Weiss tunes in some GetReligion chat

9781592572229bJeff Weiss of The Dallas Morning News, who is one of the nation’s best-known religion-beat specialists, sent me an email this weekend with a subject line that was impossible to ignore. It read: “this one was partly inspired by some of the chat on getreligion.”

The story is called “Despite shared roots, three faiths find plenty to fight about,” and Weiss set out to do the impossible in a punchy news feature — compare and contrast the beliefs of Judaism, Christianity and Islam on several basic religious questions. Of course, as I wrote that sentence I heard the same voice in my head that I am sure Jeff heard as he started work on this one: Compare and contrast the beliefs of Judaism (which one?), Christianity (which one?) and Islam (which one?) in a newspaper story?

This was an ambitious task, to say the least. Here is the summary section of the story:

For all the post-9/11 talk about common roots and interfaith discussion, some theologians say interfaith dust-ups like the one involving Benedict are inevitable. That’s because some of the disagreements are so fundamental.

“Abrahamic” is a big-tent word that implies the three faiths are part of one family. Why can’t we all get along?

But no fights are nastier than family fights — particularly when the battle is over the inheritance. And that’s what was at stake in the most recent squabble: Which faith carries the divine legacy of Abraham, the biblical (and Quranic) patriarch to whom God promises, in Genesis, “and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves”?

Of course, it’s hard enough to offer a detailed summary of one or two clashing groups’ beliefs on a specific question raised by a specific story. How do you think Weiss did taking on so many topics all at once?

Oh, and the art with this post is not a comment on the News article. Honest. Check it out.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Maureen

    Actually, I thought Christianity said that humanity was made to know God, to love Him, to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him in heaven. That’s the old Baltimore Catechism answer, anyway. The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church makes the reason for humanity’s creation even simpler: “to share in His own blessed life.”

    Both of these answers imply love of others and becoming Christ-like, but I think the primary thing of our creation is to be and to be with God.

  • Maureen

    More seriously, why doesn’t this article mention the Islamic Hell at all? Hell is big for Muslims!

    Jahannam (Gehenna) is the Islamic Hell, into which Iblis (Satan) will be cast at the end — along with anybody who believed his lies, blocked the spread of Islam, etc. For some it appears to be a purgatory-type punishment; for others, not.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jahannam

  • MattK

    I am consistently ipressed with the Dallas Morning News’ religion reporting. Just the fact they they try so hard is pleasing to me. So, the criticism that follows should be read in the light of my admiration for their work.

    In the “Heaven, Hell, World to Come” section near the end of the article the author said that Jews beliee in a ressurection of the dead but contrasted Christians as beleiving that “Heaven is where those who are saved will live eternally with God. Hell is the eternal fiery pit of banishment for the unsaved.”

    I was surprised by this statement.
    St. Paul was unambiguous when he wrote: “But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you.”

    As well there are these lines from the Nicene Creed which are on engraved in silver in the Sistine chapel, recited three times a day by Orthodox Christians, and is printed in the Anglican’s Book of Common Prayer and in the Lutheran Hymnal: “..we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come..”

    And I have heard several Pentecostals and Baptists preach on this text at funerals: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.”—Job 19:25-27.

    The resurrection is hardly a secret teaching of Christianity, or a belief held by the minority of Christians.

    The Dallas Morning News got this part of the article wrong. Christians, like Jews, believe in the Resurrection of the Dead. (However, it is my understanding from a Northern Exposure episode that i saw in the 1990′s that some Jews reject the resurrection.)

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Not that it’s a good excuse in this online world, but I used every word — not just line but word — that I had space for in the dead tree version of the story.
    So Muslim Hell, among a zillion other topics, just didn’t make. If I had included that, I would have needed to cut another.
    But: I don’t understand how resurrection of the body is incompatible with Christianity’s heaven? My limited point there was that Christianity has a much more specific understanding of the afterlife — beyond resurrection, which is pretty much all that Jewish tradition seems really certain about.
    And I figured most readers would be more surprised about a Jewish belief in bodily resurrection than they needed to be reminded of it for Christianity (thereby forcing me to cut other info).

  • Maureen

    Re: Muslim Hell

    Still, makes it sound like Muslims don’t believe in Hell. If you can’t include all three POVs on a topic, why include any?

