What about the two Buddhists?

hank johnsonThe Washington Post ran a short story on page A17 Friday about the religious makeup of the 110th Congress that highlighted the record-high number of Jewish lawmakers.

Reporter Elizabeth Williamson also mentions the other Congress members within the Judeo-Christian tent, but for the most part she focuses on the high number of Jewish Democrats:

About 2 percent of Americans identify themselves as Jewish. But in Congress, the proportion of Jewish members is now four times that. Six new Jewish House members were sworn in last week, bringing the total to 30. In the Senate, the 13 Jewish members include freshmen Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) and Bernard Sanders (I-Vt.), according to the National Jewish Democratic Council.

Other faith-related facts: This Congress includes its first Muslim member and, in Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (Nev.), its highest-ranking Mormon ever. Catholics remain the largest single faith group in Congress, at about 30 percent — slightly larger than their proportion of the U.S. population. Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians outnumber Jewish members, who outnumber Episcopalians.

In making its count, the NJDC, which bills itself as the national voice of Jewish Democrats, counted only those lawmakers who identify themselves as Jewish. (So even if he had won, Virginia’s George Allen wouldn’t have made the cut.)

mazie hironoI know everyone finds it deliciously ironic that George Allen found out amid a heady campaign that his family background was Jewish, but it’s not the first time this happened to a politician. A more prominent but less local character for the Post to highlight would be John Kerry.

The article mentions that GOP attempts to court Jewish votes have been to no avail. This is true for many reasons — much of what Republicans believe goes against what a majority of Jews believe — but there’s also the Republican Party in Texas:

Pollsters say the GOP failed to counter Jewish voters’ opposition to Republican stands on issues such as reproductive rights, stem cell research and the Iraq war. And then there’s the Republican Party platform in President Bush’s home state of Texas, which has declared the United States to be a Christian nation.

The religious politics of Republican Texans is a tip-of-the-iceberg issue when it comes to Jews’ hesitancy to vote Republican. There’s a much bigger story there, but a party platform declaring the United States to be exclusively Christian is a good place to start.

One of our readers, Jason Pitzl-Waters, noted and linked to this piece pointing out that this Congress has the nation’s two first Buddhist members, a detail missing from the Post article. What gives? Hank Johnson and Mazie Hirono deserve at least a mention. The New York Times‘ Caucus blog mentioned it a few weeks ago amid the Koran hubbub. That’s one of the only references I’ve seen to Hirono and Johnson’s religious beliefs.

Why did the Post editors overlook Hirono and Johnson? Perhaps they’ll revisit it later in a Style section piece?

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Argue with Andrew Sullivan this time

baby angelOK, consider this a short update on our comments-page arguments about whether public debates about abortion are, in and of themselves, a “religious” matter.

It’s poignant to watch this debate, and others linked to it, lived out in real life and covered in the news stories that result.

In this case, don’t yell at me — yell at Andrew Sullivan. It is clear to me (at least) that he has spotted a religion ghost — ethical ghost? moral ghost? — in a New York Times piece about abortion.

Or is it about abortion? That’s the point. Here is the item on Sullivan’s Time blog:

The Culling Continues
09 Jan 2007 11:57 am

Today’s NYT piece on doctors’ urging more comprehensive testing for Down Syndrome fetuses omits one obvious fact: the reason for such testing. Which is to kill them in utero, of course. Why leave this out? Isn’t it the crux of the story? And no mention of the 90 percent figure for abortions after DS detection. Do the NYT’s editors believe readers cannot handle the truth?

This follows another Sullivan post on the same topic and, ultimately, for this voice on the gay-activist side of the Catholic church aisle, leads to another topic looming in the background — the possible abortion of unborn gay children at some point in the medical future. Sullivan recently aired his views on that topic in one of his essays for The Times of London.

Does this sound like a far-fetched idea to you?

I’ve been asking questions about this possible link between the two hottest of hot social issues since the mid-1980s, when I raised it during a press conference in Denver with then-Democratic Rep. Patricia Schroeder. I asked her if, in the future, she expected to see scientific evidence that people are born gay. She said that she did. I then asked if she thought this implied there would be a gay gene that, sooner or later, would show up in prenatal testing. She said she assumed that this would happen. So I asked her if she would, at that time, oppose the abortion of gay fetuses. She did not want to answer that question and one of her staff rushed over to say that they would have to deal with that when the time came.

