(RNS) You won’t find many Catholic churches named after Pope Benedict IX.
He was a puppet pope, installed by his powerful family at a time when rival clans ruled Rome. The young man seemed uninterested in religious life, rushing through ordination only after his election to the Throne of St. Peter in 1032.
Benedict IX squandered the papacy’s moral and financial riches in bordellos and banquet halls. His violence and debauchery “shocked even the Romans,” said philosopher Bertrand Russell, which is kind of like being busted for lewdness in Las Vegas.
St. Peter Damian called Benedict IX a ”demon from hell in the disguise of a priest.” The Catholic Encyclopedia labels him a “disgrace to the chair of St. Peter.” He was the first Pope Benedict to resign, selling the papacy for gold in order to marry. He later tried to reclaim the holy office and served three stints as pope between 1032 and 1048.
Nearly a millennium later, the pious and bookish Pope Benedict XVI seems completely contrary to his notorious namesake. Even if his papacy has stumbled at times, by all accounts the current Benedict has led a chaste life devoted to serving his church.
But besides his name, by resigning on Thursday (Feb. 28) Benedict XVI shares at least one additional attribute with his precursor. Both Benedicts — the sinner and the scholar — brought St. Peter’s throne back down to earth, albeit in very different ways.
(RNS) Every age needs an Antichrist.
Protestant Reformers picked the papacy as their embodiment of evil. American colonists chose King George III and some Cold War Christians suspected the Soviet Union was satanically led.
Now, amid threats of Islamic terrorism, a nuclear-armed Iran and tumult across the Middle East, a growing group of American evangelicals say the Antichrist will be Muslim.
“I understand that I’m going to be viewed as a fringe, apocalyptic Christian,” said Joel Richardson, author of several books predicting an Islamic Antichrist. “But I fully own the idea that the Antichrist will be a Muslim and will come out of the Muslim world.”
These days, even the fringe has a faithful following. On websites, television programs,conferences and books, conservative Christians like Richardson warn that a Muslim Antichrist will raise an army to attack Israel, in fulfillment of the biblical prophets and the Book of Revelation.
From there, they say, it’s a short road to Armageddon.
“Today, we’re seeing the beginning signs of that exact prophecy coming to pass,” warns Richardson.
Scholars say the arrival of Islamic Antichrist prophecies was, well, predictable.
“I think the shift to Islam was just waiting to happen,” said Glenn Shuck, an assistant professor of religion at Williams College who has studied evangelicals’ views on the apocalypse.
A certain kind of Christian, sometimes dubbed “armchair apocalyptists” or “newspaper exegetes,” seems especially inclined to cast their foes as agents of the Archenemy. The Antichrist they identify, scholars say, often reflects the era’s deepest anxieties.
(RNS) President Obama will publicly take the oath of office with Bibles once owned by his political heroes, Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lincoln’s Bible was well read, but cited cautiously. King’s granted scriptural sanction to the civil rights movement.
When Obama lifts his hand from the Bibles and delivers the inaugural address on Monday, his own approach to Scripture will come into view. Characteristically, it sits somewhere between the former president and famous preacher.
His faith forged in the black church, Obama draws deeply on its blending of biblical narratives with contemporary issues such as racism and poverty. But like Lincoln, Obama also acknowledges that Americans sometimes invoke the Bible to argue past each other, and that Scripture itself counsels against sanctimony.
Obama articulated this view most clearly in a 2006 speech, saying that secularists shouldn’t bar believers from the public square, but neither should people of faith expect America to be one vast amen corner.
(RNS) It’s tempting to view the sex scandal surrounding retired Army Gen. David Petraeus through a religious lens.
After all, most faiths forbid adultery, and even before his fall from grace, some Pentagon colleagues compared Petraeus to the biblical King David — another proud and powerful warrior.
The comparison seemed even more apt after the former four-star general’s resignation from the CIA on Friday. “More than one officer cited the biblical adultery of King David and Bathsheba,” wrote The New York Times.
The Bible says that David acted righteously and kept God’s commandments — except in the case of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband.
“Will history remember David Petraeus with the same caveat?” asked Jim Denison, a Southern Baptist scholar in Dallas.