The Common Good

God's Politics

Episcopal Priest Under Scrutiny for Nude Photos

In the middle of the 16th century, Catholic bishops and theologians met sporadically in the city of Trento in northern Italy to discuss the church's response to the Reformation. Over the course of 18 years, the Council of Trent produced documents correcting abuses like indulgences and other corruption.

In 1564, the council ordered that some naked figures in Michelangelo's massive "Last Judgment" fresco in the Sistine Chapel be covered up as a result of the council's dictate that "all lasciviousness be avoided; in such wise that figures shall not be painted or adorned with a beauty exciting to lust."

It will be difficult for critics to compare Michelangelo's nudes with the ones photographed by the Rev. John Blair. Just after the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri launched an investigation of the St. Louis priest, many of his photos of nude models were removed from the Internet.

And yet the diocese's disciplinary board, whose members will decide if Blair's photography constitutes sexual misconduct, will try to answer the same question as Trent's participants 450 years ago: How does the church recognize the beauty of art that depicts God's creation — the human form — without seeming to condone "a beauty exciting to lust"?

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Middle East Riots Fueled by Competition Between Radicals, Moderates

Anti-American riots that have spread to more than a dozen countries across the Middle East are a sign of fissures between radical and more moderate Islamists that are vying for power as their societies undergo change, Middle East experts say.

Whether U.S. foreign policy has helped create a political environment where radicals are struggling to remain relevant, or emboldened extremists to act out, is a matter of disagreement.
 
President Obama's approach to the Arab Spring, to engage with the Islamists and not the secularists, "is seen by our foes as disengagement, while the radicals are not backing off," said Walid Phares, an adviser to the Anti-Terrorism Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives and author of the 2010 book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.

"When we withdraw, they advance."
 
Tamara Wittes, who served as deputy assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern Affairs until a few months ago, sees it differently.
 
The U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq removed "a massive source" of grievance for ultra-conservative Muslims, called Salafis, who have been leading the charge in the recent protests and who are ideologically close to Islamic terrorists who have warred with the U.S., Wittes said. "Now they're left trying to gin up anti-American feelings over this campy movie. If Salafi groups are left having to troll the Internet for a pretext, I think we're in pretty good shape."

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The Myth of Mitt Romney’s Evangelical Problem

 

Mitt Romney has an evangelical problem. Or so we’ve been told by everyone from The New Yorker to The Huffington Post to The Daily Beast. The national media have perpetuated this narrative throughout the election season, and political pundits aplenty have assumed its reliability in their columns and commentary.

But there’s one glaring problem with the storyline: It’s not true.

“Evangelicals say they want a presidential candidate who shares their religious beliefs and they still hold that Romney’s religion is different from their own,” says Robert Jones, CEO of the Washington-based Public Religion Research Institute. “And yet as early as May 2012, shortly after it became clear that Romney was the presumptive nominee,Romney held a 45-point lead over Obama" among evangelicals.

We’ve been told that evangelicals were so skeptical of Romney’s Mormon faith they might not be able to pull the lever for him in the voting booth. But according to Jones’ research, as more white evangelical voters have realized that he is Mormon, his favorability among them has actually risen.

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Love Bug: Kids Flourish When We Focus on Their Strengths

Bralyan loves bugs.

I met him during the first week of school as I conducted the standard assessment of how many words he could read per minute from a second-grade story. After the assessment, I gave him the customary caterpillar sticker to put on his shirt to show everyone that he was going to emerge as a great reader during his second-grade year.

You would have thought that I had given him a piece of gold.

"Oooh, I love bugs," he marveled as I handed him the sticker. "I have seen caterpillars around the trees at my apartment. They spin a chrysalis and turn into butterflies.

“Have you seen a roly poly bug?,” he continued. “They're my favorites!"

And so a friendship began around the pyrrharctia isabella, the armadillidum vulgar and other bugs that make up the most diverse group of animals on the planet.

This interaction told me some crucial things about Bralyan. It told me he is a smart kid, and it also told me that keeping him engaged in school would likely include bugs.

I later learned that Bralyan and his family moved here from Mexico when he was a baby. His mom and dad speak only Spanish at home. He speaks English at school.

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Links of Awesomeness: September 17, 2012

Want to make a tattoo for Justin Vernon? Now you can! The Bon Iver singer-songwriter is holding a contest for fans to design a tattoo. The ink will go on his left forearm and has to be inspired by the early '90s TV series Northern Exposure. Check out some of the finalists. [via Paste]

Warner Bros. released character photos from The Hobbit! Check out the photos here. [Via Paste]

Bubbles are cool. Especially when they're in droplets of water hovering in outer spaceCheck. It. Out. [via Laughing Squid]

Hungry? Need a good laugh? Like Cheetos or Takis? If you answered yes to any of those questions, you're going to like this music video.