Sullivan thinks that issue is coming sooner or later (while I think the nature-nurture debate will be much harder to settle) and that we can see evidence of the outcome in the Down Syndrome trends. If he is right, that is a huge story and one that, when the story breaks, will be debated in strongly religious terms. Sullivan and the pope will be on the same side of that debate, correct?

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Judy Woodruff talks to some of us kids

Judy WoodruffJudy Woodruff has us kids figured out. In her documentary Generation Next: Speak Up, Be Heard, the veteran broadcaster took a segment to explore the issue of religion with 16- to 25-year-olds. I can’t say I am a big fan of the documentary’s methodology, but it has its redeeming qualities.

First of all, a person’s views change a great deal between the ages of 16 and 25. Most Americans during that period of their lives finish high school, go through college and experience the first three years of their post-graduate career (disclaimer: I am 25). How can you compare a demographic with that type of range?

Second, the episode seems to rely heavily on examples and draws large conclusions based on a handful of statistics. For instance, the show includes a stat from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that said 44 percent of young Americans agree that religion is a very important in their lives. But a survey by the Barna Group found that 60 percent of 20-somethings who had religious teenage years are now disengaged.

Then you have 60 percent of young folk feeling that conservative Christians have gone way too far in “trying to impose” their religious values on America.

You can see what kind of picture Woodruff is painting for us here, can’t you? And it’s all supported by examples, but what do those statistics really mean?

Here is Woodruff talking to Byron Johnson of Baylor University to get an idea of whether these young people will affect the future:

BYRON JOHNSON: It will be interesting to see if the young will be able to have influence over middle-aged and older evangelicals. It wouldn’t surprise me if that happened, to be candid.

Some of these issues are really — young people have grown up thinking about them. And older Americans are now struggling with them.

And so, you know, over time, it’s hard to say how this will play out, but I would assume that, as young Americans become middle-aged Americans, their views on those will probably not lessen at all. So it may be more representative in the future of an evangelical position on social justice issues that kind of goes more left.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Will Generation Next’s views on social issues have a transformational impact on religion and, in turn, politics? Or, as they mature, will they follow in the footsteps of their parents? This issue is something both religious and political leaders will be following as 2008 approaches.

Whatever happened to the old saying misattributed to Winston Churchill that “If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain”? Before doing a series on the “next generation,” a reporter should go look at the series written on their own generation, if they did them back then. (Did they?)

Perhaps it is a generational thing. Maybe this generation I’ve been lumped into is really not special compared to past generations? Even Woodruff considers the possibility in this interview with Jim Lehrer:

So, I mean, you’ve got young people across this country who are thinking a whole lot harder about what the problems are, what ought to be done, than we give them credit for.

I’m not going to sit here, though, and tell you that every single one of them is passionate. Some of them are just focused on paying their bills, paying off their college loans, keeping a job, getting a job.

Notice Woodruff’s qualification regarding the thinking young people. They do it a whole lot more “than we give them credit for,” says Woodruff. Who is “we”? I’d like to consider myself passionate about some things. But I’m also concerned about the more practical stuff she mentions, like jobs and money.

As for the religious trends this episode attempts to establish, it’s awfully wishy-washy to lead off half of the subheads with the word “some” because you could say just about anything about a generation if you just wanted to include the minimal number of one that would qualify as “some”:

Some choose new religious tradition

Some lose interest in old structure

Woodruff uses the word “some” or variations seven times in her interview with Lehrer and 14 times in the documentary segment.

I think it’s fair to say that some parts of this series are interesting and even revealing. But I think some of our readers may agree that the paucity of specifics and generous use of generalizations is frustrating.

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Are “parishes” the same as “churches”?

ePIt’s time to answer a picky question.

… tmatt, forgive me for asking this here (the devil made me), but when are you ever going to reveal why you changed “church” to “parish?”

Posted by Fr Joseph Huneycutt at 7:19 am on January 4, 2007

This does seem like such a tiny matter. However, I mentioned it in the original post for one reason — it’s the kind of nuanced, inside-baseball decision that journalists have to make all the time. This is especially true on a beat like religion, where words and symbols are so important. Some religious words have meanings on a technical or even doctrinal level, yet they also have taken on informal or popular meanings as well. Take the whole issue of “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism,” for example.

First, here is the crucial passage in my original Poynter.org column, “Covering Church: Rights vs. Rites.” I’ve included a few other paragraphs as background, for reasons that will become obvious.

