News flash! Eastern Rite priests get married

Every now and then it seems that a story in the mainstream press gets under the skin of GetReligion readers and quite a few drop us notes pointing toward the same URL. This time around, it was a story in the New York Times that ran under the headline, “A Flock Grows Right at Home for a Priest in Ukraine.”

At first glance, this appears to be yet another news feature in which professionals at a major newspaper are shocked to discover that there married priests in the wider world of Catholicism. One year, it’s former Anglicans. Another, it’s the odd former Lutheran, or two. Then again, these stories may focus on priests in Eastern Rite Catholic flocks. It’s a subject that’s evergreen.

But pay close attention to the rumblings down in the foundations, as you read the top of this report:

RUDNO, Ukraine – Let the rest of Europe be convulsed by debates over whether the celibacy of Roman Catholic priests is causing sex abuse scandals like the one now unfolding in Germany. Here in western Ukraine, many Catholic priests are married, fruitful and multiplying — with the Vatican’s blessing.

The many feet scampering around the Volovetskiy home are testament to that. The family’s six children range from Pavlina, 21, to Taras, 9. In the middle is Roman, 16, who wants to be a Catholic priest when he grows up. Just like his father.

Dad is the Rev. Yuriy Volovetskiy, who leads a small parish here and whose wife, Vera, teaches religious school. The Volovetskiys serve in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, which believes that celibate priests are not necessarily better priests.

Ukrainian Greek Catholics represent a branch of Catholicism that is distinct from the far more prevalent Roman Catholic one. The Ukrainian church is loyal to the pope in Rome, and its leader is a cardinal and major archbishop. But it conducts services that resemble those in Eastern Orthodox Christianity. In religious terms, it follows the Eastern Rite, not the Latin one that is customary in Roman Catholicism.

Historically, the Vatican appears to have tolerated the traditions and attitude toward celibacy of the so-called Eastern Rite Catholics in order to retain a foothold in regions where Orthodox Christianity has dominated. But this exception suggests that the Vatican view on celibacy is not as rigid or monolithic as it might otherwise appear.

All kinds of things are assumed in this prologue that are never really addressed in the story with attributed quotes, let alone facts. For example, we never really read any facts about links that do or do not exist between sexual-abuse statistics in the ranks of celibate priests, compared with those among married priests. And the story never addresses the evidence that pedophilia — sex with children — does not appear to be linked to sexual orientation. Then again, it also does not address the fact that, during the recent decades of scandal, high rates of ephebophilia — sex with post-pubescent young people, almost always males — may point to what conservative and some liberal Catholic activists have called a “gay subculture” in the celibate Catholic priesthood.

The story simply assumes that people are arguing about celibacy and that this is somehow linked to recent Catholic sex scandals and that’s that. Move along.

Along the way, readers will be stunned to learn that these Eastern Rite churches also believe that “sexual relations outside marriage are not an option” and that, since they are using ancient Byzantine rites, their sanctuaries tend to look like Orthodox sanctuaries. You’ll also be shocked to learn that married priests believe that their marriages help them related to married people and their families. Folks, we’re not talking about breaking news, here.

Back to the issue of debates over the link between celibacy and the scandals:

The Ukrainian Greek Catholic leader, Cardinal Lubomyr Husar, is celibate, as is typical among the leadership of Eastern Rite Catholic churches. The cardinal has not spoken out in recent days on the issue of celibacy, though he has said that he does not think that ending the requirement would help the Vatican confront the declining number of men who want to become priests.

But Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Vienna, suggested this month that in response to the German abuse scandal, the Vatican should question its policies, including celibacy. His spokesman later clarified that Cardinal Schonborn was not calling for abolishing the requirement.

Actually, all Eastern bishops — usually drawn from among monastics — are celibates, an ancient tradition that is honored in the giant Orthodox churches of the East, as well. That word “typical” makes it sound as if this is common, but perhaps optional.

