Million-year war for Earth begins tonight

imageNYET2South Park is as South Park does, and if they were to pick on religions, it was bound to happen they’d pick on Scientology — and if they were going to pick on Scientology it was bound to happen that they’d be snide about it.

So, it’s no major shock to anyone.

Which makes Isaac Hayes’ (belated) reaction out of place, for me, as a Scientologist. Hey, Chef, you were in bed with them dogs for how many years? And, NOW is when you get up and check for fleas?

Posted by Greg Churilov at 5:46 pm on March 17, 2006

Our friend Greg has been commenting on GetReligion since my earliest Scientology post in late February, and he’s been consistent in defending the group from those who raise negative portrayals of Scientology. So to hear this from an avowed Scientologist was interesting, to say the least.

It’ll be interesting to see what Matt Stone and Trey Parker do tonight in an episode that is supposed to give the character Chef played by Isaac Hayes, a Scientologist, a grand finale.

There’s no word on whether the show will mention Scientology, but after last week’s rerun of the famous Scientology episode was pulled at the last minute, it’s hard to predict what will happen, especially after this statement from the show’s creators:

So, Scientology, you may have won this battle, but the million-year war for Earth has just begun. Curses and drat! You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail!

chef4Fox News’ Roger Friedman has said that Hayes couldn’t have made that statement regarding the show’s “intolerance and bigotry towards religious beliefs” because he is recovering from a stroke he suffered in January and that someone else was putting words in his mouth.

While the current unproven speculation is that Scientologist somehow got Hayes to issue that statement, we do know that someone else will be putting words in Hayes’ mouth tonight:

A Comedy Central spokesman would not confirm or deny that Chef’s voice in tonight’s episode is provided by Hayes, but he did reiterate that Hayes is no longer involved with the show. However, it would not be difficult to weave together existing dialogue from Hayes. And it is not unusual for creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone to deliver episodes at the last minute.

As the South Park creators navigate this legal minefield, I predict that there will be at least a subtle reference to last week’s yanking of the Scientology episode. Whether Scientology will be mentioned is another matter.

A two-minute preview of the episode on the show’s website gives few answers to these questions (the plot seems to evolve around the attempted mating of a horse and pig), but this is the subtitle: “When the boys are down on their luck with a recent science project, Chef offers a helpful solution.”

Overall the media’s coverage of this event seems fairly consistent with what similar controversies receive. Speculations on a person’s physical capability to make statements — and thus alleging that the statements come from Scientology — are a bit much in my opinion, especially considering how easily that can be disproved, but you can’t deny Stone and Parker’s ability to capitalize on their share of controversy.

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Suing over a book’s architecture

da vinci codeApparently Dan Brown’s use of “historical conjecture” in his wildly popular Da Vinci Code has landed him in the British legal system on a charge of plagiarism. The media are fascinated by the revelations on how Brown wrote his book, his wife’s involvement in forming the more controversial themes of the book and how strange it is to see the laid-back Brown among a bunch of powdered wigs in a British courtroom.

Here’s the New York Times version of what’s happening:

Mr. Brown acknowledges that he used “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” (published in the United States as “Holy Blood, Holy Grail”), as a source for his book, but contends it was just one of many books and documents he and his wife consulted. Indeed, his protagonist specifically refers to the book in a pivotal scene in “The Da Vinci Code” — a homage, Mr. Brown says; the name of one of Mr. Brown’s characters, Sir Leigh Teabing, was devised as an in-joke reference to “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail,” using the surname of one author and an anagram of the surname of another.

Mr. Baigent and Mr. Leigh’s case will rise or fall on how much they can prove that Mr. Brown relied on their book in writing his.

So far, their lawyers appear to have only scratched the surface of the issue, although they have in their possession what Mr. Brown says are all his notes, outlines and research materials.

In his statement to the court, he said that “The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail” was full of material that did not appear in “The Da Vinci Code,” and vice versa.

