The GOP and Hispanic ghosts

sen mel martinezTucked away on page six of Sunday’s Washington Post was an update on the Republican Party’s efforts to increase its votes among Hispanics. The article focuses on Republican National Committee Chairman Sen. Mel Martinez of Florida and his awkward position as the first Hispanic face of the Republican Party in an election cycle when the Hispanic vote has dropped off and a predominant number of the 2008 presidential candidates aren’t exactly looking to push policies that appeal to Hispanics.

The huge ghost in this story concerns the social policies the GOP has promoted for a number of election cycles that were supposed to draw in social conservatives. Republican strategists figured that these social issues dominated Hispanic communities. Why? Well, because they are supposedly faithful Catholics. Unfortunately, not more than a single word is devoted to this angle, and it’s through a quote from a source:

Capitalizing on his experience as governor of Texas, Bush made historic inroads with Hispanic voters for a Republican, earning 30 percent of their votes in 2000 and 40 percent four years later.

“That was a remarkable achievement,” said Roberto Suro, founder and former director of the Pew Hispanic Center, the Washington-based nonpartisan research group. “Bush and [former chief political adviser Karl] Rove believe that Hispanics are natural Republicans. Predominantly Catholic, they’re socially conservative. And Bush and Rove sold them the old Main Street Republican approach of upward mobility into the middle class. It worked.”

Last year’s midterm election was a turning point, however, and the Republicans’ share of the Hispanic vote dipped back to 30 percent. The turnaround, analysts said, was the result of the GOP’s anti-immigration image. In late 2005, the House passed a bill that sought to toughen border security, authorize local police officers to detain illegal immigrants and crack down on businesses that hired illegal immigrants. Latinos responded by taking to the streets across the country.

Could the Post expound on that thought, please? Is this just a story about how the GOP’s failure to embrace immigration reform alienated the voters that the policy was intended to appease? Is the lack of substantial policy efforts on social issues part of the story? How does Alberto Gonzales play into the story with his reputation as not exactly being a social conservative stalwart? Or is there an uncovered element here involving an ever-changing Hispanic community?

The huge area for discussion that the Post passed up are the two major trends that are critical in the Hispanic voting bloc. One would be the rise of Catholic Pentecostals. How has this trend within the Hispanic community affected politics, if at all?

The other major trend would be the high rate of conversion to Protestantism. Are there any talking heads out there who would like to comment on how these two trends could potentially influence more Hispanics to vote for socially conservative candidates?

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Christopher Hitchens explains it all for you

HitchensTeresaHitchens Takes on Mother Teresa,” Newsweek‘s website proclaims this week, which is about as fresh a bulletin as Saturday Night Live‘s standing gag of “Generalissimo Francisco Franco Is Still Dead.” That Newsweek would invite Hitchens to write an online essay is no great surprise. Even when Hitchens’ purpose is to whistle a happy tune over Mother Teresa’s grave, he does it with a certain flair. Here is a crucial point in his argument:

The case of Mother Teresa, who could not force herself into accepting the facile cure-all of “faith,” is that of a fairly simple woman struggling to be honest with herself, while also — this is important — striving to be an example to others. And I believe I have a possible explanation for the crisis. It derives from something that Lord Macaulay said, when reviewing Leopold von Ranke’s “History of the Popes.” The Roman Catholic Church, he wrote, “thoroughly understands what no other Church has ever understood, how to deal with enthusiasts” [my italics]. Wise bishops have long known to beware of the fanatical and the overzealous. After being lectured on doctrinal matters by the ultraconservative convert Evelyn Waugh, the pope is said to have concluded the audience by murmuring, “Yes, Mr. Waugh. I am a Catholic, too.”

What’s a greater surprise is that Newsweek would devote three pages of its publication to Hitchens’ essay, along with photos to adorn his anti-hagiography. In a full-page portrait, a poor man holds Mother Teresa’s hand as she looks off in the distance. “Faith or Works?” the caption begins, as if Teresa had to choose. On the closing page of the essay, four photos show her with Yasir Arafat, Princess Diana, the Reagans and Hillary Clinton. The pull quote is well-aimed: “Like not a few overpromoted figures, she suffered from more self-hatred the more she was overpraised.”

