Smile when you say that

A GetReligion reader known as ceemac recently raised a good question about my use of the phrase sneer quote, and asked that I define the term.

Using quote marks would be appropriate, ceemac suggested, for phrases like these: “Christian Right,” “Jim Wallis Liberal,” “Christian Worldview,” “Liberal Worldview” “Southern Fried,” “Damn Yankee,” “Prestige Media,” “Eastern Elite,” “Dittohead,” “Free Bird Republican,” “Willie Nelson Democrat” and “Sneer Quote.”

I cited these four sources for my objection to such punctuation:

1. “Quote Unquote,” The Right Word in the Right Place at the Right Time (2004), William Safire, p. 288:

The meaning of the spoken or written quote-unquote . . . is “so-called,” casting aspersion on the word or phrase that follows. In American English, however, so-called is falling into disuse; it has the flavor of usage by speakers whose English is a second language. Quote-unquote — as a complete phrase, not separated by the words quoted — is now our primary deragator. A sneer is built in.

2. “Distinctive Treatment of Words,” The Chicago Manual of Style, 14th Edition, 6.63:

Other devices, notably the use of italics and question marks to achieve special effects, are not outmoded but are used less and less as time goes on, especially by mature writers who prefer to obtain their effects structurally . . .

[An example follows]

But writers who find themselves underlining frequently for emphasis might consider whether many of the italics are not superfluous, the emphasis being apparent from the context, or whether, if the emphasis is not apparent, it cannot be achieved more gracefully by recasting the sentence. The same reservations apply to frequent use of quotation marks to suggest irony or special usage.

3. Index to English, Seventh Edition, Wilma R. and David R. Ebbitt, p. 224:

But putting a word in quotation marks to signal sarcasm or ridicule (The “cute” Great Dane had eaten my sweater) is on a par with putting a question mark in parentheses to get a laugh.

4. The Associated Press Stylebook 2004, pp. 207-08:

FULL vs. PARTIAL QUOTES: In general, avoid fragmentary quotes. If a speaker’s words are clear and concise, favor the full quote. If cumbersome language can be paraphrased fairly, use an indirect construction, reserving quotation marks for sensitive or controversial passages that must be identified specifically as coming from the speaker.

One thing I learned from this good exchange with ceemac: People favor scare quotes over sneer quotes by nearly six to one. I’ll probably use scare quotes on future reference, and I’ll try to do so with moderation.

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The eyes have it

It’s taken me several days to realize this, but Jennifer Wilbanks is the anti-Ashley.


• Both women have some shoplifting in their past.

• Both have been hurled into the media spotlight (though Ashley Smith was more cooperative about being on camera).

• Both captivated the nation because of how they responded to stress.

• Both, as residents of Georgia, gave The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the chance to highlight its finer writers.

• Both are living testimonies that the eyes are the window to the soul.

But Jennifer Wilbanks has held the nation’s attention for reasons other than heroism. The Journal-Constitution described the items she sought as wedding gifts:

The wedding, according to all reports, was a doozy in the making. The bride registered for more than $20,000 worth of household items, including china, crystal, sterling silver, linens, bakeware and cooking appliances.

Solitaire by Lenox, pure white with a band of platinum, was the china she chose. Lismore Tall by Waterford, a popular etched design, was her crystal of choice. Grande Baroque by Wallace, an intricate pattern introduced in 1941, was her sterling, and Union Street by Kate Spade, a sleek, modern line, her everyday stainless.

The New York Post contributed its customary subtlety of headline (CHASTE-Y RETREAT) and text:

Bolting bride Jennifer Wilbanks was chaste away — by her fiancé’s insistence on abstinence, friends of the sex-deprived couple claim.

“She told people the fact that she and [husband-to-be John Mason] were not having sex was upsetting,” a friend of Wilbanks’ told People magazine, which hits newsstands today.

Mason was once a “wild” guy who “dated a lot,” his running pal Ted King said.

But he became a born-again virgin — eschewing premarital sex — five years ago after pledging himself to his Baptist faith, friends said.

“He’s been saving himself for the right woman,” Mason’s friend Andy Parsons told the magazine.

And friends say that likely drove the marathon enthusiast to run — from the altar.

