Happy Reformation Day! Well, at least Cardinal O’Malley is smiling. Because those other Cardinals are blue. (See photo below)

Or this:

Ouch. Well, as they say in the church history dodge, there’s always next millennium…

Screen shot of the Boston Globe homepage, Oct. 31, 2013.

Screen shot of the Boston Globe homepage, Oct. 31, 2013. David Gibson for RNS

Speaking of the Reformation, let’s start with a classic but fascinating downer — this 1995 homily from theologian Stanley Hauerwas:

I must begin by telling you that I do not like to preach on Reformation Sunday. Actually I have to put it more strongly than that. I do not like Reformation Sunday, period … Reformation names the disunity in which we currently stand. We who remain in the Protestant tradition want to say that Reformation was a success. But when we make Reformation a success, it only ends up killing us…

Think that’s tough? Check out some gems from the great man himself, via the Luther Insulter website:

“This new thing you have devised is the vilest cesspool that the devil has on earth.”

Real Luther, real insults – that one from “Against Hanswurst,” which is close to Hauerwas. Spooky?

Or think of the Reformation this way:

Speaking of spooky, it is of course Halloween, too, and columnists at Baptist Press ask – and answer – two questions: “Should you believe in ghosts?” and “Can Christians watch horror movies?”

In Poland, a Catholic archbishop sounds more like an old-time Baptist on Halloween:

“This is a fundamentally anti-Christian festival,” said Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Lodz. “Parents and teachers should protect youngsters against its images of terror and dread, especially when many already associate it with the cult of Satan.”

Then there’s this:

Cue my rant: a New Jersey school district is banning religious songs at the winter holidays, a word that derives from “holy days.”

Sneak Peek, Part One: Christianity Today’s new “GQ” look. But what about the 25 ways to get ripped abs?

Sneak Peek, Part Deux: renderings of the new St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, which will replaces the church heavily damaged in the Sept. 11 attacks on Lower Manhattan, are unveiled. Count me a fan.

This is interesting: Fewer home-school families cite religion as their main motivation. Katherine Burgess reports.

By the way, St. Louis, the real Pope is making more Cardinals in February – Vatican confirmed that this morning. Francis could make more than a dozen new members of the world’s most exclusive club – well, after the U.S. Senate – and could signal where the future of the church is headed.

More on that front: Pope Francis came in at No. 4 on Forbes’ list of the World’s Most Powerful People in 2013. Not sure that’s what he’s been shooting for. In any case, Vladimir Putin was No. 1. But how many divisions does he have?

Yes, the Cardinals lost. So the Pope is now backing the Broncos?


Vanity Fair goes undercover in the Vatican and discovers … there are gay priests! I mean, who knew? Author Michael Gross does seem to nail the dynamic – in that it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be:

“(T)o be gay in the Vatican is no guarantee of success, mark of belonging, or shortcut to erotic intrigue. Most basically it is a sentence of isolation.”

Minnesota’s Archbishop John Nienstedt does not seem to be faring well, as a criminal investigation and public opinion over his handling of suspected clergy abusers tighten. Now he may be losing his priests:

“He needs to stand before us and explain himself,” the Rev. Stephen O’Gara, pastor of the Church of the Assumption, said in a Sunday homily. “Only then will we have the respect called to his office. It’s about arrogance, and we all fall victim to arrogance in some degree or in some place in our lives. But this is more. This is not some small matter. This is a big deal. It’s the first time, I must say, in 69 years that I’m embarrassed to be Catholic.”

Not exactly on par with Luther, but what do you expect from a Catholic priest?

Well, maybe this: Father Jim Martin, notorious Jesuit, faced off with Penn Jillette, notorious atheist, on the cable show of Lawrence O’Donnell, notorious cable host, and … civility ensues!

Seriously, buy those guys a beer.

Speaking of belief, or not, an essay in the latest Atlantic is a must-read: “Study Theology, Even If You Don’t Believe in God.” Money quote:

“To study theology well requires not faith, but empathy.”

In that vein, the Dish points to an essay defending Unitarianism against charges that it’s doctrinal ambiguity makes it “religiously empty.”

Insults and incivility are not as new as we think, perhaps. Archeologists have dug up a 1,700-year-old curse in the ruins of a luxurious Roman villa in Jerusalem’s City of David. It reads:

“I strike and strike down and nail down the tongue, the eyes, the wrath, the ire, the anger, the procrastination, the opposition of Iennys.”

Who’s Iennys and why did he deserve this treatment?

Hey, even Mormons and Evangelicals are finding ways to get along, as our own Adelle Banks reports.

Look, there’s a new book on the spirituality of the “Avatar” movie. My colleague Brian Pellot nails it:

Finally, Pacific-Standard writes about research showing that we are nicer and more ethical before lunch — but try to be generous with the little monsters who ring your bell this evening.

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.


  1. “Cue my rant: a New Jersey school district is banning religious songs at the winter holidays, a word that derives from ‘holy days.'”

    I commented more fully on the linked article itself, but I’m not sure what you feel compelled to rant about. If you don’t like the idea of legally-mandated inclusivity in tax-payer-supported public schools, you’re free to send your child to a private, religious school (with your money).

    If you’re actually going to use the etymology of the word “holiday” to complain about this, then let’s talk about how the term is applied to Halloween, New Year’s Day, Father’s Day, Mother’s Day, Arbor Day, etc. All of those occasions have become far too secularized and divorced from their religious roots, right? *cough*

    • My inclusion of Halloween on that list, by the way, was intended as a particularly pointed challenge to your definition of “holiday,” since it obviously has religious roots that are very different from the ones whose omission you’re decrying. Just how egalitarian are you willing to be?

  2. David Gibson

    David Gibson

    Article author

    Michael, I’m willing to be very egalitarian. That’s my point. I don’t see why excluding things that may (or may not) have a religious connotation to students is a good thing. The more the merrier, as far as I’m concerned. It’s about educating children. Trying to have holidays that elide the reason for the holidays is kind of an Orwellian approach to history, seems to me.

    • Thanks for your reply, David. All other things being equal, I would agree with you: “The more the merrier.” We certainly cannot expect (nor should we try) to purge the Commons of everything that “may (or may not) have a religious connotation” to someone. After all, a serious Pastafarian might decide that the presence of a colander in a public school kitchen is an affront to his religious sensibilities and a violation of the Establishment Clause. We have to set boundaries somewhere.

      But we’re not dealing with that kind of vagueness here. “Silent Night”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, etc., aren’t songs that “may (or may not) have a religious connotation” for some students; their *primary purpose* is to convey a specific religious message, and that is exactly why such songs cannot be endorsed by a public school. As I noted elsewhere, this school district’s choice to ban all religious music was quite pragmatic. The only other equitable approach would be for each school in the district to balance out any Christian music with an equal amount of music that represented every other faith group at the school! The criteria for determining “representation” would naturally be contentious, and such an approach would also lead to some epically long concerts. Thus, banning religious music altogether is simply more practical.

      Lastly, if the events in question were still called “Christmas concerts” (or the like), I would agree that purging all religious references from the program would be Orwellian. However, the district is calling these “winter concerts,” and that makes them secular (as they legally must be in this context).

      You’re right that this is about educating children — in an equitable, nurturing, and inclusive environment that does not favor one child over another. Imagine being one of only a few Jewish children in a particular public school, at an age when you are just beginning to figure out your identity and beliefs. Now, imagine being forced — by virtue of your required choir class — to sing a program of songs declaring Jesus Christ as Lord. Do you think that would seem equitable, nurturing, or inclusive to you?

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