Fab five: What we're doing here, Part II

Mattbig_3A confession: I have no idea how to answer Bob Carlton’s call for my top five posts of the year, which, in this case, also means we are trying to select our favorite work in the (almost) first year of this still experimental and not even in a permanent format blog.

I mean, I think the cornerstone "What we’re doing here" piece would be in there. Maybe. But when I started digging, it didn’t make the top 10. I quickly realized that what I was wrestling with is my own conflicted feelings about what GetReligion is meant to be and what the readers seem to want it to be. I mean, this is not a religion blog. It is a blog about how the mainstream media cover religion, with a special emphasis on "ghosts" in the hard-news coverage in the most influential newspapers, wire services and, when can find a way to do it, networks. We also want to try to find excellent stories to praise, wherever they run.

See the tensions? One one level, I wanted to pick items that dissected some of the major, major, major religion news stories of the year. I mean, how do you pick five without a "Passion" post in there? How do you avoid the Kerry Communion story? The red-blue pews? The Anglican wars?

Yet I also found myself — hey, I’m a sinner — drawn to pieces that were more personal, from hurricane prayers to U2 to whatever. Or I could have picked five posts that dealt with the New York Times and its inner demons about religion, culture, journalism and fairness. In other words, I could have picked posts built on commentary about the news media and the religion beat itself. There are lots of them in this blog, already.

Or, you could dash through the blog and pick the posts that drew the most reader response. Isn’t reader response a major clue as to what posts "hit the mark"?

Then again, most reader comments (cue: sad-sounding string music) to GetReligion have little to do with our stated goal, which is, once again, to comment on how mainstream media cover religion. Most of our response posts — which we are very happy to receive, by the way, and keep them coming — are highly opinionated comments about the actual content of the religious, moral and cultural disputes that the press is covering. I had dinner the other night with Steven Waldman of Beliefnet and he said not to worry about that. It’s just the nature of the blogosphere. So be it. That might make a good topic — along with the problem of venomous bloggers and civility — for some kind of summit meeting between The Revealer, Beliefnet and GetReligion.

So with all of that in mind, let me give this a try. I am including five honorable mentions as a way of illustrating the conflicts I have just discussed.

* The (Passion) Gospel according to Newsweek

* Red churches, blue churches, smart churches, dumb churches

* The ancient Church Fathers and the AP Stylebook

* Another clash of dogmas in the New York Times

* Revenge of the (red-blue) map: It’s hard to avoid the obvious

And the honorable mentions:

* Baby, baby: The New York Times faces a ghost in the stylebook

* Pro-abortion-rights spell checker in LA?

* U2 debates: How long must we sing this song?

* Druids and goddesses and Episcopalians, oh my

* How do you do fair coverage of the homophobes?

Dare I request comments and corrections?

Christmas Wars 2004: Why not try equal access?

SantagraveSo what do you think? Should Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer create a national network called "Jews for Christmas"?

Personally, I think it would be a great idea. I would volunteer to help start "Christians for Hanukkah" and I think lots of other traditional Christians would sign up immediately.

As Krauthammer’s recent column — "Just Leave Christmas Alone" — made clear, many of this year’s Christmas culture war skirmishes have nothing to do with tolerance and very little to do with the separation of church and state. They are simply cat fights between armies of liberal fundamentalists and conservative fundamentalists. He chose to pick on the anti-Christmas left, but pick up almost any newspaper these days and there will be a story in it somewhere about the latest outbreaks on the right. (More on that in a minute.) As always, anyone seeking a tidal wave of links to these new reports can hit the Christianity Today Weblog.

From my outpost in South Florida, I took special delight in Krauthammer’s salute to an especially insane rationale given for the banning of one nativity scene in a public place down here in the subtropics. Here is the item in context:

School districts in New Jersey and Florida ban Christmas carols. The mayor of Somerville, Mass., apologizes for "mistakenly" referring to the town’s "holiday party" as a "Christmas party." The Broward and Fashion malls in South Florida put up a Hanukah menorah but no nativity scene. The manager of one of the malls explains: Hanukah commemorates a battle and not a religious event, though he hastens to add, "I really don’t know a lot about it." He does not. Hanukah commemorates a miracle, and there is no event more "religious" than a miracle.