“I would like to restate that I remain astounded by the claimants’ choice to file this plagiarism suit,” he said. “For them to suggest, as I understand they do, that I have ‘hijacked and exploited’ their work is simply untrue.”

For the fans of the books it is great drama, and the revelations on the formation of the book are somewhat interesting, but the real significance of this story is on how the matter could end the genre of historical fiction.

dan brownNow I’m not talking about the basic histories we’re all familiar with. Common-knowledge subjects like the American Civil War, Queen Elizabeth’s reign and the journey of Marco Polo will remain up for grabs. But the more speculative aspects that have been recently explored by researchers and are not established in the history books will be out the window, as explained by author Sarah Dunant, a guest on National Public Ratio’s On the Media last week:

I think the problem about religion is it is based somewhere on a series of facts that nobody quite knows. The notion that Christ may have been married, the notion that Mary Magdalene may have been more than just a poor supplicant, are notions that have been around for a very long time. And if a writer, particularly a thriller writer, a writer where plot is really important, where the uncovering of secrets is really important … as you know, I began life as a thriller writer, and I try and weave in thriller plots to history because the better the book, the more you’re drawing on stuff that is actually fact. Thriller writers do lots of research. The big question here is whether or not an idea, a bigger idea as opposed to a series of facts and opinions, can be copyrighted. And that is a huge question, which I think, even when they have ordered one way or the other in the Dan Brown case, in a sense, we’ll still be asking. …

For a very long time, any kind of novel about history, particularly deliberately historical novels, were more often about kind of kings and queens and big battles and the big accepted history. But the kind of history that is being done by all manner of scholars over the last 40 or 50 years, from women’s research people to people who are interested in gay culture to people who are interested in the hidden bits of the sort of Christian mythology, their job has been to get under the surface, to get to those other nine-tenths of the iceberg. It’s all, in a sense, new and slightly hidden history. So the historical novelist, particularly if you want to write a good thrilling historical novel, which I certainly set out to do, has to use all kinds of sources which, in a sense, are just the tip of the iceberg.

I’m a bit disappointed that I have not seen more on this from mainstream publications. Perhaps I’ve missed it, but most of what I’ve read fails to highlight the very essence for which Brown is being sued. Perhaps because the ideas are so controversial, reporters avoid them with the subtle fear that they will make a goof? Or maybe it’s because those suing Brown don’t stand much of a chance to win even in Great Britain, not to mention the United States?

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“Mr. Cruise, come out of the closet”

chefThe voice of South Park‘s Chef, soul singer Isaac Hayes, has quit the show that centers on four foul-mouthed fourth graders. The reason: South Park inappropriately ridicules religion. Say what? Since when?!?

Here is a thorough account of the story from Reuters (my past posts dealing with Scientology can be found here and here):

Soul singer Isaac Hayes said on Monday he was quitting his job as the voice of the lusty character “Chef” on the satiric cable TV cartoon “South Park,” citing the show’s “inappropriate ridicule” of religion.

But series co-creator Matt Stone said the veteran recording artist was upset the show had recently lampooned the Church of Scientology, of which Hayes is an outspoken follower.

“In ten years and over 150 episodes of ‘South Park,’ Isaac never had a problem with the show making fun of Christians, Muslim[s], Mormons or Jews,” Stone said in a statement issued by the Comedy Central network. “He got a sudden case of religious sensitivity when it was his religion featured on the show.”

He added: “Of course we will release Isaac from his contract, and we wish him well.”

In a statement explaining his departure from the show, Hayes, 63, did not mention last fall’s episode poking fun at Scientology and some of its celebrity adherents, including actor Tom Cruise.

south park three boysAs blogger Andrew Sullivan joked, the episode “Red-Hot Catholic Love” wasn’t enough to drive Hayes from the show. Nor was the show that started it all, “The Spirit of Christmas (Jesus vs. Santa).”

