TIME Religion

Pope Francis Just Showed He’s Not Afraid to Part With the American Right

<> on February 4, 2015 in Vatican City, Vatican.
Franco Origlia—Getty Images Pope Francis attends his weekly public audience at the Paul VI Hall on February 4, 2015 in Vatican City.

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the co-founder of Millennial.

In naming Oscar Romero a martyr, he took a strong stand against those who would call the Salvadorean a communist

On Tuesday, Pope Francis declared that Salvadorean Archbishop Oscar Romero was martyred “in hatred of the faith” and not killed for simply political reasons. Francis’s decision came nearly 35 years after Romero was assassinated by a right-wing death squad while celebrating Mass on March 24, 1980. His announcement opens the door for Romero’s beatification, the final stop on the road to sainthood in the Catholic Church.

But the decision is not without controversy. Though the Vatican formally began the process to canonize Romero in 1997, it was blocked for years as Rome navigated a wider debate across the United States and global Catholic community about whether Romero was killed for defending the faith or for taking strong political stances against the Salvadorean government.

During his pastoral ministry in San Salvador, Romero preached strongly against the violence that the military government committed against its political enemies—particularly against the nation’s poor and excluded. In a passionate homily the Sunday before his death, Romero called on the military to end the violence:

No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination … In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.

Many fault Catholic prelates for getting too involved in politics. But it’s important to note that when the Church engages in politics, it isn’t to pursue a political end, but rather to defend the dignity and the well being of God’s people. So Francis’s decision to honor Romero confirms what so many Catholics know to be true: to defend the poor is to defend the faith. Francis himself has made this clear: “We have to state, without mincing words, that there is an inseparable bond between our faith and the poor.”

Sadly, many within the Church and throughout society have tried to suggest that Romero’s consistent defense of the poor was somehow motivated by communist sentiments. Perhaps Romero could share the words of his contemporary, Brazilian Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who said, “When I feed the poor, they call me a saint, but when I ask why the poor are hungry, they call me a communist.”

But as Vatican reporter Inés San Martín rightly notes, Romero “condemned capitalism [while] at the same time he was fighting communism. In his sermons, he cautioned against the dangers of atheistic, materialistic Marxism and chastised leftists for criticizing American imperialism while turning a blind eye to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.”

Many Americans are also uncomfortable that Romero stood up to a military government largely supported and subsidized by the United States. Romero himself took note of this situation and wrote to President Jimmy Carter, “The contribution of your government instead of promoting greater justice and peace in El Salvador will without doubt sharpen the injustice and repression against the organizations of the people which repeatedly have been struggling to gain respect for their most fundamental human rights.”

In light of Francis’s September trip to the United States, Romero’s beatification will likely only increase the discomfort of those Americans who presuppose that the pope and Catholic Church will rubber-stamp the current political and economic status quo of the United States, including potential 2016 presidential candidate Marco Rubio, who seemed dismayed at Francis’s latest intervention in American foreign diplomacy.

This is clearly a man (and a Church) who isn’t afraid to challenge the most powerful nation in the world. As is becoming more and more clear every day, Francis’s apostolic voyage across the Atlantic will be a chance for our nation to re-examine itself and its activities against the highest of moral standards.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to people of faith, however. After all, it was Jesus himself who told us that the nations will be judged at the end of time by a single criterion alone: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

It’s Time to Stop Ignoring the New Wave of Anti-Semitism

Valery Hache—AFP/Getty Images Soldiers stand guard outside a Jewish Community Center where three soldiers, patrolling outside the center as part of the country's Vigipirate security measures, were attacked by a man with a bladed weapon, on Feb. 3, 2015 in Nice, France.

Rabbi Miller is a popular speaker and writer on technology and its effect on the Jewish world.

I won't be like the rabbis of the 1930s

I was shaken Tuesday after hearing about another attack in France. This time it occurred in the resort city of Nice rather than in Paris. A man with a knife attacked three French military personnel who were on an anti-terror patrol near a Jewish community center. While the attacker’s motive is not yet known, can I be blamed if I look at the recent rise in European anti-Semitism and wonder how far we are from another Holocaust?

