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How are Americans living with terrorism? 10-31-16

Not all terrorism has religious motives. Sometimes it's political, sometimes economic, often a combination of all three or more.

Hello-my-name-is-anxietyBut what all terrorism seems to have in common is that it affects the way people think about their own security. Not all people and not all in the same way, but clearly people factor in to their lives in some way the possibility that they might become victims of a terrorist attack.

But what do we know about those responses? That's what this ReportLink survey tried to assess: How has terrorism affected the way Americans live today?

Adjusting for my general skepticism about the accuracy of a lot of polling, I found it a little surprising, to say nothing of disheartening, that 64 percent of those surveyed "say they’re more anxious when congregating in a public area or riding on public transportation."

I'm not exactly sure what it means to be "more anxious," however, because I really don't know the level of their anxiety before the several terrorist attacks in the last year or so. And if "more anxious" simply means being more aware of one's surroundings, more vigilant about things that don't look right, perhaps it's a good thing and not a sign of paranoia.

It's clear that this presidential race has ratcheted up the fear level of many Americans -- often for no reason other than to scare voters into supporting one candidate (Donald Trump) over another. For instance, Trump's anti-Muslim rhetoric, including his false assertion that he saw film on TV of Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 terrorist attacks the day of the attacks, has added to the tension in the country and with no discernible advantage to society.

Some of the reaction of Americans to terrorism simply makes no sense to me. For instance, as the ReportLink story to which I've linked you reports, "In the decade leading up to and including the San Bernardino attack, just 38 Americans had been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil, compared to 280,024 killed by gun violence." And yet much of the political rhetoric seems aimed at stirring up fear about terrorism, not at finding ways to lower gun violence.

Whoever is elected Nov. 8, the reality is that all Americans will continue to live with the reality of terrorism in the world -- and occasionally in the U.S. Whether they can make a few adjustments to keep themselves safe or, by contrast, give into fear and react irrationally remains to be seen.

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For the first time outside Germany, a number of items related to Martin Luther, who kicked off the Protestant Reformation in 1517, are on display at the Minnesota Institute of Art in Minneapolis. It even includes the pulpit where he preached his final sermon (and from which, probably, he saw certain members of his congregation doze off).

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P.S.: My latest column for Flatland, KCPT's digital magazine, now is online here. It describe efforts to create an interfaith religious literacy center in Kansas City.

Faith-based books for gifts or your library: 10-29/30-16

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you almost certainly are a book reader. And fairly often here I pass along information about (and sometimes longish formal reviews of) books that have some kind of religious or spiritual content to them.

In doing this, my primary goal is simply to make you aware that this or that book has been published so you can read about it and see if it's one you want to add to your library or borrow from a library.

Cover-Value of Doubt(This assumes, of course, that you've already acquired a copy (or, better, multiple copies) of my own latest book, The Value of Doubt: Why Unanswered Questions, Not Unquestioned Answers, Build Faith. If not, I just gave you the Amazon link. If you want an autographed copy, e-mail me at [email protected] and I'll tell you how that can happen.)

At any rate, here are some books that recently have crossed by desk. Perhaps you'll find one or more here of interest either to you or to someone for whom you'll be buying a gift:

VeryMarried-- Very Married: Field Notes on Love & Fidelity, by Katherine Willis Pershey. The author is a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) pastor who serves a United Church of Christ congregation near Chicago. This book is an ode about marriage. Rooted in the author's personal experiences, it shows how beautiful and even sacred marriage can -- and, in the end, must -- be, as well as sexual relations within marriage. It is not a politically right-wing idolization of the institution of the marriage of one man and one woman. Indeed, the author finds critics of same-sex marriage to be missing the point about marriage. Rather, it is a profoundly honest description of not just the author's own marriage but a carefully painted picture of the value of marriage and how the many demands that it makes on a couple can be life-enhancing because those demands also bring joy. Pershey says that writing about marriage, including hers to her husband Benjamin, has "made me more keenly aware that our love story -- like every good love story -- has eternal significance. We love because God first loved us."

