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Yes, it appears that Easter and resurrection of Jesus are still controversial

Yes, it appears that Easter and resurrection of Jesus are still controversial

It's a challenge, but every Easter preachers around the world strive to find something different to say about the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

This applies to the pope, as well, in his Holy Week and Easter sermons. Journalists always sift through these papal texts searching references to the Middle East, global warming, social justice or other "newsy" topics worthy of headlines.

 But Pope Francis did something different this year, abandoning his prepared sermon to speak from the heart about a recent telephone conversation with a young engineer who is facing a serious illness, as well as life-and-death questions.

Christians insist that Easter is the ultimate answer, said Francis.

"Today the church continues to say: Jesus has risen from the dead. … This is not a fantasy. It's not a celebration with many flowers," he said, surrounded by Easter pageantry.

Flowers are nice, but the resurrection is more, he added. "It is the mystery of the rejected stone that ends up being the cornerstone of our existence. Christ has risen from the dead. In this throwaway culture, where that which is not useful … is discarded, that stone -- Jesus -- is discarded, yet is the source of life."

So the pope has to defend Easter? As it turns out, anyone seeking other motives for the pope's blunt words could point to headlines triggered by a new BBC survey claiming that many self-identified British Christians have rejected, or perhaps watered-down, biblical claims that Jesus rose from the dead.

The BBC.com headline proclaimed: "Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians." Among the survey's claims:

Soli Deo gloria -- The true legacy of a church musician

NEW YORK -- When choirmaster John Scott looked into the future he saw a spectacular addition to St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue, a new organ at the heart of worship services, concerts and expanding efforts to train young musicians.

The 100-stop organ would blend past and present, preserving the delicately carved 1913 cabinet and some of it distinctive pipes, but as part of an expanded design that would add both grandeur and gentleness, as well as many new tones.

"We are eager to hear our gallery horizontal trumpet put into first-class condition and just as excited that it will be joined by a new stentorian Tuba Mirabilis of imperial strength. These two stops will allow majestic fanfares to dialogue east and west," said Scott, in an enthusiastic May 31 update about the $11 million project.

"So, to sum up -- 2018 cannot come soon enough."

But Manhattan's famous Anglo-Catholic parish was stunned on August 12 when the 59-year-old Scott died of a heart attack, hours after returning from a European concert tour. Scott and his wife Lily were awaiting the birth of their first child in September.

Church leaders held a requiem Mass -- with no music -- the next day and began planning for a solemn funeral Mass on Sept. 12, allowing more people to travel to New York City for the rites. Many would come to honor an artist hailed by The New York Times and other prestigious publications, a man known for his recordings, compositions and concert-hall performances.

But people in the pews are mourning the loss of a fellow believer whose most cherished duty was to help lead others in worship, while teaching the faith and its musical heritage to their children, said the Rev. Canon Carl Turner.

BBC leader says race trumps religion

The full-page New York Times advertisement by the Freedom From Religion Foundation was certainly blunt -- starting with its headline telling "liberal" and "nominal" Catholics that "It's Time to Consider Quitting the Catholic Church." Conservative Catholics were outraged and called the newspaper's leaders hypocrites, claiming they would never dare to run such a fierce and offensive ad that targeted believers in other faiths, especially Islam.

Sure enough, a group called Stop Islamization of America immediately produced a full-page advertisement that precisely mirrored the images and rhetoric of the anti-Catholic effort, including a headline telling "moderate" Muslims that "It's Time to Quit Islam."

Conservative Catholics were outraged -- again -- when Times leaders refused to run the anti-Muslim advertisement, claiming that to do so would endanger American troops.

Truth be told, the offended Catholics had little reason to be shocked if members of the Times hierarchy based their decisions on convictions similar to those recently aired by the leader of the British Broadcasting Corporation, another of the world's most influential news organizations.

For BBC director-general Mark Thompson, the key is to understand that Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Jews and believers in other minority religions share a "very close identity with ethnic minorities" and, thus, their beliefs deserve to be handled with special care.

Meanwhile, he said it's acceptable to subject Christians to more criticism and satire, to treat their beliefs with less sensitivity, because Christianity is a powerful, secure, majority religion -- even in an increasingly secular age.

"I think it is very different to talk about Christianity in the United Kingdom: a very broadly, literally established, but also metaphorically established, part of our kind of culturally built landscape," said Thompson, in an interview recorded for the FreeSpeechDebate.com project produced by St. Antony's College, Oxford.

Christianity, he argued, is a "broad-shouldered religion, compared to religions which in the UK have a very close identity with ethnic minorities, where, you know, it's not as if as it were Islam is randomly spread across the UK population. It's almost entirely a religion practiced by people who may already feel in other ways isolated, prejudiced against, and where they may well regard an attack on their religion as racism by other means."

Thus, Thompson said, it's appropriate for media and government leaders to use a more protective, cautious standard when judging the contents of news and entertainment that could be viewed as threatening to believers whose faith is in some real way tied to their racial identities.

On the other hand, he stressed, "I do not think that it's appropriate that there should be laws inhibiting freedom of speech in the interest of protecting religions. That doesn't mean I think necessarily you should publish or broadcast anything."

Muslims, for example, are more offended by criticism or satire of Muhammad than most Christians are of similar media products about Jesus, said Thompson, who identified himself as a moderate, practicing Catholic.

"For a Muslim, a depiction -- particularly a comical or demeaning depiction of the Prophet Muhammad -- might have the force, the emotional force, of a piece of a grotesque child pornography. One of the mistakes seculars make is, I think, not to understand the character of what blasphemy feels like to someone who is a realist in their religious belief."

Of course, debates on this subject have also been shaped by political and religious realities in an increasingly tense world. It's hard, said Thompson, to hold discussions of sacrilege and blasphemy in England and the western world without mentioning Salman Rushdie and "The Satanic Verses," his 1988 novel that was in part inspired by the life of Muhammad. The book was burned and banned in some parts of the world and, ultimately, led to a fatwa urging all devout Muslims to kill Rushdie -- who continues to live in hiding decades later.

Historian Timothy Garton Ash, who conducted the Oxford interview, said this threat of violence is a "rather nasty ace" that can be played by those who are willing to say, "I feel so strongly about that; if you say it or broadcast it, I will kill you."

Thompson responded: "Well, clearly it's a very notable move in the game, I mean without question. 'I complain in the strongest possible terms' is different from 'I complain in the strongest possible terms and I'm loading my AK47 as I write.' This definitely raises the stakes."