“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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Yo Katie, now zing the Amish!

2006 03 03 NBCT 01Here is a short update on that Today showdown between Katie Couric and Thomas Monaghan, the Domino’s Pizza founder who is now building Ave Maria University down in southwest Florida.

The tech team at the conservative Media Research Center have put up a commentary by L. Brent Bozell III that includes a video link to the crucial section of the actual interview, which included Paul Marinelli, the developer for the town that will be called Ave Maria, Fla. Watch the showdown for yourself and see what you think. Here is a key piece of Bozell’s commentary:

As NBC dutifully plastered the words “Catholic Town USA” on screen, Couric began pestering Monaghan about his hope that pharmacists would not sell contraceptives there. She asked about it four times. After four denials, she started dropping the bombs.

“Some people,” she claimed, think Catholic values might be “deemed wholesome, but in other ways, I think people will see this community as eschewing diversity and promoting intolerance.” Marinelli refused to take the bait, and instead calmly explained that this town was open to all people of all faiths with a “traditional family value perspective.” Couric was unconvinced and shot back, “Does that mean you would welcome Jewish residents?”

Here are two other great Couric moments, as she auditions for the Dan Rather Memorial Chair of Broadcasting:

“… (You) can understand how people would hear some of these things and be, like, wow, this is really infringing on civil liberties and freedom of speech and right to privacy and all sorts of basic tenets this country was founded on. Right?”

And then her final zinger, delivered with a laugh:

“Well, we’ll probably be following this story, because I know the ACLU is too.”

jacob reitan equality rideBy the way, if GetReligion readers want to see a mainstream reporter working hard to be fair to people on both sides of a loaded, emotional story, check out reporter Michelle Boorstein’s feature story in the Washington Post about the Soulforce Equality Ride campaign and its impact on the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities.

I won’t have much to say on this particular story right now, since the CCCU is where I work. If I offer commentary on Equality Ride coverage later, I’ll make sure that GetReligion readers (or even my Scripps Howard News Service readers) know about that link. I’ve been covering the Rev. Mel White and his Soulforce projects for ages.

I hope reporters along the Equality Ride route read Boorstein’s story, and I think the Soulforce people would say the same.

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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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To Apple: File this for next Jobs keynote

nano blackSo Pope Benedict XVI has an iPod. The only controversy to me is that Vatican Rado bought the white Nano model — which will go well with those white-and-gold vestments — rather than the black that would look so cool with clericals. But when is the pope a man in black?

As you would expect, Carol Glatz at the Catholic News Service bureau at the Vatican does know what many MSM journalists would not know, which is that the pianist pope has a serious Mozart habit. The Vatican Radio staffers who helped the pope go digital knew that, too.

The pope’s new 2-gigabyte digital audio player already was loaded with a sampling of the radio’s programming in English, Italian and German and musical compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frederic Chopin, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky. The stainless steel back was engraved with the words “To His Holiness, Benedict XVI” in Italian.

Once the pope, who is also a pianist, gets the hang of the device’s trademark click wheel, he will be able to listen to a special 20-minute feature produced by the radio’s English program that highlights Mozart’s life and music to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

So, GetReligion readers, any other nominations for musical works to go on this particular iPod? What non-Vatican podcasts would you recommend, for starters? Have some fun with this, folks.

If stranded on a desert island, one of the CDs (those ancient round shiny things that replaced LPs) at the top of my list would be the Robert Shaw Festival Singers’ recording of the glorious Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Then again, if the odd tidbit of news reported in the new National Catholic Reporter column by the omnipresent John L. “Word from Rome” Allen Jr. is true, the pontiff previously known as the “Patriarch of the West” might not be as open to listening to Eastern Orthodox concert music as many thought he would be.

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Hollywood’s Moral Majority acts out?

I almost posted a link to this piece last week. However, I thought at the time that it was — for GetReligion — one of those “dogs that didn’t bark” stories. After all, the piece does not mention the red vs. blue zip code divide or the theme, previously seen in Los Angeles Times stories, that some people in Hollywood might be getting sweaty palms, in an era of crashing box office numbers, about holding a Brokeback Mountain wedding shower.

Oh well. Whatever. Never mind.

Click here and see the amazing predictions late last week by David Carr in the New York Times. So we must ask, what did he know and when did he know it? Or better yet, for this blog, why did he know it? Was this, to dig up that quote from Ken Tucker of New York magazine, a victory for the “insecure, the idiots, or the insecure idiots”?