-- Dying in Indian Country: A Family Journey from Self-Destruction to Opposing Tribal Sovereignty, by Lisa Morris. This is a revised edition from a 2015 book. And I frankly don't know what to make of it, given that my knowledge of life on reservations of Native Americans in this country is quite limited. But the book is an argument that federal policies are contributing to many of the problems found on such reservations -- from alcoholism to suicide to dependency. The author is co-founder and chairperson of the Christian Alliance for Indian Child Welfare. You can have a look at the group's website to see what it's about. What I do know is that this book comes out of a long, sad and sordid history of the way Native Americans have been treated by those who conquered the land that became the United States. There is much for which to atone.

Walking-water-- Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith & Art, by Madeleine L'Engle. Convergent, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, which itself is a division of Penguin Random House, is doing the world a favor by republishing (in new packages) 12 of L'Engle's books on spirituality. This is the first, with the rest to follow through 2018, which will be the 100th anniversary of L'Engle's birth. The book rings with truth and beauty and, of course, L'Engle's special insights, such as: "There is much that we cannot understand, but our lack of comprehension neither negates nor eliminates it." And: "We live under the illusion that if we can acquire complete control, we can understand God or we can write the great American novel. But the only way we can brush against the hem of the Lord or hope to be part of the creative process is to have the courage, the faith, to abandon control."

-- The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine (the 20th anniversary edition), by Sue Monk Kidd. This, too, is a republication of a popular book from the past. Sue Monk Kidd is a terrific writer and thinker, and this book not only plowed new ground for and about women (primarily, but men also), it also led the author to move into fiction writing. If you missed this book the first time around, now's your chance to catch up.

-- Confessions of a Convert, by Robert Hugh Benson. Continuing something of a theme here, this book, too, is a revised version of an earlier book. First published in 1913, this book has become something of a classic about conversion. The author grew up as the son of the archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England, but eventually became a Catholic priest. This is his highly personal story of that journey. The book's official publication date isn't for a week or so, but it can be pre-ordered now.

Road-back-- The Road Back to You: An Enneagram Journey to Self-Discovery, by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile. Not unlike the Meyers-Briggs personality type indicator, the enneagram is an ancient tool to help people understand who they are and how they approach life. It includes nine personality types. It can be helpful not only to know which of the types best describes you but also which of the types best describes other people in your life (like your spouse). This book will walk you through the types and guide you to a better understanding of yourself and others.

-- Great Catholic Parishes: How Four Essential Practices Make Them Thrive, by William E. Simon Jr. If the author's name seems familiar, you may remember it from when he ran unsuccessfully for governor of California in 2002 or from when his father was secretary of the treasury under Presidents Nixon and Ford. Now Simon Jr. is founder of Parish Catalyst, a non-profit organization that tries to support Catholic parishes. That organization studied 244 Catholic parishes and from that material comes this book. A somewhat related new book is The Rebuilt Field Guide, by Michael White and Tom Corcoran, which follow their 2013 book, Rebuilt, about bringing new life to a church in Maryland. If you found Rebuilt intriguing you'll find this guide useful. 

-- Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ's Passion through the Eyes of Women, edited by Kelly M. Wahlquist. This book, written by 10 different women, combines scripture with fictional accounts of women at the time of Jesus moving through his passion week. It's an interesting and innovative way of letting feminine voices respond to the biblical narrative.

Fully-engaged-- Fully Engaged: Using the Practicing Mind in Daily Life, by Thomas M. Sterner. This small guide book is in harmony with Buddhist teaching that urges people to be mindful, to pay attention, to notice, to live in the moment. This is a follow-up to Sterner's earlier book, The Practicing Mind.

-- The Best Is Yet to Come: Living Fully in Each Moment, by Sr. Anne Bryan Smollin. The author, a Catholic nun, had almost finished this book when she died an unexpected death in 2014. The book is being published posthumously in her honor. It's a call to fully awake living and, as she writes, an encouragement "to risk doing things we would never think possible."

-- A Year of Daily Offerings, by James Kubicki. Relying on the liturgical calendar, saints and scripture, this book offers daily devotions aimed at Catholics. The book is to be officially published next week but can be pre-ordered now. The author is the national director of the Apostleship of Prayer.

-- Around the Table: Retelling the Story of the Eucharist through the Eyes of Jesus' First Followers, by R. Scott Hurd. The author, an executive with Catholic Charities USA, seeks to unpack the meaning of the Eucharist by telling stories of 14 people who were around and connected to Jesus in his time on Earth. This book, like a few others in this list, will be published officially soon but is available for pre-order now.