Hitchens concludes his essay with this haymaker: “I say it as calmly as I can — the Church should have had the elementary decency to let the earth lie lightly on this troubled and miserable lady, and not to invoke her long anguish to recruit the credulous to a blind faith in which she herself had long ceased to believe.”

Hitchens nods to the Dark Night as a reality for several Christian saints throughout the centuries, yet still misses its fundamental point: The saints who have endured the Dark Night have not surrendered to disbelief. Hitchens depicts Teresa as no longer a believer, yet at the same time a fanatic:

If Santayana was right to define fanaticism as ‘redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim, then Mother Teresa’s international crusade against divorce, abortion and contraception was the tribute that doubt paid to certainty: a strenuous and almost hysterical effort to drown out the awful fear of “absence.”

Just before quoting Santayana, Hitchens refers (naturally) to Teresa’s “enthusiastic fundamentalism,” lest that all-purpose insult ever escape anyone’s mind.

The news here is not that Christopher Hitchens still loathes Mother Teresa, but that he’s still trying to reinterpret her, to assume supernatural insight into her interior world, in vindicating his thesis in The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice (1997). This protracted and belabored “I told you so,” the rhetorical fireworks display aside, is becoming an embarrassment.

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Jogging in (less than) brief

cassromanmlA long, long time ago, I was the religion writer and columnist for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver. It’s a fascinating city in a beautiful region (heaven, you know) and I envy people who get to work out there.

The person who holds that position these days, and has for many years, is Jean Torkelson. And I must say that I do not envy her right now. Or maybe I do envy her. That’s what I cannot figure out at the moment.

You ask, “Why?”

At the moment, Torkelson is covering what has to be one of the strangest stories to come down the jogging path in a long, long time. It’s a serious story, because the Catholic Church is a serious place these days when it comes to priests with innovative ideas about matters of sex (kind of). Yet this story is also, so, so … Well, you judge. Click here for a range of mainstream coverage at the moment.

It’s the kind of story that leaves a reporter wondering what angle to take, what tone to strike. Here’s the lede on a Torkelson column that tries to walk this tightrope:

Here’s a surefire way to scatter the flock on a Sunday morning: Just walk up after Mass and ask folks what they think about their pastor being caught jogging naked.

You would like a summary of the facts about the actions of Father Robert Whipkey?

… Whipkey faces an indecent exposure charge for what he says was innocent predawn nude jogging on June 22. That forced the Denver Archdiocese to reveal that Whipkey entered therapy in 1999 for “inappropriate personal behavior” while a pastor in Sterling. A former police chief said the issue involved shaving naked in front of boys.

Despite a recurring theme here, the archdiocese not only returned Whipkey to parish work after Sterling, but didn’t put him on leave until six weeks after the June jogging incident. And that, the flock said, was only after the media made it a big deal.

“He’s a great pastor,” said George Martinez, one of few parishioners to give his name. “I had dropped out, and I’m back in church because of him.”

A strange story indeed. I was left wondering a simple question: This is a serious story. How does one avoid the fact that it is also, well, rather funny in a kind of Monty Python-esque manner? Torkelson wisely plays it straight down the middle, but does allow a zinger in a direct quote.

It all looks odd to Amy Berger, who lives across the street from St. Theresa’s.

“If you want to jog nude, why not get a treadmill?” she mused.

I have very mixed feelings on all of this and I have no idea how I would handle it.

So good luck, Colorado journalists. And my heart goes out to the copy-desk pros who have to write the headlines for this one.

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Mother Teresa’s interior world

MotherTeresa TimeIt’s easy to treat Mother Teresa as a plaster saint, a symbol of unattainable holiness. Contrary to the example of Teresa’s life, some pampered souls (speaking for myself, at least) turn her into an escape clause from Jesus’ call to die to ourselves: “I’ll never be another Mother Teresa, so I’ll just stay where I am, thanks.” Teresa’s posture and countenance suggested a soul deeply at peace with God, and thus better able to do heroic works of compassion.

