Breivik the liar

The news that Anders Behring Breivik has written a letter to the Norwegian media stating his protestations of Christian faith, pro-Israel opinions and anti-Nazi convictions were a calculated lie has left me stunned.

Breivik now says his manifesto and early statements were a bluff designed to focus public and media outrage on Christians, Jews and conservatives by tainting them with his actions. His early denials of being a racist or hyper-nationalist were false, Breivik writes. He lied in order to protect the good name of the neo-Nazi movement (Yes, I find that to be incredible on several levels, but that is what he said.)

What is one to believe? It is easy to dismiss this latest prison epistle as the ravings of a madman. Save that he is not mad (according to psychiatrists). Does being merely evil make them less credible?

On July 22, 2011 the 32-year old Norwegian detonated a bomb outside an Oslo government building killing eight and then proceeded to shoot to death 69 people,  mostly teenagers, attending a Worker’s Youth League (AUF) camp on the Island of Utøya. The Oslo District Court rejected Breivik’s insanity defense and on August 24, 2012, found him guilty of murdering 77 people. He was sentenced to 21 years imprisonment, but is likely to serve a life term as he can only be released if the courts determine he is no longer a danger to society.

The narrative adopted by many press outlets was to label Breivik a “Christian fundamentalist” terrorist. My colleagues at GetReligion: Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Terry Mattingly and Arne Fjeldsted questioned this conventional wisdom. And their concerns about the snap judgments made by many news outlets about Breivik have been proven prescient.

In her piece “The Atlantic has this terrorist all figured out” Mollie noted the welter of confusing claims and statements from the shooter, but questioned The Atlantic for its dogmatic assertion as to the man’s motives. She wrote:

But The Atlantic has figured it all out. Turns out the shooter was led to do all this by his fundamentalist interpretation of Christianity. This hasn’t been a good week for The Atlantic and religion news, but let’s see. Maybe they have something to teach us.

Note the url: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/global/2011/07/christian-fundamentalist-charged-death-toll-norway-soars-past-90/40321/. The headline? “The Christian Extremist Suspect in Norway’s Massacre”

Wow! They must really have access to some exclusive information. I can’t wait to find out what it is.

Turns out there wasn’t any.

A week out from the attack, Tmatt noted some newspapers were moving away from the Christian claims.

At this point, I think most journalists have reached the point that they know that Anders Behring Breivik (a) has self-identified as a “Christian,” (b) yet he also made it clear that he is not a Christian believer, in terms of beliefs and practice and (c) that it is bizarre to call him a “fundamentalist,” in any historic sense of the word.

The early facts indicate that this was a political radical committing an act of political terrorism for political motives, motives that happen to include some idealized vision of resurrecting some kind of old, glorified, “Christian” European culture.

Yes, I know plenty of activist and advocate journalists are sticking with the “Christianist” template. Also, there are academics who are sharpening their swords and taking the usual swings at orthodox forms of religion (“When Christianity becomes lethal“) Nevertheless, most mainstream journalists seem to be staying in the middle of things and, perhaps, waiting for facts about this terrorist and whatever ties he did or did not have to real people and institutions outside of history books and cyberspace.

Tmatt closed his piece by asking reporters to keep digging.

Well, we now know more about what he has said — the manifesto plugged that hole, for journalists. We know a bit about what he may or may not have been reading. We know nothing whatsoever about his own religious life and the practice of his faith, if he ever did so. There are no signs of institutional links or real, live clergy of any kind. Again I urge journalists to look for financial ties.

The ultimate question, in terms of religion: Was this man truly a loner, a man living out a brand of faith that he created on his own and, in the end, one in which he serves as the prophet who produces the private scriptures that guide his life and work? In other words, if he calls himself a “Christian,” where is his church, his pew, his altar and his pastor-priest?

Journalists must keep looking for the facts.

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Got news? The one and only Caesar of Jewish humor

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Remember all of those nasty charges by anti-Semites through the years that The New York Times is controlled by Jews and that it’s pages have been dominated by Jewish concerns?

Yes, I know about the Sulzberger family.

But if the Times team views the world through some kind of Jewish prism, then explain the following passage from the newspaper’s lengthy obituary for the truly great American comedian Sid Caesar:

Albert Einstein was a Caesar fan. Alfred Hitchcock called Mr. Caesar the funniest performer since Charlie Chaplin.

