“R” stands for religion?

NPR logoToo much religion reporting? How is that possible, one might ask? A couple of National Public Radio listeners feel that way, along with its ombudsman, Jeffrey A. Dvorkin. Since I rarely listen to NPR — I bike to work — it would be difficult for me judge whether NPR covers too much news of a religious nature. I can say that I think Dvorkin fails to give credible statistics regarding the radio network’s coverage and generalizes on the subject.

NPR listener Terri Dziekonski weighs in on Dvorkin’s column:

I have lately come to believe that the “R” in NPR stands for religion. Why do we have to have a comment from a conservative minister on almost every news item reported? And, why does everything that goes on of a religious bent have to be reported in great detail[?] The coverage of the Pope’s death was not the only incidence of this. There seems to me to be a distinctly right leaning to the reporting on NPR these days and I, for one, am not happy with it.

Followed by Jo Sullivan:

I did not write last week, but I too am dismayed and disgusted by the outpouring of religion that you have put on your programs in recent months. I do not listen to NPR to be proselytized. Christians have their own stations, and spend billions to get their message out. Why give them a free venue? Are you catering the current administration?

Dvorkin fails to address the obvious ignorance in both of these statements. Clearly religious issues need to be reported thoroughly. The issues are complex and if it’s true that the network gives religious issues thorough coverage, it should be commended, not criticized. I need a clear example of a reporter going overboard to be convinced on this account. Second, Sullivan’s comment is ridiculous. Proselytizing on NPR?

That said, it’s not the first time this claim has been raised in the ombudsman’s column. This accusation receives a rebuttal from Dvorkin via senior producer Walter Watson, but Dvorkin goes onto agree with the “many listeners” who feel that the network has given too much play to religious issues.

But the sheer volume of stories about religion is overwhelming many listeners. Perhaps NPR News should monitor the overall amount of airtime devoted to this one subject.

Now it’s up for you all to decide — especially NPR listeners — whether public radio has given too much attention to religion. And please check out NPR’s religion page. Other news websites should take note of this.

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Update from Indy: About those emails

I had meant to post a note about this earlier in the week. This is an update on the alleged Indianapolis Star discrimination case from Baptist Press, which is a denominational source on the right, but it contains info that many readers will find interesting. Here is the Gannett side, via Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu. Lots and lots of details here, too.

The key news: This may hit the courts in 10 weeks or so. If you read the whole BP thing, it is also clear that the key to the whole affair — check out the Des Moines column — is who saved the best emails. This is a wider issue: What is the legal status of emails inside a corporate office?

Here is a key chunk of the BP story, involving claims by former editorial board members James Patterson and Lisa Coffey that top newsroom managers demonstrated patterns of bias against conservative Christians:

Patterson alleges that Dennis Ryerson, The Star’s executive editor and vice president, told the editorial department he was “repulsed and offended” by an editorial written by Patterson encouraging readers to pray for U.S. troops in Iraq.

Patterson also claims Ryerson stated that “in the future, he would not allow any editorials with any Christian overtones to be published or which could be construed as proselytizing on the editorial pages.”

The editorial in question, written one day after the beginning of the 2003 war with Iraq, urged readers to “pray for safety of our soldiers, comfort of their families, courage for our leaders and the wisdom for all parties to war to find the quickest path to peace.” It also urged prayers for the people of Iraq, “that their suffering be fleeting and that the freedom they deserve soon come to their troubled land.”

The newspaper denies that Ryerson “has ever demonstrated hostility toward Christianity and Christians on The Star’s staff” and that he told anyone he was “repulsed and offended” by the prayer editorial. Any claim that Ryerson harbors hostility toward Christians is “demonstrably false and preposterous,” given the fact that Ryerson wrote an April 6 editorial “describing his own Christian upbringing and respect and appreciation for all religious beliefs,” the newspaper said.

We will, of course, see “he said and she said” vs. “he said” in this case. I am interested in what the two sides wrote in emails and how much of that will come out. It also seems that we could have a heartland showdown between a red-zone faith in Patterson and Coffey and a blue-zone faith coming in with Gannett and Ryerson. Note the word “upbringing” in the editor’s plea and the emphasis on “all religious beliefs.” The implication, of course, is that the fired journalists did not share his broader view of faith. Yes, the “P word” is once again the key.