It will be interesting to watch Hollywood meditate on the meaning of this Oscar upset. As one would expect, Andrew Sullivan and his sparring partner Mickey Kaus are already up and at it.

But Kenneth Turan at the newspaper of tinsel record has already written the rough draft of the Culture Wars talking points for today. His Los Angeles Times piece — was the page framed in black? — gets right to the point. Dang it, is it possible that some people in Hollywood are actually afraid of America? Does Hollywood has a closeted Moral Majority? Is there some Southern Baptist, traditional Catholic or Orthodox Jewish cabal out there on the left coast that we don’t know about? Did Pat Robertson threaten some people?

Turan vents:

Despite all the magazine covers it graced, despite all the red-state theaters it made good money in, despite (or maybe because of) all the jokes late-night talk show hosts made about it, you could not take the pulse of the industry without realizing that this film made a number of people distinctly uncomfortable.

More than any other of the nominated films, “Brokeback Mountain” was the one people told me they really didn’t feel like seeing, didn’t really get, didn’t understand the fuss over. … In the privacy of the voting booth, as many political candidates who’ve led in polls only to lose elections have found out, people are free to act out the unspoken fears and unconscious prejudices that they would never breathe to another soul, or, likely, acknowledge to themselves. And at least this year, that acting out doomed “Brokeback Mountain.”

However, if there are people in Hollywood who are deep into mourning, they may need to remember that it is the season of Lent and, thus, a time for reflection (I dare not say repentance).

As it turns out, the pastors at the Jesuit Urban Center in Boston may be just the men who can feel the pain of all those in Hollywood, New York City and college towns everywhere who are grieving today. Here (hat tip) is a clip from last week’s Ash Wednesday sermon by Father J.A. Loftus, S.J.

I suspect many in this community have already seen Brokeback Mountain. If not see it; if you have, see it again and reflect on the consequences of not being interiorly free, the consequences of not knowing who you really are and want to become, the tragic consequences and subsequent devastation that comes from only living in a “pretend” world. Watch carefully the price of dishonesty in yourself and with those whom you try to love.

Let this Lent be a Brokeback Lent.

That’s all for now. Let us know if you see mainstream journalists and commentators who dig into the moral and religious implications — what a world — of Oscar night.

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Candidate Pat Robertson, in brief

PatRobertsonimageLate yesterday afternoon, I received a call from Godbeat veteran Alan Cooperman of the Washington Post, who was working on an update about the status of the National Religious Broadcasters and the Rev. Pat Robertson. I don’t think it would hurt to say that he wanted to know if I would talk about some of the things that have been said about the czar of The 700 Club on this website, which I assume means this post, this one and especially this one.

It also seems that it’s hard to find powerful evangelicals, other than the quotable Dr. Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention, who are willing to say much about Robertson today. People are not rushing to defend him and they are not eager, perhaps thinking about that cable-TV niche audience, to go on the record criticizing him, either. I told Cooperman that, in this case, theology will eventually trump politics. Many traditional Christians are very upset about the warped theology of what Robertson has been saying about prayer, God, Israel and other related topics (even theodicy).

Anyway, a story by Cooperman did end up in the paper today. Here it is (please scroll down):

If evidence is needed that the Rev. Pat Robertson’s shoot-from-the-hip approach to world affairs has embarrassed some of his fellow evangelicals, it comes from the recently concluded convention of the National Religious Broadcasters.

Robertson, 75, a longtime member of the NRB’s board of directors, failed to win reelection despite good odds: He was one of about 36 candidates running for 33 seats, NRB President Frank Wright said.

Wright said the elections usually hinge on the relative strength of radio, television and Internet broadcasters, so Robertson might have lost simply because he is a TV guy. But Wright acknowledged that there also was dissatisfaction with Robertson’s recent call for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his assertion that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s stroke was God’s punishment for the ceding of land to the Palestinians.

“I would say that there was broad dismay with some of Pat’s comments and a feeling they were not helpful to Christian broadcasters in general, but by no means was there any broad effort in our association to dissociate ourselves with him,” Wright said.

Robertson did not reply to calls for comment.

I say, 33 seats and only 36 candidates?

Here is my question: This strikes me as a rather important story if (a) Robertson is a very power mainstream evangelical and this shows cracks in his power or (b) he has, in fact, lost most of his mainstream political and cultural power and this is proof of that. What is the scenario that turns this into a brief, without a headline? Robertson fatigue?

