• Remember the alliance of atheists who offered to take care of your pets in the event of the Rapture? We’ve spoken of them before. On the group’s website, you’ll find: “Q: Is this a joke? A: No. This is a serious offer to our Christian friends who believe in the Second Coming and honestly care about the future of their pets after the Rapture occurs.” For $110 per “rescue address” ($15 for each additional pet), “Eternal Earth Bound Pets, USA” will save your pet within eighteen to twenty-four hours following the Rapture by placing it with atheist adoptive pet owners”“The next best thing to pet salvation in a Post Rapture World.”

It may not be necessary for members of some churches. There’s some debate, in canine-loving circles, whether dogs go to heaven. C.S. Lewis opined on the subject, as I recall. But how about a pooch receiving Holy Communion? The feeding, the Reverend Marguerite Rea of St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Toronto explains, was just a “spontaneous gesture” of inclusiveness, “intended to make the dog and its owner”a first timer at the church”feel welcomed.”

The grammatical reference could be a little clearer: Was the dog or his person the first timer at the church? Regardless, at least one parishioner complained to the local bishop, Patrick Yu. And the bishop replied, unsurprisingly, that it “is not the policy of the Anglican Church to give communion to animals.” “I think,” he said, “the reverend was overcome by what I consider a misguided gesture of welcoming.”

Peggy Needham, the church’s deputy people’s warden”and isn’t that a title to wonder at? Deputy People’s Warden. There’s something vaguely Soviet in it, yes? I mean, picture the guy in the third office in the back basement corridor at the Kremlin. And when you are summoned to see him, he introduces himself as deputy people’s warden. With a smile every bit as convincing as a thresher shark’s.

Anyway, Peggy Needham, the church’s deputy people’s warden, said that at communion time the man just went forward with his dog. “I think it was this natural reaction [by the Reverend Rea],” Needham says. “Here’s this dog, and he’s just looking up, and she’s giving the wafers to people and she just gave one to him. Anybody might have done that.”

Sure, one can see that: cute dog, perked-up ears, wagging tail, adorable, pleading eyes watching the treats being handed out. What pastor”save only the most heartless and callous”could resist communing a dog under those conditions?

Nonetheless, following the conversation with Bishop Yu, the Reverend Rea has apologized and promised never, ever to do it again. August is over, after all, and the dog days are done.

• Lutheran World Federation delegates meeting in Stuttgart, Germany, from July 20 to 27 found themselves lectured by German finance minister Dr. Wolfgang Schäuble. “There is a ‘too little’, but there is also a ‘too much,’” he told the assembled Lutherans. The economic system of wealthy countries is faulty on two counts. “It deprives too many people of their basic needs [and] it also fosters an attitude of unlimited and unrestrained desire, which continues in the face of wealth and abundance.”

Uh-huh. “Western countries do well,” reported the LWF press release reporting his remarks, “when they focus on abolishing hunger worldwide, but they should equally commit themselves to limiting their economic growth.” Limit Western economic growth? But wouldn’t that have a dampening effect on eliminating hunger? No matter; this is prophetic economics, so plausibility, not to mention accuracy, hardly counts. Schäuble did go on: “We should be able to accept that falling behind emerging nations like China or India or Brazil in our growth rate does not mean we are failing. It means that we already have achieved substantial wealth for large parts of the population.”

This is what happens when guilt-ridden finance ministers attempt to eliminate Economics 101. The outright starvation left in the developing world is typically related to war or bad government. Yes, there are people desperately poor and desperately malnourished, but there are more people in the middle class in the world (relative to their national standards of wealth) than in any other class. The growth of the world’s middle class is one of the great untold stories of the last decade.

For that matter, cutting Western consumption will not give us a surge of consumption in Darfur. Economic wealth is not zero-sum. What poorer counties actually need are capital-rich economies that can invest in poor countries”providing jobs, raising health-care standards, creating infrastructure, and improving education. And for that, expansion by Western economies is required. It is a pleasant conceit, we admit, to kid ourselves that by consuming a little less we are doing good for Darfur. But it dodges the hard work of figuring out how to really help.