And Cary Tennis of Salon turned cheered Wilbanks on, as she was trying to escape the creepy Bible belt:

So while the groom stewed, the media speculated and indignant townspeople knit their brows in censorious disapprobation, I secretly wished that the Runaway Bride had gone off to become a showgirl. Just for the thrill of it, I wanted to see her go as far as she could. Go, go, go, Runaway Bride! Go as far as you can from Georgia, beyond Las Vegas to California, Oregon, Alaska, across the Bering Strait to Siberia and over the Steppes into Mongolia, China, Tibet! Go, frightened bride of the South! Run from that Bible-toting paramour with the square head, flee the harsh whisky-soaked legacy of slavery and politely simmering women, flee the pecan groves and peanut farms, flee all those Southern belles who never ring and all those good old boys who are neither all that good nor all that old! Flee! Go! Run away!

Like Smith, Wilbanks appealed to her faith while she asked for privacy. But unlike Smith, she mixed in a larding of therapy-speak:

In my mind, it was never about the timing, however unfortunate. I was simply running from myself and from certain fears controlling my life.

Each day I am understanding more about who I am and the issues that influenced me to respond inappropriately. Therefore, I have started professional treatment voluntarily. . . .

As John said on countless occasions recently, may we follow the teaching of Scripture, in being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving, just as God in Christ forgives us.

And many of the people said — “Whatever.”

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On the Academy and offensive speech

This is a note from a reader, addressing my take on the one-sided Los Angeles Times series on religious tensions at the Air Force Academy. This is an important issue to this blog, so let’s dig into it a bit.

Is this really a story about First Amendment rights?

I don’t think so. This is a story about harassment and abuse of power. The cadets’ superiors are applying pressure to try to make them adopt the superiors’ religion. This is like a boss putting pressure on employees to do something that is not job related. That “something” could be anything from sex to buying his kids raffle tickets.

Posted by ceemac at 8:23 pm on May 7, 2005

As I have said before, it does appear that harassment has taken place. That is not the issue. However, we do not know if it is taking place in classrooms and official forums. So far, the emphasis seems to be on non-official activities. And, as I have said before, to what extent do all student groups have access to email lists, bulletin boards, student-life forums, etc.?

If all groups have access, this would seem to be a matter for equal-access laws and it would be wrong to discriminate against religious content. Please see the original post. “Viewpoint discrimination” is supposed to be out of bounds. At the very least, this is a question that reporters need to be asking.

It would also help to realize that the whole issue of what military chaplains can and cannot preach has become a hot-button issue. Evangelicals insist that military structures dominated by liturgical-church chaplains have been showing serious bias against evangelicals who simply want the right to preach their own doctrines to their own believers in their own services.

Yes, the key issue is who is going to heaven and who is not. Apparently, a Baptist who is willing to preach like a Unitarian, or an Episcopalian, can get promoted while a Baptist who preaches like a Baptist will struggle to move up the ladder.

Sure enough, some of the Air Force Academy bias claims are linked to the content of sermons in services held for evangelical students. So are we really talking about creating tax-dollar-enforced speech codes that limit what men and women can say in their own sermons? Does this apply to Muslim clergy? Jews? Catholics? Wiccans?

Meanwhile, veteran USA Today reporter Patrick O’Driscoll, who has spent some time in the past on the religion beat, has filed a report on all of this that includes some new information. Here is a clip:

The investigation grew out of a survey of cadets and staff last year after another academy controversy: a 2003 scandal in which nearly 150 female cadets alleged that they had been sexually assaulted by fellow cadets in the previous decade.

Write-in remarks on religion prompted officials to conduct focus groups during the summer. The academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. John Rosa, told the school’s civilian oversight board last month that those yielded complaints of 55 instances of religious bias in the past five years, including proselytizing by Christians, use of Bible quotes in official e-mail and an ad promoting Jesus in the base newspaper, signed by 200 academy leaders.

OK, quotes in official email? That’s serious. That is, it could be very serious. We need to know the meaning of the words “official email.” Is that anything sent over the campus servers? Anything on letterhead? Anything that students are required to read? What are we talking about and to what degree do other student groups — secular and religious — get to use the same email systems?

Meanwhile, the word proselytizing gets thrown around a lot. The key is where this speech takes place. People have a right to debate all kinds of issues, including issues that make other people mad. If this speech took place in an official forum, with academy leaders doing the p-word stuff, then that is really serious. If it is a student being offended by one remark made by another student, the whole issue hinges on whether the offending student backed off when displeasure was expressed.