The church I attended, however, was holding a vigil on the night of a major execution and, as a person who opposes the “culture of death” in all its forms, I decided to attend the service. What I failed to realize was the journalistic importance of our church being visually beautiful and close to the downtown media.

Our small flock gathered late that night to say prayers in the darkened sanctuary, which was lit by a few candles near the altar.

Then we were invaded.

As our priest tried to lead us in a hushed litany, a television crew entered. I confess that I stopped my prayers long enough to study the lighting rig mounted on the cameraman’s shoulders. It turned him into an alien-like creature as he clanked down the center aisle. He proceeded right past the pulpit and, before reaching the altar, turned to shoot from behind the priest. His lights almost blinded the people kneeling in the front rows.

In the original version of this column, the very first phrase in this passage read: “The parish I attended …” I am considering writing another version of this column for Scripps Howard, one more oriented to lay readers rather than journalists, and I will probably use “parish” in that piece.

Why was the word changed?

An editor at Poynter.org raised the issue that, if I used the word “parish,” many readers would think that I was saying that this worship event took place in a Catholic sanctuary. You could argue that I further confused the matter by using the phrase “culture of death,” a reference to a key concept in the writings of the late Pope John Paul II.

However, the service in question took place in an Episcopal church. This is another flock that frequently uses the term “parish,” with that term being especially common in the communion’s Anglo-Catholic wing. Eastern Orthodox Christians also use the term “parish” quite a bit.

I used the term for one reason and one reason alone: I was trying to avoid a denominational label on this prayer service, yet I intentionally used several words — referring to candles, a priest, rites, the altar, a litany, etc. — that I hoped painted a word picture for my readers. I wanted them to see this television camera crew walking into a particular kind of sanctuary, violating a particular kind of liturgical atmosphere.

In other words, I thought that “church” was accurate, but that “parish” was also accurate — only it was a more evocative word for the average reader.

Like I said, it’s a minor point and I did not oppose the change, largely because the editors and other folks who work at Poynter.org are absolutely top knotch and I have the utmost respect for what they do. But this was a small case where the writer — that would be me — thought he was being accurate and an editor was not so sure about that. So the change was made.

But, you have to ask. Do Episcopalians have “parishes”? Do the Orthodox? How about Lutherans? For the average reader, what is the difference between a “church” and a “parish”? A “priest” and a “pastor”? We all use these kinds of words all the time and, I think, every now and then it’s good to stop and ponder their precise meanings.

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The war on Epiphany

magiI am preparing to leave beautiful Colorado, where I spent the last few days of Christmas and the beginning of Epiphany with my family.

Epiphany is a liturgical festival observed on January 6. Epiphany is also a season that lasts until the beginning of Lent and encompasses four to nine Sundays, depending on the date of Easter, for Western churches. It is the oldest of the Christmas festivals and originally the most important. And it is the climax of the Christmas season in the churches of the East.

In the Western Church, Epiphany encompasses three incidents about the divinity of Christ: the visit of the Magi (or Wise Men as they are sometimes called), the baptism of Jesus and the miracle at Cana.

For a helpful article on how Epiphany is celebrated in Eastern traditions, you could do worse than check out Los Angeles Times writer K. Connie Kang’s recent piece. She notes that Epiphany in some parts of the world celebrates only the adoration of the Magi:

But in the Eastern Church — composed of about 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide — Epiphany takes on a more complex theological meaning. The focal point is the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River and the appearance of the Holy Spirit.

“Epiphany means the manifestation of the Trinity,” said the Very Rev. Father Michel Najim, dean of St. Nicholas Antiochian Orthodox Christian Cathedral in Los Angeles. Indeed, like many Orthodox, Najim prefers to refer to Epiphany, which means “revelation,” as Theophany, which translates as “manifestation of God.”

He emphasized that at Jesus’ baptism, the three persons in the Christian conception of God — Father, Son and Holy Spirit — were revealed. The Bible says that when Jesus came up from the water after being baptized by John the Baptist, the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove and alighted on Jesus. When this happened, a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

The piece is full of local color, but it helps to lay out some of these basic theological explanations as she does.

I also meant to highlight St. Louis Post-Dispatch religion reporter Tim Townsend’s piece from a few weeks ago. Using a scene from a local Christmas pageant with some early Magi as a hook, he delved into the significance of the Wise Men to Christianity:

These three kings of orient are, in fact, not kings at all. “Magi” comes from the Greek word “magoi,” meaning sorcerers or astrologers — the scientists of their day. Scientific theories attempting to explain the Star of Bethlehem have historically included a supernova, a comet, or most often, a planetary alignment of Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

“These were men who searched the sky for signs,” said the Rev. John Paul Heil, professor of New Testament who recently left Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis to teach at Catholic University of America in Washington. “They were learned people who would advise kings as to what was going on in the heavens.”

