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The extremist misogyny of ISIS: 5-30/31-15

By now most Americans -- to say nothing of much of the world's population -- are aware of the loathsome, violent, unspeakable actions of leaders and disciples of the Islamic State, or ISIS.

BanguraWe have seen brutal murders, shocking beheadings and more. All without remorse, all without any sense of their common humanity with ours. ISIS has taken the theological thuggery of al-Qaida and put it on mainlined steroids to produce a previously inconceivable version of Islamism that denigrates an ancient religion.

But until I read this Acton Institute blog, I had not considered in much sordid detail the depraved ways in which ISIS thinks about -- and treats -- females.

No person of conscience can learn of such things and remain silent. To do so would be to join with those in a previous age who knew what Germany, through its Nazi leaders, was doing to Jews and chose not to oppose it.

The Acton piece led me to this interview with Zainab Bangura (pictured here), the United Nations' envoy on sexual violence in conflict.

An excerpt from Bangura's remarks:

After attacking a village, IS splits women from men and executes boys and men aged 14 and over. The women and mothers are separated; girls are stripped naked, tested for virginity and examined for breast size and prettiness. The youngest, and those considered the prettiest virgins fetch higher prices and are sent to Raqqa, the IS stronghold.

There is a hierarchy: sheikhs get first choice, then emirs, then fighters. They often take three or four girls each and keep them for a month or so, until they grow tired of a girl, when she goes back to market. At slave auctions, buyers haggle fiercely, driving down prices by disparaging girls as flat-chested or unattractive.

We heard about one girl who was traded 22 times, and another, who had escaped, told us that the sheikh who had captured her wrote his name on the back of her hand to show that she was his "property."

I do not have an answer for how to stop ISIS or even what exact role the U.S. should play in that effort. But I know malignant evil when I see it and none of us can be silent until this kind of violent misogyny is stopped.

* * *

A JOURNALIST COMES OUT

I confess I was surprised to learn that Kevin Eckstrom, who recently left the job of editor of Religion News Service to work for the National Cathedral, has acknowledged that he is gay, married and that he and his partner are parents of two children. I've met Kevin a few times and had some professional correspondence with him but was unaware of his sexual orientation. It looks now as if he can live authentically and openly as who he is. Good. He's an excellent journalist and a really fine human being.


The anti-Islam rhetoric of GOP candidates: 5-29-15

Across American history, lots of minority groups have taken lots of hits. Many of the earliest English arrivals used to look down on later arrivals from such places as Germany and eastern Europe.

Atlantic-logoThe Irish, the Jews (from wherever they came), the Chinese and other Asians, the South Americans. All these and more have suffered the slings and arrows of prejudice, though none so viciously as the slaves from Africa.

We're a more respectful nation today in our increasing diversity but we're a long way from being welcoming to all. Especially repugnant, as this Atlantic piece notes, is the anti-Muslim sentiment often expressed by many of the Republicans who want to be president.

What we're getting from such GOP political heavyweights as Lindsey Graham, Rick Santorum, Mike Huckabee and others is simple prejudice and hatred. What's worse, as the Atlantic piece notes, they're getting away with it because it's reflective of current American culture, especially in these post-9/11 years.

But it needs to be called what it is, which is raw bigotry that has no place in American politics. Politicians can say this trash only as long as they think it will help -- not hurt -- them politically. All of us need to tell them that it won't fly any more. It's perfectly acceptable to dislike (and even speak out against) any particular Muslim or Christian or Buddhist because he or she is a crook or a knave. But accusing a whole people is simply immoral.

* * *

HILLARY TALKS ABOUT THE BIBLE

Speaking of presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton met a pastor doing a little private Bible study in a bakery the other day. He was reading I Corinthians 13, often called the "love chapter." She said she knew it well and they talked about it. It would have been a lot more interesting had the pastor been studying, say, Genesis 19. (You could look it up.)


He left a beautiful spiritual legacy: 5-28-15

The week of Aug. 3-9, I will be at Ghost Ranch, the national Presbyterian conference center in northern New Mexico, teaching a class I'm calling "Writing Your Spiritual Will." The second link in this paragraph will give you all you need to know to sign up, and I hope you will do that.

GR-2010-3In the class, I will be drawing a distinction between a "spiritual legacy" and a "spiritual will." In effect, the former is what others say and think about you after you're gone, while the latter is your words about what was meaningful to you in life and what values you want to pass on to others.

