Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben
Characters Remain Steadfast

Christ Imitates Betty Crocker
by Cliff Walker

October, 1997

Following on the heels of the recent multi-cultural remake of the Betty Crocker character, the Vatican has commissioned Brazil's leading artist Claudio Pastro to redo the church's image of the Jesus Christ character. The makeover is designed to update it for the third millennium of the Christian Era. According to a Knight-Ridder news service report, the new image will be of a serene and victorious Jesus rather than a suffering one.

The new Betty Crocker has facial traits hinting of several different races. The new Jesus Christ, rather than being Jewish as the legend tells us, will have traces of Asian, black, and Indian features in his face.

This is nothing new, considering how many "European" portraits of Jesus Christ have been have been painted during the past two millennia.

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Selling Jesus

Bishops Ponder an 'Asian' Jesus
by Candice Hughes
Associated Press Writer

April 29, 1998

Vatican City (AP) -- Bishops from throughout Asia are homing in on a fundamental question for the Roman Catholic Church: How do you sell Jesus as mankind's one and only savior in a part of the world already flowering with ancient gods and goddesses, with a multitude of creeds and cultures?

Home to two-thirds of the people on the planet, Asia is potentially a fertile field for the church, which now claims just 3 percent of its people. The Vatican is sponsoring a monthlong meeting, or synod, for the region's bishops to find ways of broadening the church's reach in Asia.

But the obstacles are immense. Other great religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam have deep roots, as do ancient creeds such as ancestor worship. And many Asians see Catholicism as an alien import.

"In most Asian countries, Christianity is a Western religion that came with the colonizing forces," noted Monsignor Oswald Thomas Colman Gomis, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Sri Lanka.

The challenge is to find ways to present Jesus in Asian terms, as a "guru, a healer, a spiritual master," Bishop Joseph Vianney Fernando of Kandy, Sri Lanka, said Wednesday.

He spoke at a briefing summing up the work of the synod so far.

In Asia, "renunciation and asceticism are marks of a spiritual person" explained the Monsignor Michael Rozario, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Bangladesh. "Asian religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism also have traditions of meditation, prayer and contemplation."

In speech after speech, the bishops talked about adapting the Roman church to local customs and languages and vice versa. One example is ancestor worship, which is practiced in several Asian countries, including Vietnam and China.

Catholics should "maintain and enhance this tradition of honor and respect" -- and gradually introduce the idea of the Christian god as the "ultimate ancestor," said Monsignor John Tong Hon, the auxiliary bishop of Hong Kong.

Other bishops emphasized the need for Catholics to set an example -- and win converts -- through classic good works like schools, clinics, shelters and soup kitchens to fight Asia's widespread poverty.

On a more high tech front, the Vatican's missionary news service, FIDES, reported that it is starting a new website -- -- to spread its message in China and India as well as other countries around the globe.

The meeting of Asian bishops is one of a series of regional synods leading up to church celebrations marking the year 2000.

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$2,000 Offered in
Jesus Art Contest
by David Crary
AP National Writer

August 18, 1999

For a $2,000 prize and a place on the millennium-issue cover of a Catholic magazine, artists worldwide are being invited to create a bold new image of Jesus to mark the 2,000th anniversary of his birth.

The contest welcomes all visual media -- computer art, stained glass, silk screens, even photographs.

The only sure bet is that the winning entry, due by Oct. 18, won't resemble the traditional images of Jesus evoked by artists of the past.

"Until our time, this was the most popular subject for artists," said Michael Farrell, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, which is sponsoring the contest.

"If you are giving us a repeat of any of those images, it's not likely you are on the winning ticket. There ought to be something new that we have never seen before."

Nigel Holmes, former graphics chief for Time magazine and a leading graphics designer, said the contest would surely appeal to the growing ranks of computer artists.

"There are some who'd say, 'I wouldn't touch it' and others who'd love to do it, because it's such an odd kind of challenge," Holmes said. "I might do it myself. It's a brilliant marketing idea."

The contest arose from Farrell's frustration over the buildup to the new millennium.

