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

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

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.

An Overlooked Fact about the Zimmerman Case

Zimmerman,_George_-_Seminole_County_Mug

From the beginning, the media wanted to make the Zimmerman case about black vs. white.  That is why the story gained national attention in the first place.  I’m not going to make a judgment about whether race played a factor in what happened that night, and I realize how complex and personal individuals’ feelings about race can be.  Be that as it may, I have always been struck by the fact that Zimmerman did not “look” particularly “white”.  His surname is German, but beyond that I didn’t actually know anything  about his heritage until I saw the picture of his parents in the courtroom: a white father and an apparently Asian mother.  Does the narrative change at all because George Zimmerman is actually biracial?  Should it?  It’s a question that I’ve never heard anyone in the media bother to ask, though I admittedly have not listened to all of the endless hours of coverage. (I have better things to do with my time.) What I do know is that it says as much as anything about our racial attitudes that we define him only by his white father and not his Asian mother.  Were this portrayed in the media as an incident involving two minorities instead of black vs. white, for example, I am willing to bet that the debate would have been much different.