Thus Spake Francis

Pope_Francis_among_the_people_at_St._Peter's_Square_-_12_May_2013

Photo by Wikipedia user Edgar Jiménez

With a single question, the newly minted Pope set off a worldwide media reaction – and raised some important questions about the state of the papacy in the 21st century.

I don’t claim to know everything there is to know about the papacy.  Smarter people than I have devoted their lives to the subject and still been left with profound mysteries.  However, there is one thing of which I am fairly certain: popes do not give impromptu, unrestricted press conferences aboard the papal plane. (Fun fact: the plane, hereafter to be known as Pontiff One, does not run on destructive fossil fuels, but is instead carried  invisibly by angels.)

Yet, that is exactly what Pope Francis did earlier this week during his trip back from a successful outing to Brazil, going where the Queen of England still fears – or at least refuses – to tread: in front of a group of reporters.  Fortunately for the assembled media, the Q & A session proved to be newsworthy for more than one reason.  When one of them asked the Holy Father a question about the supposed “gay lobby” in the Vatican that has so fascinated the Italian press, Francis gave a surprisingly nuanced answer. Continue reading

Aslan and Jesus

If you started reading this post thinking that it was going to be a comparison between Aslan, the unsafe but good hero of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, and Jesus Christ, the hero of the Christian Bible, then you are in for a bit of a disappointment. (However, you have to give me some credit for pulling you in like that!) No, this is a discussion of the recent controversy surrounding Reza Aslan’s new book, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.  If you really do want a serious discussion of the aforementioned links between Lewis’ literary creation and the Son of God, you may find one of many examples here.

Mr. Aslan – whose previous books include No God but God: The Origins and Evolution of Islam and How to Win a Cosmic War: Confronting Radical Religion – is, in the words of his personal website, “an internationally acclaimed writer and scholar of religions”.  He is an Iranian American who works as an Associate Professor of Creative Writing at the University of California in Riverside, and his list of professional associations include the Council on Foreign Relations.  Oh, and he is also a Muslim. Continue reading

International Tiger Day

DC20079 026

Two Sumatran tigers at the Smithsonian National Zoo in 2007

Today is International Tiger Day, which is aimed at creating awareness of the dangers facing the world’s dwindling tiger population and promoting measures to help preserve one of the world’s most amazing and beloved animals.  As some animal, but I was also born in the year of the tiger according to the Chinese zodiac.  The  tiger is also considered to be a national symbol of India, where much of my husband’s family comes from.  If you too love the tiger, consider making a small donation to help preserve the wild tiger population, or just read about the conservation efforts that are taking place in countries like India, Russia, and Indonesia.  I am including a few links that might be helpful.

First, take a look at the work that World Wildlife Fund is doing.  They are one of the main organizations working on this issue and have a positive track record.  Two other groups that are well established include the Save the Tiger Fund and Panthera.  They have a joint initiative that you can read about here.  Finally, check out this story from Deutsche Welle today that draws attention to the inadequacy of captive breeding programs as the sole method of preventing the tiger’s extinction.

We’ve Arrived!

While your host was on the road yesterday, Church & State passed a major website milestone.  For the first time, we received spam in the comments section!  This must mean that the world has discovered the wonder of this site.  However, it also places a responsibility on our loyal readers to make sure that real comments outnumber fake ones.  Here’s hoping that we’ll be able to achieve that.  On a related note, you can expect slightly less opining from yours truly this week as I will be a few miles out of the country.  In the meantime, try out our new Facebook feature, which allows you to officially “like” C & S for all the world to see.  Our actual Facebook page needs some work, but in the future this will allow anyone who likes this site to receive every post directly in their news feed.  Posting every update to all of my Facebook friends will surely become wearing eventually, so at the risk of sounding repetitive, “like” us today to get updates tomorrow (or at any point in the future).

Sochi Blues

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi - but will they be welcoming the U.S.?

Friendly mascots prepare to welcome the world to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi – but will they be welcoming the United States?

What was meant to be an example of international cooperation is once again a cause for international bickering.

Since the Russian city of Sochi was awarded the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, there have been concerns in some circles that this would give the spotlight to a country with a poor civil rights record, not to mention a city located very close to the tense Caucasus region.  However, it wasn’t until a certain NSA whistleblower decided to take shelter in a Moscow airport that we had a prominent senator suggest that the U.S. should boycott the games.

In an interview with The Hill (a local D.C. paper), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) was asked if the U.S. ought to consider a boycott of the Sochi Olympics if Russia grants asylum to Edward Snowden.  Graham agreed that such an action might be in the cards.

“I would. I would just send the Russians the most unequivocal signal I could send them,” Graham (R-S.C.) said when asked about the possibility of a boycott.

