Religion

John Kerry's Middle East Mystery Tour

AP Photo/Paul Richards, Pool

The mysterious Mr. Kerry has come to the Middle East and gone. The secretary of State promises to return soon, but does not tell us exactly when. In Jerusalem and Ramallah, he says, he listened to leaders' suggestions for restarting peace talks. He does not say what those suggestions were. Curiously polite things happen while he in in the neighborhood. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for instance, postponed his previously announced trip to Gaza, lest he cause Israel grief. Kerry does not explain how he inspires such thoughtfulness.

Smart People Believing Stupid Things

So after a brief moment in the spotlight, it appears that Ben Carson will not be this week's Savior of the Republican Party after all. But his quick rise and fall raise an interesting question: Why are some people incredibly smart when it comes to some topics, and incredibly stupid when it comes to others?

Weird Friends of the Court

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall

If you’ve felt encouraged by recent trends in favor of gay rights—including the new Washington Post poll showing 58 percent of Americans support marriage equality—swing over to SCOTUSblog and read some of the nearly 60 “friend of the Court” briefs opposing gay marriage.

On Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in two cases—the first on California’s Prop 8, the second on the Defense of Marriage Act—that could determine whether the federal government can define marriage as between a man and a woman, and whether state bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. The parties are represented by some of the lions of the Supreme Court bar, including two former Solicitor Generals—Paul Clement and Ted Olson—on either side of the issue (though arguing on separate days and on separate cases). Their briefs are strong.

But the Court allows others to file briefs as amici curiae, or “friends of the Court.” These amicus briefs are usually a mixed bag, and on cases like this especially so. Controversial cases about social issues bring out the crazies, and crazies can hire lawyers to write a brief. Sometimes the crazies are the lawyers.

Francis I, a Jesuit Pope

AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

We are living in a golden age of information. Any newshound or junkie will tell you so. More and more, the layers of position and personage that constitute establishment influence are being peeled back to their tendons, revealing the innermost workings of power. The wry cynicism of Twitter has become the lingua franca of information brokers. Public statements are easily picked apart and the official stagecraft of a flag-pinned lapel, a rolled-up shirtsleeve, an of-the-people photo op are all viewed as perfunctory gestures, rote and largely meaningless.

Healing a Broken Catholic Church

Flickr/Doug88888

Because of its sins, the Roman Catholic Church is broken. The capital C in church is important; it signifies the institution, not the faithful. A wise Jesuit, the late Cardinal Avery Dulles, once wrote that the church can be viewed in different ways: as a herald, as a mystical communion, as an institution. It is the institution I am talking about.

Netanyahu's Ticking Time Bomb

While Israel fails to form a government, the West Bank could explode.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

The clock is running out for Benjamin Netanyahu. Five weeks after his pyrrhic election victory, he is still trying to piece together a new Israeli government. The one force he has working for him is that the leaders of every other party in parliament also know how few hours are left before the buzzer sounds.

Return of the Ratzinger

With Benedict around for the selection of his successor, a new Pope might not mean new hope for progressive Catholicism.

AP Photo/L'Osservatore Romano

Conclave is coming, and by hook or by crosier, we’ll have a new Pope before Passover. Papal elections can spell change for the congregations of the world’s largest church, so we talked to a priest to get a handle on things. Joseph Palacios is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University and the founder of pro-gay-marriage group Catholics for Equality. He is on leave from his diocese in Los Angeles.

It’s Time for Some Israel Real Talk.

I’ll start.

flickr/jason_harman

Last week, the storied New York LGBT Center refused award-winning queer writer and activist Sarah Schulman a chance to read from her new book, Israel/Palestine and the Queer International. In doing so, the organization cited the Center’s “moratorium” on using the center to "organize around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” in place since early 2011 purportedly to maintain the Center as a "safe space" for both Jews and Arabs. On Monday, they relaxed the moratorium, though it remains unclear whether Schulman will be allowed to read.

Not a Shot in Hell

Flickr/Catholic Church of England and Wales

Distilled to their essence, elections turn on the rigidity of numbers, concrete and comforting, imposed onto the chaos of human opinion. We stew when they do not go our way, but in these matters, majorities rule, minorities shout, and votes rarely occur without the employment of cajoling and cunning by candidates.

They're Just Not That into You

A White House Hanukkah celebration. You'll notice that Biden is seriously digging it.

I'd like to pre-predict something about the 2016 presidential race. During that race, there will be an article or two in Politico interviewing a few grumpy alter kockers in Palm Beach who say that this time, they've really had it with those Democrats. Republican politicians will assure reporters that the GOP's unswerving Likudnik loyalties are finally winning American Jews around. And then the Democratic nominee, whomever he or she may be, will get the overwhelming majority of the Jewish vote, somewhere between 70 and 80 percent. How do I know this? Because that's what always happens. John Sides at the Monkey Cage alerts us to a new paper by political scientist Eric Uslander explaning how once again GOP hopes were dashed in 2012:

Dying for a Pro-Life Cause

(Rex Features via AP Images)

So now we know they really mean it: They’d rather see a woman die than have an abortion.

You may have heard this story. Thirty-one-year-old Savita Halappanavar, who was visiting Ireland from India, was 17 weeks pregnant when she went to University Hospital Galway with back pain. They found out that she was miscarrying. According to the Irish Times, after spending a day in severe pain, Halappanavar started begging to have delivery induced, since there was no way the fetus could survive. She was refused, because the fetus still had a heartbeat. Here’s how the Irish Times reports on what happened next:

Is the Religious Right in Trouble?

Pat Robertson, possibly fending off a hurricane. (Flickr/Daniel Oines)

If we're going to count the losers of the 2012 election, the religious right has to be high on the list. Its members said they would turn out in extraordinary numbers to fight that infidel in the White House, but Ralph Reed's turnout push fizzled. Gay marriage is now legal in three more states than it was on November 5, with more sure to come. In response, some on the religious right are wondering whether this politics thing just isn't working out for them. It isn't that they failed to get their message out, said influential religious-right quote machine Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, "it's that the entire moral landscape has changed. ... An increasingly secularized America understands our positions and has rejected them."

We've heard this kind of thing before, and Ed Kilgore warns that the religious right's stranglehold on the Republican Party hasn't lessened at all:

Will Massachusetts Voters Legalize Assisted Suicide?

This is the ninth in the Prospect's series on the 174 measures on state ballots this year.

Six years ago, Mesfin Nega was attacked outside a nightclub. He suffered a broken neck and a damaged spinal cord that transformed the previously healthy 32-year-old into a quadriplegic. As The Washington Post later reported, Nega had made a pact with his friend Shimelis Yegazu: If one were ever to suffer an injury that required him to be connected to life-sustaining equipment, the other would take it upon himself to disconnect the equipment. Nega and Yegazu made the news last week when Yegazu followed through with this pact, administering a lethal dose of phenobarbital to Nega, and then taking a fatal dose himself.

The Last Word on Richard Mourdock

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock was already an extremist, not to mention not exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, before he offered up his opinion on abortion and rape the other day. But I'm sure that even as he scrambles to contain the damage from his remarks, he can't quite understand what all the fuss is about. He expressed an opinion that is, among many millions of religious Americans, totally mundane: that God loves every baby and blastocyst, and therefore even a pregnancy that results from rape is good in His eyes. This episode reveals a couple of important things that are worth reiterating before we move on to the next campaign controversy, about both abortion and religion.

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