Century Marks

Century Marks

Two strands of Islam

Islam from the beginning has urged moderation in religious practice, according to Islamic scholar Tariq Ramadan. “God desires ease for you, and desires not hardship,” the Qur’an says. Muhammad said, “Make things easy, do not make them difficult.” Two different streams of interpretations emerged in early Islam: one urged a literal application of the teachings of the Qur’an without regard to context or circumstances; the other urged flexibility of interpretation based on the social context of the day. The extreme literalists call into question the authenticity of moderate Muslims (Islam and the Arab Awakening, Oxford University Press).

Fourth strike

Pope Gregory the Great (ca. 540–604), known for his generosity, approved the sale of church treasures to provide for poor people. He distributed food weekly, sent cooked rations daily to the sick and even had dishes from his own table given to the poor. Sabinian, Gregory’s successor, was much more miserly. Three times the deceased Gregory appeared to him in a vision, calling him to repentance. Getting no response, Gregory appeared a fourth time, striking Sabinian on the head with a staff. Sabinian died soon thereafter (R. A. Herrera, Mystics in Spite of Themselves, Eerdmans).

Live from Jerusalem

Two Amer­ican religious broadcast networks are poised to cover the second coming, should Jesus return to the Mount of Olives as they expect. Daystar Television Network already has a 24-hour-a-day live webcam beamed from a building it owns on a hill overlooking Jerusalem. Trinity Broad­casting Network, its competitor, has bought the building next to Daystar in order to set up its own studio. Israeli critics say the real intent of these evangelical broadcast networks is to proselytize Jews in Israel. Daystar already has 24-hour programming on two Israeli channels, and TBN is negotiating to get its own TV outlet in Israel (Chicago Tribune, October 1).

Resistance movement

Calling the church hierarchy corrupt, Catholic theologian Hans Küng says “the only way for reform is from the bottom up.” He sees hope in resistance movements among priests in his native Switzerland and in Austria. Up to 400 Austrian and about 150 Swiss priests have joined the movement. Initiatives taken in opposition to church teaching include serving communion to divorced and remarried people, letting unordained persons lead services and putting women in important positions in the hierarchy. Early in his teaching career, Küng was a colleague of Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI (Guardian, October 5).

Caste in or out

The Hindu priesthood has been traditionally limited to upper-caste Brahmins. A few years ago the government in a southern India state, which owns most of the temples, began training priests regardless of their caste, including the lowest caste, the Dalits. In reaction, Brahmin groups filed  suit, claiming that the government has no right to impose itself on priest selection or training. There is a shortage of Hindu priests. Critics of the Brahmin suit believe it’s intended to maintain Brahmin privilege and keep in place a 4,000-year-old caste system (Los Angeles Times, October 1).