-- Fearless: A Catholic Woman's Guide to Spiritual Warfare, by Sonja Corbitt. The author, a former Southern Baptist and now a Catholic convert, suggests here that temptation and sin are what cause the angst of postmodern life. She uses Christian spiritual practices and scripture to point the way toward the light.

Sisters-wish Amish-family-Xmas-- Finally, though I rarely review fiction, here are two new novels by Shelley Shepard Gray, who has made a name for herself writing fiction about the Amish. The first is A Sister's Wish, a love story with detours. The second is An Amish Family Christmas, in which characters have to face some distressing issues in the past to find joy now.

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Could baseball really be a road to God? This writer (and teacher) thinks so. Makes sense. After all, the Bible starts out with a baseball story: "In the big inning. . ." Go, #Cubs.

A Catholic view of the Protestant Reformation: 10-28-16

As I noted in my latest National Catholic Reporter column that posted this week, Protestants are making 2017 plans for how to commemorate the start of the Protestant Reformation 500 years ago.

ReformationIn that piece, I suggest that commemoration, not celebration, is the right attitude, given that the schism produced a lot of bad blood between Protestants and Catholics back then and that the divisions continue today.

So there you have one Protestant perspective on the matter.

For contrast today, I offer you this one Catholic perspective from a blog called "The Cordial Catholic." The author of it is K. Albert Little, who describes himself as an evangelical convert to Catholicism.

In the piece, Little offers what he calls "five things you need to know about the Protestant Reformation." (I have an almost visceral dislike of articles that pretend to offer you five of this or 10 of that, all neatly tied up, as if that's the final word on the subject. But let that go. Little seems like a nice and reasonable -- even cordial -- man and I'm sure he doesn't mean to say there are only five things you need to know or that any other information is superfluous.)

One of Little's more interesting points is that although the printing press played an important role in the Reformation (the book to read is Brand Luther, by Andrew Pettegree; here is my review of it), it led to some problems, too. As he writes:

"With the printing press, Christians were finally able to access the Bible for themselves and numerous translations of the Greek and Hebrew biblical texts began to proliferate.

"But secondly, it’s important to recognize that while we, today, celebrate Luther’s emphasis on making the Bible accessible to the everyday Christian Luther himself lamented its widespread availability almost immediately.

"Luther recognized, quickly, what the Catholic Church had understood all along. Not that the everyday Christian should be deprived of the Bible but that without some education, including basic literacy education, they wouldn’t understand what they’re reading.

"Misinterpretations would abound.

"And they did."

One problem with the traditional Catholic approach to biblical literacy, however, is that it has not encouraged the people in the pews -- until quite recently -- to read the Bible for themselves and to do it in solid study groups so that they avoid conclusions that aren't warranted. That is changing, but on the whole, Protestants tend to be more biblically literate than Catholics, though even among Protestants there is much biblical illiteracy along with a tendency to read the Bible in a literalistic way instead of a serious way.

Perhaps Little's most problematic point, however, is this:

"While the Catholic Church was unequivocal in its core teachings since early in its history, the Protestant Reformation, with its hands on the now readily available Scriptures, would take many fundamental doctrine back to the drawing board.

"Doctrines which had been established by the Early Church and written about shortly after Jesus left the earth and ascended to Heaven."

That description seems a little too neat. After all, it took time, for instance, even for the doctrine of the Holy Trinity to emerge from scripture (the term Trinity is not found in the New Testament) and it wasn't until the Fourth Century that the church declared clearly that Jesus had two natures, meaning that he was both fully human and fully divine. (Though that decision continued to be challenged.)

Beyond that, it took until roughly the year 150 for what became the separate religion of Christianity to formally and finally separate itself everywhere from its parent, Judaism.

Still, it's intriguing to read this Catholic perspective on the Reformation, though it's worth recognizing that, like my own NCR column, it's just one person's perspective. The good news is that there have been some important moves toward Catholic-Protestant (especially Catholic-Lutheran) dialogue and unity, though one unified church still is a distant dream.