A few days ago I attended the terribly sad funeral of the 27-year-old son of a couple in my congregation. Brian had died of cancer just weeks after the birth of his first child. One thing I discovered at the service was that sometimes we create a spiritual legacy when we're quite young and may not have any idea that we're doing that.

For instance, Brian had written a poem when he was in 9th grade, and it was reprinted on the back of the worship bulletin. It certainly reflected the typical angst of the teen-age years, but, beyond that, its beauty and insight gave comfort not only to his parents but also to those of us who got a chance to read it after his death.

I'm going to reprint it here, along with the suggestion that you look through writings and photos you might have saved from your teen-age years to see if they would bring comfort or distress to people you'll leave behind. If the latter, you might ask yourself about the value of keeping them. Here's Brian's poem:

My music,

My talent,

My skill in Video Games,

My Soul,

My fate,

It does not feel exactly normal,

 

               So I turn to my friends.

 

And even though they care,

They still don't believe,

They cannot conceive,

They do not understand the ponderings of my life.

 

               So I turn to the Lord,

 

I scream to the sky,

"What is so different about me?"

"Why did you choose me with this burden of loneliness?!"

"What is your plan?"

And I feel him smiling, speaking,

"You. . .you are special,'

As for my plans,

Only time will allow you to see."

 

And I wait,

I feel assured,

and I know I will not die without love and honor.

I tell you now,

Remember my name,

The name of Brian Werst. . .

(The photo here today is one I took at Ghost Ranch several years ago.)

* * *

IMAGINING FAITH'S FUTURE

Lots of people are trying to imagine the shape of faith communities moving into the future, and lots of people are worried that such communities may die out. But church consultant Tom Ehrich suggests in this piece that there really can be a bright future for such communities if they're willing to let go of some of what doesn't work any more. He's right, but it's too bad that change is so darned hard.

* * *

P.S.: Kansas City religion educator Barry Speert, under the sponsorship of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, offers a current events discussion group the last Sunday of each month. At 3 p.m. this Sunday at the Waldo branch of the Kansas City Public Library, he'll be leading a conversation about this recent story of a Sikh man who, setting aside religious rules, took off his turban and wrapped it around the head of a boy who had been struck by a vehicle. That stemmed blood loss and helped to save the boy. For more information e-mail Barry at benevolentcreeds@aol.com.

* * *

ANOTHER P.S.: Moving against the tide of history, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed legislation that would have banned capital punishment in that state. But a veto override vote took place yesterday afternoon and succeeded, so the death penalty has been executed in the Cornhusker state. Good riddance. And thanks to such groups as Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty.


Feeding our spiritual hungers: 5-27-15

The other evening I led a conversation about the theological concept of atonement at Advent Lutheran Church in Olathe, Kan.

Adult-edOne of the books the group in attendance focused on was Did God Kill Jesus?, by Tony Jones. I had written about that book here.

What gave me special satisfaction about the gathering was something a woman said near the end of our conversation.

If someone had asked her before she read the book what she thought about the atonement, she said, she would have had almost nothing to say. Now, she said, she feels she can at least say something of value. Beyond that, she has recognized her own hunger for at least provisional answers to religious questions and is anxious to dig into more theology.

That's exactly what the new bishop of a Catholic diocese in New Jersey discovered when he took the time to listen after his appointment. As this Faith & Leadership article reports, that diocese was full of people who wanted help in faith formation and gaining a deeper understanding of theology.

My guess -- or at least my hope -- is that this kind of spiritual hunger is common among people already inside faith communities. What must happen, however, is for the leaders of those communities to create attractive and enticing ways for people to deepen their understanding of spiritual matters.

There's also a similar hunger in people outside of faith communities, of course, but it's more of an organizational challenge to get them connected to the means for answering their questions.

In my own congregation, we're rethinking how we do adult education, and my hope is that we'll study lots of examples, including what the diocese in New Jersey did. Wait. Can anything good come out of New Jersey? Clearly, yes.

* * *

A FUNNY VOICE AGAINST EXTREMISM

A British Muslim comedian is working with police there to convince young Muslims not to become terrorists. Sometimes humor is the most effective tool in the tool box.

