Egypt's Christians Under Attack: Interactive Map

Screenshot from USA Today's Interactive Map, "Egypt's Christians Under Attack."

Screenshot from USA Today's Interactive Map, "Egypt's Christians Under Attack."

Since the July 3 ousting of former president Mohammed Morsi, Christians in Egypt have faced a shocking spike in violent attacks. Human rights groups in the country claim that to date, Egyptian authorities have not prevented the persecution. 

Christians make up nearly one-tenth of Egypt's population of 80 million. While Egypt's Coptic Christians have faced longstanding persecution, many are reporting that tensions between Sunni Muslims and minority Christians are the highest they have been for decades. USA Today reports:

Churches, houses, monasteries, orphanages, schools and businesses belonging to Copts were attacked in nine provinces "causing panic, losses and destruction for no reason and no crimes they committed except being Christians," the Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic activist group, said Thursday.

Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Christian weekly Watani, said the recent attacks are painful and vicious but it be worse if they are allowed to divide the two faiths.

USA Today has created an interactive map with real-time updates on attacks on Christian institutions, stretching from Alexandria to Qena. View the map here.

Read more of USA Today's story here.

The Color of Justice

Scales of Justice,  tlegend /

Scales of Justice, tlegend /

Oddly, I wasn't there the night George Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin. I wasn't in the jury box either. Some commentators, like Ezra Klein and Ta-Nahesi Coates, are saying the not guilty verdict was appropriate according to Florida's "stand your ground" law. (Note that they are not saying that the Florida law is appropriate; Klein uses the word outrageous).

If this verdict was appropriate, though, what about verdicts in cases that were similar except for the color of the defendant? What happened to the "stand your ground" law when the jury reached its verdict against Marissa Alexander — an African American woman from Jacksonville, Fla.?

And anyway, why should fear of attack justify shooting to kill? It didn't in the case of  John White — an African American man from Long Island, N.Y. — who shot a (white) teenager in 2006 (accidentally, he says, when the boy was trying to grab his gun).

John White, it appears, had good reason to fear the boys who showed up on his doorstep that night. That's probably why the governor commuted his sentence after he had served five months. And White no doubt should have served some time, according to New York law — his gun was unregistered, and if he hadn't been holding it when he went to the door, a scuffle probably wouldn't have escalated into manslaughter.

But, some say, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Is this true?

Since Aurora, a Steady Stream of Mass Killings

Following the movie theatre massacre in 2012 that killed 12 people, 126 others have died due to similar events involving mass killings. USA Today reports such tragedies are more “typical” than people think reporting that approximately every two weeks since 2006, a mass killing has occurred somewhere in the United States. USA Today reports:

A USA TODAY database of these shootings over the past seven years shows that what Americans experienced over the past calendar year is sadly typical. There have been 14 such incidents since Jan. 1 of this year, while 2012 actually had a low for the reporting period: 22 mass killings. The high was 37 in 2006, the first year of the examination. (The FBI defines mass killings as murders that occur in a short time span and in which four or more people are killed.)

Read more here.

The Bible and Movies and Violence – Oh My!

David and Goliath illustration, Milena Moiola /

David and Goliath illustration, Milena Moiola /

Whenever I hear someone lament that kids these days need to read their Bibles, I tell them that the Bible should be rated R for violence, nudity, rape, drug deals, and even genocide – and that’s just in the first book! Of course, as a youth pastor, I’ve found that the best way to get kids interested in the Bible is to tell them that if someone made it into a movie, it would be rated R.

The Bible and movies tell stories. Gareth points out the importance of stories in his article “It’s the Movies’ Fault/It’s not the Movies’ Fault” in which he brilliantly states that, “we could benefit from recognizing that the relationship between storytelling and the formation of human identity is crucial.” Indeed, the stories we tell are crucial to the formation of human identity, but the Bible and movies tell stories that are permeated with violence. So, the question becomes, how do we make sense of those violent stories in terms of human identity?

Family Values and Murder: The Trial of Whitey Bulger

Josh Greenstein /

Media prepare for Whitey Bulger's arrival at Boston courthouse in 2011, Josh Greenstein /

“Family and friends come first,” the witness said in court. “My father always taught me that. The priests and the nuns I grew up with taught me that. They taught me that Judas – Judas was the worst person in the world.” If you have not been following the Boston trial of Whitey Bulger, you might easily imagine that this quote was taken from divorce court, maybe a custody trial. The witness might be trying to paint his spouse as an adulterer, a Judas if you will, in order to bolster his or her claim to a bigger share of the settlement.

