Return of the HHGR weblog at CT

Go ahead. I dare you. Click here and see how deep the HHGR rabbit hole goes. I just love the “Miers goes to church” section. Then click here and you’ll discover that the hole goes even deeper. Just consider this a footnote for Doug’s post. (By the way, feel free to correct me on the Matrix quote.)

Why is the Bush burning?

Moses and the Burning BushBefore I head out the door on an eight-day speaking trip (perhaps with spotty blogging prospects in terms of time and web access), I want to try to connect a few dots on the HHGR story.

If you visit this blog fairly often, you may have noticed my mantra that the two hottest religion stories over the past decade or two have been sex and/or salvation. Lurking in the background are issues such as freedom of speech, freedom of association, church-state separation (on the religious left as well as the right) and other topics.

The spirit of the age, especially in newsrooms, is a kind of moral libertarianism that combines elements of conservative economics and liberalism on cultural, moral and religious issues. Thus, journalists in the MSM struggle, at times, to do fair coverage of the religious traditionalists that they consider backward, while often overlooking altogether stories about the religious left. It is hard to tolerate those you have decided are intolerant.

I have decided that the MSM honor this law in coverage of moral and cultural issues: When in doubt, the Religious Right must lose.

Now we see why the strange case of Harriet Miers has everyone so confused. The template is gone, because the Religious Right is divided. There are religious leaders in favor of Miers and those who are opposed. There are abortion-rights advocates who are furious about her appointment — singing in chorus with opponents of abortion on demand. There are evangelicals who think this church lady is right on and those who think her nomination is an abomination.

Cultural conservatives and libertarian conservatives are gathering in several camps:

Those who trust the team of God and President Bush above all.

Those who do not trust Bush, in part because of rising evidence that the crony card trumps everything else.

Traditional conservatives — including many in pews — who are insulted that Bush passed over thousands of more qualified candidates (including younger judges, other females and minorities) and that now, to fight the opposition, the White House is playing the God card.

Thus, the typical MSM journalist is confused. There are sources that she or he respects (or laughs at) on both sides. It’s hard to punch the macro key that inserts the normal Religious Right language. Who is smart? Who is stupid?

One thing, however, is clear. The old, vague Bush code (thank you, David D. Kirkpatrick) on moral issues is not working.

But I believe several editorial writers have hit the nail on the head, starting with John Fund in The Wall Street Journal and Democrat Francis Wilkinson in The New York Times. Let’s start with a long, long chunk of Fund’s essay — which demonstrates why the “Trust me” line is not working.

After leaving office, Dwight Eisenhower was asked by a reporter if he had made any mistakes as president. “Two,” Ike replied. “They are both on the Supreme Court.” He referred to Earl Warren and William Brennan, both of whom became liberal icons.

Richard Nixon personally assured conservatives that Harry Blackmun would vote the same way as his childhood friend, Warren Burger. Within four years, Justice Blackmun had spun Roe v. Wade out of whole constitutional cloth. Chief Justice Burger concurred in Roe, and made clear he didn’t even understand what the court was deciding: “Plainly,” he wrote, “the Court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortions on demand.”

Gerald Ford personally told members of his staff that John Paul Stevens was “a good Republican, and would vote like one.” …

An upcoming biography of Sandra Day O’Connor by Supreme Court reporter Joan Biskupic includes correspondence from Ronald Reagan to conservative senators concerned about her scant paper trail. The message was, in effect: Trust me. She’s a traditional conservative. From Roe v. Wade to racial preferences, she has proved not to be. Similarly, Paul Weyrich of the Free Congress Foundation recalls the hard sell the Reagan White House made on behalf of Anthony Kennedy in 1987, after the Senate rejected Robert Bork. “They even put his priest on the phone with us to assure us he was solid on everything,” Mr. Weyrich recalls. …

Most famously, White House chief of staff John Sununu told Pat McGuigan, an aide to Mr. Weyrich, that the appointment of David Souter in 1990 would please conservatives. “This is a home run, and the ball is still ascending. In fact, it’s just about to leave earth orbit,” he told Mr. McGuigan. At the press conference announcing the appointment, the elder President Bush asserted five times that Justice Souter was “committed to interpreting, not making the law.” The rest is history.