* * *

THE BOOK CORNER

A-story-worth-telling

A Story Worth Telling: Your Field Guide to Living an Authentic Life, by Bill Blankschaen. This is the sort of kick-in-the-pants book that might interest you if you feel your life is dull, stalled out and purposeless. The author says that we need to rely on faith to create a lively, meaningful life that can be an example to others. What is faith? Here's Blankschaen's perhaps unexpected definition: "Faith is doing what you believe to be true, often in spite of what you see, sense or feel." The author says that if the story of your life isn't what you want it to be, "The only cure is to let faith open your eyes to step out, step up and live a different story."


A serial killer ponders evil: 5-26-15

In my long and continuing pursuit of understanding the sources of evil in our world, I recently asked Mindy Corporon, whose father and son were murdered last year at the Jewish Community Center Campus in suburban Kansas City, to talk about her understanding of evil and what fuels it. She graciously agreed and I reported our conversation a few weeks ago both here on the blog and in this National Catholic Reporter column.

Rader-letterBut I also wanted to see what someone who has committed clear acts of evil might say. So I wrote to a serial killer and asked how he had come to understand evil "from your unique perspective as an imprisoned convicted murderer who, many would say, increased the amount of evil in the world by your actions."

It turns out that Dennis L. Rader, known as the BTK (bind, torture, kill) killer who murdered 10 people between 1974 and 1991 in the Wichita, Kan., area and who now is serving 10 consecutive life sentences at the El Dorado Correctional Facility in Kansas, has thought about this matter of evil in some detail.

"By nature('s) chances," he wrote to me in a 7-page, hand-written letter, "I believe I have a 'bad brain'(;) the brain control(s) everything we do. I was raised in a Christian atmosphere type home, no abuse & always loved and care(d) for. It's possible some social event or what my brain picked up started me on the Dark Path; with a bad brain, you have biological roots that can lead to crime and violence. This is all by chance." (In the photo here of the top of the letter from Rader, I have blurred out his prisoner number and specific prison address. Also: Sometimes Rader's syntax and sentence structure is a little hard to follow. I've tried to make his meaning clear in the quotes.)

He also described how he compartmentalized his life so that no one, not even his family, as we learned later, imagined that he was the BTK killer:

"For the most part I have always been a Christian. I know that('s) hard for people to understand and it's part of that "Evil" you wrote about. . .In layman terms, many criminals live in a compartmentalized world. We wear either a 'White Hat' or 'Black Hat", going back and forth all the time. Everybody does this, but people like me go to the extreme 'Black Hat.' With the 'White Hat' I can be family man, scout leader, compliance officer, church leader, husband, father & many more and really do & truly feel I'm doing good, for all. You and the rest of the world knows my 'Black Hat' by now, thus 'Real Evil.'"

In my letter to Rader asking him if he'd be willing to tell me his understanding of evil, I mentioned that after his arrest, I had interviewed his pastor, Mike Clark, at the Lutheran Church near Wichita where Rader was quite an active member. And I explained to Rader that Clark had told me that as a result of his experience with Rader, Clark had come to believe in a personified devil.

"I respect his opinion but I frankly think that answer is a little too simple," I wrote to Rader. His response:

Rader-sig"What came 1st? God or Evil (Chance), like the chicken & the egg. I know you spoke of 'too simple,' but the world breaks down into simple terms. With no 'mistakes' (evil one of them, or bad things) there can be no forgiveness, and you have to have 'love' for to forgive, thus God, or many religions (whichever you choose) has that 'Big Love', the greatest Love, to overcome or understand 'Evil' & 'Bad things' or overcome them.

"Both 'Evil' & 'Bad things' come from the pandemonium of chance in our world, and it is only 'evil' that we label it, man alone. . .So, Evil is really a manmade feeling and Pastor Clark is somewhat right, almost a 'personified devil', but it('s) a concept, I believe, and not a physical thing you can see, the same of God, a true and wonderful good concept. Both of these concept(s) are spiritual, and to be honest, man held spirits, yet I feel like Pastor Clark did (--) there's something else mystic beyond man's concept."

Rader's notions about the causes of evil struck me as largely devoid of any concept of personal responsibility or choice. As he writes:

"So, by nature and chance bad things happen to all in some form(;) if you live a perfect life, somewhere along that life span somebody you know or events are either evil or bad happenings, then you die, a bad thing. . .So, God doesn't have control of nature and chance, thus, no control on 'evil.' With Evil out there, there('s) a good chance someone is going to wear a 'Black Hat' at times(;) some wear very powerful hats, like 'Hitler' for example."

