This isn't what they mean by balancing the scales of justice
Where's Victor Hugo when you need him? Two nations this week came up with two radically different solutions to the age-old question of whether starving people are justified in stealing food to feed themselves and their families.

Venezuela has not yet wholly decriminalized the act, but Supreme Court Judge Alejandro Angulo Fontiveros is in charge of drafting changes to the country's penal code, and has proposed a clause allowing the hungry to steal food and medicine.

"This is a guide for judges to avoid injustice," Fontiveros told Reuters. "They lock up for years a poor person who lives in atrocious misery and what they need is medicine." (It's not the only controversial change, Reuters notes: Other proposals would allow abortion and euthanasia.)

It goes without saying that critics argue such a move would encourage theft, even if it applies only to nonviolent crimes.

About 20 percent of Venezuela's 25 million population can't afford basic food needs, says the government. Private analysts say the figure is even higher.

In North Korea, however, nearly the whole country is starving. "Hundreds of thousands" have died in the country's famine, Amnesty International reported this week—and not all of them as a direct result of malnutrition.

"Some North Koreans, who were motivated by hunger to steal food grains or livestock, have been publicly executed," Amnesty International researcher Rajiv Narayan told the Associated Press. "Public notices advertised the executions, and school children were forced to watch the shootings or hangings."

The Amnesty International report says the group "has received reports that indicate that public executions have declined" since the famine's peak in the late '90s, "but there is concern that executions are still taking place secretly in detention centers."

Yikes. Surely there must be some just solution between licensing theft and executing the hungry. What we could really use is the wisdom of Solomon. Hey! What do you know? Here he is: "People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house."

Pundits on The Passion
We're still a month away from The Passion of the Christ's arrival in theaters, so Weblog isn't going to comment on every single piece of Passion commentary that comes down the pipe. Two must-reads today, however, are conservative Catholics on the dueling comments from Pope John Paul II's personal secretary and Mel Gibson's publicity department.

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As it turns out, this is much more than "he said/he said." An e-mail sent to Gibson's folks bore the name and address of Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the official papal spokesman. Not only did it support the story that Pope John Paul II responded to the Passion with the comment, "It is as it was," but the e-mail encouraged the dissemination of the quote, ""I would try to make the words 'It is as it was' the leit motif in any discussion on the film," the e-mail said, according to Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher, who received a copy. "Repeat the words again and again and again."

But Navarro-Valls says the message was a fake. "I can categorically deny its authenticity," he said in an e-mail message to Dreher. The Dallas columnist went to Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan, whose December 17 column most publicized the reported papal endorsement. In reporting that story, Noonan received a message from Navarro-Valls's e-mail address that seemed to support the quote—and certainly did not deny it, when Noonan had asked for more information on it.

"[Dreher and I] did some checking on Dr. Navarro-Valls's e-mail to me," Noonan writes today. "It was sent via an e-mail server in the Vatican's domain, and the IP address belongs to a Vatican computer."

Both Dreher and Noonan note that their implications—that several Vatican officials are lying—is no small deal. "While to some this may seem a tempest in a teapot, it is not. It is an important story," Noonan writes. "he truth matters. What a pope says matters. And what this pontiff says about this film matters"—especially, she notes, with the controversy over whether it is anti-Semitic.

Wither top officials of Mel Gibson's production company are manipulative deceivers or the top aide to Pope John Paul II and the papal spokesman is," writes Dreher. "Here's what I think: The pope was quoted accurately, but, for some reason, Vatican officials became uncomfortable with it. So they changed their official story. If doing so makes honorable filmmakers and journalists, Catholics among them, come off as sleazebags or dupes—well, that's life. If that's the game the Holy See is playing, that's a crying shame."

More on The Passion of the Christ:

  • Gibson expects 'worst to come' over Christ film | Gibson did not mention the Vatican denial when he addressed 4,500 evangelical Christian pastors. He thanked them for their prayers, but warned, somewhat ominously "I anticipate the worst is yet to come. I hope I'm wrong. I hope I'm wrong" (Reuters)

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  • New Christian movie stirring passions | While it is sure to be extremely painful to watch, and a wracking emotional journey, we feel "The Passion of the Christ" will be as close to a religious experience as art can get (Editorial, Turlock Journal, Calif.)

  • Gibson says faith led to film of Christ's last hours | More than 1,500 people turned out at CedarCreek Church in Perrysburg Township last night to get a glimpse of Mel Gibson's upcoming movie The Passion of The Christ and to watch a satellite interview with the Hollywood star about why he made the movie (The Toledo Blade)

  • Clergy see Gibson film as tool | Inland pastors say the movie about the last hours of Christ's life has a powerful message (The Press-Enterprise, Riverside, Calif.)