Then again, the cultural steamroller called "The Holidays" has done almost as much damage to the actual religious traditions of Hanukkah as it has to the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Once upon a time, Hanukkah was a smaller Jewish holiday reminding Jews not to compromise their faith when facing pressures to assimilate into a dominant culture. Today, Hanukkah is a giant, major holiday because it is close to the holiday previously known as Christmas. Religious history doesn’t get any more ironic than that.

The key to the current Christmas wars, according to Krauthammer, is that some Americans seem uncomfortable with the concept of equal access to the public square.There are a few right-wing Christian yahoos out there, but the overwhelming majority of traditional Christians are not furious about the emergence of other religious symbols in public life. They are mad about something else. Here is Krauthammer on this reality:

Some Americans get angry at parents who want to ban carols because they tremble that their kids might feel "different" and "uncomfortable" should they, God forbid, hear Christian music sung at their school. I feel pity. What kind of fragile religious identity have they bequeathed their children that it should be threatened by exposure to carols?

I’m struck by the fact that you almost never find Orthodox Jews complaining about a Christmas creche in the public square. That is because their children, steeped in the richness of their own religious tradition, know who they are and are not threatened by Christians celebrating their religion in public. They are enlarged by it.

ManageremptyWithin the past few days, both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times have spilled lots of ink on this topic and others related to it. The news hook right now has been provided by evangelical groups that are striving — to one degree or another — to use protests and their economic clout to push Christmas back into the marketplace — literally. Here’s the lead from reporter Ellen Barry’s feature in the Los Angeles Times.

RALEIGH, N.C. — This year, as Christmas season swung into gear, Pastor Patrick Wooden’s followers fanned out to shopping malls across Raleigh to deliver a muscular message of holiday cheer: As Christian shoppers, they would like to be greeted with the phrase "Merry Christmas" — not a bland "Happy Holidays" — and stores that failed to do so would risk losing their business.

Nearly six weeks later, some citizens in Raleigh are seething over what they see as an attempt to force religion into the public square. But others say "Merry Christmas" is rolling off their tongues more easily and more often than in previous years.

There are stacks of other anecdotes through which avid readers can chew in this report and in its New York Times counterpart, with spears being rattled left and right. I was especially struck by the calm, constructive Episcopal priest who compares evangelical efforts to push shoppers toward pro-Christmas businesses to Nazi Party requirements that Jews identify themselves by wearing yellow stars. Oh, that and the Maplewood, N.J., school district’s decision to ban instrumental versions of Christmas carols. "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was zapped for the sin of mentioning the words "Christmas Eve."

What is going on? New York Times reporter Kate Zernike has the best summary I have seen so far:

. . . (The) demands to bring back Christmas are not simply part of an age-old culture war, with the A.C.L.U. in one corner and evangelicals in the other. There is also a more moderate force, asking whether the country has gone too far in its quest to be inclusive of all faiths. Why, they ask, must a Christmas tree become a holiday tree? And is singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" in a school performance more offensive than singing "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel"? …

Over the years, schools, governments and even department stores have toned down the mention of Christmas after complaints from Jews and others who felt excluded by a holiday they did not celebrate. "The basic proposition is that people have the right to send their children to the public schools without having them evangelized for someone else’s religion," said Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Texas in Austin. Those opposed to even secular celebrations of Christmas, he said, "see the increasing strength of the religious right and worry about everything they’ve gained over the last generation being rolled back."

That’s the ticket. There is, you see, a valid cultural reason to discriminate against any expressions of Christianity, even the most watered-down, commercialized and secularized — because an oppressive Christian majority is on the march.

Beware the slippery slope that leads to theocracy. Tolerance and our nation’s actual equal access laws are too dangerous. Ditto for free speech, even if that free speech offends almost no one.

So is there a solution to all of this? No way. Anything anyone does right now is going to stir up more venom and that will produce more headlines. Let me stress that these stories are valid and that reporters need to strive to find sane voices on both sides. Believe me, they are out there.

But for starters, what would happen if church leaders stopped whining about the lack of an equal-access creche in the public square (even though their complaints are often valid) and simply put glowing decorations wherever they wished on church properties and private land? What if they organized choirs of carollers to sing on public sidewalks and in other acceptable open-air environments? What if schools offered students a chance to study the actual contents of the religious traditions that touch this season? Why not? It’s worth a try.

