Wicca in the heartland

pagan circleThe Chicago Tribune had a potentially tremendous story to tell Sunday about a witch school setting up shop in Rossville, Ill., a small, economically struggling town in the heartland. The perspective of the story — about Wiccans trying to fit into a Bible Belt community — is what first jumped out at me.

By the fourth paragraph, a resident was quoted saying the Salam Witch Trials were back and traditional churches and members of the community were rallying against this strange group that had set up shop in a local storefront. The story, which has a reasonably interesting ending that I won’t share in this post, seems headed toward a brawl:

In a town that sometimes feels closer to the Bible Belt than to the city, churches had been holding weekly prayer sessions for months in hopes of driving the outsiders away. They also had erected a billboard denouncing Wiccan beliefs, proclaiming, “Worship the Creator not Creation.”

Fueling their sense of urgency was a ball held by the Wiccans last weekend to celebrate Samhain, their new year’s festival, which falls on Halloween.

As more than 150 people filed into the shuttered high school Wednesday night for the meeting, Andy Thomas, youth minister at the Rossville Church of Christ, said residents had a spiritual responsibility to drive the witches out. If they didn’t, he said, young people were in danger of being pulled off the Christian path.

“Rossville has fallen on hard times,” Thomas said. “The school closed. This is a popular place for meth. We’re like, ‘Great, now a witch school.’ It feels like we’re being attacked.”

Donald Lewis, who serves as CEO of Witch School International, said it was the other way around.

“They’re trying to make us scapegoats,” he said as he slipped into the meeting unannounced.

Lewis, a rotund 44-year-old with a silver ponytail and goatee, said he started the online school in 2001 with two friends he met through the neo-pagan community in Chicago. All three were devoted practitioners of Wicca, a controversial movement that, by some estimates, has hundreds of thousands of adherents nationwide.

Five of the school’s administrators operate out of a humble, white building with a green awning on Chicago Street, the main strip in downtown Rossville, which looks like an abandoned Hollywood set of a small town. Their office, which consists of five computers, copiers and a fax machine, is in the back of a store that sells silver wands, incense and colored candles wrapped in spells.

Attached to the story is a decent video that does a good job of putting names with faces. This was the future of journalism 10 years ago. It’s great to see it in practice.

The Wiccans’ side of the story isn’t entirely ignored. They get their quotes in there, but this story is definitely less about them than about the town’s residents. A reader of ours, Christopher, mentioned in a note to us that the story is largely about a community dealing with “economic decline, arson, and drugs.”

Megan Twohey, the reporter on this story, delves into the background of the Wiccan group. They left Chicago in search of cheaper rents and headed for small-town America. They moved to Rossville after a “lynch mob” drove them out of another town, and now they’re dealing with hostile neighbors once again. And by the way, Rossville’s downtown probably doesn’t look as much like a Hollywood set than, um, a downtown of an average Midwestern small city. (Since when does a Hollywood set make a better illustration than real life?)

A lot of this reminds me of the “pentancle wars” that the Department of Veterans Affairs dealt with over that last few years.

The story ends up being about how the Bible Belt responds to outsiders and less about what Wiccans believe. There are references to their beliefs, but there is little mention that Wiccans represent a very diverse group of traditions. From what I understand, Wicca isn’t exactly some strange East Coast religion that Middle America knows nothing about. Middle America is where Wicca has quite a number of followers, depending on how you count them, but that doesn’t mean they’re always accepted, as we see in this story.

This story had only broad, unsubstantiated estimates on the number of Wiccans. The general point of the story is about whether other religions are tolerated in the heartland. As Christopher said in his note, “the story is really about the local Christian community” and Wiccans are “little more than a foil for the community’s fears and anxieties.”

Print Friendly

Richard Land, Romney and monotheism

romney and mormonismOK, we’ve waited long enough. Nearly a week after the news from EthicsDaily.com that Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, described Mormonism as “the fourth Abrahamic faith,” little has been said of this rather significant statement.

