The pleasures of the Godbeat

ProctorCover.jpgTwo posts on Salon today prove that the alt-daily website can cover religion just as well, although not nearly as often, as it covers the sacrament of sex.

Freelance writer Benedicta Cipolla conducts a Q&A with Minna Proctor about her lapsed Catholic father who eventually felt called to a become a priest of the Episcopal Church. Proctor’s mother is a secular Jew, and Proctor grew up in a faith-free environment, so her father’s new vocation challenged her. Proctor coped by doing what journalists often do when facing a crisis: she wrote about it.

If the Salon interview is any indication, Proctor’s bookDo You Hear What I Hear? Religious Calling, the Priesthood, and My Father — is an example of how people can write intelligently and with empathy about a faith they have not embraced.

Cipolla is a great choice to conduct the interview, as her father made a vocational choice in the opposite direction. He was among Episcopal priests in the 1980s who found a more welcoming home in Roman Catholicism. Cipolla opens her article with a funny account of her brief rebellion against her father’s going Catholic:

I was only 10 years old at the time, and I accepted his decision without much ado, save for a brief declaration that I would stay in the Episcopal Church so I could keep singing in the choir. When my parents acquiesced and told me they would ferry me there every Sunday, I realized my stand was not rocking the foundations of my family in quite the way I had anticipated. I immediately recanted and converted too.

The most rewarding paragraph is when Proctor addresses whether it was scary for her to cover the unfamiliar world of religion:

The biggest challenge was waking up in the morning and opening Kierkegaard and thinking, “Who the hell am I to think that I have anything to say about this, or that I can even understand what anybody’s talking about?” On the other hand, I had to keep reminding myself that all I could do was be me, a secular person, exploring this topic. In a way that’s one of the narrative conflicts of my book, that I’m not a religious scholar, but that I do believe that religion is not a subject that only religious people can engage in debate about. Religion has a growing role in political debate right now, and I think it’s better if all of us were more informed and didn’t think of religious people as fanatics. If you do that, then it becomes a debate about fanaticism instead of a debate about much more interesting and important ideas — moral ideas, a sense of social responsibility. Even secular people can talk about and have opinions about religious topics, and we should.

Salon’s other religion piece of the day — the site’s lead item of the day — is Amy Sullivan’s plea with the religious left to get its act together, already.

She draws a contrast between the religious left’s past role as a conscience-shaper with its uncertain efforts to find its voice again:

Everyone knows about the religious right, a movement of conservative, mostly Christian, religious communities that has become increasingly involved in American politics over the last three decades. The idea that there could be a countervailing religious force, whether defined as religious progressives or simply everyone not part of the religious right, has long since been dismissed from public consciousness. Indeed, the religious left had almost forgotten about itself — the community hadn’t come together to protest a federal budget, one of the religious leaders told me, “since the early Reagan years.”

And yet there was a time — not so very long ago — when the religious left was a powerful institution in American society and politics, when the term “religious” was not immediately assumed to connote “conservative.” Moral giants with names like Reinhold Niebuhr and Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. led intellectual and social justice movements. It’s nearly impossible to page through American history without coming across political causes that were driven either partly or entirely by progressive people of faith — abolition, women’s suffrage, labor reforms of the progressive era, civil rights, and any number of antiwar movements. . . .

“If there is such a thing as the liberal church anymore,” says the Rt. Rev. John Chane, Bishop of the Diocese of Washington, “it has become complacent. Complacency was always its biggest tragedy.” While their conservative counterparts were setting aside differences to focus on a single mission, members of the religious left — no longer following the guiding cause of civil rights — lost their way, dispersing their attention over what seemed like 87 different policy issues and busying themselves with internal denominational battles over female ordination and other debates. Many well-intentioned members of the religious left, not wanting to be associated with the nascent Christian right, filtered religion out of their rhetoric and secularized some of their appeals. The more vocal groups like the Christian Coalition and Moral Majority became, the more religious liberals withdrew from public view.