Our Lady of Guadalupe and the emerging Methodists

Our_lady_of_guadalupeOne of the trend stories right now in hip evangelicalism centers on what is called the "emerging church," a concept that is rooted in postmodernism and is just as hard to define.

Wait a minute. Can something be "rooted" in postmodernism?

Anyway, you might be wondering: What, precisely, is an emerging church? Is this a kind of megachurch for people who know "The Matrix" by heart? Are these churches for evangelicals with NPR coffee mugs on their desks?

I need to admit right up front that I have not been able to grasp this concept, in part because I am a premodern church kind of guy. Still, I am fascinated by the people involved in this post-contemporary church, post-suburban megachurch movement. I think they are searching for something real in our media-saturated culture.

One aspect of this movement that troubles me is its emphasis on taking pieces of ancient Christian art and worship and then, blender style, combining them into something that is brand new and very Protestant, yet the people involved in the service think that what they are doing is very old and even catholic, with a small or a large "c." Here is a glimpse into one such church from a column I did not so long ago.

The first thing people do after entering the quiet sanctuary is pause at a table to light prayer candles for friends and loved ones, the tiny flames adding to the glow of nearby candle trees.

The ministers wear oat-colored, hooded robes tied at the waist with ropes and guide their flock through ancient prayers, a litany of confession and silent meditations marked by a series of bells. Hymns are accompanied by an ensemble that includes fiddle, acoustic guitar, wind chimes, pennywhistles, a Bodhran and even bagpipes. . . .

This is not your typical Southern Baptist service. Nevertheless, this Celtic service is held every Sunday at this historic church in Lynchburg, Va.

This is not, needless to say, the Rev. Jerry Falwell’s church in that fair city. This is a "moderate" Baptist church with gender-neutral liturgies, progressive politics and lots of other, well, NPR-coffee-mug traits. It is trying to embrace symbols, but not sacraments, ancient traditions, but not the ancient doctrines. It’s a postmodern thing. For another glimpse of this movement, click here.

For some time now, I have been wondering when this trend might swing over to the true religious left. Now, I realize — believe me, I realize — that all kinds of experimental, even syncretistic things are already happening over there. That’s not what I am talking about. I am not talking about taking pieces of non-Christian faiths and splicing them into Christian life and worship.

If you want to see this kind of liberalism in full flight, check out the website of the St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in, where else, San Francisco. This is the congregation that has made headlines with its elaborate, dance-driven Eucharists and its giant Eastern Orthodox-style iconography of "dancing saints" — which when finished will include Charles Darwin, Cesar Chavez, John Coltrane, Martha Graham (naturally), Eleanor Roosevelt and many, many others. Some people consider this church’s approach brilliant. Others see it as heresy and, to boot, a deeply offensive warping of the traditions of other believers. But, hey, it is free speech.

As you might guess, all of this is prologue to an interesting religion-news article from the mainstream press (seeing as how that is the purpose of this blog). The Chicago Tribune recently dug into what happened when a United Methodist congregation decided — with a nod to its Hispanic members — to bring a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe into its sanctuary. On top of that, the congregation actually decided to use some elements of Catholic spirituality.

Well, it was hard to mix Methodists and the rosary. Reporter Manya A. Brachear noted that some of the charter members of the Amor de Dios United Methodist Church immediately hit the doors — headed out.

Pastors of other Hispanic Methodist congregations objected too. They said praying to the Virgin equaled idolatry. And Roman Catholics in the neighborhood worried that the church might be selling itself as something it was not.

Still, Rev. Jose Landaverde allowed the statue to stay. He says he sees no harm in embracing a tradition — the Virgin is an unofficial national symbol of Mexico — that might bring people closer to God.

"It’s coming from the people, which is the real presence of the Holy Spirit," said Landaverde, 31, a student pastor from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. "You cannot bring theological debates to the people when they need spiritual assistance."

Ah, but there is the question. Did this well-meaning mainline Protestant pioneer bring Catholic theology into his sanctuary, or merely a comforting statue with powerful cultural symbolism? This is not an insignificant question for mainline Protestants, who have seen their churches age and fade in an era of increasingly cultural diversity.

So what does it really mean, when a Protestant congregation celebrates a novena in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, parading a "2-foot-high statue around the neighborhood, singing songs and reciting the rosary"?

