Another clash of dogmas in the New York Times

Focuschaput_2There they go again.

Once again, the New York Times is shocked, shocked to discover that a few of the nation’s Roman Catholic bishops believe that there should be a connection between abortion (an issue treated with singular seriousness by the Vatican) and the ballot box (the final holy of holies for newspaper elites).

Thus, the newspaper of record has signaled that it is getting closer to the day when Catholics will have to make a choice — are you nuanced or are you simplistic? Are you with The Newspaper or with those Catholic fundamentalists? David D. Kirkpatrick and Laurie Goodstein get right down to business in their story entitled “Group of Bishops Using Influence to Oppose Kerry.”

Galvanized by battles against same-sex marriage and stem cell research and alarmed at the prospect of a President Kerry — who is Catholic but supports abortion rights — these bishops and like-minded Catholic groups are blanketing churches with guides identifying abortion, gay marriage and the stem cell debate as among a handful of “non-negotiable issues.”

To the dismay of liberal Catholics and some other bishops, traditional church concerns about the death penalty or war are often not mentioned.

It’s all in the quote marks. “Non-negotiable issues” earns them, while “traditional church concerns” does not. In reality, the Vatican itself has ranked abortion as a non-negotiable issue, along with a small number of others, while making serious, but not clearly dogmatic, statements on issues such as just war and the death penalty.

So the grammar of the Vatican is different than the grammar of the Times. This is not shocking. It is hard to write a balanced story about this issue, once the matter of the quote marks is settled.

There needs to be a rebellious leader in this story and that label is assigned to the outspoken, young (in terms of Catholic prelates) leader of the Archdiocese of Denver, Archbishop Charles Chaput (pictured). He has been speaking his mind early and often, especially in his newspaper editorial columns. Here is a sample:

Next month, October, is Respect Life month. It’s a good time to reflect on the meaning of the Kennedy-Cuomo legacy. In brief, it’s OK to be Catholic in public service as long as you’re willing to jettison what’s inconveniently `Catholic.` That’s not a compromise. That’s a deal with the devil, and it has a balloon payment no nation, no public servant and no voter can afford.

Well now, that is certainly an easy quote to interpret. Chaput did not mince words in a face-to-face meeting with the Times.

In an interview in his residence here, Archbishop Chaput said a vote for a candidate like Mr. Kerry who supports abortion rights or embryonic stem cell research would be a sin that must be confessed before receiving Communion.

“If you vote this way, are you cooperating in evil?” he asked. “And if you know you are cooperating in evil, should you go to confession? The answer is yes.”

Much is at stake for the bishops, such as the seriousness of certain sacraments, dogma related to mortal sin and a few other non-trivial matters. Much is at stake for the New York Times, as well. The reporters note that 76 percent of Catholics, in a Time poll, said the church’s position on abortion made no difference in their decisions about voting. Then again, in a summer Times poll, 71 percent favored some restrictions on abortion. And GOP politicos note that — pew-gap alert — Catholics and others who attend religious services at least once a week tend to be more conservative. Fifty-three percent of those Catholics supported Mr. Bush in 2000 compared with 47 percent of all Catholics.

It is natural to leap from this New York Times discussion to another, centering on a recent column by public editor Daniel Okrent entitled “How Would Jackson Pollock Cover This Campaign?” In it, he notes that he is receiving his usual flood of letters claiming the newspaper is, to one degree or another, biased. His bottom line:

(There) are plenty of press critics in print and on the Web, so I’ll cede the general criticism to them. Here’s the question for a public editor: Is The Times systematically biased toward either candidate?

No.

If there’s a commissariat at The Times ordering up coverage to help or hurt a specific candidate, it’s doing a lousy job; close reading shows bruises administered to each (and free passes handed out) in a pattern adapted from Jackson Pollock.

But here is the crucial question, one that links Okrent’s column to the actions of Chaput and other conservative Catholic prelates. Chaput would say that he is not trying to support a REPUBLICAN candidate. He would gladly support a pro-life Democrat, if it were possible to find one at the national level. Can we say the same of the Times and its editors? Probably. They would almost certainly be glad to support pro-abortion-rights REPUBLICANS, when offered the chance to do so.

It’s all a matter of dogma, you see. Different flocks have different abortion dogmas, often transcending matters of mere political affiliation. In that spirit, I wrote Okrent this letter.

