We have a ‘trio’ alert at Georgetown

1025 5264aIt isn’t very shocking to pick up the newspaper and learn that there has been (a) another clash between Rome and a progressive Catholic theologian and that (b) this scholar teaches at Georgetown University.

However, it is rather strange to read the coverage of the controversy and not really know what is going on, in terms of the Vatican’s criticism of the priest involved. Here is the top of the Washington Post story about the case:

The Vatican and U.S. Catholic bishops are reviewing the work of a Georgetown University theology professor who writes about religious pluralism and are talking with him about whether his writings conform with Catholic teachings.

The inquiries into the Rev. Peter Phan, former president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, reportedly focus on his views of Jesus as savior of the world and the value of non-Christian religions, among other things.

“Pluralism,” of course, can mean many things, and the Post connects this with the recent Vatican document about the Roman church’s claim to be, well, the Catholic Church for all of planet earth. This resulted in saying that other religious bodies do not have as full a revelation of the truth as does Catholicism. This is pretty standard stuff.

However, this clash seems — it’s hard to tell — to be centering on a larger conflict. Could it be that Rome is trying to clarify its own teachings on the status of world religions other than Christianity? If so, we might be dealing with an issue linked to ancient doctrines about salvation and the actual nature of Jesus Christ.

If that is the case, then we are faced with a conflict rooted in one of those pushy questions in the infamous “tmatt trio.” For newcovers, this is a set of questions that I have found almost always yields interesting information when used during interviews about conflicts inside Christian bodies:

1) Are biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus accurate? Did this event really happen?

(2) Is salvation found through Jesus Christ, alone? Was Jesus being literal when he said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6)?

(3) Is sex outside of marriage a sin?

However, I must admit that it is hard to tell, at this point, precisely what is going on.

For Georgetown officials, this is automatically a case of academic freedom as defined on a secular university campus. For the Vatican, this is an issue of who is a Roman Catholic theologian and who is not, and Rome thinks it should play a role in that decision. Phan is declining comment, which is the normal Georgetown response.

At the end of the story, we learn:

Phan wrote about the challenges and goals of religious pluralism in a January essay for Commonweal, a journal run by lay Catholics. He wrote: “It is only by means of a patient and painstaking investigation of particular texts, doctrines, liturgical practices, and moral precepts that both differences and similarities between Christianity and other religions may emerge. Only in this way can there be a mutual understanding, full of challenge, correction, and enrichment, for both Christians and non-Christians.

“For even if Christ embodies the fullness of God’s self-revelation, the church’s understanding of this revelation remains imperfect, and its practice of it remains partial, at times even sinful.”

st peters basilica in the vatican rome iNow, I do not believe the Catholic Church argues that it is exempt from sin and The Fall. The Church can make mistakes, as it attempts to teach and live out doctrines that it believes are absolutely true. Am I wrong about that?

But note the references to “differences and similarities between Christianity and other religions.” That’s a completely different set of issues.

Over at the Associated Press, Eric Gorski notes:

The issues underpinning Phan’s case are causing great debate among Catholic theologians grappling with how Catholicism relates to other faiths outside a European context, said Terrence Tilley, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University and president-elect of the Catholic Theological Society of America.

“To come to judgment as the Vatican seems to be doing so quickly, before theologians have had time to work out and critique the positions … it’s just premature,” Tilley said. “It’s in a sense cutting off debate before the debate’s started.”

I have no idea what this phrase means — “grappling with how Catholicism relates to other faiths outside a European context.” European context? The irony there is that Catholics in other parts of the world are often more clear on the basic issues of Christology and salvation than the folks in Europe.

So, at this point, let’s just say that I am confused and I want to know more. What are the key issues here anyway?

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Spain’s mighty wind of Love

dc 2330 galleryThere just has to be a ghost in here somewhere, seeing as how this story is about the soul of the nation of Spain — which has to be some of the most religion-haunted soil on earth.

Here is the top of the story by Tracy Wilkinson of the Los Angeles Times, to set the stage:

OROEL, SPAIN – When Spanish schoolchildren sing their national anthem, they particularly love the line about Generalissimo Francisco Franco and his “white rear end.”