  • Gibson 'Passion' film wows Christians, vexes Jews | It's hard to imagine a movie provoking such contrasting reactions among Jews and Christians as Mel Gibson 's "The Passion of the Christ," the story of the last 12 hours of Jesus Christ (Reuters)

  • 5,000 pastors cheer Mel Gibson's 'Passion' | Famed film actor and producer Mel Gibson told 5,000 pastors yesterday that "there will always be opposition" to films on the Gospel, "but you have to stand your ground and slug it out" (The Washington Times)

More articles

Roe v. Wade at 31:

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Cardinal says gays perverted:


  • Should government be trying to promote good marriages? | Some conservatives see White House move as intrusive social engineering. Some liberals condemn it as an empty symbol that doesn't address the real needs of the poor (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Making much of marriage | To America's social conservatives, President George Bush displayed a distinct lack of commitment in his State of the Union address when he declared that marriage should remain a heterosexual institution (BBC)

  • When ministers tell prospective couples 'I won't' | Must a minister marry every couple that asks? More clergymen today are daring to say no when the match seems a poor one (The Christian Science Monitor)

  • Conservative groups differ on Bush words on marriage | Some evangelical groups celebrated what they called a presidential endorsement of an amendment, while other major groups, including the Family Research Council, said the president had failed to act fast enough on the issue (The New York Times)

  • Bush's commitment to marriage lauded | President Bush's unprecedented State of the Union reference to a "constitutional process" to protect traditional marriage has rallied supporters of a federal marriage amendment (The Washington Times)

  • Marriage Savers aims for more perfect unions | Local nonprofit tackles high U.S. divorce rate (The Washington Post)

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Religious freedom:

  • Christian body denies involvement | The National Christian Evangelical Alliance of Sri Lanka, in a statement issued to the media has categorically denied their involvement of alleged practices of unethical conversion (Sunday Observer, Sri Lanka)

  • Abuses force America to end aid to Uzbekistan | Uzbekistan, an authoritarian state with which Washington forged a controversial alliance to aid its war on terror in neighboring Afghanistan, is set to lose its $100 annual U.S. aid because of its poor human rights record (The Guardian, London)

  • Radio station banned in Hungary | An alternative radio station in Hungary has been banned from broadcasting for 30 days by the state media watchdog for insulting Christians (BBC)

  • Another young Christian girl abducted in Pakistan | Young Christian girls in Pakistan are often abducted and raped, and they are a powerless minority without real rights or recourse for crimes committed against them by Muslim men. When they are abducted, these girls are often forced to "marry" Muslim men (Press release, International Christian Concern)

  • Muslim Christian convert wins asylum | A court in Germany has upheld the right to political asylum granted to a Muslim who converted to Christianity after coming to this country (DPA, Germany)

  • High court won't review religious-fliers case | The U.S. Supreme Court has let stand a lower court's ruling that an Arizona school district may not automatically bar the distribution of fliers with religious overtones (Associated Press)

French headscarf (and beard) ban:

Religion in Europe:

  • Christianity as key factor | As E.U. nations debate whether to incorporate Christianity into the new European Constitution, religious minorities fear that the conservative elements pushing for the change have a darker agenda (Frontline, India)

  • European Union debates nod to God in constitution | As the European Union moves forward with long-term plans to broaden its membership, its leaders are struggling to encompass more ethnicities and religions under one banner than at any time since the Roman Empire (Newhouse News Service)

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  • The states we're in | The British mixture of liberal, established churches linked to the institution of monarchy may prove more flexible, open and tolerant - and more appropriate to the challenging new culture of religious diversity and plurality - than either the American mixture of individual liberty and fervent patriotism or the French attachment to an 18th-century model of secular republicanism that flies in the face of the resurgence of religious feeling (Ian Bradley, The Guardian, London)

  • In God they trust | Unlike France, where devout persons of various denominations must conceal their religious affiliation, America allows its citizens to lead their lives as they see fit - assuming, of course, that they believe in God. Those who do not are ostracized (Yuval Ben Ami, Ha'aretz, Tel Aviv)

  • Hjemkomst Center to remove marker with religious message | Resident Chuck Wallace had complained to the city last year about the marker. It honors the conversion of Norway to Christianity and reads, "Odin Fought, Christ Won" (Associated Press)

Anti-Christian violence in Iraq:

  • Iraq liquor store murders raise concerns | As many as nine liquor store owners, most of them Christians, have been killed in Basra since the fall of Saddam Hussein in April, according to merchants (Associated Press)

  • Iraqi Christians killed in ambush | Gunmen attacked a vehicle carrying Iraqi women who worked in the laundry at a U.S. military base, killing four of them (Associated Press)

The Bible:

  • Is Good Book also a great book? | Who could argue that a book that has inspired hundreds of millions around the world isn't a repository of rich language, vivid imagery and compelling stories? (Dana Parsons, Los Angeles Times)

  • "The Gnostic Bible," edited by Willis Barnstone and Marvin Meyer | Behind the Gnosticism craze: A freedom-loving, feminist, gay-friendly anarcho Creator, or just another pompous ass telling us what to do? This massive collection has it both ways (Donna Minkowitz,

  • Senior volunteers make Braille Bibles | Saginaw area church group, one of 215 work sites, has produced thousands of books in five languages (Associated Press)

Church visits to Cuba:

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