The Scientology episode, which is available at South Park‘s homepage (for the time being) and through this site, is just as much about making fun of the alleged closeted homosexuality of actor Tom Cruise (who is also a Scientologist), but the plot certainly centers on Stan and his rather unusual experience in the group.

I’m glad Reuters and others have been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Hayes’ claiming that his departure was solely based on the show’s clear hostility toward religion. They obviously were helped out a bit by Stone’s statement, and it will be interesting to see if this story picks up any momentum. No lawsuit has been filed against the show that I know of, largely thanks to American judicial precedent that allows liberal use of satire, especially toward those who are in the public limelight.

While I certainly do not think it’s nice to mock another person’s religion, or life philosophy as Scientologists put it, and Scientology is indeed viciously mocked by South Park in this episode, it is certainly within the realm of comedy. As long as the comedy is actually funny, and in this case it’s hilarious, I’m OK with it.

One item that might be worth exploring in follow-up reports is the actual status of Scientology as a religion. Yes, Scientology has established tax-exempt status and walks like a religion, but it does not always talk like a religion. Scientologists have left comments on this blog that “many people practice Scientology and their chosen faith.” This includes Hayes, who says he is a Baptist by birth and that he considers Scientology an “applied religious philosophy.”

Perhaps the Internal Revenue Service needs to take another look at the group’s status as a religion?

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Every body is religious

05328151425 eyesA few years ago I was in Czech Republic to witness the baptism of a dear friend. We went to Kutna Hora, home to the beautiful Sv. Barbory (Saint Barbara) Cathedral, one of the most famous Gothic churches in Europe. From Jan Svankmajer’s film, I knew of an ossuary nearby that I wanted to visit. Hana repeatedly told me that I shouldn’t go, but I insisted.

She was probably right. A chapel made out of creative arrangements of the bones of 40,000 humans is, it seems, not for the weak. Finding out that it was made in the late 19th century, instead of 500 years earlier, only made it worse. It provoked in me a deeper appreciation for more private cemeteries and resting places.

I thought of this experience when reading Denver Post writer Eric Gorski’s interesting piece on an exhibition of human bodies that is touring the country. I enjoy reading Gorski because he takes the time to understand the nuances of religious issues. So many religion reporters think that they can explain complex religious issues by talking to people on opposite sides of an issue. Gorski tries to explain issues by differentiating seemingly similar views.

He looks at an exhibition in which corpses have their skin removed to show muscles and nerves. The corpses are put in bizarre positions, too, like swinging a baseball bat:

The exhibit raises questions about the existence of a creator, when life begins and the afterlife. Displaying actual cadavers — a sight usually reserved for medical students — also raises ethical and religious issues.

He talks to various religious leaders about their concerns, finding most clerics to be generally supportive. However, two of his Muslim sources disagree about whether the exhibit is okay. I found the following quote from the executive director of the Colorado Southern Baptist General Convention to be very interesting:

“The body is a beautiful miracle — a major proof of the creator,” [Mark] Edlund said. “In a cadaver there is no soul, no spirit. I see no Christian ethics involved.”

bodyworksI am sure this is the view of Southern Baptists, but I just thought it was fascinating. Think of how the spread of Christianity — with its central belief in the resurrection of the body — led to major changes in the way people dealt with the human body after death. The early Christians would have universally disapproved of such treatment of the human form. They strenuously advocated burial of the human body — contrary to many customs of the time. Obviously things have changed drastically in Christianity — with many churches supporting the cremation that early Christians worked so hard to eradicate. I am certain that some scholars or religious leaders who represent the historic Christian position could have been found, but the wide variety of belief mentioned in Gorski’s piece was interesting. I also appreciated that he found out a bit about the religious views of the exhibit’s creator:

As for the man behind it all, [Dr. Gunther] von Hagens told Colorado reporters last week he was baptized a Protestant behind the Iron Curtain in East Germany and did not see the inside of a church for 17 years.

Von Hagens describes his belief system now as largely agnostic.

