I've been waiting for a story like this...

One of the most important parts of my job, I feel, is teaching my students to think critically. So I love it when a story like this comes up, because I can use it to demonstrate the importance of thinking critically about the media.

Here's the story: Howard Kaloogian is a Republican candidate running in the upcoming congressional special election in San Diego. On his website he posted the following photograph and caption:

Does that look like Baghdad to you? Some people have pointed out that the signs have Roman characters, and not Arabic. Well, I don't know if that means anything. On any given day I see signs with Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, and Devanagari scripts. (Granted, Toronto is a little more culturally diverse than Baghdad!)

Still, there was more than a few things that are a little strange about the picture. It didn't take long before it was identified as Turkey, and this photograph taken by a Turkish photographer confirmed the point:

Clearly it is the same intersection. And it shows a sign, only partially seen in the Kaloogian picture, which I've encircled in red. It says "Bakırköy," which is a suburb of Istanbul. Over 1600 km from Baghdad.

The original picture has been removed from Kaloogian's site, and replaced with a new one, a distant shot of Baghdad, and a new caption claiming it was a "mistake."

The only mistake was thinking they could pull a stunt like that and get away with it.


Hans Küng on Evolution

Here is an interview with Hans Küng, a theologian I admire, even though I have some serious disagreements with some of his views -- not the same disagreements expressed by the Vatican, mind you.

Küng's position on evolution seems very similar to my own, and he has apparently written a new book dealing with the subject. Interestingly, the introduction says that Küng and Pope Benedict "discussed" Küng's book over dinner. I wonder if that means the pope had actually read it? I would find it rather amusing if he had.


Apostasy in the Qur'an

Beliefnet has posted an interesting article by Hesham Hassaballa about Abdul Rahman, the man in Afghanistan who converted from Islam to Christianity, and faced execution for doing so. The charges have since been dropped, but Rahman's life is still in danger.

Hassaballa points out that this is contrary to the message of the Qur'an. To back up this claim, he quotes a number of verses from the Qur'an that make it clear that religion is a matter of conscience, and that, while apostasy is a grave sin, the judgment should be left to God.

If you're like me, you've heard over and over how the rantings of fanatical Muslims are inconsistent with the message of the Qur'an, but haven't seen a lot of evidence to support this. Well, here it is. Give it a read.


Richard John Neuhaus: The Anti-Thinker?

The New Republic Online has a fantastic article [presently unavailable - January 09] by Damon Linker about Richard John Neuhaus, the editor-in-chief of the conservative Catholic journal First Things, and the author of a new book, Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth.

Linker, himself a former editor of First Things, summarises Neuhaus's theology of uncritical obedience:

A Catholic can have trouble affirming something taught by Rome, but in the end he must conclude that the difficulty arises from his own resistance to obedience or a misunderstanding and not from any error in the teaching itself. The pope, Neuhaus implies, is always right. (When politics intrudes, however, Neuhaus honors this idea in the breach: over the years he has shown himself to be perfectly willing to break from a suddenly fallible Vatican when it endorses economic and foreign policies that diverge from those preferred by the Republican Party.)

Even if you don't care a whit about Neuhaus, I would still recommend reading this article, because it's just so fascinating.


Christians for Torture?

Here's an interesting article from the Commonweal website. It seems that nearly three out of four American Catholics believe torture is justified under some circumstances, which is contrary to the official teaching of the Church, which states that torture is never justified.

Now, I don't know for certain, but I'd be willing to bet that most of these "pro-torture (at-least-under-some-circumstances) Catholics" would consider themselves to be conservatives. The type who complain about the "cafeteria Catholics" who "pick and choose" the official teachings they accept. So does that make them hypocrites?

Maybe they don't know what the official teaching is. They're aware that torture had been explicitly approved by Pope Innocent IV in 1252, and affirmed by several subsequent popes. Isn't that good enough? Church teachings don't change, right?

Well, they do. Contrary to the teaching of the medieval church, the Catechism now affirms that Torture, "which uses physical or moral violence to extract confessions, punish the guilty, frighten opponents, or satisfy hatred is contrary to respect for the person and for human dignity" (§2297). And that makes it wrong.

By the way, the old Catholic Encyclopedia article on the Inquisition, available at New Advent, is a riot. Especially the part about torture. Give it a read sometime.


Is anyone surprised by this?

This is from an article in today's Toronto Star:

"Remember the whiny, insecure kid in nursery school, the one who always thought everyone was out to get him, and was always running to the teacher with complaints? Chances are he grew up to be a conservative.

"At least, he did if he was one of 95 kids from the Berkeley area that social scientists have been tracking for the last 20 years. The confident, resilient, self-reliant kids mostly grew up to be liberals."

Here's the rest of the article.


On the Distressingly Gentle Style of Pope Benedict XVI

I remember last year, when Pope John Paul II died, the question of who should succeed him became a hot topic of conversation among my colleagues in the religion department of the high school I was teaching at.

In ever religion department I've worked in so far, I've probably always been regarded as the most progressive of the bunch. So I raised a few eyebrows when I claimed that I would be perfectly happy if Cardinal Ratzinger became pope. I had a couple of conservative colleagues who were quite pleased that I finally said something they could wholeheartedly agree with. And my more progressive colleagues, who usually find me quite agreeable, weren't buying my Ratzinger-for-pope argument.

By the way, an informal survey found that I was the only one who had actually read anything he had written. The others, like many Catholics, had formed an opinion of Ratzinger based entirely on his reputation.

In a post on this blog, which I unfortunately later deleted,* I said Ratzinger was in my top five favourite candidates. Contrary to the doom and gloom expected by progressive Catholics, I argued that Ratzinger was a much more creative and original thinker than people often recognised, that he was not the rigid conservative people generally take him as, and it would be wrong to assume he would handle the role of the pope in the same way he handled his role as doctrinal enforcer.

So I was quite pleased to read this column by Fr. Richard McBrien. Conservative hardliners are finding that Pope Benedict is a lot less nasty than they had hoped. The enemies of the church (you know, the Jesuits, Fr. Hans Küng, people who don't hate gays, etc.) just haven't been feeling his wrath. I mean, he went so far as to invite Küng for a meeting and private dinner at Castel Gandolfo! What's the deal with that?!?!

What went wrong? Why did Ratzinger go soft?

I think anyone who actually bothered to see past the cartoonish reputation he acquired as prefect for the CDF, and who read enough of his theological work with an open mind, will find that there is really nothing particularly surprising about Pope Benedict XVI.

* The reason I deleted the first few posts on this blog was that I wanted to take it in a completely different direction, focusing more on ideas and less on current events. I notice I've departed from that in recent weeks (or months, even), but I plan on getting to more philosophy and theology in the near future.


Monaghan is at it again...

Here is an amusing story about Domino's Pizza founder Tom Monaghan's plans to create a Catholic town in Naples, Florida.

The article notes that civil libertarians are contesting the legality of Monaghan's idea, but I don't know enough about American law to comment on that. So I won't.

I will say that I find the idea a little silly. Sure, they may succeed in preventing abortions and the sales of contraceptives and pornographic materials, but are they doing anything to reduce any of these overall? Hardly. If a woman living in this community decides to get an abortion, she need only drive a few minutes out of the community. So what's the point?

Imagine living in a community where everyone is a conservative Catholic. I shudder at the thought.
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