Papal drama vs. melodrama

savethedramaIn recent weeks, I’ve tried to point out some of the better and worse coverage of Pope Benedict XVI’s upcoming visit to the United States.

Count this one as one of the better. Headlined “Pope Is Coming, as Is Cliched Coverage in the Media,” you can also see it’s one of the funnier. Reporter Peter Steinfels, writing in the more casual “Beliefs” section, says what many of us have been thinking for years:

Is the pope Catholic? That used to be a sarcastic way of saying, could anything be more obvious? Is fire hot? Is water wet?

Now, however, that nothing in the world is obvious, when Pope Benedict XVI arrives in the United States on April 15 there will surely be voices in the media apparently disconcerted to discover that, yes, the pope is Catholic.

Yes, he disagrees with Richard Dawkins that atheism is necessary for salvation. Yes, he believes that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of God and the center of human history. Yes, he thinks that Catholic Christianity is truer than Islam or Buddhism or Hinduism or even Protestant Christianity. Astounding. What next?

Can I get an ‘Amen!”? What distinguishes Steinfels’ piece, though, is the way he homes in on media coverage of Benedict’s upcoming trip. He says the most surprising thing about papal trips are the way they provoke surprise that, for instance, the pope believes all human life is valuable. Or the way that people are surprised that even those American Roman Catholics who do not follow all Catholic teachings still honor the pope. And he makes an important point:

This kind of disagreement may signal, as some argue, a severe crisis in church authority. Or it may be more of a norm throughout Catholic history than is widely realized. But whatever it is, it is not new.

Reporters, of course, have to emphasize drama to push their stories to the front page or the top the of the hour. But it can cause problems:

Breathlessness is always a problem with papal visits. The trouble with melodrama is that it displaces genuine drama. Caricature replaces character.

Steinfels argues that at least five genuine dramas are built into this trip: the appearance at the UN, the encounter with American Catholicism, the emphasis on Catholic education and identity, interactions with leaders of other denominations and navigating the American political divides. Writing about Benedict’s record, he says:

Breathlessness doesn’t help much in making sense of such a record, neither the breathlessness that interprets the pope solely through his most controversial acts or statements nor the breathlessness that cannot imagine how a prayerful, learned and revered figure might nonetheless be a flawed leader.

Breathlessness may be a major reason why, almost three years after his election, the world still hasn’t much of a fix on his personality or his papacy.

This is my favorite part of Steinfels’ criticism, and one I hope that religion reporters are taking to heart:

Of course, part of the problem in getting a fix on Benedict is simply the feebleness of accepted categories for understanding any serious religious leaders — and hence the impulse to deal with them as celebrities or politicians. Of all the words he speaks during his trip here, the ones that will probably go least examined are no doubt the ones he treasures most, the words of the Mass.

Normally media criticism such as this is written after the fact, after we’ve gone through weeks of horrible reporting. I hope that Steinfels’ piece will be read by everyone tempted to create melodrama where genuine drama exists.

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Hardliner cracks down, tramples freedom

benedictxviReader Martha pointed us toward an article by Reuters religion reporter Michael Conlon. The piece takes the increasingly common view that Pope Benedict XVI will focus on education when he visits the United States next month. For a particularly insightful look at the matter, I commend this piece by someone you may be familiar with.

But look at how Conlon framed his story:

Pope Benedict likely will walk a fine line between trampling on academic freedom and laying down the law on orthodoxy when he meets with top U.S. Catholic educators next month, experts and observers say.

He will walk a fine line between trampling on academic freedom and laying down the law? Any line between those doesn’t so great. This pope is clearly a bad man, according to this story. Well, let’s see how Conlon backs it up. He claims that experts and observers are making this claim. Do they?:

“My guess is that Benedict might present a strong statement about Catholic character but probably not what I would call a rebuke,” said Timothy Matovina, director of the Cushwa Center for the Study of American Catholicism at the University of Notre Dame. . . .

“The suggestion that the pope is coming to the United States with a hammer for Catholic educational issues is not only premature but also prejudicial,” the Rev. David O’Connell, president of Catholic University, said in a letter published in The Washington Post.