Thank you for the candor and relative calmness of the Oct. 10 column. By way of introduction, I am a journalism professor and a veteran Scripps Howard reporter and columnist. In light of what I will say next, you also need to know that I am an active Eastern Orthodox Christian and a life-long Democrat, of the rare and endangered pro-life species.

You say that you do not believe that coverage in the New York Times has been systematically slanted for or against any particular candidate. Would you say the same thing about coverage of major moral and social issues? Would you, over a decade after the stunning Los Angeles Times series on bias in abortion coverage in American media, say that the New York Times has offered balanced and accurate coverage on that issue? How about on the issue of same-sex marriage? Of free-speech issues involving traditional religious believers?

In other words, might the newspaper see events through a lens, through a worldview, that favors moral progressives over the orthodox?

Missing Da Vinci vote

We don’t blog on opinion columns much, but there is a source and some factual material in this recent George Will column that points in the direction of hard news and that dreaded pew gap angle. So some Brits discover that the very essence of American conservatism is rooted in “anomalous religiosity” and the institutions that grow out of it in politics. So what is the answer to that? The development of a true religious left that is a winner, as opposed to the fading numbers of the old mainline. Once again — where is the Da Vinci Vote?

How enthusiastic are folks in those pews?

In most mainstream news reports, President Bush’s campaign is built on a foundation of right-wing religious zealots who want to lock homosexuals in closets, trample women’s rights and, what the heck, flirt with a Left-Behind nuclear showdown by building a Messianic Jewish megachurch on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

The reality is a tad more complex. Some of that complexity has been making it into the New York Times, via its trailblazing beat dedicated to issues that divide the political, cultural and religious right. That isn’t the whole story, but it’s one window into a larger story.

More information can be found in the mass mailings that circulate on the right, especially those from the James Dobson camp in Colorado Springs. There are interesting sub-texts and criticisms in some of the commentaries and writings produced by the researchers and staff of Charles Colson. People who speak fluent Baptist can also turn to the waves of news and commentary produced by Baptist Press, on the right, and the Associated Baptist Press, a few ticks to the left of center on the way to mainline Protestant status.

Earlier this week, Baptist Press put out a report on the debate between the vice presidential candidates. Early next week, the second presidential debate will undoubtedly be parsed in a similar manner.

While Dick Cheney draws a chorus of cheers from some conservative choirs, this report was released with A stark headline: “Cheney’s defense of marriage proposal lukewarm in VP debate.” Here’s a chunk of the story by the veteran BP Washington, D.C, correspondent Tom Strode:

Vice President Dick Cheney’s tepid defense of a constitutional amendment protecting marriage during his Oct. 5 debate with Democrat John Edwards was certain to make supporters of such a measure glad George W. Bush, not Cheney, is president. …

When asked by moderator Gwen Ifill of the Public Broadcasting System about the marriage amendment issue, Cheney reiterated a view expressed four years ago that people should be free “to choose any arrangement they want” but states should be the level of government at which relationships are authorized or not. “States have regulated marriage, if you will,” he said. “That would be my preference.”

Recently, however, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court has directed the state legislature “to allow gay marriage,” Cheney said. “And the fact is that the president felt that it was important to make it clear that that’s the wrong way to go, as far as he’s concerned. Now, he sets policy for this administration, and I support the president.”

Edwards took the now familiar Democratic Party stance that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that any amendment is “unnecessary” and is simply being used by the right “to divide this country. … It’s nothing but a political tool.”

But the soundbite here was the Edwards attempt to damn Cheney with praise for the relationship that Cheney and his wife, Lynne, have maintained with their daughter, Mary, who is a lesbian. In response, noted Strode, Cheney thanked Edwards “for the kind words he said about my family and our daughter. I appreciate that very much.”

“That’s it?” Ifill asked Cheney

“That’s it,” he answered.

The Southern Baptist expert on these maters is Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He tried to be kind to Cheney, who was stuck between a rock and a hard place. So this was another chance to cheer for Bush, and remind the administration of the importance of this issue to the leaders of the nation’s largest non-Catholic flock. Land was blunt:

“Fortunately for such supporters, George W. Bush is the president, not Dick Cheney, and there’s no question where George W. Bush stands on the issue.”

So what is this story really about? It’s about the quest for evangelical enthusiasm.

This is news. The Washington Post recently published a strange article about what it called the “Enthusiasm Gap” between the base voters in each party. Reporters Richard Morin and Christopher Muste said that many of the “gaps” studied in recent elections — such as the gender gap — are not as important this year.