Other United Methodists — including Hispanics, as well as Anglos — believe that this is going too far. They told the Tribune the statue might even be seen as a sign of oppression, meaning the oppression of Protestants by Catholics in Mexico. The local Catholic pastor feared that the Methodists were merely pretending to be something they are not. Might some Hispanics be confused, not unlike the Jews who respond to High Holy Day ads for "Messianic Jewish" churches? Or is Our Lady of Guadalupe "merely" a cultural or even political symbol?

The article raised more questions than it answered. I hope the Tribune keeps an eye on this trend and, in the future, even asks doctrinal, as well as cultural, questions.

There he goes again

Frank Rich is back and he’s still mad about The Passion and all of the hateful fundamentalists who made it one of the cultural events of the year. Once again, Rich’s goal is to paint the story in terms of Christians vs. Jews, rather than reading the evidence in his own reporting that it is largely a collision between traditional believers of many kinds and the powerful blue-zip-code coalition of oldline religious progressives and secularists. Rich says the last thing Americans will see on TV anytime soon is the nuanced, intelligent views of religious liberals. He’s right, sort of. Actually, the last thing Americans will see on TV is moral traditionalists who do not fit into the Falwell-Robertson-Donohue “straw man” chair.

What's it all about, Democrats?

AlfieAs state by heartland state turned red on the night of 11/2, a few brave Democratic strategists began hinting that something would have to be done to move their party closer to the center of American life and, in particular, to lessen its hostility to traditional religious believers who once were part of the FDR-Truman coalition.

Ever since, GetReligion has been watching for signs of compromise on the lifestyle left, especially on the big issues — abortion and the redefinition of marriage. Clearly the debates have begun behind the scenes and they are seeping into public view. Richard Cohen’s op-ed this week in the Washington Post — "Democrats, Abortion and ‘Alfie’ " — is one sign of this, but there are others.

We’ll get to his take on the "Alfie" movies in a minute. His key political statement is that the Democratic Party simply has to make room for people who — for intellectual, moral, scientific and even theological reasons — are convinced that abortion is a complex life-and-death issue that is hard to reduce to a bullet-proof slogan. He writes:

Yet the party insists otherwise. It entertains no doubts and counters reasonable questions and qualms with slogans — a woman’s right to choose, for instance. The party is downright inhospitable to abortion opponents. Therefore, it was good Sunday to hear Howard Dean — both a physician and pro-choice — say on "Meet the Press" that "I have long believed that we ought to make a home for pro-life Democrats."

Dean may make a run for chairman of the Democratic National Committee, and so what he says could matter. As it is now, being pro-choice is a litmus test for all Democrats, especially their presidential candidates. It is almost inconceivable that a Democratic candidate could voice qualms about abortion. It’s almost inconceivable, though, that the candidates don’t have them.

In this entertainment-drenched culture, Cohen has structured his column as a clash between the classic ’60s movie "Alfie" and the current remake. The former, he notes, included a strong reference to abortion. The latter does not. He sees this as a sign — with a nod to those values voters — that times have changed and that abortion opponents have changed some minds.

What he seems to have missed is that the abortion in the older film is treated as a soul-searing tragedy, not as a triumph for individualism. The new film veers around a possible abortion, yet strongly hints that life would have been better if a problem pregnancy had been ended. (Tip of the hat to views expressed in a personal email from Frederica Mathewes-Green of Beliefnet.)

So Cohen may have the movies backward, but that does not negate his political point. (By the way, the Weekly Standard has a fine essay that notes that Bill Naughton’s 1966 novel "Alfie" was even more complex and — gasp — rooted in a Catholic worldview.) You could make a case that the new "Alfie" tried to soft-sell its moral worldview, rather than face up to it. This may not have worked with blue consumers or with all of those alleged red-culture consumers.

