Instead of letting a Vatican department issue a memo, as usual, Pope Francis today sent a personal message to Muslims to mark the end of Ramadan. He emphasizes the need for mutual kindness and education:

What we are called to respect in each person is first of all his life, his physical integrity, his dignity and the rights deriving from that dignity, his reputation, his property, his ethnic and cultural identity, his ideas and his political choices. We are therefore called to think, speak and write respectfully of the other, not only in his presence, but always and everywhere, avoiding unfair criticism or defamation.

Our Man in the Vatican, Alessandro Speciale, says that had happened only once before: in 1991, when John Paul II wrote personally to Muslims after the Gulf War.

Perhaps not coincidentally, Francis tweets this as well:

Not exactly Benedict XVI at Regensburg, but we don’t want to go there.

By the way, the retired pope’s brother says Benedict is not ill but won’t be writing anymore. He also says that Benedict did not know Pope Francis very well prior to his election, but now “appreciates him very much.” Many seem to agree.

Amid probe of alleged neo-Nazi seminary network, two students have been expelled from their Bavarian seminary for imitating the Nazi salute and making jokes about Nazi death camps.

In Murfreesboro, Tennessee, meanwhile, they’re still trying to close a mosque.

And many U.S. Muslims are opposed to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s possible nomination as Homeland Security chief.

On Wednesday’s feast day for the founder of the Society of Jesus, Pope Francis remembered a fellow Jesuit, Father Paolo Dall’Oglio, kidnapped in Syria. In the Wall Street Journal today, Stephanie Saldana pays tribute to Dall’Oglio, her friend.

Scrutiny of the actual contents and merits of “Zealot,” Reza Aslan’s controversial book on Jesus continue, and they continue to point out its weaknesses. Melinda Henneberger at the Post has a column, and Alan Jacobs has a smart takedown that ends generously:

Reza Aslan’s book is an educated amateur’s summary and synthesis of a particularly skeptical but quite long-established line of New Testament scholarship, presented to us as simple fact. If you like that kind of thing, “Zealot” will be the kind of thing you like.

Some say a clay fragment unearthed in Jerusalem may be the oldest Hebrew inscription ever discovered in the city and could prove that the Bible is true. Not sure if that will help the incipient peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians.

How should Christians think of Ariel Castro, the Cleveland man who at his sentencing made excuses for his horrifying crimes while imprisoning three young women for a decade?

Al Mohler wonders: “Is he just sick? Is he a monster? Could he really be ‘a normal person’?”

The answer to that requires us to think beyond the category of sinner. Ariel Castro is not only a sinner, he is a violent sociopath. By definition, a sociopath is an individual who lacks a moral understanding of his or her own moral actions. They stand out from the rest of society because their psychopathic personality often leads them to commit horrifying crimes—crimes beyond the imagination, much less the temptation, of most people.

When Christian brands clash, it could get legal, and ugly. But Josh Hamilton of the Los Angeles Angels, a star player and Christian, turned the other cheek and agreed to stop marketing the slogan “Play Hard Pray Harder,” which is also used by a Christian sports-apparel start-up.

Hamilton cited Matthew 5:39-40: “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

Our friend Michelle Boorstein was writing about summer and modest clothing in church the other day, and now I see there’s a blog called “Loving Mantillas.” The Internet is something.

The Discovery Channel’s annual Shark Week shows are something too, and the Forward’s Eric Schulmiller illuminates the Jewish connection to sharks. Beyond the fact that they’re not kosher.

Lest Jews – or Catholics – get too puffed up, a new study argues that Protestants are “more creative” than Catholics and Jews. On the other hand, it’s because they don’t have an adequate outlet for their feelings.

Discuss.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin is getting flack for cracking down on gays and even expressions of support for gays, but he has some backers among conservative U.S. Christians:

“You admire some of the things they’re doing in Russia against propaganda,” said Austin Ruse, president of the U.S.-based Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute. “On the other hand, you know it would be impossible to do that here.”

Elsewhere, the Russian Orthodox Church is backing Russia’s decision to accept fugitive U.S. intelligence leaker, Edward Snowden, with a spokesman saying Moscow is protecting him “from the global ideological dictatorship, from the electronic concentration camp.”

Our Correction of the Week comes from the conservative Catholic outlet, Zenit, which explains that when it asked American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a Vatican official, if the liturgy was not as important as good works done in faith he actually said that is a “common misperception” not a “Communist misconception,” as Zenit first reported.

Marx my words, that’s a commune mistake.

Speaking of fancy rites, check out this awesome tumblr: “The Low Churchman’s Guide to the Solemn High Mass.”

A Third Great Awakening? Nope, says Cathleen Falsani. “I believe we are standing in the threshold of a Great Grace Awakening.” Read her column.

Let us conclude by marking the passing of a giant in the study of religion, Robert Bellah. A fine personal remembrance by my colleague Mark Silk, and an appreciation by Mark Juergensmeyer. An extraordinary man and career.

Read some of these items, or better yet Bellah’s books. Something substantial to meditate on for a summer weekend. Enjoy. Sign up below and see you here next week.

David Gibson

Categories: Culture

David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He is a national reporter for RNS and has written two books on Catholic topics, the latest a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.

5 Comments

  1. So Austin Ruiz says it couldn’t happen here? It very well could! Take some right wing Christian extremism, give them some power and watch the fun! Seriously, though, he applauded Putin’s rounding up of the gays? One more reason I am hesitant to call myself Christian anymore. Don’t in any way want to be identified with these RW fascists wanna be’s!

  2. Sylvia Stocker

    When MLK, Jr. said the arc or the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice, he was quoting 19th century Unitarian minister Theodore Parker. King usually gets credit for the quote, but Parker is the one who first said it.

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