report released in June said water is the "petroleum for the next century" for investors who know how to play escalating demand. "By 2025, it is estimated that about one third of the global population will not have access to adequate drinking water," the report said. It claims global water consumption is doubling every 20 years as populations in Asia increasingly rely on animal protein (beef cattle require 10 times more water than grain and double the amount of water poultry requires), and Himalayan glaciers show signs of melting.

Judas betrayed

Judas betrayed

Two years ago a buzz swept through academia, marrying scholarship with popular culture on the pages of The New York Times and most every other major news outlet in the Western world. Judas Iscariot, the headlines proclaimed, was more hero than villain, more saint than scoundrel. With the unveiling of the first English translation of an ancient Coptic text titled "the Gospel of Judas," the National Geographic Society handed anti-Christian forces worldwide a perfect supplement to the biblical skepticism already unleashed in Dan Brown's novel, The Da Vinci Code.

Now The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that April D. DeConick, professor of biblical studies at Rice University, almost immediately noticed troubling discrepancies in the translation of the text, carried out by her colleague Marvin Meyer, a professor of religious studies at Chapman University. The Coptic word daimon, for example, was rendered "spirit" in Meyer's version rather than its usual translation, "demon." The change helped portray Judas in a far better light than when Jesus addressed him by that name.

In another passage, Meyer's translation declares that Judas "would ascend to the holy generation." But DeConick says a negative was left out, and the phrase should have said just the opposite. Overall, National Geographic's characterization of the text has proved grossly misleading. Eager to turn a profit on its $1 million investment in translation and distribution rights, the organization apparently sensationalized its discovery, filling its promotional materials with descriptions of Judas as "Jesus' closest friend" and "the most loyal of all the disciples."

In reality, the text depicts a Judas who turned Jesus in as a sacrifice to a demon god named Saklas. That narrative squares with responsible academic opinions that the Gospel of Judas is nothing more than a Gnostic fantasy authored in the second century to legitimize a sectarian view of the life of Jesus. No evidence exists to suggest Judas as a possible author or the account as historically based. Scholars now agree it is fiction. But National Geographic isn't offering refunds.

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