In later centuries the magi themselves began to be depicted as kings.

Later Christian tradition gave the magi names — Melchior, Balthasar and Gaspar — and since the 12th century their purported bones (some say their skulls) have been encased in the Shrine of the Three Kings now in the Cologne Cathedral in Germany.

These types of stories may seem simplistic but there are a great number of readers who are curious about these worship practices and religious symbolism.

Update: Let us know if you find any good local stories on Epiphany for Western or Eastern Christians. This is a good one from Ann Rodgers at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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Yes, religion rattles many readers

Catholic St  Franc  SWFirst things first. It appears that the combination of a Muslim congressman, a blunt Pat Robertson and page one of Google News created a bit of a technical problem yesterday here at GetReligion. It took some time, but we think that things are better. Hang in there with us.

Meanwhile, I would like to flash back to the Divine Mrs. MZ’s post on the New York Times column by public editor Byron Calame and his concerns that the newspaper’s elite magazine did not get the job done on that now infamous Jack Hitt story about Carmen Climaco and El Salvador’s abortion laws.

While MZ is still following that story, I want to underline a few points in last weekend’s column by Deborah Howell, who holds roughly the same post — ombudsman — at The Washington Post that Calame fills (at the moment) at the Times.

Here are the top two paragraphs to set the scene:

The interests of readers and journalists often intersect in my office. Maybe a better word would be clash.

Journalists and readers don’t always think alike. In fact, journalists, who can be a contentious lot, don’t always agree with one another. One of my great challenges is negotiating the gap — sometimes a chasm — between how readers perceive journalists and how journalists perceive themselves.

Thus, Howell dedicated this column to offering some helpful New Year’s resolutions for readers and for Post journalists. She urges readers to “to feel less animus — and occasionally even be appreciative — toward those who do the vital job of keeping us informed.” Amen. Preach it, sister.

Journalists can tell when angry readers simply hate journalism and journalists — period. This is not constructive. Readers can be critical without being unrelentingly nasty. The goal is progress, not revenge.

Then she gets down to business, bringing us closer to the current tensions over the Calame column at the Times. It seems that, when it comes to ticking off readers, some subjects are hotter than others. Thus, Howell writes:

Questions of taste bedevil readers: Why would The Post run a “Mother Goose and Grimm” comic on Dec. 11 that depicted a vampire couple wondering why they get so many “bat mitzvah” invitations? Or print an entry to the Style Invitational on Dec. 10 that said “For Sale: Sally Hemings, well used”? Or let op-ed columnist Harold Meyerson refer on Dec. 20 to the “Catholic Church’s inimitable backwardness”?

The bat mitzvah line was supposed to be funny, but it offended some Jewish readers. The Sally Hemings line was tasteless, but then the Style Invitational always pushes the edge of the taste envelope. Meyerson is an opinion columnist. Still, his was a pretty broad statement. That phrase, in a column about Episcopalians’ debate about homosexuality, angered several Catholics, including Sister Mary Ann Walsh, deputy media director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who wrote: “The bigotry against Catholics expressed in [the] column … is nothing short of despicable.”

Baby1 03 01Which leads Howell to this simple statement:

Resolution for The Post: Think twice about publishing something distasteful or overreaching on religion, race and gender — especially in a supposedly humorous way.

Behold, once again, the ongoing presence of religion in these discussions of tensions between the public and the press. This subject is not going away, is it?

I would add that screwing up the facts is a crucial element of “overreaching,” especially on a global, nationsl, religional and local news topic as complex as religion. This is especially true on topics as explosive as abortion (the media-bias research topic that never goes away) and, as Howell notes, Israel and the Middle East.

Religion is a topic that gives many journalists sweaty palms and readers flushed faces. There is no need to deny this. The answer is better journalism, the kind of journalism produced by experienced journalists who respect the complexities and sensitivities of the religion beat. In other words, we need more journalism by journalists who “get” religion.

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What, then, deserves a correction?

colberttruthiness 1New York Times public editor Byron Calame has quite the challenging job. The Times is one of the most scrutinized papers in the world and Calame has to separate legitimate and illegitimate gripes over its reportage, story selection and headlines.