    Re: resurrection of the dead/Heaven

    Nowadays, there’s a good number of Christians who believe in Heaven but not the resurrection of the body. (Or the eventual rebirth of Creation into “a new heaven and a new earth”.) I guess that was what the commenter was getting at.

  • Maureen

    Btw, if it wasn’t such a good article, I wouldn’t bother being so picky. (Actually, I wouldn’t have bothered to read down far enough to be jarred by the lack of paralleling hells.)

    So consider yourself honored by our nitpicks. :)

  • astorian

    The problem is, the three “Abrahamic” religions, in spite of their commonalities, are really an affront to each other.

    The problems with Islam are may, and are being discussed widely. I’ll stick to the inherent conflicts between Christians and Jews.

    No matter how much I, a Catholic, may like and respect a devout Jew, there’s no way around the facts:

    1) If Jesus was not, in fact, the Son of God, I am a dumb schmuck, wasting his time worshipping a dead Jewish carpenter.

    2) If Jesus WAS the Son of God, then Jews are, at best, poor saps who’ve missed the boat, or at worst, “stiff-necked” people who rejected the Messiah.

    Need I point out that there is absolutely NO nice way to say either of those things?

    Even if Christians and Jews WANT to overlook their differences and embrace each other, it’s hard to do that without being patronizing. Without saying so, each group is thinking, “Well, your side is hopelessly wrong about one of the most important things imaginable, but… what the heck, if it makes you happy to believe something that’s completely false, we’ll humor you.”

  • saint

    First I need to congratulate Mr Weiss for tackling this. One of my pet hates is the constant refrain of Judaism, Christianity and Islam as Abrahamic faiths. While I can understand that terminology when used by (often clueless) academics, it has lead to even more foolhardy conclusions by (often clueless) non-academics: the why not join hands and sing kumbayah. Which is of course Mr Weiss’ subject.

    Secondly, I find it hard to criticize this piece because, well, how much can you cover in a few words for a newspaper audience? (Want to tackle how Christianity could and did emerge from Judaism – after all the first Christians were Jews, so was Jesus – and that there is, despite the differences between modern day Judaism and Christianity, much natural affinity between those two faiths, but that both are mutually exclusive with Islam which emerged from a cave?)

    Thirdly (and bear in mind I write this as an Australian who has never visited the States, and whose picture of religion in the U.S. is very much coloured by what I read in the MSM/religious press/blogs, and who is constantly bemused/amused/horrified as a consequence) there is a peculiar American evangelical/folk theology bent to this piece. OK, this is Dallas so it must be America. But examples of what I mean is the vague conception of heaven as some ethereal other world,(bye bye creation), the obligatory “substitutionary” word, little tell tale signs like that.

    Fourthly I like that Mr Weiss chose to highlight the different understandings of Abraham given the label “Abrahamic faith”; noticed there was not much mention of THE prophet who really separates the sheep from the goats.

    I liked the quote from Rev Mason (not one kumbayah) and I do like the final quote.

    As I said, full marks to Jeff Weiss for tackling this. And I think he did a very good job to cram in as much as he did as well as he did.

  • MattK

    ” there’s a good number of Christians who believe in Heaven but not the resurrection of the body.”

    Really? I didn’t know this. That is very interesting. I went to a funeral two years ago at a “word of faith” church in California and there was no mention of a resurrection. I thought it was just sloppy homilitics. I never would have thought that they might actually reject the resurrection doctrine. Is this abandonment of this dogma tied to any particular sect or denomination?

  • MattK

    “consider yourself honored by our nitpicks”

    Yes. It was a very good article. I wish you worked for the SF Chronicle so I could cover religion for them and I could read your coverage of my community.

  • http://www.thisisbabylon.net Y-Love

    “And if the three Abrahamic faiths can’t agree on key details like these, is there any point to interfaith conversations?”

    A question like this when followed by a quote from a pastor speaking positively about bringing “pain” to foster relationships is, I think, not the best opinion out there. Interfaith dialogue — once all parties realize that there are certain things we will not agree on — has an intrinsic point, by taking the “strangeness” out of the “other group”, the “outgroup”, it becomes infinitely easier to promote peace, understanding, and unity. I write about interfaith coexistence and dialogue and people like Rabbi David Rosen or Imam Hassen Chalghouni who compromise no part of their faith while at the same time building bridges.


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