The World Today for October 30, 2017

NEED TO KNOW

PROTESTANT REFORMATION

In Praise of Reform

Five hundred years ago on Oct. 31, when the rebellious theologian and monk Martin Luther nailed his famed 95 theses against Catholic corruption on the door of a church in Wittenberg, he kicked off a bloody era that culminated a century later in the Thirty Year’s War – a conflict among European powers that killed around 20 percent of Germany’s population

But Luther’s Reformation also advanced a value that many Americans today take for granted, and still more people strive to uphold in authoritarian countries around the world: freedom of conscience.

Among Luther’s complaints about papal authority, for example, was that “the burning of heretics is against the will of the Holy Spirit,” noted historian Joseph Loconte in National Geographic.

The Catholic-Protestant divide lingered for centuries, fueling violence in Spain and Latin America (think: the Inquisition), Ireland, the United States (Catholics are among the Ku Klux Klan’s bogeymen) and elsewhere.

In recent decades, however, as civil rights movements have gained steam around the world, those divisions have at least partially subsided.

“Catholics…opened their minds to realize that, indeed, the medieval church did need a tune-up and had in some places and times veered far away from the life and teachings of a poor, Jewish carpenter from Nazareth named Jesus,” argued a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed column.

For their part, some Protestants even express regret at the schism they inaugurated. Christians everywhere largely agree that Jesus advocated for selfless love to counter greed, narcissism and gluttony. Yet, rather than presenting a unified front to those ills, the faithful have arguably wasted time debating who, what, where, when, how and why Christians worship.

“We’ve had to say that breaking up the Western church was not a gift to the church,” the Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, a Lutheran leader, told NPR.

Of course, differences persist. While Catholics and Protestants are more similar than different in Europe, the Pew Research Center reported, the fervent Protestant offshoot of Pentecostalism is growing fast, especially in Latin America.

Still, the trajectory from violence and discord to coexistence and discourse shows that even the most basic difference can yield togetherness if humankind’s better angels win out in the end.

In 2010, almost five centuries after Luther’s protest, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – the daughter of a Lutheran pastor in communist East Germany – similarly asked members of her Christian Democratic Union political party to consider the moral imperative of welcoming Muslims into Germany during a debate about that minority integrating into the country.

Foreshadowing her decision in 2015 to open Germany’s doors to Muslim immigrants from Syria and elsewhere seeking safe harbor from civil war and conflict, she implored her colleagues to open their hearts rather than remain hidebound by laws designed to protect their self-interest.

“We don’t have too much Islam, we have too little Christianity,” she said. “We have too few discussions about the Christian view of mankind.”

WANT TO KNOW

ICELAND

Left Ahead

A string of scandals may dethrone Iceland’s conservatives and pave the way for a center-left coalition government.

Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson’s conservative Independence Party remained the largest party in parliament in a snap poll held over the weekend, but the center-right parties governing the nation in a coalition government lost their majority.

That could give the charismatic left-wing leader Katrin Jakobsdottir the numbers to form a coalition between her Left Green Movement, the center-right Progressives, the Social Democrats and the Pirate Party, Bloomberg reported.

If that happens, it would mark only the second left-of-center government in the country’s history as an independent nation.

Benediktsson called the election last month after his three-party coalition collapsed over an alleged attempt to cover up a letter the prime minister’s father wrote to help a friend convicted of child sexual offenses clear his criminal record. Earlier, the Progressive party’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson was forced to step down after the Panama Papers revealed that his family had sheltered money offshore.

AUSTRALIA

Blood in the Water

Problems are mounting for Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s conservative government.

After Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce and several other members of parliament were forced to step down because their dual citizenship made them ineligible to hold office, Turnbull lost his one-seat majority in the lower house on Friday.

Now, the main opposition Labor Party is considering a legal challenge to more than 100 decisions made while the government’s majority depended on the ineligible legislators, Reuters reported.

One target could be the government’s defeat of a proposed inquiry into Australia’s banking sector for alleged money-laundering, misleading financial advice, insurance fraud and interest-rate rigging. Another could be a vote that cut Sunday pay rates for some workers. However, Reuters quoted a constitutional scholar as saying the outcome of such a challenge is uncertain.

Currently, Turnbull’s minority government relies on three independent lawmakers to remain in office.

NORTH KOREA

Going Ballistic

North Korea’s efforts to build a ballistic missile capable of striking the US has reopened debates in Japan and South Korea about whether they should develop their own nuclear arsenals.

Residents fear that Washington might not be willing to defend its allies against the North if doing so might mean a nuclear strike on Los Angeles or Washington, the New York Times reported.

In South Korea, polls show 60 percent of the population favors building nuclear weapons. Nearly 70 percent want the US to reintroduce tactical nuclear weapons, which are designed to hit opposing troops on the battlefield. Such weapons were withdrawn from the Korean Peninsula some 25 years ago.

The Japanese aren’t so keen. But many experts believe that may change if both North and South Korea have their own nuclear arsenals. Meanwhile, similar debates are underway in Australia, Myanmar, Taiwan and Vietnam.

DISCOVERIES

Look at Me

New research shows that your dog may know exactly what makes you tick and adjusts his or her adorable appearance accordingly.

You know, those puppy-dog eyes getting wider, for example.

It’s likely deliberate, say scientists from the United Kingdom’s University of Portsmouth, who recently observed 24 dogs’ reactions to stimuli in front of and away from humans in order to pinpoint how pooches communicate, National Geographic reported.

Scientists placed the dogs one at a time in a room with a stranger and recorded the dogs’ facial expressions in a combination of four different scenarios: Facing a human or turned away, and with or without a dog treat.

The dogs were significantly more expressive when staring down a human, regardless if he or she was holding a treat or not. That was especially the case when dogs resorted to “sad puppy face,” or raising their eyebrows to make their eyes look more infant-like, researchers found.

“We believe that this shows that this movement is potentially tapping into a preference humans have,” said the study’s leader Juliane Kaminski.

While it may come as no surprise that your dog wants something when longingly eyeing you, Kaminski says more research is needed to determine whether dogs are simply trying to communicate with their owners, or indeed manipulating them.

After all, those sad puppy-dog eyes are tough to resist. And the pooches seem to know it.

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