Quel horror! Oh wait, neither of those things seem to support the lede. John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter predicts a broadly positive tone while Rev. Tom Reese (the former editor of the Jesuit magazine “America” — and he’s former for a reason, if you recall) says he’s worried about academic freedom. If the lede replaced “experts and observers” with “the Rev. Tom Reese,” it would be more accurate.

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Sneaker theology? Or ego?

CurryIf you care at all about college hoops, then you are all over the Davidson story.

Which makes all the more interesting the opening of a recent Associated Press report by Nancy Armour about the omnipresent baby-faced gunner who is leading that team in its quest for the glass slipper. (Click here for one video sample of what Curry is up to.)

On the red trim at the bottom of his shoes, Stephen Curry has written in black marker, “I can do all things.”

Yes, yes he can.

And because of him, Davidson is marching on.

Curry has, of course, scored 103 points in Davidson’s three NCAA tournament games, so he has every reason to be feeling good about his abilities at the moment.

Which raises the question that the AP apparently didn’t think to ask: Is this “I can do all things” statement a sign of ego or humility?

You see, Curry comes from a very strong Christian home and graduated from Charlotte Christian School. In fact, his brother Seth — another star at Charlotte Christian — is headed to yet another small religious college in the Southeast. That would be Liberty University (often known as Jerry Falwell U).

So it is safe to say that this phrase on the bottom of Stephen Curry’s sneaker is a reference to a verse in the New Testament, Philippians 4:13, which states:

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

So the question that some readers are asking is this: Who edited out the second half of the quote? If Curry shortened the verse, which seems likely, it is safe to say that he knows the rest of the verse and had a reason for writing this phrase on his, well, sole. Or maybe he did find a way to write the whole verse. We don’t know.

We also do notknow if the reporter realized that this was a statement of faith, not ego. The question, of course, is whether the reporter bothered to ask: “Why did you write those words on the bottom of your shoe?”

It seems like a rather basic question, if you are going to make this the lede of the story.

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Seeing the trivial in sacred hoops

barnes On and off the court, Rick Barnes is a changed man. The University of Texas men’s head basketball coach has forsworn swearing and fatty foods. Where he used to hurl profane names at his players and slurp sodas, now he says “let’s kick butt” in the huddle and has cut out the carbs in his diet.

Give sports columnist Kirk Bohls of the Austin American Statesman credit for finding this story; as the NCAA tournament is in full swing, the timing is right. But Bohls evinced little interest in examining the deeper reasons for Barnes’ changes. The result was the type of scratch-the-surface story that we at GetReligion lament.

Toward the end of his column, Bohls got around to summarizing and hinting at why Barnes changed. Here is his answer:

It’s all part of the new Rick Barnes, a 53-year-old stickler for discipline who now preaches what he practices. And listening to what others preach as well.

“Ask him what’s on his iPod,” assistant coach Russell Springmann coaxed.

If Barnes isn’t breaking down film of Austin Peay before Texas’ NCAA tournament opener in Little Rock, Ark., on Friday, there’s a very good chance he’s listening to one of the sermons from Matt Carter, a preacher at the Austin Stone church where Barnes and his family attend services. They are members of Lake Hills Church in Westlake.

The coach also takes part with his wife Candy’s daily devotionals and reads from books she has given him, such as Billy Graham’s “The Holy Spirit” and Minneapolis preacher John Piper’s “Don’t Waste Your Life.”

“The journey’s real important,” one Barnes confidante said. “Having self-control is never a bad thing.”

Did you see the ghost(s)? Faithful GR reader Shannon Edmonds did. In his email to us, Edmonds noted the following:

Here’s yet another example of a sports story with religious ghosts — albeit ones that get a brief, non-descript mention in the final few paragraphs, a mention that only begs the question of the entire article: WHY has the coach changed? If you take this article at face value, there is no reason for the change.

Edmonds is right: Bohls slighted the reasons for Barnes’ change. While Bohls mentioned that Barnes read sermons from various preachers, he failed to explore the theology or religious messages of those preachers. In doing so, Bohls missed a key part of the story.

