News and Views


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A new Pew Research Center survey finds that most U.S. adults believe the religious aspects of Christmas are emphasized less now than in the past — even as relatively few Americans are bothered by this trend. Compared with five years ago, a growing share of Americans say it does not matter to them how they are greeted in stores and businesses during the holiday season — whether with “Merry Christmas” or a less-religious greeting like “happy holidays.” Currently, 55% of U.S. adults say they celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, including 46% who see it as more of a religious holiday than a cultural holiday and 9% who celebrate Christmas as both a religious and a cultural occasion. In 2013, 59% of Americans said they celebrated Christmas as a religious holiday, including 51% who saw it as more religious than cultural and 7% who marked the day as both a religious and a cultural holiday. — Pew Research, 12/12/2017

The American Psychological Association’s newest “Stress in America” survey of 3,440 adults shows the public’s overall stress level remains the same as last year’s, with an average level of 4.8 on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most stress. But how Americans respond to stress is changing. Notably, fewer Americans are turning to prayer. Only 29 percent of Americans polled said they pray to relieve stress, a gradual but consistent decline since the high of 37 percent recorded in 2008. And while a growing number of Americans are turning to alternative spiritual practices such as meditation and yoga, they are still not very widespread.

Twelve percent of Americans meditate or do yoga, up from 9 percent in 2016. Kevin L. Ladd, a professor of psychology at Indiana University South Bend, said it makes sense that, as society grows less religious in the traditional sense, fewer people are turning to prayer. “There is certainly a shift in the American landscape, with people thinking about themselves as more spiritual than religious,” Ladd said. “Rather than having specific traditions offering some guidance in terms of specific practices, individuals tend to be creating their own practices that are personally meaningful.” — Religion News Service, 12/212017

A security firm in the United States is offering to train churches in “biblically based” deterrence to prevent another attack such as the one that killed 26 adults and children in Texas in November. The Texan-based Hedge Protection Ministries trains volunteer church-security teams, some of whom may be armed, to, it says, “Focus on deterrence while maintaining the delicate balance between security and evangelism”. Founded by two retired police officers, the company offers different packages, depending on the size of the church, to help train and develop security teams to deter a would-be attacker. Texas changed its laws to exempt volunteer security teams in churches from government oversight, and allow churches to provide voluntary security on their own property. The shooting at the Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last month, was the deadliest church attack in US history. Seven of the victims were children, one an unborn child.— Church Times, 12/21/2017

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) says that it is to “raise our game across all output” in the way that it treats religion, as the result of a yearlong review of its religion and ethics output. Plans include the establishment of a religion editor for news, a global team of specialist reporters, a greater focus on religious festivals, and making 2019 a “Year of Belief.” In a foreword to the BBC’s Religion and Ethics review, according to the Director General of the BBC, Tony Hall, plans “will ensure that the BBC better reflects the UK, the world, and the role that religion plays in everyday life. They will also raise understanding of the impact religion has on decisions made at home and abroad.” The review points out that, although in the UK only about 50 percent of the population is affiliated to a religion, the global figure is 84 percent, which is predicted to rise above 90 percent in the next few decades. — Church Times, 12/20/2017


Scientists have discovered about 4,400 animal viruses that have zoonotic potential, or the possibility to spread to humans. The most significant one is the influenza virus. The 1918 Spanish flu killed 20 million to 50 million people, many of them otherwise healthy adults. Swine flu caused the most recent pandemic in 2009, killing up to 203,000 people worldwide. Bird flu could be the next. A Columbia University researcher has developed methods of predicting seasonal influenza that may be helpful in forecasting such disease. This would allow nations the ability to fund vaccines early, and even close borders to prevent the spread of the disease. — Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 11/23/2017

An Albuquerque Police Officer adopted a baby from a homeless heroin addict after a chance encounter. The officer responded to a possible theft at a nearby convenience store. As he left the store, he noticed a couple sitting in the grass, shooting upheroin in broad daylight. “You’re going to kill your baby,” the officer said in the bodycam footage. The woman broke down in tears. The officer made the call to not charge the couple with drug possession but he could not shake the voice in his mind telling him that this was his chance to help and truly make a difference. Then he noticed that the woman was pregnant. The officer, who’s married with four children, decided in that moment to adopt her baby. “I was led by God to take the chance,” he said. “God brought us all together. I really don’t have any other way to explain it.” When the woman gave birth to a baby girl, the officer’s family was there and named the baby Hope. — SunnySkyz, 12/11/2017

