This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a look at the first meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican yesterday. There are some key areas where the two share common ground, most notably agreement on combating famine and poverty, the Middle East peace process, and the coup in Honduras.

Most of the attention, though, was focused on the issues on which the two disagree.

The well-prepped President anticipated that Benedict would discuss his anti-abortion positions, but politely held his ground with the Catholic Church’s stance on two hot-button moral and political issues.

“At the end of the day, it may just be that there’s issues that they can’t come to agreement on, but I think [Obama] believes that you can disagree without being disagreeable,” said Denis McDonough, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

Obama, however, reiterated his goal of reducing the number of abortions — a point he highlighted while running for President.

“President Obama affirmed his personal commitment to try to reduce the number of abortions in the United States,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

As is customary, the two exchanged gifts. The pope gave Obama a recently-published tome on bioethics, a pontifical medal, and a mosaic representing St. Peter’s Square. The president — who has had some embarrassing setbacks in the gift-giving department — seems to be getting better. According to an AP account, he gave Benedict “a stole that had been placed on the remains of St. John Neumann, a 19th-century Redemptorist and the first male naturalized U.S. citizen to become a saint.” The president also hand-delivered a personal letter written by Sen. Ted Kennedy.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* Another televangelist giving his profession a bad name: “A religious broadcaster is building a $4 million home in a gated, lakefront community in western South Carolina at the same time that the ministry has cut jobs and reset thermostats to save money in its new headquarters. Inspiration Networks’ CEO David Cerullo is building the 9,000-square-foot home on a lot that overlooks Lake Keowee, The Charlotte Observer reported Monday.”

* Reader R.K. alerted me to a very strange new gameshow in Turkey in which a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi, and a Buddhist monk try to convert a group of atheists. “The prize for converts will be a pilgrimage to a holy site of their chosen religion — Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.” The name of the show is “Penitents Compete,” and is expected to begin airing in September.

* And in New York City, an interesting dispute is underway, after the city council voted to add two Muslim holidays to the public school calendar. Proponents argued this is only fair, since the calendar already includes days off for major Christian and Jewish holidays. Mayor Mike Bloomberg disagrees, saying the city isn’t obligated to accommodate all faiths: “If you close the schools for every single holiday, there won’t be any school.”