What M.Z. said: Doctor Who vs. Jesus at BuzzFeed?

First things first: Yes, I am a big Doctor Who fan.

Thus, I find the role that the whole “Whovian” phenomenon plays in the following M.Z. Hemingway post to be fascinating, to say the least.

Nevertheless, suffice it to say that I think our beloved Divine Mrs. M.Z. nails this one and, yes, this is clearly a case of serious religious content giving some journalists sweaty palms.

So, I’ll simply say, “What M.Z. said.” And does the top of her post — at The Federalist, of course — sound kind of familiar here in the context of GetReligion.org? Take that double-decker headline, for example:

Why Is Religion Invisible To The Media?

A 12-year-old girl wrote herself a note before she died. It contained an amazing message of hope and redemption. That was before the media got to it.

And here is the top of the M.Z. manifesto. You really need to read it on their site to get the impact of the URLs, embedded tweets, etc.

Seven in 10 Americans identify as “very religious” or “moderately religious,” according to a recent Gallup survey. Each week, hundreds of millions of Americans go to houses of worship, pray, or just ponder the higher things related to our religious views. But it’s not news that this religious reality is not well reflected in our media.

There is some great work being done by mainstream media outlets, but much room for improvement. For those of us who are religious, we notice the weird way the media handles religion news and religious topics. We see it every time a broadcaster interviews someone live and stumbles when the subject mentions something religious. We see it in the egregious mistakes the New York Times makes about basic teachings of the Christian faith. We see it in the unmasked disdain for religious people.

But usually the media treatment of religious people and their religious views isn’t so much hostile as absent. We may not be invisible to them, but our religious views certainly are. I thought of this when I came across an interesting BuzzFeed post titled “After The Death Of Their 12-Year-Old Daughter, Parents Find The Letter She Wrote To Her Future Self.”

So here is how BuzzFeed summed up the crucial element of 12-year-old Taylor Smith’s epistle to her future self. The quotes from “Tim” are from her father, of course:

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Are there any culture wars inside the Great Gray Lady?

Here’s a safe prediction for 2014: Look for another year with tough culture wars cases — whether from courthouses in Utah or your local Christian university or parachurch ministry — rolling toward the church-state crossroads at the U.S. Supreme Court.

If that’s the case, journalists will continue to face a numbing barrage of stories in which they will be challenged to accurately and fairly report the views of activists on both the religious left and Religious Right.

Yeah, right.

With that in mind, consider this interesting Quora.com comment by elite columnist Nicholas Kristof, in response to this question: “What is the culture like at The New York Times?”

Things start rather slowly, before candor strikes:

There isn’t really a simple answer to this question, because the culture of the Times varies by section and even time of day. In my part of the building, where the opinion columnists have their offices, it tends to be a bit more relaxed, even sleepy, while the metro desk at deadline on a big story will be frenetic and full of electricity. When I started at The Times in 1984, it was mostly male, and we wore jacket and ties; there was plenty of smoking and drinking. These days, the dress code is much more casual, and somewhat more earnest; not a lot of whiskey bottles hidden around today. There are also lots of women, which means there’s less of a locker room atmosphere. …

But what about the word “culture” as in, well, you know what?

People sometimes ask if everybody is liberal politically, but I’d say that journalists define themselves less by where they are on the political spectrum and more as skeptics providing oversight to whoever is in power.

Classic answer. How many Americans still accept that, when looking Times coverage of, well, you know, certain issues?

I would say, though, that while there is a range of ideology from liberal to conservative on political and fiscal issues, on social issues most journalists (everywhere,not just at The Times) tend to have an urban bias: They are more likely to be for gun control and gay marriage than the general public, and much more likely to believe in evolution. They are also less likely to have served in the military or to have working class backgrounds.

That’s more like it. Now, what is the religious, the doctrinal content (even strictly secular beliefs have doctrinal implications) of an “urban bias”? Is that essentially saying that elite urbanites find it easier to embrace doctrinally liberal forms of religion, as opposed to those who believe in transcendent, eternal doctrines?

What was it that William Proctor — author of “The Gospel According to the New York Times” — said long ago?

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Pod people: What was top 2013 story for Pope Francis?

I am sure that GetReligion readers will be shocked, shocked to know that the Godbeat professionals in the Religion Newswriters Association selected the election of Pope Francis Superstar as the top religion-news story of 2013. It goes without saying that Pope Francis was also named Religion Newsmaker of the Year.

Click here to read the official RNA release about the Top 10 stories of the year.

Faithful GetReligion readers will also be shocked, shocked to know that I understood the logic of the RNA vote, but had a slightly different take on the top news event or trend in 2013.

And finally, GetReligion podcast patrons will be shocked, shocked to know that host Todd Wilken and I dissected all of this material, and more, in this week’s “Crossroads” episode. Please click here to listen to that.

So here is my logic about this No. 1 story vote.