Does the master anatomist believe in an afterlife? Did souls once dwell in his ballet dancer, his soccer player, his man at leisure?

“I think my brain is not constructed to answer those questions,” he said.

Too many reporters would listen to an agnostic such as von Hagens and deem his religious views unworthy of mention. But it’s important when writing about one source’s religious motivation to seek out information about everyone’s religious motivation.

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Big Love, bigger questions

BigLoveMy fiance reviewed the new HBO drama Big Love for the New York Sun this week — which meant I got to watch the first several episodes before they air. It’s a very compelling show that normalizes polygamy. In real life, polygamists are known for raping family members, forcing underage girls into marriage, and living on the dole. In HBOland, polygamists are attractive and upright citizens who you’d let watch your children. But, again, if you set apart the obvious agenda against traditional values, it’s an excellent show that begins airing tomorrow night.

There have been many thought-provoking criticisms of the new show, and nearly everyone is in agreement that it’s well done. On National Review Online, Louis Wittig wrote that the slippery slope has become a high-speed luge track:

In late 2004, amid a boiling gay-marriage debate, law professor Jonathan Turley argued the case for legalizing polygamy in a USA Today op-ed. But, he added:

[The] day of social acceptance will never come for polygamists. It is unlikely that any network is going to air The Polygamist Eye for the Monogamist Eye or add a polygamist twist to Everybody Loves Raymond.

Ha ha ha! Fifteen months later and a cable network has, in fact, built an entire show around polygamy. The show goes out of its way to note that the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints banned polygamy in the late 19th century. In fact, much of the show is about a breakoff Mormon sect that does support polygamy coexisting in the same Utah as the Mormons who do not support polygamy. What’s more, the main polygamist family actually doesn’t go to any church at all, having broken away from a polygamist compound. The show, and the disclaimer at the end, are causing quite the stir in Utah.

The Salt Lake Tribune, which has to be one of the few papers with an actual polygamy category, looks into the controversy. Unfortunately, the piece is poorly written and lacks an understanding of the religious issues at hand. I wonder why Peggy Fletcher Stack, the Trib‘s excellent religion reporter, didn’t cover it. Thankfully, AP writer Debbie Hummel wrote a great piece about the stirrings in Utah:

Everyone from practicing polygamists to the Mormon church — which shunned the practice more than a century ago — are anxiously anticipating the fallout from the show about a Utah polygamist and his three sometimes desperate housewives.

Some worry that the series will perpetuate stereotypes from which the state and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long sought to distance themselves. Others fear it will diminish the crimes, such as child abuse, reported in some of the state’s secretive polygamous sects. And polygamists say they’re sure the series won’t accurately portray the “boring” reality of their lives.

polygamy pinThe entire article is well-written and very interesting. Polygamy is definitely a bigger issue in some areas of the country — with rather large compounds in Arizona and Utah and — than others. The Rocky Mountain News has done an excellent job with polygamy coverage for many years. The paper has run lengthy investigative series and short updates on the abnormal communities. But for this story, Hummel kicks the competition. Here’s more:

In 1843, church founder Joseph Smith said he had a revelation from God allowing the practice of plural marriage. In 1890, a subsequent church president, Wilford Woodruff, made public a revelation declaring that church members should stop practicing polygamy. The federal government had required the Utah territory end its endorsement of polygamy as a condition of statehood. Utah became a state in 1896.

Speaking not in a theological way at all, Joseph Smith did an amazing job of launching a successful church. But that polygamy thing has had a staying power that I bet many Mormons regret. Polygamy was only practiced for 47 years, although it was huge during those years, and has been banned for 116 years. And yet “Mormon” is probably one of the first words people think of when they hear the word “polygamy.” For that reason, it’s important for reporters to be very clear about the relationship Mormons have with polygamy:

Polygamy isn’t an issue for modern-day Mormons, said church spokesman Michael Otterson, adding that members understand why polygamy is no longer practiced. . .