Wilkinson veered into the same territory in an essay titled “Another Republican for Roe?” The key concept: Try to imagine a Bill Clinton appointing someone to the court who ends up being pro-life. Can you picture that, even though 40 percent of the Democratic Party continues to identify itself as opposed to abortion on demand?

So what is going on inside the big tent of the new GOP? Wilkinson writes:

There are various theories to explain these instances of Sudden Pro-Choice Syndrome but no clear explanation. It’s the darnedest thing, but when it comes to the most sacred cause in the Republican canon, the right to life, Republican presidents somehow find a way to mess up. You’d almost think they were doing it on purpose. …

Roe v. Wade is not a fine point of law that busy presidents and their staffs overlook. It is the most visceral, emotional and politically contentious issue the court has decided in the past three decades. If you were president of the United States and truly believed abortion to be a modified form of murder, I suspect you would not only nominate someone who seemed to share your view on this paramount issue, but you’d also make damned sure there was no margin for error.

So what is the Big Idea?

Journalists must realize the leadership of the Republican Party knows that pro-life, traditional religious believers — Democrats, as well as Republicans — have nowhere to go in an era in which, to paraphrase Maureen Dowd, the Democratic Party’s only iron-clad value is the defense of Woodstock. So the Republican establishment can treat cultural conservatives the way the Democrats treat labor unions.

Also, opposing abortion is not a logical stance, for those who define “conservatism” as the radical freedom of every individual and the rule of the almighty dollar. Check out this classic essay from The Atlantic that explains all of this.

At the moment, the GOP leadership is divided for a simple reason. The party is divided. Meanwhile, the Religious Right is divided, between those who trust Bush and those who believe that the ultimate veto rests with, well, a Burning Bush. Journalists are going to remain confused if they do not — quickly — realize that these are two different groups.

Missing link on Berkeley’s copy desk

monkey using typewriter lg nwmOK, gang, please do not read this tiny, funny little item and get sucked into yet another whirlpool of comments on evolution. And don’t tell me that some of my typos are as bad as the basic editing mistake in this story. I already know that, two.

Just sit back, relax, chuckle and ask the following question. We know that students in Berkeley (and adults too, I hear) are a bit on the strange side and do not like to conform to other people’s definitions of right and wrong. But does this apply to grammar?

So now, care of the copy desk at The Daily Californian, we have this:

As the debate surrounding evolution and intelligent design in public schools reaches a fever pitch, UC Berkeley faculty and students is at the center of the action.

Mansions on a hill?

ChevyChase6OK, what is the statute of limitations for an item here at GetReligion? You would think that I would know.

In this case, the late item is even stranger because I am not sure whether there even is a religion ghost in it. Stranger yet, I am not sure that there should be a religion ghost in it. It’s more like a hunch on my part.

I wanted to post about this Washington Post story last week to ask for the insights of others, but it got buried in HHGR week — which is turning into HHGR month, even as I speak. It was a very busy week. Now I am heading out of town for a complete week, so I thought I had better blog on this right now or just forget about it.

The feature in question is Stephanie McCrummen’s human-passions-meets-zoning-war drama about people tearing down nice little houses and replacing them with massive retro houses in the highly symbolic elite suburb of Chevy Chase in Montgomery County, Md. This is a life and death battle, it seems. What gets to me is the sense that there is much more at stake than mere bricks and concrete, sight lines and community spirit. It almost seems like there are people who believe in transcendent Good that is clashing with transcendent Evil.

I am not alone in thinking this. Check out this summary:

Indeed, amid all the arguments this summer, something else has lingered awkwardly in the air: the sense that the debate over mansionization has laid bare a culture clash, an impasse in taste, mores and perhaps even values.