The statement came on one of those Sunday political talk shows (Bloomberg’s Political Capital with Al Hunt) where celebrity journalists interview other famously important people about the big issues of the day. Perhaps that limited the media’s appetite to cover this? My deeper suspicion is that this is a tricky issue that has no clear boundaries or context for what this statement means.

Time‘s David Van Biema picked up the issue on Wednesday and published an analysis that rather deftly covers the issue and raises an important question:

This raises all sorts of interesting questions. One, is it a promotion or a demotion? “Abrahamic religion” sounds a lot grander than “cult.” However, Land also seems to suggest that Mormonism is no more Christian than is Islam. The second is whether it makes it any easier for a Southern Baptist concerned with theological niceties to vote for Romney. A third is whether Land, an extremely well educated and articulate man, is crediting Mormonism with being monotheistic, which is arguably what Abraham was all about. Many evangelicals contend that the LDS are polytheists, believing in plural Gods. Mormons respond that their tenets are no more polytheistic than the Christian belief in the Trinity.

What explains Land’s venture into religious taxonomy? Perhaps the fact that as the Wall Street Journal noted last April, he is “a man waiting to be courted, [who] on behalf of religious conservatives is playing hard to get.” Land has repeatedly hinted that he might be able to vote for Romney, who reportedly came to him and asked for advice on how to handle the religion issue; Land told him, in effect, that he needed to de-fang the issue much as John Fitzgerald Kennedy did with his famous 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association. As the columnist E.J. Dionne points out, however, JFK’s speech clearly separated his Catholicism from his politics. It will be much more difficult for any G.O.P. candidate to relegate his religion to the sidelines in the same way.

Until Romney can pull off that trick, Land must walk his own tightrope between his theologically conservative Convention and his pragmatic desire to see an electable socially conservative Republican presidential candidate. The Abrahamic remark can be understood as an impressive act of political equipoise: being less snarky about Romney’s status without letting him totally off the hook. At some future point in time, perhaps Land will come back and work out the theological niceties.

Van Biema is on top of the theological issues raised in Romney’s attempt to appeal to conservative evangelicals despite his Mormon faith, and recognizes their significance. The story, as Van Biema indicates, is not even close to trailing off the pages, but the trickiness of the story is not going away either.

Stories showing this or that percentage of evangelicals willing to vote for a Mormon presidential candidate in this or that state are significant, but an equally important story is whether evangelical leaders are willing to bend or finesse theological definitions in order to endorse Romney. The big question, after the election is over, is how this clever theological dancing will affect evangelicals’ opinions about Mormons.

Print Friendly

The Post’s snark on Bush’s hugs

bush huggingWe’ve established that The Washington Post Style section likes to be snarky. In the Post‘s effort to cover substantive news and issues, the snark will often get in the way. It’s almost like they’re trying to entertain us, rather then inform us. Since when does an important, serious, American news organization behave that way? Oh wait, never mind.

Most recently, Style writer Paul Farhi, observed that President Bush likes to embrace people and doesn’t mind reporters photographing him doing it. Fahri covers a nice range of issues (hugging was first mentioned by The Economist in July 2006), but the snark permeates the piece:

The wildfires in Southern California this week have served to remind the world once more about one of the singular and underappreciated skills of George W. Bush: The man is a generous hugger.

There he was, amid the charred remains of some formerly upscale neighborhood, embracing the weary and the dazed victims of the fire. He made a little speech as one of the unfortunate locals was snuggled up to his side, his arm clinching her close. The gesture suggested strength, solidarity, compassion. The resident looked almost reassured.

Long after his presidency is history, some of the most memorable images of Bush’s years in office will involve hugs. Flip through the mental photo album: Bush, standing on that legendary rubble pile on Sept. 14, 2001, one arm vise-clamping a firefighter, the other gripping a bullhorn; Bush, in New Orleans and Mississippi, handing out embraces like the Red Cross hands out relief supplies; Bush, at Virginia Tech, hugging the relatives of 32 murdered students.