OK, so those aren’t the real lyrics. Because there aren’t any.

Spain is one of the few countries that have a wordless national anthem. Popular culture, including the bawdy ballad that children famously sing to the anthem’s melody, has tried to fill the void.

As you would imagine, this puts Spanish athletes in an awkward position during awards ceremonies at the Olypics and elsewhere. How do they sing along?

OK, so the goal is to write appropriate lyrics for the Spanish national anthem, but this is taking place in the context of modern or postmodern, European Union Spain. What can you mention? What words can you use and what words are forbidden? In other words, what is the “civil religion” of Spain, in a land that is so Catholic in terms of history, yet now is so very secular or post-religion? And what about the history with Islam and Judaism?

So we return to the action, with the hammer falling near the end of the story:

… Telecinco, the television station, conducted an online poll and came up with its winning entry, by the poet and journalist Enrique Hernandez-Luike. It’s a piece of “simple metaphors and accessible musicality,” Telecinco said.

It opens with a paean to “Mother Homeland, arms entwined in a sign of peace,” and invokes the flag, freedom, the constitution, “an ensemble of cultures” and “the hand of Europe.”

One thing it does not mention: Spain.

The hand of Europe? As a creator? As a metaphor for Spain’s geography?

Thank goodness, the Times offers a sidebar with an English translation of the lyrics. As it turns out, the lyrics are not strictly secular, but offer a kind of Oprah-esque, foggy spirituality. You will need to sit down, if you like linear thought. Now read on:

Mother homeland, arms linked
in a sign of peace, our voices raised.

All your children at the foot of the flag
and in freedom, with the Constitution.

Art and strength, combination of cultures
firm pedestal of a triumphant people.

Hand of Europe outstretched to the whole world,
bow in the sea to the wind of Love.

The wind of Love? That’s with A. Big. L. Really?

Now there’s an interesting angle that should have been included in this nice feature story.

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Guidance from the Saudi Koran Kops

mhm muhammad  s tombAs longtime readers may have noticed, we GetReligionistas think it is rather important for basic religious facts to be included, from time to time, in stories about major religious events and trends.

It is, for example, rather important to help readers (even government officials) understand the difference between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. This topic has come up several times and, alas, I am sure that it will continue to do so. There is no way to round up all of GetReligion’s URLs on that subject, but here are a few.

At the same time, I have been interested in knowing what these sectarian differences look like when they are lived out in daily life, in public worship and in the doctrines that define them. If a reporter walked into a Sunni mosque instead of a Shiite mosque in Iraq, how would they know the difference? Baptist sanctuaries do not look like Catholic sanctuaries. Right? There are differences that can be described in words and even photographed (perhaps).

I tore a Stephen Schwartz article out of The Weekly Standard recently that offered some insights on issues of this kind, and then I lost it. I found it yesterday in the bottom of my shoulder bag, down under clips from the The Washington Post, The Washington Times, etc. The edgy headline said: “Saudi Arabia’s Koran Kops — The religious police run amok.”

We do not write about the political weeklies all that often, but this article contained information and images that religion-beat reporters will find interesting.

At the heart of the article is the fact that the religious militia, or mutawiyin, of Saudi Arabia have been cracking down on people whose worship they consider unworthy or even heretical. This is especially true when it comes to the Shiites, who offend the Wahhabi authorities in every way. But what does that look like? Consider this passage:

On August 10, according to Reuters, a group of eight Iraqi Shia men aged 16 to 26, holding American and British citizenship, accused the mutawiyin of assaulting them in Mecca a week before. The eight Shias claimed they had been detained overnight and beaten by the religious militia for praying in the Shia manner, which differs slightly from the Sunni prayer ritual. A member of the Iraqi parliament said that two of the men were sons of Iraqi political figures. One of the pilgrims, Amir Taki, 24, declared, “We were handcuffed and savagely beaten with chairs, bats, sticks, shoes and police radio communication devices.” They claimed to have been denied water, food, medicine, and toilet facilities, and to have been subjected to threats of murder. They escaped because one used a hidden cellphone to contact U.S. and British diplomats.