It’s not a bad strategy. No one likes a snitch, and many of us know from experience that betrayal is a rotten thing to endure. In hurt and anger we may even have condemned our betrayer as a Judas, if only under our breath. But what if I told you that the witness was a convicted murderer, a mob hit man from the Boston underworld, who was using the Judas analogy to justify his actions? In the 1970s and ‘80s, John Martorano killed 20 people – to his mind, Judases – for “noble purposes:” to protect family and friends from being hurt or double-crossed. He claims never to have enjoyed killing, not like a mass murderer. “I didn’t like risking my life,” he explained under oath, “but I thought if the reason was right, I’d try.”


Barack Obama and the Drone Wars: The Logic of Violence

Military drone, F.Schmidt /

Military drone, F.Schmidt /

A fundamental principle [of ancient Greek tragedy], often overlooked, is that the double and the monster are one and the same being.

  - René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (p. 160)

The debate about the use of drone strikes in the so-called “War on Terror ” has shed light on an inevitable calculus of war: how many civilian casualties can be tolerated in pursuit of our goals? President Barack Obama, in his speech on May 23 at National Defense University, referred to the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia, admitting, “It is a hard fact that U.S. strikes have resulted in civilian casualties, a risk that exists in all war.” But of course, our wars and our use of drones were conceived as a legitimate response to the civilian deaths on 9/11 and a defensive maneuver to prevent future attacks.

Obama Defends Drone Attacks

In his speech, Obama further justified the use of drones by stating it reduces the number of civilian casualties compared to boots-on-the-ground wars. Though the numbers are hard to determine, it has been reported by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that civilian casualties caused by our invasion of Iraq number somewhere between 55,000 and 60,000. In Afghanistan, from the time reporting began in 2007, the Guardian reports that the total number of civilians who have lost their lives in the armed conflict to be 14,728. For drone strikes, the highest estimates put total civilian deaths at around 950, indisputably a better number.

The Illogical Logic of Violence

Reducing the number of deaths caused by our use of violence is a worthy goal, and Obama does seem genuinely engaged in drawing the number down. So for the sake of argument, I will take him at his word. But (you knew there was a but coming!), he is trapped, as so many of us are, within the logic of violence.

Star Trek: Into Darkness: A Call to Change Course

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still.

Star Trek: Into Darkness movie still.

Star Trek: Into Darkness is a fascinating and complicated story that is well worth watching. Instead of providing a summary, I want to explore three related aspects of the movie: sacrifice, blood, and hope for a more peaceful future.

Live Long and Prosper – The Sacrificial Formula

In a reference to my favorite Star Trek movie, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the current movie’s Spock (Zachary Quinto) restates the sacrificial formula: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one.” This formula has generally been used throughout human history to justify sacrificing someone else. As René Girard points out, from ancient human groups to modern societies, whenever conflicts arise the natural way to find reconciliation is to unite against a common enemy.

Of course, there’s a lot of this going on throughout the Star Trek franchise. One conversation in Into Darkness explicitly points this out when Kirk (Chris Pine) unites with his enemy Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), and explains it to Spock:

Kirk: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Spock: An Arabic proverb attributed to a prince who was betrayed and decapitated by his own subjects.

Kirk: Well, it’s still a hell of a quote.

Al-Khatib and Al Jazeera: Listening to Victims in Syria

Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring /

Violence in Syria illustration, Lightspring /

What the heck is going on in Syria? If you are like me, you have a problem keeping all the players straight, and the unfamiliar Arab names don’t help. Thankfully, the Syrian president has a relatively easy name to remember, Bashar al-Assad, but keeping track of who’s who and which side they’re on is a real challenge. Frankly, even when I can keep track, I’m very skeptical that I am getting anything close to the truth from news outlets, the White House, or our State Department. The talk about a “red line,” no-fly zones, arming terrorists, and weapons of mass destruction sounds a lot like the falderal we were being fed going into the Iraq war. So what’s a good citizen of the world to do? If I can’t make sense of the news accounts myself, who can I find to help me out? And if I can’t trust my government to sort out the good guys from the bad guys for me, how can I ever figure out what, if anything, my government should be doing in my name?