Of course I understand that the election of Pope Francis produced more headlines and glowing ink over the last year than any other religion-beat story. In terms of mainstream news coverage, the election of the charismatic, yet walk-his-talk humble, pope had to be one of the most powerful earthquakes in this past year’s news — period.

But stop and think about it.

How long has it been since the occupant of St. Peter’s throne resigned his post? That would be 600 years or so, right? Thus, one could make the case that the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was one of the most important stories in Catholicism, and thus, Western Christianity in, well, decades — at the very least. Try to imagine the long-term ramifications of Benedict’s astonishing exit.

So how can a story be one of the most important stories in Western religion in DECADES and not be the most important religion story of the YEAR?

I know, I know. Pope Francis was the religion-news earthquake of 2013 and that’s that. The resignation of Pope Benedict XVI finished in second place.

Well, I have one more angle I would like readers to pause and consider. Here’s how I put it in this week’s “On Religion” column for the Universal Uclick syndicate:

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Say what?!? Organ music at ‘Duck Dynasty’ church?

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The White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, La., is making headlines these days as the home congregation of the Robertson family of “Duck Dynasty” fame.

For me, mention of the White’s Ferry Road church brings back fond memories totally unrelated to duck hunting or reality television. That’s because — for two years during my early childhood — the Ouachita River community of West Monroe was my hometown and the White’s Ferry Road church my home congregation, as I shared in a 2012 column.

In light of the controversy over “Duck Dynasty” patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments on homosexuality, The Associated Press sent a reporter to cover Sunday services at the Louisiana church this past weekend.

The top of the story:

WEST MONROE, La. (AP) – “Faith. Family. Ducks.” It’s the unofficial motto for the family featured in the TV reality show Duck Dynasty and that homespun philosophy permeates nearly everything in this small north Louisiana town.

It’s perhaps most on display at the White’s Ferry Road Church of Christ in West Monroe, where the Robertson family prays and preaches most Sunday mornings.

The family — including patriarch Phil Robertson, who ignited a controversy last week when he told a magazine reporter that gays are sinners and African-Americans were happy under Jim Crow laws — were in a front pew this past Sunday. And standing by beliefs they say are deeply rooted in their reading of the Bible.

The rest of the flock, decked out in Duck Dynasty hats and bandannas, stood by the family and the sentiments Phil Robertson expressed.

Alan, Robertson’s eldest son, helped deliver a Christmas-themed sermon. He started off by referring to last week’s controversy.

“Hope your week went well,” he dead-panned. “Ours was kinda’ slow.” He was referring, of course, to Phil’s forced hiatus: TV network A&E suspended Phil last week after remarks about blacks and gays caused a public uproar.

So far, so good.

But then came this spit-out-out-your-Diet-Coke transition, if you happen to be a part of this particular branch of the Christian faith:

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Your GetReligion Christmas news bundle (turn, turn, turn)

As you would expect, your GetReligionistas do our fair share of traveling and celebrating during the Christmas season — which often takes us into wintry territory in which wifi sources are few and far between. How am I going to download the Doctor Who Christmas episode?

Anyway, we will be posting less often than formal during the 12-day Christmas season.

This is our normal pattern over the past decade. We don’t completely close down, but we tend to post once or twice a day instead of our usual three times a day. Please keep sending us interesting religion-beat stories that you see in the mainstream press and we will strive to keep up on what’s happening in our email and at the major newsrooms.

However, we also have a piece of news that we need to announce before it is common social-media knowledge.

In recent years, we have posted a depressing number of black-flag (“Turn, turn, turn”) notes announcing that this or that veteran religion-beat professional has had to leave a job in a major newsroom. However, in this case we need to note that a veteran journalist has LANDED a rare opening on the religion (or in this case faith-related) beat.

This time around, the problem for your GetReligionistas is that the journalist in question is our own Mark Kellner, who only arrive a few weeks ago (or months, maybe).

From his Facebook page:

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Eye to eye with Mother Teresa (farewell to Scripps)

A couple of weeks ago, I flew the black religion-beat flag here at GetReligion to mark the announcement that the Scripps Howard News Service was closing its doors. That was rather stunning news for me, since — to one degree or another — that meant the end of the weekly “On Religion” column that I had written for that wire service for more than 25 years.

The end? At the very least, it meant saying good-bye to many readers who had been reading my column in papers that were linked to the Scripps list, which was taken over by the McClatchy-Tribune organization — which declined to keep my column.

However, there was always a chance that someone else would keep the column alive, especially the folks behind the Newspaper Enterprise Association, which for several years has been sending my column to 600 or so smaller- and mid-sized newspapers in North America. And that, I am happy to report, is precisely what happened.

While we are still working out a few details, I will keep on writing the column for the Universal Uclick company, which many GetReligion readers would know by its former name, the Universal Press Syndicate. I am also happy to report that it appears that some of the Scripps newspapers that have carried me for so long (Hello readers in Knoxville!) will be picking it up from Universal.