It’s amusing to read John Chane, one of the best-known liberal bishops in the mostly liberal Episcopal Church, wondering whether there’s such a thing as a liberal church anymore. It’s also amusing to read, in the same piece that begins by observing that mainline leaders are comparing the Bush administration to the rich man who scorned the suffering Lazarus, that “liberal religious spokesmen are loath to ‘spin’ their beliefs and positions, taking principled stands that nonetheless leave television producers underwhelmed and frustrated.”

In any case, Sullivan is right to hope the religious left can regain the moral vision and leadership shown by Niebuhr, Day and King. If religious leaders across the spectrum will speak without embarrassment about what they believe their faith can bring to the public square, the political discussion is bound to be livelier and the decisions of Congress more informed.

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Full court New York Press

taibbi.jpgOne hopes this will be the last GetReligion post on the controversy over the New York Pressanti-pope cover story. I’m afraid if I spend any more time on the intricacies of this, I will start to theorize about grassy knolls and second gunmen.

In a follow-up to his resignation from the Press masthead, writer Alan Cabal wrote in one of Enter Stage Right’s comments threads that Press editor Jeff Koyen had quit and that the author of the piece, Matt Taibbi, was fired. He added, “Any bets the Pope outlives the NY Press?”

Koyen, who quit rather than accept a two-week unpaid suspension, wrote to Enter Stage Right to say that Taibbi (pictured) had not, in fact, been fired. He explained that Cabal couldn’t “resign” because, “to the best of my recollection, he hadn’t had an article accepted by us for more than 6 months.” Koyen explained that Cabal’s name was still on the masthead “out of charity.”

Cabal responded that Taibbi was still employed by the Press because the management of the alt-weekly “would rather commit suicide than admit a mistake.” He continued,

The reason I haven’t had anything in the Press lately is that the damned thing became an embarrassment and the rates were ludicrous. It was depressing, and that idiotic Taibbi piece was the icing on the golden turd.

As far as “charity” goes, I save ALL of my email, Jeff. I’ll be happy to release the requests from you and [Alexander] Zaitchik for fresh material.

Cabal followed up with a post that put the lie to Koyen’s “six months” figure. Turns out he had a piece in the paper in January, which makes the best of Koyen’s recollection very poor indeed.

As for Taibbi, he’s still at the Press and, loathe as I am to admit this, his response was probably effective. Against calls by Press founder and columnist Russ “Mugger” Smith that he be put out to pasture, Taibbi mounted a rousing defense, though not a flawless one.

Taibbi reported that Rep. Anthony Weiner had issued a press release calling for New Yorkers to trash copies of the Press. Here’s the list of recent press releases from Weiner’s website. Take a look. None of the releases even mentions the Press.

So either Weiner didn’t include the press release on his record of press releases, or he removed it from the press release queue, or, more likely, Taibbi was relying on Koyen’s paranoid response to Weiner’s mild criticism of the anti-pope issue in a Lloyd Grove column. In other words, it may have been an honest mistake on Taibbi’s part in a column that is all about honesty.

In an act of daring rhetorical jujutsu, Taibbi seized the high ground by refusing to seize the high ground. Much of the mail that he received, he wrote,

seethingly anticipated that either I or the editors of the Press would turn around this week and try to cast ourselves as free speech martyrs, once we were a) fired or b) boycotted or c) both. I’m going to have to disappoint here. Nothing so noble as a real freedom-of-speech conflict actually took place in this case. The only accurate metaphor to describe what happened to the paper last week was stepping in shit. The shit was there, and we stepped in it of our own volition. It was a joint effort, between us and the shit.

Actually, Koyen did try to spin it as a freedom-of-speech conflict, but as he’s no longer an editor of the Press, I’m going to let that slide in the interest of getting to the substance of Taibbi’s argument. To wit, to the charge that “The 52 Funniest Things About the Upcoming Death of the Pope” was hate speech, Taibbi wrote,

If there was hate in the piece, it was not for the pope. It was for the agonizing marathon of mechanized media grief and adulation we so inevitably go through after the passing of each and every hallowed leader or celebrity. It was for the transparently fake unity of Democratic and Republican senators alike holding hands, hanging their heads, and — live on Fox and MSNBC — shedding a tear as good soldiers fold the flag at the passing of the great man, Ronald Reagan.