The UK’s first vending machine designed specifically for homeless people will launch just in time for Christmas. The machines dispense water, fresh fruit, energy bars, crisps, chocolate, and sandwiches, as well as socks, sanitary towels, antibacterial lotion, toothbrush and toothpaste combination packs, and books. The concept comes from the charity Action Hunger, whose mission is to alleviate poverty and hardship amongst the homeless. Food is received from supermarkets, charities, and local shops with excess produce. Those in need access the machines using a special key card. Action Hunger says the key cards are programmed to permit up to three items being vended per day and participants will need to check into the local outreach center at least once a week in order to keep using it. Action Hunger plans to install vending machines for the homeless across the United States from the start of next year with sites earmarked in Seattle, New York City, and LA. — SunnySkyz, 11/25/2017

The nation’s homeless population increased in 2017 for the first time since 2010, driven by a surge in the number of people living on the streets in Los Angeles and other West Coast cities. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released its annual Point in Time count, which showed nearly 554,000 homeless people across the country during local tallies conducted in January, up nearly 1 percent from 2016. — AP, 12/10/2017

Jordan may be the first country in the world to run out of the water. The Jordan River, the country’s lone waterway, is dirty and depleted, while some of its aquifers have been pumped almost beyond repair. Jordan is too poor to turn to large-scale desalination or to fix its leaky infrastructure. And the country’s population growth shows few signs of slowing, so it can’t fall back on water imports as some nations have done. Water shortages have gotten so bad, they’ve already sparked clashes between refugees and native Jordanians. “We have to look outside Jordan,” says Ali Subah, secretary-general for strategic planning at the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. “There are no more water resources here.”— Newsweek, 11/22/2017


Western allies fighting the Islamic State have demanded that the Iraqi government dissolve the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which are expanding their influence in the Iraqi state. Now that the war on ISIS is over, Iranian-backed militias and their advisers must go home, allies say. French President Emmanuel Macron raised the ire of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with his statement that all militias be “gradually dismantled.” Shiite members of parliament and PMU leaders responded angrily as well. “The recent demands to disband the PMU indicate a new conspiracy to wreak havoc,” said Ali Shanmkhani, secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council. — Al-Monitor, 12/10/2017

North Korea shattered a two-month period of relative quiet by test-firing a missile that analysts say may put the U.S. east coast in range. Japan said the intercontinental ballistic missile flew for 53 minutes on a lofted trajectory and may have reached an altitude of more than 2,500 miles before landing in waters about 250 kilometers from its northwest coast. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis said that it flew higher than any previous North Korean launch. — Bloomberg News, 11/28/2017

Now that Russia sees itself as victorious over the Islamic State (IS) in Syria, helping Cairo battle terrorists in Sinai may become a pillar of Russian-Egyptian security cooperation. In October 2015, an IS affiliate in Egypt claimed responsibility for bombing a Russian tourist plane, killing more than 200 people. The attack ruptured direct air connection between Russia and Egypt for more than two years. On Nov. 28, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev had approved an agreement with Egypt on use of the airspace and airport infrastructure of both countries, raising speculation that Russia plans to lease Egyptian air bases. — Al Monitor, 12/13/2017

Low oil prices have caused an economic crisis in Saudi Arabia. As the Saudi government’s financial reserves are depleting and tangible progress of its touted “Vision 2030” reform program remains outstanding, Riyadh needs any increase in oil export
revenue it can get. The kingdom takes harsh stances on most of its pressing policy issues, including the domestic opposition, the conflict in Yemen, the crisis with Qatar and the proxy warfare in Syria. But Riyadh continues to show remarkable flexibility on oil policy — even though Moscow is a key backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and a partner of Tehran. Moscow seeks to increase its profile in the region and thereby partly fill the void left by a retreating Washington. To this end, and in addition to its direct military involvement in Syria and arms sales to numerous regional states, Russia has also concluded a number of energy deals that remarkably cross geopolitical fault lines. — Al Monitor, 12/13/2017


According to the World Wildlife Fund, more than 85% of global fish stocks in our oceans are at significant risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, including species like the Bluefin tuna, currently on the Endangered Species protection list. San Francisco Bay Area startup Finless Foods uses clean meat technology (growing meat from cultured cells) to create tuna and other fish without further endangering the wild fish populations. Finless Foods uses cells from the fish to grow the meat and says it will be able to recreate the taste, texture, and health profile of fish at a price that will excite consumers. Founder Mike Selden says the technology is closest to culturing yogurt or brewing beer. There are no GMOs in clean meat. No genetically modified ingredients also mean no pesticides or herbicides causing damage to the planet and posing human health risks. And no animals on factory farms (or giant ocean fish farms) means no antibiotics, growth hormones, or other controversial practices linked to human, animal, and environmental health issues. — LiveKindly, 12/22/2017

