O ye gods! WPost blazes trail in AP heresy (updated)

A reading, according to the Stylebook of the Associated Press.

Let us attend.

gods and goddesses Capitalize God in references to the deity of all monotheistic religions. Capitalize all noun references to the deity: God the Father, Holy Ghost, Holy Spirit, etc. …

Lowercase gods and goddesses in reference to the deities of polytheistic religions.

Lowercase god, gods and goddesses in references to false gods: He made money his god.

That is a pretty clear set of guidelines, methinks.

Thus, I am trying to imagine the conversation at The Washington Post copydesk that led to the following religious reference in a short news report about the amazingly quick political comeback by former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford (which Bobby addressed just yesterday). Here is the context:

The former governor beat Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch, the sister of comedian Stephen Colbert Busch, for the state’s 1st congressional district. …

In remarks at a victory rally Tuesday night, Sanford tipped his cap to Colbert Busch and her team for a “well-run race.” But the campaign, he said, “was based on two very different ideas on what ought to come next in Washington.”

Sanford also sounded a spiritual note in his address, thanking “god’s role in all of this,” and calling himself an “imperfect man” who was “saved by god’s grace.”

Say what? Saved by the grace of “god”? Which polytheistic or false god might that be?

But here is the crucial question, worthy of contemplation by the Post desk that works on corrections: Does this represent some kind of opposition to the AP gospel? That’s the question that amazed, or at least amused, conservative scribe Marvin Olasky of World magazine:

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Media treatment of Mikey Weinstein under scrutiny

Earlier today I mentioned some questions I have about this crazy “court-martial” story that blew up this week. The post is headlined “I share, you evangelize, they proselytize,” in reference to GetReligion reader Will Linden’s saying about how the same action can be described in different ways.

Much of the media coverage has been devoted to tamping down conservative Christian concern about whether Christians in the military will be court-martialed for sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with fellow soldiers. And that’s a good thing, since the story was clearly overblown and mishandled.

I was reading Ed Stetzer’s piece “Some Thoughts on the Newest Christian Concern: Court-Martials for Evangelism,” in which he goes after Christians for hyping the story (and while we’re at it, here’s a great Warren Throckmorton piece with quotes from the actual regulations). The comments to his post were instructive, though. For instance:

I know I for one was in an uproar when I read the story on Breitbart, but not simply because I feared that our men and women in uniform could be facing court martial for being Christian and sharing their Christian faith. My indignation was over the administration’s willingness, and apparent desire, to bring in Mikey Weinstein as some sort of special advisor on the issue–a man who seemingly makes no bones about calling Christians who share their faith “monsters” and associating us with rapists. My contempt for this policy (and I’ll admit that I, too, rushed to judgment) was not simply about the policy itself, but the fact that Weinstein, among others, was brought in to advise the administration on this policy. He can call it freedom from religious persecution all he wants, but how can he justify advocating such a thing when he is clearly so hostile toward men and women like you and me–men and women who desire to see people come to Christ and experience the gift of salvation from sin and death that He offers to each and everyone of us.

and

I appreciate your desire to be the voice of calm and reason, but I’m not reading much in your post that re-instills my faith in the pure motives and direction of this administration. Their apparent willingness to meet with the character in the Breitbart report does nothing but build legitimate suspicion, especially when all of their other priorities are taken into account.

I definitely think tamping down Christian concern by reporting this story fairly is a great journalistic service, as The Tennessean did here. But I do wonder if reporters are missing this other huge angle: that Mikey Weinstein is a player in this story!

It might be worth noting that religion reporters have different types of sources. Compare how a source such as the Jesuit Father Thomas Reese is portrayed with how a source such as Pamela Geller is. What’s tricky about Weinstein is that he has a little bit of both attributes. Reporters love Reese because he is great at making journalists’ jobs easier. He’s always good for a helpful quote and he makes himself available to reporters. He is genuinely helpful and speaks in a quotable manner. It’s great. Geller is treated less favorably for many reasons, but her extreme rhetoric when talking about Islam plays a major role in that treatment.