At the end of last month, survivors of Auschwitz returned to those haunted killing grounds to mark the 70th anniversary of the death camp’s liberation, while a few weeks earlier Jewish people were murdered in a kosher grocery in Paris. And these violent attacks against Jewish people are not limited to Europe. We are seeing a significant rise in violence against Jewish people all over the globe. In a lengthy article published over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal by the Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks titled “The Return of Anti-Semitism,” he demonstrates that we’re witnessing precisely what we were warned about by our elders; namely, that the potential for a return to the horrors of the Holocaust is a real threat. For us Jews, as Rabbi Sacks eerily declared, “never again” has become “ever again.” The article is a jarring reminder of what will happen if this rampant anti-Semitism is allowed to fester.

My grandparents’ generation alerted us that without living out the mantra of “Zachor” (remember), we could face yet another Holocaust. Dozens of museums around the world, memorial services, art installations, books, classes, documentaries, personal video testimonials or Steven Spielberg movies will not protect the Jewish community from further atrocities. George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Our problem is not that we cannot remember the tragedies of the Holocaust; rather, the Jewish community hasn’t taken seriously the threats that can lead to its sequel. We tend to shrug off the latest anti-Semitism statistics from the Anti-Defamation League as just another well intentioned fundraising strategy. The threat is palpable and it’s here now.

Which brings me to an important question that has been weighing very heavily on my mind. What will my role be as a rabbi in the second decade of the 21st century as I am a bystander to the rise of anti-Semitism and acts of terror committed against my people throughout the world? From Paris to Argentina to Brussels to Mumbai and even to our nation’s capital, there have been tragic murders of Jewish people at the hands of vicious anti-Semites. Much of this anti-Semitic violence comes under the veil of anti-Zionism.

As a Jewish leader, I’m haunted by the inactions of a previous generation of leaders. American rabbis of the 1930s, with the exception of a noted few, kept quiet about the tragedy befalling their European brothers and sisters. It was much too late by the time a delegation led by Rabbi Stephen Wise approached FDR urging him to intervene and bomb the train tracks leading to Auschwitz-Birkenau. While Holocaust historian Lucy Dawidowicz’s claims of complete inaction by American Jewish leaders have been challenged, I still feel haunted wondering if the rabbis of the WWII generation could have done more. Could they have spoken out louder and assembled stronger to push the American government to intervene sooner?

I’m reminded of the biblical dubbing of Moses as leader of the Israelites. Commentators have noted that what convinced God that Moses was ready to assume the leadership was not his verbal acceptance at the Burning Bush. Rather it was that Moses sprung into action when he saw his own people as victims of oppression. He turned his head away from the bush and recognized the cruelty being inflicted on others. Real leaders act; they do not remain silent when they witness injustice.

Today, like many other Jewish community leaders, I’m armed with the tools of modern communication: a widely read blog and a Twitter account. I certainly have the capacity and amplification to voice my concerns about the threat of anti-Semitism, this time around emanating not from Nazism, but from Islamism. The rabbis of the 1930s did not have those powerful social media tools at their disposal when they heard the rumors of their people being sent to slaughter. I have no excuse not to speak out when I hear the cries coming from Paris or Argentina.

As Rabbi Sacks makes perfectly clear, the rise of anti-Semitism in the 21st century is not about anti-Israel sentiment. It is not a political dissent toward the building of Israeli neighborhoods in the Palestinian territories. It is not about corporations that do business with Israel. It is not about universities teaching Israeli history or culture courses. Plain and simple, 21st-century anti-Semitism is the continuation of the same Jewish hatred that has raised its ugly head for centuries. It is the same anti-Semitism that we saw 70 years ago in Europe as 6 million Jewish men, women and children were exterminated.