It’s not only funerals, but memorial services and various other pagan rituals; we are all supposed to weep on the anniversary of 9/11, and defer publicly to soldiers, and cheer for whichever bland milquetoast cine-blob wins Best Picture.

But some of us don’t want to cheer for the little girl who gets pulled out of the well, or get misty-eyed before the leader’s casket. In fact, some of us get physically ill, and angry, during each and every one of these orgies of rote media emotion.

Taibbi acknowledged that the piece “was way over the top” but he argued that its very over-the-topness was “commensurate — to the 197 consecutive fuck–g hours of Pope funeral coverage on cable we all know is coming very soon, with every politician on earth with a nose for Catholic votes lining up for a chance to blow into his hanky at the podium.”

He then drew a distinction between mainstream and alternative media, and situated the Press firmly within the latter camp. He argued that

While all across the major media landscape every public figure — every politician and every NBA star and every superficially grief-stricken plastic anchorman — will be “deeply saddened” and hanging his head during the obligatory moment of silence, there has to be someplace where the individual psychopath-loser, i.e. me, can say “I don’t care.” And not necessarily because it’s right or wrong to think that way, but because a mandatory opinion held by everybody is no opinion at all.

Finally, he flat out refused to issue an apology. His piece, Taibbi wrote, had been “an extremely silly, trivial, stupid joke.” That elected representatives would take the time to denounce it, he wrote, was a sign of misplaced priorities.

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Perhaps the medium really is the message

tote_1.jpgI teach a seminar titled “Exegete the Culture” at Palm Beach Atlantic University that studies the religious content of secular media as well as how the surrounding media culture affects the church.

I’be been doing classes on this subject for a decade-plus, so I have read more than my share of articles about the mass-marketing of pop religion. I have also done some time covering the meetings of the CBA (once known as the Christian Booksellers Association) and if you have been to one of those, you know what I’m talking about. You have to hit me with something stronger than hand-knit Christian sweaters for dogs to get my attention.

In the Exegete seminar, one of the things we note is how media have always helped shape the church — from the Roman roads and St. Paul’s epistles to the printing press and Protestant preaching. This is a reality that is hard to miss, but many people do.

Anyway, a small article in the Sunday New York Times covered some of this territory and found an interesting wrinkle or two. I refer to reporter Rob Walker’s “Consumed” feature titled “Cross Selling.” It focuses on an businessman named — this is a direct quote — “Aurelio F. Barreto 3rd” and his new chain of Christian retail stores in Southern California shopping malls. The chain’s name is C28, which Walker informs us is a “reference to the verse Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” The goods carry the “Not of this World” brand name.

The hook for the story is that the goods sold in these stores are not your basic Baby Boomer Christian megachurch happy-clappy fare. It is a bit edgy, in a mild way, and — key point — not so obviously faith-based that it is like hitting strangers with what one Christian artist likes to call a “Christian brick.” Here is Walker on this:

What’s interesting is not so much the messages that the hoodies, belt buckles and other items carry, but rather their graphic style, which looks more suited to a skate or surf boutique, or perhaps the goth-ish mall chain Hot Topic.

The Not of This World logo, for example, looks like something from an old Led Zeppelin album cover. On one T-shirt, it’s paired with a skull and what look like flames, plus the slogan “Bad Company Corrupts”; look more closely, and you can read what’s written around the edge of the design, a passage from 1 Corinthians: “Do not be misled: bad company corrupts good character.” . . . The approach is reminiscent of anti-corporate “subvertising” — manipulating a familiar logo or style to carry an oppositional message — except that this time the message is not anti-brand but rather pro-Christ.

Read the story for yourself. It has a nice, non-mocking feel to it.

As a news trend, this subject can probably be filed in the post-Contemporary Worship folder along with all of the stories about the “emerging church” movement. But this story is certainly not out of date. It might even be timeless. Note this wonderful quote that Walker uses, from the American Tract Society in 1834: “The young demand something more entertaining than mere didactic discussion.”

World without end, amen.

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Question authority (absolutely)

QuestionMark.jpgA developing story in mainline Protestantism reminds me of the oft-repeated joke about what you get if you cross a Unitarian with a Jehovah’s Witness: Somebody who knocks at your door for no apparent reason.