For a president who doesn’t necessarily come across as a touchy-feely guy, he sure does touch a lot. In just the past six months, according to a database search, he has hugged hundreds of people in public: the families of dead firefighters and police officers; the parents of a posthumous Medal of Honor winner; workers at a Nashville bread company; the mayor of Huntsville, Ala.; the jockey who rode the winning horse at the Kentucky Derby; the survivors of a Kansas tornado; departing political mastermind Karl Rove; press secretary Dana Perino. He touches nobodies and world leaders alike.

The act of hugging and greeting other people is a fascinating issue, and it says a lot about one’s personality and culture. My wife and I watched the excellent Kite Runner over the weekend, and we were struck by the formalism of Afghani culture, particularly in their greetings.

I don’t sense that America has any well-established greetings customs. It tends to range from the fairly awkward, formal, stiff handshake to a peck on the check. Somewhere in between those two extremes is the hug, which has many varieties from the awkward side-hug to the full embrace.

Farhi gets into the formalism and lack thereof in presidential history, but really doesn’t get beyond the former occupants of the White House. Farhi could have asked what kind of hugger Bush tends to be. A church hugger? A Texan hugger? What’s the difference anyway?

Speaking of churches, how does Bush’s religious faith play into his tendency to hug people? What kind of church members tend to be huggers? To what extent is there a spiritual motive in a person wanting to embrace someone closely when greeting them or trying to comfort them?

Print Friendly

Why does ‘evangelical product’ sell so well?

megachurchThe Wall Street Journal‘s opinion section has a solid review of what appears to be a solid book on the growth of evangelical, seeker-friendly megachurches. The growth of megachurches, along with the decline of the traditional mainline churches, is one of the biggest stories in religion these days, and this reviews highlights some important aspects.

Naomi Schaefer Riley’s review of James B. Twitchell’s Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from In Your Heart to In Your Face looks at church attendance and participation from an economic perspective. Riley appropriately punts the question of whether religion should be different from any other capitalist brand war, because that answer is for another book. Here is the big question being asked in this story: Why do (not should) megachurches thrive in today’s America?:

But what is it about the evangelical “product” that makes it so desirable? Any number of scholars have noted that, in recent years, it has been the churches that demand the most of people — tithing, bowing to firm doctrines, observing strict rules of conduct — that have grown the fastest. There seems to be something in our nature that requires from religion not just feel-good spirituality but strong moral direction. We are willing to make sacrifices to live by the dictates of a religiously grounded truth.

Mr. Twitchell manages to reduce this profound idea to the dictates of basic consumer theory. Sacrifice, he says — not least, tithing — signifies value. The more you sacrifice, the more you visibly value the product for which you are giving something up, and the more you show other people that you value it, too. “Why do true believers sometimes puncture themselves, walk on their knees until they bleed, fast until they are skeletal or join a monastery and go mum?” Mr. Twitchell asks. “Brand allegiance.”

Oddly, this sacrificial principle doesn’t easily apply to megachurches. As Mr. Twitchell acknowledges, most don’t have “high barriers to entry” — that is, they don’t demand a lot of their congregants. They’re often referred to as “seeker” churches because they appeal to nonbelievers — and not always successfully. It’s easy to get in; but it’s also easy to get out.

So “pastorpreneurs,” as Mr. Twitchell calls them, face a challenge: How do you get more people to join than quit? One way is by having current members proselytize. The fastest-growing denominations, Mr. Twitchell says, are “selling, selling, selling.”

The theories in Shopping for God aren’t exactly new, but Riley approaches them from a new perspective. One major aspect that goes unaddressed, at least in the review, is the social battle that challenges individuals’ interest in attending or joining mainline congregations.

For reporters, there are theories worth pursuing out of this book. Do local megachurches (or just seeker-friendly churches) see themselves as marketing religion in a nonspiritual way? How do the leaders of these congregations feel and how does that compare with the average member or visitor? Why are people attending these seeker-friendly churches?