As smoke from the German economic fuselage spirals ever upward”the country now trails China, India, and Brazil”Germans may take comfort in knowing that under Schäuble’s ministrations they have at least “achieved substantial wealth for large parts of the population.” It just wasn’t their own.

• Columnist Frank Wooten remarks that wartime leaders Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were photographed extensively while smoking, Roosevelt with his cigarette in a holder poised at a jaunty angle and Churchill with a bulldog clamp on an ever-present cigar. Both men “could lighten their stress loads by openly indulging in tobacco.” Times have changed. “President Obama . . . must set a smokeless example”at least in public”after enjoying cigarettes for most of his adult life.” Sad. But it gets worse. When Philippine President-elect Benigo Aquino mentioned to the President of the United States his own effort to stop smoking, Obama reportedly told him, “I kicked the habit, so you’re going to have to work on that one yourself. I can give you advice, though.”

“Hmm,” ponders Wooten. “In 1945, the U.S. commander in chief sent a mighty force to free the Philippines from Japanese occupation. In 2010, the U.S. commander in chief offers to help free the elected leader of the Philippines from his smoking fixation.”

From Dave Barnhart”“Ten Reasons Ash Wednesday is Better than Christmas”:

10. No braving the malls looking for Lent gifts
9. No pressure to send “Merry Ash Wednesday” cards
8. No explaining why using chi-rho isn’t “X-ing Jesus out” of Lent
7. No dominionist fundagelicals trying to fight culture wars by putting “Jesus resisting temptation in the wilderness” displays on public property
6. No celebrity holiday albums
5. No Ash Wednesday sitcom specials
4. No saccharine email forwards about “the true meaning” of Ash Wednesday
3. No tacky Ash Wednesday sweaters
2. “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” extremely difficult to use in consumer marketing strategies
1. Nobody ever says, “Ash Wednesday is really all about the children.”

• A new edition of the complete works of Arthur Conan Doyle recently has come out”all fifty-six volumes of it. The novelist Jonathan Barnes reviewed the effort for the Times Literary Supplement and discovered lots of Conan Doyle’s oeuvre missing. And even what’s there is riddled with misprints, the page numbers do not correspond to the table of contents, and explanatory notes are entirely absent.

Perhaps the inventor of literature’s most famous detective should be relieved that this shelf-hogging set is unlikely to meet with public favor, for what little Barnes quotes of the man’s poetry, at least, is dismaying.

Indeed, it is wincingly bad. One ditty in a libretto Conan Doyle wrote with James M. Barrie for a comic opera called Jane Annie (a work Bernard Shaw called “the most unblushing piece of tomfoolery that two respectable citizens could conceivably indulge in public”) declares: Last night when we were forced to part / I heard a pit-a-pat / Upon the window of my heart . Come on now”admit that I heard a pit-a-pat / Upon the window of my heart deserves remembrance. I heard a pit-a-pat . I heard a pit-a-pat . I heard a pit-a-pat , oh, yes, I did. Upon the window of my heart . The window of my heart.

Ah, well. Conan Doyle also interlarded his six-volume history of the First World War with doggerel such as:

The huntsman’s name is Death,
His horse’s name is Time;
He is coming, he is coming
As I sit and write this Rhyme.


As is well known, Conan Doyle came to loathe his Baker Street detective and tried to kill him off, until the reading public demanded his resuscitation. The mystery is, how can a writer be so successful in one genre and so cringe-makingly dreadful in another?

• Cell-phone use apparently influences political views. Or at least that’s one way of interpreting the results of a new Pew study of telephone users. It turns out the landline-only crowd tends to be more politically and socially conservative than people who own cell phones.

One wonders about the rotary-dialing crowd, which, although pretty small these days, probably entertains political views the would melt the skin off James Carville. There might be something in the old swipe of the finger that encourages a stiff-necked resistance to progressive nostrums.

Scott Keeter, director of survey research for Pew, offers a plausible but less interesting explanation. Young adults, for example, own 41 percent of cell phones but just 7 percent of landlines, and, as we know, they overwhelmingly supported Obama in 2008.

Well, maybe; but why? Maybe the fluorinated water crowd needs to recognize the new threat”microwave phone signals. I’m making my tin-foil hat right now.