My colleague and coauthor Irfan al-Alawi … a British Sunni Muslim, had a similar experience to that of the Iraqi Shia pilgrims, on August 12. He writes, “I went to the prophet’s Mosque to read my prayers. I moved close to the sacred chamber where the prophet is buried, which is made of a green coloured metal grill and has a wooden wall surrounding it. The mutawiyin and police sit behind the wooden wall and stop people from looking inside, touching the grill for blessings and praying towards it.

“As I took out a book consisting of salutations for the Prophet, one of the mutawiyin had left to change duty. I was reading the salutations facing the sacred chamber when a police officer told me to move away. The mutawwa who had left to change his shift told me not to face the sacred chamber. I made a gesture indicating I needed only two more minutes to finish praying, but the mutawwa insisted that I leave the area immediately. I continued reading from my book while sitting for approximately five more minutes, and then got up to leave. As I walked around the sacred chamber towards the exit, another mutawwa grabbed me at the indication of the first one, and led me towards the first. The first asked me for my card, to which I replied, ‘Which card?’ in English. He repeated, ‘Card, card.’ A well-dressed old Saudi man told the mutawwa to leave me alone, to which the mutawwa replied, ‘Mind your own business and don’t interfere.’ He then asked me my nationality and when I replied that I was British he smirked.

“We then went to the head office of the mutawiyin. The one who arrested me reported the incident and told his senior that I ignored his instructions three times against praying facing the sacred chamber. I waited for ten minutes before a Pakistani dressed in the blue uniform of the Saudi bin Laden company came into the office and sat down next to me. He asked me in Urdu why I was there, and I repeated the incident, to which he replied, ‘Why were you facing the sacred chamber?’ He then asked me which book I was reading. He looked through it and then asked me whether I was a Shia to which I replied that I was not, but that I was a mainstream Sunni. He then said that the book I was reading was written by a Shia, which happens to be untrue.”

And so forth and so on. Don’t you want to know more, more about the actual teachings that shape these clashing traditions?

There are other factors at play here. But are the religious beliefs important? Of course they are.

Photo: The gates to the tomb of the Prophet Muhammad.

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NYT: Library moral equivalency?

book chainsMaybe it’s appropriate to write about this on the morning of Sept. 11. How different would things be today if the terrorist attacks of six years ago had never happened?

On Monday Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times gave us a hugely important story about new policies that are limiting the religion books inmates in federal prisons can freely access from their facilities’ libraries. According to Traci Billingsley, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman, the agency is responding to a Justice Department Inspector General’s report that recommended actions in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to keep prisons from becoming recruiting grounds for Islamic militants. And other groups:

But prison chaplains, and groups that minister to prisoners, say that an administration that put stock in religion-based approaches to social problems has effectively blocked prisoners’ access to religious and spiritual materials — all in the name of preventing terrorism.

“It’s swatting a fly with a sledgehammer,” said Mark Earley, president of Prison Fellowship, a Christian group. “There’s no need to get rid of literally hundreds of thousands of books that are fine simply because you have a problem with an isolated book or piece of literature that presents extremism.”

Good for the Times in quoting Earley, but was the organization’s founder, Chuck Colson, unavailable for comment? With his close ties to the Bush administration, it would be interesting to know his thoughts. Obviously this is issue is several steps removed from the White House, but if I’m not mistaken each agency has a White House-designated official who reviews and approves all new agency regulations.

Instead of weeding out books that could be placed into this category, the prison agency talked to a bunch of unnamed people and put together a list of 300 books and multimedia resources comprising 20 religions or religious categories. The Times received a copy of the list from a source who doesn’t like the project. The problem raised by a project like this is, of course, some books won’t be on that list:

The lists are broad, but reveal eccentricities and omissions. There are nine titles by C. S. Lewis, for example, and none from the theologians Reinhold Niebuhr, Karl Barth and Cardinal Avery Dulles, and the influential pastor Robert H. Schuller.