Print Friendly

Aren’t those evangelicals just a riot?

HuckabeeValuesOne thing I don’t miss from Washington are the snarky, uninformative feature/news stories in The Washington Post‘s Style section. The latest and greatest from those pages, Sridhar Pappu’s report on the Values Voters Summit, is like a bowl of bad popcorn. Little informed, slightly amused but mostly bemused, I came away from this story learning more about Pappu’s day at the Hilton Washington than the latest plots from the religious right to take over America, or at least install a president to its liking in 2008.

Maybe it’s the tight deadlines Post feature writers suffer under (ha!). The level of insults, selective quotation marks (“Indeed, for three days, it was a huddle of people with ‘shared values’”) and general one-sidedness was beyond anything I’ve read attempting to pass for news these days:

On the subterranean concourse level of the Hilton, it was very easy to feel you were in a different world. Former Reagan administration official and 2000 Republican presidential candidate Gary Bauer told those assembled, “You are Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid’s and Hillary Clinton’s worst nightmare.”

Across the way, the exhibition hall would probably require the Democratic Party’s leadership to order a mass prescription of Ambien as well. There, both Exodus International and PFOX (Parents and Friends of ExGays and Gays) supplied literature offering ways out of homosexuality. Centurion Mutual Funds offered a “Biblically responsible” alternative to financial planning. For $499 (plus shipping), you could buy from the Family Research Council a stand called the “Cultural Impact Center.” It comes fully stocked with literature like “Partial-Birth Abortion on Trial” and “Dealing with Pornography: A Practical Guide for Protecting Your Family and Your Community.”

Standing by the Abstinence Clearinghouse Booth, which offered a plethora of items including “Pet your dog, not your date” T-shirts, Kurt Gernaat and his wife, Mary Beth, explained their own sense of struggle.

Aren’t those evangelicals just a riot? I’m surprised Pappu didn’t bother to mention that this whole thing happened a few yards away from the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan. What other juicy details can Pappu deliver from a conference in a hotel?

I wonder how Hannah Rosin, author of God’s Harvard: A Christian College on a Mission to Save America, would have handled this piece. In reporting on Patrick Henry College, Rosin could have easily slid into a mocking and demeaning tone and written a handful of pieces that would no doubt have been published. But instead, Rosin took the time to listen and understand, and then report what she learned. We’re all better off for it.

Reporters covering these religious issues — both on the left and the right — don’t have to be religious in any particular sense in order to get what they are covering. To get it they have to be willing to listen and understand and take the time to learn what is beyond the surface.

Photo by Chuck Holton, via Flickr.

Print Friendly

Ghost in the Amish van tragedy?

amishRemember that tragic accident on an Indiana interstate that killed four Christian college students and a university employee? On Sunday, about 20 miles from that spot on that same stretch of interstate, another tragic car accident took the lives of five people traveling in yet another 15-passenger van.

This is a heartbreaking story that has been all over Midwestern television, print and radio. Five people were killed, including three children, and 11 were injured in the single-car crash. Two Amish families heading home after a church function were using the 15-passenger van that apparently burst a tire, which caused the accident.

The natural reaction to this kind of story is sadness, and questions can be raised by believers about why God allows these kinds of things to happen. Those familiar with the Amish, and that’s anyone from northeastern Indiana, will wonder why a group of Amish were driving a van from a church service. Early editions of the story failed to explore this question, but at some point this line with no authority cited was added to many stories:

Amish people generally shun modern conveniences such as motor vehicles but sometimes enlist non-Amish as drivers.

The Amish van crash, as it is now being called, will linger around for a few days as people sort out what happened, why 15-passenger vans can be dangerous vehicles and how our government’s road policies help or don’t help prevent accidents like these. I hope the story won’t go in the direction that the Taylor University crash did, with mistaken identities and incompetent public officials.

