Roman holiday for Turkish converts?

church-of-the-holy-sepulchre-insideThis is a strange one, I know.

As a rule, your GetReligionistas focus our attention on the mistakes that mainstream journalists make, or the holy holes that they leave in stories, when they fail to “get religion.” We also like to praise news organizations when they get it right, but whenever we do that readers don’t leave many comments. So, you know, we have to focus on the negative.

With that as a prologue, please understand that I have no idea if the following Reuters report contains an hilarious error.

It could be that the story is completely accurate and that it is the leadership of the Turkish television station Kanal T that is responsible for this laugh-out-loud moment in the news. It could happen. Anyway, here is the top of the report:

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – What happens when you put a Muslim imam, a Christian priest, a rabbi and a Buddhist monk in a room with 10 atheists?

Turkish television station Kanal T hopes the answer is a ratings success as it prepares to launch a gameshow where spiritual guides from the four faiths will seek to convert a group of non-believers. The prize for converts will be a pilgrimage to a holy site of their chosen religion — Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.

OK, did you get it? Do you know enough about life Turkey — in the past and in the present — to laugh? A clue: Remember that Istanbul used to be known as Constantinople or even Byzantium. We’re talking about the city that literally looks up at the dome of Hagia Sophia.

Why would the station assume that the few Christians who still reside in Istanbul automatically decide to go to Rome? Isn’t it more likely that Eastern Orthodox Christians would choose to go to, well, Jerusalem? Wouldn’t the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (photo) be a more logical pilgrimage point than St. Peter’s Basilica?

Now trust me, I know that there are many Protestants in modern Turkey and a few Roman Catholics. I also know that the Eastern Orthodox community, after decades of abuse and outright persecution, is tragically small. Here’s a snippet of a column I wrote after my first visit to Istanbul:

The capital of Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. Yet 400,000 Orthodox Christians remained in greater Istanbul early in the 20th century. That number fell to 150,000 in 1960. Today fewer than 2,000 remain, the most symbolic minority in a land that is 99 percent Turkish. They worship in 86 churches served by 32 priests and deacons, most 60 or older.

Is this television show really offering a free ticket to Rome?

Meanwhile, the Reuters report does offer this insight into the politics behind the show. This is interesting stuff:

The makers of “Penitents Compete” are unrepentant and reject claims that the show, scheduled to begin broadcasting in September, will cheapen religion.

“We are giving the biggest prize in the world, the gift of belief in God,” Kanal T chief executive Seyhan Soylu told Reuters. “We don’t approve of anyone being an atheist. God is great and it doesn’t matter which religion you believe in. The important thing is to believe,” Soylu said.

The project focuses attention on the issue of religious identity in European Union-candidate Turkey, where rights groups have raised concerns over freedom of religion for non-Muslim minorities. Detractors of the ruling AK Party government, which is rooted in political Islam but officially secular, accuse it of having a hidden Islamist agenda, a charge it denies.

Some 200 people have so far applied to take part in the show and the 10 contestants will be chosen next month. A team of theologians will ensure that the atheists are truly non-believers and are not just seeking fame or a free holiday.

Ah, the religion beat. You can’t make this stuff up.

Print Friendly

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.

  • http://blog.kennypearce.net Kenny

    The Guardian identifies the representative of Christianity as “a Greek Orthodox priest” and says that both Christians and Jews go to Jerusalem. Since the Guardian makes sense whereas Reuters not only doesn’t make sense but contains a characteristically Western mistake, it seems likely that the Guardian has it right.

  • Julia

    I go with the Guardian for logic’s sake, but it’s well known that Muslims in the Middle East like to connect Christians to the West – it emphasizes their supposed unpatriotic foreign connections.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    KENNY:

    Thanks for the Guardian reference and URL. However, I am afraid that Julia makes sense too. Let’s see if anyone else covers this.

  • Caleb

    There are lots of possible explanations of such a mistake. One of them is that show is being put together by Turks and the information may have come from an assumption they made. That Rome is “the” sacred destination of Christianity is a widespread misconseption.

    As a protestant living in and writting from Turkey, I can say that, while there are perhaps a few more protestants than Catholics in number, Catholics have a historically much higher profile here and 9 times out of ten peoples conceptions of Christianity stem from their traditions.

    Reuters not verifying such an assumption is of course inexcusable, but I don’t find it at all surprising that Turkish sources would make that assumption.

    While my sensibilities are rather buffeted by such a trivial dealing with serious matters, and I hold out little hope of a geniunly good showing … this might lead to some really interesting discussions on the ground.

    Thanks for the parting remark. So true.