The identities of the bureau’s experts have not been made public, Ms. Billingsley said, but they include chaplains and scholars in seminaries and at the American Academy of Religion. Academy staff members said their organization had met with prison chaplains in the past but was not consulted on this effort, though it is possible that scholars who are academy members were involved.

The bureau has not provided additional money to prisons to buy the books on the lists, so in some prisons, after the shelves were cleared of books not on the lists, few remained.

What’s almost as interesting as the list are the book examples provided by the Times. I’ve complained about this before, by why in this era of the Internets can we not just publish the whole list on the Times site and provide a link? All we are given is a list of “http://www.nytimes.com/imagepages/2007/09/10/us/20070910_PRISON_CHART.html/”>Some Excluded Works.” It’s a good thing the Times qualified that with “some,” since there is no way to compile the list of all the excluded titles. It would be easier if the Times had just given us the list of approved books.

Nevertheless, the legal justification behind this policy sounds like something the government would try to put forward. The coming legal battle could end up being a defining case in determining the federal government’s relationship with religion.

The Times quotes David Zwiebel, executive vice president for government and public affairs for Agudath Israel of America, an Orthodox Jewish group:

Mr. Zwiebel asked, “Since when does the government, even with the assistance of chaplains, decide which are the most basic books in terms of religious study and practice?”

The lawsuit raises serious First Amendment concerns, said Douglas Laycock, a professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School, but he added that it was not a slam-dunk case.

“Government does have a legitimate interest to screen out things that tend to incite violence in prisons,” Mr. Laycock said. “But once they say, ‘We’re going to pick 150 good books for your religion, and that’s all you get,’ the criteria has become more than just inciting violence. They’re picking out what is accessible religious teaching for prisoners, and the government can’t do that without a compelling justification. Here the justification is, the government is too busy to look at all the books, so they’re going to make their own preferred list to save a little time, a little money.”

Since this is a story about book lists — a genuine news story about lists! — we’re given a few opinions on the thoroughness of the list, which is great. But wouldn’t it be greater for us all to be able to chime in with what we think should be on the list? I’m sure a few of us would have an opinion or two:

Timothy Larsen, who holds the Carolyn and Fred McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, an evangelical school, looked over lists for “Other Christian” and “General Spirituality.”

“There are some well-chosen things in here,” Professor Larsen said. “I’m particularly glad that Dietrich Bonhoeffer is there. If I was in prison I would want to read Dietrich Bonhoeffer.” But he continued, “There’s a lot about it that’s weird.” The lists “show a bias toward evangelical popularism and Calvinism,” he said, and lacked materials from early church fathers, liberal theologians and major Protestant denominations.

The Rev. Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame (who edited “The HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism,” which did make the list), said the Catholic list had some glaring omissions, few spiritual classics and many authors he had never heard of.

“I would be completely sympathetic with Catholic chaplains in federal prisons if they’re complaining that this list is inhibiting,” he said, “because I know they have useful books that are not on this list.”

The next step for the journalist is to determine who was on the committee that put this list together. I certainly hope a Freedom of Information Act request has been filed.

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The Revealer seeks new heretics

8176078It’s time for an update on the status of one of the other blogs that tries to monitor life on the Godbeat (or, perhaps, the beat of the gods). That would be the Jeff Sharlet (5Q+1 file here) project at New York University called The Revealer. Thanks to the omnipresent Ted Olsen over at CT‘s Liveblog for his tip on this one.

GetReligion and The Revealer have been at this for a long time and we often get mentioned as flip sides of the same coin, when it comes to trying to watch what is happening in the mainstream press. In a way, we disagree a bit on whether there is a mainstream press and who is in it and who should be and whether any of this matters when it comes to religion news. These are all topics worth arguing about, and we are happy to take part in all of that.

Way back at the beginning, Jeff had this to say as he told his readers about this blog:

Their mission is both a little bit and enormously different than The Revealer‘s. They’re tracking the mainstream media and its Christian counterparts; The Revealer was reminded yesterday of its responsibility to the smaller stories and its interest in finding new ways to write about religion. But that’s tomatoes and tomatoes compared to the main distinction, as hinted by GetReligion.org’s title — they want you to get God. Their God, to be exact, although they’re smart enough to know that there’s a huge range of understandings within evangelical Protestant theology.