It’s a strange story, all the way around. It’s an interesting subject, but the Times then connects that subject to a hot-button controversy in ways that seem simplistic, at best. As one GetReligion reader noted, via email:

Is it just me, or does it seem that the reporter here is stretching to make a point? He raises the question of whether allowing Roman Rite Catholic Priests to marry would decrease the incidence of sexual abuse, and looks to the married clergy of the Eastern Rites as an example. But none of the Eastern Rite sources he interviewed offered an opinion on the issue. …

Another thing that bothers me about this story is the complete absence of historical context. A little background on the origins of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church and why their rules on celibacy differ from those of the Roman Rite Church would be useful for most readers.

Amen. And what is up with that phrase “so-called Eastern Rite Catholics”? Is there some controversy about their existence, in the context of the Roman Church? There is controversy among the Orthodox, but the Times never talks to the Orthodox.

Strange, strange, strange.

Photo: Worship in a Ukrainian Catholic church, with a bishop leading the Byzantine rite.

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St. Patrick didn’t drive errors out of journalism

Celtic cross

In his thought-provoking essay “Reclaiming St. Patrick’s Day,” Christianity Today‘s Ted Olsen talks about how Christians could emphasize the day by highlighting issues related to the great saint (e.g. fighting human trafficking, celebrating multi-ethnic communities and incarnational ministry). Here’s how it begins:

If you’ve ever read an article about St. Patrick’s Day, it probably talked about how little the celebration has to do with the actual Patrick.

I, for one, have grown tired of the annual rehashing of how he didn’t really drive the snakes from Ireland and didn’t really use the shamrock to explain the Trinity.

You know who hasn’t gotten tired of that? The Christian Science Monitor. I’ve long been on record opposing the error-ridden “mythbusting” articles that run around Christian holy days, but even for that genre, this one (“St. Patrick’s Day: Did Patrick become Christian for the tax breaks?“) was a piece of work:

Patrick, in fact, isn’t even recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as an official saint. Perhaps more jarring, he likely became a Christian for the tax breaks.

Um, how does one even respond to this? Let’s just say that these things would be jarring if they were in any way true. Not only is St. Patrick recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as an “official” saint, he’s recognized in Eastern Orthodoxy as well! And, well, he didn’t become a Christian for the tax breaks. He wrote about his life in Declaration. Here are the first two paragraphs:

1. I, Patrick, a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful and most contemptible to many, had for father the deacon Calpurnius, son of the late Potitus, a priest, of the settlement [vicus] of Bannavem Taburniae; he had a small villa nearby where I was taken captive. I was at that time about sixteen years of age. I did not, indeed, know the true God; and I was taken into captivity in Ireland with many thousands of people, according to our deserts, for quite drawn away from God, we did not keep his precepts, nor were we obedient to our priests who used to remind us of our salvation. And the Lord brought down on us the fury of his being and scattered us among many nations, even to the ends of the earth, where I, in my smallness, am now to be found among foreigners.

2. And there the Lord opened my mind to an awareness of my unbelief, in order that, even so late, I might remember my transgressions and turn with all my heart to the Lord my God, who had regard for my insignificance and pitied my youth and ignorance. And he watched over me before I knew him, and before I learned sense or even distinguished between good and evil, and he protected me, and consoled me as a father would his son.

The odd thing is that the Monitor story actually explains a bit about these letters and never substantiates its claim about Patrick joining the church for a tax break with anything other than a link to the History Channel. The relevant bit is this:

Although his father was a Christian deacon, it has been suggested that he probably took on the role because of tax incentives and there is no evidence that Patrick came from a particularly religious family.

So Patrick’s grandfather was a priest but Patrick’s father only became a Christian for the tax breaks? I mean, as much as I love to believe the unsubstantiated, passive-voice claim from a network that runs more shows on ghosts than on, you know, history, I’m going to need a bit more convincing. Either way, though, the History Channel’s claim isn’t that Patrick became a Christian for tax purposes.

It turns out that the Monitor has appended a correction. And rewritten the offending paragraph. Now we have:

While recognized a saint, Patrick was never canonized by the Roman Catholic Church, as he died before the official sainthood process began. And in an odd path to the church, his father possibly became a church deacon for the tax breaks — though the jury is out on Patrick’s motivations.

The jury is still out on Patrick’s motivations for becoming Christian? What does that even mean? I think the Occam’s Razor answer as to why Patrick’s dad came to the church — considering that he was raised in the church by a father who was a priest — has got to be “tax breaks,” don’t you? But apart from that silliness, the last phrase is just not true. There is no jury and it is not deliberating Patrick’s motivations.

