I have been intrigued by both Egypt and Coptic Christianity found there since I first visited Cairo as a boy at the end of 1957. (Coptic Christians make up between 6 and 9 percent of Egypt's population, depending on whose figures you believe.)
(In fact, the picture here today shows me -- to left left of my youngest sister in a red coat and in front of a Coptic priest -- as a boy visiting a Coptic site in Cairo then. My mother wrote this description on the edge of this slide: "Old Cairo Coptic church, entrance to church where Mary and Joseph and babe stayed." This, of course, was a reference to the biblical report that Mary and Joseph fled with the child Jesus to Egypt.)
So I tend to be aware of news or analysis pieces that cover that fascinating country and that somewhat peculiar branch of Christianity.
Thus I read this piece from Newsmax the other day. It seeks to describe a real problem -- persecution of Coptic Christians. But I found the report terribly lacking in details and bordering on a polemic against Muslims in general. Newsmax, by the way, describes itself as a source of conservative news and commentary. (Plus the author doesn't know that Sam Brownback is a U.S. senator, not a U.S. representative, from Kansas.)
So for a more complete picture of the state of religion in Egypt today -- and the sometimes-rocky relations between some Muslims and Coptic Christianity there -- I suggest this recent piece from The Economist. This piece describes periodic bouts of sectarian violence in which Coptic Christians sometimes are attacked, leaving them feeling vulnerable and encouraging them to cling more closely to their church.
Although I didn't think the Newsmax piece was either comprehensive or balanced, I don't mean to suggest that things are good for Coptic Christians in Egypt. Even the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in its current annual report bemoans the fact that the "Egyptian government fails to provide Baha'is, Coptic Christians and other religious minorities the very basic benefits and privieges that others enjoy."
Later, that same report says this: "Serious problems of discrimination, intolerance and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities, as well as disfavored Muslims, remain widespread in Egypt. Over the past year, there was an upsurge in violence targeting Coptic Orthodox Christians."
So the problem is real. There just needs to be better, more detailed and more balanced reporting about it. Then our own government needs to take it more seriously and stand up for oppressed people of faith wherever they are.
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MEL GIBSON'S DNA SOURCE
The latest controversy having to do with loose-lipped actor Mel Gibson isn't about Mel at all but about his strange father, who said on a radio interview recently that Pope Benedict XVI is gay. And, he said, B-16 is part of a Masonic conspiracy to wreck the church from the inside. Compared with his old man, Mel's racist and antisemitic rants are starting to appear almost mainstream, which of course they aren't. Where do these guys get this nutball stuff? From the Alex Jones radio show?
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THE BOOK CORNER
Good Business: Putting Spiritual Principles Into Practice at Work, edited by Charlotte Shelton and Martha Lynn. It's hard to think of a better time for this book. In our scandal-scarred, weakened economy, what we really need are business leaders who are principled, who have integrity, who understand that businesses are in business to meet customer needs. The essays in this quite readable book help all of us understand how to go about that. This is not a book full of wishy-washy dreamy things but, rather, realistic ideas about ways in which the engines of the American economy can have a moral center, a soul. This book has a Kansas City connection. Shelton is the president and CEO of Unity, while Lynn is vice president of SpiritPath at Unity Village. Their bios are here.
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P.S.: My latest column for The National Catholic Reporter now is online. To read "Without women priests, Catholic miss out on ministry,", click here.