Well, actually, we don’t spend much time worrying about Christian media and the “evangelical” label is certainly problematic for me as an Orthodox Christian and probably for the Divine Ms. M.Z. as a confessional Lutheran. We also think there are fine, talented, informed religion-beat pros out there who are not believers of any stripe.

Whatever. There are certainly differences in the worldviews of the two blogs and that’s a good thing. We will continue to let know readers where we stand (see “Is GetReligion a ‘Christian’ blog?“) and we hope The Revealer does, too.

This brings us to a new Sharlet post in which he updates his readers on the status of the weblog, after its usual summer-break slowdown. To cut to the chase, he is looking for some new volunteer writers.

Check out the appeal. Some of you might be interested.

And, while you are there, it’s interesting to mull over this provocative passage in this new, updated, mini-anti-credo of sorts for Sharlet and crew. Jeff wants to hear from some of you, but not all of you.

Don’t bother to write him if:

… You want to write primarily about your own religion or lack thereof; you think religion can be explained with terms like true and false; you believe religion must include belief; you’re a fan of Sam Harris or Rick Warren; you’re too sweet; you’re too cruel; you care passionately about the fate of the American newspaper. Such sentiments don’t make you a bad person, of course but they will make you a bad fit for The Revealer. We’re not trying to disprove religion or prove that “true” religion is peaceful or “fix” mainstream media’s religion problem. You should know what we’re trying to do: It ought to go without saying that you’re a Revealer reader, and equally obvious, I hope, that you don’t need to agree with everything you read here to write here.

Well, OK. We don’t apologize for caring passionately about the fate of the American newspaper and we do think that there are elements of mainstream coverage that can be approved.

So may both sites carry on. Amen.

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Those pentancle wars, again

altarLong ago, when I was a graduate student in Baylor University’s church-state studies program, one of our professors liked to cut to the chase by saying the following: “Your religious liberties have been purchased for you by many people with whom you would not necessarily want to have dinner.”

What did he mean? He meant that it is important to recognize that our laws protect the human rights of all kinds of people, including people that some of us may consider a bit on the wild side. But that is what religious liberty is all about. You must fight for the rights of others to speak freely and to disagree with what you believe.

There are times when this really bothers people on the right. There are also times — keep your eye on freedom of association cases involving clashes between gay-rights organizations and traditional religious groups — when this same tradition really ticks off people on the political and cultural left. Click here for a Weekly Standard piece mapping out that conflict.

Here at GetReligion, we have been trying to keep up with what we think is a highly symbolic case, which is the battle by Wiccan believer named Roberta Stewart to have her late husband’s faith formally recognized — by having a pentancle on his military tombstone.

The pentancle offends some people, in part because they strongly oppose neo-paganism.

However, the truth of the matter is that almost all religious symbols are offensive to somebody and they always have been. Rare is the New York Times columnist who is not offended by the sight of a cross in a public place. And on the legal side, this is not a simple church-state question — as anyone who has followed the fights over holiday trees and secular menorahs will know.

In this case, President George W. Bush was provoked into making an important gesture, by contacting Roberta Stewart as a sign that the government needed to recogize her faith tradition. Here is the background section of that story in The Washington Post:

Stewart, also a Wiccan, fought an 18-month battle to get the Wiccan symbol — a five-pointed star within a circle — engraved on a brass plaque for war heroes at the veterans cemetery in Fernley, Nev. Patrick Stewart, who was in the Nevada Army National Guard, is believed to be the first Wiccan killed in combat. The helicopter he was riding in was shot down.

The Wiccan faith is based on nature and emphasizes respect for the earth. Some Wiccans call themselves witches or pagans.

The Department of Veterans Affairs turned down Roberta Stewart’s request because the Wiccan symbol was not among the 38 emblems, including ones for atheism and humanism, allowed for inscription on military memorials or grave markers. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State sued the department on behalf of Stewart and other Wiccan spouses, and in April, the VA agreed to add the symbol to its approved list.

