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Save me, save my dog

Written by Peter Smith on .

Saint Bernard dogbreedsinfo-8x6Do pets go to heaven?

It's a question that's drawn an increasing amount of speculation in recent years -- and that's a window on the social and religious changes in America, as I write in today's article about the growing recognition of pet bereavement.

Speculation about pet paradise coincides with the shrinking of household size, the growing importance of pets to many Americans in an era when dogs have moved from the "doghouse to our house*," and the fact that people are freely mixing and matching traditional religion with non-traditional spirituality.

 

"It sounds deceptively simple and maybe a little bit cute in some ways, but it's an important topic," said John Ferre, a University of Louisville communications professor who has surveyed more than two dozen books on pet heaven, with poignant titles such as "Cold Noses at the Pearly Gates."

"It gets at the idea of: Is death permanent? And if that's the case, what does life mean?" Mr. Ferre said. For many children, their first experience with death is with a pet, and one man told Mr. Ferre he abandoned his faith after his pastor refused to assure him his pet was in heaven.

It just so happens that Lifetree Cafe, a Colorado-based Christian organization that sponsors coffeehouse discussions of current topics, is hosting forums on pet heaven in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

 

"Do Good Dogs Go To Heaven" will be held Wednesday, Feb. 19, at 6:30 p.m. in McKees Rocks and Thursday, Feb. 20, at 7 p.m. in Lower Burrell. Look here for the details.

The discussions are based on a formal curriculum that can include video and printed material.

"We wanted to create a safe place where everybody’s questions and doubts are welcomed," said Craig Cable of Lifetree Cafe. "There’s going to be a lot of people with very heart-felt experiences with their pets."

Many people can't imagine heaven without their beloved pets. Which puts a new twist on the expression, "Love me, love my dog." Apparently that's not just an expression, it's a prayer. And the phrase, as it turns out, has quite a pedigree: It was popularized centuries ago by -- how appropriate -- St. Bernard.

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* h/t to the fascinating book "One Nation Under Dog" for that phrase.

 

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Pitt axing grad religious studies

Written by Peter Smith on .

pitt logoMany people remember a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court case as one that banned school-sponsored devotional Bible readings. What's often forgotten is that same case, Abington v. Schempp, actually opened the door to religious studies in the public schools. For those fearful of transgressing the First Amendment by even mentioning the topic, the court actually said such study was not only constitutional but that "education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion."

That led to a steady growth of religious studies at public universities since the 1960s. The last time this was measured by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2007, the nation's universities produced more than 5,000 graduates with religious-studies bachelor's degrees and nearly 5,000 more with minors in the field. They taught more than 5,000 graduate-level students, some in degree programs, some not. Everything from the 1960s fascination with Eastern religions to the post-Sept. 11 interest in Islam fueled interest in the field. A more recent trend has been to study not just comparative religion but to launch specific degree programs in Judaism, Islam, Catholicism and other faiths.

So it's significant that the University of Pittsburgh is cutting its graduate-level religious-studies program. Two other humanities programs, classics and German, are still walking the plank but have a chance of being preserved. My colleague Bill Schackner has the story here.

"These are very difficult times for universities and the real budgetary concerns that prompted these proposals are not likely to go away any time soon," wrote Patricia E. Beeson, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor at Pitt.

While the announced cut of the grad program doesn't say anything about the fate of undergraduate religious studies, those universities with graduate programs in the field have significantly larger faculties than those without, according to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences study.

 John Fitzmier, executive director of the American Academy of Religion, a professional association of scholars in the field, said religious-studies programs have faced cutbacks in public universities in other states.

"In some cases we’ve had modest success with letters saying, 'Please, try something else,'" he said.

Advocates for retaining religious studies positions, he said, have stressed the importance of understanding today's diverse religious world in fields as diverse as medicine and diplomacy. (As far as the latter is concerned, I've often heard it said that the 1979 Iranian revolution and subsequent hostage crisis involved a failure by U.S. diplomats to grasp the religious drama unfolding in Iran.)

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Girl Scout Cookies: Which is best?

Written by Kim Lyons on .

