Official Iranian news agency Fars has reported that two pilgrims recently returned from the Hajj have contracted swine flu. Mecca plays host to about two million Muslims every year including nearly 12,000 from the United States and 25,000 from the United Kingdom, both of whom top the World Health Organization's table of reported swine flu cases. Fears about the rapid spread of the pandemic during the Hajj have prompted swift action from countries across the Middle East, which have as yet reported relatively few cases. Saudi Arabia has already put in place facilities at its major airports to quarantine pilgrims suspected of carrying the H1N1 virus.
Meanwhile in England, the Bishop of Chelmsford has advised that churches remove holy water which, when exposed in stoups, can easily become a source of infection. Revered John Gladwin recommended that parishioners exhibiting flu-like symptoms should stay at home where possible, and priests who must make pastoral visits "wear sterile gloves, an apron and a face mask." He also said those taking holy communion should not drink wine from the chalice if ill, and would still receive the full communion by taking the wafer of bread alone.
Luis Acosta/AFP/Getty images
It's finally here. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince opens in theaters tomorrow after an eight-month delay. The world is abuzz with anticipation for this picture, the sixth film to be released in the last eight years. This morning I spotted four sleeping teenagers who had camped out overnight already in line for tickets in front of DC's Uptown Theater.
Apparently, this magical mood surrounding The Half-Blood Prince has even traveled as far as the Vatican, casting its spell on the pope. In its review of the film L'Osservatore Romano -- the Vatican's official newspaper -- praised this latest cinematic adaptation of J.K. Rowling's work (written by Steve Kloves and directed by David Yates) as being the best one yet, highlighting its distinct moral compass.
There is a clear line of demarcation between good and evil and [the film] makes clear that good is right. One understands as well that sometimes this requires hard work and sacrifice."
While longtime Potter readers all over the world might respond with a resounding, "duh," this is certainly a shift for the pope who, until recently was not a Potter fan, once condemning the books as "subtle seductions." In 2008, the Vatican newspaper said young Harry "...proposes a wrong and malicious image of the hero, an unreligious one, which is even worst that an explicitly anti-religious proposition."
David Hardenberg/Getty Images
It's another great moment in advertising history: Burger King bringing together a Whopper and a Hindu goddess.
Burger King has been forced to apologise to Hindus after it showed a revered Indian goddess with a 'forbidden' Whopper burger.
The fast food chain quickly withdrew the advertisement from its stores in Spain after Hindus across the world complained at the denigration of their religion.
The advertisement shows a picture of Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of wealth, above one of the burgers, which are forbidden under Hindu religion[...]
The goddess and the burger were placed under a slogan claiming 'La merienda es sagrada' – the snack is sacred.
Though the main complaint is of course the implication that Lakshmi enjoys cow, it turns out the entire meal does not agree with the rules of strict Hindus:
It includes an all-beef patty, a beef chilli-con-carne slice, egg-based Cajun mayonnaise, all forbidden by strict Hindus. Some devotees would even be offended by the inclusion of onions which they believe inflame passions."
Not to mention the fearsome power of onion breath.
Miguel Villagran/Getty Images
It sounds like the beginning of a joke," writes The Guardian. "What do you get when you put a Muslim imam, a Greek Orthodox priest, a rabbi, a Buddhist monk and 10 atheists in the same room?" I initially thought the answer had something to do with light bulbs, but it turns out this is part of the premise of a new Turkish game show:
Viewers of Turkish television will soon get the punchline when a new gameshow begins that offers a prize arguably greater than that offered by Who Wants to be a Millionaire?
Contestants will ponder whether to believe or not to believe when they pit their godless convictions against the possibilities of a new relationship with the almighty on Penitents Compete (Tovbekarlar Yarisiyor in Turkish), to be broadcast by the Kanal T station. Four spiritual guides from the different religions will seek to convert at least one of the 10 atheists in each programme to their faith.
Those persuaded will be rewarded with a pilgrimage to the spiritual home of their newly chosen creed – Mecca for Muslims, Jerusalem for Christians and Jews, and Tibet for Buddhists.
The programme's makers say they want to promote religious belief while educating Turkey's overwhelmingly Muslim population about other faiths.