I for one will not stand idly by. The world must recognize that history repeats itself. What happened seven decades ago to our great-grandparents can happen again to our children and grandchildren. I’d like to believe that the moral men and women of our global society would never allow another Holocaust to occur, but the sentiment that causes it is being allowed to brew. Let the inaction of a previous generation of leaders serve as a stark reminder of our own responsibility to speak out against hatred of any kind and ensure that history doesn’t repeat itself. The future of my people depends upon it.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Photojournalism Links

The 10 Best Photo Essays of the Month

A compilation of the 10 most interesting photo essays published online in January, as curated by Mikko Takkunen

This month’s Photojournalism Links collection highlights 10 excellent photo essays from across the world spanning five continents, including Pete Muller‘s powerful work shot in the Ebola-ridden Sierra Leone. His two sets of photographs, featured below, were made on assignment for National Geographic, and are the first two in a four-part series examining the epidemic in West Africa. Muller’s pictures document the battle fought by medical workers, body collectors, and burial teams to bring the crisis ravaging Freetown and the country, under control. The story and images from the city’s King Tom cemetery are particularly harrowing; in just a few months, it has been expanded to three times its former size and the large number of fresh burial mounds make it look more like a construction site than a typical graveyard.

Pete Muller: How Ebola Found Fertile Ground in Sierra Leone’s Chaotic Capital | How the Fight Against Ebola Tested a Culture’s Traditions (National Geographic News)

Uriel Sinai: In Africa, Mosquito Nets Are Putting Fish at Risk (The New York Times) These stunning photographs by Uriel Sinai from Kenya, Tanzania, and Zambia, show how mosquito nets meant for Malaria protection have ended up being widely used in fishing, since they are cheaper than actual fishing nets and can be even more effective, especially in shallow waters.

Andy Spyra: The enemy within: Boko Haram’s reign of terror across Northern Nigeria | The enemy within: A closer look at survivors of Boko Haram attacks across Northern Nigeria (The Washington Post In Sight) The German photographer has spent more than three years documenting the northern Nigeria. His pictures provide a rare view into communities under Boko Haram’s terror.

Mosa’ab Elshamy: Exploring the Mawlids of Egypt (TIME LightBox) These excellent photographs capture spiritual celebrations within Egyptian Sufism.

Manu Brabo: In Ukraine, The Frozen Tears of Donetsk (Paris Match L’Instant) The Spanish photographer, known for his work in Syria, is now in Ukraine to document the upsurge in fighting. | See also Brabo’s work on the MSNBC and Al Jazeera America websites

Lynn Johnson: Healing Soldiers (The National Geographic) Compelling portraits of U.S. soldiers treating their war traumas by participating in art therapy, where they create painted masks to express how they feel. The images painted on them symbolize themes such as death, physical pain, and patriotism.

George Steinmetz: Treading Water (The National Geographic) These pictures from Florida’s southeastern coastline capture a region with a lot to lose as sea levels continue to rise.

Álvaro Laiz: Ninjas: Gold Rush In Mongolia (Wired Raw File) These photographs document the hard and dangerous work of amateur gold miners.

Mark Abramson: An Immigrant’s Dream for a Better Life (The New York Times Lens) Extraordinary, in-depth photo essay that follows the life of a young Mexican immigrant woman and her family in California.

Emanuele Satolli: In the Bag for North (TIME LightBox) Revealing still life images of Central American migrants’ sparse belonging on their journey toward the United States.

TIME Religion

Liberal Zionism Isn’t Over, It’s Just More Pragmatic

Pundits continue to worry about the end of Liberal Zionism. But they’ve got it wrong.

Jews are accomplished worriers, for good historical reasons. If worrying were an Olympic event, Jewish medalists would be as disproportionate in number as we are among Nobel laureates. Much Jewish worry centers on Israel, the growing dangers it faces in the world’s most volatile region, its achievements and challenges, successes and failures, problems and prospects.