• It’s been more than five hundred years since a Catholic institution of higher education was founded in Scandinavia. The University of Uppsala was begun in 1477, but soon thereafter events, so to speak, somehow caused it to become Protestant. The Nordic north went Lutheran, and Sweden gave the Reformation its military hero, Gustavus Adolphus, who led his Protestant army in the Thirty Years’ War.

This fall, however, Catholicism returned to the Swedish university system, as the Swedish government granted the Newman Institute, a Catholic center for the study of theology, philosophy, and culture in Uppsala, the right to award bachelor’s degrees. On September 4, 2010, Adolfo Nicolás, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus, oversaw the public opening of the institute.

Immigrants from historically Catholic countries have recently come to Sweden, creating a constituency for Catholic education. But the unique independence of Catholicism in Scandinavia also plays a role in the establishment of this new school. The Lutheran Church in Sweden is deeply entangled with the government, so much so that it can seem indistinguishable from any other tax-financed bureaucracy. The Newman Institute is small”twenty-five or so adjunct and full-time faculty”but it can speak with a voice unburdened by a long legacy of religious establishment.

The Swedish context is different from the French and the Italian, and Europe as a whole is very different from America. And yet, difference duly noted, the ongoing contribution of the Catholic Church to the future of Western culture is likely to require many more Newman Institutes, combining financial and curricular independence with significant participation in the academic world. The twenty-first-century Christian intellectual needs to be in the contemporary secular university, but not of it.

• Although the annual First Things note on newborn naming appeared in the April issue, recent developments on the baby-name front warrant an update. According to a report from the Press Association of the UK and Ireland, quite a few fans of the Twilight books and films have been naming their children after characters in that vampire-romance saga: “Cullen, the surname of the hit film’s vampire hero, played by heartthrob Robert Pattinson, was the fastest rising boy’s name for 2009, according to the US Social Security Administration.” Indeed, Cullen rose almost 300 places “to 485 on the New York Times list”the biggest increase in any boy’s name.”

On the distaff side”Distaff side? Can one still use that old expression without setting off the thresher sharks? Probably not, but let’s risk it. On the distaff side, “Isabella, the full name of Kristen Stewart’s character, Bella, has replaced Emma as the most popular baby name for girls in 2009 and the abbreviated Bella is up to the 58th spot.”

For parents with less purely sanguineous and more lycanthropic leanings”think Warren Zevon, rather than Béla Lugosi”“Jacob, the name of Twilight werewolf played by Taylor Lautner, is the number one boy’s name today for the eleventh year.”

Some baby names are still beyond the pale, however, at least in the Anglophone world. England’s Telegraph recently reported that according to official birth records, only “twenty babies born in Britain since the Second World War have been named Adolf.” The most recent baby Adolf in Britain “was registered in 2005 according to family tree website Findmypast.co.uk , which has records dating back to 1837.” The Telegraph notes further that the website “also uncovered other unusual naming trends . . . . In the 1800s there were six babies named Dick Turpin, and five babies were named Ringo in the 1960s.”

And so we ask again, as we did in April, “What’s wrong with John?” As things stand today, perhaps only Twilight author Stephanie Meyer has the power to raise that noble old name (from the Hebrew for “God’s grace”) from the ranks of the not quite dead.

• Jane Austen: The horror! The horror! First, in April 2009, came Pride and Prejudice and Zombies , a novel that larded Austen’s original text with gobbets of grisly ghoul hunting. The book became a best seller and was followed, inexorably, by Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters , Mansfield Park and Mummies , and Emma and the Werewolves .

The Austen“monster mash-up genre was so well received”and made so much money for several publishers”that it even spawned a prequel: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls . Yes. Dreadful. And dreadfully popular. And, by all accounts, amusing, too, if you enjoy this sort of thing, as many readers seem to. The original P&P&Z has even been optioned for the movies.