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The camel’s nose called ‘evangelism’

Before we look at the journalistic essay that has me so hot and bothered, let us pause and read two crucial passages in a document that used to be dear to the heart of old-fashioned liberals — the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This cornerstone of human-rights work was proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1948.

Article 18.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19.

* Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Note, in particular, the link — by proximity and logic — between the right to convert people to another faith and the right to express one’s beliefs to other people in any medium, which I would certainly assume includes human speech (and newspapers, too). As Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said at a World Council of Churches assembly in Vancouver, during a debate about public evangelism, one person’s evangelist is another person’s political activist.

Now, there are missionaries who take this too far. I assume that rape and forced marriage is not a valid form of evangelism, even though it is common in Egypt. I assume that bribery is not a valid form of evangelism. The same goes for torture and death threats that must be taken seriously.

With all of that in mind, please read the following online essay — entitled “Christian Soldiers” — from Robert Wright at the New York Times. I would never claim that his point of view dominates American newsrooms. That’s a straw man argument, the kind of thing that conservatives spout who, in reality, tend to hate journalism. However, his point of view is common and may affect coverage in some significant newsrooms.

To comment, you are really going to need to read it all. But here is the top of the piece, which contains a key part of his argument against Christians who insist on following the commands of their Scriptures and attempting to convert other people to their faith.

You see, it seems that missionaries — and even native Christians who are part of local churches in foreign lands — are causing violence. It is also crucial that, according to the Times, Muslims do not attempt to convert others and Christians would be very, very upset if Muslims began trying to spread their faith.

Last Friday night a New York Times headline underwent an online transformation. The article formerly known as “A Christian Overture to Muslims Has Its Critics” acquired a new billing: “A Dispute on using the Koran as a Path to Jesus.”

For my money this was a big improvement, and explaining what I mean will illuminate a dirty little secret: some American Christians are fostering religious strife abroad. They mean well, but the damage they’re doing can be seen all the way from Nigeria, where Christians and Muslims are killing each other, to Malaysia, where Muslims are trying to keep Christians from using the term “Allah” for God.

The Times story is about an outreach technique that some Baptist missionaries use with Muslims. It involves stressing commonalities between the Koran and the Bible and affirming that the Allah of the Koran and the God of the Bible are one and the same.

You can see how a headline writer might call this an “overture.” And certainly the Christians who deploy the technique see it in sunny terms. Their name for it — the “Camel Method” — comes from the acronym for Chosen Angels Miracles Eternal Life. But a more apt etymology would involve the “camel’s nose under the tent.” The “overture” — the missionary’s initial bonding with Muslims via discussion of the Koran — is precision-engineered to undermine their allegiance to Islam.

Now, apparently, when some Christians get together with Muslims (and members of other world religions) and talk about areas of common ground between the faiths — while stressing that the faiths are all equally true and there is no need for anyone to convert anyone — this is called “interfaith dialogue” and this is a wonderful thing.

But when former Muslims and foreign missionaries meet with Muslims to discuss areas of common ground between their faiths — while insisting that, as these two faiths claim, one of them is eternally right and the other eternally wrong, this is dangerous evangelism that leads to violence.

The status of both of these activities under the U.N. Charter? They are both protected. But it appears that some civil liberties are more protected than others, even when they involve activities that are tightly linked to free speech and the freedom of the press.

Now here is what we are going to discuss here, since I totally concede that some forms of evangelism are dumb and some are offensive.

However, what is the journalistic argument for arguing that the U.N. Charter is wrong? Is it wrong on press freedom, too, since that is very, very dangerous. Right? Was Tutu right to connect persuasive political speech and persuasive religious speech? Etc., etc.

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Weekend stories worth reading

Happy Monday, everyone. If you’re catching up on stories from the weekend, consider three worth your time.

The first story takes place in Texas with the spotlight on Matt Chandler, the 35-year-old Texas pastor recovering from cancer. Call me melodramatic, but Eric Gorski’s story for the Associated Press reminded me just how much the religion beat will miss him. Somehow Gorski convinces his editors to give him the time and space to tell compelling, informative stories like this one. Here’s a section of his 2,500-word piece.