Some discern a worrisome crisis among “Liberal Zionists.” In a recent essay, “The End of Liberal Zionism,” Antony Lerman, a disaffected former Zionist, declared the “demise” of the Liberal Zionist “project.” Those who believe that liberalism and Zionism can be combined, that Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, that a two-state solution is possible, are benighted romantics, in Lerman’s view.

In a similar, but less apocalyptic vein, Jason Horowitz, a Washington-based New York Times correspondent, asks “Can Liberal Zionists Count on Hillary Clinton?” Horowitz separates Zionists into opposing camps. “Liberal Zionists” are reflective, thoughtful holders of nuanced views; they believe in a two-state solution, agonize about Israel’s perceived errors and, though they love the Jewish State, readily criticize it. To their left is an extremist Jewish anti-Zionist fringe. To the right is “a wealthy and influential sliver of more moderate Democratic Jews for whom Israel is a priority.” Then we have “right wing” Zionists, absolutists who do not agonize about Israel and are impervious to nuance, “unwavering” supporters of Likud, “unquestioning” supporters of Israel with a reflexive “Israel can do no wrong mentality.”

Can Liberal Zionists count on Hillary Clinton? Horowitz is unsure. Most, he says, will vote for her if she’s the Democratic presidential candidate, because they have nowhere else to go. But they will do so holding their noses, hoping that her private views differ from her public statements, which Horowitz characterizes as “firmly hawkish” and pro-Israel on Gaza and Israeli security, and devoid of empathy for Palestinians, views purportedly identical with those of the hard core right. In other words, “Liberal Zionists” hope that Clinton is a cynical, calculating, disingenuous, hypocritical opportunist who will show her true colors once in the oval office. Karl Rove could not have put it better.

I am a Zionist. I am also a political liberal, a lifelong Democrat, the Senior Rabbi of an historic Reform congregation once led by Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, and President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the world’s oldest and largest rabbinical body, the rabbinic leadership organization of Reform Judaism. Our 2,000 members hold a range of views on every subject, including Israel, but the CCAR’s Platform on Zionism, our official statement of policy, affirms that promoting Israel’s security and ensuring the welfare of its citizens are primary obligations.

Like many rabbis, I spoke about Israel on the high holy days. I discussed the implications of the recent conflict and called upon fellow Jewish liberals to recognize what Avi Shavit calls “The New Middle East,” which is “raising penetrating questions that must generate an upheaval in liberal thought.” I cited the 2003 essay by Ellen Willis, a leftist critic, “Is There Still a Jewish Question? Why I’m an Anti-Anti-Zionist,” which revealed that “accusations of blind loyalty to Israel [and] intolerance of debate…are routinely used to stifle discussion of how anti-Semitism influences the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the world’s reaction to it or the public conversation about it.”

I referred to the widely lauded article by Matti Friedman, former AP reporter and editor in Jerusalem, who declared, “Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of [Israel].” And I shared the view of Professor Carlo Strenger, Israeli psychologist and self-proclaimed leftist: “[T]he time has come to stop mourning Israel’s idealized image…Israel is an impressive achievement in many ways, but it was never an ideal society…Israel certainly needs to mature, but so do we.”

I have a number of quibbles with Horowitz’s essay, but its greatest analytical flaw is treating Liberal Zionism as a monolith. Horowitz fails to distinguish between what are best called “Utopian Liberal Zionists” and “Pragmatic Liberal Zionists.” The former cling to an idealized image of a Jewish State that is inspiring, but not fully attainable. Utopians believe they know better than Israel itself what risks it must accept and seek to prescribe or have the U.S. impose on Israel the compromises they think it must make. Pragmatists cherish a lofty vision, but temper their hopes with realism, recognizing that human progress is not linear and unreasonable expectations are self-defeating. They respect Israel’s right, as a sovereign democracy, to make decisions that will determine the ultimate fate of the Jewish State and its citizens.

I am a Pragmatic Liberal Zionist. And I believe most American Jews are, too.

