Sunday, December 23, 2012

The 3 - December 23, 2012

In this week's edition of "The 3", my week-in-review feature, we see the huge box office results for a film based on a book by a Christian author who integrates a faith perspective into his writings.   There was also more court action concerning that divisive mandate that free contraception and abortion drugs be provided in health insurance plans, despite the objections of religious organizations and companies.   And, the top story involves a new study that illustrates the prevalence of Christianity in the world today, and as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, reflecting on these results could propel us to confidently share our faith.

3 - Movie based on Christian author's book sets December box office record

The new movie based on the writings of Christian author J.R.R. Tolkien has set an all-time December record for an opening weekend, with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.  Tolkien integrated a faith element into his works, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, as well as The Hobbit, and it is said that through Tolkien's influence, his friend C.S. Lewis came to Christ.

Hannah Goodwyn of writes: 
J.R.R. Tolkien's faith permeated his work, starting with The Hobbit.  Bilbo's adventure is more than just a fictional children's story about hobbits, wizards, trolls and goblins. This fantasy shines a light on the evil and good in human nature – greed, suspicion, bravery and loyalty.  Thankfully, that's not at all lost on the cast personifying Tolkien's beloved Middle Earth characters.
She quotes poet W.H. Auden as saying:
If one is to take a tale of this kind seriously, one must feel that, however superficially unlike the world we live in its characters and events may be, it nevertheless holds up the mirror to the only nature we know, our own; in this, too, Mr. Tolkien has succeeded superbly, and what happened in the year of the Shire 1418 in the Third Age of Middle Earth is not only fascinating in A. D. 1954 but also a warning and an inspiration.
The Christian Post reports that the first movie in what will be a trilogy of films based on Tolkien's beloved children's book earned an estimated $84.78 million over Friday, Saturday and Sunday last weekend, according to Box Office Mojo.  This is higher than the previous December record of 2007's "I Am Legend", starring Will Smith.  The premiere also exceeded the $73.3 million debut of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" in 2003.  (It should be noted that theaters offering 3D/IMAX viewing options might have inflated "The Hobbit's" numbers.)

The movie made another $138 million internationally, bringing up its worldwide total to $222 million after only three days – already making well over its estimated $180 million production budget.

For a "FilmTalk Small Group Bible Study" based on The Hobbit, go to or   And, watch those sites for material on the forthcoming film, Les Miserables, which is said to possess a strong redemptive element.

2 - More activity regarding the HHS contraception mandate: new lawsuit, court victory for 2 schools and 1 company, defeat for another

This week was a very active week concerning the Obama Administration's mandate that employers, including religious employers, provide for free contraception and abortion-inducing drugs in their health care insurance plans.   The week began with the news of Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan filing suit on behalf of his company, Domino's Farms (the pizza chain is now a public corporation).  The following day, there was news out of the D.C. Circuit that a federal appeals court handed Wheaton College and Belmont Abbey College a major victory in their challenges to the HHS mandate.  According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who argued the case on behalf of the plaintiffs:  Last summer, two lower courts had dismissed the Colleges’ cases as premature.  On Tuesday, the appellate court reinstated those cases, and ordered the Obama Administration to report back every 60 days—starting in mid-February—until the Administration makes good on its promise to issue a new rule that protects the Colleges’ religious freedom.  The new rule must be issued by March 31, 2013.

According to the Becket fund, the court based its decision on two concessions that government lawyers made in open court.  First, the government promised “it would never enforce [the mandate] in its current form” against Wheaton, Belmont Abbey, or other similarly situated religious groups.  Second, the government promised it would publish a proposed new rule “in the first quarter of 2013” and would finalize it by next August. The administration made both concessions under intense questioning by the appellate judges.  The court deemed the concessions a “binding commitment” and has retained jurisdiction over the case to ensure the government follows through.

There were also conflicting decisions in separate circuits concerning for-profit companies' suits against the mandate.   These companies face stiff penalties if they do not comply with the mandate by January 1, 2013.
According to the Gleanings blog at

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to grant Christian-owned Hobby Lobby an injunction against the mandate, ruling that the craft chain "has not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits" of the case.  This is the second loss for Hobby Lobby, which was appealing a lower court decision to the appeals court.   It now plans to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court for temporary relief prior to the mandate, and the fines for non-compliance, take effect.   Hobby Lobby could pay some $1.3 million per day in fines.

However, a Missouri federal district court granted a preliminary injunction to a small metal-recycling business, American Pulveriser Company, owned by two evangelicals, ruling that they do have a "substantial likelihood" of winning their case.

The D.C. case has great significance because the court is requiring the government to report its admitted attempts to exempt religious entities from having to violate their consciences and provide these drugs or face stiff penalties.  For-profit companies, on the other hand, will begin paying penalties beginning January 1st for non-compliance, which will result in a significant financial burden and likely increases in the cost of their products.
1 - New study shows Christianity tops global religious landscape

This week, the results of a new study by the Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life were released, and the data indicates that almost one-third of the people on the globe claim to be - Christian.   The study, entitled, "The Global Religious Landscape: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Major Religious Groups as of 2010" shows that of the world's 6.9 billion people, 2.2 billion or 32 percent are Christians.

According to a report on the survey at, only 12 percent of Christians live in North America, and the vast majority of Christians, 99 percent, live outside the Middle East-North Africa region where Christianity began.

Apart from North America, Christians are geographically dispersed, with 26 percent in Europe, 24 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean, 24 percent in sub-Saharan Africa and 13 percent in the Asia-Pacific region, the study found, based on 2010 data.

Pew reported that the world's population includes 1.6 billion Muslims, 1 billion Hindus, nearly 500 million Buddhists, 400 million adherents of various folk and traditional religions, 58 million adherents the study confined to the category of "other," comprised of many religions including Baha'i faith, Jainism, Sikhism, Shintoism, Taoism and Wicca.

Also, the study states that most of the world's population, 5.8 billion or 84 percent, affiliates with a particular religion, leaving 1.6 billion, or 16 percent, with no religious affiliation.   But many with no religious affiliation hold religious or spiritual beliefs, such as a belief in God or a universal spirit, while not identifying with a particular religion. 

Regarding the United States, the study found that 78 percent, or 243,060,000 of the country's 310,390,000 people are Christian.
There is much to be learned from these survey results - for one thing, we can be encouraged at the significant number of people worldwide and in America who claim to be Christians.   This can give us confidence that Christianity is and can be a powerful force in the world today.   But, even at that, Christians only make up one-third of the religious population worldwide...this tells us there is quite a mission field.   And, as we continue to track, there are many - generally between 15 and 20 percent - that say they do not follow any particular religion, although many claim to be spiritual.   There is a great affinity for the divine in the world today, and as we follow the truth of the Bible, then we can help point people who are searching to a knowledge of our Savior.

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