This is the developing story: Liberal Protestants are developing programs to compete with the Alpha Course, a curriculum from the Church of England parish called Holy Trinity Brompton that has found a home among churches ranging from Roman Catholic to The Salvation Army.

Like Alpha, these alternatives begin with a community meal, offer a teaching on videotape or DVD and then turn to roundtable discussion in small groups. Like Alpha, they say all questions are welcome. Unlike Alpha, they prefer questions over answers.

I wrote a feature about one such curriculum, Via Media, for the July/August 2004 Episcopal Life. More recently I wrote a critique of it for Kendall Harmon’s weblog, Titus One Nine.

Lawn Griffiths of the East Valley Tribune in Arizona has written about a United Methodist curriculum called Living the Questions. Unlike Via Media, Living the Questions has chosen some pugnacious representatives of Jesus Seminar theology, including retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong and Methodist theologian John B. Cobb Jr.

Griffiths mentions that the curriculum’s two creators, the Rev. Jeff Procter-Murphy of Phoenix and the Rev. David Felten of Scottsdale, believe Living the Questions presents “a deeper understanding that challenges their intellect and goes beyond historic doctrines and teachings.”

Spong states the contrast more bluntly:

During a recent celebration to launch the program, held at Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Bishop Spong said he doubted the Christian church would die from controversy. “I think it will die of boredom,” he says in touting the Living the Questions program. Boredom comes when “no one is engaged when it speaks a language that doesn’t translate into your world,” he said.

Religious fundamentalists — be they in Judaism, Islam or Christianity — reject the modern world. “They are people who cannot embrace the reality of the world in which they live, so they build a defense against modernity. They sing their hymns and close their minds” and proclaim, “We have the truth. The Bible is inerrant, the pope is infallible, there is only one way to God, and we possess it,” Spong says. Such statements, he said, “become the language of their security.”

Whether Living the Questions represents a second Reformation, as the two pastors believe, will be a story worth watching for many years to come. That may depend on whether the program spends less time on the phantom threat of fundamentalism and more time on what its adherents can affirm — other than more questions, of course.

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A ghost in Jessica Simpson's tummy aches

JEssica2.jpgLet me assure readers that I am not writing the following post in another attempt to lure search-engine hits by linking the words “Jessica Simpson” and “GetReligion.” Honest. That’s the naked truth. I just had to get that off my chest and make a clean breast of things.

No, I saw this Los Angeles Times article last week and then lost it in the overload of email on my computers. I ran into it again today and it bugged me again.

OK, the basic idea is that CNN is so desperate for viewers that it is seeking new ways to pump up news numbers, primarily through a fusion of subjects such as politics and entertainment, crime and entertainment and, well, entertainment and entertainment. The headline was a classic: “Jessica Simpson’s tummy aches, next on Headline News.” Here is a key part of reporter Paul Brownfield’s story about the new “Headline Prime” lineup at CNN Headline News:

You know Headline News, it’s where you go to get nuance on the Islamist platform of the United Iraqi Alliance while you’re on the treadmill at the gym. Now the network has scheduled “Showbiz Tonight” at 4 and then again at 7, a beguiling hour of entertainment industry nonsense, followed by “Nancy Grace,” which is pitched as a tough-talking legal affairs program, but is closer in spirit to “America’s Most Wanted,” not to mention Maury Povich, Sally Jesse Raphael and Jerry Springer. . . .

Then follows a spruced-up, hourlong version of Headline News’ bread and butter, called “Prime News Tonight.” Co-hosted by Mike Galanos and Erica Hill, who are trying for a news-magazine feel, the show spends four minutes on the bird flu story instead of one. It means to be more serious, to slow down Headline News’ usual Orwellian loop of national and global misery and fear, and it does this job in a serviceable way. But the rubric is still the world as infotainment: Should we be scared of this bird flu? And what’s this latest identity theft scam? Now here’s our tech guy to tell you about some new gadgets.