I encourage you to read his entire column from Sunday. He digs into a New York Times Sunday Magazine cover story from April about women who have been prosecuted for violating El Salvador’s laws against abortion.

The story was written by Jack Hitt, a contributing writer to the Times, Harper’s and Mother Jones, among other publications. He’s written about abortion before for the Times.

Hitt interviewed two women who had been prosecuted under El Salvador’s abortion laws. D.C., who constitutes the bulk of the story, ends up receiving no punishment. But Carmen Climaco, the second and final key anecdote of the story, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Hitt says that she aborted a fetus at 18 weeks but that the abortion was recast as infanticide by strangling:

The truth was certainly — well, not in the “middle” so much as somewhere else entirely. Somewhere like this: She’d had a clandestine abortion at 18 weeks, not all that different from D.C.’s, something defined as absolutely legal in the United States. It’s just that she’d had an abortion in El Salvador.

That’s how the story ends — quite dramatically. The only problem is that Hitt’s reporting was less than adequate. Here’s how Calame summarizes the problems:

It turns out, however, that trial testimony convinced a court in 2002 that Ms. Climaco’s pregnancy had resulted in a full-term live birth, and that she had strangled the “recently born.” A three-judge panel found her guilty of “aggravated homicide,” a fact the article noted. But without bothering to check the court document containing the panel’s findings and ruling, the article’s author, Jack Hitt, a freelancer, suggested that the “truth” was different.

Calame eloquently and diplomatically lays out many of the problems with the piece. He interviews Hitt and Times editors about the reporting and editing. He finds out that Hitt never checked the court documents on the case while preparing his story. This is particularly egregious since the Climaco anecdote was the only one supporting Hitt’s claim that women go to prison for 30 years for nothing more than abortions in El Salvador.

Hitt says that no editor or fact-checker ever asked him if he had checked court records. Hitt tells Calame he thought getting the documents would be difficult. Without any difficulty at all, however, Calame got a stringer in El Salvador to walk into the court building without making any prior arrangements and walk out with an official copy of the court ruling.

It turned out the only 18-week estimate mentioned in the court ruling came from a doctor who hadn’t seen any fetus and whose deductions, based on the size of the uterus 17 hours after the birth, were found by the three judges to be flawed, Calame notes. The panel that convicted Climaco used other medical evidence from a physician who conducted an autopsy to determine that the pregnancy had a 38- to 42-week duration. Another autopsy finding showed that the lungs of the victim floated when submerged in water, which indicated the baby had breathed at birth. That means that, unlike what Hitt dramatically said in his final lines, Climaco’s baby didn’t die under circumstances that would be legal in the United States.

Hitt also used an unpaid translator who consults for an abortion advocacy group in El Salvador for his interviews with D.C. and Climaco. That same group later used the Times story for fundraising purposes.

Anyone who has followed the sorry state of abortion coverage is disappointed but not likely to be surprised by all this. We’ve discussed the interesting politics of choosing anecdotes in the past. But what I do find surprising is how Calame’s thorough reporting to unveil — and diplomatic efforts to correct — the errors in the story are completely rebuffed by Times management.

After committing an error, a quick correction is the easiest course of action. Reporters hate getting things wrong, but when you do you just have to admit it and improve your work in the future. Let’s look at how the Times handled its error:

After being queried by the office of the publisher about a possible error, Craig Whitney, who is also the paper’s standards editor, drafted a response that was approved by Gerald Marzorati, who is also the editor of the magazine. It was forwarded on Dec. 1 to the office of the publisher, which began sending it to complaining readers.

The response said that while the “fair and dispassionate” story noted Ms. Climaco’s conviction of aggravated homicide, the article “concluded that it was more likely that she had had an illegal abortion.” The response ended by stating, “We have no reason to doubt the accuracy of the facts as reported in our article, which was not part of any campaign to promote abortion.”

But let’s give the Times the benefit of the doubt. That was before the court documents had been translated into English. Surely after that happened, the paper set about issuing a correction, right?

After the English translation of the court ruling became available on Dec. 8, I asked Mr. Marzorati if he continued to have “no reason to doubt the accuracy of the facts” in the article. His e-mail response seemed to ignore the ready availability of the court document containing the findings from the trial before the three-judge panel and its sentencing decision. He referred to it as the “third ruling,” since the trial is the third step in the judicial process.

The article was “as accurate as it could have been at the time it was written,” Mr. Marzorati wrote to me. “I also think that if the author and we editors knew of the contents of that third ruling, we would have qualified what we said about Ms. Climaco. Which is NOT to say that I simply accept the third ruling as ‘true’; El Salvador’s judicial system is terribly politicized.”

