Any discussion of Newt Gingrich's journey to Catholicism begins with his wife.
"I have always been a very spiritual person," Callista Gingrich told the Christian Broadcasting Network this year. "I start each day with a prayer, and pray throughout the day, because I am grateful for the many blessings that God has bestowed upon us."
Hell was much written and thought about in 2011. In this 18th-century engraving accompanying Dante's <em>Inferno</em>, Virgil leads the poet past souls writhing in torment in the River Styx.
Credit Hulton Archive / Getty Images
In 2011, hell was a hot topic, from Hollywood to New York Times bestsellers. In fact, this year has seen an incendiary debate about the existence and contents of hell.
The year began with an epic battle between a priest and Satan, with Anthony Hopkins playing a demon possessed priest in the movie, The Rite. The Hollywood glimpse of the underworld came and went without much notice by moviegoers. But then, another form of hell on earth grabbed the headlines. Judgment Day would soon be upon us.
In February 2006, 5-year-old Jake Finkbonner fell and hit his head while playing basketball at his school in Ferndale, Wash. Soon, he developed a fever and his head swelled. His mother, Elsa, rushed him to Seattle Children's Hospital, where the doctors realized Jake was battling a flesh-eating bacterium called Strep A.
"It traveled all around his face, his scalp, his neck, his chest," she recalls, "and why it didn't travel to his brain or his eyeballs or his heart? He was protected."
Writer Christopher Hitchens, who died on Thursday from complications of cancer at the age of 62, leaves behind some 18 books and countless essays on politics and public figures. But his most lasting legacy may be his atheism and his long-running duel with what he considered the world's most dangerous threat: religion.
Newt Gingrich, shown with his wife, Callista Gingrich, attends a pre-debate rally sponsored by the Faith and Freedom Coalition earlier this year in Florida. The thrice-married former House speaker, who cheated on his first two wives and was punished by the House for ethical violations, is now outperforming family man Mitt Romney among Iowa's evangelicals.
One of the puzzles of the Republican presidential campaign is Newt Gingrich's appeal to religious conservatives. The irony is that Gingrich, a Catholic convert who has had three marriages, is outperforming Romney, a lifelong Mormon and family man. In fact, less than a month before the Iowa caucuses, the former speaker of the House has three times the support of evangelicals in that state that Mitt Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, does.