CNN: God’s Warriors are hurting us

As promised, here is a review of the first installment of CNN’s series God’s Warriors hosted by Christiane Amanpour. The topic for tonight is “God’s Jewish Warriors.” I raised the question Monday of whether the series would engage in moral equivalency by lumping together extremists (or God’s warriors) from Christianity, Judaism and Islam. As one reader asked, where are the Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism?

Overall I am very glad that CNN is airing this type of show in prime time. The producers clearly spent some serious time putting this together and CNN has done a good job getting the news out about the show. It’ll be interesting to see the show’s ratings.

But that’s neither here nor there. What follows is a running commentary as the show aired.

Spooky Lost-style music raises on scenes of people raising their hands to the heavens, on a cross and a man saying that scripture is the foundation of society. They say God is the answer, but there are people saying that Islam is a threat, religion is too involved in politics and suicide bombers are scary.

Amanpour introduces the series and insinuates that “God’s warriors” in Christianity, Judaism and Islam all believe that violence could fix society’s problems.

The first story, in an attempt to show how some Jews believe that parts of the Middle East are for the Jews to settle, shows a woman whose father was killed by Palestinians. The family continues to live in the West Bank despite the conflicts.

The show transitions nicely into showing how the Jewish people who believe they have a right to the West Bank inflame sentiments in the Islamic world.

Now we’re seeing a nice history of the Six-Day War and the recapture of the Old City.

And now we’re at our first commercial. “Later, Jewish settlers turn to terror … and a plot to destroy one of Islam’s holiest sites.”

And now we’re back. Tanks, soldiers, machine guns, and more on the 1967 Six-Day War. The result of the Six-Day War — the West Bank settlements — is now the focus of the series. Scenes from conferences and fundraisers for building up the Jewish settlements are amusing from a Michael Moore investigation style.

Now we’re off to another break. Coming up, a Jewish warrior of God tells CNN that the proper response to terrorism is revenge.

Once again we’re back in America talking about how the $3 billion provided by the U.S. is something members of Congress could never vote against. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised that so much focus is on what’s going on in the U.S.

Now we’re being told that President George H.W. Bush was nearly a hero for taking on the Jewish lobby. But he backed down just before the 1992 GOP convention. Now we’re talking about a hero of the show, President Jimmy Carter, and his efforts to address the matter.

Now we’re off to another break and I just accidentally hit the publish button, so everything after this comes after my initial publishing.

The story is now coming full circle as evangelical Christians are introduced as financial backers of the Jewish settlement movement. Portrayed are members of a supposed evangelical church (whatever that means these days) that takes their Jewish heritage so seriously that they worship sometimes on Friday nights. They also dance around in blue dresses and bang on tambourines.

Oh and if you didn’t know, the alliance between evangelical Christians and Israel is growing! Lots of money is raised from Christian Zionists to fund bad stuff in Israel and the West Bank. More Americans are supporting Israel by moving there.

Overall the failure to better define “some evangelicals” is a major failing of the show. Evangelicals are not monolithic on anything related to Israel and Judaism.

We’re dealing now with more history of the agreement between Egypt and Israel to give back the Sinai Peninsula. I think I like the history portions of this show the most. The plot to destroy the Dome of the Rock gets little attention these days. I’m glad this is being discussed.

An advertisement for Anderson Cooper 360° comes up. Did anyone know Hurricane Dean is coming?

Now we’re being told that the Jewish man who killed Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, because of Rabin’s to his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians, is in the same moral category as suicide bombers.

Another break and I’m thankful for DVR because it’s getting late.

Things are getting pretty violent as we see Muslims and Jewish terrorists going at it. The rising violence results in support to the radical right ring of Israeli politics. Jewish terrorists are now planning to attack a Palestinian school for girls with a homemade bomb. “Jewish terror to match Palestinian terror,” Amanpour says. Bomb makers are stopped and sentenced to prison. Not all Jews condemn the criminals.

After what I hope is the last break (my alertness is fading), it’s interesting to see that what was yesterday’s news is now part of history. The evacuation of the Gaza settlements seems so fresh in my mind, and it’s fascinating to see how it played out in relation to the last 50-plus years.