Bohls should have at least browsed the websites of those preachers. I did, and my search for information about Matt Carter, the pastor of Barnes’ non-denominational Christian church, was valuable. It is likely that Barnes stopped cursing out of respect for one of Carter’s four tenets ( also see here ):

I believe the best thing we can do for the children and youth who are part of our church is to help them forge relationships with adults who care about them and with their peers rather than creating a lot of programs. In relationship, they will hear truth and have opportunities to mature spiritually and become who they are called to be.

Sure, Bohls’ story was a lighthearted take on the topic. Cursing and eating junk food are easy fodder for a column. But Bohls appears to have concentrated on those to the exclusion of a more significant story: Barnes changed his ways for the welfare, spiritual or otherwise, of his players. (Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson has done the same.)

What’s so funny about that?

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Pondering the Pope

Benedict 01I’ve been admiring how much work Gary Stern, the Journal News religion reporter, has put into preparing for the upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI. He put up an interactive Web site and publishes regular updates on his religion blog.

On Sunday he published a lengthy article — that ran throughout the Gannett kingdom, including USA TODAY — looking at how people perceive Benedict:

On this Easter, as Benedict nears the end of his third year as pope, it’s safe to say that he remains something of a white-robed enigma to most Americans, Catholic or otherwise.

“I don’t think most people have figured him out, that’s for sure,” said the Rev. Thomas Berg, executive director of the Westchester Institute for Ethics and the Human Person, a Catholic think tank based in Thornwood. “People may be scared away, since he is kind of an intellectual. A lot of people may not know how to get their hands around him.”

Stern paints a picture of a bookish pope whose emphasis is focusing Catholics on Jesus. Stern also notes the irony that people thought that they knew exactly what they were getting from the Vatican’s warden on doctrine (his previous position), as he’d been painted as the Pope’s Rottweiler:

“All of that was something of a caricature to start with,” said the Rev. Joseph Komonchak, a West Nyack native and veteran theologian at Catholic University in Washington. “But he has been far more collegial and accommodating than condemnatory. Temperamentally, he is a quiet person, shy, an intellectual. His main emphasis has been to draw Catholics back to what is central, what we have to offer the world, what we believe about Jesus Christ.”

Stern’s approach is to quote a ton of observers — people who follow the church intensely and look for different qualities in the pope. The effect is a well-rounded picture of a complicated, confident. I liked this quote from John Allen:

“John Paul had the mastery of facial expressions, the just-right gesture, sound bites,” said John Allen, a leading Catholic analyst and author of a pre-papal biography of Ratzinger. “Benedict doesn’t speak in sound bites but in tersely crafted paragraphs. To understand what he’s trying to say, you actually have to listen from start to finish, which is very much a challenge to our sound bite culture. That’s why there is a tremendous gap between what the Catholic insider knows about him and what the average person knows.”

It is this ability to listen from start to finish that is really separating the press corps between the men and the boys. Those who don’t have the facility to listen to Benedict’s complete thoughts are the ones who write the laughably bad stories. Those who are paying attention are able to grasp the full impact of his views.

Stern lightly makes fun of people who would label Benedict a conservative (for his Regensburg speech, restatement of Vatican condemnation of non-Catholic church bodies, etc.) and those who would call him a liberal because he meets with Muslims and Hans Kung. Instead Stern offers that Benedict’s papal approach is to explain and explore classic Catholicism in a positive light:

Benedict’s first two encyclicals, his papal letters, have been on love and hope. In the second, he wrote: “This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. The fact that it comes to us as a gift is actually part of hope.”

In his 2007 book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” the pope got down to Catholicism 101. He called it his search “for the face of the Lord.”

“In his first three years as pope, he has tried to bring the people of the church back to the basics of the faith, back to the Eucharist, back to prayer as the center of Christian life,” said George Weigel, a Catholic theologian and senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington.
Scholar and pope

benedict2
All in all, the piece is very helpful reading to people who don’t follow the daily actions of Benedict. They get a complex picture of a gentle, loving and doctrinally affirming pope.