It’s oddly comforting to read David Van Biema’s cover article for this week’s Time, which reinforces what veteran journalist Richard Ostling revealed in 2003: Teresa waged a nearly lifelong battle with feelings of spiritual failure and unworthiness.

Van Biema draws at length from a new book, Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light (Doubleday), but he also quotes thoughtful Catholics who help explain her struggle.

Here is an especially brilliant paragraph:

Two very different Catholics predict that the book will be a landmark. The Rev. Matthew Lamb, chairman of the theology department at the conservative Ave Maria University in Florida, thinks Come Be My Light will eventually rank with St. Augustine’s Confessions and Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain as an autobiography of spiritual ascent. [The Rev. James] Martin of [the Jesuit weekly] America, a much more liberal institution, calls the book “a new ministry for Mother Teresa, a written ministry of her interior life,” and says, “It may be remembered as just as important as her ministry to the poor. It would be a ministry to people who had experienced some doubt, some absence of God in their lives. And you know who that is? Everybody. Atheists, doubters, seekers, believers, everyone.”

That final sentence prompted a question of how Christopher Hitchens — who turned Teresa-bashing into a quirky personal crusade — will respond to these details. Van Biema delivers the answer in two separate paragraphs:

Says Christopher Hitchens, author of The Missionary Position, a scathing polemic on Teresa, and more recently of the atheist manifesto God Is Not Great: “She was no more exempt from the realization that religion is a human fabrication than any other person, and that her attempted cure was more and more professions of faith could only have deepened the pit that she had dug for herself.”

… In 1948, Hitchens ventures, Teresa finally woke up, although she could not admit it. He likens her to die-hard Western communists late in the cold war: “There was a huge amount of cognitive dissonance,” he says. “They thought, ‘Jesus, the Soviet Union is a failure, [but] I’m not supposed to think that. It means my life is meaningless.’ They carried on somehow, but the mainspring was gone. And I think once the mainspring is gone, it cannot be repaired.” That, he says, was Teresa.

Van Biema spends far more space exploring the question of how Teresa felt such torment, even while attending daily Mass and devoting so much of her life to serving Christ in the poor. If you don’t subscribe to Time, buy this week’s issue. Then read, mark, learn and inwardly digest.

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Has the GOP’s evangelical candidate emerged?

gov mike huckabeeStrumming his guitar to a second-place finish in the silly Iowa straw poll this past weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has alerted political reporters that evangelicals aren’t to be discounted as a voting bloc in the 2008 presidential election. Reporters covering the GOP side of the campaign were all set to discount evangelicals.

The top-tier candidates according to national polls — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson (John McCain has all but been written off due to his dramatic fall) — fall short of the ideal candidate for evangelicals, which makes the idea of the “perfect” evangelical candidate in Huckabee all the more compelling.

These straw polls are less a measure of a candidate’s popularity than of ability to organize support in Iowa. Much is being made of Huckabee’s not paying for busloads of supporters and of his support coming from the grassroots in Iowa. Thanks to Romney’s caravan of buses, most media organizations are placing little credibility in his first-place finish with 32 percent of the vote (Huckabee finishes second at 18 percent). But did someone else organize Huckabee’s busloads?

All this leads to The Wall Street Journal‘s hypothesis that Huckabee won the day by coming in second:

The biggest winner of Iowa Republicans’ weekend straw poll of 11 presidential rivals may well turn out to be not Mitt Romney, whose first-place finish here was expected, but surprise runner-up Mike Huckabee, the guitar-picking former governor of Arkansas.

Should Mr. Huckabee capitalize on his second-place showing here Saturday to get a second look from demoralized Republicans unhappy with their choices — and to get much-needed funding — the repercussions could reshuffle the party’s contest for its 2008 nomination. Social conservatives, who have come to dominate the Republican Party, could decide the candidate they have been looking for has been in the race the whole time, languishing at the back of the pack with little money to promote himself.

Everyone seems to be writing off “the other” evangelical candidate, Sen. Sam Brownback, but as Noam Scheiber notes, combine Brownback’s support with Huckabee and you have a hardy 33 percent of the day’s vote beating Romney. But don’t expect the two candidates to come together for a common purpose anytime soon.