Television comedy in its early days was dominated by boisterous veterans of vaudeville and radio who specialized in broad slapstick and snappy one-liners. Mr. Caesar introduced a different kind of humor to the small screen, at once more intimate and more absurd, based less on jokes or pratfalls than on characters and situations. It left an indelible mark on American comedy.

And that’s that?

What about the fiery post-Holocaust rage of Caesar and his brilliant writers Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Mel Tolkin, Neil Simon, Larry Gelbert and, later on, a young Woody Allen? Oh for some bull-session YouTubes out of that room!

So his work left an “indelible mark” on American humor?

What about his role in mainstreaming a sharp-edged Jewish sensibility right into the heart of the emerging, coast-to-cast mainstream television culture? Talk about a religion, or at least religious culture, ghost in a story!

The Times obit does include this one tiny nod to the obvious:

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Baring their souls: Seeking more coverage on naked church

Strip down this post to its bare essentials, and here’s the naked truth: Sometimes the Godbeat is more interesting than other news beats. Honest.

Take, for example, the story by WWBT — an NBC affiliate in Richmond, Va. — that skinny-dipped all over social media this week.

Before you click that link, though, heed the warning from one Twitter user:

 
Yes, this is a story about a church that worships in the, um, original attire of Adam and Eve:

SOUTHAMPTON, VA (WWBT) - About an hour’s drive south of Richmond, there’s a small congregation that doesn’t care about “material” things. They worship the same way we were all brought into this world, naked.

Even in February, when temperatures can average in the 20s, members show up in various forms: some fully clothed, others topless, many still completely nude.

Pastor Allen Parker says it’s not about the clothes, or lack thereof. He says it’s about baring his soul to Christ and leading his flock down that path of righteousness, no matter what they’re wearing.

As Jim Davis, our newest GetReligionista, put it, “Gotta admit, they save a lot on vestments and Easter hats.” (With comments like that, I’m afraid Jim is going to fit right in at GetReligion.)

Later in the WWBT report, we read:

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Got news? Can Christian and atheist swap lives for a month?

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Half a world away from my Oklahoma home, an experiment just concluded in Australia.

An atheist and a Christian who are friends agreed to trade places for a month and document the experience, with the summary promised later this week.

According to a brief in online news’ The Blaze, believer Bentley Browning and non-believer Simon Capes gave up their respective belief systems for the other’s in January, “in the hopes of coming to understand one another’s views more fully.” They’re calling it Faith Swap.

To be specific, each adopted the other’s daily rituals, or lack thereof, including prayer, Bible reading, worship, sacraments or any other related activities.

Color me intrigued.

Faith Swap also has been quasi written up in the Huffington Post after a brief PR piece appeared in the Christian Today Australia. So the concept is kind of out there, but without a good story.

So what am I critiquing exactly? The possibility. I’m still hopeful a GodBeat pro might latch onto it in and give us a proper feature.

Why? I’d like to see it go deeper. While Christians don’t always walk the walk, so to speak, can one completely erase all contact with or dependence upon God for a month and adopt the lifestyle of an individual completely without faith? Conversely, can someone with no belief in God conform to the daily discipline of contact with Him and extract spiritual meaning in the rituals of worship?

The possibilities for a true piece of reporting vs. a quick publicity rehash keep popping into my head.

For starters, Capes’ non-belief is categorized as that of an atheist without test or question. In a setting like this, why not educate readers about the differences between agnostics and atheists?

From there, how did Browning cope? Did he find a substitute for prayer? How did erasing God from his life affect his approach to money or reading?

For further background, the pair has been updating on Facebook, and some of Browning’s posts are genuinely descriptive of what I would envision a day without prayer might feel like to me. It is tough to make out which man is which, however, because both post under one user name.

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Rolling Stone thinks it <3′s this pope (plus, Mark signs out)

For reasons probably more associated with my age than anything else, the old Dr. Hook song, “(On the) Cover of the Rolling Stone,” which equated placement on the front of rock’s top magazine with true accomplishment in life, ran through my mind when I first learned that Pope Francis would get pride-of-place in the magazine’s Feb. 13 issue. The comparisons with Dr. Hook (who eventually got their cover) end there, however. This piece is pretty much an early Valentine to its subject.