I believe in an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic. I support a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but I worry whether it is presently attainable, given Hamas’ fanaticism and Abbas’ weakness and indecision. I hold that Israel’s security is sacrosanct and that an agreement must be enforceable and truly end the conflict forever. I regard an ironclad strategic alliance between the U.S. and Israel as essential to the national security of both countries, the region, and the world. I am convinced that these are Hillary Clinton’s genuine convictions, too. Utopian Liberal Zionists may vote for her despite them. Many Pragmatic Liberal Zionists will support her because of them.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Religion

Separation of Church and State Is Important, But So Is Faith in Congress

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones is President of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

You can't separate faith, values, and politics and expect our democracy to thrive

At Union Theological Seminary, we strive to be educators wherever we are — in the classroom, in the pulpit, on the streets, and in our homes and communities. This week we hope to be educators on Capitol Hill.

Tuesday, Union will host the first-ever Congressional Orientation on Faith and Governing. Senator Chris Coons and Representatives Jim Clyburn, Emanuel Cleaver, and John Lewis are sponsoring the day. As far as we know, nothing quite like this has ever been done before — on the left or the right — so we are prayerfully breaking new and exciting ground.

The day will put members of Congress in conversation with professors from Union, along with leaders from a variety of D.C.-based organizations working for justice, including Jim Wallis, president and founder of Sojourners, Jennifer Butler, CEO of Faith in Public Life, Bishop Gene Robinson, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, and Rev. James Forbes of the Drum Major Institute.

The separation of church and state is a bedrock American value — we all agree on that. But, importantly, so is the connection of faith, values, and public policy. On this, however, there is often unnecessary confusion.

It’s pretty simple. We all have moral convictions that inform the work we do. Those values and principles derived from our deepest convictions underlie and motivate our actions in the public square — whatever our religion or lack thereof. It is impossible not to be formed by our values; moreover, for people of faith, it is impossible not to be formed by our faith.

This is just as true for you and me as it is for members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. Just as King Solomon knew that you couldn’t cut a baby in half and expect it to live, we know that you can’t separate faith, values, and politics and expect our democracy to thrive. People who claim that they separate their faith and values from their politics are woefully unaware of themselves.

The founders of our country recognized that these religious, community, and moral values play an invaluable role in building a just society. They knew that the democracy they created would be ruled by people, and that the people who dig into their faith or moral convictions for wisdom govern the best.

Despite what you might see on TV, this holds true just as much for those of us who are progressive as it does for our conservative brothers and sisters.

Today’s orientation will allow members to explore how their spirituality intersects with their service to the country. While Union is a Christian seminary, we will speak from a broad perspective on faith so that those who practice Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, or who have no faith at all will learn how best to engage their spirituality and the spirituality of their constituents.

Many people think when politics and religion mix, the consequences are disastrous. It simply doesn’t have to be that way. We can and must draw a distinction between the imposition of specific religious prescriptions, and the drive and motivation that comes from the bedrock values of our great faith traditions which can move our policy agenda to a better, more just, and inclusive place.

Union was founded in 1836 by those “deeply impressed by the claims of the world upon the church.” We follow in the footsteps of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Paul Tillich, as current professors like Cornel West and Gary Dorrien speak prophetically on issues of race and economics. We know from our experience that progressive organizing like the March from Selma can be rooted in the healthy soil of sincere religious conviction.

This week, we hope to broaden the conversation on faith and politics. As the years go on, we hope more members of both parties join us so that we have a Congress with a deeper appreciation of the relevance of faith and the broad range of public policy convictions that come from it.

In such a fractured and polarized Washington, maybe a little faith will help raise the level of public discourse. That would count as an answered prayer for the American people.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME world affairs

Why Will No One Let the Muslim World Be Secular?

Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

We all attach a de facto religiosity to people’s actions in the region that make it impossible to develop secular identities in those states

Here we go again. Each time deranged terrorists invoking Islam strike in the West, alongside the mourning of the victims comes the heated debate over how the world’s Muslims should react to the attack.