However, Morin and Muste also discuss a “grad-school” gap between brilliant Kerry voters and, well, all those Bush voters who are less educated. Then they found a veterans gap, which favors Bush, and a generations gap, which gives the youth vote to Kerry.

But the key, according to the Post, is a simple “enthusiasm gap” that will affect turnout. The left, supposedly, is not all that enthusiastic about John “Call me JFK” Kerry and Edwards. The right is supposed to be fired up like crazy about Bush and Kerry.

So Kerry is really not a liberal. Check. Bush is really, really conservative. Check.

What interested me was that the Post elected not to discuss one of the most controversial divides in American politics — the pew gap. Clearly, the gap between religious conservatives and secular and liberal religious believers is also linked to the “enthusiasm gap” in this report. And I would argue that another place to research the “enthusiasm gap” is in the pages of alternative news sources such as the Baptist news services. Pay them a visit. There’s news in those sites.

UPDATED: Sure enough, the Baptist Press gang dissected the No. 2 presidential debate precisely as I expected. Check out the “feelings” section of the Kerry quote about stem cells. It’s all about feelings, not science. I think the person asking the question wanted to discuss factual material. Sometimes, if you want the full unedited quotes on the religion issues, you need to turn to the religious press. Sad.

What this White House race needs is more God talk?

Kerry_ashes_1We don’t go out of our way, here at GetReligion, to write about articles featured in religion publications and we certainly don’t throw a lot of digital ink at the materials sent out by denominational press offices and public-relations companies.

But I’m going to make an exception right now and I may do so again in the next week or two. Why? Because religion has played a major role in the election this year (which has become normal, post Roe v. Wade), and there is no sign that this is going to let up. It is also obvious that both parties are pretty nervous about this. Right now, some of the religious groups — left and right — are being more candid than the two political parties.

Palms are sweating, at the moment. The Republicans, to court the nervous suburban middle, have to play down the God talk. They have the megachurches, now they need the malls. The Democrats, meanwhile, have to find a way to talk about faith without turning off their base — the secular elites and the newly empowered anti-Evangelical voters. So John Kerry is not anxious to answer detailed faith questions right now, either.

So I was, as a religion-beat guy, interested when a new press release arrived that started like this:

Today, the Rev. Dr. Welton Gaddy, leader of the progressive interfaith movement, and Paul Weyrich, father of the religious right, joined their progressive and conservative forces to call on Charles Gibson and Bob Schieffer to raise questions in the Presidential Debates about the influence of the candidates’ religion and personal faith in making public policy.

Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance (http://www.interfaithalliance.org), the national political voice of the interfaith movement, and Weyrich, chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation (http://www.freecongress.org), the national think tank for political and cultural conservatism, signed joint letters to Gibson of ABC News and Schieffer of CBS News, moderators of the second and third joint appearances of President George W. Bush and Senator John F. Kerry.

Now you can look at this two ways. You can assume that Gaddy wants Kerry to say something smart, or he wants Bush to say something dumb (or frightening). You can then assume that Weyrich wants Bush to say something poignant, and Kerry to say something hostile (or simply tone-deaf). Whatever. I find it interesting that one or the other thought to put out this joint release. I think we can assume that they both sincerely think the faith issues are close to the moral issues, which are joined at the hip with the cultural issues and all that leads straight to the U.S. Supreme Court (if not the Middle East). Here’s a chunk of the letter:

… (We) believe it is imperative that the Commission on Presidential Debates engages the candidates for President of the United States on the subject of religion and personal faith. We believe that it is imperative for the candidates — unscripted and before a national television audience — to profess to the nation how religion and their personal faith impacts them both as a human being and as a candidate for the nation’s highest public office.

While much has been written in the press concerning religion, many of the stories have focused on using religion as a campaign strategy rather than how the candidates rely on their personal faith as a guiding light to their service in public office to the nation.

Below are suggested questions that we feel might elicit some response that may be helpful to the voters.

* What role should and does your religious faith and values play in creating public policy?

* What active steps have you taken and will you continue to take to show respect for the variety of religious beliefs among your constituents?

* Should a president’s use of religious language reflect their own religious tradition, or be more broadly inclusive

And so forth. For sure, I think the veteran CBS reporter should act on this idea — once he has confirmed that the letter is authentic.

Pick a religious label and prepare for angry telephone calls

Messianics_1997Journalists cannot always predict which stories will cause a ruckus, but reporter Jeffrey Weiss of the Dallas Morning News knew that his report about a local “Bus 19″ exhibit was going to raise eyebrows. The bus had been attacked by terrorists, with 11 people dead. Now it was being used as part of a tour to promote the cause of Israel. It was being displayed in North Dallas as part of the Yom Kippur holy day.

