What kind of Catholic can judge?

x33There are many people on the Religious Right who are tempted to say that the great division in this land — shown by the “pew gap” — is between unbelievers and believers.

This is way, way too simplistic. While there is evidence that a secularist political niche is gaining power, this overlooks the power of what can only be called the religious left. This can be seen, in part, by studying the omnipresent battles in major religious groups over issues linked to sex and marriage. All kinds of people, to paraphrase Maureen Dowd, are having theological battles about Woodstock.

The press needs to understand this, when considering the question of a “religious test” being used on nominees to the U.S. Supreme Court. The question is not whether nominee John Roberts is a Catholic. What the senators want to know is whether he is an Anthony Kennedy Catholic or an Antonin Scalia Catholic. Is he a John F. Kennedy Catholic or a Rick Santorum Catholic? In my opinion, they need to just come out and state this question openly and live with the consequences. Journalists like candid sources. Say what you mean and get quoted.

Politico Manuel Miranda dives straight into this in his latest daily commentary at The Wall Street Journal on the state of the hearings. This man is ticked off and, as a church-state studies guy, I am with him on this particular issue.

Take it away:

Article VI of the Constitution prohibits a religious test from being imposed on nominees to public office. . . . While questioning John Roberts on Tuesday, Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter asked: “Would you say that your views are the same as those expressed by John Kennedy when he was a candidate, and he spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960: ‘I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.’”

Hours later, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California made it worse: “In 1960, there was much debate about President John F. Kennedy’s faith and what role Catholicism would play in his administration. At that time, he pledged to address the issues of conscience out of a focus on the national interests, not out of adherence to the dictates of one’s religion. . . . My question is: Do you?”

How insulting. How offensive. How invidiously ignorant to question someone like Judge Roberts with such apparent presumption and disdain for the religion he practices. The JFK question is not just the camel’s nose of religious intolerance; it is the whole smelly camel.

Later on in the essay, Miranda quotes all kinds of people expressing outrage. Well, that isn’t quite right. He quotes all kinds of people who are — if you dig deep — critics or outright opponents of abortion on demand who are upset about this new form of modernist Catholic religious test. So the Jews that he quotes are not just Jews. They are traditional Jews. They are red-pew Jews and, thus, they are now finding themselves on the other side of the Woodstock gap.

Admit it. Isn’t this what leaps into mind when you read the following?

Representing more than 1,000 synagogues, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations wrote this letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee a few days earlier: “As a community of religious believers committed to full engagement with modern American society, we are deeply troubled by those who have implied that a person of faith cannot serve in a high level government post that may raise issues at odds with his or her personal beliefs.”

Many people are immediately going to think: “Well, that’s the Orthodox. They probably even voted for George W. Bush.” And that’s right. If President Bush nominated a female Orthodox Jew to the U.S. Supreme Court, the very first question she would be asked would be — one way or another — about her views on abortion rights. People would be asking not if she is religious but if she she the right kind of religious person.

It’s the age we live in.

Gotta love that Post blog

It’s rather hard to get through the working day with a live video feed on your computer screen showing the U.S. Senate hearings on John Roberts. But I think The Washington Post‘s blog is amazing. Then, of course, there is National Review Online’s Bench Memos blog. What other blogs are readers following right now? This is all just another sign of an evolving technology and its changing role in our lives. Is anyone vblogging yet?

Mama mia, that’s a spicy deity

meatballs 01My oh my, am I scared to blog about this story from the Telegraph right now. Nevertheless, rest assured that if I were to interview Bobby Henderson about his faith, I would do my best — iTalk is a wonderful thing — to quote him accurately and make sure that people know where he is coming from. That is what journalists do. Luckily, it does appear that he is rather candid about his views (even though his summary of the Intelligent Design mainstream is laugh out loud funny). But, hey, he is trying to be funny.

In an open letter to the Kansas Board of Education in July, Mr. Henderson wrote: “I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design. “I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster.”

Oh, one more thing: I am 99.9 percent sure that the Scopes trial took place in Tennessee, not Kansas.

I will go hide now.

Religion news in 70-point type

image 37495There is an old saying in the world of mass media theory (especially if you hang around the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) that “technology shapes content.” This is certainly true in the world of newspapers. Ask any layout specialist or headline writer who has ever tried to make the move from a broadsheet newspaper to one that uses a tabloid format.

So I could not help but notice the splashy main headline on today’s edition of the express, which is the free mini-tabloid The Washington Post publishes these days for commuters and/or people with thin wallets or short attention spans. In gigantic letters, someone on the express copy desk had summed up an ocean of ink dedicated to the U.S. Senate hearings on the chief justice nominee with this simple statement: “ROBERTS & ROE.”

