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September 4th, 2014
04:49 PM ET

ISIS vs. mainstream Muslims: The media war

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - The challenge was directed at the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. But the impassioned message, laced with Islamic phrases, sought a much wider audience.

The statement came from Barak Barfi, a spokesman for the family of slain American journalist Steve Sotloff. Sotloff, who reported for Time and other publications, was beheaded in a video ISIS released on Tuesday.

Barfi is a research fellow at the New America Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, where he specializes in Arab and Islamic affairs. On behalf of Steven Sotloff's family, he had tried to secure the journalist's release.

On Wednesday, Barfi stood outside the Sotloff family's Miami home, with dozens of microphones and cameras thrust before him, and stepped into a fierce war of words between ISIS and the rest of the Muslim world.

"I am ready to debate you with calm preachings," Barfi told al-Baghdadi, directly addressing him in Arabic. "I have no sword in my hand and I am ready for your answer.”

Speaking briefly to CNN on Thursday, Barfi said he doesn't expect the reclusive ISIS leader to accept the invitation. But his challenge had other aims, the young scholar said.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Faith • Foreign policy • Internet • Iraq • Islam • Islamic law • Middle East • Muslim • Quran • Religious violence • Sharia • Violence

In Venezuela, a 'sacrilegious' Lord's Prayer
The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is the subject of a "sacrilegious" new prayer.
September 3rd, 2014
11:43 AM ET

In Venezuela, a 'sacrilegious' Lord's Prayer

By Rafael Romo, CNN

(CNN) - A member of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and follower of Hugo Chavez is raising eyebrows for changing the words of the Lord's Prayer to honor the late president.

Speaking during an event at the Third Congress of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela in Caracas on Monday, María Estrella Uribe read the changed prayer in front of hundreds of delegates and current President Nicolás Maduro.

"Our Chávez who art in heaven, on Earth, in the sea and in us delegates," she read, "hallowed be thy name. Thy legacy come so that we can take it to people here and elsewhere."

The delegate from the border state of Táchira kept on reading. "Give us today your light to guide us every day. Lead us not into the temptation of capitalism, but deliver us from oligarchy."

Delegates cheered Uribe loudly, especially when she shouted "Viva Chávez!" at the end of her speech. Maduro raised no objections.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Americas • Christianity • Church and state • Venezuela

August 29th, 2014
04:47 PM ET

Italian paper: ISIS targeting Pope Francis

Italian newspaper Il Tempo reports that Pope Francis is a target ISIS has "in the crosshairs." CNN's John Allen reports.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Francis • Vatican

August 23rd, 2014
07:14 PM ET

What God is screaming in Ferguson, Missouri

Opinion by the Rev. Fred D. Robinson, special to CNN

(CNN) - On day five after the shooting death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown at the hands of police, I was on the phone with a white Christian and fellow preacher concerning the racial cauldron that has become Ferguson, Missouri.

During our conversation, he spent more time decrying rioting and calling for calm and prayer than lamenting the modern-day lynching by law enforcement of innocent black bodies that are piling up across the nation.

But most frustrating was his solution to the racial powder keg that has produced the Fergusons across the nation: a call for more racially diverse churches.

I get tired of that one. His unrelenting insistence reminded me — in the most stark terms — of James Baldwin’s prophetic quip: “Racial progress in America is measured by how fast I become white.”

Simply having diverse congregations without addressing the weightier matters of social justice and structural racism is not better church practice. It is possibly subterfuge.

During Princeton Theological Seminary’s 2014 Black Theology and Leadership Institute, of which I was a fellow, Dr. John Kinney, a professor of theology at Virginia Union, offered this stinging indictment:

“When white supremacy adopts diversity, it seeks to either cleanse you, contain you, co-opt you or convert you.”

If one is not careful, that is exactly what will be achieved in today’s climate of multiracial churches.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Christianity • Discrimination • Houses of worship • Leaders • Opinion • Poverty • Prejudice • Race

August 22nd, 2014
07:00 AM ET

Why liberals are more tolerant of atheists

Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN

(CNN) Conservative atheist and television pundit S.E. Cupp has come out swinging against progressive atheists.

In a clip (see above) for CNN’s “Crossfire,” she argues that conservative atheists are “better” than liberal nonbelievers. What’s more, Cupp says, those on the right respect and tolerate atheists more than liberals do.

She’s wrong, and here are three reasons why.

Fact: Atheists are still political outcasts.

“It seems like there’s this idea perpetuated by atheists that atheists are somehow disenfranchised or left out of the political process,” Cupp says. “I just don’t find that to be the case.”

Survey data contradict Cupp.

For instance, a 2014 Pew Research study found that Americans are less likely to vote for an atheist presidential candidate than any other survey category—even if they share that candidate’s political views.

Faring better than atheists: candidates who have engaged in extramarital affairs and those with zero political experience.

And unless she recently had a change of heart, Cupp herself falls in line with the majority of Americans. In 2012 she said, “I would never vote for an atheist president. Ever.”

While atheists are making political inroads, we’re also still on the margins in a number of ways. Cupp concludes the clip by saying, “I think our atheists are better than yours.”

Apparently they’re still not good enough to be president.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Atheism • Culture wars • Discrimination • Nones • Opinion • Politics • Prejudice

August 20th, 2014
08:31 PM ET

James Foley’s prayers and the dark side of faith

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog editor

(CNN) – We don’t know if James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by Islamic extremists, prayed in the hours and days before his death. We probably never will.