The congregation doing this? Baruch HaShem Messianic Synagogue, which is linked to the movement that calls itself “Messianic Judaism,” with Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. (The photo is from the massive 1997 Promise Keepers rally on the National Mall.) Weiss notes:

Here’s the problem: “Messianic Jews” say they can both be Jewish and believe that Jesus was the Messiah foretold in Jewish Scripture. Every other group on earth that calls itself Jewish says that’s impossible.

That dispute was at the heart of my story: Some local Jewish leaders who consider Baruch HaShem deceitful objected to its use of a symbol of Jewish martyrdom on a day sacred to Jews. Baruch HaShem leaders said they were acting in accord with their values — Jewish values — and offending no one.

So should the newspaper describe them as Messianic Jews? Christians? Religious frauds? True believers? How can we be fair and accurate and not confuse our readers?

This is part of a hot debate within journalism. Should newsrooms allow controversial groups to define themselves?

For years, these debates centered on abortion coverage. Journalists called one side pro-choice, its label of choice, and the other side anti-abortion, a term it hated. It was a classic example of slanted language. Some let the groups self-identify, then put the terms inside of quotation marks — “pro-choice” vs. “pro-life.” Eventually, most newspapers dropped the slanted pro-choice term and substituted something literal, such as pro-abortion rights.

These word games are incredibly important on the religion beat, perhaps even more so than in political coverage. Weiss noted ongoing controversies about what to call members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons? Mormon Christians? Christians? It’s even hard to work with a group as vanilla and, in Dallas almost all-powerful, as the Southern Baptist convention. A few claim they are not Protestants, because the try to trace their roots back to John the Baptist.

The battle over the Messianic Jews is especially hot, because of the bitter debates over who is and who is not “Jewish.” Hardly anyone knows how to define that term. I discovered this once again last year writing about the long-delayed National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-2001, which is based on interviews with 4,500 Jews. Sponsors at the United Jewish Communities called it the most detailed statistical portrait of American Jews ever assembled. Critics had less flattering things to say.

That survey defined a Jew as someone whose “religion is Jewish, OR, whose religion is Jewish and something else, OR, who has no religion and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing, OR, who has a non-monotheistic religion, and has at least one Jewish parent or a Jewish upbringing.” Say what?

… (All) definitions include some and exclude others, said research director Laurence Kotler-Berkowitz. This survey, for example, was clear to include Jewish Buddhists. But its “non-monotheistic religion” clause excluded two people who had converted from Judaism to Islam. The “whose religion is Jewish and something else” clause created another problem.

“We included people who said they were both Jewish and Catholic or Jewish and something else,” he said. “But if they identified themselves as Jewish Christians or we found some evidence that they were Messianic Jews, then we excluded them from the study. We had to draw that line.”

I was confused. So a person could be Jewish and Christian? That depends, I was told. A person could be Jewish and Catholic, in light of the teachings of Vatican II. Say what? And a person could be Jewish and an Episcopalian, but not an Episcopal evangelical. Or Jewish and Unitarian. But not Jewish and Southern Baptist or Jewish and Eastern Orthodox. Jewish and United Methodist? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps in New York, but not in Texas. Jewish and Lutheran? Not Missouri-Synod Lutheran.

The key was that the person could be a Christian and a Jew, in this survey, as long as the researchers did not sense that the person was part of a Christian movement that insisted that belief in Jesus was directly linked to salvation. Put that in your newsroom stylebook.

Clearly, this is dangerous territory. Anyone who has worked on the religion beat for a month knows that.

But it is possible to do solid, careful work that lets voices on both sides of these issues define their own views and speak their peace. This approach may make lots of people mad, but it’s the path that journalists have to walk if they want to be fair. Want to hear an example of what I mean? Click here to hear Barbara Bradley Hagerty negotiate this journalistic minefield.

Surprise! Gallup wants to probe faith, public life

Gallup_book_1Months before the 1996 election, some of the politicos behind President Bill Clinton’s campaign tried to find out which poll questions best predicted a voter’s Election Day choice. On which questions were the lines most starkly drawn between a Clinton voter and a voter determined to pull the GOP lever in the voting booth?

They found out that these five worked best: Is religion very important in your life? Is sex before marriage morally wrong? Is homosexuality morally wrong? Do you every look at pornography? Would you look down on a married person who had an affair?