Belligerent rightists demand that Muslims distance themselves from terrorists or be deemed their accomplices. Righteous leftists warn against bigotry and Islamophobia while affirming that Muslims, being overwhelmingly moderate people, have nothing to do with terrorism. And then you have the Bill Maher approach: urging Muslims to prove their overall moderation beyond simply condemning terrorism.

It is a truly bizarre ritual, this rush to assess whether Muslims en masse are moderate or terror-friendly; and, in either case, to what extent.

The absurdity of the exercise begins with the way mainstream western discourse defines “Muslims”: a monolithic compact of 1.6 billion people intensely adhering to a faith by mere virtue of geography. Labeling all North Africans and Middle Easterners pious Muslims is akin to assuming that everyone who lives in America, or Europe, is devoutly Christian. There is a difference between cultural heritage and religious obedience. Why would the notion of a “Christian world” be dubious and debatable, but that of a “Muslim world” never be questioned?

As a liberal Moroccan journalist, it was bad enough to have my state refuse me my freedom of conscience; it’s all the more galling when it is Western liberals who refuse me that right with their blanket paternalistic sentiments about what “those people” are like.

It’s no wonder the West has been quick to give up on, or forget, the liberal, cosmopolitan youth that fueled the Arab Spring of recent years – a demographic that hardly fits into the Western view that everyone in these countries is primarily characterized by religiosity.

Islam is not encoded in anyone’s DNA. Being religious is a personal choice, one that every individual is free to make—or not—as stated in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. As it happens, human rights (including freedom of belief) are widely denied to the 1.6 billion persons we’re talking about, by most of the governments they live under—as well as by the prejudices of well-meaning Western liberals who bend over backwards in their politically correct efforts to be understanding of “Muslim countries” and their ways. What well-meaning Westerners need to understand is the wide gap between Islam as it should be—a personal choice—and as it most often is—a set of pervasive constraints enforced by undemocratic States.

In all the countries where Islam is the religion of the State, merely criticizing the faith (let alone leaving it) is a criminal offense. In 2007, as the publisher of the Moroccan weekly magazine Nishan, I ran a cover story about popular humor in my country. Because the issue included jokes about Islam (harmless ones at that—the most notable one featured God assigning a deceased Muslim man of virtue to hell, before teasing him: “Smile, it’s the candid camera!”), copies of the magazine were publicly burnt by grimacing extremists, and my colleagues and I received hundreds of death threats. Yet instead of cracking down against the fanatics, the government prosecuted us for “damaging religious morals,” and banned the magazine for 3 months.

It’s not just about mandatory religiosity. In most “Muslim countries,” school curricula include inescapable religious classes at every grade, with disturbing teachings about the role of women (mainly to procreate and stay at home), the duty to “defend Islam” and “fight its enemies,” and so on. Grown-ups are not spared either, with omnipresent state media never losing a chance to hammer into them that Islam is the highest moral norm, and transnational Arab channels like Al-Jazeera engaging in constant “us-versus-them” rhetoric (“us” being Muslims and “them,” Westerns, of course). Even opposition parties (mostly made of Islamist groups) do nothing but double down on religious intransigence, hoping to outdo the—already bigoted—official institutions. In these conditions, the psychological pressure is such that opting out of Islam is unthinkable—or more accurately, unthought-of—for the vast majority of the people.

This is not to say that no one living in the swath of territory from Morocco to Indonesia adheres to Islam out of intimate conviction. Many obviously do. Yet as long as coercion isn’t replaced by freedom of choice, the extent to which these people can be truly identified with the Islamic faith is dubious. Flatly calling 1.6 billion people Muslims—even with the purpose of praising their moderation—only makes you the accomplice of their oppressors.

The same flawed assumptions are taking place in France. As a consequence of the horrendous Charlie Hebdo massacre perpetrated by local-born-and-bred religious fanatics, “French Muslims” are, once again, in the eye of the storm. Depending on the political sympathies of the commentator, they’re either guilty of moral association with terrorists or misunderstood moderates. But no one is letting them off the hook for their Muslimhood.

