Month: October 2011

The World at Seven Billion: Lessons Not to Learn

Here is an excerpt from my recent contribution to the ‘On Faith’ section of the Washington Post: Perhaps we should focus instead on our consumerist use of resources and a growing inability to provide environmentally-safe energy.  Indeed we should, but these practices are largely unique to the oil-soaked lifestyles of the middle- and upper-classes in the developed world.  And in such cultures the problem is that there are not enough people.  Virtually no European country is able to replace its population, and some are beginning to panic. The BBC recently reported that a German government minister suggested that it would be time to “turn the lights out” if something isn’t done to raise its population.  Russia, in a desperate attempt to repopulate itself, has instituted Give Birth to a Patriot day where workers in various areas are given time off of work to go home, have sex and (hopefully) procreate. Given UN predictions that the world population will top out at 9 billion and then begin to decline, the next population crisis might ask the human race to repopulate ourselves. No, the lesson to learn from this milestone, especially for those who have a religious motivation to aid the poor and care for the earth, is not that we should impose a secular, Western understanding of reproductive control on poor people of color in the global south. This is...

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Disturbing New Abortion Demographics

When we think of the women in this country seeking abortions, we often call to mind the image of the young single woman–possibly college-aged or even a little younger–at too delicate a stage of life to take on the responsibilities of motherhood. Turns out that the majority of abortions in this country do not fit this image. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the research agency for Planned Parenthood, 61% of women in 2008 who procured an abortion were already mothers. A recent article in Slate Magazine provides a glimpse into the hearts and minds of this demographic: A few months ago, I was late. You know what I mean: My usual period day came and went without a spot, and suddenly every wave of exhaustion, every twinge of anxious nausea, became a harbinger of a very unintended pregnancy, a sign that my NuvaRing had failed me. I’m married, happily at that. And I’m a mother, happily as well. But our family feels “complete,” as demographers put it, at one child. And so my husband and I had to make a choice—or so we thought, for a very tense week before my body made the choice for me. As we lay awake at night whispering pros and cons for continuing the pregnancy, stopping only when our daughter padded in to snuggle under our covers in the predawn hours, I wondered...

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Pope Benedict XVI on the 25th Anniversary of the World Day of Peace in Assisi

Pope Benedict XVI offered a thoughtful statement today at the gathering of leaders of world religions (along with some agnostics) in Assisi. Over at Daniel P. Horan’s blog, Dating God, the full text is provided. As Horan sums up its key theme: “Religions must work to end violence in the world!” Four significant paragraphs in my view are: As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature. The God in whom we Christians believe is the Creator and Father of all, and from him all people are brothers and sisters and form one single family. For us the Cross of Christ is the sign of the God who put “suffering-with” (compassion) and “loving-with” in place of force. His name is “God of love and peace” (2 Cor 13:11). It is the task of all who bear responsibility for the Christian faith to purify the religion of Christians again and again from its very heart, so that it truly serves as an instrument of God’s peace in the world, despite the fallibility of humans. and The enemies of religion – as we said earlier...

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Thirty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time

Mal 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10 Ps 131:1, 2, 3 1 Thes 2:7b-9, 13 Mt 23:1-12 Our Gospel for this week in Matthew 23 is a long denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees, ending with Jesus prophesying the destruction of the temple. The Scribes were those who wrote legal documents and were collectively a sort of Jewish guild of intellectuals. The Pharisees, by contrast, were a religious and political movement analogous to a religious order like the Dominicans or Franciscans today. The Pharisees emphasized ritual purity, tithing, and Sabbath observance. Their goal was perfection through strict observance of the Torah, a perfection that was not only accessible to the Jewish elite or to the priestly class, but to all, no matter how poor or humble. By bringing the Temple purity laws to the ordinary person, the Pharisees strove to create a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Daniel Harrington, The Sacra Pagina Commentary on Matthew). It is easy to read such passages as the Gospel for this week in an anti-Semitic way, in a way that sees Judaism as the antithesis of Christianity. Starting especially in the 19th c., Christian biblical scholars started portraying Judaism as an overly legalistic religion that was grounded in a rigorous practice of the law detached from love of God and love of neighbor. You probably still hear this in sermons all the time, namely that...

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Jürgen Moltmann on Capital Punishment

As an ecumenical expression of solidarity with our recent “A Catholic Call to Abolish the Death Penalty,” German Reformed theologian Jürgen Moltmann has issued the following brief statement (translated by Dr. Steffen Lösel), which I have been requested to post here at Following his statement, I have provided a short comment. Dr. Moltmann’s Statement: The unjust killing of Troy Davis has filled the world with pain and abhorrence. This is not the America, which is respected in the world and which is praised for its democratic humanitarianism.   As Christians, we receive our salvation from the justifying righteousness of God. We reject all forms of retributive justice. We reject the death penalty in the name of God.   Democratic governments are governments of the people. Just as the people are not allowed to lie, steal, or kill, neither are governments.  We Germans know, how cruelly dictatorships lie, steal, and kill. We reject the death penalty in the name of democratic humanitarianism.   Jürgen Moltmann A Comment from Tobias Winright: We are grateful to Dr. Moltmann for sharing this statement with us. His more theological paragraph about the connection between our reception of “our salvation from the justifying righteousness of God” and our rejection of “all forms of retributive justice” echoes especially our quotation in our “A Catholic Call” from Protestant theologian Karl Barth (Church Dogmatics, vol. 3, part 4, pp. 442-443, cited...

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