But Foley said faith sustained him during another ordeal in 2011, when he was held captive for 44 days by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

In a gut-wrenching article he wrote for Marquette University’s alumni magazine, Foley said he prayed while imprisoned that his family, many miles away, would somehow know that he was safe.

“Haven’t you felt my prayers?” Foley asked his mother, Diane, when he was finally allowed to call home.

Diane Foley told her son that his friends and family had been praying, too, holding vigils filled with former professors, priests and Marquette students. She echoed his question back: Have you felt ours?

He had, the journalist said. “Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat,” Foley wrote.

The 40-year-old Catholic, who reported for the GlobalPost among other publications, was abducted again in 2012, captured this time by the extremist group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, ISIS released a video showing a Muslim militant clad in black beheading Foley, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling in the sand.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Belief • Catholic Church • Christianity • Discrimination • Faith • Iraq • Islam • Middle East • Muslim • Religious violence

August 19th, 2014
11:32 AM ET

Pope 'profoundly saddened' by death of relatives in car crash

(CNN) - Pope Francis is deeply hurt by the news that a car crash killed three of his relatives in Argentina, the Vatican said on Tuesday.

On his return flight from South Korea on Monday, the Pope spoke movingly of meeting with the families of last April's ferry disaster, which killed about 300 people, many of whom were young students.

Here's what Francis said:

When you find yourself in front of human suffering, you have to do what your heart brings you to do. Then later they might say, he did this because he had a political intention, or something else. They can say everything. But when you think of these men, these women, fathers and mothers who have lost their children, brothers and sisters who have lost brothers and sisters, and the very great pain of such a catastrophe...my heart. I am a priest, I feel that I have to come close to them, I feel that way. That’s first. I know that the consolation that I can give, my words, are not a remedy. I cannot give new life to those that are dead. But human closeness in these moments gives us strength, solidarity.

I remember when I was archbishop of Buenos Aires, I experienced two catastrophes of this kind. One was a fire in a dance hall, a pop-music concert, and 194 people died in it. That was in 1993. And then there was another catastrophe with trains, and I think 120 died in that. At those times I felt the same thing, to draw close to them. Human pain is strong and if we draw close in those sad moments we help a lot.

And I want to say something more. I took this ribbon (from relatives of the Sewold ferry disaster, which I am wearing) out of solidarity with them, and after half a day someone came close to me and said, “It is better remove it, you should be neutral." But listen, one cannot be neutral about human pain. I responded in that way. That’s how I felt.

CNN's Delia Gallagher has more in the video above.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Francis

August 18th, 2014
01:35 PM ET

The Pope says ISIS must be stopped. But how?

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - Nearly everyone agrees that the militant Muslim group rampaging through northern Iraq must be stopped. The question is, how?

Asked if he approved of the American airstrikes against ISIS, Pope Francis withheld his moral imprimatur on Monday, refusing to fully support or denounce the military campaign.

"I can only say this: It is licit to stop the unjust aggressor," the pontiff said during a press conference on the plane back to Rome from South Korea.  "I underline the verb: stop. I do not say bomb, make war, I say stop by some means."

In an apparent reference to the United States, Francis said "one nation alone cannot judge" the best means of stopping groups like ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.

Those decisions should be made collectively by the United Nations, the pontiff said.

"It is there that this should be discussed. Is there an unjust aggressor? It would seem there is. How do we stop him?" the Pope asked, without answering his own question.

Already, Francis' cautious comments about American airstrikes and the use of force have fostered a welter of interpretations, from "tacit approval" to a "yellow light" to outright endorsement.

The Pope who was returning to Rome after a five day trip to South Korea, may soon have the chance to clarify his moral argument personally to U.S. and UN officials.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Christianity • Ethics • Foreign policy • Iraq • Middle East • Pope Francis • Violence

August 14th, 2014
10:05 AM ET

5 ways Pope Francis is tougher than you think

By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor

(CNN) - He's embraced a severely disfigured man, declined to judge gay priests, sought common ground with atheists and focused the world's attention on the poor and marginalized.

Yes, in the 18 months since his election as pontiff, Pope Francis has earned a reputation as one of the nicest guys on the planet.

According to a CNN poll, nearly 90% of American Catholics approve of the way he's running the church, and even atheists speak fondly of this Pope. 

But, if you watch him closely, you'll see a steely spine behind Francis's friendly smile. Just ask the Italian mafia.

In the video above, I explain 5 ways Pope Francis is tougher than you think.

By the way, be sure to check out our ongoing coverage of the Pope's trip to South Korea this week. 

 

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Catholic Church • Pope Francis

Why South Korea could be the church of future
Catholics attend Mass in Seoul, South Korea. When Pope Francis visits the country this week, he will find a thriving Catholic community .
August 12th, 2014
05:08 PM ET

Why South Korea could be the church of future

Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNN

(CNN) – When Pope Francis arrives in South Korea on Wednesday for a five-day visit, he’ll get a look at just the kind of church he’s been trying to create worldwide.

The trip, planned to coincide with Asia Youth Day, marks the first time a pope has visited the country since 1989, and is part of a new papal focus on globalization in general and on Asia in particular. (Francis plans to visit Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Japan in January.)

The time has long passed that the Catholic Church is elderly white men and women in European enclaves.

The last papal conclave and the election of the first Latin American Pope raised awareness of the Catholic Church’s growing presence in Africa, but Asian Christianity was hardly mentioned at all.

Even if it is rarely discussed in the media, Korean Catholicism is among the most vibrant in the world.

Here are five reasons South Korea might be the future of Catholic Church.

FULL POST

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Asia • Catholic Church • Christianity • North Korea • Opinion • Pope Francis • South Korea

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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.

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