Michael Peppard

Michael Peppard is assistant professor of theology at Fordham University, author of The Son of God in the Roman World, and on Twitter @MichaelPeppard.

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Is Catholicism compatible with libertarianism?

It's hard to believe that question is still being debated, isn't it? For over 100 years, the definitive answer is No. Pope after pope after pope, right up to Benedict XVI, has explained this in the most magisterial ways.

But perhaps it has taken Pope Francis's singular history, style, and gift for communication to break through the noise of American-style capitalism. Or perhaps the underbelly of globalization has finally come to light, through a combination of the explosion of financial capital, the worldwide recession, and the opportunities afforded by the Information Age for learning about the distant effects of almost-unregulated markets.

Whatever the reason, Pope Francis is getting through. He is obviously not a Marxist or socialist. But he is leveling strong critiques of the current state of global capitalism -- as it is actually being employed.  And to my mind, one of the best interpreters of his message (especially for those reading from the right-wing) has been Michael Gerson.

"Gospel of Jesus' Wife" - One year later

You may recall the hustle and bustle about the so-called "Gospel of Jesus' Wife" papyrus fragment from a year ago. I blogged about it a few times (here and here) and contributed to the Washington Post on it here. (And then Grant Gallicho cleverly mocked me at a Commonweal event, to which I responded here.)

Recently NT scholars Larry Hurtado and Mark Goodacre, both active bloggers, have raised questions about what has happened to this papyrus. While I am certainly not privy to the details at Harvard, I did have a chance to see infra red photos of the papyrus last year and to discuss it with some other papyrologists.

Below the jump I'll summarize my notes from that meeting (beyond what was previously blogged). Beware: content very boring to non-specialists!

Russell D. Moore: A Manifesto on "Some" Evangelicals

When I saw that Russell D. Moore had written a long piece about the so-called Evangelical “retreat” from American politics and culture wars, I was elated.

I am updating a syllabus for a course in religion and American politics, and I hoped this would be the perfect fresh take to round out our coverage of Evangelicalism. Certainly the media-savvy and next-generation Moore, the newish President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, would help my students understand the movement better than when they read speeches by his predecessor, Richard Land.

In short, I was primed for this essay.

Sadly, it is not assignable. This 4000-word feature, authored by the most prominent official of the Southern Baptists, is composed almost entirely of straw men.

Pope’s old friend, Rabbi Skorka, confirms Francis’s “total commitment” to the Jews

Tuesday night at Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Rabbi Abraham Skorka spoke informally about his old friend, whom he calls “Bergoglio.” Talking in English on the topics of theology, Jewish-Christian relations, and the themes of Pope Francis’s pontificate, the Argentine Jewish leader combined memorable anecdotes with substantive reflections.

The event, “Pope Francis and the Jews,” was a unique opportunity for the mixed audience—mostly Jews—to hear behind-the-scenes stories about Francis, while also watching Skorka engage questions from Dr. Celia Deutsch, a Sister of Our Lady of Sion and professor of religion at Barnard College.

Since they co-authored a book of dialogues together, On Heaven and Earth (2010), the close relationship between the respective leaders of Jews and Catholics in Argentina has been well known. But recent months have shown the friendship to be deeper and more casual than many had realized. “Since he became pope, our friendship has become stronger,” Skorka said last night.

A long portion of the conversation focused on theology. Deutsch introduced a question by drawing a distinction between how theology is practiced in “the Global North,” especially North America and Europe, and what she sees in Skorka and Francis from the Global South. Theology in the Global North is often written by university professors for university professors, she noted, but “you two do accessible theology.” Skorka accepted the compliment: “Bergoglio and I agree, theology is not just for professionals.” The “task of theology” is easy to explain, he continued. “How to build a connection with God, respecting your neighbor.”

Skorka connected Francis’s “accessible” theology to his overall personality. Bergoglio is a “very pragmatic person,” he said. Yes, he “studied a lot,” but “first and foremost, he wants to pragmatize theology.” He has a “simple way, with simple words,” but a “very deep message.”

Malaysian Christians fight for Allah

Today an appeals court in Malaysia delivered a major setback to the religious freedom of Christians. A Catholic newspaper, the Herald, may not use the word "Allah" to refer to God.

Christians in the Western hemisphere might be confused by the headlines. The ruling is not about Christians' referring to the God worshipped by Muslims, but rather about what Christians may call the God they themselves worship. Catholics in Malaysia, as in many other countries, call God by the word "Allah."