Rader's theology at least doesn't blame God for evil and suffering, but it also seems to let humans off the hook.

In his somewhat rambling way, in at-times hard-to-read handwriting, Rader eventually comes back to questions about his own life:

"Was it Good or Bad for the universe to start? Back a split microsecond before it happen(ed), did that spirit create the 'Big Bang', and then set the stage to watch good and evil play out until the earth is consume(d) in Fire(?). . .If the spirit did create the Big Bang it formed man, in time, to control some of the evil or bad things, for it must have a living heart or understanding. . .

"In all this, where do I fit in(?) Well I think I have an understanding of evil or my source (Brain). I understand as society we have to have a place for 'Black Hat -- Bad Brain or Social Misfits'(;) less evil if off the street. I'm at peace with world, and spending my time as the court system requires. Yet, I feel more in the prison system could be done to help people like me."

Rader has been cooperating with an author who is writing a book about his 10 murders, and he says the book has been "okayed and sanction(ed) by 'The Victims Famil(y) Trust.'" The author is Katherine Ramsland, professor of forensic psychology and program director of the masters program in criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania.

In his letter to me, Rader praised Ramsland's work:
 
"Finally, to help control evil and bad things, people like Dr. Ramsland, we owe them much gratitude for help(ing) to explore and come to terms with better understanding of the criminal mind, thus helping mankind. They are actually 'good spirits' in the flesh. Every book they author or event they help out bring(s) mankind closer to control of criminal evil, but you notice I said control(;) there will always be a lo(o)se end by chance!'"
 
I am no criminologist or psychologist and am not qualified to make any judgments that such experts might themselves make after reading Rader's letter to me.
 
But from my own understanding of faith and evil, it seems to me that Dennis Rader is as baffled by the old question of theodicy -- why there's evil in the world if God is good -- as others are, including theologians.
 
As I've noted before, the theodicy question is the open wound of religion in that there are no fully satisfying answers to the causes and purposes of evil and suffering. But I do find in the answers Rader wrote to me a propensity to look outside of himself for answers and causes but considerably less willingness to look at his own choices and responsibility.
 
His talk of nature and chance strikes me as a way to avoid the harsh truth that the old Prophet Jeremiah identified in verse 9 of chapter 17 of the book named after him in the Hebrew Scriptures. Here's that verse in the King James Version: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?"
 
Who, indeed?
 
* * *
 
BONO VOTES FOR EQUALITY, TOO
 
The vote in favor of same-sex marriage in Ireland has the blessing of U2's Bono, it turns out. The landslide was quite remarkable in a country where homosexuality was a crime not many years ago. Good work, Ireland.

A Memorial Day to speak out: 5-25-15

As adherents of American's so-called civil religion, many of our many presidents have drawn on the language of faith to say things about such holidays as Memorial Day.

Memorial-dayAs this piece notes, politicians tend to be careful not to identify exactly the god to whom they refer in such statements: "No matter what their private religious beliefs, presidents have been strongly influenced by America’s civil religion in performing their official duties."

Well, fine, and mostly harmless. But perhaps it's time for people of faith to speak out more clearly about the need to conduct our national affairs in ways that don't produce so many veterans of wars.

Mostly we spend the day honoring those who have served in uniform, as we should. But the other task is to wage peace so that we don't end up fighting wars (the invasion of Iraq in 2003 comes immediately to mind) that are unnecessary or, worse, done on false pretenses at the cost of many lives and that further the interests of the very military industrial complex about which Ike warned us.

Memorial Day is a good time not simply to remember our war dead and honor those people still in uniform to defend us, but also a time to speak a word on behalf of policies that lead to peace and against policies that require blood and treasure we cannot afford.

* * *

PHYLLIS TICKLE'S LAST JOURNEY

It was with great sadness that I learned the other day that religion scholar Phyllis Tickle, one of the wisest and most discerning Christian authors today, is facing her own death due to Stage IV lung cancer. If you haven't read much or any of Phyllis's work, start with The Great Emergence.


The telling language of execution: 5-23/24-15

Another reason I've long opposed the death penalty is that I would be unable to be the executioner. And I think those in favor of capital punishment should be willing to volunteer to be the killer.

Earl-SmithThat's far from the only reason I think capital punishment is an immoral, illogical, wildly expensive, non-deterrent system. But it is an important reason.