A question: Are there really Wiccans who do not consider themselves pagans? Really?

And there is one other thing that I would like to know: Did conservative religious groups take a stand on one side or the other in this case, or where they divided? I think many journalists would assume that conservative believers oppose the Wiccan case. I do not think that can be assumed, because many conservatives now realize that equal access means equal access and freedom of association means freedom of association.

Journalists must remember that in America, the legal goal is “political toleration,” not “theological toleration.” Our government is supposed to insist that all faiths are equal in the eyes of the state, not that all faiths are equal in the eyes of God (a point of confusion all too common in many public schools).

The pentancle case is a classic example of the difference. The Post told us where a key group on the left came down on this matter. What about the activists on the right?

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Union of sanctuary and steak

steaks1Let’s start with the classic Martin Marty quote, which is always good when talking about religion and the news. Marty has been known to say that, for many people, the word “ecumenical” seems to boil down to someone saying, “I don’t believe very much and you don’t believe very much, so we must have a lot in common.”

The same attitude often shapes the world of interfaith dialogues.

The New York Times ran a story this week that isn’t like that at all. This is one of those cases where very different religious believers follow doctrines and traditions so specific that they were pulled together. Instead of having no beef with one another, they are … Well, read the story. This is also a story that puts the crunch (if well done) back in “Crunchy Cons,” so thanks to Rod Dreher for spotting this one.

The headline on reporter Joan Nathan’s piece is wonderful: “Of Church and Steak: Farming for the Soul.” Synagogue and steak didn’t work as well, I guess. Here’s the lede from the wilds of Howard, S.D.

Near a prairie dotted with cattle and green with soy beans, barley, corn and oats, two bearded Hasidic men dressed in black pray outside a slaughterhouse here that is managed by an evangelical Christian.

What brought these men together could easily have kept them apart: religion.

The two Hasidim oversee shehitah, the Jewish ritual slaughtering of meat according to the Book of Leviticus. The meat is then shipped to Wise Organic Pastures, a kosher food company in Brooklyn owned by Issac Wiesenfeld and his family. When Mr. Wiesenfeld sought an organic processor that used humane methods five years ago, he found Scott Lively, who was just beginning Dakota Beef, now one of the largest organic meat processors in the country.

There is a news story down in the body of this tasty story (the old headline writer in me will now stop the puns). The bottom line is that food is important in traditional forms of religion, starting with the Hebrew scriptures and moving right on into churches that stress fasting and feasting.

Throw in a dose of environmental concerns, fair trade practices, labor conditions and humane treatment of animals and you have a niche audience — people who have a motivation to pay more than the local discount club — out there for good meat. Thus:

Christians, Jews and Muslims who see food through a moral lens are increasingly organized and focused on showing their strength. The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a national coalition of more than a dozen religious organizations, is lobbying Congress for legislation to help small farms. The National Catholic Rural Life Conference is helping congregations and universities in the Midwest buy local produce from family farmers. …

“This is the first time I have seen such a deep and growing involvement of the faith community,” said Brother David Andrews, who is on sabbatical from his job as executive director of the National Catholic Rural Life Conference and has followed these kinds of issues for 30 years.

If this nascent cause was taken up by large numbers of churches and synagogues, the economic effect alone could be profound. “The religious movement is a huge force,” said Arlin S. Wasserman, the founder of Changing Tastes, a consulting firm in St. Paul that advises food companies and philanthropic organizations on trends in food and agriculture. “Already, religious institutions oversee the production of $250 billion per year in food if you bundle together halal, kosher and institutional buying.”

And you have to love the ending. Read this story, folks.

As it turns out, some of these people are even intensely red zip code folks (even if some of them live near blue-people zones). Here’s a quip from closer to the Beltway:

Joel Salatin, who is considered a guru of organic agriculture, said he has seen a change in the people who visit his Polyface farm in Virginia.

“Ten years ago most of my farm visitors were earth muffin tree-hugger nirvana cosmic worshipers,” Mr. Salatin said. “And now 80 percent of them are Christian home schoolers.”

