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Malala Yousafzai: what you need to know

Malala Yousafzai gives her first speech since the Taliban in Pakistan tried to kill her for advocating education for girls, at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, July 12, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid)Malala Yousafzai was born on July 12, 1997 in Pakistan.  Her father is a poet and educator.  At the age of 11 she began speaking up for education rights.  The next year she started a blog for the BBC describing her life under the Taliban, which had begun banning girls from school.  She continued speaking out on behalf of the 57 million children around the world who are unable to attend school.

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Is Jesus better than religion?

Jefferson Bethke performing his poem Why I hate religion, but love Jesus (Jefferson Bethke via YouTube) Jefferson Bethke played baseball in college, got a degree in politics and government, and taught high school social studies in the Seattle area.  On January 20, 2012, he released a YouTube video titled, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus."  Within three days it had received six million views.  It has now been seen more than 25 million times.

Jonathan Merritt, one of my favorite faith and culture writers, recently talked with Bethke about his new book, "Jesus > Religion: Why He is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough."  In the interview Bethke affirms discipline, church attendance, rhythms and routine.  However, he worries about "people that use [religion] to describe moral behaviors that place you in right standing with God."

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Government shutdown day 9: How did we get here?

U.S. President Barack Obama meets U.S. Senate Democrats (not pictured) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, October 12, 2013 (Credit: Reuters/Jason Reed) A new poll shows that voters have a higher opinion of witches, hemorrhoids, and jury duty than they do of Congress. The good news?  Voters' opinions on Congress are still higher than their opinions on Miley Cyrus, Lindsey Lohan, and Anthony Weiner.

As the government shutdown continues, the "debt ceiling" debate is now escalating.  The federal debt ceiling is currently set at $16.7 trillion.  Since the government spends $30 billion more a month than it takes in, it needs permission to borrow more in order to keep paying its bills.  If the debt ceiling is not raised by October 17, the Treasury says it will run short of cash.

How did we get here?

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How Radical Muslims are recruiting Americans

A man identified as Dahir Gure is featured in a new al-Shabaab recruitment video posted to YouTube Thursday, August 8, 2013 "If you guys only knew how much fun we have over here; this is the real Disneyland.  You need to come here and join us, and take pleasure in this fun."  So said Muhammad Al-Amriki in a video titled: "Minnesota's Martyrs: The Path to Paradise."

Al-Amriki was born Troy Kastigar and lived in Minneapolis.  He apparently died several years ago while fighting in Somalia.  The video is part of a larger strategy by al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda proxy group in Somalia that staged the Kenya massacre last month.  They're in the news again after the aborted U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6 attempt to capture one of their leaders.

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'Believers consume fewer drugs than atheists'

(Credit: Reuters/Michael Kooren)This headline caught my eye: "Believers consume fewer drugs than atheists." A Swiss National Science Foundation research team found that young Swiss men who say they believe in God are less likely to smoke cigarettes or pot or take ecstasy pills than young Swiss men who say they are atheists.  Their findings were reported this week in the journal Substance Use & Misuse.

Religion has "enormous potential for lowering the risk of substance abuse among teens and adults," according to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.  They report that adults and teens who consider religion to be very important and who attend religious services weekly or more often are "far less likely to smoke, drink or use illicit drugs."  In addition, those battling addiction who attend spiritually-based support programs as part of their treatment "are more likely to maintain sobriety."

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