Our nation’s political life does seem to have all boiled down to that, if you read the major papers or turn on the cable news shows.

The MSM bottom line (click here for a quick Howie Kurtz summary) seems to be that Roe is a lock-solid decision and that overturning it is unthinkable, which rather raises the question of why, after all these years, people still have to worry about it in 70-something point headline type.

Perhaps that rather large headline means something else. Perhaps the nation is rather divided on the issue. Perhaps journalists really do realize, deep down, that about 20 percent of the population — 10 percent on each extreme — truly has its mind made up and the great muddled middle is lost in a storm of emotions and the vague wordings of agenda-driven pollsters. And perhaps there is more to this than politics.

Thus, I also thought that it was interesting that my morning email version of the Post including the following assignment in its topical index:

RELIGION

Roberts Avoids Specifics on Abortion Issue

John G. Roberts Jr. testified yesterday that he believes that the Constitution protects the right to privacy, the legal underpinning of the nation’s landmark abortion law, but he refused to say whether he would vote to uphold Roe v. Wade if he is confirmed as chief justice of the United States.

(By Amy Goldstein and Charles Babington, The Washington Post)

Religion does, of course, show up over and over in the story, and not just in the drumbeat paragraphs about abortion rights. I thought it was interesting that the senators flashed back to the old Bob Jones University case about God and interracial dating. Thus, the Post reports that:

One of the few issues on which Roberts dissented yesterday from Reagan-era policy involved the case of Bob Jones University, in which that administration unsuccessfully argued that the fundamentalist school qualified for federal tax breaks under a law passed by Congress despite its ban on interracial dating. In a 1983 memo, Roberts wrote that the administration “did not feel Congress had given the IRS the authority” to remove the school’s tax-exempt status. Yesterday, he told senators he did not believe the Reagan administration had taken “the correct position” on Bob Jones.

This is interesting to me, since I was involved in graduate seminars in Church-State Studies during the years that led up to that decision. At the time, all kinds of church-state experts — left and right — were worried about the Bob Jones case, in part thinking that bad cases make for bad law. It is possible that the Reagan team was thinking what the church-state people were thinking — that it is dangerous to give the government the power to single out and punish a religious group for its doctrines, even if those doctrines are wacko and-or vile. Religious liberty is built by protecting the rights of a lot of people with whom you might not want to share a vacation or even eternity.

Anyway, it does seem that the religion-abortion link is going to continue through the likely outcome of the Roberts hearings, which is a confirmation divided along party lines. The Post also wants to make sure that we know that they know who thinks they won in the first round of this verbal test.

Outside the hearing room, Roberts’s handling of the abortion issue appeared to frustrate abortion rights proponents, while pleasing antiabortion groups. In front of the Capitol, about a dozen Planned Parenthood Protesters wore shirts emblazoned with the words “Answer the Question.” Kate Michelman, the former president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, “I don’t think we have any clarity yet on his views about Roe and privacy as it relates to reproductive freedom as a fundamental right.”

Jay Sekulow of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice said Roberts’s description of when courts should be willing to rethink precedents “left the door open” to the possibility he might vote to overturn Roe. “As someone who takes a pro-life position, I was extremely pleased with the answers he gave,” he said.

Ah, the usual suspects.

UPDATE: You can, of course, turn to Amy Welborn and the Open Book crowd for mucho commentary on Roberts and his “JFK moment” in the hearings.

Who was left behind? And why?

052404novakmichaelPlease consider this a short follow-up post after my recent “Watching Katrina with Sen. Moynihan” effort. You may recall that this raised some questions about the moral, cultural and even religious issues looming in the background of the failed evacuation of New Orleans.

A key question: To what degree is this tragedy rooted in questions linked to family life and, in particular, the lack of fathers in most impoverished homes? I suggested that, at some point, these questions would begin to influence discussions of the future of New Orleans, or at least the city core in Orleans Parish.

Soon thereafter, David Brooks wrote about this issue in The New York Times:

In those cultural zones, many people dropped out of high school, so it seemed normal to drop out of high school. Many teenage girls had babies, so it seemed normal to become a teenage mother. It was hard for men to get stable jobs, so it was not abnormal for them to commit crimes and hop from one relationship to another. Many people lacked marketable social skills, so it was hard for young people to learn these skills from parents, neighbors and peers.

If we just put up new buildings and allow the same people to move back into their old neighborhoods, then urban New Orleans will become just as rundown and dysfunctional as before.

Meanwhile, the conservative Catholic scholar Michael Novak — winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize for progress in religion — wrote an essay at National Review Online that dug into the 2000 census data for New Orleans.