Mark Binelli, a “novelist and contributing editor to Rolling Stone,” as his bio notes, got the nod to proffer a pontifical profile, and as might be expected from a truly non-conservative publication, Francis comes off closer to Dorothy Day than to George Weigel:

Up close, Pope Francis, the 266th vicar of Jesus Christ on Earth, a man whose obvious humility, empathy and, above all, devotion to the economically disenfranchised has come to feel perfectly suited to our times, looks stouter than on television. Having famously dispensed with the more flamboyant pontifical accessories, he’s also surprisingly stylish, today wearing a double-breasted white overcoat, white scarf and slightly creamier cassock, all impeccably tailored.

The topic of Francis’ catechesis, or teaching, is Judgment Day, though, true to form, he does not try to conjure images of fire and brimstone. His predecessor, Benedict XVI, speaking on the topic, once said, “Today we are used to thinking: ‘What is sin? God is great, he understands us, so sin does not count; in the end God will be good toward all.’ It’s a nice hope. But there is justice, and there is real blame.”

Francis, 77, by contrast, implores the crowd to think of the prospect of meeting one’s maker as something to look forward to, like a wedding, where Jesus and all of the saints in heaven will be waiting with open arms. He looks up from his script twice to repeat key lines: avanti senza paura (“go without fear”) and che quel giudizio finale è già in atto (“the final judgment is already happening”). Coming from this pope, the latter point sounds more like a friendly reminder. His voice is disarmingly gentle, even when amplified over a vast public square.,

Yes, sports fans, time for another long, slobbering kiss from a media outlet inclined to see Papa Francesco as their own theological Rorschach test, an ideological ink-blot that shows what they want to see.

There are, approximately, 7,600 words in this account — I knocked off about 125 words from what Microsoft Word tallied because of links and other bits Rolling Stone inserted in the text — and it would take a post of almost the same length to diagram and dissect the article fully. For starters, suffice it to say that Binelli wasn’t a fan of Francis’ predecessor:

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Got news? Prayers and poetry in the Ukraine standoff

The daily march of the headlines from Kiev continues.

The other day, I offered up a post linked to an amazing Associated Press photo of a quarter of Orthodox Christians, including at least one priest and one monk, who put themselves in the line of fire in between a wall of riot police and the brick-tossing demonstrators. Click here to catch up on that.

I want to return to that subject for a moment (also watch for an upcoming Crossroads podcast with George Conger on Ukraine coverage), because several Orthodox readers of this site have sent me links to additional information about what is happening with those priests and monks. It appears that their public witness for peace is continuing?

As George has been stressing in his posts, it’s important to realize that — in part due to the complexities of post-Soviet life in this region — there are two major Eastern Orthodox bodies and hierarchies in Ukraine, one aligned with Russia and the other is an autonomous Ukrainian church.

The photograph featured above, and the following information, comes from a website in Russia. Keep that Russia link in mind.

Yesterday morning, monks from the Kiev-Caves Lavra Fr. Gabriel, Fr. Melchisedek, and Fr. Ephraim stood on Grushevsky Street in Kiev with a cross and icons, between the demonstrators and the Ukrainian special police force “Berkut”, and stopped the conflict. They entered the arena as peace-makers, and not in support of one side or the other.

Although they were invited to join the “people”, the fathers only prayed and sang the Paschal troparion: “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life,” wrote the Ramensky deanery of Moscow on its Facebook page. The conflict ceased.

As the website Pravoslavie v Ukraine (“Orthodoxy in the Ukraine”) learned, at around 9:00 a.m., clergy of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church came to Grushevsky Street, placed themselves between the warring sides, and began to pray, calling both sides to stop their fighting and repent.

The monks have no intention of leaving until the situation has completely stabilized. The clergymen are currently continuing their prayer on Grushevsky Street in shifts.

By all means, read it all. And has anyone seen coverage of these acts of witness in the American mainstream press? By the way, there is an option to translate the text into English, when I open the full Pravoslavie.ru report using the Chrome browser. Here is a link to a related story in the English version of the site.

Now, there is one point about this piece of the Russian site report that I want to emphasize. Note that the monks and priest-monks are from one of the most famous monastery complexes in all of Christianity — the monastery of the Kiev caves. I have prayed inside the Lavra during two trips to Kiev and it’s hard to understand what is happening with Orthodox faith in that land without learning about the amazing recovery of that institution, with its growing ranks of monks, in the post-Soviet era.

However, it is also crucial to note that this monastery serves as the base of operations for the leader of the autonomous Orthodox Church of Ukraine. The Orthodox readers of a site based in Russia would probably know that.

So what does that mean?