He’s also worried that the church could lose some of the ground it has gained in educating the public about the differences between the mainstream church and splinter fundamentalist groups that practice polygamy.

“This, I think, is going to undo some of that. Because you only have to mention Salt Lake City and polygamy and Mormons in the same breath and people will start to get those old stereotypes again,” he said.

I’m not so sure. The show is so obviously a thinly veiled campaign for gay marriage that I think the Mormon issues are secondary. Also, I’d sure love a reporter to ask Turley about his failed prediction.

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American tribes go to different movies

NYET18801311348This is post is so, so, so overdue that I have decided to turn that into a good thing. Indeed, I will argue that my procrastination can be seen as a form of public service to GetReligion readers.

Why? The Atlantic Monthly is a wonderful magazine and is must reading for anyone interested in religion and public life. But some of those articles are just so long, too long even, when it comes time to reading them on a computer screen. So if you are not a subscriber, I urge you — the timing is perfect — to find a subscriber and urge them to give you that copy of the January-February issue that they were just about to pitch into the recycle bin. It’s the one with Pope Benedict XVI on the cover (more on that in a moment).

There is a very important article in this issue entitled “Tribal Relations” by Steven Waldman, the CEO over at Beliefnet, and John C. Green, the University of Akron professor who is one of America’s most quoted experts on political numbers. It is part of a package — look for the “Values Racket” headline — that tries to carve up all kinds of Culture War and Red vs. Blue political myths and actually, for me, ends up making the opposite case, underlining the fact that moral and cultural issues are at the heart of American politics these days.

In their article, Green and Waldman produce mini-profiles of what they believe are the 12 religious (or non-religious or even anti-religious) tribes in American politics. The goal is to prove that America is more complex than the old Religious Right vs. Everybody Else matrix. What they end up with is something very close to the point of view argued long ago — to one degree or another — by James Davison “Culture Wars” Hunter, evangelical statistics guru George Barna, Gerald De Maio and Louis Bolce and others.

Anyone who has read GetReligion very long will recognize this theory right away: There is the true Religious Right on one side (about 12 percent) and the true-blue secularists on the other side (10 percent or so) and, in between, there is OprahAmerica.

Not everyone will agree with how Waldman and Green have defined the other folks in the Republican and Democratic tribes — the “heartland culture warriors,” the religious left, the “moderate evangelicals,” spiritual but not religious people, etc. But it was good to make this attempt, and others should spin their own versions. Anyone seeking compromises on tough moral issues has to venture into this territory, the muddy land in between the rock-ribbed religious voters who define the Republican primaries and the anti-evangelical voters who dominate the Democratic primaries and fundraising.

Here is a sample of the “Tribal Relations” material. Note the reference to “theological restructuring,” which is a kind of indirect hat tip to Hunter:

A deep-blue religious left is almost exactly the same size as the religious right but receives much less attention. John Kerry is perhaps one representative of this group, which draws members from many Christian denominations and is a product of the same theological restructuring that created the heartland culture warriors. Members of the religious left espouse a progressive theology (agreeing, for instance, that “all the world’s great religions are equally true”) and are very liberal on cultural issues such as abortion and gay marriage. About a quarter attend church weekly. The religious left is somewhat liberal on economic policy and decidedly to the left on foreign policy. Its stances on both moral values and the Iraq War — but especially the latter — have pushed it further into the Democratic camp. Seventy percent backed Kerry in 2004; 51 percent had backed Gore in 2000. The religious left was the largest — and the fastest-growing — single tribe in the Kerry coalition.

103652 brokeback l 01So you may be asking, right about now: Why is there Oscar and Brokeback Mountain art attached to this post?

