Pray for the terrorists, too

(This one gets a little Churchy, so be forewarned.)

News from Yemen suggests that an Indian priest, captured in a terrorist raid on a retirement home, may be crucified today, on Good Friday.

There are plenty of “ifs” to doubt the situation’s veracity. No terrorist group has taken credit for the attack, and there are conflicting reports about whether the missing priest’s abductors have or have not made contact with his former order.

But terrorist violence remains an unquestionable reality, whether in Yemen or Brussels. Nailing a church leader to a cross, while symbolic, would sadly be but the latest in a chain of bombings and beheadings – another gruesome act meant to inflict a painful death on the victim and crippling fear upon the living.

Obviously, we pray for the victims, their families, and their friends, who have watched their very realities torn to pieces. We can’t imagine their burden, we can only hope it gets lighter with time.

But with each attack, I feel some pity for the terrorists, too. The rumor of a crucifixion of a leader on Good Friday offers a chance for perspective.

As He was being lead to His execution, Jesus Christ interceded on behalf of the very people about to nail Him to the cross. “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” He implored. We are taught that sin is borne of ignorance, of turning a blind eye to God, whether intentionally or unintentionally. The men who drove the nails through Jesus were doing as they were told from the only authority they knew. It isn’t hard to imagine them as philosophical ancestors of today’s suicide bombers, so ready to commit grisly acts based on the promises of trusted elders.

Eventually, those elders go away, though. And that’s when terrorists will stand face-to-face with a very uncomfortable reality.

Have you ever said something hurtful to someone and regretted it? Perhaps, in a moment of weakness and thoughtlessness you pierced someone with an insult. Later, when your wits returned and you thought about it, you put yourself in the other person’s shoes. That’s when you realized the pain you caused. Once you knew just what you did, you hurt, too.

But what if the sin is much more grievous? What if, instead of a cutting remark, you robbed people of lives and comfort? What if you not only committed horrific acts of violence, but took pleasure in doing so?

During a discussion about penance and forgiveness, a priest told me once told me, “God makes a play for every soul.” When someone acknowledges and apologizes for his or her sins, and is willing to make amends, God forgives. But, very importantly, that process begins with an acknowledgement of sin.

That means there may come, for all of us, a moment of clarity. Each of us will have a moment when we understand the sins we have committed and the pain we have caused.

Now, imagine a dead terrorist who meets his Maker. Imagine him looking back on his life and the pain he has inflicted. Imagine the regret as he recalls how happily he instilled fear and how gleefully he made widows, widowers, and orphans.

Imagine his soul’s pain at that moment, when he realizes just how wrong he was.

When you get past the chocolate bunnies and dyed eggs, resurrection and redemption is what Easter is all about. Saul of Tarsus, whose acts against Christians made him the 33 A.D. version of a terrorist, saw a vision of Jesus and became (after suffering a very symbolic three days of temporary blindness) a devout Christian we know today as St. Paul.

Maybe it won’t be too late for our hypothetical dead terrorist. Maybe he will have his moment of clarity, suffer his punishment, and bear the pain which he has inflicted on others. And, when purified, maybe he will be welcomed into Heaven alongside his forgiving victims.

I’d like to think so. In fact, I’ll be praying for it.

Is the Pope Absolving Sin Via Twitter?

Nope.  But that’s the quick and dirty understanding of today’s announcement that Pope Francis will grant the same plenary indulgences to those who follow his appearances on Twitter as he does to those who show up in person.  Mashable had to correct an earlier post that made the mistake, and other outlets have had a similarly difficult time understanding what’s going on.

Credit the Church with gamely trying to explain the tactic:

But a senior Vatican official warned web-surfing Catholics that indulgences still required a dose of old-fashioned faith, and that paradise was not just a few mouse clicks away.

“You can’t obtain indulgences like getting a coffee from a vending machine,” Archbishop Claudio Maria Celli, head of the pontifical council for social communication, told the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Unfortunately, even the framing of this quote reflects that the Church’s announcement wasn’t completely understood with the explanation.  (Sidebar: The phrase “old-fashioned faith” is a literary crutch.  Faith is not old-fashioned, as any modern religion can tell you.)  The entire story reads like the news that Newt Gingrich was paying for Twitter followers, with the expectation that a modern-day Martin Luther will nail 95 theses (each one 140 characters or less) to the Vatican door about why pardoning sin for a Twitter follow is wrong.