    Sayg?lar?mla,
    Caleb

    P.S. If you don’t buy that, consider that airfare to Rome is almost exactly one order of magnitude cheaper than to Jerusalem. Perhaps it was wishful speculation.

  • Matt

    The assumption that all Buddhists would want to go to Tibet also seems questionable, though perhaps less egregious than sending all Christians to Rome. Tibetan Buddhism is distinctly different from several other major Buddhist traditions, some of which are also popular outside South and East Asia.

  • Julia

    Don’t neglect the irony that the center of Eastern Orthodoxy for over a millenia was Constantinople – so local Christians shouldn’t have to travel anywhere if the show is in Istanbul. But the Patriarch of Constantinople is a semi-prisoner these days, his seminaries are closed by the government and Hia Sophia is now a museum. So from a PR stand-point it would be better to ship the Christians to Rome in Europe than open up that can of worms.

    Caleb:

    It’s hard to believe there are more Protestants than Catholics in Turkey. And 9 out of 10 Turkish people’s concept of Christianity is of Catholicism? Are all the Orthodox now gone from Turkey? It was the heart of the Orthodox Byzantine Empire after all. WOW

  • MichaelV

    The Guardian thing makes more sense, but I wonder where the Vatican thing comes from then. I think even a lot of Catholics might prefer to go to Jerusalem (I hope to do both someday) but I imagine travel to there is a bit more complicated.

  • Caleb

    Julia: The Catholic vs Orthodox thing is a hard call to make especially since there are far more non-practicing but historically orthodox minorities in Turkey than there are Catholic. The balace might lean the other way in parts of Turkey were the influence of the Armenians is still more visible, but certainly in much of Turkey catholisim plays a more active role. Either way, we are talking about very small minority groups.

    In general the press also leans much more heavily towards covering Catholic things than Orthodox. This may be in part because it’s a good deal less volotile an issue for the culture.

    In any event, talking to your average Mustafa on the steet about christianity, if it brings up anything at all, will mostly produce images of Christianity tracable the catholic church. This is in spite of other surprises lurking here, such as the fact that one of the main bishops of the eastern orthodox comunity here is an extrordinarily outspoken evangelical. If you hear his theology before you see his title it would be easy to mistake him for a Protestant reformer. Go figure that one out.

  • Julia

    Caleb:

    there are far more non-practicing but historically orthodox minorities in Turkey than there are Catholic

    Are you perhaps referring to the man on the street being more familiar with Eastern Catholics with Orthodox-style liturgies or did you mean Latin Catholics? Both kinds have ties to the Pope in Rome.

    But, since there are far more Orthodox-linked folks than Catholics in Turkey, it’s really sad that the man on the street is not more familiar with the Orthodox. Perhaps that is deliberate – or perhaps the Orthodox are keeping a low profile to stay out of trouble.

    I’m curious what you mean by “images of Christianity tracable to the catholic church”. Do you mean the Pope or doctrine or liturgy or ethics? I would think the images that would immediately come to mind would be Orthodox icons, no?

  • http://www.post-gazette.com Ann Rodgers

    May I make a more crass suggestive of motive? If the lure for the atheists is a nice vacation, Rome would be a very attractive lure.

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    This comment seems to be too long to file so I’m cutting it in two in the hope it will work.

    Dear TMatt,

    I normally consider myself a fan of GetReligion, but I’m not one right now after discovering this hatchet job. This post makes several of the mistakes that GetReligion regularly hammers the media for whenever we slip up. It’s your mission to find fault, and I have no problem with that. But this post doesn’t even try to establish the facts before laying down layers of innuendo meant to ridicule this story.

    The verbal drumroll into “Roman holiday for Turkish converts?” calls the upcoming story “a strange one” and notes that you have to “focus on the negative.” Then comes an unconvincing throwaway line — “With that as a prologue, please understand that I have no idea if the following Reuters report contains an hilarious error.” Well, why didn’t you just check with the author before writing this?

    Also, note the adjective “hilarious ” – no fact-checking has taken place but the drumroll goes on. The reader is now primed to assume the journalist got something dead wrong.

    Then comes a second sleight-of-hand: “It could be that the story is completely accurate… It could happen.” That last sentence is linked to a YouTube clip from a Disney movie about miracles. So subtile, so snide … there’s a lot of work going into this drumroll here.

    When we finally get to the story, you’re amazed that Kanal T would send the Christians to Rome. “Isn’t it more likely that Eastern Orthodox Christians would choose to go to, well, Jerusalem?” you ask. “Wouldn’t the Church of the Holy Sepulchre be a more logical pilgrimage point than St. Peter’s Basilica?”

