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Barbie and Ken dolls depict Mary and the crucified Christ

Emiliano Paolini holds a Ken doll as Jesus Christ nailed to a cross (Credit: Pool Paolini via Facebook) Barbie has been an astronaut, flight attendant, and even president.  But two Argentine artists have given the doll a new role: the Virgin Mary.  They have also created a Ken doll as the crucified Christ along with other saints and figures from world religions.  However, they chose not to create a Ken doll as the Prophet Muhammad.  Catholic bishops in Italy are denouncing the depictions.

These are challenging days for Jews and Christians.  The Jewish New Year known as Rosh Hashanah was marked Wednesday by Israelis pessimistic about peace, with an economy struggling to recover from the latest war with Hamas.  Global anti-Semitism continues to escalate: a rabbi in Jackson, Mississippi reports that he was recently thrown out of a local restaurant because he is Jewish.

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Surprising good news in the Ebola fight

Residents flee during clashes in the West Point quarantined neighborhood of Liberia's capital Monrovia, August 20, 2014 (Credit: Reuters/James Harding Giahyue)The Centers for Disease Control announced yesterday that 1.4 million people could be infected with the Ebola virus by early next year if interventions don't start working soon.  The CDC director arrived in Africa Monday to assess the crisis, and is calling it "absolutely unprecedented."

But there's good news on this tragic front from two unlikely sources.  One is the role Ebola survivors are playing in confronting the epidemic.  Many doctors believe that those who are infected but survive this strain of Ebola become immune to it.  As a result, they are being enlisted to counsel those who may be infected.  They are helping bury the dead, since bodies of Ebola victims are even more contagious than when the person was alive.

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Police stop ISIS attack in Australia: are Americans next?

Kurds and Yazidi take part in a rally in Frankfurt, Germany, protesting the invasion of large parts of the Iraq by the jihadist group Islamic State (IS), August 9, 2014 (Credit: EPA/Boris Roessler)Imagine walking down the street in Sydney, Australia when an Islamic State terrorist attacks you.  Not because you are a threat to him or ISIS, but because he wants to behead you in a random "demonstration killing" he will put on YouTube for the world to see.  Last week, Australian police thwarted just such a plot, raiding more than a dozen properties and detaining 15 people.

Is this an isolated threat?  According to New York Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, ISIS is targeting his city by calling on American Muslims to perpetrate "lone wolf" attacks in Times Square.  Last month, a Muslim American admitted that he killed teenager Brendan Tevlin in New Jersey as an act of vengeance for America's attacks on jihadists.

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What I learned from the 'Angelina effect'

Actress and campaigner Angelina Jolie attends a summit to end sexual violence in conflict, at the Excel centre in London June 12, 2014. The summit runs from June 10 to 13 (Credit: Reuters/Luke Macgregor) Angelina Jolie made world headlines last May with the announcement that she had undergone a double mastectomy.  She did not have breast cancer, but she had tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which placed her at significantly higher risk for developing the disease.  So she had preventative surgery, then told the world what she had done.  Her goal was to help other women get gene tested.

Now we know the results.  A new study discovered that genetic testing referrals for the most common breast cancer mutations more than doubled after Jolie told her story.  Referrals continued to be much higher for months afterwards.  Researchers are calling this phenomenon the "Angelina effect."

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More churches accepting gays than ever before

A rainbow banner, proclaiming all are welcome, hanging over the main entrance of the Church of the Pilgrims located at 2201 P Street, N.W., in the Dupont Circle neighborhood of Washington, D.C, used to send a message that homosexuals are welcome in the church, August 22, 2007 (Credit: Drama Queen via Flickr) The National Congregations Study recently published its latest report of America's churches, synagogues and mosques.  It finds more racial and ethnic diversity in our pews, more encouragement of hand-waving, amen-shouting and dancing in our aisles, and less connection to denominations, doctrines, and rules that might impede growth.

The study also found that more congregations than ever before accept gays and lesbians in active membership and in church leadership.  Roman Catholics and white conservative evangelicals are the exception: the percentage of Catholic churches permitting full membership and leadership roles for homosexuals has fallen significantly, while only four percent of white conservative evangelical churches permit gays in leadership roles.

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