Why is atheism so hot right now? The Nation‘s Katha Pollitt:

There’s no question in my mind that horror at militant Islam and fear of Muslim immigration lie behind at least some of the current vogue for atheism–you don’t make the bestseller list by excoriating the evils of Lutheranism or Buddhism. The problem is that the more scorn one feels for religious belief, the less able one is to appreciate “reformed” or “moderate” variants of the faith. After all, pro-gay Episcopalians and liberation theology Catholics still believe in Christ, the afterlife, sin; reformed Jews still find wisdom in the Old Testament. Strictly speaking, an atheist should have no truck with any of it. But if all you can offer people is reasons to quit their religion–which also often means their community, their family, their support system and their identity–you’re not going to have many takers. For every brilliant angry teenager you strengthen in doubt, there’s a mosque- or churchful of people who’ll choose the old-time religion if the only other choice is nothing.

BURMA: The UN has asked Vietnam to engage Burma. I guess this is because everything else has failed:

Vietnam will soon become a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and has better relations with Myanmar than most other countries in the region, Ibrahim Gambari told reporters.

As a result, Vietnam has a responsibility to “exercise that closeness, that leverage, positively,” Gambari, the U.N. envoy for Myanmar, said.

Gambari, who met later in the day with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, said he delivered a message from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon asking Vietnam to urge Myanmar to intensify its efforts to cooperate with the UN.

The goal, he said, is to create a “peaceful, united, stable, prosperous, democratic Myanmar with full respect for human rights.”

And don’t forget Don’t Forget Burma, and Burma is Important.

TIBET: China continues to fume over the Dalai Lama’s comment that his successor will be found outside of China if he dies.  (And why not? This is less ridiculous than China’s proclamations about regulating reincarnation that started all this.  The Dalai Lama will choose where he wants to incarnate next, right?) China “played the French card”, warmly welcoming French president Nicolas Sarkozy this week. This was meant to be a snub to Angela Merkel and Germany for receiving the DL recently. But Sarko slammed China for its belligerent attitude toward the Dalai Lama and Tibet with one hand and secured 30 billion dollars in Chinese contracts for France — triple what French businessmen had expected — with the other. Now THERE’s a politician.

Meditation may help ease holiday stress, and there are many reasons to feel stressed this and every year. Any recommendations for a 15-minute guided meditation? Someone asked on LinkedIn.

– Philip Ryan, Web Editor