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Ever since I heard that a movie ("Denial") was being made about scholar and author Deborah Lipstadt's court victory against a Holocaust denier, it's been on my list to see. I hope to get that accomplished soon. In the meantime, here's an argument by a Religion News Service blogger about why seeing that movie is a moral imperative. I've heard Lipstadt speak and have read her book, The Eichmann Trial. If you ever have a chance, do both.

Killing off the death penalty: 10-27-16

In the midst of a lot of evidence that Americans tolerate all kinds of immorality -- from our sometimes-soul-crushing, exploitive entertainment industry to widespread failures to address issues of poverty, economic justice and quality education for all to having a major political party nominate for president a man who brags about sexually assaulting women -- there is at least one reassuring development that is giving me hope that not everything is going that way.

Anti-death-penaltyThe death penalty appears to be dying.

As this New York Times editorial makes clear, it can't happen soon enough.

"For the first time in nearly half a century," The Times editorial board writes, "less than half of Americans said they support the death penalty, according to a Pew Research poll released last month. While that proportion has been going down for years, the loss of majority support is an important marker against state-sanctioned killing.

"At the same time, executions and new death sentences are at historic lows, and each year they go lower. In 2015 only 49 new death sentences were handed down, the lowest one-year total since the Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment in 1976."

There are several encouraging developments leading to fewer executions, but perhaps the one I find most reassuring of all is that some of the justices on the U.S. Supreme Court seem to be open to abolishing the death penalty as unconstitutional. As The Times notes:

"While capital punishment is used rarely and only in some places, only a definitive ruling from the Supreme Court will ensure its total elimination. How close is the court to such a ruling? In recent dissenting opinions, three of the justices — Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Sonia Sotomayor — have expressed deep misgivings about the death penalty’s repeated failure to meet the requirements of due process and equal protection. Justice Breyer has said it is 'highly likely that the death penalty violates the Eighth Amendment,' and has called for the court to consider whether it is constitutional at all."

The number of states that use the death penalty has shrunk now to 32, with others considering abolishing capital punishment. And some states where the death penalty is still legal haven't used it in years.

It's long past time to quit letting our government sink to the level of convicted criminals by killing them to show that killing is wrong.

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United Methodist Bishops finally have appointed 32 people to serve on a commission designed to find a way forward from the deep divisions in the church over homosexuality. The hope is that this 12-million-member denomination can avoid schism. I hope it can, too, but I am not optimistic. First, the issue rests on how one reads scripture, and that's not easy to give up. Second, 32 people may well be representative of the whole church, but, if so, they simply will reflect the division on this issue already there. Besides, 32 seems an unwieldy number. Finally, the 5 million United Methodists who reside outside the U.S. -- many of them in Africa -- are unlikely to change their position against inclusion of LGBTQ people among clergy, just as many American Methodists are unlikely to be willing to continue keeping LGBTQ people out of leadership. That said, I'd be thrilled if the Holy Spirit could help this commission find a way forward and not simply be a delaying tactic in what inevitably becomes a schism. The right thing to do, if you ask me, is for Methodists to join other Mainline Protestants in agreeing to ordain otherwise-qualified gays and lesbians to ministry. There is no biblical reason not to take that position.

Why Americans mistrust religious leaders: 10-26-16

A new Pew Research Center report indicates that a lot of people don't have much trust in religious leaders.

TrustInstitutions_religionWhen asked whom they trust to act in the public's best interest, Americans pointed to members of the military and to scientists. Others, well, not so much.

Among all American adults, a total of 46 percent said they had either no or not too much confidence that religious leaders can be trusted to act in the public's interest. When you break it down by different branches of Christianity, you find a fair amount of hesitancy to applaud leaders no matter what branch people are in.

For instance, 21 percent of white evangelical Protestants had no or not much trust in religious leaders, while 41 percent of white Mainline Protestants felt that way.

Which at least is not as distrustful of religious leadership as you find among people who identify as agnostic (78 percent have no or not much trust) or atheist (86 percent).

Let's agree that such polling sometimes tells us precious little. But if we assume that there really is a fairly substantial group of Americans who distrust religious leaders, one obvious question to ask is why.

The Pew study didn't delve into that questions, but we can. A few thoughts about why people might mistrust religious leaders to act in the public's interest:

-- People have some kind of personal experience of having been hurt or betrayed by clergy and no action by other leaders of the congregation in response to that hurt.

