Illustrative Jews

In a nice obituary appreciation in today’s NYT, Michael Kimmelman calls the New York Review’s fabled illustrator David Levine “one of the great artists of the last half-century,” and then asks:But how so one of the great artists? Every great artist inhabits a
genre, and remakes it. Saul Steinberg reinvented the gag cartoon, Jules Feiffer the comic strip, Herblock the political cartoon. Mr. Levine, by
insisting on soul-searching gravity, did the same for caricatures even
while remaining funny most of the time.I’m not sure I’d call Herblock–WaPo’s longtime editorial cartoonist–a great artist, but it’s striking that each of these pillars of illustrative art was (or is) Jewish. And one could add to the list Al Hirschfeld, who made theatrical drawing into an art form of its own; Art Spiegelman, who fashioned countercultural cartooning into the serious graphic novel; and Maurice Sendak, who created a new world out of children’s book illustration.

2009 a year of unintended consequences

(RNS) When Pope Benedict XVI visited Africa last March, he made countless pleas on behalf of the poor and the war-weary. Yet the words that got the most attention were spoken on the papal plane when he said condoms are part of the problem, not the solution, to Africa’s HIV/AIDS pandemic. And so it was in the year of religion in 2009, when well-intended gestures of goodwill and reconciliation erupted into firestorms of controversy. Even the best-laid plans, 2009 reminded us, often carry unforeseen consequences. “People can have good motives toward a middle position and cooperation and all of that, but it just turns out to be extremely difficult to do because our divisions are so deep-seated,” said John Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron.

Catholic divisions on health care

Over at Politics Daily, David Gibson offers a well-balanced assessment of the reported (and partly denied) split over health care reform between the Catholic bishops and the nuns and hospitalers who do Catholic health care. Key graphs:On the other hand, the CHA and the religious orders of nuns that
generally operate Catholic hospitals tend to be more pragmatic,
weighing particular problems with the greater good that can be achieved
and focusing on the political process as a way to resolve any problems
either now or through future legislation. It is a difference one often
sees between pastors who often deal with people where they are and
bishops who often deal in abstractions and whose priority is to defend
principles from erosion. Both can be effective approaches in political
negotiations. But there is also little doubt that Keehan and the Catholic hospitals,
like many Catholic activists promoting the church’s social justice
teachings, are far more supportive than the hierarchy of Obama’s agenda
and see the prospect of health care reform as representing a major,
albeit imperfect, advance in the common good.What’s not clear to me is whether the bishops have given more than lip service to advance the reform legislation.

Religion story of the decade

What was the biggest religion story of the decade? Unquestionably, the story of how American Catholic bishops, aided and abetted by civil authorities and mental health professionals, had systematically covered up the abuse of children by priests. This was big news locally in every Catholic diocese in the country. It became, because the USCCB was forced to confront it, a major national story. And it sparked rolling international coverage that, as this year’s revelations in Ireland attest, continues to play out.

Economic squeeze produces a new kind of seminarian

NEWTON, Mass. (RNS) When Newton, Mass. artist Paula Rendino needed fresh inspiration last year (2008), she sought her muse in an unlikely place: seminary. Art school would have been “too boring,” Rendino explained. She yearned to bring fresh depth to her work by pondering spiritual themes.

Thank you for calling Religion News Service …

I swear, we’ve all been really nice, not naughty, this year so Santa’s giving us a year-end present and RNS will be going dark until Jan. 4. But don’t worry — we’ll be back up live in the event of breaking news. From all of us at RNS, happy holidays and best wishes for a great 2010.

Avatar’s Christian theme

Having just returned from Avatar (something for Jews to do on a day like today), I’d like to pick a bone with the NYT’s callow conservative columnist Ross Douthat, who denounced director James Cameron a few days ago for soft-headed Hollywood pantheism. Yes, the movie does not lack for anti-colonialist, aboriginal people-loving tree-huggery. But strictly speaking, the Na’vi are not pantheists. They worship a Godness–a Nature Goddess, to be sure, but one who hears prayers and sometimes answers them. And in a way that kicks some Sky People butt.Leaving that aside, however, consider the name of the scientist played by Sigourney Weaver: “Grace Augustine.”