Some of you will be glad to hear that this is not another GetReligion item about the whole red pews vs. blue pews phenomenon (although it could have been).

This is a belated post about Moveon.org’s attack on George Gallup Jr. and his controversial interest in the role that faith plays in American public life. Gallup is an Episcopalian, but one of very old-fashioned beliefs on faith and morals. The problem, as described in the New York Times and elsewhere, is that he has on occasion described himself as an “evangelical.” Salon.com warned its readers that this influential American has even spoken words such as these, in an interview with the “moderate” Baptist Standard in Texas:

“‘The most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,’ George Gallup Jr. said after giving the spring commencement speech at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. ‘When I ask a question on these subjects, what I’m always trying to find out is, Are we doing the will of God?’”

The Baptist Standard also reported that while Gallup recently stepped aside as the company’s leader, his vision remains intact.

“Questions on religion and spirituality are sure to continue, Gallup said, under leadership that shares a keen interest in the topic. Frank Newport is editor in chief of the Gallup Poll and vice president of the Gallup organization in Princeton, N.J. His father, John Newport, served more than 40 years as a philosophy of religion professor and administrator at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And because George Gallup Jr. still carries his pocket-sized notebook, for scribbling down survey questions that might come to him at any hour of day or night, his ideas might even find their way into a questionnaire now and then.”

And there you have it. Gallup’s beliefs might be dangerous to Democratic candidates in some way, since his Christian conservatism might somehow favor the theocrats at the Republican Party. This is profoundly disturbing to the folks at Moveon.org, who seem as anxious to punch hot religious buttons in the current campaign as, let’s say, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

“Why hasn’t he pushed for an update of the company’s likely voter modeling, which his own father pioneered in the 1950s?” the MoveOn.org ad asked. The political group then appeared to answer its own question.

“Gallup, who is a devout evangelical Christian, has been quoted as calling his polling ‘a kind of ministry.’ And a few months ago, he said ‘the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,’” MoveOn said. “We thought the purpose is to faithfully and factually report public opinion.”

GwgallupjrThis slap at Gallup was a bit much for all kinds of people and anyone seeking a selection of reaction quotes can turn to the New York Sun or, as always, the omnipresent folks at the Christianity Today blog.

All the usual suspects speak out. What is especially interesting is that others cross the politics-as-usual lines and raise questions about Moveon.org’s real motives. Here is Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization rarely aligned with the religious right:

“It’s irrelevant, extraneous, and borders on being offensive to evangelical Christians,” Mr. Foxman told The New York Sun. “It’s one thing to challenge methodology and credibility. It’s another thing to say that the methodology and credibility are motivated by faith. … What if the poll was headed by a devout Jew? How would we have felt?”

And reporter Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times noted that the strategists behind the Moveon.org campaign seem, in their rush to shoot an offending pollster, to have forgotten to ask very, very, very basic questions.

What the advertisement did not say was that Mr. Gallup, who retired in May, is not involved in the company’s political polling and made those comments in reference to his specialty and main interest — polling people on their religious beliefs.

So let’s replay that scene. Gallup is retired and he is not involved in the political polls that have so angered the WWW attack dog that speaks for the “anti-evangelical voter” wing of the Democratic Party establishment. And on top of that, Gallup’s comments were yanked out of context. He was describing the motives that served as a foundation for his organization’s decades of research into American attitudes about religious faith in public and private life, a subject on which his trailblazing work as inspired work at a host of foundations, think tanks and top-notch academic centers.

But let’s end where we began. Bill Clinton’s own pollsters discovered that, to cut to the political heart in 1996, they had to ask blunt questions about religious and moral issues. Should it be surprising that the Gallup organization and other top pollsters need to do the same?

Ghost in the Stylebook III: New York Times keeps searching

Baby1thumb_2This is one of many stories that I intended to write about last week or even earlier, but let me bring it up here on a quiet non-hurricane weekend. As regulars to the blog know, I have been highly interested in recent stories in the New York Times, the Associated Press and elsewhere, in which reporters seemed to be tiptoeing around a tense area in journalistic style — the rule about referring to an unborn child as a “fetus.”

In part, this journalistic question seems to be rooted in coverage of a leap forward in technology — those amazing 4D-imaging machines now being used virtually everywhere. This digital window is having an impact. It is hard to refer to these images as pictures of fetuses.