A better description is that those in attendance via social media will be treated like those in attendance in person.  The Church might have added that, much like angels and prayer, that which is unseen is often more powerful as that which is seen.  (Or, that which is invisible is often more powerful than the visible, if you prefer the new translation.)  In the parlance of our times, it’s the religious equivalent of working from home but not having to take a sick day.

Credit the Pope for opening up avenues for online communication, and making his appearances that much more accessible.  With that, though, comes the need to explain the faith to those who don’t understand it.  It’s not evangelism, it’s public relations.

Merry Xmas, American Atheists

The American Atheists annual anti-Christian Christmas billboard has attracted it’s annual outrage.  The Catholic League, as expected, issued a response, focusing on the use of iconic imagery of a crucified Jesus.

This has to be the gift that keeps on giving for both groups.

The Atheists can’t be winning many converts to their non-religious religion; their messages are muddied and non-persuasive.  Christmas and Easter tend to be times of year where people identify more with religion, so it isn’t the time to try to take a crowbar and peel off the less devout.  Further, using Christmas images like Santa Claus while arguing against the celebration of Jesus Christ sends a mixed message.

The Christmas season is replete with Christian imagery, which likely cheeses off the hardcore atheists who would write checks to an outfit like American Atheists.  Making a public statement during Advent is the messaging equivalent of letting off steam.  It’s great timing for media coverage, too.

Getting some press attention and giving donors something to write checks for is probably plenty for the enterprise to be called a success.  But it sure isn’t effective for advancing their organization if the idea is to create more atheists.

In so many ways, Christmas is a season of guilt; you may feel guilty about not keeping up with old friends, or that you don’t do more for the less fortunate.  Have you ever been in a Catholic Church in the weeks before Christmas?  It’s packed to the gills with good folks whose lives got away from them and who are trying to slip some extra pew time in before the close of the fourth quarter.  Maybe American Atheist reasons that people would like to shed that guilt; they are incorrect.

We do it because we want to go to church for 52 weeks, but it’s easy to skip a week – just like we give to homeless shelters and food drives and Toys for Tots now because we know we should have earlier, but didn’t.

Christmas is a time when we’re all a bit closer  to the people we want to be.  You might be a religious person who has disagreements with your church’s stance on something or other throughout the year, but Christmas is rarely one of those points of contention.

That makes it pretty easy for a group like the Catholic League to stand up, draw support, and win some favorable coverage.  Who knew they’d get such a nice Christmas gift from an atheist?

Eight-year-olds, Dude

Erick Erickson of Redstate reports on a county council race in Ohio that features candidate Tim Russo.  The twist: Russo was arrested and convicted in 2001 on charges of soliciting minors for sex – turned out, the minor was actually an undercover FBI agent.

But Russo has an ardent defender in blogger Howie Klein.  Klein calls the 2001 incident “the most boring episode of To Catch a Predator ever” in a cross-posting at both DownWithTyranny and The Huffington Post:

Easily the most reactionary pope since Hitler’s boy Pio, Ratzinger didn’t have a problem with priests raping young boys– as long as they stuck with conservative dogma. When he ran the Munich diocese that was also the birthplace and heartland of the Nazism that he once fully and openly embraced, the future Pope had hundreds of child rapists and mentally unbalanced priests in his ranks and he never said a word beyond, “don’t get caught, boys.”

My mistake – that last paragraph was Klein criticizing the Pope and the Catholic Church for covering up instances of adults taking advantage of minors.  It was written way back in those simple times of late March 2010.

Of course, Klein has a point – no matter how much you agree with someone philosophically, if they do something wrong that has consequences.  Unless, apparently, it’s a political candidate Klein supports:

Russo has the sort of leadership experience Cuyahoga County desperately needs at this dangerous, hopeful crossroads. But local media are doing their best to scuttle his campaign before it really begins. Why? Because in November 2001 he solicited sex from an FBI agent posing online as a minor and was made Pervert of the Day for an entire 24-hour news cycle. Local media want him to pay for that for the rest of his life.

Clearly, Russo has paid for his crimes, but there are a few mistakes which you simply can’t pay off – and soliciting minors for sex is one of them. As Edwin Edwards famously quipped, the scandals which end political careers are getting caught in bed with a dead girl or a live boy.

Russo has compounded his crime with his own words, sounding more defiant than understanding of the reluctance to embrace him.  “Bottom line, I survived it. Many would not have. That should tell you all you need to know,” he writes – just before asking for donations.