Similar to the Taylor crash, the religion angle is something reporters should find worthy of reporting. Rick Yencer of The Star Press in Muncie was off to a good start in today’s paper with a surprising angle:

A relative of survivors of the horrific van crash that claimed five lives on Interstate 69 on Sunday suggested divine intervention had spared his members of family.

“I would say it was the hand of God,” Paul Schmucker said about how his cousin, Joseph Lengacher of New Haven, and his family survived the crash that left Melvin and Savillia Fisher, from the Parke County community of Rockville, and three of their children dead.

Schmucker and about 15 members of the Allen County Christian Fellowship waited on word of the condition of Lengacher and other family members late Sunday at Ball Memorial Hospital.

The families had just attended Sunday service at the Allen County fellowship and the Lengachers were apparently traveling with the Fishers for a visit to Parke County.

Schmucker recalled that Melvin Fisher had spoke of the 23rd Psalm earlier in the day.

“The Lord is my very own Shepherd,” Schmucker said. “I know he will be with me as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.”

The Amish, Anabaptist Christians, are known for simple dress and their efforts to stay separate from modern society. They don’t have Social Security numbers generally and refuse to take any form of government assistance.

There are other aspects of this story that have yet to be explored, and with the news media’s tendency to move on to other stories, I wonder if some of the religious nuances of this story will ever be covered.

For instance, the vague reference that “Amish generally shun” cars could be fleshed out. The doctrine of “shunning” is particularly significant in Amish theology, and whether one uses modern contrivances reflects significantly on the order of Amish to which families belong.

Perhaps there will be other car accidents and murders for Indiana journalists to cover tomorrow and next week. But there are angles that are worth exploring in this story that can significantly enhance the public’s knowledge of the people who live around them.

Print Friendly

Is voting a theological act?

romneyRepublican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has a lot on his resume.

In some ways, the former Massachusetts governor would be one the most qualified, at least in a business sense, presidents in a very long time. Romney was CEO of Bain & Company, a major management-consulting firm, CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee for the 2002 Winter Olympics and the successful Republican governor of one of the most liberal states in the country. He also spear-pointed an attempt at fixing the state’s healthcare policy that had the help of the Heritage Foundation.

Have you seen any of this lately in the headlines? Probably not, and unless there is a good news hook, you shouldn’t see it outside the occasional feature story.

Romney stood out in last night’s debate. But the Mormon issue keeps popping up as the dominate story to his campaign, and that’s largely many people in the base he’s so religiously courted seem to hint that the only thing keeping them from voting for him is his religious beliefs. Is that true?

A headline in Thursday’s Dallas Morning News captures the problem some journalists are having with the Romney-Mormon story: “Dallas minister: Vote for a Christian, not Mitt Romney.”

From the headline we’re led to believe that we have a flesh-and-blood Christian preacher telling his flock to shun supporting Romney’s candidacy since he is not a Christian. But is that what he really said?

A prominent Dallas minister told his congregation that if they wanted to elect a Christian to the White House, Republican Mitt Romney wasn’t qualified.

Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Mormonism is a false religion and that Mr. Romney was not a Christian.

“Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise,” Dr. Jeffress said in a sermon on Sept. 30. “Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult.”

Some in the large crowd began to applaud as Dr. Jeffress continued with his remarks.

“What really distresses me is some of my ministerial friends and even leaders in our convention are saying, ‘Oh, well, he talks about Jesus, we talk about Jesus. What’s the big deal,’” he said. “It is a big deal if anybody names another way to be saved except through Jesus Christ.”

Correct me if I am wrong, but Jeffress only stated his theological convictions and attempted to correct a politician’s campaign rhetoric involving religion. Any chance there might be a recording of the sermon out there to double check? Jeffress is clearly attempting to discourage his congregation from voting for Romney, but those aren’t the precise words he used. The headline attempts to take the reader the extra step and read into what the minister intended to convey.

