Now we know. Steven Sotloff, slaughtered by Islamic State radicals like his fellow journalist James Foley, was also, like Foley, a man of faith. Jewish, to be specific. His grandparents were Holocaust survivors. But his religion and his dual American-Israeli citizenship were kept quiet until after his murder because his family had hoped to avoid making his captivity even more dangerous.

His Miami family’s spokesman added to their statement,  switching from English to Arabic to say, “Steve died a martyr for the sake of God.” But RNS’ Brian Pellot in his blog On Freedom says Sotloff and Foley, a prayerful Catholic, died for freedom, not faith, and hence are not religious martyrs.

Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci of Manchester, N.H., speaks during a vigil on Saturday (Aug. 23) for slain journalist James Foley at the Rochester Commons in Rochester, N.H. Shawn St.Hilaire / Democrat Photo

Bishop Peter Anthony Libasci of Manchester, N.H., speaks during a vigil on Saturday (Aug. 23) for slain journalist James Foley at the Rochester Commons in Rochester, N.H. Shawn St.Hilaire / Democrat Photo


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These radical killers are actually “a disgrace to true fundamentalism,” says London-based Slavoj Zizek, a Slovenian philosopher, psychoanalyst and social theorist, in New York Times Op-ed. He calls them “terrorist pseudo-fundamentalists are deeply bothered, intrigued and fascinated by the sinful life of the nonbelievers.”

Turning to trouble at home, the U.S. Justice Department is opening a civil rights investigation into police practices in Ferguson, above and beyond the FBI investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown.

Okay, let’s change up the mood a bit here. If you need a smile, watch Ebola survivor Nancy Writebol talk about her faith and mission.  She gave all glory to God and much gratitude to everyone who kept her alive. And, I have to add, she has a transcendently beautiful smile.

Changing Direction?

After 21 straight federal rulings in favor of overturning state bans on same-sex marriage, a federal judge in New Orleans changed the tune. Judge Martin L.C. Feldman upheld Louisiana’s ban, saying the popular will should not be lightly overlooked for “fundamental social change.”

Just outside this photo, to the right of the Western Wall, is a footbridge linking it with the Islamic holy sites on top of the Temple Mount. The Israeli government plans to demolish the controversial bridge.

Just outside this photo, to the right of the Western Wall, is a footbridge linking it with the Islamic holy sites on top of the Temple Mount. The Israeli government plans to demolish the controversial bridge. RNS file photo courtesy PBS/”Jerusalem: Center of the World.”

The Israeli government is going to dismantle the wooden footbridge between the Western Wall and the Islamic mosques considered the “Noble Sanctuary” and Islam’s third holiest site, atop the Temple Mount. I don’t want to be flippant but raise your hand if you think this is going to go smoothly….

Changing Times Department

It took 5 years of requests from atheist and agnostic students but Tufts University has come through for their non-theist spiritual needs, so to speak. Faitheist blogger Chris Stedman talks about how Tufts has created the first university-funded Humanist chaplaincy post.

Catholic teachings on homosexuality are unchanged but the church’s tone is shifting since the election of Pope skip-the-culture-wars Francis. The latest sign: Gay groups will be allowed to march under their own banners for the first time in New York’s very Catholic St. Patrick’s Day Parade. And (deep breaths now, traditionalists) N.Y. Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who will be the grand marshal, says he welcomes the change by the parade organizers.

No Change Department

St. Louis didn’t get the memo, evidently. Lesbian newlyweds, both on the faculty of Catholic all-girls school, lost their jobs after the school spotted their marriage on a copy of their mortgage application. Cor Jesu Academy alumnae have a private Facebook campaign going to cut off donations.

‘Duck Dynasty’ (aren’t we over this show yet?) star Phil Robertson tells Fox’s Sean Hannity he’s got a solution for the radical Islamic State killers: “Convert them or kill them.” And he’d personally like to lead the Bible study.


Hijacked religion

The “Islamic State,” does no justice to the religion of Islam, says RNS editor-in-chief Kevin Eckstrom. He’s in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, on a fellowship right now. His latest Travelblog post, drawing on interviews with Muslims leaders in Jakarta, finds three things Indonesia can teach the Muslim world.

People are thinking about…

Joan Rivers. She remains on life support but has been moved from intensive care to a private room, her daughter, Melissa Rivers, announced. Twitter response included:

Victor Stenger. Atheist, skeptic and science blogs, in the U.S. and in England, were filled with tributes and remembrances for physicist Stenger, who died last weekend. His 2007 book, “God: the Failed Hypothesis, How Science Shows that God Does Not Exist,” was a New York Times best seller.

Mission not accomplished.

Blogger Jana Riess talks with historian and author Craig Harline who’s both frank and wryly funning about how missionaries cope if they can’t convert a single soul.

File under “Who comes up with this stuff?”

Now there’s a “Blasphemy Challenge” daring teens online (where else would you find them?) to post videos of themselves cursing God. To quote my co-worker David Gibson, “Give them an ice bucket instead.”

And speaking of the ALS Ice Bucket viral bonanza fund raising challenge ($107.4 million as of Wednesday), another research group is an indirect beneficiary. Shortly after the ice began flying this summer, word moved among Catholic and evangelical circles that some of the research may involve embryonic stem cells – unethical in the eyes of some Christians. Soon the John Paul II Medical Research Center, which only works with adult stem cells, began receiving “hundreds of thousands” of dollars for ALS research, said the center’s CEO.

Categories: Beliefs

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman

Cathy Lynn Grossman is a senior national correspondent for Religion News Service, specializing in stories drawn from research and statistics on religion, spirituality and ethics, and manager for social media.

2 Comments

  1. Hey Cathy, The Blasphemy Challenge has been around for almost a decade. I was actually one of the first people to take the challenge when my good friend Brian Sapient called me up and told be that the Rational Response Squad was starting it. The first hundred people who took the challenge received a free copy of the DVD, “The God Who Wasn’t There” directed by Brian Flemming.

    Have you cursed the Holy Spirit today?

  2. This roundup makes it seem like Israel is dismantling the footbridge in order to prevent Muslims from accessing their holy sites. In fact, as the Yahoo article states, Jordan, the official custodian of Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, requested that the bridge be taken down, to prevent Jews from accessing the Temple Mount and from making any further archaeological findings (which generally prove Jewish presence at the site centuries before Islam). Most rabbis will tell you not to go up there because we can’t be sure of where the holy of holies stood — somewhere only the high priest is allowed to go. You can get from the Muslim Quarter to the Temple Mount very easily, without going through the Jewish Quarter and the Western Wall Plaza onto the bridge.

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