Will this settle early?

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From the specific to the overstated

newsweek082605Newsweek‘s latest cover package is a religion writer’s dream — 16 pages of prime editorial space to discuss American religions in their ever-expanding diversity and custom-tailored worldviews.

The package is strongest, though, when it focuses on the individual details: an evangelical in West Virginia who’s an environmental activist; life at a Southern California mosque; a Church of God in Christ bishop in Memphis who is the denomination’s president; an African American Baptist Buddhist; observant young Catholics at Franciscan University of Steubenville; and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, a Kabbalah teacher based in Boulder, Colo.

Jerry Adler, author of the mainbar, pokes justifiable fun at Time magazine’s “Is God Dead?” cover package from April 1966:

History records that the vanguard of angst-ridden intellectuals in Time, struggling to imagine God as a cloud of gas in the far reaches of the galaxy, never did sweep the nation. What was dying in 1966 was a well-meaning but arid theology born of rationalism: a wavering trumpet call for ethical behavior, a search for meaning in a letter to the editor in favor of civil rights. What would be born in its stead, in a cycle of renewal that has played itself out many times since the Temple of Solomon, was a passion for an immediate, transcendent experience of God. And a uniquely American acceptance of the amazingly diverse paths people have taken to find it.

Adler (supported by reporting from six other Newsweek writers) makes some tooth-grinding generalizations himself, and one doesn’t need another 40 years to recognize them. Here are several.

A false choice

“You can know all about God,” says Tony Campolo, a prominent evangelist [not to mention his decades-long career as a sociology professor], “but the question is, do you know God? You can have solid theology and be orthodox to the core, but have you experienced God in your own life?” In the broadest sense, Campolo says, the Christian believer and the New Age acolyte are on the same mission: “We are looking for transcendence in the midst of the mundane.” And what could be more mundane than politics? Seventy-five percent say that a “very important” reason for their faith is to “forge a personal relationship with God” — not fighting political battles.

Today, then, the real spiritual quest is not to put another conservative on the Supreme Court, or to get creation science into the schools. If you experience God directly, your faith is not going to hinge on whether natural selection could have produced the flagellum of a bacterium. If you feel God within you, then the important question is settled; the rest is details.

Has any Intelligent Design advocate ever suggested that Christian faith should depend on whether natural selection produced the flagellum of a bacterium?

Oh, really?

In America even atheists are spiritualists, searching for meaning in parapsychology and near-death experiences. There is a streak in the United States of relying on what Pacific Lutheran’s Killen calls “individual visceral experience” to validate religious ideas.

Examples, please, of atheists who put their faith in parapsychology or near-death experiences. Even one example would be nice.

Misunderstanding tongues

“For people who feel overlooked, it provides a sense that you’re a very important person,” observes Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School. By the same token, people with social aspirations preferred other churches, but nowadays Pentecostalism — the faith of former attorney general John Ashcroft — has lost its stigma as a religion of the poor. And elements of Pentecostal worship are invading other denominations, a change that coincided with the introduction of arena-style screens in churches, replacing hymnals and freeing up people’s hands to clap and wave. Naturally, there is some attenuation as you move up the socioeconomic scale. Babbling in foreign-sounding “tongues” turns into discreet murmurs of affirmation.

Actually, most tongue-speakers understand their gift as focusing on communication with God.

Syncretism in Cambridge? Shut up!

Stephen Cope, who attended Episcopal divinity school but later trained as a psychotherapist, dropped into a meditation center in Cambridge, Mass., one day and soon found himself spending six hours every Sunday sitting and walking in silent contemplation. Then he added yoga to his routine, which he happily describes as “like gasoline on fire” when it comes to igniting a meditative state. And the great thing is, he still attends his Episcopal church — a perfect example of the new American spirituality, with a thirst for transcendence too powerful to be met by just one religion.

Memo to Newsweek: At Episcopal Divinity School of Cambridge, Mass. — easily the most theologically liberal seminary in a mostly liberal denomination — Stephen Cope’s experience is more likely to be the norm rather than the exception. To what extent this represents mainstream Christianity is far less clear.