"Ask anybody about the millennium, and they talk about survivalists going into the mountains, or glitches on their computers," he said from the magazine's Kansas City office. "Nobody is talking about this extraordinary man who came from heaven 2000 years ago."

Five entries have arrived at the magazine since the contest was announced July 30. He said the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I did some talk shows in Canada," Farrell said. "Maybe 1 percent of the callers, a bit on the conservative side, talked about graven images and said we were wrong to be promoting this."

In its article announcing the contest, the independent, twice-monthly magazine questioned why so few fresh, captivating images of Jesus had emerged in the late 20th century.

"Can it be that the spirit of the age excludes messiahs and saviors?" the magazine asked.

Entrants must send slides of their work to the magazine. A three-member jury will select 10 finalists.

The winner and three runners-up will be chosen by Sister Wendy Beckett, the 69-year-old British nun who stars in a public television series about art.

The winners will be announced and displayed in the Christmas issue, due out Dec. 24.

Holmes said some graphic designers, rather trying to depict Jesus' face, might offer a corporate-style logo symbolizing modern-day Christianity. Another possibility for computer artists would be to scan in a person of every ethnic race to make a composite portrait.

"You'd come up with a sort of universal face, and you could say, 'Here's the new face of Jesus -- he is everyone,'" Holmes said. "You'd offend somebody, no matter what you did. I'd hate to be in the judges' shoes."

Editor's note: further information about the contest can be obtained from the National Catholic Reporter's Web site,

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Anglican Church
Alters "Lord's Prayer"
by Cliff Walker

February 12, 1998

In yet another move to modernize its brand of Christianity for the new millenniom, the Church of England has removed reference to temptation from the Lord's Prayer. Senior clerics elected to substitute the words "Lead us not into temptation" with the phrase "Save us from the time of trial" in a modern version of the prayer to be introduced in church services.

The change was during the church's general council, which also heard opposition from the Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, warning the church not to pursue "modernity for the sake of it." Steve Jenkins, Church spokesman, said he didn't see a contradiction: "[Carey] was warning about excessive modernization, for modernization's sake. This [altering the prayer] isn't."

The prayer change is still not final, needing approval from a revision committee and further approval by the general synod, possibly later this year. Individual congregations will still have a choice of whether to use the traditional prayer or the modern one.

Traditionalists who opposed the new version argued that the old version was part of the nation's linguistic inheritance. A Gallup poll, taken for the church's millennium team, appears to back the traditionalists. The poll said 82 percent of those surveyed could recite the Lord's Prayer from memory, and almost half said they learned the prayer at school.

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A Kinder, Gentler Satan
by D. Trull
Enigma Editor

August, 1999

Greedy corporations and corrupt politicians disguise themselves behind concocted images with such regularity that the facades have almost become de rigueur. Public relations wizards and media consultants use their sorcery to make the vilest evils seem virtuous and noble. So maybe it makes sense that the Prince of Darkness himself would be due for a complete image makeover. The Roman Catholic Church has revised its official views on the nature of Satan, and this particular overhaul of foul wickedness is far from being your average P.R. con job.

The Vatican announced the need for a "more subtle and sophisticated" understanding of the nature of evil that will be better suited to the world of the 21st century. Evil should be thought of as a threatening force that dwells within every individual, the Church now advises, rather than simply an external malevolence, personified as Satan, which tempts people into sin. This new distinction comes as part of the Catholic Church's reevaluation of its official rites of exorcism, which are being substantially revised for the first time since Pope Paul V decreed them in 1614.

Why the sudden change in outlook after all those centuries of contentedly fearing the guy with red horns and a pointy tail? The answer, to put it plainly, is insanity. The Vatican has finally acknowledged the existence of mental illnesses and medical disorders whose effects have previously been mistaken for signs of Satanic possession. And to some extent, you could say that this new and improved perspective on evil also serves as atonement for some of the Church's own past craziness.