“We believe in ‘Don’t take up any more space than you need,’” said Don MacGlashan, a moratorium supporter who has lived in the town nearly 30 years. “They obviously feel ‘The more the better.’ It’s a different sensibility, a different worldview. It’s conspicuous consumption, meaning in a sense their values are all out of proportion.”

Now Rod “A Friend of this Blog” Dreher is wading into this controversy in his upcoming book Crunchy Cons, which is about cultural conservatives who love healthy food, elite art, the environment, classic books, large families and other dangerous things. Maybe Rod will drop in to explain some of that.

But in Chevy Chase, there are no “Birkenstocked Burkeans” on the scene. The folks who act as if their values are being shredded are all on the left, at least, as far as we can tell. This suburb is about as blue as blue can get, on the red vs. blue zip code scales. And where are the churches in this debate? Most fights of this kind end up with megachurches fighting dying oldline mini-parishes.

Does anyone else sense a ghost in this story? Are the houses themselves religious objects?

Warning! Children reading classic books!

news30 3aFriends, I ask you to read the following news lead and tell answer this question: Is it from The Onion, or what?

No! It’s from The Palm Beach Post. But before you read on, ask yourself this question: How much money does someone like David Geffen give to progressive political causes? How about other members of the Hollywood elite? And do they have every right to do so? Of course.

Now check this out:

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Jeb Bush is encouraging Florida schoolchildren to read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, a parable of the New Testament gospels, for a contest timed with the release of the movie version by a company owned by a prominent Republican donor. …

The movie is being co-produced by Disney and Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire. Anschutz, his family, his foundation and his company have donated nearly $100,000 to Republican candidates and causes in the past three elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Now we are, of course, talking about a book that has been read for decades by schoolchildren across the nation and in many, many parts of the world. The Narnia books are classics — unless they have been banned in schools and libraries lately and I missed that headline.

Anschutz gave $100,000 in the space of three elections? Shocking! You mean some brand of conservative owns any kind of Hollywood studio? Shocking! And now he is working with that fundamentalist outfit called Disney?

It turns out that the usual suspects are, indeed, afraid that Narnia — book and movie — is an attack on the wall between church and state. You just know who the Post is going to quote, don’t you?

“This whole contest is just totally inappropriate because of the themes of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. “It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ.”

I am afraid the conspiracy may go back further than that.

Last night, to test this theory, I got out a DVD of another right-wing flick by this same Walden outfit — a movie called Holes, based on a novel by Louis Sachar that — gasp! — was also read and enjoyed by millions of unprotected school children. In their own classrooms! And libraries! Some children may even have read this book without the permission of their Unitarian parents!

This movie was packed with moral absolutes and even strong religious symbols. The word “sinner” was sung in an appropriate context. There was sacramental symbolism involving water and what could only be seen as an act of God.

Enough is enough. Let’s all thank the Post for raising this crucial issue. Reading books of this kind must be stopped. What’s next? Little House on the Prairie, in the original editions?

Gay priest purge? Next trial balloon

crystal colors balloonsLike I said, we are still in the trial balloons stage on the whole issue of the rumored Vatican statement that was supposed to “purge” the priesthood of gay men. This is why I believe that it is much more important, at this point, to talk about the sure thing, which is “Instrumentum Laboris” [PDF] and the wave of examiners who will be visiting Catholic seminaries across the United States in the near future looking for doctrinal train wrecks.

This is why, in my Scripps Howard column this week, I focused on the fact that a renewed emphasis on mandatory celibacy runs throughout the questions in the 12-page Vatican document that will guide these confidential seminary investigations.

While the document — as posted on the World Wide Web — contains one or two clear references to homosexuality, there are a dozen or more direct or indirect references to mandatory celibacy and its role in the training, or “formation,” of priests.

To cite only one sequence, investigators will ask: “How does the formation integrate harmoniously the spiritual dimension with the human one, above all in the area of celibate chastity? How are the seminarians formed to celibate chastity in the areas of friendships, human relationships, human freedom and the formation of the moral conscience? In the judgment of the Visitors, does the seminary provide adequate formation that will enable the seminarians to live celibate chastity? (This question must be answered.)”