When will it end, you ask? Not anytime soon. Mr. Darcy, Vampyre and Vampire Darcy’s Desire are already on bookstore shelves, and Bespelling Jane Austen , an anthology of what the publisher (romance giant Harlequin) calls “four delightfully twisted tales” is available for preorder on Amazon.com . Also coming out just in time for Halloween is Jane and the Damned , in which our heroine becomes a vampire against her will but soon learns to like her altered state. In Jane Bites Back , an undead Ms. Austen (a vampire, of course) runs a bookstore in twenty-first-century upstate New York and, presumably, puts the bite on the occasional customer.

This one also involves an undead Lord Byron, and the publisher has already announced a sequel, to appear in February 2011: Jane Goes Batty . We think we know how Jane feels, and we’re not even vampires.

• Unlike the pope when speaking on matters of faith and morals, First Things is not always infallible. In the August/September issue we discussed a ruling issued last May by the Supreme Administrative Court in Egypt that the Coptic Church must violate its teachings by granting divorces to two men and allowing them to remarry in the Church. We noted that since this tribunal is Egypt’s highest court, the decision could not be appealed.

In fact, the actual name of the court that issued this ruling is the High Administrative Court. The source we used misstated the name of the court and wrongly described it as Egypt’s highest court. And we are pleased to report that, in July, Egypt’s actually highest court, the Supreme Constitutional Court, overturned the High Administrative Court’s ruling.

The decision pleased the leaders of the Coptic Church, who objected to the state’s violations of their religious freedom and organized protests in Cairo, the nation’s capital. Hani Aziz Amin, a Coptic Church representative, told Egypt’s Middle East News Agency that the high court’s ruling “has relieved Coptic church leaders who trust and respect the Egyptian judiciary and believe in its justness and its ability to correct any contradictions in rulings.”

•Vampire novelist Anne Rice abandoned the Catholic Church at age eighteen. After spending the next three decades as an atheist, she returned to the Church in 1998 after surviving a serious illness. Now she is gone again. On July 29 she posted the following note on her Facebook page: “I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of . . . Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

So, although Anne Rice has quit being a Christian, she says she remains committed to Jesus Christ. In an article for the Toronto National Post ’s blog, our friend Fr. Raymond DeSouza asks whether it’s really possible to embrace Christ while rejecting the faith he created over 2000 years ago.

“No,” he concludes. “Jesus Christ is a historical person, who does not live in twenty-first-century New Orleans, as Rice does. So to know anything about him means to have had an encounter with Christianity”the historical lived experience of that community of disciples we call the Church.” DeSouza acknowledges that there is considerable appeal “in choosing to separate the person of Christ from the gritty, messy reality of the Church.” Christ and his Church can never be separated, however. “From the beginning the Christian story is about the Lord fashioning a people of His own”the Christian Church and our elder brothers, the Chosen People themselves, the Jews,” Fr. DeSouza explains. “It is to that people that God reveals Himself, and everything we know about Him is mediated through that revelation to His people. So Christ without Christianity (and Judaism) is not possible, no matter how unappealing we Christians can be.”

DeSouza describes Rice’s current attitude as “spiritual but not religious,” an outlook that is shared by a significant number of people today. But what does “spiritual but not religious””a term frequently used to describe both the seeker and the sought in personal ads”really mean? People who are “spiritual but not religious” are those who like to dabble in something but avoid making a serious commitment. “A spiritual person can be Christian, or follow Haida theology, or be a Buddhist or sign up for scientific materialism,” explains Fr. DeSouza. “Yet it is not possible to be indifferent between those options, or to be in favour of all of them.” Quite often, “spiritual but not religious” people actually see themselves as intellectually superior: They’re better than the close-minded, religious fanatics who blindly follow outdated doctrines and the militant atheists with their rigid materialism and narrow-minded views that science can”or eventually will”explain everything. The devout Catholic, Protestant, Jew, or Muslim may strongly disagree with the atheist on many things. Unlike “spiritually but not religious people,” however, such people all have made a serious commitment to a set of beliefs about the universe and life in general.

But, as DeSouza notes, “To be spiritual but not religious is akin to following sports, but without choosing any one sport in particular. It is not possible to play sports in general. Or to love music, but no particular piece of music. Or to plant a garden, but no particular flowers. Novels cannot be read in general; you are either reading an Anne Rice book or you are not.”