    Did you miss the fact we’re talking about a gameshow here? Run by a popular TV station in a country that’s 99% Muslim? A TV station aiming to make a splash with Muslim viewers who probably neither know nor care too much about these distinctions has clearly decided to go with glitz. The Jews would go to Jerusalem so the Christians need some other attractive destination, like Rome. They couldn’t offer them just a bus ticket to Fener. Once again – we’re talking TV gameshows here, not parish Holy Land tours.
    (more in next comment)

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    Still having problems uploading the second half of my comment.

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    (This is the second part of my comment. Please read the first half above)

    Before anybody suggests the post at least ended on a positive note towards Reuters, let’s check out the final drumroll before and after the last quote. “Meanwhile, the Reuters report does offer this insight … (my emphasis — read: ah, at least he got this right!). And then the kicker – “Ah, the religion beat. You can’t make this stuff up.”

    Well, Kanal T did say in a statement that it would send Christians to the Vatican. Our Istanbul bureau chief Daren Butler, who wrote this story, interviewed its chief executive Seyhan Soylu and she repeated this to him. “She also said that they were seeking a priest from the Vatican. There was no mention of them going to Jerusalem and no mention of Constantinople,” he told me in an email.

    Soylu also said the same thing to several Turkish newspapers, such as the centre-left Radikal and centre-right Sabah linked here. Just write “Vatikan” in your browser’s Find facility and the relevant section pops up

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    Attn editors: I haven’t finished responding to this post but the system does not accept the second half of my comment. Please let me know how I can file the rest of this.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    TOM:

    Sure, send it to us with the story link on the site.

    But I have trouble understanding the real issue here. I still think that sending Byzantium people to Rome is funny.

    I said that I did not know if this was something that Reuters messed up — and still don’t know (see that Guardian comment back up at comment No. 1).

    I said that this might have, in fact, been something the Turkish TV people did and then Reuters simply reported it.

    That’s what I get for trying to write a rather light-hearted post, I guess, about an strange idea linked to a gameshow.

    P.S. Just found your 19 attempts to submit the post. I have no idea why they went into spam. I approved the first one.

    I am sorry that you were offended. At the same time, I stand by my post as written.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    BTW, for those still reading this thread…

    An interesting note on an Orthodox news and commentary site. It appears that there are now more RUSSIAN Orthodox believers in Istanbul than there are ethnically GREEK Orthodox believers in the ancient capital city of Eastern Orthodoxy. That raises some interesting issues.

    Click here: http://www.ocanews.org/news/Updates7.7.09.html

    Then scroll down an item or two.

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    tmatt, there are ways of saying one thing and implying another, and you used a few of them here to ridicule this story and its author. You wrote “It could be that the story is completely accurate …” and then added a link to a Disney film about miracles. In other words, you think it would be a miracle if this story is true. If this is your idea of a joke, it’s a joke too far. I’ve been reading your posts for quite a while now and think I know pretty well when you are trashing something.

    It’s not good enough to try to shrug this off by saying after that fact that, well, you know, it was a light-hearted post, come on guys, you understand… This post pulls out the stops to ridicule this story when there is no grounds to do that. The second half of my comment gives Daren Butler’s of this. As I said above, I could not upload it despite repeated attempts, so saying “Sure, send it to us with the story link on the site” doesn’t help.

    I’ve emailed the second half to you and hope to see it posted here soon.

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    tmatt, that comment number 13 was cut off before the end. You can see from the others that there is more there. Please post that too.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    I was not ridiculing the story. That was not my aim. I was trying to have fun with what I thought was a strange idea — from somewhere.

    I have already posted the second half of your email.

    Sending us the story through the direct link — as opposed to the comments page — would have worked.

    Again, I was making fun of the idea, that made it into print from somewhere, that it made sense to send Christians from Byzantium to Rome.

    And again, I stand by my post as written.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    The other comments are now gone, Tom.

    I simply clicked APPROVE on that first version of Part II and thought it would post, as was. It should have.

    Try again, or use the SUBMIT button as I recommended.

    http://www.getreligion.org/?page_id=4211

  • http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld Tom Heneghan

    The last part of the comment which you have not posted is copied below. I submitted it before and emailed it to you. Here it is:

    The Kanal T statement was posted on several Turkish websites like this one, Habername. In the final paragraph (all in caps) it mentions the “VAT?KAN.” That sentence says: “We are sending Christians to the Vatican or to the Virgin Mary.” The second option is probably a reference to the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus.