For all Romney’s efforts to minimize the effect his Mormon faith has had on the campaign, there are still plenty of people out there who have said they will not vote for him since he is a Mormon. There are plenty others more concerned with Romney’s perceived ideological flip-flops, but that’s another story. The DMN story rightly notes that several prominent evangelical leaders have either endorsed Romney or held that his faith should not be a factor in the campaign, but the headline on this story is partially misleading.

In reporting on statements like the one from the Dallas minister, journalists must be careful not to overstate — or underplay, for that matter — the plain-language meaning of words. There is plenty of room for readers to read between the lines for the words’ real intent, but without clear evidence showing that intent, reporters (and headline writers) ought to shy away from interpreting for readers.

Unfortunately for Romney and journalists, this story isn’t going away. There are voters out there who won’t vote for Romney because of his faith, which makes it a story. In other words, the faith aspect of Romney’s campaign is not entirely driven by reporters looking for a story, but a shrewd reporter will avoid non-news stories about Romney’s religion and resist the urge to blow statements out of proportion.

UPDATE: A kind reader of ours, Mark Kelly, notified us that a member of Jeffress’ church, Denny Burk, posted this morning on the sermon and confirms some of the suspicions laid out in this post (and he links to an MP3!):

(1) Factual Error: The lead line in the DMN article reads as follows: “A prominent Dallas minister told his congregation that if they wanted to elect a Christian to the White House, Republican Mitt Romney wasn’t qualified.” This is not true. Dr. Jeffress said nothing about electing a Christian to the White House in his sermon. Nor did he say anything about who we should vote for in the 2008 presidential election. You can listen to the relevant excerpt here. If you want the full context, you can listen to the entire sermon here: “The Power of a Positive Purpose.” The remarks about Romney begin about 19 minutes in. Jeffress made the theological point that Mormonism is not in line with orthodox Christianity, but he didn’t make the political point about who we should or should not vote for. …

My concern is that the DMN article was misleading on this point. This is not a small item to get wrong now that other media outlets are repeating the error (see below), which apparently has led the Interfaith Alliance to call into question the church’s tax exempt status!

The bottom line is this: Dr. Jeffress never expressed support for or against a Presidential candidate, but the DMN makes it sound as if he did. I’m hoping that the DMN will run a correction in the very near future.

Read the rest of the post for an explanation of how the quotes were taken out of context. We’ll be watching for a DMN correction.

Print Friendly

Was Zwingli Catholic?

PerpetualIndulgenceSo a radical, anti-Roman Catholic, gay activist group called, charmingly, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence gravely disrespected the church. Two men from the activist group — dressed in white face, garish makeup and nuns’ habits — received the sacrament of Holy Communion a few weeks ago from San Francisco’s top Catholic official.

Julian Guthrie, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, wrote up the event in a somewhat flippant manner, highlighting their hilarious mottoes “go forth and sin some more” and “It is not wise to say no to free drinks, cheap jewelry, discount cosmetics or pretty boys.” And let’s not forget their hilarious names — Sister Chastity Boner and Sister Constance Craving of the Holey Desire:

Sister Barbi Mitzvah, who serves as “Board Chairnun” and “Sexytary,” said Tuesday that the group is “not offering a comment.

“These people are always after us,” Sister Mitzvah said, referring to conservative pundits and Catholic leaders.

The group did not identify the two members who took the wafers. One of the men, however, sent an e-mail to the church after the Mass and gave the name “Sister Delta Goodhand.”

Ha ha! So funny! Such a harmless group! Guthrie first mentioned notorious theological heavyweight Bill O’Reilly and his outrage before getting to more substantive criticism. Of course, he went on to quote a Jesuit professor and a parishioner at the church who thought the makeup and dress were all rather funny. Here’s the substantive criticism:

Some local Catholics, however, said they were hurt by what they said was a mockery of their most holy ritual.