Meanwhile, back to the main point. Apparently, Howard Dean is not the only Democrat who is thinking it may make sense to let a few more pro-life congress-persons in the side door of the once big tent. According to Newsweek, Sen. John Kerry has asked the same question. Here’s the lead from Debra Rosenberg’s report:

The week after Thanksgiving, dozens of Democratic Party loyalists gathered at AFL-CIO headquarters for a closed-door confab on the election. John Kerry dropped by to thank members of the liberal 527 coalition America Votes. When Ellen Malcolm, president of the pro-choice political network EMILY’s List, asked about the future direction of the party, Kerry tackled one of the Democrats’ core tenets: abortion rights. He told the group they needed new ways to make people understand they didn’t like abortion. Democrats also needed to welcome more pro-life candidates into the party, he said. "There was a gasp in the room," says Nancy Keenan, the new president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The freak out will not end soon. However, there was an interesting news peg in the body of the story. It seems that a small group of red-zone Democrats — Newsweek names Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu, Arkansas Sens. Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, and Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh — have joined a "a new progressive advocacy group" called Third Way that wants to discuss compromises on the hot cultural issues.

How will we know that this is serious? Reporters can start by watching for signs of a Democrats For Life link on mainstream party websites — ending the existing ban. We can also listen for louder screams in party publications such as the New York Times.

UPDATE: Friend of the blog Peggy Noonan has suggested another possible battle front in this war of the symbols in the Democratic Party. Want to send a signal to pew-gap Americans? Why not come out in favor of Christmas?

Designer babies, gender, science and a ghost

embryo2A long, long, time ago, during a press conference with Rep. Patricia Schroeder of (D-Colo.), I asked a question that I thought was perfectly logical. At the time, she was one of the most outspoken voices in the U.S. Congress on every imaginable progressive cause, especially abortion rights and other issues linked to the lifestyle left.

Someone raised the topic of gay rights and I asked a follow-up. If I understood correctly, I said, Schroeder’s stance on the issue was rooted in her conviction that homosexuals were born gay and that this would, eventually, be proven by science. The congresswoman said this was correct. So if a “gay gene” was discovered, and parents could detect this with prenatal tests of some kind, would she oppose the abortion of homosexual fetuses?

Based on the glares from Schroeder and her aide, this question was considered somewhat off the wall in the mid-1980s.

However, I knew that gay ethicists, theologians and even artists were already asking that question, and they have asked it many times in the years since then. It is also one of the questions hidden between the lines of the recent Washington Post news feature by Rob Stein titled “A Boy for You, a Girl for Me: Technology Allows Choice.” The sub-headline added, “Embryo Screening Stirs Ethics Debate.” I still think there was a ghost in this story.

Along with the heartwarming cases of parents happy with their pro-choice options, the story did quote a number of experts offering alternative viewpoints, such as:

. . . (Others) say the practice, which is prohibited in many countries, uses expensive medical care for frivolous purposes, destroys some embryos just because they are the “wrong” sex, and promotes gender discrimination. Moreover, the critics say, the trend is a dangerous first step toward transforming childbirth from a natural process full of surprise and wonder into just another commodity in which a baby’s features are picked like options on a new car.

“It runs the risk of turning procreation and parenting into an extension of the consumer society,” said Michael J. Sandel, a political philosopher at Harvard University. “Sex selection is one step down the road to designer children, in which parents would choose not only the sex of their child but also conceivably the height, hair color, eye color, and ultimately, perhaps, IQ, athletic prowess and musical ability. It’s troubling.”

The article also moves past the designer-baby issue and asks the kinds of ultimate questions one would tend to hear raised in, well, places such as the Vatican and the headquarters of Focus on the Family. What happens — in a largely sexist world — when something does go wrong and parents do not get what they want? Is gender a sin? After all, critics note that these techniques

. . . (Allow) parents to discriminate on the basis of sex, and they point to countries such as India and China, where a preference for boys has led to abortion of female fetuses and abandonment of baby girls, creating a shortage of women. . . .

Because MicroSort is not 100 percent reliable, critics fear it may lead to the selective abortion of fetuses, particularly females.

I really don’t mean to whine, but I do think that reporters need to realize that, for the vast majority of their readers, these kinds of stories — which will only increase time and time again in the years ahead — have a religious dimension.

Ethical questions are good. Moral questions are good. But when people start debating ultimate topics of life and death and right and wrong, content directly related to faith and the beliefs of religious people of all stripes should be included.

The ghosts are not hard to find. In fact, it is hard to avoid them.

We'll have a Red (or a Blue) Christmas news story

Blue_christmas_1That sound you hear out in newsrooms is the "thunk" of digital memos hitting the computer in-boxes of unlucky general-assignment reporters at small- and middle-sized newspapers across America.

