The graphic is not available for republication.

Steven Sotloff’s mother pleaded for mercy for her son, who had been threatened with brutal execution by his Islamic State captors. Mercy seems to be an alien concept to their brand of religion, and they beheaded the 31-year-old American journalist. Also consider this:

The Islamic State is an equal opportunity killer

James Foley, who the IS executed two weeks ago, was Catholic and was hailed by many as a modern-day martyr. Sotloff was Jewish and, it turns out, also had Israeli citizenship — something the Israelis had kept quiet for fear it would hurt any chance he had of being released. That didn’t help in the end, but it’s not clear his Islamist captors were smart enough to figure out Sotloff was Jewish:

The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, quoting a former fellow captive, said Sotloff had kept his Judaism a secret from the Islamist insurgents, pretending he was sick when he fasted for the Yom Kippur holiday.

Which may answer this question:

Don’t forget that the IS targets Muslims as well:

So is this a war of religion? A war against religion? Both or neither? Or something else?

Two other items of note, from RNS:

Meanwhile …

“Erin go gay”

This news just broke, and it’s big:

“Gay group to march in NYC St. Patrick’s Day parade for first time”

The American public, and Catholics as much as anyone, have been increasingly accepting of gays and lesbians and gay rights, and proud Irish gays and lesbians have long been marching in St. Patrick’s Day parades in Ireland. But the American grandaddy of St. Patrick’s Day parades, which runs down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan and pauses at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, has never allowed gay and lesbian marchers to take part as a group. That had led many NY pols to pass on marching. Now the parade organizers have apparently changed their minds. What will Cardinal Dolan do? What will the Catholic League’s Bill Donohue do? Wait, I think I know the answer to that second one …

On the other hand …

A chemistry teacher at a Catholic all-girls high school in a Detroit suburb has been fired, apparently because she got pregnant — and she’s a lesbian, which made it a “non-traditional” pregnancy. This won’t end well.  “That you can’t hide a pregnancy from the public is why I was terminated,” Barbara Webb told the Free Press.

Then again, a Native American child was reportedly sent home from the first day of kindergarten because he had long hair, which is part of his Navajo religious tradition but against the dress code rules of the school. Paging the Becket Fund!

The Crux of the matter

The Boston Globe’s new Catholic-themed site, Crux, is up and is a must-read — not just because they carry RNS copy, though, yeah, props to them.

But they also have Vaticanista non pareil John Allen, whose opening column goes against the grain and poses four tough questions that someone needs to ask Francis, the “Teflon Pope.” They are about how he is dealing, or not, with the role of women, the sex abuse crisis, international conflicts and his own management style.

Maybe he needs to add a fifth question, about the status of gays. But who am I to judge John’s news sense?

Seriously, Crux has a of of other great stuff, but check out this photo gallery of the Vatican “Secret” Archives, and yeah, the scare quotes are more ironic than scary.

Speaking of irony and the Vatican, Cardinal Mueller again took the American nuns to task for not being sufficiently attentive to his effort to recast their mission and identity, but he was careful to assure readers that “we don’t want to gobble up a woman a day!” Good to know.

The last Catholic graph you’ll ever need

Our own poli sci and religion whiz, Tobin Grant, breaks down the various Catholic camps in the latest iteration of his awesome graphic.

PS: Tobin, you may need to add one for gay Catholics who march in St. Patrick’s Day parades.

Defending Victoria Osteen … and the Prosperity Gospel

Matt Lewis gives it a good shot, as Matt can do, as the backlash against the backlash against Joel Osteen’s wife begins. Victoria Osteen had been hammered on social media for saying that you come to church not to worship God but to make yourself happy. But hold on, sayeth Matt:

It’s not as if the people criticizing the Osteens are living a life of asceticism. Many probably live in nice houses and drive nice cars. And money is not the root of all evil. The operative word is “love” — as in the love of money is the root of all evil. So yeah, if you love God to get money, that’s a real problem. But if you love God no matter what, but also believe that loving God might somehow naturally lead you to attain a more prosperous life — what’s wrong with that?