"The project aims to turn disbelievers on to God," the station's deputy director, Ahmet Ozdemir, told the Hürriyet Daily News and Economic Review.
What kind of spiritual guide is this show going to be using? With each week's suspense inherently built off of contestants' conversions, I look forward to quotes like "yes, my son, you may come forward to accept Jesus... but please, wait until after these commercials."
China Photos/Getty Images
Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, who is currently visiting Italy, has agreed to meet with members of Rome's Jewish community -- many of whom were forced to leave their homes in Libya by anti-Jewish pogroms decades ago -- but says he will only meet with them on Saturday.
Will there be shrimp cocktails, too?
Madonna was bad enough, but this is really beyond the pale.
Former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, currently imprisoned at the Hague awaiting trial for war crimes in Sierra Leone, has apparently decided to convert to Judaisim, one of his wives tells BBC radio (my transcript):
Q. So he's now a practicing Jew?
A. He's now a Jew. He's practicing Judaism.
Q. Tells us about that? What led him to that?
A. Because of the difficulties, he always wanted to know God in a very diffent and special way. From a very small boy -- because we talk about his childhood a whole lot -- he asked himself questions about Christianity. Too many questions about why certain things happened. And why, this one and that one. Just too many question in Christianity and the whole thing about Christ because he does believe in Christ. When he got to the Hague, he got to know that he really, really wanted to be a Jew. Wanted to convert to Judaism. And that...
Q. Does that mean he has rejected Christianity then? Because that's quite a radical departure.
A. No, no, no he hasn't rejected Christianity. He has always been a Christian. He just decided to become a Jew. He wants to follow the two religions.
Least. Welcome. Convert. Ever.
I also can't help wondering if he got this idea from George Bluth on Arrested Development.
MICHAEL KOOREN/AFP/Getty Images
The new book "Sex as you don't know it: for married couples who love God," written by a franciscan friar named Ksawery Knotz is flying off the bookshelves in Poland, selling out its initial print run within weeks. While Knotz's message, that even godly married couples should enjoy sex, is all fine and good and probably a smart move for the struggling Polish catholic church, isn't there something a little strange about taking sex tips from a guy who's celibate?
He also dismisses those that have questioned the competency of a celibate monk to write about sex, saying his experience comes from counselling married couples and from running a website giving sexual advice for almost a year.
There's an interesting quote from the Post's account of Pope Benedict's visit to Israel's Holocaust memorial:
Yad Vashem director Avner Shalev said he considered Benedict's remarks a "serious and important" acknowledgment of what the Holocaust represents, but said he also found the language "a bit restrained." He and other officials at the memorial said they were expecting a more personal expression of empathy, rather than the general remarks Benedict delivered. "Maybe our expectations were too high," Shalev said.
If Shalev was expecting a Larry King-style expression of remorse for Benedict's youthful involvement with Nazism or his pardon of Richard Williamson, he was definitely expecting too much. If this pope has demonstrated anything so far, it's that he has little patience for the ritual expressions of "humanity" demanded by the modern news cycle. (And Benedict's spokesman probably did him no favors by denying that he was ever a member of the Hitler Youth, even though the pope had admitted as much himself in his autobiography.)
For even the most media-savvy public figure, this trip would hae been a tough act to pull off. Some had hoped that the pope could use his spiritual authority to make a positive impact on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, but at this point, Benedict probably has too little credibility with either Jews or Muslims to pull that off. Any non-platitudinous statement he made on behalf of Palestinian rights would just reinforce Jewish skepticism of him and vice versa.
As for doing damage control, the Holy Land actually seems like the worst possible place to reach out to Jews or Muslims (particularly if you're trying to reach out to both.) As Marc Lynch noted in his discussion of why Jerusalem would have been an ill-advised choice for Barack Obama's address to the Muslim world, it "would have been a security nightmare, a political football, and at any rate would have turned it into an 'Israeli-Palestinian' event instead of a Muslim world event."
The pope must have realized this all too well when he had to leave a conference in East Jerusalem yesterday after a Palestinian began railling against Israeli crimes. It would have been difficult enough for this pope to pull off a high-profile conciliatory gesture to Jews, or to Muslims. But trying to do both at once while standing on top of the world's most volatile political-religious fault-line is damn near impossible.
MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. military today denied the allegation made in this Al Jazeera piece that evangelical chaplains are urging U.S. toops in Afghanistan to protelytize for Christianity:
The reporting here does seem a little dodgy. The piece implies that this line from a U.S chaplain's sermon is a violation of U.S. policy:
"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
But it's not at all clear that this refers to converting Afghans and this seems like a line that one could hear in any evangelical sermon in the United States. None of the officers "caught on camera" in the segment ever actually instruct troops to proselytize, in fact the only discussion of the practice is about how it's against military rules.
As for the bibles in Dari and Pashto, the conversations in the video actually seem to better support the military's explanation that a soldier had "showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them."
Afghanistan's former prime minister has called for an investigation after seeing the segment. This is a serious issue and one that has gotten the military into trouble before. But without more evidence, this particular case seems like a manufactured controversy.
Belarussian President Aleksandr Lukashenko's PR machine kicked into overdrive yesterday during a meeting with Pope Benedict. RFE/RL's Luke Allnut notes that the Belarussian strongman's adorable son Nikola stole the show at the event: "Resplendent in a white cardigan among the papal grays and purples... playing with a football and presenting the pope with his ABC's book." It certainly sounds like Lukashenko is getting his money's worth from his top-shelf British spin-doctors.
Belarussian opposition leader Anatoly Lebedko put the meeting in context for the AP:
"Lukashenko's main goal is to improve his image and to receive absolution from the pope ahead of the EU summit in Prague, where many European politicians will not extend a hand to the Belarusian dictator," he said.
On this site last week, David Kramer and Irina Krasovskaya (whose husband was "disappeared" by the Lukashenko regime) argued that the E.U.'s efforts to reach out to Belarus were ill-advised and would only lead Lukashenko to crack down more on political dissent.
Most E.U. leaders, at least, seem fairly embarassed by the prospect of standing next to Lukashenko. Some even say they won't shake his hand. Even Silvio Berlusconi, who became the first Western European leader in 14 years to meet with him yesterday, didn't hold a press conference and made it clear that he would press Lukashenko on human rights. On the other hand, the Vatican said only that some "internal problems" were discussed at the Pope's meeting but in a "positive climate"
What is Benedict thinking? There are certainly times when talking with human rights abusers can be productive. But the Pope isn't a realist, nor should he be. Unlike national leaders he's in a position to act as a voice of conscience without worrying about political expediency.
Considering the bad press he's gotten over the last few months, it couldn't have hurt the pope to say a few words in public about Lukashenko's stiffling of free speech and dissent in Belarus. Instead, he gave the dictator a photo-op to die for without a critical word.
Given the role his predecessor played in dispatching authoritarian governments from the rest of Eastern Europe, Benedict's conduct was especially shameful.
CHRIS HELGREN/AFP/Getty Images
Not such a good Friday for Caroline Kennedy, daughter of former U.S. President John F. Kennedy.
Just last week, her name emerged as a possible ambassador to the Vatican. News outlets reported that Senator John Kerry (the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee) recommended her for the role, lobbying U.S. President Barack Obama, who makes the appointments, on her behalf.
The rumor sparked outrage among Catholic groups, because Kennedy, who is Catholic, supports abortion rights, which the church vehemently opposes. One called it an "insult," saying, "It's inappropriate to appoint someone who pretends to be a Catholic but rejects the fundamental teachings of the church."
It seems that the Vatican has crossed names off of Obama's list. "At least three names...have been 'burned' even before the proposal of nomination could be made formally, because they were unwelcome to the church," one Italian journalist wrote, as translated by the Washington Times. (The Vatican denies the allegation.)
The United States has never appointed a pro-choice ambassador to the Holy See.
Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
The Israeli ultra-Orthodox newspaper Yated Neeman reached new levels of Stalin-esque photoshop audacity by doctoring photos of Israel's new government to remove female ministers Limor Livnat and Sofa Landver and replacing them with male ministers. (Click the photo for a larger version.) If Tzipi Livni had been elected, I would imagine the paper would have been pretty text-heavy on most days.
Unfortunately, no one has yet invented software that can make Foreign Miniser Avigdor Lieberman disappear.