Why talk so much about celibacy? That’s simple. If you cannot (a) afford, for statistical reasons, to seriously cut the number of gay priests serving at altars and you (b) also know that it is next to impossible to strictly define what it means for someone to be gay, once actively gay, possibly gay, militantly gay or even formerly tempted to be gay, then you (c) focus harder on getting all of your priests (you too, straight guys in overwhelmingly female parishes) to do a better job of keeping their vows.

And, besides, as the always candid progressive Father Donald Cozzens wrote in the New York Daily News:

Finally, there is a dimension of hypocrisy. If and when the Vatican instruction is released and enforced, in many cases the seminary official, religious superior or diocesan bishop who informs a gay candidate for seminary admission that he is not acceptable will be gay himself.

Thus, I am not surprised to see that the omnipresent Rome insider John L. Allen Jr. of the National Catholic Reporter is now saying that the still forthcoming document on homosexuals in seminaries “will not demand an absolute ban” and will simply ask seminary leaders to make decisions on a case by case basis and be extra careful.

Allen reports that gays would be kept out of seminaries:

* If candidates have not demonstrated a capacity to live celibate lives for at least three years;

* If they are part of a “gay culture,” for example, attending gay pride rallies (a point, the official said, which applies both to professors at seminaries as well as students);

* If their homosexual orientation is sufficiently “strong, permanent and univocal” as to make an all-male environment a risk.

There’s more to the Allen report, of course, and now the Associated Press has a report out on the same topic (and with very similar sourcing). So there is another ripple of news on this hot story, but I would urge readers to, once again, treat all of this as yet another trial balloon. And what is the larger story? Perhaps this is more wood under the fire that could lead to conservative Catholics — not liberals, conservatives — starting to talk about Anglican Rites and larger Eastern Rites and other forms of Catholicism that would allow men to marry and then be ordained.

P.S. Check out this Religion News Service report by Godbeat veteran David Briggs on how the theological left views the current tensions about Catholic seminaries, gay priests, etc. Are the sources quoted arguing, essentially, that Catholicism in the American context is now another liberal oldine body?

Did Dobson take the red pill?

images 1OK, now I can relax a bit. The omnipresent Ted Olsen & Co. at the Christianity Today weblog have put up the official list of all — surely this is all of them — URLs linked to the HHGR case.

Of particular interest (I plan to post on this later in the day) is the collection of links covering the current state of the heart and mind of Karl Rove’s main man — James Dobson. Scroll down and note the link to the actual radio broadcast in which Dobson takes the red pill.

Enjoy, folks. After all, people on both sides of the sanctuary aisle are still buzzing about the following Dobson quotes in The New York Times regarding the Harriet Miers nomination.

Explaining his reasons for supporting her and praying for guidance, Dr. Dobson cited her religious faith and said he knew her conservative evangelical church. “I know the person who brought her to the Lord,” he said. “I have talked at length to people that know her and have known her for a long time.”

Dr. Dobson acknowledged conversations with Karl Rove, the president’s top political adviser, about the selection but declined to disclose their contents. “You will have to trust me on this one,” he said, adding that if he was wrong, “the blood of those babies” — aborted fetuses — “will be on my hands to some degree.”

Now, I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian and a pro-life Democrat. Please remember that.images 01 But I think it’s time to ask Dobson a variation on the question I asked him a decade ago in a Religion Newswriters Association press conference out in Wheaton of the West. I asked if Bill Clinton had become his own personal Vietnam, pulling him out of the ministry to which he was called (while the Baby Boomers had their childen in their homes) and into partisan politics in much the same manner as the war did for the mainline Protestant left in the 1960s (when members of the GI Generation were still heavily involved in building families). Dobson said he would sacrifice his ministry if it would help him defeat Clinton on the issue of abortion.

The assumption? That Dobson could do more through politics to advance the pro-life cause than he could through working with mothers, fathers and their children. My conviction (and, yes, you can see this in my newspaper columns) is that we live in an age in which culture matters more than politics. I believe that what happens in homes and, yes, movie theaters and malls does as much or more to shape the reality of daily American life than what happens in voting booths. Does Dobson think he can vote in the Kingdom?