Here is my question (or, truth be told, questions). If CNN is interested in finding new niche audiences linked to prime news topics, what would it take to demonstrate the need for a regular show focusing on news and commentary about religion? I realize this is not exactly Ted Turner territory, but there may be people in CNN executive suites who have noted some of the Fox demographics.

But while we are talking about that, what would it take to inspire Fox News to do a hard news and commentary show on religion? Doesn’t that seem like a rather obvious product for the Bible Belt cable-news giant?

Peter Jennings once told me that World News Tonight‘s reports on religion by Peggy Wehmeyer generated the program’s highest positive viewer response rates — ever. I do not know if that is still true, but I doubt — in light of world events over the past four years or so — that viewer interest in religion news has declined.

Of course, I fear that some cable network is going to create a format that combines religion and entertainment and then hire some born-again celebrity to host it, someone such as — Jessica Simpson?

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Right hooks, left crosses

Healy.JPGGetReligion doesn’t normally take notice of obscure right wing fisticuffs, but I’m going to make an exception because I was one of the dogs in the fight, and because the fight ended up in The Boston Globe.

On Wednesday, February 23, I took part in an America’s Future Foundation roundtable at the Fund for American Studies building. The title was “Conservatives and Libertarians: Can This Marriage Be Saved?”

As the ad copy put it, “Arguing to keep the marriage together will be W. James Antle III of the American Conservative and Jeremy Lott of the Cato Institute. Amy Mitchell of the American Spectator and Nick Gillespie of Reason will take the side of divorce.”

The debate was moderated by colleague Gene Healy (pictured). He told me after that he had a heck of a time not jumping in.

The way Cathy Young frames it in her Monday column for the Globe, the tension on the panel was between secular, tolerant libertarians and government-boosting, finger-wagging social conservatives. That tension was there, but I believe it was not the important fault line in the debate.

In his post-debate summary, Healy noted that

In the course of debating whether conservatives and libertarians should stick together, it became clear that there was no fundamental agreement about the definitions of conservative and libertarian. In Jim Antle’s telling, a conservative is someone who champions family, faith and freedom against the forces of centralization, whether red-team or blue. I don’t think I’m being unfair to say that in Amy Mitchell’s account, it’s someone who roots, roots, roots for the red team.

Nor was there much agreement about what it means to be a libertarian among the libertarian panelists. Jeremy Lott saw no inconsistency between libertarianism and moderate social conservatism, so long as it’s not enforced by the state. Nick Gillespie, on the other hand, argued that a monomaniacal focus on the state left out some important aspects of liberalism. He rejected the notion that libertarianism could be limited to the realm of political philosophy. At one point, he noted that we were dramatically freer than we had been decades ago, because, among other things, in 1970 it was difficult for an unmarried couple to check into a hotel together. Afterwards, I wondered what the hell that had to do with libertarianism, and a friend cracked that I must have skipped the part about hot-pillow joints in Locke’s Second Treatise.

Former boss Nick Gillespie and yours truly came to blows over precisely what libertarianism is. I picked up on a statement that he had made on a television chat show recently to the effect that “Libertarianism isn’t just about government. It’s about expanding choices,” and said, Oh no it isn’t.

I insisted that libertarianism is and always has been a philosophy of government. It’s about distrusting the state and attempting to limit it, draw it back, check its excesses. I pointed out that the first entry in the book The Libertarian Reader is a selection from the Bible, where the high priest Samuel tells the people the horrible things that would come their way if they decided to have a king.

My debate partner Jim Antle insisted that, in the political arena, libertarians who chose to go it alone would be remembered as a bunch of ineffective “hipster-posers,” which drew a few laughs.

I gave myself over to the difficult task of selling social conservatives to libertarians. I argued that the “modern religious right as a mass political movement began not with Roe v. Wade but with Jimmy Carter’s ham-fisted attempts to interfere with private Christian schools.” People forget that a lot of the millions of freshly registered conservative Christian voters who put Reagan over the top in 1980 saw their collective political involvement as what we might call a “defensive action.”