Matt Chandler doesn’t feel anything when the radiation penetrates his brain. It could start to burn later in treatment. But it hasn’t been bad, this time lying on the slab. Not yet, anyway.

Chandler’s lanky 6-foot-5-inch frame rests on a table at Baylor University Medical Center. He wears the same kind of jeans he wears preaching to 6,000 people at The Village Church in suburban Flower Mound, where the 35-year-old pastor is a rising star of evangelical Christianity.

Another cancer patient Chandler has gotten to know spends his time in radiation imagining that he’s playing a round of golf at his favorite course. Chandler on this first Monday in January is reflecting on Colossians 1:15-23, about the pre-eminence of Christ and making peace through the blood of his cross.

The Bible reference took me by surprise because I don’t see them very often in mainstream media reports. I can imagine most reporters might feel uncomfortable including references in their stories unless it’s hard to ignore. Perhaps some think they are giving the individual a platform to spout their religious views. While that might be a legitimate concern in some cases, this detail in the story gives us a nice, clear picture of Chandler’s thought process in dealing with cancer.

Chandler never thought such a trial would shake his faith. But until now, that was just hope in the abstract.

“This has not surprised God,” Chandler says on the drive home. “He is not in a panic right now trying to figure out what to do with me or this disease. Those things have been warm blankets, man.”

Chandler has, however, wrestled with the tension between belief in an all-powerful God and what he, as a mere mortal, can do about his situation. He believes he has responsibilities: to use his brain, to take advantage of technology, to walk in faith and hope, to pray for healing and then “see what God wants to do.”

“Knowing that if God is outside time and I am inside time, that puts some severe limitations on my ability to crack all the codes,” he says. “The more I’ve studied, the more I go, ‘Yes, God is sovereign, and he does ask us to pray … and he does change his mind.’ How all that will work is in some aspects a mystery.”

Even though Christians generally hold similar beliefs about God, Jesus, and the afterlife, Chandler might deal with his cancer differently than someone who believes that Christians have “free will.” Gorski’s piece does a nice job of exploring that a little bit through quotes from Chandler.

Yes, we’ve lamented the loss of Gorski. Fear not, though. Excellent religion reporters still toil away. Case in point: Bob Smietana, who wrote a piece for Sunday on how Churches of Christ are dropping an isolationist view.

Since the late 1800s, Churches of Christ, one of Tennessee’s largest faith groups, have believed their approach to church–singing without instruments in worship, interpreting the Bible literally, taking Communion weekly and banning women from church leadership–was God’s way.

That meant they kept mostly to themselves, shunned other Christians and did not participate in interfaith projects for the community.

In recent years, congregations like Otter Creek have adopted a more progressive view of their faith. They’ve added instruments to church services on Sunday nights and during the week. And they’ve begun cooperating with other faith groups, especially on charitable projects.

These might be subtle differences to the casual observer, but a sharp reporter like Smietana sees the significant shift for the group. He explains that the movement was founded in the 1800s because the founders believed churches of their day had split into too many denominations.

Those early Churches of Christ followed what they believed was the New Testament model for churches. That meant observing Communion every week, baptizing adults by immersion and having no ordained clergy.

The new churches also were autonomous, with no denominational structure. Because the New Testament doesn’t mention musical instruments, these new churches banned musical instruments from all worship services.

That remains true for most of the 258 Churches of Christ in the Nashville area. Statewide there are 1,443 congregations, with 166,302 members. Nationwide, there are 12,629 Churches of Christ with a total of 1,224,404 members.

My only question is whether this group is growing, declining or stagnant. Interesting story, though, with a lot of angles covered.

Finally, in The New York Times Sean Hamill writes about Father Moses Berry, a black priest of the Orthodox Church in America, who leads a 50-member parish and runs a museum for the black history of a nearly all-white town in Missouri.

Father Moses, 59, said he had spent much of his life on a spiritual quest that began in San Francisco in the late 1960s, included nearly a year in jail in Missouri on a drug charge that was later thrown out, and took a positive turn with his conversion to Orthodox Christianity. He was ordained, first in 1988 by an Orthodox church that he now considers “unauthentic” and in 2000 by the Orthodox Church in America.

