Chris Walton of Philocrites points us to religion reporter Cathleen Falsani’s Chicago Sun-Times interview with Hugh Hefner. Falsani gets the obvious over with first: yes, Hefner considers himself “blessed,” and is a grateful, grateful man. Her exploration of the playboy’s “decidedly unconventional” spirituality (“‘I think sex is there for procreation and a good deal more.'”) goes well beyond look-who’s-thinking-about-God irony, and beyond the interesting sketch of Hefner’s religious history, to a nuanced consideration of what he means by spirituality: a life-long “‘quest for the world where the words to the song are true.”

“The fact that I have sympathy for ordinary people in the world who are suffering from occupation, tyranny, poverty or war is human and has nothing to do with politics or terrorism…I have never harbored any ill will toward people of God’s great Earth anywhere — and wish the reverse was also true.” Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens, thinks something bad has begun.

“Bush salts his public statements with religious references as a way of preempting challenge…Bush sponsors ‘faith based’ social projects to disguise his agenda of dismantling structures of government that provide basic human needs. Bush cites religion as a way of justifying a politics of exclusion…Bush uses religion to justify his penchant for violence…How dare the people who have twisted religion in these ways challenge the religious integrity of John Kerry?” The GOP’s “Kerry Wrong for Catholics” campaign backfires with at least one prospective Catholic supporter, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll.

Paul Vallas, CEO of the 210,000-student Philadelphia School District, is attempting to form large-scale partnerships with local religious groups, asking them to “adopt” one of the district’s 276 schools in the hope that the congregants will help with tutoring, mentoring, “crisis intervention” counseling and discipline. So far, one third of the schools are so “partnered,” making Philadelphia’s incorporation of religious groups into its program the most direct of any district, reports Mary Beth McCauley, of The Christian Science Monitor. No details were given regarding the diversity of religion in the groups assigned to schools, nor what limits religious participants had when counseling students during “crisis interventions.”

The New York Times’ Leslie Wayne finds New Mexico’s warrior-saints: the “New Age” Sikh Dharma compound where followers of Yogi Bhajan are successfully running Akal Security, one of the most profitable homeland security companies in the country.

Animal, vegetable or mineral? Kari Lynn Dean, of Wired News reports on the efforts of Jonathan Keats, head of the International Association for Divine Taxonomy, to place God on the phyogenetic map — the scientific tree of life. The project, unsurprisingly, faces evolutionary theory off with creationism, though maybe in a novel way: If Darwin wins, God is most like blue-green algae. If W.J.B. does, God is with the fruit flies. Keats does acknowledge the possibility that gods deserve their own category, and so added a fourth domain, Divinea, which includes Pagan and Hindu gods, “as well as Diveneus deus, Keats’ scientific moniker for the monotheistic God known as Jehovah, Yahweh or Allah.”