Recently, this issue came up again in the newspaper of record. This time, reporter Sam Lubell — in a story called “The Womb as Photo Studio” — carefully walked the edge of the razor and followed the letter of the stylebook law. Thus, here is the lead:

It’s a rite of passage for many expectant parents: baby’s first ultrasound. The fuzzy images of the fetus, produced during an examination in an obstetrician’s office, are prized by couples, passed around proudly among friends and relatives.

Now, trying to capitalize on this phenomenon, a number of companies are selling elective ultrasounds that have little to do with neonatal health. The services, often in small offices or shopping malls, amount to fetal photo studios and use newer 3-D ultrasound technology to produce more realistic images than conventional machines.

Another tricky issue soon follows, as Lubell mentions that one of the most common uses of the technology is to determine the gender of the unborn child. Might this be linked to the controversial issue of gender-selection abortion? Perhaps that is an issue for another story.

When dealing with third-person paraphrases, the story stays with the medically correct “fetus.” The problem is that the story also quotes real, live people. Thus, there is a somewhat awkward dance of journalistic vocabulary. For example, note this reference to the emotional impact of the new technology:

“Women love it,” said Matt Evans, a lawyer, who started his company, Baby Insight (baby -insight.com), about a year and a half ago. “They get to see their baby and have an emotional experience with their baby.”

Or there was this quotation from new mother Shirlesa Glaspie, of Lanham, Md., who said the experience has been both frightening and revelatory.

“He’s yawning, he sticks his tongue out, he smiles,” she said. “It gives you a realization of what’s going on when your stomach is moving around and bouncing around.”

And so forth and so on, swinging back and forth between the voices of people and the style of journalism. The tension is real and there is no easy way around it. But this points to a larger story: When will the people who lobby against abortion realize that this form of technology is on their side? Is the future of pro-life work linked to ultrasounds, rather than picket signs? Might be a story hidden in this style issue.

Is Al Gore's God aiming these hurricanes at Florida?

God_vs_bush2Some of you may remember that, while stuffed inside my shuttered concrete and metal fortress West Palm Beach fortress, I sent out a missive the other day on the theological implications of being hit multiple times by hurricanes in the space of a few weeks.

It included the following lines that were went in jest, sort of. Maybe. Maybe not. I am not a Calvinist, so I can say it is all a mystery.

God shows up in quite a few of the news stories during hurricane season, but, so far, no one has put in print the question that you actually hear down here on the sidewalks and in the pews. The question is simple: Why is this happening? Close behind that question is this one: Why is God doing this to us? And then this one: Was it something we did? Why is Pat Robertson mad at us this time?

In the past few days, more than a few people have sent me the graphic that accompanies this post, which has been floating around in people’s email listservs. Has it actually been published anywhere? It proposes a somewhat partisan explanation for what has been happening to Florida, in light of the 2000 election. It is sort of Pat Robertson for Unitarian activists at www.MainstreamCoalition.org.

The thing’s pretty funny, if you ask me. However, look at one tiny detail on that pre-Jeanne map — that blue-tinted Palm Beach County. Let me assure you, as a resident of this fair locale, that we have not been missed by the storms. (Wait, I need to save my work because I think the campus computer network is still shaken by storm damage. There, I’m back.) Also, St. Lucie County as been pounded.

So, while I have questions about the fine details in this map, I stand by my statement that the whole subject of theodicy and hurricanes is fair game. Some one ought to take it seriously.

And that someone is not columnist Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle. Still, I have to admit that he gets off some funny lines in his “Does God Hate Florida? After four brutal hurricanes, why aren’t Bush evangelicals talking about the Almighty’s wrath?” Here’s the opener:

You know it’s true. You know if, say, San Francisco had just been blasted by not two, not three, but fully four lethal trailer-park-eating earthquakes, why, the Right-wing Bible set would be yelping with barely disguised joy.

Of course they would. They’d be jumping up and down and saying I told you so and pointing to Volume 18 of “Left Behind” and claiming that this was, of course, God’s wrath upon the sinners and the gays and the heathens and sodomites and the tofu eaters and the Toyota Priuses and the yoga studios and the anal sex and the incense burners and the Zen meditation centers.

Ha ha snicker, they’d say. Serves you right, they’d sneer. Shoulda voted Republican, they’d add.

And so forth and so on, paragraph after paragraph (some of which are actually funny), while adding zero content to the discussion. Maybe, even though he is a columnist, he could have tried interviewing an actual theologian or two, offering competing perspectives. Just a thought. The religious left is easy to find out there, but, hey, the Southern Baptists even have a seminary nearby. Give ‘em a ring.


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