So this week I wrote my last column for Scripps Howard, but not my last “On Religion” column. I’ve got that same old Wednesday deadline coming this next week. Turn, turn, turn.

Still, this was an ending of sorts and I wanted to mark that for the readers that I would be losing.

What to say? After all, I had already written a 25th anniversary column last year that said what I wanted to say (Hello retired editor Harry Moskos in Knoxville!) about why I think the religion-beat deserves respect and support in the mainstream media. I didn’t want to write that column all over again.

So I did something different and addressed the question that I have heard from readers more than any other over the past quarter of a century:

Who is the most remarkable person you’ve met while covering religion? That’s a tough one. The Rev. Billy Graham or novelist Madeleine L’Engle? Who was the more charismatic positive thinker, the Rev. Norman Vincent Peale or actor Denzel Washington? What was more amazing, seeing Chuck Colson preach inside a prison on Easter or Bono lead a Bible-study group at the U.S. Capitol?

And the answer?

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Pope Francis and the press: What Elizabeth Tenety said!

First came the religion-beat buzz about Pope Francis being named Person of the Year by the powers that be at Time magazine.

I had some thoughts on one or two elements of that piece that some GetReligion readers thought were a bit unkind (if not snarky), in part because I thought that the cover story — while very admirable in its coverage of this man’s life and pre-Vatican ministry — ended up telling us just as much about the cultural views of the Time editors (concerning the Sexual Revolution, of course) as it did this pope’s statements and actions on matters of the Catholic faith.

In particular, I stand by the following:

Simply stated, the pope wants the emphasis in his church to be on showing mercy to sinners — an equation that connects the repentance of sin with sacraments that bring healing and forgiveness. The problem, of course, is that the Time essay has little to say about what Pope Francis does or doesn’t believe about sin. …

If the Time editors insist on judging Pope Francis primarily by his stands on culture-war issues — to a degree that is strikingly similar to the pope’s harshest critics on the right — then they will need to be careful, paying close attention to the actual content of his actions and words. Hint: Heed and study his thoughts on sin.

Stay tuned.

Now, the Time cover story has inspired a remarkably candid essay from “On Faith” editor Elizabeth Tenety, whose writings on all things Catholic are always worth dissecting and then stashing away for later reference.

The headline was certainly a grabber and provoked some buzz online and in email circles that reach me from time to time: “Like Pope Francis? You’ll love Jesus.”

Read it all, of course, but here are some key samples. Right up top, after samples of go-Francis-go raves from The Huffington Post and Gawker, there is this:

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WSJ gets the tone right on Holocaust survivor story

There’s so much bad reporting about religion and religion-related stories these days — the continual surprise evidenced by The New York Times that the leaders of Roman Catholic institutions may choose to act, well, in a Catholic manner, for example — that it’s not a bad thing, I believe to highlight instances where a given reporter (and publication) get it right.

Such a refreshing, if deeply sobering, example comes from reporter Naftali Bendavid of The Wall Street Journal. A Congressional correspondent for the paper, he ventured somewhat far afield to extensively report on “A Race to Preserve the Voices of Holocaust’s Last Survivors.” The opening sets the tone, of course:

JEMEPPE-SUR-SAMBRE, Belgium – Simon Gronowski, an 82-year-old Holocaust survivor, mesmerized schoolchildren in this small town recently with a detailed account of jumping off a train to Auschwitz and hiding from the Nazis for three years.

The students lobbed close to 50 questions at him, ranging from the unsophisticated — “Did you meet Hitler?” — to the sensitive, like his feelings about losing the mother and sister who stayed on the train.

But the talk exhausted Mr. Gronowski. His knees bother him, he doesn’t hear that well, and it isn’t clear how much longer he can deliver such talks, though he has no plans to stop. “My children and my grandchildren will talk about it,” he said. “I can’t do any more than I’m doing.”

Although there are believed to be 160,000 survivors of the Shoah, or “destruction,” as Jews often refer to the Holocaust, still alive, their numbers are dwindling. As each one passes, a voice, a recollection and even the physical evidence of having survived — the numbered tattoo on a forearm — is lost:

A survivor who was 20 when Auschwitz was liberated would be 88 today, and already few are left who were adults during the war. “Nothing has as much impact as seeing the person in real life,” said Regina Sluszny, 74, who was hidden from the Nazis as a child. “But we have no choice. We can’t live forever.”

The need for living witness, ironically, grows as generations are more and more removed from the actual events of World War II.

I was born during Eisenhower’s second presidential term, and as a child and teen there were plenty of documentaries, interviews, films and mini-series focusing on the National Socialists and their reign of terror. Now, such documentaries are fewer and farther between, it seems, even if some notable ones are still appearing.

Examined in closer detail, the numbers are even more dire:

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