All sides of the debate presume that the five million citizens of North- and West-African descent, whose parents immigrated from former French colonies one or two generations ago, are Muslim. Many of these families are certainly religious by choice, but those who’d rather not be are afforded very little space to carry on with their secular lives—especially amidst so many well-meaning efforts to “understand” the immigrant communities’ “Muslim essence.” All this despite the fact that the French republic is supposedly blind to the religious affiliations of its citizens.

Secularism—actually, headscarf-banning laïcité, a more aggressive brand of it—is the cornerstone of modern France’s founding values. Alongside fine wines, exotic cheeses and relaxed sexual mores, its church-bashing culture (of which the slain Charlie Hebdo cartoonists were the proud flag-bearers) is one of France’s main staples. Any French intellectual would gasp in horror at the assertion that 60 millions of his fellow citizens are Christians, yet president François Hollande lumps together the other five million to refer to them as “Muslims” (who should not be conflated with terrorists, yes, we know).

French citizens of North- or West-African origin have attended the same schools as their native countrymen; and they studied Voltaire and the enlightenment age just as much as them. Unless we consider that ethnicity impacts mental processes (the definition of racism) there is no reason to believe that France’s citizens of color are less receptive than others to the proud teachings of the école républicaine laïque. Yet the country’s common discourse singles them out as a religious group. Liberté Egalité Fraternité? Not really.

Westerners are rightly concerned about the danger posed by Islamic radicalism, but anxiously assessing the commitment of more than a billion people to religious moderation doesn’t help in any way. All it does is deepen the—already profound—misunderstanding.

When it comes to Islamic terrorism, the worthy social debate is about the way to drain its breeding ground. My two cents: promoting secular democracy in the so-called Muslim countries (and please, no need to bomb them for that—empowering local liberals is enough) would be a good place to start.

Ahmed Benchemsi is the editor in chief of FreeArabs.com. He wrote this for Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

Balloons Replace Doves as the Vatican Symbol of Peace

Vatican Pope
Greogrio Borgia—AP Colored balloons released by children fly next to a statue at the end of the noon Angelus prayer recited by Pope Francis in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, Jan. 25, 2015.

After doves released last year were attacked

Children visiting the Vatican released balloons instead of doves Sunday in a ritual that serves as a gesture of peace.

The change follows an incident last year when doves released together by children and Pope Francis were attacked by two other birds, a crow and a seagull, the Associated Press reports. The episode created unwanted attention for the Pope, who is named for animal lover Francis of Assisi.

“Here’s the balloons that mean, ‘peace,'” Pope Francis said Sunday as children released the balloons. Pope John Paul II began the tradition of releasing doves to acknowledge efforts for peace worldwide.


TIME faith

Pope Francis to Families: Get Off Your Screens and Actually Talk to Each Other

Andreas Solaro—AFP/Getty Images Pope Francis waves to faithful as he arrives for the private Audience to the Accountants and Accounting Experts in Aula Paolo VI at the Vatican, on November 14, 2014.

The Pontiff says technology should be used to enable conversation, not hinder it

Pope Francis wants families to know that technology isn’t everything it’s cracked up to be.

“By growing daily in our awareness of the vital importance of encountering others, we will employ technology wisely, rather than letting ourselves be dominated by it,” the Pontiff said Friday in his annual message for World Communications Day.

In other words, cut down on your screen time, kids.

Not that mothers and fathers aren’t beyond reproach: “Parents are the primary educators,” he said, “but they cannot be left to their own devices.”

“The media can be a hindrance if they become a way to avoid listening to others, to evade physical contact, to fill up every moment of silence and rest, so that we forget that ‘silence is an integral element of communication; in its absence, words rich in content cannot exist,'” Pope Francis said.

This isn’t the first time the Pope has implied those family-centric Apple ads might be misleading. “Maybe many young people waste too many hours on futile things,” like “chatting on the Internet or with smartphones,” he said last year.