Arabic-speaking Christians do so, as do Arabic-speaking Jews. The word sounds almost exactly like the way Aramaic-speaking Jesus would have pronounced it.

From Reuters:

The unanimous decision by three Muslim judges in Malaysia's appeals court overturned a 2009 ruling by a lower court that allowed the Malay-language version of the newspaper, The Herald, to use the word Allah -- as many Christians in Malaysia say has been the case for centuries.

"The usage of the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity," chief judge Mohamed Apandi Ali said in the ruling. "The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community." ...

Lawyers for the Catholic paper had argued that the word Allah predated Islam and had been used extensively by Malay-speaking Christians in Malaysia's part of Borneo island for centuries.

They say they will appeal against Monday's decision to Malaysia's highest court.

"The nation must protect and support the rights of the minority," said Father Lawrence Andrew, the founding editor of the Herald. "God is an integral part of every religion."

Christians in Indonesia and much of the Arab world continue to use the word without opposition from Islamic authorities. Churches in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak have said they will continue to use the word regardless of the ruling.

The defendants fear that the decision will also apply to other Christian publications in Bahasa Malaysia. This could end up being the most important religious liberty story of the year, with wide-ranging implications for religious pluralism in southeast Asia. At issue are three of the minority rights at the very core of modern rights-based polities: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press.

Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio reportedly alive in Syria

Great news from Syria: Fr. Paolo Dall'Oglio, S.J., about whom I wrote both here and here, is being reported as alive.

Liberty shut down

"Who's affected by the government shutdown?" "What does it mean for you?"

Those are the stories media outlets have ready to go today. There will be lots of worthy accounts. Already I got a text message from my best friend -- an Iraq veteran and cancer researcher in both the Public Health Service and the National Institutes of Health. "Not bad traffic today. LOL." Sometimes one has to laugh in the face of idiocy.

The NIH already suffered under sequestration, as Francis Collins tried valiantly to continue the world's leading medical research facilities despite across-the-board cuts. Also affected today will be the Center for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, and several other "common good" entities, the kind of organizations disrespected by the roughly 30 Republicans who shutdown the government last night.

As GOP insider Byron York noted yesterday, the Republicans overall did not want this.

"Analysts say the Congressional GOP doesn't understand strategy," the Republican said. "I'm like, 'Congressional GOP' my ass! It's 30 idiots who can't get us to 217."

This morning I'm wondering whom those 30 Republicans have in mind, when they think about the effects of a shutdown.

Do they ponder the Republican business-owner in Arizona, the one who has been trying to expand her workforce and do right by her employees, trying not to hire undocumented immigrants but also not to racially profile potential hires? Do they think of her, when she finds out that "E-verify" is not going to work this week?

What would Russell Kirk say during Shutdown Week?

Here we are: Government Shutdown Week, a new biannual tradition. If you're just tuning in, the House Republicans are holding the global economy hostage unless President Obama repudiates the Affordable Care Act, his administration's signature domestic policy achievement.

That law was passed by Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court. Its passage was not a surprise to anyone paying attention, having been preceded by very open debate going back decades. Its basic principles were developed by a conservative think tank, a similar plan was tried at the state level by a Republican governor of a large state, and its details were debated repeatedly in the Democratic primaries of 2008. It was debated so much during those debates that most viewers were bored. Everyone watching knew that a Democratic president would seek health care reform. Most people thought it would be more left-wing than the final product. Far from being "pushed through" or "rammed through" or whatever other tyrannical metaphor one might choose, the road to the Affordable Care Act was in reality a model of procedural governance in a modern democracy.

A small band of Republicans now will shutdown the government because they are mad that they lost. But they are pitching it as a prophetic action to call attention to the federal government's spending problem. The problem with that analysis of the spending problem is that deficits have been going down under Obama (handy charts here). A further problem is that not raising the debt ceiling will have no effect on any of the issues that they want to address. It won't change the prior commitments Congress has made, in terms of expenses or revenues.

Unprecedented liberal love for the Pope?

Commentary marking six months of Pope Francis has been a love-fest from the most unexpected place: liberal talk show hosts.

Income inequality isn't going away

A few months ago, there was some good discussion on the blog about the persistently large gap in income inequality. And though the Occupy movement no longer garners headlines, the problem of income inequality remains a core moral issue for many Americans.