Atlantic blogger and soon-to-be New York Times columnist Ross Douthat was not happy at all that my colleague David Rothkopf put Pope Benedict on his list of the world's biggest losers because of his comments on AIDS and condoms:
There are many other NGOs working in Africa that proceed from different premises, and take a different attitude toward matters sexual as a result, and if David Rothkopf prefers their approach that's perfectly understandable. But unless he's willing to tell the Catholic Church that it should fold up its charitable operations in the developing world and go home, I'd prefer to be spared the lectures on how the Pope is responsible for "massive death and suffering" among populations for whom Catholic institutions have provided lifelines beyond counting over the years, just because he isn't willing to to use his pulpit to preach the importance of playing it as safe as possible, health-wise, while you're committing what the Church considers mortal sin.
Rothkopf is more than able to defend his own posts, but I think that Douthat is missing the real reason why the Pope's comments upset so many people. As Bill Easterly pointed out, the first part of the Pope's statement, that AIDS is "a tragedy that cannot be overcome by money alone, that cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms," is a perfectly legitimate statement. Condoms alone won't solve anything. It's his next clause, that the distribution of condoms "even aggravates the problem" which is more problematic.
Here's more Easterly:
From the standpoint of the individual, this is obvious nonsense, you are much less likely to get AIDS if you use a condom. The reason that mass condom distribution has not worked is that far too many people don’t use the condoms. One among the many possible reasons that people don’t use condoms is that religious leaders like the Pope tell them not to, or they believe unscientific statements like the Pope’s that “condoms aggravate the problem.” So it is tragically circular for the Pope to condemn the condom campaigns for not working, when one reason they don’t work is that the Pope has previously condemned condoms.
So in response to Douthat, the Pope was not "proceeding from a different premise" than those who promote condom use, he was making a statement that could at the very least be interpreted as arguing against the fact that condoms use can prevent the transmission of AIDS. Until condom proponents start telling people that they're obligated to have sex, the Pope's defenders are on shaky ground when they say he's just offering another approach.
But don't take my word for it. Roseli Tardelli, a Brazilian AIDS activist who's been educating people on these issues for over a decade, has a new piece on The Argument blog, about how the Pope's words have set her work back years.
BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images
It's been a rough trip to Africa -- at least in the headlines -- for Pope Benedict XVI, but hey, he got some great souvenirs!
No stranger to unusual gifts, Pope Benedict was presented with a tortoise in a basket by a group of Baka Pygmies who gave him an unscheduled send-off from Cameroon last week. I’m not sure whether one can read deep messages into the gift of a tortoise (“It’s a metaphor for Pope Benedict’s approach to the Church, a slow dogged move forward with a heavy protective shell.” “It’s a symbol for…” etc etc etc ad nauseam). At any rate appears that tortoises are quite important to Baka Pygmy culture as a symbol of wisdom—they even have a special dance called the tortoise dance.
Vatican officials at first suggested it might find a nice home in the Vatican gardens. But something must have gone wrong with the turtle that was supposed to bring wisdom. After tagging on to the flight from Cameroon to Angola, the turtle (but let's hope not the wisdom!) was left behind in Luanda.
Father Lombardi told reporters the turtle was "in good hands" with the staff of the nunciature in Angola because it was decided the African turtle should live in an African habitat.
This is disturbing to say the least:
Canada's science minister, the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution.
“I'm not going to answer that question. I am a Christian, and I don't think anybody asking a question about my religion is appropriate,” Gary Goodyear, the federal Minister of State for Science and Technology, said in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
A funding crunch, exacerbated by cuts in the January budget, has left many senior researchers across the county scrambling to find the money to continue their experiments.
Some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear, a chiropractor from Cambridge, Ont., is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist.
When asked about those rumours, Mr. Goodyear said such conversations are not worth having.
George W. Bush caught a lot of (understandable) flack from scientists for his partial embrace of "intelligent design" education, but even he chose a science advisor who stated clearly that "evolution is the cornerstone of modern biology."
(Hat tip: Boing Boing)
This morning Kommersant reported (in Russian) that a prominent council of religious associations will, for the first time, be chaired by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. The decision represents a major victory for the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) and is another sign of the church's increasing influence over the Russian state.