• Over the years it’s been our pleasure to review books from Paulist Press, the 142-year-old Catholic publishing company based in Mahwah, New Jersey. On July 27 Fr. Lawrence E. Boadt, C.S.P., who served as president and publisher of Paulist Press from 1998 until illness forced his retirement earlier this year, died at age 67. Ordained a Paulist priest in 1969, Fr. Boadt was more than just a publishing executive who wanted to sell books. He was also a gifted biblical scholar, theologian, and former university professor.

After receiving a master’s degree and a licentiate in sacred theology from the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., Fr. Boadt studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. There he earned a licentiate in Sacred Scripture and a doctorate in biblical studies and Near Eastern languages. The languages he studied were the ancient Semitic languages. “Not many people can accomplish that, as the mastery of ancient languages is incredibly difficult,” says Fr. John Lynch, C.S.P., the Paulist Fathers’ archivist. “He was the type of priest who could do anything.”

Fr. Boadt taught at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York; at St. John’s University in Queens, New York; and at the Washington Theological Union in Washington, D.C. He joined Paulist Press as Scripture editor in 1975, and in 1984 he made a contribution to the field of biblical studies with Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction , still used at many colleges and seminaries.

“Because this is an introduction only to the Old Testament, and aimed at Christian readers, its special task is to open up the riches and meaning of God’s word found there,” Fr. Boadt wrote. “It must give Christians an appreciation of how much common faith they share with their Jewish neighbors. Above all, it must avoid confusing study of the New Testament with that of the Old, so that the reader may come to understand the Old Testament first on its own terms. Then and then only will the believing Christian have a faithful insight into the relationship of God’s earliest revelation to Israel with the further revelation in Christ.”

Fr. Boadt’s mastery of Semitic languages and biblical studies led to his interest in Catholic“Jewish relations. Responsible for overseeing the publication of up to eighty books a year (an impressive achievement for a small publishing company), Boadt published many titles devoted to ecumenism and to interreligious dialogue with Jews and Muslims. Fr. Michael B. McGarry, president of the Paulist Fathers, says “there is no publisher in North America who has done more to advance Catholic“Jewish relations than Larry Boadt.”

• As it does every year, the inclusive language policy is making its way around the department of theology at the University of Notre Dame. A former assistant editor of ours overheard a young, first-year student claiming that the policy was unnecessary. All her university training had taught her not to alternate gender pronouns, this student said, and this policy was an unwelcome complication. A second-year student explained to her that while the policy might seem annoying, it was a good thing. A curious moment, no? A man explaining to a woman that the exclusion she doesn’t feel is remedied by linguistic changes she doesn’t want.

• As long as we’re on the topic of gender inflection, we should note that the National Council of Churches is alarmed that the use of gender-specific language is making a comeback in member churches. “Male pronouns, particularly in reference to God, are becoming all-too common again,” Philip Jenks, the council’s Web editor, warns in an article posted online. Inappropriate language can reinforce “harmful stereotypes around the realities of race, disabilities, sexual orientation and gender.”

To address this pressing problem, the council did one of the things it does best: It held a meeting. The council’s Justice for Women Working Group”quite a name, yes? Again with the old Soviet feeling for language. I think that man I described earlier, the one in the Kremlin, used to attend meetings of a group with this title. Where he took notes. And names.

Anyway, the council’s Justice for Women Working Group held a symposium called “Language Matters” in Chicago. And, according to the press release, the symposium’s “30 participants, both lay and ordained,” came from “a wide diversity of NCC member and religious traditions.”

As it happens, when working groups of the National Council of Churches talk about diversity, they do not mean diversity of opinion. We have no idea what happened at the “Language Matters” symposium, who attended it, or what steps the participants discussed to combat the evil of referring to God as “He.” Although the symposium was announced on the NCC website, on August 4, five days before the start of the event, the council said media would be barred from attending. The council also withheld the names of participants “to protect their privacy.”

Ah, yes, privacy. Openness and transparency have their limits, after all.

• Speaking of smoking”we were speaking of smoking, weren’t we? Yes, looking back, I see: Churchill and Roosevelt smoked. The man from the Kremlin, too, I imagine. Relentlessly. And no one at the women’s working group had the nerve to ask him to stop.