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God’s Warriors wraps it up

Armor of GodMuch of my writing on CNN’s God’s Warriors has focused on the promotion for the series. Many of you readers have agreed that lumping all religious extremists together with a term that implies violence is not very good journalism. While this is very likely a decision of CNN’s marketing department, not the journalists behind the three-part series, it’s still bad journalism.

That said, one of the things CNN has done well in its marketing and portraying of the subjects — religious extremists in Islam, Judaism and Christianity — is that society at large has generally failed to understand God’s warriors. Can I get an amen?

A reader of ours, Dennis Colby, left this helpful link and commented on a Q&A the show’s host, Christiane Amanpour, did with readers of CNN.com:

It makes me reluctant to watch. Amanpour apparently subscribes to some version of newsroom universalism:

“But as far as I’m concerned, as long as people believe that only their holy book or only their holy word matters and is relevant, then there will be no solution. And that’s why it takes committed and courageous leadership to provide an answer and solution that addresses the greater good for all.”

Her political beliefs seem incoherent and sophomoric. She says over and over that the only thing that can help the world is “committed leadership” but also laments, “that unfortunately the very vocal minority often dominates the political stage.” What do you think a “leadership” consists of if not a vocal minority?

She basically comes off as an ill-informed Universalist with what are commonly called liberal beliefs, and as someone who doesn’t, ahem, get religion. This is why I hate these “journalists should disclose their biases” exercises: the CNN series is produced by a lot of people, and from what I’ve read seems to be fairly well done. But after reading this Q&A, I really have no motivation to watch a minute of it.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that Amanpour did all the work on this series, but as anyone who has any experience in broadcasting knows, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of people behind the scenes doing research, shooting film, prepping questions and even doing the interviews. Amanpour is the glorified star of the show.

Another thing about the show that’s noteworthy is its ratings. Here they are courtesy of Matt Drudge:

Total Views 8/22/07

CNN AMANPOUR 2,201,000
FNC SHEP SMITH 1,308,000
FNC BRIT HUME 1,286,000
FNC GRETA 1,031,00
CNN DOBBS 813,000

Now that the recap is complete, here’s a well-timed article in this week’s issue of The Economist that focuses on D. Michael Lindsay’s book on how “evangelicals have joined the American elite”:

“Faith in the Halls of Power” is not a perfect book. Mr Lindsay’s prose style suggests that he spends too much time reading his fellow sociologists. His failure to discuss the American armed services is bizarre given the number of Evangelicals there. But he has nonetheless written an impressive and admirably fair-minded book: anybody who wants to understand the nexus between God and power in modern America should start here.

I write this before the final episode, “God’s Christian Warriors,” airs. I wonder if it will be mentioned at all.

Now for my review of tonight’s show

The Jerry Falwell segment was nicely done and probably the best way to introduce the issue. There was little effort made to explain the theological differences within American Christianity until the very end of the show. There was little news out of Amanpour’s interview with Falwell. One interesting tidbit was Falwell’s statement that 2008 could set a new standard for GOP presidential candidates that are acceptable to the religious right.

There was little violence in the episode, unlike previous evenings. The abortion clinic bombings of the 1990s got a little attention, but there’s only so much you can do with that. Would it have been appropriate for CNN to explain how these Christians are for the most part not warriors in the violent sense? It was interesting how many interviewed claimed to be God’s warriors.

The segment in which CNN’s senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin spoke was pretty bad from a legal standpoint. He said that if the Republican Party gets a couple of new Supreme Court justices, the law would be transformed beyond recognition. Toobin should be aware that law evolves constantly and the law today doesn’t look like the law last year. That’s just the nature of our system. He could have made the point that if conservative Christians got their way the law might look like it did 40 to 50 years ago — and to some that would be a setback — but he didn’t.

As for President Jimmy Carter, I think he’s officially the costar of this show. I found his claim that he didn’t express his Christian faith more than others kind of loopy and untrue. The show didn’t explicitly show this, but it was there.

The final segment on Battle Cry was tremendously well done. Overall this series has given its subjects the chance to answer the question: Why do you believe that? That’s a huge plus that made the show worthwhile.

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