Even in 1967, long before the dawn of the selfie, Pope Paul VI remarked upon the rapidly expanding world of communications, noting how television and other media leave “their deep mark upon the mentality and the conscience of man who is being pressed and almost overpowered by a multiplicity of contradictory appeals.”

It’s like they say in Proverbs 18:2: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion [on Twitter].”

TIME Religion

Pro-Life Is More Than Being Pro-Birth

Christopher Hale is a senior fellow at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good and the co-founder of Millennial.

For the pro-life movement to be successful, it must expand its agenda.

As the 42nd Annual March for Life commences in Washington today, thousands of Americans will descend on Capitol Hill to protest legalized abortion in the United States. Their concern is just, and their protest is appropriate. For decades, our leaders in government have promoted policies that perpetuate a culture of exclusion toward the unborn. It’s unconscionable that in 2015 in the United States of America the death of an unborn child is still considered a measure of progress.

Sadly, the pro-life movement has been largely unsuccessful in changing the minds and hearts of the American public. Four decades after the Roe v. Wade decision, a majority of Americans support abortion rights.

Perhaps it’s because too often this venerable movement has been associated with partisan politics. But if understood correctly, this crucial social justice issue should be at the heart of both of the progressive and conservative agenda. Progressives believe in a big society, where no one is excluded and no one is left behind. And conservatives believe in the the dignity and autonomy of each individual person. Both of these political paradigms should include a home for the unborn.

But for the pro-life movement to be more successful going forward — especially among young people — it must shift directions and expand its agenda.

To be truly pro-life, we cannot simply support a child’s right to be born, but also the right of the mother to expect substantial support from her community and from her government. We can’t be pro-life and anti-woman. It doesn’t work. And we can’t be pro-life and anti-government. It doesn’t work.

And to be truly pro-life, we must realize that the attacks on human life might begin at conception, but they don’t end there. In today’s world, being pro-life must be more than being pro-birth. In this economy that kills, we must acknowledge that anyone who isn’t seen as valuable in the economic advancement to the United States is often left behind, including the unborn, but also the elderly, the poor, the immigrant, and the uninsured. These excluded persons must too be at the heart of the pro-life movement.

It’s simple in the end: When you support the immigrant, you support life. When you support economic justice, you support life. And when you support universal health care rights, you support life.

If today’s anti-abortion movement transforms into tomorrow’s pro-life movement, it can transcend the ideological divisions that plague our nation and proclaim a simple truth that can bind our people — especially the young — together: that everyone deserves a life, a family, and a future. But to do so, this pro-life generation must protect every person’s right to live, not just be born.

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TIME faith

These Are the Most Godless Cities in America

Getty Images Boston, Mass.

Based on how much residents read the Bible

At the end of the age, according to Matthew, the angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous. Well, they should have an easy time of it: The wicked are, roughly speaking, already somewhere north of St. Louis.

That’s where the least “Bible-minded” cities are in America, at least according to a study released Wednesday by the American Bible Society.

Cities in the Northeast appear to have strayed furthest from the upright path, with wicked dens of iniquity like Providence, R.I., New Bedford, Mass., Albany, N.Y., and Boston, Mass., leading the list for least Bible-minded. Also on the naughty list are San Francisco, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and gambler’s haven Las Vegas.

The American Bible Society measures “Bible-mindedness” by how strictly survey respondents read the book and believe in its accuracy. A spokesperson told TIME last year that the study poses respondents the question, “How many times do you read the bible outside of church or a synagogue?”

The most Bible-minded respondents say they read the Bible in the last week and believe strongly that it is accurate. The top city for biblical stricture was Birmingham, Ala., followed by Chattanooga, Tenn. All the 10 most-Bible-minded cities are, naturally, somewhere in the Bible Belt.

The American Bible Society found that only 27% of Americans are Bible-minded.

The data was based up on telephone and online interviews with 62,896 adults over a 10-year period ending in August 2014.

Read next: How Evangelicals Are Changing Their Minds on Gay Marriage

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