The New York Times seems to think that Huckabee’s success is related to his joking his way to the second-place victory. I’m sure voters appreciate Huckabee’s sense of humor, but these straw polls have more to do with buses than with candidates’ personalities.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic seems to have some evidence that Huckabee was provided some buses by nonw other than home-schooling advocate Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College:

Here’s another source of Huckabee’s strength: home schoolers. It’s true — a campaign tells me that national home school advocate Michael Farris helped to organize a train of car poolers for Iowa homeschools and points out that Huckabee had two breakfast meetings on Saturday morning with some of his more ardent home-school-parent supporters.

Beliefnet’s David Kuo sees Huckabee as the candidate who will bring together a new evangelical coalition. Kuo adds: “Christians increasingly see him as a ‘real’ Christian — not just one made to sound like one for the political season.”

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Yo, Father: Stop yapping, start chanting

LatinMassMy GetReligion guilt file is not as thick as Metropolitan Mattingly’s, unless you count stories on which I wish my insights (or opinions) gave me a strong enough motivation to blog.

Two pieces from Time — both released during my recent travels to the Deep South — have given me that motivation.

One is a news report about the growing trend among some churches to welcome the presence of ATM kiosks that enable parishioners to donate on the spot and receive a receipt that will satisfy the IRS.

The story is filed under Business, but reporter Rita Healy realizes that there’s a cringe factor at work here, too:

Pastors like to tell jokes about parishioners collecting Frequent Flier points on the way to heaven. A recent Dallas Morning News poll found that 55% of 200 local churches accept credit and/or debit cards.

Automatic checking account withdrawals are used by some churches, and more recently, ATM-like kiosks are now available in many church corridors and lobbies, where parishioners can swipe a card and receive a printed receipt, which they can either save for the IRS or plunk into the collection basket with a flourish, so pew mates will know they’re not spiritual freeloaders.

Healy quotes Dr. Marty Baker, pastor of Stevens Creek Community Church in Augusta, Georgia, and a marketer of the devices, as saying donations are up 18 percent in ATM-outlet churches and that “People don’t want to carry cash.”

This brief item is enough to make some evangelicals reminiscent for the days when some worried that every new techie innovation in banking was just another step toward an Antichrist system in which one either took the mark of the beast (and traded freely) or refused it (and starved). These days, such a difficult choice might be resolved much more easily: Dude, as long there’s no ATM fee, no prob.

Turning from reporting to witty essay-writing, we find Lisa Takeuchi Cullen (who recently confessed to losing nearly all interest in her once-infantilized dog after welcoming her first child) building a contrarian’s case for bringing back the Latin Mass in Roman Catholic churches.

Cullen’s argument amounts to this — she would much rather hear an incomprehensible Latin rite than endure her priest’s sermons based on some of the church’s moral teachings:

I clearly remember one [sermon] involving a newborn baby left in a Dumpster that somehow in the end advocated against laws allowing abortion. There was that time you beseeched us, Father, to write letters of protest to a Senator who supported stem-cell research. Not long ago, your homily excoriated divorce. You used as your rhetorical cornerstone the 1998 Lindsay Lohan vehicle The Parent Trap.

In her next paragraph, though, Cullen adds more heft to her argument:

Whatever our issues with the tenets of Catholicism the religion, we still cling to what unites us in Catholicism the faith: our devotion to the celebration of the Eucharist. I confess I adore the rich minutiae of the Mass: the frankincense, the Kyrie, the droning of creeds in a sacred space. It comforts me to know that my family around the globe takes part in the same weekly rites. The common purpose of shared ceremony helps me reflect on the Holy Spirit. With apologies, Father, homilies based on your Netflix queue do not.

One of the great surprises of Peter Occhiogrosso’s classic book of profiles, Once a Catholic, was how many people (including Frank Zappa) missed the Latin Mass. Cullen’s reasons for wanting the Latin rite back sound too consumer-oriented to persuade leaders at parish or diocesan levels. Still, her reasons are off-kilter enough to weaken some stereotypes of Latin Mass-lovers as just so many Lefebvrites.