The Kremlin is seeking church support as a rapidly disintegrating economy has fueled internal dissent. The newly annointed Patriarch, Kirill, is believed to be more liberal and politically ambitious than his predecessor and may become a major player in the Russian government.
Malaysian Christians have long referred to Jesus as the "son of Allah." Their government, it seems, has a problem with that:
Malaysian Muslim activists and officials and they see using the word Allah in Christian publications including bibles as attempts to proselytize.
Those concerns led to the ban on the Catholic Herald newspaper's use of "Allah" to denote God. The Herald is now suing the government to overturn the ruling, made after it appeared the paper would be allowed to use "Allah" provided it stamped "For Christians" on the front page of the paper.
"Allowing Christians to use the word is dangerous because it's attacking the sole religion of the Malays," said Yusri Mohamad, president of the influential Muslim Youth Movement.
"We have to question Christians' motive for wanting to use this obviously Muslim word. It appears to be for conversions. All Muslim Malays in Malaysia are against this."
The Indonesian island of Bali has big dreams to become a world capital of spiritual tourism. But that required ignoring the religious edict issued by the country's top Islamic body last week. The Council of Ulemas issued a Fatwa against yoga. Awkward, since Bali had planned to host an international yoga conference.
What ever to do? Not much of a question there, it seems. Yoga! The conference went off as planned, finishing up today, with even the island's governor attending.
Praise be to tourism, the payoffs from Bali's yoga drive could be big. Wayan Wijayasa of the Denpasar Tourism Academy in Bali told local press that if just one percent of U.S. "yogis" visited Bali a year, it would mean 160,000 yoga tourists in the country. That's big dough if you consider that Americans spent $2.95 billion on yoga equipment presumably last year, according to Wijayasa.
Monetary gains aside, yoga is popular in Bali. So that must be what Hillary Clinton meant when she said, "If you want to know if Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can coexist, go to Indonesia." That should ceratinly be worth a few sun salutations.
See also, FP's list of the all-time stupidest fatwas.
SONNY TUMBELAKA/AFP/Getty Images
That Bishop Richard Williamson, as a representative of the Vatican, openly and ardently denied the Holocaust's occurrence was a problem. A big problem. As a religious leader it was a position that shouldn't be tolerated. His dismissal from the Church was warranted.
Today however, Argentina's interior ministry announced that the bishop had ten days to leave the country or he would face expulsion, saying that Williamson "has concealed the true motive for his stay in the country." He had said he was an employee of a non-governmental group rather than declaring 'his true activity' as the director of a seminary, the ministry stated."
Wait a minute. Has Williamson broken any laws? No charges have been filed against him. However ignorant, however reprehensible his beliefs, he's entitled to them. This latest action against the bishop seems like blatant persecution and it's a horrendous precedent to set that will no doubt arm more dangerous Holocaust deniers with anti-Semitic rhetoric.
It's certainly not hard to understand the desire to just get rid of Williamson as quickly as possible, but Argentina just gave him a whole new subject to talk about.
Think Pat Robertson et al. are uniquely American? Think again. Here's an item in the Sydney Morning Herald about the leader of a fringe church in Australia:
The Pentecostal church's leader, Pastor Danny Nalliah, claimed he had a dream about raging fires on October 21 last year and that he woke with "a flash from the Spirit of God: that His conditional protection has been removed from the nation of Australia, in particular Victoria, for approving the slaughter of innocent children in the womb". [...]
Pastor Nalliah said he was helping to co-ordinate fire relief, including providing trucks to distribute clothes and food and giving his own blood, but he said he must tell "the truth".
Asked by the Herald if he did not believe most Australians would regard his remarks as being in appallingly bad taste, he said today: "I must tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear."
He said it was no use "molly-coddling" Australians.
Asked if he believed in a God who would take vengeance by killing so many people indiscriminately - even those who opposed abortion, Mr Nalliah referred to 2 Chronicles 7:14 to vouch for his assertion that God could withdraw his protection from a nation.
"The Bible is very clear," he said. "If you walk out of God's protection and turn your back on Him, you are an open target for the devil to destroy."