Again — free speech causes tension. The goal is not to discriminate against religion in open forums, such as walking down a campus sidewalk or hanging out in the coffee shop.

And the ad in the newspaper? Again, is this a forum to which other religious groups have access? Could those offended by the ad purchase space and sign their names on an ad protesting the Jesus ad? If so — just do it.

Official promotion of a faith with tax dollars is out of bounds. So is using tax dollars to crush free speech by religious people. We need reporting that lets us know about both sides of this equation. And one more question: Has anyone asked if religious conservatives are more likely, these days, to seek military careers than religious liberals or secularists? Just asking.

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Shameless plug for a friend

Please pardon this shameless plug for the official grandmother of this blog, Frederica Mathewes-Green of Beliefnet, NPR and lots of other places. The Dallas Morning News just ran a very interesting Q&A with her — gentle and blunt at the same time — linked to the content of her recent lectures in an Episcopal church in Dallas. The title of the lectures was a flag-waver if I have seen one: “Sex and the City: Men, Women and the Future of Civilization.”

Here is a sample from the interview:

Question: Why is it important for you to speak out about social issues such as abortion, and feminism?

Answer: Abortion has always been the most important issue to me because of the numbers of the deaths. An issue that causes people to die is more important than one that causes them to live in poverty.

If soldiers are killed in a war, that’s a tragedy. But if it’s little children dying, that’s more urgent. The numbers now are about 40 million since Roe vs. Wade. And I think all other sexual issues are connected.

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Anatomy of a stoning

World editor Marvin Olasky, in one of his more pointed criticisms of the notion of journalistic objectivity, once wrote that journalists feel no need to quote pro-cancer sources when writing about that dread disease. Well, there’s no shortage of pro-sharia sources in The Washington Post‘s heartbreaking account of a married woman in Afghanistan who was killed — whether by a stoning or a beating — after she admitted to committing adultery with an unmarried man.

Reporter N.C. Aizenman’s story could benefit from more moderate Islamic voices expressing doubts about the wisdom of killing adulterers. Still, it’s an exceptional narrative that brings home the horror of this swift and merciless sense of justice.

There are two especially compelling moments in this powerful story. One is when Maulvi Yousaf (a maulvi is a Muslim scholar) tries to help the accused woman, Amina Aslam, escape a guilty verdict:

Yousaf said his hope was to exonerate Amina, not to extract a confession from her.

“When I went into the room I was smiling,” he said. “I told her, ‘Look, I know nothing happened. This is just an allegation. People won’t hurt you if nothing happened.’”

Yousaf also said he only questioned Amina about the previous night.

But instead of taking the hint, he said, she volunteered that she had been having an affair with Karim for two years. She said she wanted to divorce her husband and marry Karim.

“She seemed relaxed,” Yousaf said. “Like she thought her plan would work.”

The other moment, and this one is agonizing, is when an uncle begins to describe her death:

According to her great-uncle Assan, after the shura reached its verdict, a group of villagers came to the dark storage room and took her away to be stoned.

“She knew what was going to happen to her,” Assan said softly. “She was screaming and sobbing.”

Amina’s paternal uncle, Mohammad Azim, said he watched as the villagers forced Amina down a muddy path toward a patch of soft earth along a riverbank surrounded by stones, a few yards from the edge of the village.

It was a beautiful spot, shaded by an enormous tree and offering a charming view of the village clinging to the mountainside.

It was also an ideal place for a stoning.

“They dug a hole in the ground right here,” Azim said, pointing to a spot in the clearing six days later. “Then they buried Amina up to her waist, with her arms pinned by her side.”

I’ll leave it at that.

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Reese's pieces

Last lines of stories often serve as a way for the reporter to . . . help readers know how to think about a subject. With that in mind, GetReligion offers the last words in this round of stories about the ouster of Fr. Thomas Reese as editor of the Jesuit weekly America:

The New York Times:

After the election of Pope Benedict XVI, America ran an editorial that said: “A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto.”

National Catholic Reporter:

“I know I am speaking for all the editors in saying that we are sorry to see Tom go,” said [Drew] Christiansen [Reese's assistant and successor] in the May 6 release. “Fr. Reese greatly improved the magazine, adding news coverage, color and the Web edition. . . . By inviting articles that covered different sides of disputed issues, Fr. Reese helped make America a forum for intelligent discussion of questions facing the church and the country today.”