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LATimes pours out its love for the ‘spiritual’ Williamson

A positive news story about a political newcomer isn’t unusual. Newspapers and television outlets do these sorts of things regularly, and for all sorts of reasons.

So on one level, it’s not all that surprising that the Los Angeles Times offered a rather complimentary — some might even say “fawning” — profile of New Age authoress and teacher Marianne Williamson, who is challenging longtime area Congressman Henry J. Waxman in the 2014 elections. Here is a sample of the prose:

It was a Thursday night, normally a slow time for churches and synagogues, but the sanctuary of The Source Spiritual Center in Venice was packed.

When a diminutive woman stepped to the front of the room, people paused in their scramble for a chair or purchase of a T-shirt and engulfed her in cheers and applause.

She called for a moment of silence. The audience stilled. She dedicated the evening ahead “to all that is good … to the fulfillment of love” in everyone.

“And so it is,” concluded Marianne Williamson — friend of Oprah, associate of Hollywood elites, best-selling author and charismatic spiritual leader.

Williamson has spent three decades offering a path to inner peace for those who seek it. Now she’s entering an arena in which inner — and outer — peace seems in particularly short supply: She’s challenging Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) for the congressional seat he first won when Gerald Ford was president and the country was preparing to celebrate its bicentennial.

“This is a journey we’re all taking together over the next few months,” Williamson told the crowd of 200 or so who had shown up that night to volunteer for her campaign. In the cadence of a revival-meeting preacher, she talked of a corrupt system in which the two major parties and the corporations that fund them have “locked out” citizens and ignored some of the country’s most pressing problems.

There’s no doubt that Williamson has a following, and that many, if not most, of those followers appreciate the spiritual aspect of her work, which often centers on “A Course in Miracles,” the so-called “Third Testament” and New Age tract that is popular with a large number of readers. Her own books have often been best sellers, including “A Return to Love,” which appears to have catapulted Williamson into national prominence. Williamson also appears to have some solid credentials in terms of community service and activism, so her entry into politics is a bit more serious than some celebrities’ ventures might have been.

The Times discusses all this and includes a bit more about Williamson’s spiritual journey:

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Daily Mail: Welby ‘casts out sin’ in new baptismal rite — not

In my opinion, looking to London’s Daily Mail for religion news coverage is rather like looking to People magazine for peer-reviewed medical studies. Once in a great while there might just be a People article that accurately references some startling medical development — and the studies behind same — but that’s not the publication’s stock-in-trade.

So when the celebrity-saturated British tabloid — “Buffy The Vampire Player: Sarah Michelle Gellar has a blast with daughter Charlotte and her pal as they enjoy day at the beach” is a typical headline — dips into the Godbeat, you know something’s up. How thoroughly accurate that something will be is, well, another matter.

The Church of England, like many communions, practices pedobaptism — the baptism of infants and very young children. Its ceremony has, for years, required both parents and godparents to express their dedication to God and a repudiation of sin and Satan alike. Now, the Daily Mail revealed in a January 5 story that sparked global headlines, the CofE wants to change the script, something with which traditionalists are allegedly none-too-happy.

The report starts with a typical Mail-style headline, this time referencing a popular British soap opera: “Welby casts out ‘sin’ from christenings: Centuries-old rite rewritten in ‘language of EastEnders’ for modern congregation” is the top line. After that, the news:

Parents and godparents no longer have to ‘repent sins’ and ‘reject the devil’ during christenings after the Church of England rewrote the solemn ceremony.

The new wording is designed to be easier to understand – but critics are stunned at such a fundamental change to a cornerstone of their faith, saying the new ‘dumbed-down’ version ‘strikes at the heart’ of what baptism means.

In the original version, the vicar asks: ‘Do you reject the devil and all rebellion against God?’

Prompting the reply: ‘I reject them.’ They then ask: ‘Do you repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour?’, with the answer: ‘I repent of them.’

But under the divisive reforms, backed by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and already being practised in 1,000 parishes, parents and godparents are asked to ‘reject evil, and all its many forms, and all its empty promises’ – with no mention of the devil or sin.

The new text, to be tested in a trial lasting until Easter, also drops the word ‘submit’ in the phrase ‘Do you submit to Christ as Lord?’ because it is thought to have become ‘problematical’, especially among women who object to the idea of submission.

Apart from the rather odd sight of a newspaper that trumpets the sins of A-list and D-list celebs with great fervor now discoursing on “no mention of the devil of sin,” the story’s superheated explanation for the trial change is another fun bit:

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