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Where are you on the creation scale?

Has anyone else taken Beliefnet’s “creation” test yet? Let us know how you score.

But I have a question for our friends at Beliefnet about one of their questions. It looks like this:

Q8. If it were true that humans evolved from other animals by random chance and were not intentionally created by God, then . . .

1. My religious faith would be shaken.
2. It would not affect my religious beliefs.
3. It would reinforce my belief that only matter exists

This gets us right back to one of the big questions raised in our still evolving thread here about the New York Times’ mega-series about the competing priesthoods in the Darwinism debate. The Beliefnet question assumes that someone can prove randomness in a lab. They can create evidence that helps them make the case, but they are going to have to interpret the data — a process that involves worldview and belief.

So this question short-circuits the science/logic/philosophy sequence. This is, of course, the heart of the story that jouralists are struggling to cover.

Did the ghost of Dr. Carl Sagan write that question?

You want to know my results on the 0 to 70 scale? You can probably guess. I am not a “Young Earth Believer,” of course, but I could not help but notice that, on the “results” page that popped up, the Beliefnet editors had described that option with the following information:

0 – 27 — Young Earth Believer: When it comes to the origins of the universe and of life, the Bible is your guide. Read William Dembski’s case for teaching intelligent design in classrooms here.

Now wait a minute. I know Dr. William Dembski — an Orthodox guy with a stack of earned degrees including a doctorate in math from that famous fundamentalist institution called the University of Chicago — and this is not a “Young Earth Believer” kind of a guy, although he is now linked to a Southern Baptist seminary.

Did someone on the Beliefnet staff do the coding on that page wrong? Was it a mistake for Dembski to be linked with that stance?

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About the “lifestyle left”

010827allergies insideWhat exactly is your snotty little phrase “lifestyle liberal” supposed to mean?

Posted by Frank at 10:03 am on August 26, 2005

Well, Frank, we live in an age in which the major political divisions are not over the classic left-right issues of economics, labor, environment, peace, education, etc. The dividing lines are all about social and moral issues — lifestyle issues. It’s the age we live in.

Thus, I often refer to “cultural conservatives” in GetReligion posts, even though that number would include some old-line Democrats and populists, when it comes to the old-fashioned issues of liberalism. I also use the term “lifestyle left” to talk about those who are lifestyle Libertarians, even if they are in the GOP.

When the U.S. Supreme Court hearings get rolling, watch carefully and you’ll see this dynamic at work. Then watch how people vote.

For a previous discussion on this topic, click here. Or you might even take a look at my Scripps Howard News Service column this week, which focuses on how this is affecting Democrats and even James “It’s the economy, stupid” Carville.

Does this answer your question?

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Memo to Pat Robertson: Please fire yourself

Ah, where to begin on the continuing story of the Rev. Pat Robertson, regent of Virginia Beach?

I would like to flash back, if I may, to an event at the Ethics & Public Policy Center days after the 2000 election. From time to time, Michael Cromartie puts together high-powered panels of speakers who react to trends in the news. In this case, the goal was to do a quick deconstruction of role that religious faith played in the election — only the election was, of course, still twisting slowly in the wind.

The leaders of this particular discussion (click here to see a transcript) were two veteran election commentators — John Green of the University of Akron and John DiIulio of the University of Pennsylvania. The room was full of experienced reporters, including Michael Barone of Fox News, U.S. News & World Report, The Almanac of American Politics and lots of other places. Afterward, several participants lingered to talk about the election stories that the MSM missed as well as the ones that made it into print and video.

It was Barone who made the most interesting point. One of the most important stories that went untold, he said, was the behind-the-scenes efforts made by Bush campaign insiders to keep the old lions of the Religious Right out of the spotlight. This could not have been easy, seeing as how Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others crave face time with candidates when cameras are near. But someone had cut them out or convinced them to stand down. In their place, some new faces began to emerge — such as Rick Warren and Kirbyjon Caldwell.

Someone — I honestly don’t remember who — summed up the heart of this untold story this way: “I wonder who managed to get Pat Robertson to shut up?”

Righto. That job would require a miracle worker.