I was thinking about that the other day when I read this interview with a former chaplain at San Quentin, the Rev. Earl Smith (pictured here).

Although Smith raises most of the right questions about this abusive system of injustice, one of the incredibly revealing things he said in the interview was about the person designated to do the killing:

"The administrative staff member assigned to the task of implementing the protocol has to disassociate themselves from the notion of death."

There is, in that sentence, a conscious effort to depersonalize the execution and the person doing the execution. The killer becomes "the administrative staff person." The implication is that he or she is simply a cog in a bureaucratic wheel, with no real sense of volition or personal responsibility.

And this "administrative staff person" does not execute or kill or put to death anyone, in this vernacular. Rather he or she gets "assigned to the task of implementing the protocol." Again, being "assigned" the task removes from that person much sense of personal responsibility. And when taking a human life can be called, simply, "implementing the protocol," the abstractness of the brutal process becomes surreal.

Chaplain Smith said that the state-assigned killer "has to disassociate themselves (sic) from the notion of death." Has to? Otherwise he or she couldn't sleep at night after taking a human life? If that's what he meant, isn't that a clue that the action to which this "administrative staff person" was assigned is deeply problematic?

Smith drew many of the right conclusions about capital punishment, but the language of crime and punishment can be extraordinarily revealing of a broken system. I believe people of faith should listen to that language and speak aloud with our prophetic voices about what it tells us.

* * *

THE CHURCH AND THE POOR

The question raised recently by Pope Francis, President Obama, Ross Douthat and others is whether Christian churches are doing enough to help the poor. This RNS analysis is a good summary of why the answer is both yes and no. And by the way, the excellent book Toxic Charity by Robert D. Lupton outlines how churches should and should not be helping the poor.


Training faith leaders in social issues: 5-22-15

Here's an interesting idea: Auburn Seminary in New York has started what it's calling a multi-faith leadership training program for justice.

Auburn-logoThe seminary, which is in covenant relationship with the Presbyterian Church (USA), says the new program "will equip faith leaders working on the front lines for justice: from a moral economy to racial equality, LGBTQ and gender rights, climate change to immigration and more."

Sounds like exactly the sort of program that would drive guys like Glenn Beck nuts.

In every faith tradition, one of the biggest challenges is to figure out how to live out that tradition's values, often within a culture hostile or indifferent to those values. This requires people to have and use what we Christians call a prophet voice. This doesn't mean predicting the future. Rather, it means calling people to do the work of justice and mercy and compassion and love to fix what is wrong.

The list of the first group to take part in this program is interesting. It includes Sister Simone Campbell, whom I wrote about here. And Emergent Church Movement guru Brian McLaren, whom I've written about several times, most recently here. And retired Episcopal Bishop R. Gene Robinson, whom I last wrote about here. And Muslim activist Linda Sarsour, whom I mentioned in this recent post. Plus several others from different faith traditions.

The struggle for faith leaders active in social justice movements is how to hold to the core teachings of their religions and not become simply a secular social worker.

I'll be interested to see how Auburn encourages them to do that. In any case, it sounds like an experiment worth doing.

* * *

THE REV. DR. DONALD TRUMP?

I'm thinking maybe one person who should sign up for the Auburn course is Donald Trump, who says he's a Presbyterian (wonder what kind) and, as for running for president, adds, "Believe me, if I run and I win, I will be the greatest representative of the Christians they've had in a long time." Are we electing a president or a pope?


Plotting terrorism against Muslims: 5-21-15

The contentious question of how Muslims negotiate life in the U.S. remains essentially unsolved for many of them, in part because they live in fear of being targeted and blamed for international terrorism and just for being different.

DoggartThe American public hears much more about Muslims who get arrested for doing stupid things like trying to join the Islamic State fighters than it does about non-Muslim Americans making life hell for Muslims. But stupidity runs both ways.

A good example is the recent arrest of a Tennessee man for plotting to destroy Islamberg, a hamlet in upstate New York founded in the 1980s. 

Robert Rankin Doggart (pictured here) of Signal Mountain, Tenn., has entered into a plea agreement acknowledging his guilt. Doggart, an ordained Christian minister, is awaiting sentencing. Don't miss the frightening plot details in the article to which I've linked you.