He should have come to New York, where, in the past few years, antismoking ads have gotten more graphic. In 2008 the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene unveiled a new ad campaign featuring Marie, a Bronx woman who underwent nearly twenty amputations because her smoking habit apparently caused her to develop Buerger’s Disease, which narrows the arteries and thus reduces blood flow to the arms and legs.

“A series of somewhat gruesome television commercials shows close-ups of Marie’s amputated fingers, shaded out images of the human anatomy representing her amputated body parts, a sinister bone saw and a mysterious set of clippers,” the New York Times City Room blog reported in 2008. “The bone saw and clippers are the actual ones used in Marie’s amputations. The photos of the medical instruments were taken at her doctor’s office.”

And now, New York City’s health department has begun requiring any business that sells tobacco to display prominently a series of antismoking ads that shows, in graphic detail, a rotting tooth, diseased lungs, and a damaged brain.

Certainly, smoking is unhealthy. But is it really necessary to force that fact down everyone’s throat with graphic and gory images paid for by taxpayers? In response to such criticism, antismoking crusaders insist that these “shock tactics” are necessary to get people to stop smoking.

How is it, then, that when pro-life activists display horrifying images of dismembered unborn children to force people to face the truth about abortion, they are denounced for a variety of offenses, including displaying bad taste, upsetting people, and using divisive and inflammatory tactics that may lead to violence?

• Middle School 51 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, is regarded as one of the best schools in New York City. Andrea Peyser, the longtime New York Post columnist, reports that eighth graders at MS 51 are studying religion in English class. And the class hasn’t drawn the ire of such groups as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Here’s why: A typewritten class handout headed “RELIGION” lists twenty quotations that express hostility toward religion. The first one, from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus states, “Religion is a disease, but a noble disease.” The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer adds, “Religion is the masterpiece of the art of animal training, for it trains people as to how they will think.” Another handout, “GOD,” asks students to ponder whether religion should be treated as poetry: that is, as something neither true nor false.

In her column Peyser asks what this antireligious material has to do with a middle-school English course, and whether eighth graders are “too young to learn something more appropriate for a grad-school theological course.”

Lenore Berner, the school’s principal, explained to Peyser that the religion material was part of a philosophy unit within the English course. The principal assured Peyser, “We’re looking at both sides of debates.” One parent reported that when he went to the school to speak to Rachel Rear, the teacher who drew up the handouts for the class, she “dug in. She was challenging me. She wanted to get into a theological debate.”

Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State often claim that students in public schools are harmed”and have their First Amendment rights violated”when they are exposed to such religious material as a prayer at a graduation ceremony or a Christmas carol in a school concert. When students in public schools are exposed to antireligious material, however, these groups tend to maintain that it’s just part of teaching students how to think for themselves, and religious people should be more tolerant and willing to listen to different points of view.

• We noted, in a previous issue, the commemorative stamp honoring Mother Teresa”a stamp that set all the thresher sharks of the New Atheists into a feeding frenzy and required the post office to downplay every bit of religion involved with the release.

In response, a reader sends a note reminding us of the commemorative stamp for “Father Jacques Marquette, Missionary“Explorer,” issued back in 1968. The official ceremonies for that stamp were held at Sault Ste. Marie, and the official program included Fr. Joseph Lawless, Fr. Robert Monroe, Msgr. Arnold L. Casanova (Vice Chancellor, Diocese of Marquette, representing Bishop Charles A. Salatka), Msgr. Oliver O’Callaghan, Fr. John P. Raynor, S.J. (president of Marquette University), Fr. James D. Birney, S.J., and Fr. Joseph P. Donnelly, S.J. (professor of history at Marquette). These priests were all listed as speakers in the program, along with other dignitaries, in the government document containing the first-day issue of the stamp.

Another measure of change over these past forty-two years.