-- They have read about the sexual abuse scandal among priests and bishops in the Catholic Church (and other faiths as well).

-- Almost any time they tune into religious broadcasting on TV or radio, the preacher is pleading for money.

-- They have experienced religious leaders become spokespeople for one political party or another.

-- They haven't experienced a truly healthy congregation with highly moral leadership, even though you can find such congregations in every great religion.

No doubt there are other causes for this mistrust that you could name. But the question is what you and/or your congregation is doing to change this mistrust into trust.

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On a more upbeat note, here's a lovely piece from The New Yorker by a Muslim man on why his Muslim father from Ghana loves America. "The reason, he said, was very simple: Americans were the ones doing Allah’s work, by steadfastly upholding the Islamic tenet of zakat—a form of alms-giving that makes up one of the Five Pillars of Islam." Wonderful insight. I hope it continues to be true.

An electorate racially and religiously divided: 10-25-16

In this breathtakingly divisive presidential race, what role have religion and race played?

Religious-freedomThat's the question the study reported on in this piece seeks to answer.

Clearly both have played a role in swaying voters to support either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, as the report notes:

"Scholars have paid close attention to the role of racial hostility in elections. However, this election has demonstrated a need to pay closer attention to the role of religious hostility as well as how the experience influences the political and social engagement of religious minorities—irrespective of the election results."

You can read the rather detailed report for yourself and see if it somehow illuminates this election in useful ways. But I want to offer two cautions before you leap into it:

First, let's remember that race is a political and social construct, not a biological reality. Humans, we now know, are roughly 99.9 percent identical when it comes to DNA. It's the remaining .1 percent that makes us individually unique. The Human Genome Project confirmed that the way people have been thinking about race for centuries is misleading at best and dead wrong at worst.

Second, some of the terminology in the study seems problematic to me. For instance, it seeks to measure whether "whites" prefer "whites" over Muslims. The reality, of course, is that Islam is, like Christianity, one of the most pluralistic religions in the world and includes "whites."

Beyond that, what does "whites" mean? Today when I'm asked my "race" on a survey of some sort, when I have a chance I answer this way: "I was brought up to believe that I'm white."

I recommend a similar response when you are faced with the question (substituting "white" for whatever is most appropriate for you). In the end, it will complicate the thinking of the pollsters, which would be a good result.

This year we have a terribly divided electorate, made so in part by appeals to racial and religious prejudices and fears. How sad in a nation that prizes equality and religious liberty.

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The Catholic archbishop of Chicago says he's all in for the Cubs and has been "storming heaven" on their behalf. Well, we long-long-long-suffering Cubs' fans appreciate all the help we can get in the World Series against Cleveland that starts tonight. But in some ways I wish religious leaders wouldn't kid around about such matters. People sometimes take them seriously and really believe God cares who wins. If God cared about my Cubs this would not have been our 108th year of rebuilding. 

Unpacking the science-religion dialogue: 10-24-16

The human impulse that can lead to a commitment to religious faith is awe, wonder.

Particles-faithIn Particles of Faith: A Catholic Guide to Navigating Science, author Stacy A. Trasancos expresses that sense of awe well:

"It is fun to consider what journey the particles of our bodies have traversed in the last 4.5 billion years on Earth and through the universe in the last 13 billion years. Did you ever wonder how many other bodies all the uncountable particles in your body have occupied? You and I will never know that answer, but nevertheless the particles that make us up have traveled the universe. What supernova have they come from? What cloud did they touch? What rock did they sit in? What river carried them? What other child held them?"

Trasancos, a scientist who became a convert to Catholicism, does her best in this volume to show that it's possible to hold modern scientific theories as at least provisionally true and, at the same time, to make a commitment to religious faith.

Science and religion, after all, seek to answer different questions. When religion pretends it has solid answers to scientific questions, it eventually finds itself laughed off the stage. By contrast, when science pretends it can answer the eternal questions about purpose -- the why of existence -- it, too, finds itself deep in territory about which it has nothing useful to say.

This book confirms all that. My initial hope for the book was that, despite being called a "Catholic Guide," it would be broad enough to be of use and interest to a much wider range of religious people. Sometimes it is, but mostly it's as advertised -- for Catholics. And Trasancos is clear that the book "is meant as a guide for fellow Catholics."

