Like a virgin

Missed the first bit of MTV’s latest installment of Choose or Lose: “Sex, Votes, & Higher Power” Wednesday night, but I caught most of it. I must admit, the segment dealing with abortion wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared. Host Christina Aguilera, wearing a pink button down sweater over a not-too-short (for her) periwinkle blue dress and less makeup than usual, interviewed two girls who got pregnant out of wedlock.


The first young woman, Melissa, had been going out with an older guy who wanted to get married and have children. She wasn’t ready for that, so she dumped him and went for someone her age (17) and they, as the kids say, got it on. She says they used protection most of the time but it’s that two percent that gets you. Now, before I go into the story of the second girl, form an opinion based on the facts presented so far: Did Melissa choose to deliver the baby?

The second girl, Rebecca, was 20 when she found out, on Christmas Eve, that she was with child. The night of conception she was very drunk but the other party did happen to be her boyfriend. Her first instinct, she admits, was to have the child and give it up for adoption. But both of her parents counseled abortion, and she decided that having a child would be a real hassle. So it was off to the abortionist for her.

Rebecca admits that the only time she felt “a little bit of regret” was on her would-have-been due date, but the regret was not so daunting that, if she had it to do over, she would behave differently. As for pro-life folk, she argues that “a lot of people who are fairly religious think it is more important to think about a fetus and its rights then it is to think about a living breathing human being,” namely her. She would never vote for a pro-life pol and she tells the audience that “not voting is the same as voting for someone who wants to strip you of your rights.”

Back to Melissa. She exercised her right to choose by having the child. She explains that she believes all babies have a purpose in life: “God has a purpose for them.” She says this after her boyfriend bailed on her and she spent many years struggling to keep her and her son afloat. She explains that, for some time, “my social life was at work.” But the toil did have some rewards. Namely, “my son is awesome.”

I would quibble a bit with how MTV narrated it and used experts to frame the issue. It was annoying, for instance, to hear that Congress had banned a procedure that “some people call partial birth abortion,” but overall — given time constraints and whatnot — not bad.

This evenhanded treatment appears to be part of a conscious shift on MTV’s part, to reach out to young conservative and religious consumers. The article advertising the show on the MTV website may make the mistake of referring to the Heritage Foundation as the Heritage Institute but it gives more space to pro-life and pro-abstinence education arguments than they had time to fit into the segment.

Other recent instances of The Shift: MTV Books published Marty Beckerman’s raunchy anti-sex book Generation S.L.U.T. (when I interviewed him for a story that never quite came together, Beckerman rejected that characterization, though I doubt people who read the book will disagree with me) and the website hired Peter Olasky (yes, son of Marvin) to do election coverage.

Americans are such silly chaps, eh?

Got to my Saturday copy of the Vancouver Sun too late, I’m afraid, to be able to provide a working link to Peter McKnight’s column for nonsubscribers. (If you feel like signing up, here’s the front page; knock yourself out.) The title of the op-ed, in what appears to be 36-point font, is “The problem with faith in politics.” Directly above the column is an illustration: a silhouette of George W. Bush speaking from a podium, punctuating his points with a large wooden cross that he holds in his left hand. The piece has not one but two epigraphs: quotes from Bertrand Russell and John Maynard Keynes on the importance of an open mind.


Ugh, I thought going in, how utterly and hopelessly Canadian: caricature us yanks as a bunch of Bible thumpers and then flaunt the superior Maple Leafed virtue of tolerance.

There’s some of that in the piece, to be sure, but the columnist has a few interesting things to say. McKnight starts with the charges of flip-flopping that Bush has tossed at Senator John Kerry (admit it: the joke about how Kerry could spend 90 minutes debating himself was pretty funny) and ultimately declines to issue a verdict because “this whole controversy reveals a much more important phenomenon.” To wit, “[C]hanging your mind has become, at least for politicians, the new cardinal sin,” and not just in the U.S.:

Here in kinder, gentler, but no less dogmatic Canada, changing your mind is also a mortal sin. Five years ago, the House of Commons adopted a motion that defined “marriage” as the union of a man and a woman. Then last year, the Canadian Alliance brought forward a similar motion to shame any Liberal MPs who might have been tempted to flip-flop on the matter.