TORSTEN BLACKWOOD/AFP/Getty Images
In an interview with Der Spiegel over the weekend, embattled (and now unemployed) Bishop Richard Williamson declined to recant his denial of the Holocaust, as the Vatican has demanded, but did say he would read some more about it:
Williamson: Throughout my life, I have always sought the truth. That is why I converted to Catholicism and became a priest. And now I can only say something, the truth of which I am convinced. Because I realize that there are many honest and intelligent people who think differently, I must now review the historical evidence once again. I said the same thing in my interview with Swedish television: Historical evidence is at issue, not emotions. And if I find this evidence, I will correct myself. But that will take time. [...]
SPIEGEL: You could travel to Auschwitz yourself.
Williamson: No, I will not travel to Auschwitz. I've ordered the book by Jean-Claude Pressac. It's called "Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers." A printout is now being sent to me, and I will read it and study it.
How nice that Williamson has suddenly realized that "many honest and intelligent people" disagree with him about this. I can imagine him anxiously checking his mailbox for that Amazon package so he can decide for himself whether one of the most well-documented and historically significant events of the twentieth century actually happened. The Holocaust occured over 60 years ago. Williamson made his controversial comments in the 1980s. He's almost 70 years old. He really hasn't had time to look into this until now?
I feel like if I suddenly decided that, say, the Great Depression or the moon landing had never actually happened, I'd probably want to at least do some follow-up Googling at some point just to be sure.
Never mind his anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories. Does the Vatican really want to put someone this stupid back in a position of authority?
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images
The controversy of Pope Benedict XVI reinstatement of excommunicated, Holocaust-denying bishop Richard Williamson with German Chancellor Angela Merkel joining those condemning the decision:
Ms Merkel called on the German Pope to make a "very clear" rejection of the views of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied that six million Jews were gassed in Nazi concentration camps. In a highly unusual rebuke to the pontiff, she said that she did not believe there had been "sufficient" clarification.
"This should not be allowed to pass without consequences," Ms Merkel, the daughter of a Lutheran pastor, said. "This is not just a matter, in my opinion, for the Christian, Catholic and Jewish communities in Germany. The Pope and the Vatican should clarify unambiguously that there can be no denial and that there must be positive relations with the Jewish community overall."
I'm not sure, but I don't recall any secular democratic leader criticizing the Pope this way before. Merkel's rebuke also followed a statement by German Catholic theologian calling for Benedict to step down. That doesn't seem particularly likely, but it does seem significant that this controversy shows no sign of slowing down after more than a week.
If you haven't already, definitely check out John L. Allen's counterintuitive take on Benedict and Obama.
Photo: JULIA FASSBENDER/AFP/Getty Images
As Bishop Gene Robinson is added to the roster for Obama's inaugural events, it seems pretty obvious why he and Rick Warren, set to give the invocation, don't exactly get along. Bluntly, Warren is an influential Conservative Evangelical who actively campaigns against gay marriage, and V. Gene Robinson is the first openly gay Bishop in the Episcopal Church.
The gaping divide between the two religious men actually goes even deeper -- all the way to Nigeria, where the powerful Episcopal Archbishop Peter Akinola presides. The famously anti-gay Akinola has led a global movement of Episcopalians against Robinson's consecration. The church in fact split over the issue, twice -- a wide global spectrum of parishes turning to Akinola for leadership.
And when Time named Bishop Akinola as one of the world's most influential people in 2006, guess who they got to write him up? Rick Warren. Just today, Warren was rumored to be willing to help disgruntled Episcopalians get as far away from Robinson as possible. No surprise that when Warren was chosen for the inaugural invocation, Robinson told The New York Times, "it was like a slap in the face."
They've both also said quite nice words about one another, by the way. But still. Yikes. If Obama is trying to "bring people together," that's quite a daring pairing. What must Akinola be thinking about all this?
Photo: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images
The announcement that Reverend Rick Warren will be delivering the invocation at Barack Obama's inauguration has already drawn some harsh criticism.
High on the list of complaints is that Warren, pastor of the Saddleback mega-church in Orange County, California, is anti-gay-marriage and recently threw his support behind California's much-debated Proposition 8. The Human Rights Campaign has sent Obama a letter asking him to "reconsider."