The violence between the Jewish settlers and the Jewish military and police is amazing to watch. I don’t remember this being reported in U.S. media. Does anyone else remember how much coverage it received?

And concluding with the statement that people all over the world are fearful that modern society — whatever that is — is trampling on their religious beliefs, Amanpour wraps up the first in this series and I’m off to bed.

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God’s Warriors: blatant moral equivalency

Christiane Amanpour12Christiane Amanpour’s CNN series, God’s Warriors, seems to be a well-intended effort at explaining in-depth religious issues prominent in today’s world. Amanpour deserves credit for raising the visibility of international issues. That she has a total of six hours of prime-time television over the course of three days this week to focus on these issues is also a plus.

But based on the promotions, it appears the series engages in a blatant case of moral equivalency between Jewish settlers, Muslims fighting to making Islamic law the law of the land and Christians fighting for “the social, political and religious future of the U.S.A.” Tuesday will be on “God’s Jewish Warriors,” Wednesday is on “God’s Muslim Warriors” and Thursday is on “God’s Christian Warriors.”

The Associated Press’s David Bauder has a rather incomplete write-up of the series that fails to address this issue. Rather, it lavishes praise on Amanpour and tells us little that the press release doesn’t tell us. But the piece provides a good launching point for making my main criticism:

Many people know only stereotypes of these true believers, even the ones in their own country, she said.

Yet it’s vital to be familiar with their thinking given the growing importance of these movements in the war on terrorism, the never-ending conflicts surrounding Israel and conservative politics in the United States.

“I’m not interested in drumming up false fears, or falsely allaying fears,” CNN’s chief international correspondent told The Associated Press by phone from France, where she added last-minute touches to the series. “I just want people to know what’s going on.”

I know it’s unlikely that Amanpour was involved in promoting the show, and it may be true that the piece tries to shatter stereotypes. But based on what I’ve seen, for instance on the series’ website, the overall approach engages in a blatant stereotype: anyone who takes their religious seriously is on the same moral level as anyone else who takes their religious seriously.

Lumping the three groups together all as “God’s warriors” also clouds the issues and gives people a false image of all groups that take religious seriously. I would be more comfortable with this if there were only Muslims who wanted to make Islamic law the law of the land, but that’s not the case in the world.

Rightfully so, the promotion says an “extreme fringe” uses terrorism as a weapon and I think it is very wrong for CNN to compare terrorism with anything but terrorism. It cheapens the act of the terrorism and lowers the moral standing of political efforts of groups trying to affect society.

Consider this post a preview for the show. I have major issues with equating terrorism with settlers’ movements and nonviolent political battles, but the show may surprise me. I have been recently blessed with a DVR. I plan to watch each episode and do my best to report back after each show airs or soon after.

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The uncovered story of religious repression

theo van gogh memorialOne of the things we like to do at GetReligion is watch a story develop and jump on it once the momentum has reached a certain level (or that could just be whenever we get around to it). That can work with those multiple-day stories that are likely to make it into the newsweeklies, while other times the stories are built on similar themes over a longer stretch of time.

In this case, reader Rich Bailey did some pretty extensive media watching for us and sent us a report on articles involving individuals who have converted out of Islam. In other words, they were Muslims but they left Islam for one reason or another, which can be grounds for a death sentence under certain interpretations of Islamic law and tradition. Rich sent us a series of stories from a variety of news outlets and provided the following analysis:

It is disappointing to notice how infrequently this kind of material is being given attention in the mainstream media. Perhaps you could do an article demonstrating how pervasive this kind of religious intolerance is in every corner of the Muslim world. One thing that may help to change it is exposure.

The eight articles Rich sent us are from July and August. The nationalities represented is astounding, and it’s troubling that the editors at The New York Times or Time haven’t found this a story worth tracking. The locations range from places you’d expect like Egypt and Malaysia, but then there is a story from the Netherlands. Each story is a tale of religious repression and persecution.