Her conversion to faith, which happened when she was busy being a scientist focusing on nanotechnology, "was the most satisfying leap I ever dared to take as a scientist and, more importantly, as a person. Now I see science as the study of the handiwork of God. And I see so much more."

So it's doubtful that scientists who reject religion will be convinced by anything Trasancos writes. They would have difficulty with such passages as this: "We need faith and reason equally, but when it comes to science, we must view the universe through a confident lens of faith in the Creator." But, again, such people are not her audience.

The contest and conversation between science and religion has been going on for several hundred years, and it should continue because each has something important to contribute.

And if the impulse that leads to faith is awe and wonder, Trasancos is right that "science can inspire us to express awe and wonder," thus completing the circle.

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With some regularity, I complain about the quality of news coverage of religion. And with good reason. But I just read this piece about journalists in the Arab world undergoing a multi-day workshop about how to cover religion fairly and well. Maybe we could get the author of the piece to come to the U.S. and doing some training here. Couldn't hurt.

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P.S.: As you may know, there's been a battle in Nebraska, of all red-state places, over whether to abolish the death penalty there. I first wrote about it here last year. Although the forces for abolition won initially, the pro-capital punishment folks fought back. Now there's an upcoming vote on whether to retain the abolition of the state's death penalty. And the Catholic leadership of the state just launched a new online campaign to convince voters to support abolition. May the supporters of abolition prevail.

A wave of antisemitic trash injures everyone: 10-22/23-16

Many Jews will testify that they are freer in the United States to live out their faith in ways that make sense to them than in any other country, even including Israel. (Many Muslims and people of other faith often say something similar, too.)

Jane-EisnerAnd I have heard some Jewish leaders say that on the whole most American Jews don't experience a lot of direct antisemitism any more.

All of which may be true. But it does not mean that the ancient curse of toxic anti-Judaism and its more modern outgrowth, antisemitism, has disappeared.

In fact, it appears that this presidential election has unleashed a powerful strain of antisemitic poison that is ugly, growing and disgusting. For instance, Jane Eisner (pictured here), the editor-in-chief of the Jewish newspaper The Forward, has written this distressing piece describing what she has gone through in recent months.

She's used to various kinds of criticism that journalists inevitably receive, she writes, "But nothing quite prepared me for the slew of emails, five altogether, sent in the early hours of October 10 with messages such as: 'Shana Tova, Dirty Hooknosed KIKE rat! MAY IT BE YOUR LAST!'

"And: 'You would make a nice lampshade.'

"And: 'Trump supporters HATE KIKES! HAIL TRUMP!' That one was accompanied by an image of a Nazi soldier holding a gun to an image of my head photo-shopped onto a concentration camp uniform complete with the six-pointed yellow Jewish star."

This is not something that has happened just to Eisner of The Forward. Rather, as she wrote the other day, "The extent of this plague is now codified, thanks to a report released today by the Anti-Defamation League’s Task Force on Harassment and Journalism.

"The report proves beyond doubt that anti-Semitism against journalists on social media has increased dramatically during this election campaign and that Jews are by far the main targets. While the report takes pains to say that this surge is not caused directly by the Donald Trump campaign, it is driven in large measure by those who identify with his candidacy." (The folks who run Twitter have not been very helpful in stopping antisemitic tweets, by the way.)

This is one more wound America will have to try to heal once this presidential election is over. It won't be easy and it won't happen if people sloppily blame all Trump supporters for this antisemitic storm. But it will help if Trump himself, who has various personal ties to Jewish people, will be part of the post-election solution. That, however, may be a lot to hope for.

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Speaking of religious bigotry, I found this Daily Beast story a bit ironic. It describes how Christians in Liberal, Kan., are surprised and angered that three men from their area are charged with plotting terrorism against a mosque. Their denunciation of the plot is the good part of the story. The ironic part is that the town seems to be full of pro-Trump political signs. Maybe some of those Christian residents there haven't heard all the anti-Muslim trash-talking coming from Trump over recent months. Words have consequences, people, even if it can't be proven that Trump's words directly produced the terrorist plot (or the antisemitism I wrote about above). But when a presidential candidate talks that way, it creates an atmosphere in which Islamophobia has a chance to take root.