As accurate as it could have been at the time it was written? Let’s see, the court ruling was in 2002. The story was written in 2006. How, then, is the article as accurate as it could have been at the time it was written? Am I missing some basic logic about the space-time continuum?

NYTmagnifyingglassFurther, the debate isn’t over whether The New York Times, er, El Salvador’s judicial system is terribly politicized. The debate is over whether Hitt accurately portrayed the facts of the case. This is nothing short of a complete breakdown of the standards and editing process at the Times.

Abortion is such a contentious issue. It simply must be handled with extreme carefulness and a diligent checking of facts. Calame seems exasperated by the editors’ steadfast refusal to correct the error. Unfortunately, I think this does quite a bit to further erode any reputation of fairness the Times clings to on this issue.

Another note — a quick Google search on Hitt shows that Mother Jones isn’t the only liberal publication for which he writes. Calculate, for a moment, the probability of the Times sending a Roman Catholic from National Review down to El Salvador to freelance on the issue. I’ll save you the time. It’s zero. Perhaps the Times just wants to make sure that the folks who cover the issue have similar personal views on abortion as Linda “I am the Alpha and Omega of All Things Factual” Greenhouse. But after all the criticism Times editors have faced over their abortion reporters this year, you wonder how that’s working out for them. Unless abortion advocacy — and not truthfulness — is the goal of this newspaper.

Or maybe there’s something I’m missing. Anyone out there want to attack Calame’s perspective and defend Times management?

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Sex, religion and conformity in India

india religions87I have a question after reading the Henry Chu feature in the Los Angeles Times about the decision of Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil to come out of the closet as a gay man.

The headline offers the setup from a secular point of view: “Prince is out but not down: In India, where being gay is a crime, a royal son was shunned when he told his secret. Now he fights to change the law and public mind-set.”

And Chu gives us this summary of the challenges facing the brave prince:

In the uproar that followed, disgusted residents in Gohil’s hometown flung his photograph onto a bonfire. His parents publicly disowned their only son, printing notices in the press that he was cut off as heir because of his involvement in “activities unacceptable to society.” Gohil’s mother has threatened contempt proceedings against anyone who refers to him as her son.

For scandal-mongers, the tale of India’s gay prince is an irresistibly juicy affair full of details worthy of a tabloid tell-all: his teenage affair with a servant boy, a sexless marriage to a minor princess, a nervous breakdown.

For Gohil, his very public unmasking has brought him a bully pulpit from which to speak out against a law that makes him not just a pariah of noble birth but also a common criminal.

Once again, this is all handled as a social issue linked to his standing as the son of a maharajah.

But what is the origin of the law itself? That comes next:

Here in the world’s largest democracy, home to 1.1 billion people, sex between two people of the same gender remains a punishable offense. Decades after India threw off the yoke of British rule, the country still clings to a Victorian-era statute established by its colonial masters nearly 150 years ago, which demands up to life in prison for anyone committing “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

Ah, this is a problem with those old ways of the Christians in the Victorian era, before the liberation of Anglicanism and the West.

However, Chu also stresses:

Despite India’s high-tech wizardry and its rising affluence, this remains a highly conservative and conformist society where most young people undergo arranged marriages, the pressure to produce children is enormous and no gay role models or TV shows like “Will & Grace” exist to offer a hint of an alternative.

indiaI am including all of these block quotes for a reason.

This story contains lots and lots of information about the prince, his life and his nation. But there seems to me to be a rather large hole.

So, are we to assume that the core of the story — the foundation of this “highly conservative and conformist society” — is essentially a British hang-up? It’s strictly a Christian thing?

Last time I checked, India was still a pretty religious nation, one of the most faith-drenched lands in the world. Yet, last time I checked, Christianity was a pretty small player on the religion scene in modern India.

This raises a very basic question for me: Wouldn’t it have been good thing to include some material — a paragraph or two, perhaps — that told us something about where Hinduism and Islam stand on issues linked to homosexuality? Perhaps the teachings of the major faiths are linked to this issue in modern India, perhaps just as much, or even more, than that old-time religion from Britain?

I have heard that there are pretty strong social customs in India linked to class, family, marriage and sex. Do these have anything to do with the religious beliefs and customs of the actual people in modern India?

Just curious. It would be nice to know.

Map from the University of Texas Libraries.

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