Weinstein is great with public relations like Reese is — he makes himself nothing if not available to reporters and he pushes out hot-button stories on the religion beat. He (Weinstein) also speaks in the Geller manner about Christians and yet, unlike her, he gets used as a source and is treated neutrally or favorably by the media.

Back to the Religion News Service story we discussed earlier, it mentions that the controversy arose after Weinstein, the head of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, met with Pentagon officials:

Weinstein is known for his inflammatory rhetoric about religious believers and Christians in particular, and he didn’t disappoint this time: he told The Washington Post after the April 23 meeting that proselytizing in the military is akin to “spiritual rape,” among other things.

It’s good that the “inflammatory rhetoric” is mentioned but it might understate things.

National Review Online published a piece where author David French also disputes the court-martialing for evangelicals aspect of the story, saying he’s “not aware of any immediate or pending change in Pentagon policies regarding religious liberty.” However, he’s deeply concerned about the military’s involvement with Weinstein. In an article headlined “Are Military Leaders and the MSM Embracing an Anti-Christian Extremist?,” he quotes a handful of comments made by Weinstein. The first example:

Our Pentagon has been turned into a Pentacostalgon, and our DOD has been turned into an imperialist, fascistic contagion of unconstitutional triumphalism by people that want to kill us – or have their version of Jesus kill us if we don’t accept their Biblical world view.

He provides four other similar, but somehow much worse, comments (seriously, you must read them, they’re amazing) and adds:

I’m sorry, but these are just ravings. And he met with generals? And the Washington Post, CNN, ABC News and others treats him as a serious commentator on faith in the military? Substitute “Muslim” for “Christian” in any of these comments and the brass wouldn’t let him darken the Pentagon’s doors. Sally Quinn might write about him, but only as a Terry Jones–like threat to peace, as the fanatical equivalent of a Koran-burner.

[Read more...]

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I share, you evangelize, they proselytize


Many moons ago, before I came to write for GetReligion, I was a devoted GetReligion reader. And I remember reader Will Linden used to comment something along the lines of:

I share, you evangelize, they proselytize.

Such wisdom in that line. I thought of this when I saw the tweet above.

Let’s look at the definitions of both terms.

pros·e·lyt·ize
1. Convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another.
2. Advocate or promote (a belief or course of action): “Davis wanted to proselytize his ideas”.

Synonyms
proselyte – convert

e·van·ge·lize
1. to preach the gospel to.
2. to convert to Christianity.
Synonyms
homilize, preachify, proclaim, proselytize, sermonize

So you can do one and not the other. You can convert but you can’t convert? Sounds confusing. Precisely what do the regulations say?

The Religion News Service piece mentioned above attempts to tamp down some Christian concern that erupted this week. And tamping down is good, in one sense, since there was bad information out there that suggested a policy change by the military. (If you want to get up to speed, you can do no better than this piece from The Tennessean, which lays out the current environment very well.)

Back to the RNS piece. Basically the military already has a regulation against proselytism but some anti-religion activists who are used as consultants by the military have been pushing the military to change how they enforce those regulations against people who “share” their religion.

So while the headlines of “sharing Jesus will totally get you court-martialed” were inaccurate, I’m not entirely sure that headlines definitively stating you won’t get court-martialed for sharing Jesus are on much stronger ground. At least from what I’m reading in the news stories.

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WWROD: So is atheism a belief system or not?

It’s time for another GetReligion visit to the online domain of the Ridgewood Religion Guy, as in the weblog of former Time and Associated Press religion-beat maestro Richard Ostling.

This time around, he’s digging into a classic question from the church-state wars of the past few decades, care of a reader named Tyler:

Should atheism be viewed as a religion? Do atheists view themselves as being part of a religious group?

The minute I read that question I thought of a scene in one of my all-time favorite episodes of “Northern Exposure,” called “Seoul Mates (check out the “may your dog talk” clip).”