Reuters (penultimate line):

“By some estimates, over 100 theologians have been silenced or reprimanded by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,” he wrote. “A church that cannot openly discuss issues is a church retreating into an intellectual ghetto.”

The Washington Post:

Reese’s editorials often took a left-leaning position. They became particularly sharp during the interregnum after the death of Pope John Paul II, when he called for a new pope who would allow more open debate.

The Associated Press:

[Pedro] Arrupe [former leader of the order], who died in 1991, had pushed for the church to move for a more socially just world while remaining faithful to papal authority. But during his tenure, some Jesuits especially in the United States and the Netherlands challenged Vatican pronouncements on birth control, priestly celibacy and the ban on women priests.

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That Air Force train keeps rolling

I have been meaning to get back to this story the second half of the week, but many other things kept getting in the way. Over at the Los Angeles Times, reporter David Kelly continues to roll with the story of evangelical abuses at the Air Force Academy.

The big news is that there still is no sign of balance in all of this. It seems that 90 percent of the Air Force Academy’s cadets are Christians, but there is no sign of their side in the Los Angeles Times. Perhaps they are guilty as sin and not answering their telephones. Perhaps Kelly does not want to talk with them. Perhaps this is a railroad job at the government level and the Christians — the bright ones and the not-so-bright ones — are deep in their bunkers.

The bottom line: Readers have no way to know. The stories are so blindingly one-sided that it is hard to tell.

I tend to follow church-state issues rather closely, having done a master’s degree in the subject. I can tell you, from experience, that Americans United for Separation of Church and State is involved in a whole lot of valid cases. No reporter would ignore this group’s work, even if, in this era, it is as fiercely partisan as Focus on the Family.

You see, the more valid the church-state case, the more likely you are to see other groups get involved — on the left and the right. The best solutions to these kinds of problems almost always come from broad, broad coalitions. Look for efforts that involve the Southern Baptist Convention (right) as well as the Baptist Joint Committee (left), the Alliance Defense Fund as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

There is a great NPR series going on right now on many issues related to this story. Here are reports on culture-war lawyers, the Alliance Defense Fund and a health-class curriculum battle. This NPR series, on Christianity and the public square, is precisely what the Los Angeles Times series is not. It’s balanced American journalism, as opposed to European-style advocacy reporting.

Anyway, what we have going on out at the Los Angeles Times is half of a church-state debate. Where oh where is the other half? When will we get that side of the story? Check this out, from Kelly’s latest report about the formation of an official task force:

Last week, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group based in Washington, released a report on cases of alleged religious insensitivity at the academy and sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that raised the possibility of a lawsuit. . . .

The Air Force’s deputy chief of staff for personnel, Lt. Gen. Roger Brady, will head the group — which will include members of the chaplain service, the Department of Defense, military attorneys and possibly outside organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League.

So now we see the roots of the story.

Again, let me stress that it seems clear many of the issues being raised in this flap are valid. But so are the First Amendment rights of the Christian students on the campus and in the military. Free speech can cause tension. But I think it is one of those rights the military exists to protect.

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Just another sad persecution story

Here we go again. I have been watching to see if the MSM notices this story. Sadly, I don’t think it’s on the radar. It seems that an Assemblies of God preacher in Iran may lose his head because of his faith and his voice. Here is a brief clip from Compass Direct, a Christian wire service:

Iranian Christian Hamid Pourmand, a former Muslim, faces possible execution, the first religiously motivated death sentence in Iran since 1990. Authorities said Pourmand was scheduled to appear before the Islamic court of Iran in Tehran, but they ordered him moved to stand trial in Bandar-i Bushehr, his hometown.

Arrested last September when security police raided a church conference he was attending, the Assemblies of God lay pastor faces charges of apostasy from Islam and of proselytizing Muslims. Both “crimes” are punishable by death.

Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like a rather horrible violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This document, which usually receives strong support from Western elites, bravely continues to state:

Article 18.

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

It seems that European Union authorities, way back in the fall, did file a formal protest with Iranian authorities about the arrests of Christian clergy and laity as an “infringement of the freedom of religion or belief.” Good for them. The White House ought to try that.

And news coverage? A quick Google on Hamid Pourmand yields precisely what you would expect it to yield — a variety of news reports at Christian web pages.

Sad. Tragic, even. Predictable.

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