• You may have noticed the consistent”and consistently beautiful”visual style of the artist who draws our covers. Her name is Leanne Shapton, and we’re thrilled to showcase one of her talents in First Things . We say “one of” because Leanne is not only an artist; she is also an accomplished writer. Her books include Was She Pretty? and Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry, the latter headed for Hollywood treatment under the auspices of Brad Pitt. We’re lucky to have found an artist for our covers whose sensibility so eloquently matches our purpose and point of view. The same can be said for Matthew Cook, the artist whose illustrations can be found atop The Public Square and While We’re At It. An accomplished British artist, Matthew’s images evoke the intricate yet peaceful qualities that have defined those columns since Fr. Neuhaus brought them into being two decades ago.

• Many months before Pope Benedict XVI’s September visit to the United Kingdom, the British Foreign Office set up a Papal Visit Team. The head of the team, which also included three young civil servants in the Foreign Office, was Anjoum Noorani, a thirty-one-year-old diplomat who had spent five years working at the British embassy in Moscow.

During a brainstorming session, the team drew up a memorandum (“The ideal visit would see . . . ”) in which members suggested possible activities for Pope Benedict during his visit. Under three headings (“Climate Change,” “Development,” and “Social”), the memorandum listed such possible papal activities as launching a brand of “Benedict Condoms,” blessing a gay wedding, opening an abortion clinic, selling the Vatican to help the poor, using biofuel to power the popemobile, making every church carbon neutral, and performing a duet with Queen Elizabeth II.

The team emailed its memorandum to officials in the prime minister’s office and other government ministries with a note asking recipients not to disseminate the memorandum further because it contained “the most far-fetched of ideas.”

Of course, as often happens with documents meant to be kept confidential, someone leaked it to the press”to the embarrassment of the British government and the near derailing of the pope’s visit. Several government officials promptly apologized to the Vatican and to the Catholic Church in England. The Foreign Office immediately removed Noorani and his three memo-mates from the Papal Visit Team. Noorani was suspended, given a severe reprimand, and banned from any overseas assignments. The other three were ordered to take “diversity training” and given letters of reprimand.

Although Anjoum Noorani had worked in Moscow, he seems too young to have met the man in the Soviet-era Kremlin”too young to have shared a cigarette with him and learned the techniques of bureaucracy. Otherwise, Noorani would have understood that his error was the attempt at humor. Smile, yes, but never joke. Think about the required “diversity training””not etiquette training, not diplomatic training, not professional training, but “diversity training.” That has the right Soviet tone to it. The people who ordered the young jokesters into “diversity training” are the ones who understand that the point isn’t right behavior but right thinking. And not embarrassing the people with offices in the nicer hallways.In the long run, they’re a much greater threat to religion than young, foolish, and ill-mannered Anjoum Noorani.

while we’re at it sources : Pets, eternal-earthbound-pets.com ; Toronto Star , July 22, 2010. Economic growth, lwf-assembly2003.org . Smoking leaders, Charleston Post and Courier , July 18, 2010. Ash Wednesday, davebarnhart.net . Arthur Conan Doyle, Times Literary Supplement , June 25, 2010. Politics and telephones, New York Times , June 21, 2010. Newman Institute, newman.se . Baby Names, The Press Association (UK), June 23, 2010; Telegraph.co.uk , July 19, 2010. Jane Austen, amazon.com ; twiceashungry.com ; j anetmullany.com ; paranormalromance.wordpress.com . Coptic Church, Agence France-Presse, July 7, 2010. DeSouza on Rice, nationalpost.com , August 5, 2010. Fr. Lawrence Boadt, New York Times , July 31, 2010; NorthJersey.com , August 5, 2010; Paulist Fathers press release, July 24, 2010. Gender-specific language, ncccusa.org/womensministry , July 26, 2010; prettygoodlutherans.com , July 26 and August 4, 2010. Antismoking ads, cityroomblogs.nytimes.com , April 16, 2008; FOXNews.com , June 4, 2010. Religion in middle school, New York Post , June 24, 2010. Papal visit, Telegraph (UK), April 24, May 2, and June 6, 2010.

wwai tips : David Blum, Dimitri Cavalli, Mike Doyle, David P. Goldman, Mary Ellen Kelly , Edward T. Oakes, S.J., Nathaniel Peters, R.R. Reno, Russell E. Saltzman.