God's Crooked Smile

CNN's religion reporter. Looking for the gold tooth in God's crooked smile.

James Foley’s prayers and the dark side of faith


(CNN) – We don’t know if James Foley, the American journalist beheaded by Islamic extremists, prayed in the hours and days before his death. We probably never will.

But Foley said faith sustained him during another ordeal in 2011, when he was held captive for 44 days by forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

In a gut-wrenching article he wrote for Marquette University’s alumni magazine, Foley said he prayed while imprisoned that his family, many miles away, would somehow know that he was safe.

“Haven’t you felt my prayers?” Foley asked his mother, Diane, when he was finally allowed to call home.

Diane Foley told her son that his friends and family had been praying, too, holding vigils filled with former professors, priests and Marquette students. She echoed his question back: Have you felt ours?

He had, the journalist said. “Maybe it was others’ prayers strengthening me, keeping me afloat,” Foley wrote.

The 40-year-old Catholic, who reported for the GlobalPost among other publications, was abducted again in 2012, captured this time by the extremist group ISIS, which calls itself the Islamic State.

On Tuesday, ISIS released a video showing a Muslim militant clad in black beheading Foley, who was wearing an orange jumpsuit and kneeling in the sand.

The ISIS militant, a man with an apparent British accent, said that Foley’s murder was payback for U.S. airstrikes against the group in Iraq. On Monday, President Barack Obama said the American operation has helped drive ISIS from strategic cities and infrastructure in northern Iraq, which apparently angered the Muslim militants.

“Any attempt by you, Obama, to deny Muslims liberty and safety under the Islamic caliphate will result in the bloodshed of your people,” the ISIS militant said in the video.

The man in orange, kneeling. The man in black, wielding a knife. One asked God to cross the “cosmic reach of the universe” and soothe his family. The other claimed to kill in the “name of Allah, the most gracious, the most merciful.”

Admittedly, we know relatively little about Foley’s personal beliefs and even less about the ISIS militant in black. But the contrast between the two religious paths - one led a journalist to cover conflicts, the other a jihadist to create them - is jarring.


Five reasons Pope Francis is tougher than you think. 

The lavish homes of American archbishops

Clearly, “lifestyles of the rich and religious” doesn’t cut it for Pope Francis.

The pontiff has said it “breaks my heart” to see priests and nuns driving the latest-model cars.

He’s blasted “airport bishops” who spend more time jet-setting than tending to their flocks.

And he’s warned against church leaders who bear the “psychology of princes.”

The Vatican fired one such “prince” last year: German Bishop Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst — aka “The Bishop of Bling” — who spent $43 million to remodel his opulent pad.

(Bronze window frames? $2.4 million. Getting on the wrong side of the Pope? Far more pricey.)

"God save us from a worldly Church with superficial spiritual and pastoral trappings!" Francis said in his book-length blueprint for the church.

Say what you will, but this Pope puts his preaching into practice. But are American archbishops following his lead? 



Happy birthday, Ernest Hemingway!

Here’s a collection of photographs of the iconic writer with the animals he loved.

I don’t care what the Vatican says, this is the scene I’m picturing today. 

I don’t care what the Vatican says, this is the scene I’m picturing today. 

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