And it turned out that a number of MPs “had the temerity to change their minds.” McKnight complains that the center right Canadian Alliance (since dissolved and joined with the squish Progressive Conservative Party to form the Canadian Conservative Party) tried to embarrass the Liberals for changing their grey matter. He argues the belief in standing by one’s announced convictions, “even when confronted by new facts or novel arguments,” demonstrates a deeply unscientific cast of mind.

McKnight sets up a contrast between Stephen Hawking, who ultimately rejected his own theory of black holes, and religious believers who “believe that eternal, absolute truths have been revealed to them through the scriptures or the saints.” Because of the source of their revelation, McKnight says, to believers “changing their minds is more than just irrational — it can get them into big trouble not only in the here-and-now but also in the hereafter.” It follows that “by refusing to change their minds on political matters, politicians are suggesting that politics itself is a form of faith, that it involves absolute truths we must accept on trust rather than on a rational appraisal of the evidence.”

The Sun scribe admits that a certain amount of “faith” is “fundamentally important to a robust economy, since the economy is literally built on trust.” He allows that written constitutions tend to take on the status of holy writ and that “certain political artifacts [flags, wartime mementoes, and the like] have always had a religious flavor.”

But in the war cheerleading of the recent Republican convention and in the Canadian political back-and-forth over gay marriage, McKnight finds the “religious fervor” of some modern pols to be “much more troubling” than what has come before. He even argues that by accusing flip-floppers of bad faith, these politicians “are drawing us into a new Dark Age.”

My thoughts:

On gay marriage in Canada, the “new facts or novel arguments” consist of an expansive court ruling and a few polls indicating that some Canadians (though not a majority) are no longer as hostile to gay marriage as they once were. This is less an example of elected representatives changing their minds and more of them feeling free to vote as they please. That people would bring this up is a sign that a new Dark Age is coming?

More broadly, the assumption behind McKnight’s argument is that if you don’t agree with him, you’re siding with primitive religion over the advances of science. I’m as much a fan of what science has done for us as the car-driving, medicine-using, cell phone-totting next guy but there are some things that science isn’t up to. Confronted with commands like “Thou shalt not steal,” the scientist can accept or reject it on a human level, but how does he go about testing it?

Your thoughts?

Not a tame lion

LionFigured I’d find out what the Kiwis were up to on the religion front, so I pointed my Mozilla browser at the New Zealand Herald. It turns out the paper has a ton of information on the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, to be directed by the country’s own Andrew Adamson, and filmed in New Zealand and the Czech Republic.

Learn about the cast, the animatronic reindeer, the imported pack of wolves, the plans for the sequel, and the controversy over why LW&W (published first but not first chronologically) should be shot first. Policy wonks can even learn about the effects of subsidies and local labor laws on the filming of the movie.

Missing thus far is much discussion of the religious aspects of the film. Hopefully we’ll see more of this as production rolls along and the trailer is cut (the movie is slated for release in late 2005). I wanted to recommend a few good Lewis websites to tide readers over, but in my admittedly limited search, I couldn’t find many that were both easy to navigate and valuable. Readers are invited to chime in.

Here’s my one small contribution to discussion of LW&W: [major spoiler warning to those who have not read the book: DO NOT READ THE NEXT SENTENCE] I always assumed that Lewis, by having Aslan killed on a stone table with the ancient law written on it, was combining the cross with the tablets of the Ten Commandments. What do you all think of that?

[A footnote: Readers who don't like seeing nude images should avoid typing the word "Aslan" in Google's Images search.]

The gauche that haunts me

Not sure how kosher it is to mention our own work on this website but I’ve been up late for the last few nights pounding out a few drafts of a story on the Deal Hudson flap for the website of The American Spectator. The tawdry tale is of interest for several reasons, including a few which have yet to be explored by the senior bloggers of this site.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Jeff Sharlet that the media has not given enough coverage to this story, both when it first broke in August and now in what appears to be its final act.

In August, the New York Times covered the story but it did so by assigning conservative primatologist David Kirkpatrick to do the honors. I have nothing against Kirkpatrick (fine reporter, interesting writer, etc.) but by tapping its man on the conservative beat to cover the story, the Times effectively said that it wasn’t interested in digging any further.