When they kick off Girl Scout Cookie Weekend tomorrow in Market Square, Pittsburgh-area Girl Scouts will not only be sating the annual cravings of Pittsburgh cookie lovers, they will also be reigniting a debate as old as the cookies themselves: Which is the ultimate Girl Scout Cookie?

I admit to a strong Thin Mints bias. Others in my household are partial to Tagalongs and Trefoils. I hear many people are fans of Samoas, but those don't typically make our order form.

So we need your vote: Which Girl Scout cookie is your favorite, and why?

gscookies

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Franklin Graham blasts 'intolerant' gays, 'immoral allies'

Written by Peter Smith on .

Decision-Feb14-185x243The Rev. Franklin Graham, who is preparing to lead three days of revival meetings in Pittsburgh this August, wrote a cover story in his magazine this month decrying the backlash against "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson over his condemnations of homosexuality.

"Robertson’s orthodox, biblical view on the sin of homosexuality was immediately met with disdain from the intolerant gay community and its vast network of immoral, liberal allies," wrote Rev. Graham, who succeeded his father, the legendary evangelist Billy Graham, as head of the latter's evangelistic association.

Franklin Graham's used the "Duck Dynasty" controversy -- in which the A&E network suspended and then re-instated him from the hugely successful reality show about the Louisiana family behind Duck Commander, the hunting-gear merchandisers -- to illustrate what Rev. Graham termed a Satanic war against Christianity.

And Rev. Graham contrasted the backlash to Mr. Robertson's explicit comments favoring female to male anatomy to what he called the lack of outrage over an incident Rev. Graham said he witnessed involving President Obama and Vice-President Biden. Rev. Graham said he witnessed "crude speech by our country's second highest elected official, and a flippant dismissal by the commander in chief."

Franklin Graham is headlining "Three Rivers Festival of Hope" -- revival meetings held Aug. 15-17 at the Consol Energy Center. Like his father, he holds revivals at the invitation of local religious leaders, and Pittsburgh-area organizers of the event recently held an official launch for the revival with hundreds in attendance.

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There's a Rocco-inspired petition on WhiteHouse.gov

Written by Ethan Magoc on .

Rocco Pittsbugh police dog Bill Wade Post-Gazette

 

Pittsburgh police K-9 officer Rocco is taken out under Pittsburgh police officers' salute at the Pittsburgh Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Ohio Township on Jan. 30. (Bill Wade/Post-Gazette)

Updated, Feb. 5 at 4:13 p.m.: After we published a Pittsblogh post Tuesday (see below) about the Rocco-inspired petition on WhiteHouse.gov, the petition's author stepped forward.
 
His name is Adam Studebaker, and he's a 26-year-old paramedic, a dog lover, living in Summer Hill.
 
"I've had a chance to work along side these dogs just through my daily course of work and I know them to be gentle and loving animals," he wrote in an email. "What happened to Rocco is a shame and that is directly what fueled me starting that petition."
 
He acknowledged the petition's "vague nature," but said the White House's 900-character limit is what kept him from detailing more of his goals for any future legislation. Studebaker did say he has reached out to Sen. Matt Smith, who has co-sponsored legislation called "Rocco's law," and offered to help in any way he can.
 
He knows the 100,000 signatures threshold is a lofty goal, "but it is what I'm striving for," he wrote. "Rocco was a great loss for not only his handler but also for the entire City of Pittsburgh and its residents."
 
Original story, Feb. 4 at 12:39 p.m.: It didn't take long after Pittsburgh police dog Rocco died Thursday night for a petition to appear on the "We the people" section of WhiteHouse.gov, where citizens can post petitions ranging from law-making initiatives to civic engagement projects.
 
Pittsburgh resident "A.S." started and was the first signatory behind an online push to make the penalties for killing a K-9 officer more in line with the punishment for killing a human officer.
 
Precisely what those penalties should be is not clear.
 
The petition is ambitious in its scope: "change all federal and state laws" and had just over 2,500 signatures through Tuesday morning — well short of the 100,000 required to achieve an official response from someone at the White House.
 
As Pennsylvania law now stands, John Rush, who is accused in Rocco's stabbing and death, faces a maximum of 7 years in prison.

 

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