Interestingly enough, the headline on Stern’s piece was, originally,

For many, still an enigma
3 years into papacy, Benedict XVI remains mystery to Americans

It’s been changed to “Benedict XVI remains a mystery.” Stern noted on his blog that many readers felt the word enigma was derogatory and negative. In this post, he explains the headline. Others complained that the story ran on Easter, when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. I also noticed a few other complaints. What did you think of the piece?

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A Jew for how many seasons?

pearl Every college basketball fan knows Bruce Pearl. The University of Tennessee men’s head coach is famous for turning around losing programs and his brash, outsized persona; at a woman’s basketball game last year, he painted his face and chest orange, wore a headband, and sat in the student section.

It’s tempting to think that Pearl is simply a crazy, and crazily successful, basketball coach. Yet Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post‘s showed that Pearl is more than a hail-fellow well met. He is a serious Jew:

If there is a subject on which Pearl is most passionate, it’s his Judaism, about which he talks so feelingly that his eyes well up. When he first arrived in Knoxville, some local Christian worshipers invited him to church and told him they wished he would make Jesus his personal savior, so he could get to heaven. It wasn’t enough for Pearl to politely inform them he was Jewish and attended synagogue. He described the role of God in his life, how he worshiped, lit candles, believed in mitzvahs. (Some of the local Christians still invite him to church.)

When Pearl took his team on tour of Europe last summer, he scheduled a stop at the Terezin concentration camp. As they toured the site, he told his players, “They killed 6 million of us 50 years ago ’cause of how we prayed.”

Jenkins did more than reveal Pearl’s motivation. She also revealed part of his character:

When he was a senior, he was playing first base one afternoon when a base runner called him a “Jew Boy.” Pearl tapped his glove, signaling the pitcher to throw to first. When the ball slapped into Pearl’s mitt, he whirled, smacked it into the runner’s face and started swinging. “I went to dukes,” he says. He was tossed from the game.

Since I was seven or eight, I have read the sports pages religiously; for the last two years, I have also subscribed to Sports Illustrated. My experience has been that sportswriters write about the religious motivations and practices of coaches rarely. So Jenkins is to be praised for writing this profile.

That said, Jenkins’ story contained a serious flaw. It was a celebration of Pearl and his faith, rather than a critical look at them.

High-level college coaches in football and basketball face lots of temptations. One is to recruit star athletes who have no intention of going to class, much less graduating from college. The graduation rate among basketball teams in the NCAA tournament is notoriously low. Another temptation, for the married, is to neglect your marriage in favor of your career.

Jenkins’ profile mentioned nothing of such moral pitfalls. Without dwelling on the topic, Jenkins might have written a paragraph on how Pearls’ Jewish faith helps him deal with such dilemmas.

For example, Jenkins might have noted that Pearl filed for divorce recently from his wife of 25 years. The couple had or have four children. How did Pearls’ faith influence him on this matter? Readers might conclude that Pearl should have spent more time with his family at home, rather going to his university’s games:

Meantime, Pearl’s quest to win over the community was just as energetic. He stormed the campus dining halls, shaking students’ hands and pleading for their attendance. He showed up at every football game, baseball game and women’s basketball game.

“He jumped on the Tennessee bandwagon,” Summitt says. “If there was an event, he was at it. He could be elected mayor in a heartbeat.”

It’s great when reporters explore how religion motivates and forms the character of athletes and coaches. But it’s better when they examine how religion forms the whole person, warts and all.

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Times: Obama offers Easter hope

19978 BlackJesus Pg23 WEBTo all GetReligion readers who are part of the Western church, let me say, “Happy Easter.” I hope you are all having a meaningful day discussing the resurrection power of Barack Obama’s recent speech on racism and its impact on healing the American soul.

While there is a lot of more traditional Easter coverage out there today — Pope appeals for peace, which could be seen as criticism of Republicans — I imagine that lots of folks in elite pews are talking about that New York Times story today by Laurie Goodstein and Neela Banerjee that opened like this:

This Easter Sunday, the holiest day of the Christian calendar, many pastors will start their sermons about the Resurrection of Jesus and weave in a pointed message about racism and bigotry, and the need to rise above them.