That’s easy. In the weeks running up to the Academy Awards, the mainstream press has been cranking out stories about the success of this movie and how this shocking “breakout” represents a major change in American culture. The latest version of this story appeared this past week in the big-story slot on page one in USA Today. Thus, reporter Scott Bowles wrote:

Brokeback Mountain already is The Movie. The film is the punch line of jokes, the subject of Internet parodies and the front-runner for the Oscars on March 5. Oprah plugged the gay-cowboy drama on her show. Howard Stern gave it a thumbs up. “Have you seen Brokeback?” has become a dinner-party Rorschach test of gay tolerance.

Brokeback also is freighted with expectations not foisted on a film in years. It leads a raft of social-issues films that are dominating the awards season. Some hail the picture as the one that will change not only how Hollywood portrays gay characters but also how gay men and lesbians are accepted by mainstream America. Those are mighty claims for a $14 million Western seen by fewer people in the three months since its release than who saw Dancing with the Stars on television last week.

Admirers say the film is erasing Hollywood’s homosexual stereotypes and raising consciousness of gay rights. Critics say Brokeback‘s destiny is to be remembered more for its marketing than its artistic achievements.

This story does — hurrah — work in a wide range of viewpoints about the movie. Still, it is yet another example of the trend that it is writing about.

At some point, you have to ask: OK, if $70-plus million at the box office is a sign of American mainstream status, then what is $288 million or even (if you catch my drift) $370 million?

Here’s the point. If you apply the Waldman and Green matrix to movies instead of to politics, then you could reach this conclusion. Brokeback Mountain is a solid, artistic niche movie for the hard left in American life — a niche that is larger than the hard right (and is dominated by Oscar voters and Hollywood’s most loyal supporters in blue zip codes).

So who will make more movies for the other tribes? Who will find a way to make movies that combine the tribes, yet are artistic enough for Hollywood to honor? That’s the question people need to ask if they want to make mainstream movies that make lots of money and force Hollywood people to grit their teeth when it comes time for the Oscar voting.

So what else is in that must-save January-February issue of The Atlantic?

There is E.J. Dionne Jr.’s poignant attempt to wish away the Culture Wars. There is Caitlin Flanagan’s “Are You There God? It’s Me, Monica,” in which she seems to yearn for some kind of sexual morality in post-feminist America, but dares not propose one. And there is even the cover story, Paul Elie’s magnificent “The Year of the Two Popes,” which offers some critical insights into the differences between John Paul II and Benedict XVI, instead of rehashing all of the places where their views were so similar.

Like I said, find someone to give you a real copy of this magazine printed on high-quality dead tree pulp. You’ll get eye strain trying to read all of this wonderful stuff on a computer screen.

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J.J. Redick’s faith and his tattoos

redickIn high school, I was often terrified to play in organized basketball games. Don’t get me wrong, I loved to play basketball and to this day it is one of my favorite activities. But something made me go stiff the moment a referee and a coach were involved. The primary reason I survived four years of high school basketball was because of prayer and the support of my family and friends.

For this reason, faith and family have always gone together in my post-high school experiences in organized basketball, primarily as the coach of my younger brother’s junior high and junior varsity team for three years. Faith, while not significant in all ball players’ minds, certainly means a great deal to me, which is why I was thrilled to read this story by ESPN.com senior writer Pat Forde on the faith and tattoos of Duke guard J.J. Redick:

“I didn’t get tattoos so other people would say, ‘Oh, J.J.’s got tattoos. He’s got a basketball on his arm that says King of the Court,’ or something like that,” Redick said. “I got a tattoo for me. It’s a constant reminder, every day, of what God has done and what he will do in my life.”

The reminders are etched upon the senior guard’s lean torso — one on his chest, one on his abdomen.

The script lettering on his stomach reads, “Isaiah 40:31,” referring to this Bible verse: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

The other tattoo, on his chest, came first. It’s the Japanese word for courage, and beneath it is reference to another Bible verse, Joshua 1:9. That one reads: Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

That’s the tat he got with grandma. And if there is one thing you can say about J.J. Redick, it’s this: He’s got basketball courage.