This story rolls on and on, which means that the place to go for all of the links is the Christianity Today blog. You have had people leap to make fun of the Rev. Pat (headline: “God Denies Links to Pat Robertson”). Hip evangelicals have been doing this for years (art from The Wittenburg Door). There have even been a few brave religious conservatives who have asked him which part of those 10 Commandments he fails to grasp.

In the MSM, Baltimore Sun reporter Arthur Hirsch has one of the best stories, focusing on a question of substance rather than straw-man destruction. It is the question that Barone and others were discussing back in 2000. What power does Pat Robertson have, anyway, other than serving as the punching bag that liberals love to prop up as the symbolic religious conservative day after day, week after week, world without end, amen? Has he become the lifestyle left’s best friend?

Tim Simpson, director of religious affairs for a new left-leaning group called the Christian Alliance for Progress, said the impact of Robertson’s remarks broadcast Monday on The 700 Club suggests that he cannot be easily dismissed. “One does that at one’s own peril,” said Simpson. “I take him dead seriously.”

(cough, cough) Here is a more constructive quote about the style and clout of the senator’s son:

“He is actually very, very smart and has an impressive set of credentials,” said Laura R. Olson, associate professor of political science at Clemson University and co-author of Religion and Politics in America. “He’s not just a hick from the mountains who came down and decided to talk about politics.”

She argued that if Robertson has lost much of the clout he wielded in the early 1990s, it’s due in part to his success in establishing Christian conservatism as a broad force in American politics. With so many more Christian conservative organizations active in politics, many of them focused on local organizing and local concerns, she said, it is more difficult for any one figure to dominate the national stage.

“I don’t know if I want to go so far as to say that Robertson is irrelevant,” said Olson. She also could not quite fathom the method behind Robertson’s pattern of making public statements that many consider outrageous.

The key is that Robertson has been playing this role for a long, long time, noted veteran scribe Richard N. Ostling of The Associated Press. For example:

Six years ago, Robertson said the U.S. could send agents to kill Osama bin Laden, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein. “Isn’t it better to do something like that . . . to take out Saddam Hussein, rather than to spend billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country?”

Ostling then serves up the must-have feature of the day, a kind of “greatest hits” collection from the mouth of the near South. There really isn’t time to cover them all, of course. But who among us God-fearing newspaper readers can forget:

And in launching a 21-day “prayer offensive” in 2003 to pray for three justices to leave the U.S. Supreme Court after it had decriminalized sodomy, Robertson said: “We ask for miracles in regard to the Supreme Court.” One justice was 83 years old and two others had serious ailments, he noted.

And the hits (so to speak) just keep on coming.

It is, of course, impossible to make a wealthy religious broadcaster vanish from the airwaves since he can pay his own bills. The 700 Club also retains a niche audience. Would Pat Robertson have the guts to fire Pat Robertson? Right now, there are more people on the cultural right yearning for that outcome than there are on the left.

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Methinks something is missing here

Perhaps this miffed me a bit, since I wrote my column this week on a related topic (hooked to an amazing document [10-page PDF] from a trinity of Democratic Party strategists). But read this new Los Angeles Times story by reporter Maura Reynolds and see if you can think of one or two specific words, or issues, that have been omitted.

OK, it refers to one of the big missing words in an indirect way. I’ll grant that. But the Democrats are trying to find ways to avoid speaking certain words. This article is cut from that set of talking points.

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Too much play

Looks like I wasn’t the only one who protested the level of news-play Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson received for his noisy memorial service last weekend. MarketWatch’s Jon Friedman objected as well:

And, of course, the media went along for the ride. While the event didn’t quite overtake the likes of Natalee Holloway, it did draw lots of coverage in print and on TV.

I have a one-word reaction: Argggggghhhhh.

Why did journalists think this was newsworthy? It only goes so far to rationalize that these nostalgia freaks desperately wanted to resurrect the spirit of the (19)60s (I guess they couldn’t get tickets for the Rolling Stones’ tour-opening concert in Boston on Sunday night).

I haven’t found anyone at MarketWatch who’s upset over the coverage — or lack thereof — of World Youth Day, but many of you supported my annoyance of the way it was covered. Of course some of you didn’t, but that’s fine. It’s why we use the Internet for our news.

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