When he returned here in 1998, after the death of an uncle who had willed him a 40-acre family farm, he had no intention of starting an Orthodox church in a town already served by 10 Christian churches of various denominations, let alone opening a black history museum.

…For Father Moses, his church and his historical work are inextricably linked.

“It’s all bound up in my faith,” he said. “That is, that we are all children of God and that we do have a shared heritage and not just a national heritage.”

I would have liked to read more about why Father Moses is in the Orthodox Church and the challenges he faces leading an all-white congregation. The author links his faith with his historical work quite nicely, though.

Those were my weekend picks. Were there other stories you found worth noting?

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Who will quote the Moscow patriarch?

This is a case where I know, in a few days, GetReligion readers are going to send me URLs for this Orthodox story when the mainstream media in America get around to covering it. Thus, I think I’ll go ahead and try to get ahead of the curve.

I imagine that there will be coverage, for all of the wrong reasons.

I certainly think that there should be coverage, for all of the right reasons.

Here is the top of the Moscow Times report that is causing a stir on the other side of the Atlantic. The headline is certainly an eye-opener: “Patriarch Blames Crime and Drugs for Haitian Quake.”

Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill said crime, drugs and corruption caused last week’s massive earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people in Haiti.

Kirill, speaking during a … visit to Kazakhstan, said the Haitian people bore responsibility for the calamity because they had turned away from God, the news agency reported late Monday.

“Haiti is a country of poverty and crime, famine, drugs and corruption, where people have lost their moral face,” Kirill was quoted as saying.

He compared Haiti with the Dominican Republic, which are located on the same Caribbean island. “I’ve visited the island divided between two countries, the Dominican Republic and Haiti. One of them is developing, while the other is affected by crimes, economic recession and political unrest. That part of the island was shattered by the earthquake,” he said.

While there is no mention of Voodoo in this text, I think it is safe to say that — to American ears — Kirill’s words are just as shocking as those of the Rev. Pat Robertson, which ignited a firestorm in the American media.

Will the mainstream media in America and Great Britain jump on these words in a similar manner? I’ll be honest: I totally understand why journalists may want to do so.

The theological principle here is quite similar to that offered by Robertson. The two men have simply accused the majority of the Haitian people of different sins. For Robertson, the Voodoo traditions centering on the worship of various spirits (Or is that “Spirits”? ) in addition to a greater God (Or is that “gods”?) represent a form of idolatry. The God of the Bible is not fond of idolatry. For the patriarch, other sins are involved in this national tragedy.

The crucial journalistic question, of course, is this: What did the patriarch actually say?

This is one reason that I hope the story draws some coverage, to flesh out some of the gaping holes in the Moscow Times report:

Asked to clarify Kirill’s comments, a church spokesman said … that the news report had “misinterpreted” the patriarch’s words and “taken them out of context.” The spokesman, Alexander Volkov, could not immediately clarify, saying only that a transcript of the speech would appear “later” on the Moscow Patriarchate’s web site.

A church scholar said Kirill’s comments had astonished his foreign listeners in Almaty, but they were quite ordinary to the Orthodox faithful.

“For those who often listen to Patriarch Kirill, such statements seem quite ordinary, but I know that some people in Almaty were amazed,” said the scholar, Alexander Soldatov, editor of the religious web site

Kirill is known for his statements about large-scale disasters. Last year, he blamed the global financial crisis on the spiritual degradation of the world and called it a trial.

If you want to keep an eye out for that transcript, here is the link for the Moscow Patriarchate. This may take a while.

Some may find it strange that Kirill, in addition to making these controversial comments, has also expressed his condolences to the people of Haiti in their time of grief. Certainly, the International Orthodox Christian Charities (click here for info) have mobilized to send aid to Haiti. Of course, Robertson also repeatedly called for prayers for the Haitian people and urged his audience to give generously to efforts to pour aid into the stricken nation.

The bottom line: In Christian theology it is possible to believe that compassion and alms are Christian duties, while also believing that corporate sins may have mysterious consequences. The press likes this concept when it is applied to, oh, environmental issues and some aspects of American foreign policy.