Albert Mohler is having none of it:

The Osteens are phenomenally successful because they are the exaggerated fulfillment of the self-help movement and the cult of celebrity rolled into one massive mega-church media empire.

Bonus: Here’s a July column by a lapsed English Catholic (of all things!) who attended the Osteens’ huge Houston stadium church and came away rather impressed.

But what would Oliver Cromwell say?

On this date in 1658, the notorious Puritan ruler — or great man of history and defender of liberty, depending on your views — died of natural causes. Which is not how many of his opponents died. Cromwell was about as brutal then as the Islamic State is today, especially if you were Catholic, and Irish. But that was then. Also worth noting: when the Royalists returned to power in 1660 they had his corpse dug up, hung in chains, and beheaded.

Richard Dawkins, also English, is pleased as punch

The renowned neo-Atheist’s book, “The God Delusion,” has sold more than 3 million copies. “Please forgive me,” he tweeted, “unable to disguise my pleasure.” Prompting this:

Would Dawkins at least give props to these guys?

“Young Mormon Missionaries Rescue Baby Ducklings From New Zealand Storm Drain”

That is your uplifting news of the day. Not enough, I know. But we push ahead.

Stay tuned to this space for updates throughout the day.

David Gibson

Categories: Culture

David Gibson

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


  1. Depends on what you mean by mercy. In the past the fanatics of the Inquisition considered it a mercy to its victims to deliver them from error and give them the possibility of eternal salvation.

    In Islam one aspect of mercy is the mercy pouring out on all creation from Allah, a mercy sent to all. BUT there’s another mercy, the mercy received by responding to Allah’s mercy through the proper practice of Islam, including jihad, the defending of Islam from its enemies. It’s really not that hard to get how fanatics would see what ISIS is doing as defending Islam from a nearly 300 year old attack by the West, with the US now taking the lead.

    • ISIS uses religion for pure political purposes. It is about the only way they can operate in Iraq without appearing to the general public as a foreign rogue militia/warlord band out for conquest. ISIS is from Syria, backed by Saudi Arabia, and has no direct cultural/political ties to Iraq.

      People are discussing their religious beliefs as opposed to noticing their behavior is not much different from any other warlords we have seen in history. Islamicism is a pretext and a way to get funding. Much like how during the Cold War, anyone with a gun and professed Marxism could be loaded to the gills with AK’s and semtex at the drop of a hat from the USSR.

      Their invasion was simply a target of opportunity. In Syria there is still enough of a coherent military opposition from both the government and rival militias to make their lives difficult there.

      • In hisitorical Islam religion and politics are not to be separated. There is no such thing as using religion for political purposes. Such a rule prevailed under the historic Caliphs, and ISIS is claiming to be reviving the Islamic caliphate which was headquartered in Baghdad. It would be nice to take them at their own word instead of imposing western categories of thought on them. “Know your enemy” is a useful adage when engaged in conflict. “Know your assumptions about your enemy” is not a useful way to go.

        P.S. Under the Caliphs the religious “authorities” had very little authority, and none over the state. But the state was Islamic, with the Caliph playing the role that Mohammed played in the Median state. The other caliphate, in addition to Baghdad, was headquartered in Spain, and ISIS has said that Spain is next. ISIS may be wrong on Islam but it does take the idea of the Caliphate very seriously. As a result it is getting increasing respect for state building in the west. terrorism as a method of state building is not sufficient (and is not what westerners admire about the state building skills of ISIS) but it is a well established method of state building, often practiced in the west, sometimes with the enthusiastic support of the clergy.

  2. What will cardinal Dolan do? Good question. He’s been invited to march as the Grand Marshall, and seems to have accepted. As long as he does not speak on behalf of the poor he should hold on to his big donors. Pleasing those donors is always on his mind.

  3. Then again, a Native American child was reportedly sent home from the first day of kindergarten because he had long hair, which is part of his Navajo religious tradition but against the dress code rules of the school. Paging the Becket Fund!

    Not going to happen. The Becket Fund would never handle a client who is not a corporation or an obnoxious Christian seeking to impose on the public.