Here’s the Associated Press in Cairo:

Mohammed Hegazy, who sparked controversy when pictures of him posing with a poster of the Virgin Mary were published in newspapers, was shunned by his family and threatened by an Islamist cleric vowing to seek his execution as an apostate.

“I know there are fatwas (religious edicts) to shed my blood, but I will not give up and I will not leave the country,” the 25-year-old Hegazy told The Associated Press from his hideout Thursday.

Hegazy made a public splash when he took the unusual step of going to court to change his religion on his national ID card. His first lawyer filed the case, but then quit after the uproar; his second is still considering whether it’s worth pursuing.

Reuters also published a story about the Christians who helped Hegazy convert, who are being held by the police.

In the Netherlands, politician Ehsan Jami, who is a former Muslim, has been given extra police protection since he was attacked at a shopping center near his home and called a “filthy traitor” by the attackers.

Another recent story involves a Malaysian woman who wanted to renounce Islam, but is being forcefully referred to the government for counseling. Another recent story involves a Malaysia woman being detained after she married a Hindu. Now she is being ordered to live separately.

Back in the Middle East there is the story of how Hamas militia captured a professor and forced her to convert to Islam, according to The Jerusalem Post. Sana al-Sayegh, dean of the science and technology faculty at Palestine University in Gaza City, is a major player in her professional field, and her story should be receiving more attention in Western media.

In India, an exiled Bangladesh human rights author was attacked by Muslim extremists at her book launch:

Exiled Bangladesh feminist author Taslima Nasreen was attacked by Muslim extremists on Thursday in Hyderabad, India[,] at a launch of a Teluga language version of one of her novels. Muslims have accused the human rights activist of ridiculing their faith and religion in general.

Nasreen, who was attacked by a group of lawmakers and members of a political party, retreated into a corner where supporters protected her. The group of 100 assailants had broken into a meeting where the author was presenting a translated version of one of her novels.

What do the big media outlets need to write about this trend? Another major murder along the lines of Theo van Gogh? Oh, wait, that didn’t get much coverage either, at least in America. European media were all over the story. One thing these stories often have in common is that the targets tend to be women. The apparent high percentage of women affected by religious repression could be an angle worth pursuing in a meaningful way.

Image: The memorial commemorating Theo van Gogh and a symbol of the freedom of speech. Used under a Creative Commons license.

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What do emerging churches believe?

emerging churchEileen Flynn of the Austin American-Statesman had a huge package of stories on the emerging Christian church movement, both in Austin and throughout the country. The four-story series (here, here, here and here), along with solid photos by Laura Skelding, covers the emergent church movement that started in the late 1990s by a group of young Christians who worried about the gap between traditional churches and young people without formal church backgrounds or were frustrated with traditional churches.

In the main story, Flynn highlights local Austin groups and focuses on individuals involved in the movement. Here’s a slice of the scene Flynn describes throughout the package:

One Sunday this spring, [Gideon] Tsang and his congregation volunteered to spend the day reforesting an Austin nature preserve — that was their worship gathering. Afterward, sweaty and dirty, they stopped for burgers, and people asked where they were coming from.

They grinned and replied, “Church.”

“For the emerging churches, (church is) not a place, it’s a people,” [Fuller Seminary's Eddie] Gibbs said. “It’s not a weekly gathering; it’s a seven-day-a-week community. And you don’t go to church; you are the church.”

Now that’s a great word picture, but I am glad Flynn didn’t just leave the story at the tree-planting churchgoers. In what should be a larger, more-widely covered national story, Flynn takes a step back:

Some scholars who have watched the movement see young people rejecting the consumerism and individualism of the previous generation by simplifying their lives, paying more attention to environmental and social concerns and building stronger connections with other people. They say it is gaining steam and could be Christianity’s next reformation; others dismiss it as one of the faith’s fleeting fads, like the hippie-driven Jesus People movement in the 1960s and ’70s.

The movement has taken on a variety of labels — it’s called emergent, emerging, postmodern and missional, among other things — although these Christians resist being defined. Their numbers are difficult to estimate because they don’t focus on attendance, and their ideas about what church should be cover a wide spectrum:

As tmatt says, this story is right out of the “hip heartland.” From my own experience I would like to take issue with the idea that this is some type of reformation that will turn the Christian church on its head. While there is certainly a strong emerging church movement going on outside the traditional denominations, I have observed traditional denominations (at least theologically traditional) embrace the day-to-day-living principles described in these articles as vigorously as anyone.