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Secular civics in Spain

honda civicsA reader of ours, UndergroundPewster, wrote us a note asking for our thoughts on this International Herald Tribune article on a new secular civics course being introduced in Spain.

In this “Letter from Spain,” reporter Victoria Burnett tells us how a new course taught to students in about a third of Spain’s regions in September is drawing the ire of the Catholic Church. While the course seems rather benign from the initial description of lessons on why reckless driving is bad, Burnett relies on a Catholic to tell us what the fuss is all really about much later in the story

And it’s all about sex:

Alfonso Aguilo, a Catholic headmaster and head of the Madrid Association of Private Education Companies, said that 2,500 parents of the 40,000 students the association represents do not want their children to take the course. In an interview by telephone, he said he was worried about textbooks that put heterosexuality on an equal footing with homosexuality, bisexuality or transsexuality.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want their children to think there are five types of sexuality, five types of family,” he said.

Near the end of the article we’re told that part of the controversy involves the Catholic Church seeing the new course “as a challenge to its influence in the education system,” where it holds a lot of weight. Also, a fourth of all Spanish students are in Catholic schools, which receive 50 percent of their funding from the government.

Overall the article lacked a broader context that would have been helpful to see the clash between the secularists in Spain and the traditionalists in the church. The clash here makes the culture wars in America look tame, considering that both sides are represented by entrenched centralized organizations.

There is also the question of the broader European story. Spain is very different from its neighbors in a number of ways, but what do other countries’ educational systems have in terms of civics courses and the church? A couple of compelling places to look would be Italy and France.

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Is God at the Yearly Kos?

medium jesus cares for the poor sioux falls smTwo of the biggest political stories of the year, so far, have been the rise of the Godtalkers — old and new — in the Democratic Party and the ever-larger online power base that most liberal leaders call the Netroots.

So I was curious the other day to see if these two trends would overlap in mainstream news coverage of the Yearly Kos, that media-friendly gathering of the folks whose political lives revolve around the Daily Kos weblog and the groups that spin out of it.

So far, it does not appear that the Netroots are getting Middle American religion — at least there is no sign of it in the Los Angeles Times report on the event. I am trying to scan the other mainstream coverage, but I am getting no hits with searches involving “God,” “Christian” and other obvious terms. Anyone seen anything? I did see one Washington Times reference on Google to an interfaith prayer breakfast. Here is a link to that weblog item.

But back to the Los Angeles Times story, by reporter James Rainey. It does include the following interesting reference to the goals of the Netroots movement:

Simon Rosenberg, president of the liberal think tank New Democratic Network, told a panel Friday that Democrats had a “historic opportunity” to create a lasting Democratic majority, much as Franklin Roosevelt did in 1932.

“We have the opportunity to put the Republicans away for a generation,” Rosenberg said. “But it’s not just going to happen — you have to make it happen.”

Liberals heralded the first Kos convention last summer in Las Vegas as a watershed moment in online activism. Berkeley-based Markos Moulitsas lent his Daily Kos blog handle but said he left the planning to others, mostly volunteers. They boasted this year that the gathering had grown in many ways — from 1,000 to 1,500 participants, from 150 to 250 media outlets, with a tripling of sponsorships from unions and other liberal-leaning organizations to $250,000.

Now, as a guy who has a framed portrait of FDR over his desk at home, this fascinated me.

But, wait a minute, list in your minds the major building blocks of the powerful FDR-era Democratic Party coalition. Didn’t that coalition include large numbers of Bible Belt moral populists and evangelicals? And didn’t urban Catholics in the Midwest and Northeast — you know, the daily Mass Catholics who played such a large role in labor history — figure into that coalition, too?

As a pro-life Democrat, that’s the sort of thing you would expect me to ask about. Has anyone seen any mainstream — or blog nation — coverage of traditional faith at the Yearly Kos? How are the evangelical Democrats and the anti-evangelical Democrats getting along?

The Daily Kos posted some photos from the interfaith service, and here they are.

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