This time around, the Washington Times had a great story by Julia Duin and the Washington Post ran a brief item on page A9, buried under a notice about Senator John Kerry’s gains among Jewish voters. A restricted Nexis search for “Deal w/1 Hudson” for the last 60 days turned up only 44 items, many of those brief items in religion news digests.

It’s a shame that more reporters didn’t dig deeper because the best conflicts tend to be religious squabbles. Two things I tried to capture in my Spectator piece:

* The National Catholic Reporter scoop was made possible not by opposition researchers at, say, Catholics for Choice, but by conservative Catholics with axes to grind. Once Hudson’s charges of partisanship have had time to settle, it’s pretty clear that Deal was done in by his own crowd’s willingness to stick in the dagger.

* The revelations brough out some interesting — some would say troubling — strains of traditionalist Catholic thinking.

On this second point, Mark Shea wrote an article for the Catholic Exchange that is worth quoting at length:

I suppose, from a purely journalistic perspective, untrammeled by all that stuff about the Sacrament of Confession, teaching against the sin of detraction, teaching on charity, the centrality of the family and the rest, a reporter could evoke the all-excusing genie of the “Public’s Right to Know” as a “reason” for this contemptible hit piece written with no other object in mind than to destroy somebody whose politics are inimical to the editorial posture of the National “Catholic” Reporter.

But the National “Catholic” Reporter is supposed to be, well, Catholic. It is supposed to shed the light of Catholic Social Teaching so that those Awful Right-Wingers who practice the politics of personal destruction will understand true Peace and Justice. Yet viewed from a Catholic rather than a purely journalistic perspective, I can see no justification whatsoever for this shameful slime job. None.

Shea went on to argue, in all seriousness, that the Reporter‘s reporting violated the Sacrament of Confession. Over at the Envoy weblog (which doesn’t have permalinks) Patrick Madrid didn’t go quite as far but raised questions that the story might promote the sin of detraction.

Right now, most everybody who voiced objection to the Reporter story is backtracking but the opposition to the the idea of the story even being exposed in the first place was both real and deeply felt. Interviewing Patrick Madrid for the story (and I’d like to break from journalistic objectivity for a second to say that he came across as the nicest guy) I asked him if there was a tension between Catholicism and journalism. It is to his credit, I think, that he paused and then answered honestly: “I don’t think there’s a tension between Catholicism and good journalism.” Later in the same exchange, he said that he spoke up because he wanted to discourage “needless trafficking in the details” of the story, particularly the salacious aspects.

Rod Dreher, outspoken crunchy conservative Catholic assistant editorial page editor at the Dallas Morning News, had a different point of view. In an e-mail he replied to Shea’s original broadside:

What it gets down to is this question: Can one be both a good journalist and a good Catholic? I fail to see why a journalist, Catholic or not, has to pay any attention to whether or not a public figure like Deal Hudson has gone to confession over his sins. The issue in this case was the sordid and abusive past of a conservative Catholic leader who had placed himself in an advisory capacity to the president of the United States, specifically in an effort to get him re-elected by telling him how to appeal to Catholics. That’s a news story.

You think?

About Jeremy Lott

JeremyLott.jpgJeremy Lott has written about religion for many periodicals, from The Washington Post to Christianity Today to the late great Linguafranca. He is a contributing editor to Books & Culture and his feature story on the Christian culture industry, “Jesus Sells,” was collected in The Best Christian Writing 2004. His career so far includes stints at several magazines, from Reason to The American Spectator, and his journalism has appeared in a number of foreign publications in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands.

Jeremy is a convert to the Catholic Church. He divides his time between Lynden, Washington, a small Dutch Reformed town near the Canadian border, and Fairfax, Virginia. His bachelor’s diploma in biblical studies from Trinity Western University arrived in the mail after he accidentally graduated.

Jeremy wrote for GetReligion from September 2004 to July 2005. He is now writing a book about hypocrisy.

The American Spectator
Books & Culture
The Christian Science Monitor
Colby Cosh
The Economist
“Jesus Sells”
Mark Shea
The Spectator (U.K.)