It is sobering reading, but I urge those who are interested in the future of the Crescent City to take the plunge. Sadly, Novak (pictured) concludes that New Orleans is the “prototypical, old-time welfare-state city.” Who would be left stranded? Sadly, that was easy to predict:

In 2000, there were only 25,000 two-parent families in New Orleans with children under 18. By contrast, there were more than 26,000 female householders with children under 18, and no husband present. In other words, slightly more mothers all alone with children than married-couple mothers. In addition, there were more than 18,000 householders who were more than 65 years old and living alone. Of these, most would normally be female.

If you add together the 26,000 female householders with children under 18, no husband present, and the 18,000 householders more than 65 years old and living alone, that is an estimated 40,000 female-headed households. That explains the pictures we are seeing on television, which are overwhelming female, most often with young children. The chances of persons in this demographic being employed full-time, year round, and with a good income, are not high. The chances of them living in poverty, and without an automobile, are exceedingly high.

So what happened? We are only now beginning to see national-level media dig into this topic. This process will be painful, but there is no way around it.

Here is the opening of a blunt story in today’s Los Angeles Times, written by Nicholas Riccardi and James Rainey. The headline is like a brick up against the side of the head: “Save Yourself — New Orleans had a plan to warn the poor, but it sat on a shelf in L.A.”

NEW ORLEANS — After years of warnings, community leaders this summer prepared a video guide to hurricane evacuations with a stark message: Many of this city’s poor, including 134,000 without cars, could be left behind in a killer storm.

But the 30-minute DVD still has not arrived. Some 70,000 of the newly minted videos that were to be released this month remain on warehouse shelves in Los Angeles. Their warning: Save yourself, and help your neighbors if you can.

“Don’t wait for the city, don’t wait for the state, don’t wait for the Red Cross,” the Rev. Marshall Truehill warns in the public service announcement.

In the end, the family is the final safety net.

CJR: Undoing journalism?

05 05coverThe current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review contains an essay that is must reading for anyone who cares about the future of American newspapers and the classic “American model of the press,” which is (or was) built on the concept that newspapers promised readers fair and accurate coverage of both sides in heated debates.

The piece is called “Undoing Darwin” and the authors, Chris Mooney and Matthew C. Nisbet, argue that American journalists must stop acting as if there is any kind of scientific argument left to cover related to Darwinism. Thus, “fairness” does not apply, since there are no critics of Darwinian orthodoxy worthy of being treated fairly. Thus, all the critics are religious nuts and there is no need to take their claims seriously or present their arguments accurately. It is a lengthy and highly detailed piece, and I urge readers to take the authors seriously and read what they have to say.

Here is the lead:

On March 14, 2005, The Washington Post‘s Peter Slevin wrote a front-page story on the battle that is “intensifying across the nation” over the teaching of evolution in public-school science classes. Slevin’s lengthy piece took a detailed look at the lobbying, fund-raising, and communications tactics being deployed at the state and local level to undermine evolution. The article placed a particular emphasis on the burgeoning “intelligent design” movement, centered at Seattle’s Discovery Institute, whose proponents claim that living things, in all their organized complexity, simply could not have arisen from a mindless and directionless process such as the one so famously described in 1859 by Charles Darwin in his classic, The Origin of Species.

If you read on, you will note that Mooney and Nisbet are arguing that the position newspapers should advocate goes even further than the language now being used and defended by the National Association of Biology Teachers.

There was a time then this group officially defined evolution as an “unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process . . . that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.” However, in 1997 the association’s board — amid fierce argument and controversy — removed the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal,” saying that this kind of language could not be proven in a lab and, thus, was a kind of faith language for agnostics and atheists. Here is a quick overview by Dr. Eugenie Scott, who is hardly a leader of the Religious Right.

There continue to be echoes of this controversy in the CJR piece and in the wider public debate about Intelligent Design.

Note again the words of Mooney and Nisbet — “mindless and directionless.” How does one prove the lack of a mind? How does one document that a process is “directionless”?

You can, by logic, argue for such a position, and many scientists do. Many openly argue that Darwinism supports atheism or some form of deism. People on the other side — the Intelligent Design crowd — are trying to use the same sequence, arguing by data and logic for a philosophical position (that evidence points to a Creator) that cannot be proven in a lab. Once again, we see this science/ logic/philosophy sequence.

However, it seems that CJR is saying that newspapers must protect the public from this debate over philosophy and science.

Personally, I think journalism is a good idea. This is not to say newspapers cannot show that the overwhelming majority of scientists in this nation back Darwinism. But it would also help if these same newspapers demonstrated that many of the Darwinian authorities cannot agree on what the word “Darwinism” means and to what degree Darwinism does or does not “prove” that humanity is the result of a random and meaningless process that did not have humanity in mind.