Some pastors began to rethink their sermons on Tuesday, when Senator Barack Obama gave a speech about race, seeking to calm a furor that had erupted over explosive excerpts of sermons by his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

The controversy drove the nation to the unpatrolled intersection of race and religion, and as many pastors prepared for their Easter message they said they felt compelled to talk about it. Their congregants were writing and e-mailing them: some wanted to share their emotional reactions to Mr. Obama’s speech; others asked how Mr. Wright, the minister, could utter such inflammatory things from the pulpit.

The key to this story is whether the reader accepts that “many” preachers were, in the hours before Easter, changing their sermon plans to address the Obama speech. The Times does have some specific names and examples of this trend, if it is a trend.

Some readers are going to buy this story and some are not. And that’s where things will get a bit tense. The story, you see, implies that this is a matter of doctrine and politics, as well as race. There are churches, it seems, that care about race and there are those who do not.

There is the crucial transition:

The response to the controversy from the pulpit will vary, of course, depending on a church’s denomination, racial composition and political and theological leanings, as well the predilections of the pastor. The Wright controversy is a natural topic for those in the United Church of Christ, a predominantly white denomination that includes Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Wright’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago (the largest church in the denomination).

Clergy members from Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and white evangelical churches are, very generally, less likely to incorporate the Wright controversy into their sermons than are those at black and mainline Protestant churches.

The Rev. Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals and lead pastor of Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie, Minn., said he would not be preaching about the racial issues raised by Mr. Obama’s speech and expected few other evangelical pastors to, either.

“Easter is about Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus, and it’s pretty unlikely that any other topic would eclipse that,” Mr. Anderson said. “That’s not to say those other topics aren’t important, but this is the most important.”

Most evangelical churches, he said, “are Bible-driven, not current-events-driven.”

So what does this Easter-as-racism theme sound like, in practice? What is the Gospel according to the Times, for this primary-season Easter? Here is one example, drawn from the story. Once again, it uses the structure that this is a left vs. right, oldline vs. evangelical (Catholic? Orthodox?) thing.

The question, of course, is whether a line has been drawn between Easter as metaphor and Easter as a truth claim about history and doctrine. It is possible to preach both at the same time.

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead.

“I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive stone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit.

“I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.

x215ymxhemvwywdllmnvbv8xnte4nzuxx3jvzg5lewtpbmcuzmx2xzffmte4nzk2mzawmy40nta01To explain my reactions to all of this, I really need to tell a personal story.

Back in 1992, while teaching at Denver Theological Seminary, I took part in an experimental seminar that combined two graduate courses — a study of the Old Testament prophets and my main course, which was called “The Contemporary World and the Christian Task.” My course focused on moral and religious “signals” contained in the news and entertainment media (click here for a look at some of the concepts I used).

The class offered an interesting blend of students, as well, including white pastors from the Denver suburbs and black pastors from the city core. We were rolling along and then the riots broke out in Los Angeles, in the wake of the beating of Rodney King (second photo) and the legal chaos that followed.

When it was my time to lecture, I asked: How can we hold class when LA is in flames? Thus, I improvised. I asked the black pastors, during the next few days, to call suburban churches and ask the pastors what they were preaching on that coming Sunday — including the biblical text and sermon topic. I asked the white pastors to call black churches and ask the same questions. We would discuss the results the following week.

My hunch was that, in the white churches, it would be business as usual. I was right. I also expected that, in the black churches, most of the pastors would find a way to preach on the moral issues raised by the riots, from racist police to blacks attacking white people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I also thought that the Old Testament prophets would be quoted early and often. I was right.

The sermon summaries were fascinating. If I had to sum up the messages preached in black pulpits on that day, I would say this: “Repent. There is enough sin in the LA riots to cover us all. There were sins in the past. There are sins in the present. Everyone needs to repent of their sins of racism and hatred. There is no place for hate and violence in the lives of those who cling to the Gospel of Jesus. Everyone needs to repent and ask for the forgiveness of their sins. So repent. Now.”

In other words, it was possible to preach about current events AND the Gospel. This was not really a matter of left and right. There is enough sin in this world to touch us all and there is grace for all who repent.

So here is my question, on this Easter Sunday for Western Christians: Did the Times cover the whole equation? Were there churches today — black and white — that talked about racism and repentance? About the resurrection, as a metaphor and as a reality? I predict that thousands of Christians in the pews of black churches heard about both sides of that equation today, not just the political part.