Islamberg was founded by a Pakistani Sufi cleric, though most of its residents apparently are African-American Muslims. A spokesman for the hamlet, quoted in this Daily Beast piece, says, “Our community consists of veterans, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. We are true American patriots, unlike Doggart, who is not representative of Christianity, but more like the American Taliban.”

The Daily Beast piece also reports that "Right-wing media outlets have in the past made outlandish claims about the town, which have been consistently debunked by local law enforcement."

I find it sad that a group of Muslims felt the need to separate themselves from the rest of American society and locate in an isolated hamlet in New York state. Isolation often leads to trouble, and isolated Muslims immediately create suspicions within an American population that polls show already is hostile to Islam.

But I find it even sadder and much more troubling that an American would prepare a violent plot against fellow Americans who happen to be Muslim. And the Daily Beast writer is correct that the FBI needs to publicize such arrests as much as it publicizes the arrests of Muslims suspected of plotting terrorism.

* * *

ACKNOWLEDGING PERSECUTION

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote this column the other day about the plight of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar. And now Religion News Service offers this article explaining who the Rohingya are. Good. Persecution will never stop if people don't know it's happening.

* * *

THE BOOK CORNER

Shed-fed

* The Shed that Fed a Million Children: The Extraordinary Story of Mary's Meals, by Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow. From a rickety old shed in Scotland has grown an amazing charitable organization, Mary's Meals, which today feeds more than a million children in more than 1,200 schools each day. This book tells the story of how the author's experiences in such desperate and violent places as Bosnia-Herzegovina led him to reconnect with his Catholic faith and begin to dedicate his life to helping children who were underfed. As he writes: "I never planned to get involved in this kind of work, and certainly never set out to found an organization. I am a rather unlikely and poorly qualified person to lead such a mission. Mainly, it has unfolded despite me. . ." The strength of the book is found in the personal stories he tells of his engagement in places that most people would avoid. But the impressive thing is that what had been known as Scottish International Relief today and now is called Mary's Meals provides meals to needy children in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe and South America. But it's not done yet. As the author writes, "The fact that there remain many more millions without daily meals, and that thousands die each day because of hunger, is a scandal that screams this mission of ours has only just begun." The book's official publication date is this coming Tuesday, but it's already available for order at the Amazon link I've given you.


When faith engages politically: 5-20-15

Some Christians have had trouble seeing the life and ministry of Jesus as in any way political. And they have used that approach to argue that the church should stay out of politics and concentrate only on spiritual matters.

ReligionpoliticsAs if.

The reality is that Jesus represented a clear and present threat to the Roman rulers of Jerusalem and the Holy Land and, indeed, ultimately to the very idea of empire. The church's earliest confession of faith was just three words: "Jesus is lord." That meant that Caesar was not lord.

Which is why the Roman overseers of Jerusalem placed the sign "King of the Jews" over Jesus' head on the cross. It was a way of mocking him and denying that his lordship, if any, superseded that of Caesar.

Since that time Christians have argued long and hard about the role of the church in political matters, even though declaring allegiance to Jesus as lord immediately sets up a political conflict.

One of the Christians today who understands the inevitability of church engagement in the world of politics is Pope Francis. And this Reuters piece gives a good summary of the ways in which he is engaging the church in global political matters. As Gavin Jones and James Mackenzie write:

"After the inward-looking pontificate of his scholarly predecessor, Pope Benedict, Francis has in some ways returned to the active Vatican diplomacy practiced by the globetrotting Pope John Paul II, widely credited for helping to end the Cold War."

In the broadest sense, politics has to do with how we live, with rules for fairness, with equal justice under the law, with control of criminal elements, with the freedom to pursue happiness. All of those matters are of concern to the church, too. And to all of religion.

If religion somehow doesn't speak to all of life, it is stunted and weak. We may disagree with this pope on the ways in which he is choosing to engage the church in political matters and we may disagree with our own faith communities and their impingement on politics. But the truth is religion is engaged with politics whether it wants to be or not. The goal should be to engage in such a way that the values each religion represents are brought to bear on the political world -- without imagining that any faith community can dictate that the world buy into its own theology.

* * *

WILL TSARNAEV ACHIEVE MARTYRDOM?

Now that Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been sentenced to death, we face years, if not decades, of appeals processes, forcing the surviving victims and families whose members were murdered to relive the trauma. And what might be one result? Perhaps that Tsarnaev becomes a martyr in the eyes of some people. Really? This piece examines that possibility. All of which is one more reason to oppose the death penalty.