“It might help, because what they’re doing is outrageous,” he said. “We certainly haven’t reset our relationship with Russia in a positive way. At the end of the day, if they grant this guy asylum it’s a breach of the rule of law as we know it and is a slap in the face to the United States.”  Continue reading

Ten Pressing Issues for Egypt

Photo by Lilian Wagdy

Photo by Lilian Wagdy

If you have been watching the news at all over the past few weeks, you’ve probably noticed that things aren’t going too well in Egypt.  President Mohamed Morsi, an Islamist with close connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, was ousted by the military just one year into his term after massive protests accusing him of authoritarian tactics and a failure to address many of the biggest problems facing the country.  That has led to a counter reaction in which Morsi’s supporters are taking to the streets as well, demanding a return to “legitimacy” and the restoration of the country’s first freely elected president.  It is difficult to predict whether the interim government introduced by the military – which is strikingly free of Islamists – will be able to bring some kind of stability before new elections.  As all of this is happening, the country is also teetering on the brink of complete economic collapse.

Keeping track of all the different factions vying for power in Egypt can be difficult enough for those who study the Middle East, let alone the average observer.  However, there is no question that this is an issue of great importance for the United States.  Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. aid, with a particularly large amount going to the same military that just pulled off what some are calling a “coup” (though others insist that it does not share the same characteristics as a typical military takeover).  It is also the most populous country in the Arab world and a historic leader in the region.  Equally important for many Americans is the fact that Egypt has the longest standing peace treaty with Israel of any Arab country, and its border with both Israel and the Gaza Strip mean that it will always be an important player in Israeli-Palestinian relations. Continue reading

Progress Makes Perfect

As the days go by, construction continues on Church & State.  There is a lot of work still to be done, but the posts will keep coming in the meantime.  Check back occasionally to see what updates have been made.   Soon everything will be nice and shiny…

Ironic Prophets

DSC00048

Tourists inspecting the interior of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Sometimes the wrong person says the right thing – and humanity is better for it.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  These words are familiar to most Americans, despite the fact that they may fail to remember whether they come from a) the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution, b) the Bill of Rights, or c) the Declaration of Independence. (If you guessed “c”, you’re right.) Whenever an American feels their rights are being violated, they’re likely to make some mention of this universal claim to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, the holy trilogy that tends to define our sense of individual dignity.

Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, was a true believer in the philosophical ideas of the Enlightenment.  Historians debate the primary inspirations for Jefferson’s text, but one person commonly mentioned is the English writer John Locke.  In his classic work, Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued that government exists to protect the individual’s “life, liberty and estate”, or more generally “property”.

Similar language also existed in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, authored by George Mason, which was adopted a few weeks before the Declaration of Independence and seems to draw heavily on Locke’s themes.  It spoke of a person’s “inherent right”, which it specified as “the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety”.  It seems likely that one or both of these documents influenced Jefferson, though we may never know for sure why he chose not to emphasize “property” or “estate”, opting instead for the “pursuit of happiness”. Continue reading

Jay-Z vs. British History

Magna_Carta

An article by Bloomberg caught my eye this morning which compares Jay-Z’s new album, Magna Carta Holy Grail, to the original Magna Carta.  For those who need a quick brush up on their history, the Magna Carta (Latin for “Great Charter”) was a thirteenth century document outlining the rights of the English barons in relation to their king.  It is seen by many as a precursor for the kind of personal rights citizens enjoy today, though in reality the pledges contained in the Magna Carta were at times flouted by power hungry English kings.  Jay-Z’s new album, on the other hand, is more grandstanding than history lesson.  Check out the article here.

To Be a Royal Baby

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Carfax2

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia user Carfax2

The international media is buzzing about the imminent arrival of Britain’s newest royal baby, the son or daughter of Prince William and Princess Catherine, Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.  A simple Google search turns up countless pages of speculation about the baby’s sex, due date, name, and nursery decorations.  Even before birth, this child is among the most famous celebrities in the world.  Such treatment is not particularly out of the ordinary for the offspring of the rich and famous.  Consider, for example, the similar attention given to the recent pregnancies of Kim Kardashian, Angelina Jolie, or Katie Holmes.  But unlike those children, the baby about to make its way into Will and Kate’s family is destined to sit on an actual throne.  Thanks to a recent act of parliament, that will be the case regardless of whether the child is a boy or girl, since it will be the first born.

Even though it is a mostly symbolic position at this point, the opportunity to be a member of British royalty still carries with it a pedigree that cannot be matched by any other family on earth, at least as far as the tabloids are concerned.  For young Edward, Jane, George, or Matilda (I’m pulling for that last one if it’s a girl), a normal life is completely impossible.  He or she will have every moment in public documented a thousand times over, from the christening at St. George’s Chapel inside Windsor Castle, to the first day of school at Eton, to games of polo at Martha’s Vineyard and canoodling with equally posh members of the opposite sex in the Swiss Alps.

Speculation is now mounting that Kate has actually passed her due date, and I am not surprised.  As I remarked to the cashier at the local Barnes & Noble cafe this past weekend, if I were the royal baby, I would want to stay tucked away from the world as long as possible, knowing that these were the last few private, undictated moments I was every likely to have.  Savor your final moments as the paprazzi’s favorite celebrity offspring, Suri Cruise.  Within a few days, it will be time for Charles, or Margaret, or Stephen, or maybe even Matilda.