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How can this bitter resurgence of antisemitism be explained?

How to criticize the pope -- or almost anyone

On the whole, I have been pleased with the way Pope Francis has handled his difficult job since being elected 10 years ago last week.

Pope-francisIn fact, not long after he took office, my then-pastor, the Rev. Dr. Paul T. Rock, and I co-authored a book exploring why Protestants seemed to be drawn to Francis and why we were hoping for more ecumenical cooperation between Catholics and Protestants as a result of his election.

Pope-Our-book-2It was Jesus, Pope Francis and a Protestant Walk into a Bar: Lessons for the Christian Church.

(The photo on the right shows Pope Francis holding our book after Paul's wife, Stacey Perkins Rock, also pictured here, handed it to him when she and Paul, now the senior pastor of the American Church in Paris, joined other English-speaking clergy in Europe on a visit to the Vatican. Stacey just popped a copy out of her purse and handed it to him. We're still waiting for his Amazon review, however.)

My positive reaction to this papacy has been especially true in light of the various ways his critics inside the Catholic Church have cut him up in mean ways that have injured the church while leaving Francis mostly unscathed.

But, of course, no religious leader is -- or should be -- beyond reproach. And National Catholic Reporter columnist Michael Sean Winters, who, like me, has mostly been a fan of Francis, recently issued a reproach of Francis that I think was fully justified.

Winters criticized Pope Francis for suggesting it's time for Ukraine's embattled president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, to consider surrendering in the war that Russian President Vladimir Putin unleashed against Ukraine. Francis, responding to an interviewer, repeated a word used by that interviewer: "I think that the strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates."

Winters offers several critical responses to what the pope said, and you can read about that using the "issued a reproach" link I gave you above.

Although I think Winters' critique of the pontiff's response was helpful and on target, what I appreciated even more was the way he showed all of us how to issue useful criticism without dehumanizing the person being criticized.

In the world of politics today, that approach is rare and getting rarer. You and I both can think of politicians who engage in brutally demeaning talk about their opponents. But the political atmosphere would be much clearer if whoever engages in such cruelty would focus on the idea being criticized and not on the people offering that idea.

Indeed, that approach may be the only one that allows the critique to be heard and taken seriously.

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A new documentary insists that Jesus was a vegetarian, as this Religion News Story reports. Come on. Isn't that like saying obvious things such as "monkeys like bananas"? Lambs, after all, are strictly herbivores. And we're talking here about the Lamb of God.

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Anyone paying even the least bit of attention to religion in the U.S. over the last several decades is aware that the percentage of American adults who identify as religiously unaffiliated has grown quickly. In fact, that percentage has now reached roughly 30 percent.

Just who are these "nones," as they're often called? Thanks to the Michigan State University School of Journalism's Bias Busters series of books about religion, a new book offers enlightening answers. In about 60 pages, 100 Questions & Answers About the Religiously Unaffiliated, written by students who are overseen by MSU faculty member Joe Grimm, provides answers.

The book is the latest in a series of more than 25 books that help readers understand all kinds of people, such as American Jews, Muslim Americans, U.S. Buddhists, Native Americans and on and on. A core idea behind this series is that bias and all that flows from it can be reduced if people have accurate information about often-misunderstood groups. If, for you, that includes the religiously unaffiliated, this book can start you on a helpful journey out of ignorance.


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