Court rules against 9/11 families’ burial claims

(RNS) A federal appeals court has rejected the claims of families who wanted the unidentified remains of relatives killed in the 9/11 attacks to be given a proper burial according to their religious beliefs. A three-judge panel of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday (Dec. 23) against a group called World Trade Center Families for a Proper Burial, which sued New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials. The families had sought the burial of the residue from the debris of the World Trade Center, located at the city’s Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island, in a cemetery. The suit turned in part on a novel legal claim: that the families’ inability to bury their loved ones according to the tenets of their faith violated their First Amendment right of free religious exercise.

Poker-playing priest wins $100,000 for church

(RNS) A poker-playing Catholic priest folded his cards without winning the $1 million prize, but left the table with $100,000 for his South Carolina parish in a tournament to be broadcast nationwide this Sunday (Dec. 27). The Rev. Andrew Trapp said he will donate all of his winnings from the Million Dollar Challenge to St. Michael Catholic Church in Garden City, S.C., which is close to raising the $5 million it needs to build a new church. “Even if I didn’t win any prize money, it was an opportunity to evangelize in a really unique way,” Trapp said in an interview.

Second Irish bishop resigns in wake of abuse report

VATICAN CITY (RNS) An Irish Catholic bishop implicated in a recent report on clerical sex abuse resigned on Wednesday (Dec. 23), making his the second such resignation in less than a week. In a statement announcing the move, Bishop James Moriarty of Kildare and Leighlin apologized to “all the survivors and their families,” and expressed hope his resignation “honors the truth that the survivors have so bravely uncovered and opens the way to a better future for all concerned …” Moriarty was one of a number of church leaders criticized or implicated in November’s Murphy Commission report, which traced a pattern of clerical physical and sexual abuse from 1975-2004 that had been covered up by the Archdiocese of Dublin, at times with the collusion of the Irish police. The report said the church had placed greater importance on protecting its reputation and maintaining secrecy than on children’s welfare or justice for victims. Starting in 1940, four successive archbishops of Dublin were aware of complaints, the report said, but church authorities failed to implement most of their rules for dealing with abuse.

COMMENTARY:  Seeing the world through Christmas-colored glasses

(RNS) James Cameron’s new film, “Avatar,” opened in theaters across America as the most expensive movie ever made — it’s the first film ever made in true 3-D. Once you put on the special 3-D glasses, what you see changes everything. Here as we are knee-deep in the middle of Christmas, I wondered what would happen if we could put on special glasses and see hearts as they really are. Go ahead, put on the glasses and look around. What do you see?

This holiday season, 15 titles to nourish your soul

(RNS) The holiday season and the New Year — often full of stress, drama and emotional baggage — is a fine time to consider spiritual issues. The 15 titles listed here touch on topics ranging from church architecture to the church fathers, from a Catholic priest’s insights to Taoist sacred texts. Doubters, atheists, Bible study experts and movie fans will find something here, as will frazzled folks and those seeking respite from the cares of life. Dig deep into these books and you will come away challenged and changed. “It’s Really All About God,” by Samir Selmanovic (Jossey-Bass, 300 pages, $24.95).

Red Cross links survivors with family lost in Holocaust

PORTLAND, Ore. (RNS) Alexa Dezsofi’s eyes raced across the documents and landed on a stunning fact: A man who shares her last name, in all likelihood a distant cousin and the sort of family she’d searched for, had actually survived one of history’s most notorious concentration camps, Dachau. “Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh my God.”

Thursday’s roundup

It’s Christmas Eve and there’s all sorts of gift-giving going on. Senate Democrats (finally!) placed a giant health care bill under President Obama’s tree, voting 60-39 in favor. There’s still a lot of negotiating to do with the House version, and abortion remains an obstacle, but as White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs put it: “Health care reform is not a matter of ‘if.’ Health care reform now is a matter of ‘when.'” Former President Jimmy Carter gave an unexpected Christmas (or Hanukkah?) gift to Jews with a letter of apology for any offense he’s given in his his criticism of Israel and advocacy for Palestinians. And since we’re brimming with holiday cheer this Christmas Eve, Focus on the Family is out with its list of naughty (The Gap) and nice (Target) retailers when it comes to that still-simmering war on Christmas.