    The drumroll seems to have worked with readers who wrote … “Reuters not only doesn’t make sense but contains a characteristically Western mistake…” or “Reuters not verifying such an assumption is of course inexcusable…”

    The Guardian can write whatever it wants and your readers can speculate to their hearts’ content. Daren is an experienced correspondent who lives in Istanbul and speaks fluent Turkish. He interviewed Kanal T’s chief exec and has provided the links showing her saying the same thing to Turkish publications.

    This is responsible journalism and you ridicule it. Running an unfounded post like this is what is inexcusable.

    Tom Heneghan
    Religion Editor, Reuters

    You say in comment “I stand by my post as written.” How can you say that after reading all this?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Just for the sake of flow and to honor Tom’s many attempts to fight the software to file his complaint about my post, as he is reading it, here is the full text in one package:

    Dear TMatt,

    I normally consider myself a fan of GetReligion, but I’m not one right now after discovering this hatchet job. This post makes several of the mistakes that GetReligion regularly hammers the media for whenever we slip up. It’s your mission to find fault, and I have no problem with that. But this post doesn’t even try to establish the facts before laying down layers of innuendo meant to ridicule this story.

    The verbal drumroll into “Roman holiday for Turkish converts?” calls the upcoming story “a strange one” and notes that you have to “focus on the negative.” Then comes an unconvincing throwaway line — “With that as a prologue, please understand that I have no idea if the following Reuters report contains an hilarious error.” Well, why didn’t you just check before writing this? Also, note the adjective “hilarious” – no fact-checking has taken place but the drumroll goes on. The reader is now primed to assume the journalist got something dead wrong.

    Then comes a second sleight-of-hand: “It could be that the story is completely accurate… It could happen.” That last sentence is linked to a YouTube clip from a Disney movie about miracles. So subtile, so snide … there’s a lot of work going into this drumroll here.

    When you finally get to the story, you’re amazed that Kanal T would send the Christians to Rome. “Isn’t it more likely that Eastern Orthodox Christians would choose to go to, well, Jerusalem?” you ask. “Wouldn’t the Church of the Holy Sepulchre be a more logical pilgrimage point than St. Peter’s Basilica?”

    Did you miss the fact we’re talking about a gameshow here? Run by a popular TV station in a country that’s 99% Muslim? A TV station aiming to make a splash with Muslim viewers who probably neither know nor care too much about these distinctions has clearly decided to go with glitz. The Jews would go to Jerusalem so the Christians need some other attractive destination, like Rome. They couldn’t offer them just a bus ticket to Fener. Once again – we’re talking TV gameshows here, not parish Holy Land tours.

    Before anybody suggests the post at least ended on a positive note towards Reuters, let’s check out the final drumroll before and after the last quote. “Meanwhile, the Reuters report does offer this insight … (my emphasis — read: ah, at least he got this right!). And then the kicker – “Ah, the religion beat. You can’t make this stuff up.”

    Well, Kanal T did say in a statement that it would send Christians to the Vatican. Our Istanbul bureau chief Daren Butler, who wrote this story, interviewed its chief executive Seyhan Soylu and she repeated this to him. “She also said that they were seeking a priest from the Vatican. There was no mention of them going to Jerusalem and no mention of Constantinople,” he told me in an email.

    Soylu also said the same thing to several Turkish newspapers, such as the centre-left Radikal and centre-right Sabah linked here. Just write “Vatikan” in your browser’s Find facility and the relevant section pops up.

    The Kanal T statement was posted on several Turkish websites like this one, Habername. In the final paragraph (all in caps) it mentions the “VAT?KAN.” That sentence says: “We are sending Christians to the Vatican or to the Virgin Mary.” The second option is probably a reference to the House of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus.

    The drumroll seems to have worked with readers who wrote … “Reuters not only doesn’t make sense but contains a characteristically Western mistake…” or “Reuters not verifying such an assumption is of course inexcusable…”

    The Guardian can write whatever it wants and your readers can speculate to their hearts’ content. Daren is an experienced correspondent who lives in Istanbul and speaks fluent Turkish. He interviewed Kanal T’s chief exec and has provided the links showing her saying the same thing to Turkish publications.

    This is responsible journalism and you ridicule it. Running an unfounded post like this is what is inexcusable.

    Tom Heneghan
    Religion Editor, Reuters

  • Pingback: Jerusalem » jerusalem wanderings: Egged

  • http://aishahhils.com A’ishah Meghan Hils

    I’m tempted to guess it’s just a case of misunderstanding…I mean, Tibet isn’t “the” holy spot for Buddhists, either (and I’m curious as to how that trip works, exactly, given the restrictions on entering Tibet). It may be that the game show producers just automatically identified Roman Catholicism with Christianity, as they seem to have identified Vajrayana with all Buddhism.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X