I would also love to see editors justify to readers — from sea to shining sea — their decision to embrace advocacy journalism on such an important and controversial issue. It seems, to me, like a quick and easy way to further weaken the newspaper industry. I do not think this is what most editors want to do.

A note to those who wish to comment: Let’s try really hard not to turn this into another row over science and religion. Please try to focus on the journalism issues involved. Thanks.

The Russians are voting (for the GOP)

TwoLubavitchThe Wall Street Journal editorial page, which often covers news stories that the news desk does not want, had an interesting feature this week about a quiet little political trend in American Judaism.

If the “pew gap” is the term used to describe the trend in Protestant and Catholic voting booths, we may end up having to call this one the “synagogue gap.” The problem with that, of course, is that this trend only affects certain sanctuaries.

And what is that story? Here it is in a nutshell:

On November 11, 2004[,] Haaretz News reported, “approximately a quarter of American Jewish voters cast their vote for Bush this time, as opposed to 18.5 percent four years ago. Experts calculate that about 85 percent of Orthodox Jews and about 95 percent of Haredi Jews voted for him. The high birthrate in these two communities helps to explain the significant rise in Jewish votes that went to the Republicans. . . . One thing that can be said for certain: The main issues that divide Israeli society — the moral foundation of life in Israel, and how to bring peace — are also the issues at the core of the disagreement in the U.S. between the Jews who voted for Bush and the majority among them who voted for Kerry.”

Gosh. Family life. Moral issues. And then you add on Israel. This sounds very familiar.

Anyway, the WSJ piece by Tony Carnes of Christianity Today zoomed in to look at a more specific issue: the tensions between the mainstream Jewish establishment — represented by Boston’s Larry Lowenthal of the American Jewish Committee — and Jewish immigrants from Russia.

To judge by his public statements and writings, Mr. Lowenthal’s idea of a faithful Jew is someone who opposes the nomination of Judge John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court, supports gay rights, abortion and euthanasia, and demands a strong separation of church and state. After all, as Mr. Lowenthal concluded approvingly in a July op-ed for the Jewish Advocate, Jews are “the most liberal” and “the least religious people in America.”

Imagine his consternation when an avalanche of emails from Russian Jews began to pour in to the Web site of the Jewish Russian Telegraph, a daily blog, in response to his article. About 100 people wrote to say that Mr. Lowenthal needed to stop making “outrageous statements” on behalf of people whom he doesn’t represent. Alex Koifman, who arrived in the U.S. from Belarus in 1978, and whom Mr. Lowenthal trained for his position as a board member at the Boston AJC, criticized his old teacher for overstepping his bounds, saying: “Since when are these concerns [abortion, gay rights, and church-state separation] concerns that are specific to the Jewish community? These are the Left’s concerns.”

Whoa. There’s more to this story, and it all points to the crucial role that religious tradition and practice play in American politics right now. The Democratic Party knows all about this. Its problem is simple, in the terms of James Davison Hunter: How do you appeal to the orthodox without offending the progressives? How do you tolerate the believers you believe are intolerant?

Has the, oh, New York Times had this story? If I missed it, let me know.

After Katrina: Open arms in Utah?

MoroniAnd speaking of ongoing questions about doctrines of the Latter-day Saints and their impact on Utah life, check this out. Let me assure you that I have read my share of materials on the Mormon decision to open the priesthood to African-Americans. But this Reuters story by Adam Tanner is evidence of how long it takes for perceptions and realities to change.

Asked whether he would relocate permanently to Utah after being brought here as a refugee from Hurricane Katrina, Larry Andrew rattled off a series of questions on Friday on the delicate issue of race.

“How do the adults really feel about us moving in?” he asked at Camp Williams, a military base 21 miles south of Salt Lake City housing about 400 refugees from last week’s disaster. “What if I find a Caucasian girl and decide to date her? “Will I have to deal with whispering behind me and eyeballing me?” asked the 36-year-old black man.

For the mostly poor, black refugees evacuated from New Orleans, few places are as geographically remote and culturally alien as this corner of Utah, where 0.2 percent of the population in the nearest town is black.

Local leaders say the door is open. The state is growing. Change takes time.

This was a better hook for a story than I thought it would be. Check it out.

By the way (and before anyone asks), I wonder if there is any family connection, somewhere along the line, between Adam Tanner and some other well-known Utah writers with the same last name. Tanner is a famous name in Mormon country.

About the photo: “Moroni on grey,” posted on Flickr by webmink (Creative Commons Deed).


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