Scientists at Argonne National Laboratory have discovered a way to use sound waves to levitate individual droplets of solutions containing different pharmaceuticals. Trippy. 

 

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Sermon for Ordination: You Don't Have What It Takes — But You Have a God Who Does

Years ago on a bright Tuesday in March, I was driving to seminary and I found myself stuck in traffic on I-25.  Sitting in a dead stop on the interstate I stared up into the clear blue Colorado sky and thought, “What in the world  am I doing?  I don’t believe a word of this Jesus stuff. I mean, It’s a fairy tale.”

But then in the very next moment I thought, “Except…throughout my life…I have experienced it to be true.” 

I experience the gospel to be true even when I can’t believe it. And honestly sometimes I believe the gospel even when I don’t experience it.  And I suggest to you today that this is why we have and even why we need Word and Sacrament. Because see, we are a forgetful people.

And it is to this office of Word and Sacrament that you have been called Matthew and I feel like in an ordination sermon, the preacher should in some way address the level of preparedness of the ordinand in question, and I am in a position to do just that.

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In Lebanon, Pope Benedict Tells Middle Eastern Christians: 'Fear Not'

BEIRUT — As violent protests against an anti-Islam film spread to much of the Muslim world on Friday, Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Lebanon to a warm welcome from Christian and Muslim leaders.

The pontiff's appeal for peace and reconciliation in the region, however, stood in jarring contrast with violent clashes in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, which left one dead and 25 injured.    

Landing at Beirut's airport in the early afternoon, Benedict praised Lebanon as an example of "coexistence and respectful dialogue between Christians and their brethren of other religions."    

Without referring expressly to the unrest, the pope warned that the country's "equilibrium" is "extremely delicate."  

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Can Dog Owners Still Be Good Muslims?

Worshippers at Toronto's Salahuddin mosque were bracing for protests Friday as part of "Walk Your Dog in Front of a Mosque Day."

The event is being organized by supporters of a man who claims Muslim protestors kicked his English mastiff, Cupcake, during an anti-Israel rally last month.    

While claiming that they wanted to draw attention to Muslim attitudes toward dogs, the organizers' Facebook page is replete with hostilities. One man wrote that he would throw protestors into a "lake of fire" and shoot their dogs, and the event has been promoted on a white supremacist website, StormFront.org.    

Some Muslims responded with their own "Good Muslims Love Dogs" Facebook page, including at least one photo of a veiled woman with a veiled dog.    

Muslims' alleged canine-phobia is often cited by critics of Islam as an example of how the faith is incompatible with Western values. Some Muslims have perpetuated that narrative, such as when a Somali cab driver in Minneapolis made national headlines in 2007 when he refused to let a blind man bring his seeing-eye dog into his car. 

Yet many Muslims all over the world have dogs, and dogs figure prominently is some Islamic countries, such as Turkey, famous for its Kangal and Akbash breeds.  

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Survey: Americans Overstate Size of Religious Minorities

The typical American underestimates how many Protestants there are in the U.S., and vastly overestimates the number of religious minorities such as Mormons, Muslims, and atheist/agnostics, according to a new study.

Grey Matter Research and Consulting asked 747 U.S. adults to guess what proportion of the American population belongs to each of eight major religious groups: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, atheist/agnostic, believe in God or a higher power but have no particular religious preference, and any other religious group. 

The average response was that 24 percent of Americans are Catholic, 20 percent are Protestant, 19 percent are unaffiliated, 8 percent are Jewish, 9 percent are atheist or agnostic, 7 percent are Muslim, 7 percent are Mormon and 5 percent identify with all other religious groups.  

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Professor to Atheists: 'Stop Whining'

Jacques Berlinerblau wastes no ink in his new book trying to flatter his fellow nonbelievers.

"American atheist movements, though fancying themselves a lion, are more like the gimpy little zebra crossing the river full of crocs," he writes in How to Be Secular: A Call to Arms for Religious Freedom.    

Ouch.    

"In terms of both political gains and popular appeal, nonbelievers in the United States have little to show. They are encircled by cunning, swarming [religious] Revivalist adversaries who know how to play the atheist card."    

Berlinerblau, a Georgetown University biblical scholar who teaches a course on secularism, wants to rescue that little zebra. But his plan may be a hard-sell with some atheists — he wants atheist groups to drop their black-and-white opposition to religion and its adherents in order to preserve the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.    

"The gimpy zebra remark was a little goofing on this over-the-top chest-thumping that emerges from Movement Atheists," he said in an interview, referring to atheist organizations with political goals, like American Atheists. "They wildly overestimate their numbers. They tend to overestimate the efficacy of their activism. They underestimate how disciplined and organized their adversaries in the religious right are, too."  

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