And speaking of theology, that is the one aspect I found the package lacking. Much is made about the style of service, rejection of materialism and embracing the “Come as you are … but don’t stay that way” style of church discipleship, but we aren’t told where these churches come down on key issues that often are make-or-break matters for families choosing a church home. And this is the most controversial and tricky part of the movement.

In a sidebar, Flynn touches on the teaching of one emerging-church pastor who was ousted from an Austin megachurch:

When he was an associate pastor at Riverbend, a West Austin megachurch, Rick Diamond remembers trying to convey the humanness of Jesus during a Bible study. Jesus was flesh and blood, Diamond told the group. He got sweaty; he went to the bathroom. Just like everyone else.

After the session, a man accosted him, seething, and said, “Jesus did not go to the bathroom.” It occurred to Diamond that, for this man, Jesus needed to stay abstract. And it occurred to Diamond — not for the first time — that he wasn’t comfortable where so many believed Jesus wasn’t real.

And here is the section of the main article that briefly mentions theological issues:

Gateway pastor John Burke wrote a book, “No Perfect People Allowed,” that has resonated with many ministers seeking to reach people who wouldn’t normally set foot in a church.

Though Burke’s writings deal with Emergent Church themes — his church is hosting a conference on the subject this fall — he says he isn’t casting doubt on basic Christian doctrine the way some emerging Christians do. The church, he said, must tend to what’s broken by opening its arms to sexual abuse victims, drug addicts, homosexuals and nonbelievers, giving them a place to ask hard questions about faith and helping them heal.

Who are these emerging Christians challenging basic Christian doctrine? And what is considered basic Christian doctrine these days anyway? The Nicene Creed? Then again, Flynn could have just asked the tmatt trio, or some version of it.

It’s challenging to write about the theological beliefs of these emerging churches. Many seem embarrassed that they maintain some traditional teachings and practices, but will robustly proclaim their belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and that the Bible is the inerrant word of God (determining which parts are symbolic is another matter).

It would have been helpful if Flynn worked out these views in a sidebar or touched on the subject when introducing those who believe the emerging church movement is 21st-century philosophical relativism. The criticisms of the movement are more complex than that, and the movement can’t be defined as a bunch of theological mushiness.

As Scot McKnight writes in a Christianity Today piece on the subject, emerging church types tend to believe that how a person lives is more important than what that person believes. Now that’s an interesting belief.

Note to those wishing to comment: It’s great that Flynn was able to publish such a long story on what is a fairly controversial subject. In keeping with the mission of this blog, keep your comments focused on Flynn’s stories — what aspects you liked and what aspects you thought were missing. There will be no theological snipping on this post. There are other blogs for that discussion.

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Has the GOP’s evangelical candidate emerged?

gov mike huckabeeStrumming his guitar to a second-place finish in the silly Iowa straw poll this past weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee has alerted political reporters that evangelicals aren’t to be discounted as a voting bloc in the 2008 presidential election. Reporters covering the GOP side of the campaign were all set to discount evangelicals.

The top-tier candidates according to national polls — Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson (John McCain has all but been written off due to his dramatic fall) — fall short of the ideal candidate for evangelicals, which makes the idea of the “perfect” evangelical candidate in Huckabee all the more compelling.

These straw polls are less a measure of a candidate’s popularity than of ability to organize support in Iowa. Much is being made of Huckabee’s not paying for busloads of supporters and of his support coming from the grassroots in Iowa. Thanks to Romney’s caravan of buses, most media organizations are placing little credibility in his first-place finish with 32 percent of the vote (Huckabee finishes second at 18 percent). But did someone else organize Huckabee’s busloads?

All this leads to The Wall Street Journal‘s hypothesis that Huckabee won the day by coming in second:

The biggest winner of Iowa Republicans’ weekend straw poll of 11 presidential rivals may well turn out to be not Mitt Romney, whose first-place finish here was expected, but surprise runner-up Mike Huckabee, the guitar-picking former governor of Arkansas.