“It’s been all the news in Catholic circles,” said Bill May, chairman of the San Francisco-based Catholics for the Common Good. “Catholics are hurt, frustrated and a bit angry because nobody is standing up and saying this is not right. This is a desecration of the Eucharist. They were there to make a statement and embarrass the archbishop and, in doing so, they desecrated what is most sacred and dear to every Catholic in the world.”

eucharistSo I’m glad that he mentioned how devout Catholics might feel about this stunt. Much better than reporter Meredith May’s hard-hitting story published the same day in the same paper, headlined “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have history of charity, activism.” My favorite line:

Easter Sunday is a high holy day for the Sisters, but their celebration, which includes a “Hunky Jesus Contest” in Dolores Park, has been called blasphemous by some Catholics.

Ya think? Way to ask the tough questions, Meredith! And the use of the phrase high holy day? Let’s go to Frank Lockwood, the religion editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and proprietor of the fantastic Bible Belt Blogger blog (say that four times fast). Would the media laugh at a nude chocolate Mohammed?, he asks:

I’m also disappointed by U.S. news organizations that have a double standard when it comes to religion: They’re more than happy to mock evangelical or Catholic Christianity, but they’re somewhat leery of offending Judaism and they’re down-right terrified of offending Islam. Muslims absolutely deserve respect as do Jews and people of all faiths — even Christians.

Here’s the lead of a story that moved on the AP wire today (along with a photo):

“Chocolate Jesus is resurrected.

‘My Sweet Lord,’ an anatomically correct milk chocolate sculpture of Jesus Christ that infuriated Catholics before its April unveiling was canceled, returns Oct. 27 to a Chelsea [New York City] art gallery, its creator said Tuesday.

If the story sounds familiar to you, it’s because the national media pounced on it during Easter week — the first time Chocolate Jesus was unveiled. Now it’s back for round two.

In the latest story, the sacred cornerstone of Christianity, the Resurrection, has been reduced to a journalistic punchline ["chocolate Jesus is resurrected ..."]. Isn’t that witty and urbane? And people wonder why newspapers can’t hold onto readers.

Artists with scant talent (and even less originality) have figured out that blasphemy is an easy (and safe) ticket to national notoriety — as long as it’s lowly Jesus of Nazareth who is ridiculed. Newspapers in this overwhelmingly Christian nation gobble it up. They shouldn’t.

Can you imagine the national media laughing it up about an anatomically-correct chocolate Mohammed in Manhattan with his genitals on display? They’d be too afraid to print the pictures. [They don’t have the nerve to print artistic renderings of the Prophet with his clothes on!

zwingliFrequently when this topic comes up, a few readers argue that the disparity between the way the mainstream media treat blasphemy of Jesus and blasphemy of Mohammed is okay because Jesus “can take it.” Some argue that the disparity is okay because Christians don’t kill people who blaspheme Jesus. I can’t really imagine two worse justifications for a supposedly objective media.

But here is my favorite part of Guthrie’s article:

Holy Communion is a centuries-old tradition in which the celebrant receives from a priest the consecrated bread and wine representing the “Body of Christ” and the “Blood of Christ.”

Okay, exactly how many errors or problems are there in that sentence? The worst problem is confusing the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and real presence with the Zwinglian approach to communion. Zwingli (pictured) argued that Jesus meant “represents” when he said, “This is my body.” Who doesn’t know that Catholics believe that the bread and wine become the very body and blood of Christ in Communion? Did this reporter graduate from college? And what in the world is up with the scare quotes? They wouldn’t be so offensive if the Catholic belief weren’t so horribly mangled. And what about the word celebrant? Is not the religious definition of that word “the officiating priest in the celebration of the Eucharist“? And in an article explaining Catholic outrage at a blasphemous act, is “centuries-old tradition” the best way to describe the sacredness and holiness of the sacrament of Communion? Centuries? Gosh, it’s almost enough centuries that we could use a more precise word, say, millennia.

Photo of Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence via Wikimedia.

Print Friendly