That was the Christmas story in year three that focused on the cultural and personal roots of faith. At one point, the town’s crusty old storekeeper informs the Jewish Dr. Joel Fleischman that, while everyone else in town seems to really dig the Native American Raven pageant at Christmas time, she remains an atheist (though she retains a belief in a female divine force of some kind that has never taken human form). The doctor replies, as I recall the quote: I’ve always admired people who are atheists. I think it takes a lot of faith.

There’s a similar line, if I recall, in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” the part where the Woody Allen character faces his own mortality and begins to doubt his doubts. Right?

Anyway, Ostling replies that the key question is:

… What is “religion”? The American College Dictionary says it’s “the quest for the values of the ideal life, involving three phases: the ideal, the practices for attaining the values of the ideal, and the theology or worldview relating the quest to the environing universe.” Say what? No personal Deity there, and no not-quite-personal Supreme Being, either. Under that understanding, a devout atheist can be “religious” in the sense of holding convictions about moral duties, ultimate reality in the cosmos, and humanity’s involvement with all that. …

Atheists themselves don’t buy it, judging from a characteristic put-down posted on a movement Website: “For some strange reason, many people keep getting the idea that atheism is itself some sort of religion. … Maybe it is due to some persistent misunderstanding of what atheism is. And maybe they just don’t care that what they are saying really doesn’t make any sense.”

The Associated Press Stylebook advises, “in general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.” Following that valid principle with atheists, the apparent answers to Tyler are no, and no.

But there are some interesting complications, notes Ostling.

[Read more...]

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Francis coverage unfair to atheists?

And now for something completely different in the coverage of the election of Pope Francis — complaints from Viennese newspaper Der Standard that some coverage was unfair to atheists.

In an editorial discussing the press coverage of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio as the 226th Bishop of Rome the left liberal daily took the state TV broadcaster ORF to task for its one-sided and uncritical reporting.

Im ORF wurden in den verschiedensten Nachrichten-Formaten die Bilder gezeigt, wie sich der Papst bei Argentiniens Staatspräsidentin Cristina Kirchner für ein Präsent mit einem Wangenküsschen bedankt, was angesichts des gespannten Verhältnisses zwischen den beiden zwar eine Nachricht wert ist. Die Nachrichtenzeit wurde aber lieber für das tapsige Auspacken von Kirchners Mitbringsel verwendet, anstatt auf die Hintergründe der Anspannungen zwischen den beiden hinzuweisen, die unter anderem in der Gegnerschaft Bergoglios für Rechte von Lesben und Schwulen liegen. Mag sein, dass ein Verhütungsverbot, die Dämonisierung von gleichgeschlechtlicher Liebe oder die Kontrolle über den Körper von Frauen für Päpste, Kardinäle, Bischöfe und auch für viele gläubige KatholikInnen normal sind. Für sehr viele BürgerInnen ist es das aber nicht. Das Ereignis Papst-Wahl verleitete viele Medien dazu, zu vergessen, dass nicht nur religiöse Gefühle verletzt werden können, sondern auch atheistische.

[Austrian state TV broadcaster] ORF showed the pope thanking the Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner for a gift with a kiss on the cheek, which considering the tense relations between the two was certainly newsworthy. But instead of going into the background of the tensions between the two, which arise among other things from Bergoglio’s opposition to rights for gays and lesbians, the report followed the clumsy unwrapping of Kirchner’s present. It may be that a ban on contraception, the demonization of homosexual love and exercising control over women’s bodies are normal things for cardinals, bishops and many faithful Catholics. But for many citizens they aren’t. The papal election’s status as a major event has led many media to forget that not just religious feelings can be hurt, but atheistic ones too.

I’ve taken to task on the pages of GetReligion some American newspapers and broadcasters for their hypercritical reporting on Pope Francis. The argument put forward by Der Standard, however, can be distinguished from my criticisms of CNN, et al.

Raising the issue of Pope Francis’ conduct during the “dirty war”, when he served a superior of the Argentine Society of Jesus province, is a proper journalistic endeavor. I contrasted the French reporting on this issue which laid out the facts and noted the denials and strength of evidence to CNN’s coverage which framed the issue against Francis. CNN took as gospel the accusations but was skeptical of the defense.