Should Mr. Huckabee capitalize on his second-place showing here Saturday to get a second look from demoralized Republicans unhappy with their choices — and to get much-needed funding — the repercussions could reshuffle the party’s contest for its 2008 nomination. Social conservatives, who have come to dominate the Republican Party, could decide the candidate they have been looking for has been in the race the whole time, languishing at the back of the pack with little money to promote himself.

Everyone seems to be writing off “the other” evangelical candidate, Sen. Sam Brownback, but as Noam Scheiber notes, combine Brownback’s support with Huckabee and you have a hardy 33 percent of the day’s vote beating Romney. But don’t expect the two candidates to come together for a common purpose anytime soon.

The New York Times seems to think that Huckabee’s success is related to his joking his way to the second-place victory. I’m sure voters appreciate Huckabee’s sense of humor, but these straw polls have more to do with buses than with candidates’ personalities.

Marc Ambinder at The Atlantic seems to have some evidence that Huckabee was provided some buses by nonw other than home-schooling advocate Michael Farris, founder of Patrick Henry College:

Here’s another source of Huckabee’s strength: home schoolers. It’s true — a campaign tells me that national home school advocate Michael Farris helped to organize a train of car poolers for Iowa homeschools and points out that Huckabee had two breakfast meetings on Saturday morning with some of his more ardent home-school-parent supporters.

Beliefnet’s David Kuo sees Huckabee as the candidate who will bring together a new evangelical coalition. Kuo adds: “Christians increasingly see him as a ‘real’ Christian — not just one made to sound like one for the political season.”

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Secular civics in Spain

honda civicsA reader of ours, UndergroundPewster, wrote us a note asking for our thoughts on this International Herald Tribune article on a new secular civics course being introduced in Spain.

In this “Letter from Spain,” reporter Victoria Burnett tells us how a new course taught to students in about a third of Spain’s regions in September is drawing the ire of the Catholic Church. While the course seems rather benign from the initial description of lessons on why reckless driving is bad, Burnett relies on a Catholic to tell us what the fuss is all really about much later in the story

And it’s all about sex:

Alfonso Aguilo, a Catholic headmaster and head of the Madrid Association of Private Education Companies, said that 2,500 parents of the 40,000 students the association represents do not want their children to take the course. In an interview by telephone, he said he was worried about textbooks that put heterosexuality on an equal footing with homosexuality, bisexuality or transsexuality.

“There are a lot of people who don’t want their children to think there are five types of sexuality, five types of family,” he said.

Near the end of the article we’re told that part of the controversy involves the Catholic Church seeing the new course “as a challenge to its influence in the education system,” where it holds a lot of weight. Also, a fourth of all Spanish students are in Catholic schools, which receive 50 percent of their funding from the government.

Overall the article lacked a broader context that would have been helpful to see the clash between the secularists in Spain and the traditionalists in the church. The clash here makes the culture wars in America look tame, considering that both sides are represented by entrenched centralized organizations.

There is also the question of the broader European story. Spain is very different from its neighbors in a number of ways, but what do other countries’ educational systems have in terms of civics courses and the church? A couple of compelling places to look would be Italy and France.

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Snoozing through a free-speech conflict

Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic WorldWoe unto the reporter who attempts to write about Islamic charities and the potential ties various groups might have to terrorism in the Islamic world. In a neglected story that could have some legs in the near future, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a week ago that Cambridge University Press wants to destroy all unsold copies of the book Alms for Jihad: Charity and Terrorism in the Islamic World (2006), after a libel claim was filed in England by a Saudi banker. The key word in this situation is “England.” It’s easier to sue people for libel in England than in the United States. Much easier.

Anyway, the book apparently suggests that charities and businesses that are tied to Mahfouz financed terrorism in Sudan in the 1990s. The New York Post‘s opinion pages picked up the story, along with The Orange County Register‘s op-ed pages and Diane Ravitch of The Huffington Post, but that’s about it.