Liberal bloggers also denounced Obama's selection. Ezra Klein at The American Prospect said:
There's a difference between reaching out to the evangelical community with respect and surrendering to it. Obama could have called on an Episcopalian or a Methodist or any number of more complicated and nuanced religious figures. Giving Warren this sort of political-religious opportunity effectively codifies his position as America's most politically important, and accepted, religious leader. That seems unwise, and unnecessary."
As Klein himself points out, Warren "is the author of the best-selling book of all time" and concedes an argument (albeit an unlikely one in his opinion), can be made that "Obama's demonstrated respect for the preacher might build some level of rapport, or at least openness, with that community."
But how surprised are we really by this invitation? Obama has reached out to America's most powerful evangelical before, sharing the stage with him for an event on AIDS prevention, (that time it was Warren who drew criticism from his followers) and participating in a campaign forum at Saddleback.
We've had our eye on Warren's rise in U.S. politics. In our World's Top Religious Power Brokers List from October, I wrote, "Whichever candidate wins in November, he’ll likely be making a regular pilgrimage to Orange County for counsel and support." It appears the back-scratching has begun.
Photo: David McNew/Getty Images
The Anglican Church in North America announced its plans yesterday to create a breakaway church to protest the ordination of an openly gay bishop five years ago. Up to this point, Anglicans in the United States and Canada who objected to homosexuality had allied themselves with churches abroad -- namely, the Anglican Church of Nigeria.
As FP's recent list of the world's top religious powerbrokers explained, Nigerian Bishop Peter Akinola has profited greatly from his status as the world's anti-gay Anglican leader. So today's announcement might sound like bad news to Akinola, who could easily be described as violently anti-gay.
After my time in Nigeria, however, I suspect the opposite. Akinola made waves when he created his own breakaway church in protest against homosexuality; the fact that others are following simply means his movement is catching on. The man behind the split will still retain strong influence among Anglicans.
And perhaps more importantly for Akinola, he is still strong -- and getting stronger -- at home. Akinola's views on homosexuality are wildly popular in Nigeria, where conservative Christian values are in a neck-in-neck competition with convertive Islamic ones for converts. Religious violence flared up last week at the flashpoint of north and south Nigeria (where Islam meets Christianity, to a large extent). Akinola criticized the government for inaction.
Akinola can make a strong case as the founder of the breakaway movements within the Anglican Church. And he can take credit for lashing out against homosexuality in the church. Whatever your view of the matter, that kind of symbolic power doesn't fade fast.
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Today, the United Nations is hosting an "interfaith dialogue" on religious tolerance led by... Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy where religious freedom does not exist. I guess it's like John McEnroe holding a seminar on good sportsmanship.
The supposed big news about the event is that King Abdullah just might, maybe, be in the same room as Shimon Peres, the Israeli president, during dinner. Will they shake hands?
Arab News, a Saudi-owned newspaper, credulously reports, "[T]he conference is expected to usher in a new era of peace and prosperity in the world."
Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Cairo's zabaleen form the backbone of the city's garbage disposal system. They collect about a third of Cairo's trash and traditionally haul it by donkey cart, as seen in this Oct. 20 photo. Largely scorned by Egyptian society, the trash scavengers recently lost one woman who had worked tirelessly for their well-being -- Sister Emmanuelle, a Belgium-born French nun who died Oct. 20 at age 99.
See more photos of zabaleen at work and read more about them in this week's photo essay, "Cairo's Trash Collectors Down in the Dumps."
Photo: KHALED DESOUKI/AFP/Getty Images
If there was one place you thought you could turn to get away from the "greed" of Wall Street, it might be your Church.
Unless, of course, you attend the Church of England.
The Financial Times today reports that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York condemned short selling and other trading practices, only to have it pointed out that their own investments were involved in those practices.
Further proof of what the Church has been teaching all along: we are all sinners.
In Iran, health experts have issued warnings on TV and radio discouraging people from overeating during the holy month of Ramadan.
They are right to worry. Some Iranians actually gain weight during this time because they overindulge at iftar, the evening feast when Muslims break their daily fasts, National Geographic News reports:
The situation in Georgia is evolving rapidly. Here are some of the latest developments:
Watch this space for more.
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