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Prayer works. That’s a “fact”?

hands folded in prayer 799927Anyone who spends any time studying the history of journalism, especially the American model of the press, knows that reporters and editors really, really, really love what they call “facts.” Some historians have even said that journalists worship “facts.”

This is one of the reasons that journalists say they have trouble covering religion news. Obviously, for many scribes, religion is all about emotions and feelings and doctrines and all kinds of things that don’t fit neatly into government reports and Excel spreadsheets. When it comes to religion, people make all kinds of decisions and take all kinds of actions for reasons that journalists simply do not, well, get.

Oh why, oh why can’t religion be more like politics, where all is reason and logic and fact? Yeah, right.

Anyway, the most recent issue of Newsweek contains two stories — it’s a classic, click here in the front of the magazine, then click here in the back — about one of those questions that drive journalists a bit nuts. The question is: Does prayer (or meditation) “work,” in any sense of the word that rational people can respect?

The first is this week’s Belief Watch mini-feature, by Lisa Miller, and offered this nice double-deck headline: “How to Make Sarah Laugh — Does being religious actually help you get pregnant? It’s possible, says a fertility specialist.” Here’s how it ends:

When Eileen Lyon, who is Catholic, was trying to conceive, her ob-gyn pressured her to try IVF but she said no. Her Catholicism, she says, gave her a sense of the sacredness of her marriage and of her own body, which she was not willing to violate. “You feel kind of brutalized by physicians who dismiss your religious views. If you choose against IVF, it’s your fault you will have no baby,” says Lyon, who is a history professor at SUNY Fredonia. Lyon finally sought treatment at the Pope Paul VI Institute, a clinic in Nebraska that seeks to help infertile couples without IVF. After surgery for her endometriosis, Lyon had a baby boy. Even though she tried — and failed — to get pregnant a second time, Lyon says she is glad she made the choices she did. “I feel a real sense of contentment,” she says. “It’s God’s will if you have a baby.”

Now here comes the really interesting part, and kudos to Miller for daring to go there:

Conventional fertility clinics may be dismissive of the Nebraska institute’s approach, but one thing appears to be true: a religious or spiritual mind-set may help infertile women. In a study of nearly 200 women published in 2005, psychologist Alice Domar and her colleagues found a high correlation between women who said they were religious and those with low rates of anxiety and depression during fertility treatment. Here, then, is the million-dollar question: does being religious actually help infertile women get pregnant? Domar says it’s possible. If religious women have less depression and anxiety, and lower rates of depression and anxiety correlate to higher pregnancy rates, “it stands to reason that religious and spiritual women should have higher pregnancy rates.” No wonder Sarah laughed.

So, is it a fact that faith “works”? Well, it appears that this small study points to some facts at the level of psychology and even medicine. But this, to me, seems almost beside the point from a journalistic perspective.

meditation pLook at it this way: Is it a “fact” that prayer works? That can be debated.

But is it a “fact” that millions of people in a wide variety of faiths around the world say that they believe prayer works and that this “fact” helps shape how they spend their time, spend their money and make their decisions?

Yes, that is a fact. Journalists have to accept that fact and, well, try to cover how all of those decisions affect life in the real world around us (even the public square).

Don’t take my word for it. Head to the back of the magazine and connect some dots by reading the feature “No Buddha Required,” which notes:

Recent studies have shown meditation can yield a host of health benefits, from increased concentration to some relief from depression. Hospitals and clinics are including meditation as therapy, and medical schools are including it in their curricula. As the practice becomes more accepted as something that can be both secular and therapeutic, publishers are responding: at least a dozen books on meditation are scheduled for release in the next three months. …

Brain-imaging research has shown that meditation reduces stress and can enhance one’s sense of well-being. Novice practitioners have increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that can produce positive feelings and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, says Richard J. Davidson, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin and the director of its Lab for Affective Neuroscience.

That sounds pretty official.

My final questions: Should editors at Newsweek have linked these stories? Did anyone see the connections? And why is one a “religion” story and the other a “health” story?

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