The sad reality is that there are many, many newspapers in this fair land that do not have trained, committed, religion-beat specialists. You know, the kind of professional religion scribe who can handle the pressure — year after year — of finding creative news-feature-story hooks for all of those ultra-familiar religious holidays that terrify city-desk editors.

If you don’t have a Godbeat specialist, who are you going to call?

Only those of us who have to carry this heavy burden know how bad this can be. I mean, in addition to finding a good story, you also need page-one worthy color art and it has to be shot days in advance so it can be worked into the page design. How do you photograph a natural-looking, newsworthy piece of Easter art at the start of Holy Week?

But I digress.

OK, so you have survived Hanukkah. Good job.

Now is the time when an assistant city editor is going to scan the room, trying to decide which unlucky general-assignment reporter is going to have to handle — you know what.

You need a story that captures the spirit of Christmas, which means that it may need to have something to do with Christianity. But you also need a story that does not offend too many of the people who are almost always offended by, well, Christianity. You could do a news feature on how modern scholars believe that everything associated with Christmas is a myth, but you know that the newsweeklies are going to do that one every other year.

Right about now is the time when the editors send out these memos. A friend of this blog recently sent me a perfect example of one such assignment, which we will say was passed along by another friend. We can’t get into details, other than to say that it originated in a newsroom in one of the half dozen or so cities in North America that are, from time to time, referred to as the Mecca of Evangelical Christianity. Or the Vatican. Or Jerusalem on the Brazos. Whatever.

But the dreaded memo starts out by saying that the editors have assigned this reporter to write — you know what.

There’s more. The editor has already decided on the news hook for this as-yet-to-be-determined feature story. This reporter has been predestined by her or his editor to find a Christmas 2004 story that is connected to — you knew this was coming, didn’t you? — that hot, hot, hot social group of the moment. You got it. It’s going to be Christmas with the Evangelical value voters.

I can see the headline now: "America’s Dreaming of a Red Christmas." Or, you could flip that around and deal with the grief of the losers. This would, obviously, lead straight to The King (that would be Elvis) and "(I’ll Have a) Blue Christmas."

So good people out there who give us feedback here at GetReligion — let’s come to the aid of this anonymous reporter. I mean, let’s give him or her some help other than pointing toward the December holiday files of the Religion Newswriters Association.

I hope that some of you will answer these questions:

* Can you think of a genuine value-voter Christmas story for 2004?

* What is the absolutely worst value-voter, red-Christmas story hook that you can think of?

* Have you already seen a story written along these lines?

Please help. It’s the time of year for sharing. Help a general-assignment reporter, today.

Still screaming in blue-zone South Florida

ScreamConsider this a short update from down here in South Florida, where people continue to struggle with the results of the 2004 election. On one level, this is a Jay Leno talking point. On another level, this story is actually rather interesting.

You may have seen the initial report about the Boca Raton group therapy sessions that are being held for supporters of Sen. John Kerry who are having trouble moving on. Actually, you get the impression that they are haters of President Bush more than they are Kerry supporters.

I think we have another chance, in this little story, to see into the heart of the anti-fundamentalist voter phenomenon.

Anyway, the Boca News update by reporter Sean Salai covers predictable ground and then hits what certainly seems to be the heart of the matter for these liberals who are suffering from Post Election Selection Trauma — religion.

For starters, the story notes that the “predominantly Jewish support group members, almost all of them Palm Beach County Democrats” over the age of 50, kept shouting down the therapy leader, who tried to guide them away from discussions of conspiracy theories about how the election was rigged.

There was lots of anger at the news media, which is now under the control of right-wing corporations. The Iraqi war was, of course, another hot topic. Bit it was not the hottest topic.

On the issue of religion, the elderly PEST sufferers were especially animated.

“The Republicans have gotten away with phony spirituality,” said Alfred.

“The Jeffersonian ideal of separation between church and state is going to hell.”

“There’s more of them than us,” said a woman named Joyce, referring to “red state” voters. “That’s scary.”

I don’t think this is an Onion story, but it might be.

The story stressed that the Boca Raton-based American Health Association is treating a total of 60 Palm Beach County liberals in three different weekly support groups. However, only one of the groups has allowed reporters to sit in on its sessions — with the understanding that no full names are used and no clues are provided about the location. No photos are allowed, either.

Has anyone seen any reports of similar groups elsewhere in the nation, or is this just a South Florida thing?