Analysts and investors say the greenback could lose more ground against the euro and yen as the prospect of strong economic growth and tighter monetary policy outside the U.S. more than offsets higher interest rates at home. The dollar is down more than 7 percent versus the world’s major currencies (in 2017), the most in over a decade. The economic growth “we’re seeing in Europe, emerging markets and the rest of the world will likely cause the dollar to sell off again,” said Erin Browne, the head of the asset allocation at UBS Asset Management, which oversees about $770 billion. Browne says the euro could reach $1.30 in 2018, representing a 10.2 percent advance against the dollar. That would be on top of a rally of about 12 percent this year. She also expects further gains in the yen. — Bloomberg, 12/13/2017

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen called the digital currency bitcoin a “highly speculative asset” that “doesn’t constitute legal tender.” Bitcoin, the cryptocurrency, has surged about 17 times in value, prompting caution from central bankers around the world. “Bitcoin at this time plays a very small role in the payment system,” Yellen added that bitcoin is “not a stable store of value.” New York Fed President William Dudley said he would be “pretty skeptical” of bitcoin. Reserve Bank of Australia Governor Philip Lowe said this month that the fascination with cryptocurrencies “feels more like speculative mania than it has to do with their use” as a form of payment. (Editor’s note: Bitcoins are a line of computer code that are reassigned from one member to another when purchases are made within a member network. Bitcoins began to be traded in the futures market in 2017) — Bloomberg Technology, 12/13/2017

In the decade since the recession began, the U.S. as a whole has staged a heartening comeback: The unemployment rate is at a 17-year low of 4.1 percent, down from 10 percent in 2009. In 2016, income for a typical U.S. household, adjusted for inflation, regained its 1999 peak. — AP, 12/15/2017


International law makes states the sole determinants of their own capital. Nevertheless, of the 190 nations with which America has diplomatic relations, Israel was the only one whose capital was not recognized by the U.S. government prior to President Donald Trump’s announcement on December 6, 2017. The president’s recognition of Jerusalem came months after Russia announced its recognition of Israel’s capital (Editor’s Note: See Today in Prophecy for a discussion of Jerusalem and Israel). — Jewish Virtual Library, 12/8/2017

Although it is an important city to Christians everywhere, since Israel has liberated Bethlehem fifty years ago, its 80% Christian majority has dwindled down to no more than 12%, due to their bullying under the yoke of their Muslim neighbors and the Palestinian Authority. — Jni Media, 12/13/2017

Groundbreaking surgery to regrow part of a human bone was carried out at HaEmek Hospital in the Israeli town of Afula. Following a car accident eight months prior, the patient had part of his shinbone removed. During the surgery, the first of its kind in the world, doctors took fat cells from the patient, grew them in a lab, and injected them back into his body to generate the missing parts of the bone. The procedure was developed by Israeli biotechnology company Bonus BioGroup. According to the hospital, the new surgery can help elderly people who suffer from osteoporosis and cancer patients who had amputations. — Times of Israel, 12/20/2017

The Dead Sea is dying. Half a century ago its hyper-salty, super-pungent waters stretched 80km from north to south. That has shrunk to just 48km at its longest point. The water level is falling by more than a meter per year. All but a trickle from its source, the Jordan River, is now used up before it reaches the sea. “It will never disappear because it has underground supplies, but it will be like a small pond in a very big hole,” says Munqeth Mehyar of EcoPeace. Until this summer Israel and Jordan, which share the sea, were trying to slow the decline. The “Red-Dead project,” as it is called, would desalinate seawater at the Jordanian port of Aqaba and pump 200m cubic meters of leftover brine into the Dead Sea each year. The Aqaba plant would send fresh water to southern towns in both Jordan and Israel. In return for its share, Israel agreed to pump an equal amount to parched northern Jordan, where most of the population lives. But the project is now on hold, following the stabbing of an Israeli embassy guard by a Jordanian teenager in July. — The Economist, 12/2/2017

Montenegro’s foremost politicians joined their president and faith community leaders for the first laying in centuries of a cornerstone for a synagogue in the area that now comprises that Balkan nation. Montenegro has 400 Jews, according to the World Jewish Congress, “with maybe a tenth of that participating in actual Jewish spiritual life,” according to Ari Edelkopf, a Chabad rabbi who earlier this year became Montenegro’s first resident rabbi in over a century. The government of Montenegro, which became independent in 2006 after breaking away from Serbia, gave the land for the synagogue in 2013. — Times of Israel, 12/22/2017

It is a remarkable fact that Jerusalem and London share the same average rainfall of 22 inches (55cm) per year! The difference is that in Jerusalem it all falls within about 50 days in heavy downpours, whereas in London it is spread over some 300 days. — Bridges for Peace, 11/24/2017