That is a different argument from automatically rejecting out of hand any harsh words about the new Pope. Der Standard has a point. The exchange between both Francis and Pres. Kirchner, hitherto fierce political rivals in Argentina’s culture wars, should have been put in context. I am not persuaded by the editorial’s argument that this was a disservice to atheists. But I agree this fell short as journalism.

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Concerning the new Stanford chaplain for campus atheists

Once upon a time, some of the best church-state minds in American life went toe to toe over a serious question that was very hard to describe in short news reports. The basic question: If there is such a thing as Secular Humanism, a school of thought with its own moral beliefs and sort-of clergy, then why isn’t this a religion just like all the others?

In other words, why is it fine for a Baptist to social worker to receive federal funds if he agrees to preach as a secularist, or a Universalist, but she or he cannot receive those funds if this same Baptist preaches sermons based on traditional Christianity? Why isn’t that a state endorsement of one doctrine over another?

Actually, those arguments never went away. I think most reporters simply gave up trying to cover them.

I thought of that intellectual maze the other day when I saw The San Francisco Chronicle story about an interesting, and in this day and age a rather logical, development on the campus of Stanford University. The headline was blunt: “Stanford gets a chaplain for atheists.”

Wait, wait, we’re not talking about a new appointment in the biology or sociology departments.

Chaplain John Figdor has a divinity degree from Harvard. He counsels those in need and visits the sick. And he works with Stanford students under the Office of Religious Life.

So Figdor is the last guy you’d tag with the “A” word.

But, yes. The chaplain is an atheist.

“People are shocked when I tell them,” Figdor said. “But atheist, agnostic and humanist students suffer the same problems as religious students — deaths or illnesses in the family, questions about the meaning of life, etc. — and would like a sympathetic nontheist to talk to.”

The story asks many of the logical and appropriate questions about this development, including the practical and financial details of how Figdor fits into the structure of the 18 other “professional leaders” linked to the Office of Religious Life on campus. For example, the atheist chaplain is required to have a theological degree and he gets his own clergy parking space and office.

Some atheists and agnostics like this idea. Some are not all that excited.

[Read more...]

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2012: Top 10 religion stories of the year

YouTube Preview Image

As we near the end of 2012 — can you believe we made it this far!? — the time has come for the Top 10 of everything.

For example, the above video (featuring four guys and a gal playing a single guitar and singing a really catchy tune) made YouTube’s Top 10 Trending Videos list, ranking No. 2 behind a Korean dude dancing “Gangnam Style.”

Meanwhile, members of the Religion Newswriters Association have determined their annual Top 10 Religion Stories of the Year.

I thought it would be fun to list the Top 10 in random order and let GetReligion readers vote themselves. So, please rank your Top 10 in the comments section (write-in votes are allowed). I’ll provide a link at the bottom for the actual RNA link, but wait and click it after you comment. (By the way, the Newtown school shooting occurred after the RNA ballot was prepared, so it’s not reflected in the below list.)

Anti-Muslim video — The circulation of an anti-Islam film trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” causes unrest in several countries, leading to claims that it inspired the fatal attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya. President Obama, at the U.N., calls for toleration tolerance of blasphemy, and respect as a two-way street.

Contraception fight — U.S. Catholic bishops lead opposition to Obamacare requirement that insurance coverage for contraception be provided for employees. The government backs down a bit, but not enough to satisfy the opposition.

Kansas City bishop conviction — Monsignor William Lynn of Philadelphia becomes the first senior Catholic official in the U.S. to be found guilty of covering up priestly child abuse; later Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City, Mo., becomes the first bishop to be found guilty of it.

Rise of the ‘nones’ — A Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life survey shows that “nones” is the fastest-growing religious group in the United States, rising to 19.6 percent of the population.

Romney’s Mormonism — Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith turns out to be a virtual non-issue for white evangelical voters, who support him more strongly than they did John McCain, in the U.S. presidential race.

