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CULTURE DIGEST: Internet bets hook collegians; ‘born again’ label unclear; Progressive Corp. chmn. bankrolls ACLU

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–When an affluent college student was arrested for allegedly robbing a bank in Allentown, Pa., his lawyer said he was desperate to pay off a $5,000 debt he had accrued through an Internet gambling addiction, and experts say his story is evidence of an alarming trend that is reaching the crisis level.

Greg Hogan, son of a pastor and president of the sophomore class at the Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, was taken away from a university philharmonic rehearsal Dec. 9 in handcuffs after earlier entering a bank, handing the teller a threatening note and walking out with cash.

“Gambling on college campuses is [an] epidemic, and Internet gambling is probably the fastest-growing type of campus gambling,” Edward Looney, director of the Council on Compulsive Gambling of New Jersey, told The Morning Call newspaper in Lehigh Valley, Pa. “You give me one hour on any campus and I’ll find an active game or a kid who can’t stay off his computer. It’s verging on crisis, and really, we’re just getting started.”

Just as millions more people became addicted to pornography when Internet access increased, a large number of people who would not likely set foot in a casino are indulging in Internet gambling, and much of it is occurring on college campuses.

More than 1.8 million people play online poker each month, wagering an average of $200 million a day, The Morning Call said Dec. 18, referring to a study by PokerPulse.com. About 90 percent of college gamblers are men, and of those, the typical compulsive gambler is a competitive, high-energy student with good grades who is popular with his peers, has a talent for math and works a part-time job, according to the Council for Compulsive Gambling.

The council receives more than 20,000 calls a year, including more than 4,000 from addicted gamblers, The Morning Call noted. More than 80 percent of the 4,000 have committed crimes to fund their gambling habit, and 78 percent said the mounting debts have led them to consider suicide.

Court TV aired a special Dec. 8 — “Al Roker Investigates: Kids, Cards and Dice” — in which the NBC “Today” show’s Roker examined how the recent glamorization of celebrity poker tours and other forms of high-stakes betting has captivated the imagination of the nation’s youth. Research shows that more than 3 million kids play cards for money on a weekly basis — more than double the number from two years ago — Court TV said.

The National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that one out of every five college students who plays poker regularly will develop an addiction, Court TV said, and as the losses increase, so does the temptation to commit a crime to pay them.

“It’s sad. They are in such denial,” Roker said, adding that some wrongly think they’ll turn pro at gambling. “It’s no different than kids who think they will be pro basketball or baseball players.”

But the consequences of this misconception are higher, as Hogan now faces robbery charges and at least five years in prison.

MEANING OF ‘BORN AGAIN’ UNCLEAR TO MANY — After a series of telephone interviews conducted in October, The Barna Group determined that much confusion surrounds what it really means to call oneself a “born again Christian” in America.

Research indicated that the terminology used by followers of Jesus Christ reflects a variety of meanings, Barna said, and while the most widely held description is simply “Christian,” “that term represents a segment of adults who engage in less religious activity and possess less orthodox views than do people who associate themselves with other descriptions.”

Although 80 percent of adults in the United States call themselves “Christian,” Barna found that 68 percent, or two out of three adults, consider themselves “a committed Christian” and 45 percent use the phrase “born again Christian.”

Barna discovered that one-quarter of those who call themselves born again did not meet the Barna Group criteria for born again, generally meaning they rely upon something other than God’s grace as their means to salvation. The standard Barna uses to determine whether a person is born again is if they claim they will go to heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

The research suggests that phrases do not necessarily possess universally understood meaning, Barna said in a late-November news release.

“With more than 250 Protestant denominations in the United States and the increasing diversity and customization within the spiritual realm, it’s not surprising that there is very limited common understanding with such language,” George Barna said. “The challenge may be to avoid reliance on labels and brief adjectives as religious profiles.

“In our sound-bite society, with everyone moving quickly and making snap judgments, the temptation is to rely upon simple characterizations to provide a broad perspective on who a person is and what they represent.”

For more information, visit www.barna.org.

PROGRESSIVE CORP. CHMN. GIVES BIG TO ACLU — The American Family Association is advising Christians to avoid taking out policies with Progressive Insurance because of reports that the former CEO, Peter Lewis, has given $8.5 million to the American Civil Liberties Union, the activist group that seeks to purge the nation of references to God. Lewis now is chairman of the Progressive Corporation, Progressive Insurance’s parent company.

AFA said Lewis’ gift helps the ACLU promote their anti-Christian agenda by removing nativity scenes from public property, banning songs such as “Silent Night” from schools, refusing to allow students to write about the Christian aspect of Christmas in school projects and renaming a Christmas tree displayed on public property as a holiday tree, among other things.

In addition to the war on Christmas, AFA said the ACLU is responsible for suing states to force them to legalize homosexual marriage, forcing libraries to remove pornography filters from their computers, censoring student-led prayer at graduations and attempting to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance.

Katherine Bell, spokesperson for Progressive Corporation, noted that the company contributes annually to the Progressive Insurance Foundation, which matches contributions of its employees to eligible 501(c)(3) charities, including religious organizations. She added that in 2005 the foundation offered a 200 percent match to employees’ contributions to help hurricane victims, raising $1,350,000 for hurricane relief.

AFA TAKES ON FORD — On a related note, the American Family Association also is considering another boycott of Ford Motor Company after the automaker reversed course following discussions with the watchdog group and now plans to feature all of its brands in a 2006 ad campaign in homosexual publications.

In June, AFA suspended its brief boycott of Ford to grant dealers time to communicate directly with Ford officials regarding the company’s support for the “same-sex marriage” movement.

“From redefining family to include homosexual marriage, to giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to support homosexual groups and their agenda, to forcing managers to attend diversity training on how to promote the acceptance of homosexuality, to sponsoring a ‘commitment (marriage) ceremony,’ to sponsoring Gay Pride Parades, Ford leads the way,” AFA Chairman Don Wildmon had said upon launching the boycott in May.

Wildmon said AFA and Ford officials had reached an agreement during the past six months that was accepted by both parties, but at the last minute Ford turned back to supporting the homosexual agenda.

“We had an agreement with Ford, worked out in good faith. Unfortunately, some Ford Motor Company officials made the decision to violate the good faith agreement. We are now considering our response to the violation and expect to reach a decision very soon,” Wildmon said Dec. 15. “All we wanted was for Ford to refrain from choosing sides in the cultural war, and supporting groups which promote same-sex marriage is not remaining neutral.”

While AFA is considering its next step, the option of another boycott is “very much alive,” Wildmon said.

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  • Erin Curry Roach