By the way, the top brief in this WashingtonPost.com news item is also interesting. Personally, I think the most important questions concern Pope Benedict XVI’s “brand of Roman Catholicism.” I refer to the lead on that brief:

Still reeling from the attacks on Sen. John F. Kerry’s brand of Roman Catholicism during the 2004 presidential race, 55 House Democrats issued a joint statement yesterday on the central role that the Catholic faith plays in their public lives. The signers said they were fed up with being labeled “good Catholics” or “bad Catholics” based on one issue — abortion.

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Ships sailing in opposite directions

dh1 01Sigh. Click here. Now, please take a deep breath and click here.

So who said the following and what is the context?

“As children we always knew that someone else came first because she had special needs and we were taught from when we were babies to respect and understand that. It is a hard lesson to take when you are little but as you grow older you just appreciate how important it is to think of someone else first.”

Now pause and reflect. Does anyone else out there sense a ghost?

Have a nice day.

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The many paths to truth

C apuUSA Today religion writer Cathy Lynn Grossman has a great piece today on the superficial treatment Hinduism receives in America. She looks at everything from The Simpsons’ Apu to the mangled version of Karma in the TV hit My Name is Earl:

Throw another ingredient in the American spirituality blender.

Pop culture is veering into Hinduism — sort of. Call it a Hindu-esque sampling of the flavor, images and style of a 6,000-year-old faith but with no actual theology involved.

Though small in terms of American adherents, Hinduism has had a profound influence on Americans since it was introduced in the 19th century. Grossman looks at its recent incarnations and provides a bit of perspective. There are 930 million Hindus worldwide, 98 percent of whom are in India. Hinduism is a 19th-century term for a spectrum of ancient teachings, she says:

As Christians are unified by the centrality of Christ, so Hindus, divided among thousands of sects and sub-sects, are unified by “one, all-pervasive supreme God, though he or she may be worshiped in many forms,” says Suhag Shukla.

Shukla is the author of a fact sheet on the faith for the Hindu American Foundation, a U.S.-based human rights group that defends and explains Hinduism for an estimated 2 million Hindus in the USA.

The foundation finds mass media often present Hindus as polytheistic (not) and idol worshipers (not) and confuses religious teachings with controversial social practices such as providing a dowry.

Hmm. I’m really not sure it’s accurate to call Hindus either polytheistic or not polytheistic. Those terms are very Western and fail to accurately convey Hindu beliefs. Hindus do worship many, many Gods. They also believe that there is one supreme deity in many incarnations. It is very difficult for people raised with Western ideas to wrap their heads around this seeming contradiction, but it is not difficult for Hindu thinkers. God is one and many, they might say. In fact, the Rig Veda says “Truth is one and the learned call it by many names.” Hinduism is rather pantheistic with polytheistic attributes. And the idol-worshiper contention is similarly debatable. It is true that when Christians went to India to convert Hindus, they derided the Hindu believers there as idol worshipers and that insult was taken to heart. But Hindus do also appreciate fashioning murtis, images used during worship to help focus devotion and meditation. They tend to represent forms of God like Ganesh, Krishna, or Kali.

The thing is that the Suhag Shukla is not an impartial representative of Hinduism. Rather, she has ties to a very specific brand of Hinduism. We’ve discussed these Hindu Nationalist folks before, as they are very involved in the textbook fights going on in California. They are very political and not without controversy. And in America these Hindus are very sensitive to American-style criticisms against polytheism, idol worship, and the inequality inherent in the caste system, etc.

Anyway, the article is great and it’s nice to see some much-needed coverage of an influential religion. And it’s nice how Grossman compares Hollywood’s trivializing of Hinduism with the trivializing of Christianity. She finds the upside for Hindus:

It could be argued that exposing the West to Hindu ideas and images — short of blasphemy — can’t be all bad if it provokes further study.

“Theology is understood by scriptwriters as an a la carte menu of ideas,” says [Dick] Staub, [a writer on faith and culture for Christianity Today Online]. “Blenderism accepts the relativity of truth. There’s no requirement to assert any one thing is right or wrong. Put it in the blender, and there you go.”

The funny thing is how the scriptwriters’ view reflects the influence of Hinduism’s many paths as introduced to America long ago through Emerson and Thoreau.

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