Exorcism is still a modern practice of the Catholic Church, as well as the Episcopal Church and certain Lutheran sects, although the rite is infrequently performed by any of them these days. Every Roman Catholic diocese is officially mandated to have at least one qualified exorcist among its priests. Pope John Paul II has reportedly performed an exorcism at least once during his papacy, when he cast the Devil out of a woman brought before him in 1982. There are no reports of real-life possessed individuals spinning their heads 360 degrees or vomiting gallons of split pea soup, but there are frightening true cases of innocent sick people being subjected to exorcisms.

Monsignor Corrado Balducci, chief exorcist at the Vatican, admitted that the Church must "be more careful in distinguishing between possession by evil spirits and what are more commonly called psychiatric disturbances." Schizophrenia and epilepsy are among the psychological and neurological conditions whose symptoms have been interpreted as the workings of the Devil. The revised rites of exorcism take these disorders into account, and recommend seeking consultation from psychiatrists before proceeding with an exorcism.

From his own experience, Monsignor Balducci estimated that out of every thousand cases in which an exorcist is called for help, there are only about 30 instances of what he calls "demonic obsession, infestation or disturbance," and of those, in only about five or six cases is someone "genuinely possessed." Balducci said the hundreds of others were "in need of psychiatric help." Of course, some people might say the same thing about anyone who believes there are genuine demonic possessions, regardless of how uncommon they are, but that's beside the point for now. You've got to give the Vatican credit for making some small progress.

The traditional exorcism ceremony calls for the exorcist to lay hands on the victim and repeat the words exorcitio te, or "I exorcise you," and also to sprinkle holy water and wave a crucifix. The newly revised guidelines are essentially the same, except that priests are advised to avoid specific references to the Prince of Darkness, the Accursed Dragon, the Foul Spirit, the Satanic Power, the Master of Deceit, King Naughty, Bad-Ass Number One, or the Golden-Fiddle Gambling Son of a Bitch. (All right, so the Vatican didn't specifically rule out those last three, but they too would probably be disallowed.) Instead, exorcists are to direct their exhortations more impersonally towards "the cause of evil."

It's almost enough to make you wonder if the Catholic Church is turning away from belief in the existence of Satan -- or, even more inconceivably, if it may be turning politically correct. Is this a first step toward reinventing the Great Adversary as the Non-Gender-Specific Negativity Enabler of the Ethically Challenged? Is Satan taking a second fall from grace?

No way, say Vatican officials. They have been quick to point out that Satan remains a very real entity as far as they're concerned. "The existence of the Devil isn't an opinion, something to take or leave as you wish," said Cardinal Jorge Arturo Medina Esteves, Prefect of the Congregation for the Divine Cult and the Discipline of the Sacraments, who presented the new exorcism rites. "Catholic doctrine teaches us that demons are fallen angels as a result of their sin, and that they are spiritual beings with great intelligence and power. The whole world moves around the Devil."

So Satan's still Satan, only the Vatican has updated its views on how he interacts with human beings. In addition to bringing enlightenment on the topic of psychiatric disorders, the new rules of exorcism also recognize that Satan most often uses the tools of "deception, falsehoods, lies and confusion" to wreak havoc on humanity, only rarely attacking via demonic possessions. Priests are encouraged to think of the potential for evil as being present in all of us, as a force which can destroy us by our own choosing, if we give in to the dark side.

Sounds awfully familiar, doesn't it? How wonderfully ironic it is that the Catholic Church should revise its traditional view of Satan and embrace a Star Wars style cosmology, right when that epic saga's new episode has brought us the red-faced, horn-headed menace of Darth Maul, who would look right at home on a medieval fresco or an Ozzy Osbourne album cover. Francis Ford Coppola once jokingly told George Lucas he should turn the Force into a religion, but now it's looking more like the reverse might come true.

But seriously, Catholicism's powers-that-be deserve a round of applause for taking another step forward into the modern world. By recognizing the scientific basis of psychological dysfunction and the subtle shades of evil in human nature, the Church has thrown out centuries of harmful misconceptions and irrationality. It's a healthy activity for a religion to exorcise itself every now and then.

Sources: The Times (London); Electronic Telegraph; Associated Press; The St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
©Copyright 1999 ParaScope, Inc. (
Reprinted in the September, 1999 issue of Positive Atheism, used with permission.

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