Just asking. I think that, on the religious left, E.J. Dionne is asking some very similar questions. Check him out. But here are the money quotes:

The use of Miers’s religion as a magnet for conservative support is not just the work of a few religious voices. It’s part of the administration’s strategy. . . . Let’s be clear: It is pro-administration conservatives, not those terrible liberals, who are making an issue of Miers’s evangelical faith. Liberals are not opposing Miers because she is an evangelical. Conservatives are telling their friends to support Miers because she is an evangelical.

And many conservatives are now opposing her, not because she is an evangelical, but because they simply do not believe she is a worthy candidate for such an important position in American life and culture.

It’s a fascinating moment in GetReligion land. Friends and neighbors, this is why we are here. We are watching the MSM wrestle with a some big questions that are worth wrestling with. Let us know what you think and let the newsrooms — local and national — know what you think, too.

P.S. Check this out. An army of Los Angeles Times reporters. About 3,300 words of text. An explosion of travel money (maybe) and bureau time (for certain). Number of new insights or critical pieces of information? Zero?

Celibacy talks on the Roman table

capt pl10210061028 vatican bishop meeting pl102Here is a level-headed news tip from Andrew Sullivan and, surprise, surprise, it’s about the Roman Catholic Church.

Based on conversartions I’ve had in the past month or so with some Catholic leaders and writers (no names, please), I think he is on to something. I can hint at what I am thinking by saying that I am still trying to follow up on this column. Anyway, here is the Sullivan item:

Thursday, October 06, 2005

IN ROME: There’s a new news black-out on the latest synod in Rome. Some may well interpret this as yet another sign of Benedict’s authoritarian nature. They may be right. But the scope of the subjects discussed — “a purported shortage of priests, proposals to let priests marry, and whether communion should be offered to certain divorced Catholics and denied to politicians who support abortion rights” — strikes me as something that John Paul II would never have even allowed to be on the table. Some sources tell me that Benedict has not shut the door completely to a married priesthood. Personally, I think it is critical to the survival of the Western church at least. It already exists if the priest is a convert from Anglicanism, and if I were a newpaper editor, I would assign a reporter to write a feature on today’s married Catholic priests. Most people don’t even realize they exist. Who knows what might happen? But if the option for clerical marriage emerges under Benedict, you read it here first. I for one would not be surprised.

Sullivan is spinning off of a punchy, newsy Washington Post report from Rome by Daniel Williams. All kinds of issues are being discussed and the issue of Communion rights for pro-abortion-rights politicians is not even the hottest item on the menu.

By the way, I would add that, in the first paragraph quoted below, Williams should have mentioned that the Eastern Rite churches have married priests, as do all the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. This is the more ancient tradition for the priesthood — married priests, celibate monks as bishops.

Like Sullivan said, something is going on when a reporter can write the following:

A representative from an Eastern Rite church, one of the bodies in the traditionally Orthodox Christian region of the world that recognize Vatican authority, suggested that Catholic rules requiring celibacy among priests had no theological grounds.

Bishop Luis Antonio Tagle of the Philippines said the synod had to squarely confront a priest shortage so as to provide congregations with proper services.

The National Council of Priests of Australia, which claims to represent half the country’s clergy, offered a letter to the synod saying the priesthood could attract more recruits if the church allowed priests to marry and opened a debate on letting women be ordained.

Venice Archbishop Angelo Scola, who functions as a kind of master of ceremonies at the synod, noted that some delegates had “put forward the request to ordain married faithful of proven faith and virtue,” a special category made up of older, married and religiously grounded Catholic men known as viri probati.

As you would expect, the usual suspects (the photo is from Amy Welborn’s site) have all kinds of news and commentary about the synod. Kudos to the Post for running a major report on the debates there, in the midst of a big news day back in the U.S.

Speaking of which: What is The New York Times doing using an Associated Press report for its coverage of this story? Did I miss a staff byline somewhere in the past 24 hours or so?