The danger of success vs. ISIS in Mosul: 10-21-16

The Islamic State, as it calls itself with hubris and little truth, is losing in lots of ways, including the land it controls in Syria and Iraq, as this week's battle for Mosul continues.

MosulBut that doesn't mean that these rigid Islamist killers soon will pose no threat to anyone else in the world. No, things are much more complicated than that. Actions produce reactions, and those reactions often produce bad news and/or unintended consequences.

Indeed, as this BBC story reports, there are concerns now that ISIS fighters driven from Mosul and elsewhere -- as the Islamic State continues to shrink toward collapse -- may wind up in Europe, where the amount of damage they could do and the fear they might induce could be enormous.

As the story reports, the European Union's "Security Commissioner Julian King said even a small number of militants would pose 'a serious threat that we must prepare ourselves for.'"

Think of a light shining on a collection of cockroaches in an old home. They scatter, going all directions.

I am not, by the way, calling ISIS fighters cockroaches. The sad truth is that they, like all of us, are human beings. The sadder truth is that they have been sucked into a dark theological hole in which each question has only one acceptable answer.

So as we all follow the story of progress against ISIS, let's remember that it's not a straight-line story. Success in one place will produce more trouble in another place. The hope is that such collateral damage can be minimized and that eventually the attraction of a terrorist way of life will be minimized.

* * *


A new survey suggests that voters in the U.S. -- especially those who identify themselves as Christian evangelicals -- are much more tolerant now of politicians with low morals. When it comes to this presidential race, I suppose a legitimate question is this: What choice do they have? 

A refusal to give into more hatred: 10-20-16

Just less than a year ago, heavily armed terrorists stormed into the Bataclan Theater in Paris, site of a rock concert, and killed 90 people there, while injuring many others. The three shooters also died, and ISIS later claimed responsibility for the attack.

You-Not-Have-HateOne of the dead was Hélène Muyal-Leiris, wife of Paris journalist Antoine Leiris, and mother of their 17-month-old son Melvil.

Leiris, at home with Melvil that night, was left to bear the grief and to care for Melvil. Beyond that, he was left to sort out his anger, his determination, his bitter loss of the woman he adored. Within a few days Leiris posted a Facebook note addressed to the killers, saying that he would not give them his hate. And as for Melvil, he wrote, "all his life this little boy will defy you by being happy and free. Because you will not have his hate either."

That message created a Facebook sensation.

Now Leiris has expanded on that initial note and turned it into a small book, You Will Not Have My Hate, to be published this Tuesday. It is spare. It is poetic. It is deeply human in that it is profoundly honest. And after it breaks your heart, which it will, it will also give you hope for humanity.

Leiris digs deeply -- jackhammers, really -- into his own emotions, his own soul: "Guns, bullets, violence -- all of this is just background noise to the real tragedy now taking place: absence."

The rawness of the feelings expressed here are similar in depth and tone to those found in C.S. Lewis's classic, A Grief Observed. Readers familiar with that book will understand that comparing the Leiris book to it is high praise, indeed.

"Watching from a distance," Leiris writes, "you always have the impression that the person who survives a disaster is a hero. I know I am not. I was struck by the hand of fate, that's all. It did not ask me what I thought first. It didn't try to find out if I was ready. It came to take Hélène, and it forced me to wake up without her. Since then, I have been lost: I don't know where I'm going. I don't know how to get there. You can't really count on me."

Even writing this book, he says, "will not heal me. No one can be healed of death. All they can do is tame it. Death is a wild animal, sharp-fanged. I am just trying to build a cage to keep it locked in. It is there, beside me, drooling as it waits to devour me."

This small book has given me new insight into what my late nephew's widow went through on and in the days after he was murdered in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. She was left, pregnant, with an 18-month-old son, a month older than Melvil. She, too, survived and has made a beautiful new life for herself and her children. But to get there she, like Leiris, has had to travel through hell.

And in both cases, they were forced to make that journey so because of someone's demonically twisted idea of what religion is all about. How sad. How unnecessary. How outrageous.

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Are you looking for Halloween costumes that won't damn you for all time? Me, either, But "The Literalist" over at Religion News Service has these ideas for that anyway. Yeah, well, OK. Am I the only one around here who thinks Halloween is way overrated?