  4. The brutality of Cromwell towards Irish Catholics is open to question by responsible historians. Take the famous “massacre” of Drogheda, for instance,. Instead of having been slaughtered, as the legend goes, the Catholic residents may well have been forced to leave the city for another nearby location (outdoors) as Cromwell sacked and destroyed the city. This issue is currently being investigated.

    If Cromwell were so genocidal towards Irish Catholics (and Anglican Irish royalists) how did so many survive in Ireland? Contrast the survival of Catholics in Ireland with what happened to Protestants in Spain.

    • “If Cromwell were so genocidal towards Irish Catholics (and Anglican Irish royalists) how did so many survive in Ireland? ”

      Ironically most Holocaust deniers make the same argument. Just because a population survives massacres it does not mean that actions were not genocidal.

      The best response would be that the population of Catholics in Ireland was too great to destroy using the methods available in the 17th Century. They were also necessary for the economy of the region. Oppression worked better than total genocide. The Protestant population in Spain was miniscule in comparison.

  5. The pope has made it clear that he wants to hear from national synods before he does anything about married priests, etc. He’s practically promised to allow synods that want married priests to have them. But the synods have been so trained, like abused wives, to wait for the Vatican to tell them what to think that they have not even heard what the pope has said. The exception s the elected head of the Italian bishops, who has called for the acceptance of “non-traditional” couples whatever he means by that.

    Obviously the pope needs to appoint a few women cardinals proposed by national synods, as if there’s a synod anywhere that might propose that. Actually, Canada, if prodded, just might.

    In reality the Catholic church will not change in any meaningful way. This pope is doing the Jimmy Carter symbol thing, you remember, the sweater as a symbol of avuncular chumminess rather than the suit as the symbol of patriarchal authority. That sweater didn’t change much, and was not continued as a practice by successor presidents.

    • David Lloyd-Jones


      Orthodox and Conservative Jews have been known to use the same brands of toothpaste, gasoline, and… and…

      All the chart says is we have roughly similar positions on a bunch of social questions on Pew’s surveys. Why should that surprise you?


  6. David Lloyd-Jones

    Members of America’s largest gay power group now have to get out and walk.

    No more having the Saint Patrick’s Day Parade come and salute them in their Cathedral.


  7. In regards to the Osteens, here we are with the Green Family (Hobby Lobby) claiming their freedom of religion is impinged upon by female workers getting contraceptives–and there are many other examples today–and then we have Mrs. Osteen disavowing her own freedom of religion by stating that the “house of worship” is not really that at all, it’s a social club. And I’m sure she’s “made happy” every week with the offerings that come in, all of which is undoubtedly plowed into their new house or auto or business because these donation are unregulated. Freedom of religion is the right to worship where and when and how you please, within limits and without state sponsorship. Why don’t we just call today’s Christian churches what they are–soup kitchens for the very very rich.

  8. “So yeah, if you love God to get money, that’s a real problem. But if you love God no matter what, but also believe that loving God might somehow naturally lead you to attain a more prosperous life — what’s wrong with that?”

    :-) MONEY! :-)
    IT’S A HIT!

    Let’s try sorting this out
    by turning to the Bible for God’s clear wisdom :-)

    “You cannot serve both God and Money.” – (Matthew 6:24)

    “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?” (Luke 14:28)

    “May your money perish with you, because you thought you could buy the gift of God with money! – (Acts 8:20)

    “Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others–all she had to live on!” – (MARK 12:44)

    “The LORD sends poverty and wealth; he humbles and he exalts.” (1 Samuel 2:7)

    “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9)

    “Lazy hands make a man poor, but diligent hands bring wealth.” (Proverbs 10:4)

    “I will also give you wealth, riches and honor, such as no king who was before you ever had and none after you will have.” (1 CHRONICLES 1:11-12)

    “Don’t extort money….be content with your pay.” – JESUS (LUKE 3:14)

    “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10)

    • @ Atheist Max

      Thought you’d like to read this engrossing article from our English friends who seem to always do a great job of reporting on american issues.

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