Courage is a tricky thing on a basketball court. Courage can quickly turn into cockiness detrimental to the team. I was privileged to see Redick drop 41 in a losing effort to Georgetown University last month, and I was struck not only by his ability to drill 3-pointers from 25 feet out with two guys in his face, but also his poise and unselfish behavior. Nevertheless, a big reason I believe Georgetown won was because Redick did not have the ball in his hands at the end of the game.

redick2Redick’s faith, his upbringing in a household of five homeschooled children, his struggles in his first two years at college — away from the comforts and protection of home — his recommitment to disciplining his life and his personal faith in God all make for a great story. While Pat Forde isn’t in your face about Redick’s faith in Christ, he certainly does not attempt to play it down or avoid it like some sportswriters are inclined to do.

Here’s more on Redick’s faith and his claim to fame as the world’s most hated basketball player (as of Saturday, he became the ACC’s all-time scoring leader to go along with his NCAA record 3-pointers and his all-time leading scorer status at Duke University):

It takes courage to embrace the burden of potential failure and hoist shots at the moments of maximum pressure. It takes courage to thrive as the most revered and most reviled college player in America. It takes courage to put your personality out there — the vulnerable poet’s side, the arrogant baller’s side, the unapologetic Christian’s side — for public dissection.

It would be so much easier to assume the dull automaton pose prevalent among today’s college basketball players. Redick doesn’t do easy.

“God’s got to be his comforter,” J.J.’s dad, Ken, said. “There’s got to be times in that spotlight, with that much pressure — and internal pressure from the Duke system of how you have to perform every day — when he couldn’t survive without faith, without being imbued with that spirit.

… After averaging 21.8 points per game last year and being named a first-team All-American, Redick decided he had earned a second trip to the tattoo parlor. That’s when he got the Isaiah 40:31 tat, to commemorate what he called “the best year of my life.”

“I regained my passion for basketball,” Redick said. “My relationships with my family members were as good as they’ve ever been — and my first two years, those were sometimes rocky. I met my girlfriend during that year and regained my spirituality.”

Read the whole article if you enjoy sports. If not, read it anyway to get a feel for one of America’s “Crunchy Christians” who has been reading, according to the article, Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life this winter. And I’ll be watching come March Madness to see whether Redick’s faith draws further attention by the media.

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Tooning in

southpark2Just a quick note to follow-up on Old Man Mattingly’s post about different standards for Christians, Jews and Muslims. Catholic church leaders in New Zealand are calling for a boycott of television stations that plan to screen an “ugly and tasteless” episode of South Park, according to the BBC. I have seen many episodes of South Park and I can’t think of one that wasn’t ugly or tasteless. Sometimes they’re even funny.

Anyway, the problem for the church leaders is that the episode depicts the Virgin Mary in a sacrilegious way. The stations, which recently apologized to Muslims for airing the cartoons, have a different response to the Christian protests:

TV station C4 is to air the cartoon earlier than planned in response to the levels of publicity it has generated.

The episode was originally scheduled for a screening in May, but will now be shown on 22 February. . . .

Rick Friesen, head of TV Works, which runs C4, said that if Catholics felt they would be upset by South Park, then they should not watch it.

Quick style note: It really bothers and confuses me how so many reporters use Catholic when they mean Roman Catholic. Catholic means universal and Roman Catholic refers to that church based out of, well, Rome. There is a difference. Many people who are not Roman Catholic consider themselves catholic — and even Catholic sometimes.

But it looks like the New Zealand station has found a consistent strategy for dealing with potentially offensive material — apologize to Muslims and tell Roman Catholics to buzz off.

Stories like this also makes me wonder why American media are not fighting on behalf of press freedom in this ongoing cartoon controversy. We can certainly imagine that if it becomes culturally or legally impossible to make any criticism of Islam in political cartoons, religious adherents of all types will expect equal or similar treatment.

Do reporters and editors really want a world where we can’t criticize any religion in cartoons? Maybe the heroes in Team America should pay a visit to a few of our newsrooms and straighten some folks out.

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