Obviously this is a controversial and offensive stance in the modern world. It would be good if the press covered Kirill’s words and allowed intelligent, informed voices on both sides of this doctrinal debate to speak their minds. I am assuming, of course, that a transcript of what Kirill actually said is available, showing his words in context.

Meanwhile, the patriarch has also said:

“On these sad days, all Russian Orthodox believers and I condole with you and all residents of the island who have lost their relatives and loved ones,” the Patriarch said in a wire sent to Haitian President Rene Preval published by the Patriarch’s press service on Friday. The Patriarch said in the wire he is “praying for the prompt healing of the wounded and spiritual assistance to all those who have lost their housing, and also the strengthening of those who are now working on dealing with the aftermath of this natural disaster.”

Stay tuned.

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‘Orthodox’ complaint by reader

Trust me, I am aware that the Eastern Orthodox Churches have some rites that are unique and, to the eyes of outsiders, may seem a bit on the wild side.

I mean, watch the video attached to this post, which focuses on traditions — I stress that they are what we call “small-t traditions” — observed by some Orthodox believers during the recent “blessing of the waters” celebrations of Theophany (called Epiphany in the West). It is one thing to see people jumping into blessed waters as they observe these traditions in, well, South Florida. It’s something else to see it taking place in Russia, even in, let’s say, Siberia.

Nevertheless, I do not believe that it is time for reporters to start using the word “Orthodox” — with a large “O” — in the following context. If you happen to be Orthodox, you may want to sit down before reading the following chunk of this very strange story.

This is from The Star-Ledger in New Jersey:

A New York City woman on trial for starving four of her children was brought up in a “cult-like” religion that prohibited its members from direct contact with the outside world, her brother testified yesterday.

“It was an almost cult-like existence. We weren’t allowed to watch TV, go to the movies, or vote,” said Frederick Phillips, 45, of Manhattan, describing the lifestyles of members of the Brooklyn-based Church of the Brethren, an Orthodox Christian church that believed in a strict interpretation of the Bible.

Say what? Needless to say, the Church of the Brethren is not part of the ancient churches of Eastern Orthodoxy. In fact, I am not even sure if this story is describing a congregation that is linked to the Church of the Brethren, as traditionally understood.

So what is going on here? I know one thing. GetReligion reader Jason Gilbert of Topeka, Kan., was right to pen the following letter to the newspaper.

I am writing about a factual error in your story, “Defendant raised in cult-like faith, brother testifies.” You use the term “Orthodox Christian,” which a proper noun that does not apply to the organization described. Additionally, your general treatment of the defendant’s religion in this story seems flawed.

Firstly, to capitalize the “O” in “Orthodox” means that the church is “Orthodox Christian;” that is, part of the Eastern Orthodox communion of churches (“Greek Orthodox,” “Russian Orthodox,” etc.). I am certain that the Church of the Brethren is not part of this communion.

The second error is more vague and perhaps forgivable. If you had not capitalized the “O,” then you would merely have been describing the church as “orthodox” in the sense of adhering to traditional Christian dogmas, beliefs, or practices. Nowadays, with the complete shattering of a cohesive Christian identification, it is understandable that a reporter is unable to pin down exactly what those are, but from the small about of space given to the description of this organization’s dogmas, beliefs, and practices, they don’t appear to fit the definition at all.

Furthermore, if you are going to mention a religious organization in the lede, you should take the time to find at least one other source of information about that organization. It appears that maybe you used “Orthodox” as a synonym for something like “ultra strict” or “controlling.” Some journalists use “fundamentalist,” or “extremist,” which are problematic. Using “orthodox” with a small “o” would also be problematic in this case. However, to make it a proper noun is simply factually incorrect.

Amen, all the way around. Strange, strange, strange.

In terms of good journalism, this story was most unorthodox.

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Exorcising the Cubs’ demons

Spring training is still six weeks away, but, with pro football winding down and pro basketball dragging on, attention is already being turned to America’s past time.