Stanley Kurtz of The Corner, doing our job for us, has this to say:

Here’s a story with huge implications for freedom of speech (all negative), and it’s apparently gone almost entirely unreported in the mainstream press.

… Given MSM’s silence, this looks like one for the blogosphere.

The train seems to have left to the station for the “MSM,” as Kurtz so delicately puts it, but alas, there is hope for them yet. How long will it take for an American publisher to take up the manuscript and print the book? How hard will it be to generate a bit of publicity to make it worth their while?

The key here for freedom of speech is that there is plenty of it in the United States and less of it in Britain when it comes to libel laws.

That brings up another uncovered subject: what exactly are the supposed errors in this book? What made Cambridge cave? That ought to be part of the story, as we saw with The Washington Times‘ coverage of the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ declining membership rolls. Facts can be tricky things, especially when dealing with money and worldwide organizations.

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Not the fertility clinic’s cup of joe

coffeemug2I completely gave up coffee (quelle horreur!) when I found out I was pregnant late last year. Later I was told by my wonderful doctor that I could have up to 300 mg or so of caffeine a day. I promptly left her office and went to the nearest coffee shop. Over the months of pregnancy, a fascinating thing has happened to me. While no one has begrudged me an occasional sip of wine or my husband’s beer — no disapproving looks, even — I have had tremendous trouble ordering coffee.

This is a phenomenon I’ve experienced solely with baristas from African countries, although I’m not sure if correlation is causation. It happens even at places like Starbucks. I’ve been asked to reconsider. I’ve been refused service. I’ve ordered a regular cup of coffee, only to be served decaffeinated. It’s amazing. Coffee, while important to me, is not so important that I would cause a stink about not being served. In fact, if it troubles someone to serve me, I wouldn’t want to force them to do so.

All this to say that refusal of service is a very contentious issue and one that is being highlighted in recent medical cases. We’re all familiar with pharmacists getting in trouble for refusing to provide the so-called “morning after” pill. Frequently these pharmacists explain that it would violate their religious conscience to provide it to patients.

USA Today‘s Laura Parker had a very interesting article about the issue. She writes that doctors are also refusing to artificially inseminate patients, use fetal tissues or prescribe Viagra:

No doctor is required to perform particular treatments.

The collision between religious freedom and rules against discrimination occurs when physicians perform procedures selectively, offering them to some patients but withholding them from others, says Jill Morrison, legal counsel to the National Women’s Law Center.

This year in a case generating wide interest, the California Supreme Court will hear a first-of-its-kind lawsuit: fertility treatment denied to a lesbian.

In Washington state, a gay man recently settled out of court with a doctor who refused to prescribe him Viagra.

“He told me he had prescribed certain drugs for married people, but he wasn’t going to do that for me,” Jonathan Shuffield says. “It was very painful having the trust broken between my doctor and me.”

Patrick Gillen, legal counsel for the Thomas More Law Center, a Michigan-based public interest law firm that defends religious freedom, says the political clout of gays and lesbians has led to a situation that “is ripe for conflict.” Gillen says no doctors should be required to perform procedures that violate their religious faith, especially “if the patients can get the treatment elsewhere.”

It’s a very brief and well-written story about the issue. In a separate piece, the same reporter looks at the lesbian artificial insemination case in greater detail. She begins by asking when the freedom to practice religion becomes discrimination. Apparently the answer is more complicated than my knee-jerk response of “Frequently. Which right — to practice religion or be free from discrimination — is given more legal weight?”

Parker explains that the California Supreme Court is being asked to decide how to accommodate a physician’s religious views without violating California’s anti-discrimination laws. He declined to offer in-vitro fertilization to Guadalupe Benitez, an unmarried woman, who is also a lesbian. The story ends with this fantasticly ironic quote:

Benitez, meanwhile, received treatment at another facility and has given birth to a son, now 5, and twin daughters, now 2.

“People ask me, ‘Why are you doing this? You have your kids,’” she says. “I want to make a difference. These doctors are not God. They cannot manipulate who can have children and who cannot.”

. . . once again reminding me that there are always religious ghosts in these stories about reproduction.

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