Same-sex marriage and denominations — Denominational votes The Episcopal Church overwhelmingly adopts a trial ritual for blessing same-sex couples. Earlier, the United Methodists fail to vote on approving gay clergy, and the Presbyterians (USA) vote to study, rather than sanction same-sex marriage ceremonies.

Same-sex marriage and states — Voters OK same-sex marriage in Maine, Maryland and Washington, bringing the total approving to nine states and the District of Columbia. Also, Minnesota defeats a ban on same-sex marriage after North Carolina approves one.

Sikh temple shooting — Six people are killed and three wounded at worship in a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee. The shooter, an Army veteran killed by police, is described as a neo-Nazi.

Southern Baptist black president — Southern Baptist Convention elects without opposition its first black president, the Rev. Fred Luter of New Orleans.

Vatican and the nuns — The Vatican criticizes the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an umbrella group of U.S. nuns, alleging they haven’t supported church teaching on abortion, sexuality or women’s ordination.

After you rank your Top 10, check out the RNA results. HuffPost Religion’s editors also take a crack at the Top 10 religion stories.

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The nones on the bus

This week the Pew folks came out with a large Global Religious Landscape report. It’s a super fun read for anybody who follows this site. Yesterday, we looked at one story that came up short when discussing the significance of Christianity’s dominance. In the comments to that piece, reader MJBubba wrote:

Not so fast on those 16% unaffiliated. I heard a radio news broadcast that briefly mentioned this story and, though I don’t recall their actual words, it sounded like the 16 % were all atheists and agnostics. The Pew report says that 62 % of the 16 % are Chinese, and then goes on to say that 44 % of these 700 million Chinese “say they have worshiped at a graveside or tomb in the past year.” It sounds like many of these unaffiliated are either too suspicious to give their affiliation (Falun Gong perhaps, or un-registered Christians or Muslims?), or maybe they practice the “Chinese indigenous spirit religions.” Either way, some media coverage of the 16 % seems to run far further than the Pew report supports.

The “nones” (not to be confused with the “nuns,” as I do literally every time I hear a report about them) are a huge story this year. But when we talk about those who are unaffiliated with any particular confession of faith, we could be talking about everything from hard-core atheists to folks who worshiped at a sacred place in the previous year. How does the coverage handle this?

One of the difficulties in covering this story is that it takes quite a few words to explain what “unaffiliated” means. And “unaffiliated” isn’t the most exciting way to phrase it sometimes. This Reuters report is great. Here’s the top dealing with the issue at hand:

People with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest global group in a new study of the size of the world’s faiths, placing after Christians and Muslims and just before Hindus.

The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects.

It showed Christianity is the most evenly spread religion, present in all regions of the world, while Hinduism is the least global with 94 percent of its population in one country, India.

Overall, 84 percent of the world’s inhabitants, which it estimated at 6.9 billion, identify with a religion, according to the study entitled “The Global Religious Landscape” issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Tuesday.

The “unaffiliated” category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith.  “Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs,” the study stressed.

“Belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30 percent of unaffiliated French adults and 68 percent of unaffiliated U.S. adults,” it said.

It’s everything you could hope for in a very brief report on this intriguing trend. But we did have a few complaints about the headline, which reads:

“No religion” third world group after Christians, Muslims

What do you think?

Less successful was the New York Times headline:

Study Finds One in 6 Follows No Religion

The story is very short and doesn’t include details about how many of those one in six hold religious beliefs even as they’re unaffiliated. As Peter Manseau put it:

Better headline for this would be “Study Finds 1 in 6 Follows No Religion Exclusively.” Unaffiliated doesn’t mean none.

Even the New York Times headline was better than this one from Religion News Service, which was just flat out false:

Unbelief is now the world’s third-largest ‘religion’

Pew asked about religious affiliation, not belief.

It’s a difficult concept to capture in a headline. I still think “unaffiliated” might be the right term to use, but copy editors might riot rather than use it. What do you think?

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