For Chicagoans, another season brings another opportunity to break the curse of the billy goat. It’s been 101 years since the Cubs have won the World Series. And, from the looks of this New York Times article, the atmosphere at the Cubs fan convention, which ended Sunday, has gotten desperate:

“There is an illness about being a Cubs fan,” said Jim Greanias, a Greek Orthodox priest who was invited by the Cubs to try to exorcise the team’s storied curses before the start of the National League division series in 2008. “In October, you think ‘I’m done with them, forget about it.’ Then all of the sudden, it comes back at you, starting with the Cubs Convention, you start getting that warm, fuzzy glow and think, well, maybe this year, they’ll do it.”

Let me just start by thanking God that I get to be a Dodgers fan, which is, usually, less painful. The Dodgers have their own unholy problems these days, but at least they don’t need an exorcism.

An exorcism?

Really? Well, I guess if any Major League skipper could turn his head backwards it would be Lou Pinella.

But what exactly did this priest do? That’s not clear. The Greanias paragraph exhausts the discussed religion in a story about faithful fans. I know one thing (besides the Cubs poor prospects of breaking the curse this year): I would have love to have seen this exorcism — or at least read some details about what it looked like.

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Entertainment Weekly can go get ‘Lost’

I have my share of friends who have consumed a bit too much Kool-Aid, when it comes to their devotion to “Lost.” I tried to watch an episode or two (and enjoyed those wonderful “Lost” in eight minutes features), but I just don’t have the commitment to hang in there for the long haul.

Frankly, I do hope that all of the characters are dead and that the whole show has been a life-in-purgatory kind of thing. I think that would freak out the world-weary youngsters who write and edit Entertainment Weekly these days, something that would be good in and of itself.

Anyway, this brings us to the artwork with this post — which is an ABC promotional photograph that is all over the place (along with the tweaked alternative visions). People seem to think that this image, like the show, has some great spiritual meaning.

Thus, at USA Today we read:

Many pop-culture institutions have participated in Last Supper-inspired photos: The Sopranos pic was highly publicized and over-analyzed. A shot of the Battlestar Galactica cast posed around the table had fans buzzing. And then there’s Robert Altman’s MASH — perhaps the flick that inspired it all — with its terrific scene inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece.

The latest Supper snap? Lost, of course. In a new promotional photo, Locke, Kate, Jack, Hurley and the rest — well, sans Walt, Juliet, Rose and Bernard — pose at a makeshift table with a smorgasbord of Dharma products. (It’s being dubbed the “Lost Supper.”)

What clues can be found? Fans have noted these things so far:

– The table is made out of an airplane wing;

– Locke appears to be seated in the Jesus position. …

And so forth and so on, world without end (maybe). Amen.

I am not sure that this is journalism, but I understand — as a guy who enjoys writing about pop culture — that newspapers and magazines need to dig into these kinds of issues. People care deeply about entertainment, these days, which says a lot about our culture, me thinks.

I also, of course, enjoy writing about religion and popular culture, as do several other of your GetReligionistas. It is crucial, however, to always remember that you have to keep your religion facts straight, when you venture into pop religion territory. There are millions of people who take religion pretty seriously and they can get angry when their faith is twisted or trashed.

For example, please read the following commentary on the “Lost Supper” from Entertainment Weekly:

FUN FACT! The Last Supper – Jesus’ final meal with his disciples before his crucifixion — is commemorated by Christians through the sacrament of Communion, the eating of bread and drinking of wine in remembrance of Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Some Christians believe that when you eat the bread and drink the wine, the stuff actually converts into the body and blood of Jesus during digestion, although their appearances remain the same. (Which explains the weird carpentry aftertaste.) This miraculous conversion is known by a fancy term: Transubstantiation, ”the conversion of one substance into another.” Example sentence: ”If Jack’s ”Jughead” plans works, he and the castaways will be transubstantiated into a new reality.”

After reading this, please express your opinion on the following: The entertainment-magazine journalists who wrote and edited this tidbit were:

(a) Ignorant.

(b) Unprofessional.

(c) Silly and childish.

(d) Intentionally setting out to blaspheme a doctrine of ancient Christianity and, thus, to insult millions of believers.

(e) Counting on the fact that Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox believers and Anglo-Catholics would not blow up their building.

(f) All of the above.

Thank you for your time. Many GetReligion readers will now want to go outside and scream.

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