I didn’t skirt difficult issues such as abortion, but I cautioned against dividing voters into economic conservatives and social conservatives. For some, such as GetReligion’s own Terry Mattingly, the division is there. But for most churchgoing, right-of-center voters, I argued,

Religious conservatives may not hold to the canons of libertarianism as laid out by Murray Rothbard or even Charles Murray, but the instincts are there. They understand the virtue of thrift and they don’t want the government to spend like a drunken Democrat either. They want a less oppressive tax burden just as much as we do. And George W. Bush would not be pursuing Social Security privatization if James Dobson and Franklin Graham objected.

So there you go. Outraged readers may now proceed to call me a selfish hedonist in the comments threads.

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Is Jeff Koyen a free speech martyr . . .

presslogo.gif Or just a gasbag? I’m strongly leaning toward the latter opinion after reading Koyen’s letter to the New York gossip website Gawker, explaining why he chose to resign as editor of the New York Press rather than take a two week unpaid suspension over last week’s anti-pope cover story.

As Koyen wrote, “I won’t be sent to my room without dessert. Hence, I resigned this morning.”

Koyen refused to go without getting in a few shots. He called publisher Chris Rohland a “spineless alt-weekly weenie” who is too comfortable with his wife and two kids in New Jersey to want to get caught up in controversy, and he accused owner David Unger of being “similarly spineless.”

After thanking his colleagues, Koyen again launched into Rohland and Unger, saying that “Such weak-willed and lackluster men should not be in control of a newspaper, especially not in these times of editorial restriction by way of advertiser dick-sucking. They’re too vulnerable to the appeal of money.”

As Koyen saw it, the publisher and owner had committed two offenses. They had told him to take those two weeks to “think about what this paper should be,” and they had refused to stand up for him in this “battle” of “free expression.”

“Problem is, New York Press already is the paper it should be,” Koyen wrote. “We are iconoclastic, occasionally obnoxious but always intelligent. If you see through the nasty Pope jokes, for instance, you will see a well-reasoned political argument.”

Koyen seized on Rep. Anthony Weiner’s mild comments that he hoped fellow New Yorkers would “exercise their right to take as many of these rags as they can and put them in the trash,” and cried censorship.

The only problem with that interpretation of Weiner’s remarks is that it completely misses the context. Weiner began by saying that, as a free alt-weekly, the Press is “way overpriced.” He then affirmed that “everyone has a right to free speech.” Further, it’s not clear that the congressman was telling New Yorkers to remove bundles of copies from the newsstands to trash them rather than just the one that they’re allowed. In other words, the sanest reading of Weiner’s words would be, “Ugh! This is trash!”

I would be negligent if I didn’t repeat here that even Satanists seem to agree with that judgment.

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Evangelicals without placards — will miracles never cease?

AbortionPlacards.jpgHanna Rosin of The Washington Post wandered onto David Kirkpatrick’s turf during the weekend, attempting to explain those strange new creatures in town who are called evangelicals. Rosin interviews several people, but the anecdotes of one political consultant, Lyric Hassler, provide the central image of the piece.

Embarrassing memories from Hassler’s teenage years — “chastising her church youth group for wasting time on frivolous pizza parties, ignoring any TV that wasn’t ‘The 700 Club’ — become a symbol for what Rosin describes as evangelical political involvement in previous decades.

Hassler uses the word “Uchhhhhh” (or “Uccch” — your spelling, like Rosin’s, may vary) in recalling her teenager zeal, and Rosin projects it onto an entire adult subculture:

It’s the sound of a movement shoving aside its past like so many pairs of braces. The conservative Christian political movement that burst on Washington in the ’80s, the activists with their aborted-fetus placards and their heady plans to colonize school boards and their here-and-now visions of the Apocalypse, their early years are now a source of embarrassment to themselves.

Amen to them. No more thundering sermons on Wiccans and floods and child molesters, caught on tape and leaked by a political opponent. No more pronouncements about “signs” showing up in California. No more horrors from the Book of Revelation.

What, no reference to the Vanishing Hitchhiker or screams from Hell at a Siberian drilling site? Evangelicals who served in Congress during those years, such as Mark Hatfield and the late Rep. Paul B. Henry, don’t appear in Rosin’s story, perhaps because they weren’t waving “aborted-fetus placards.”

It’s not that evangelicals are any less unusual in what they believe, Rosin suggests, but that they’ve learned good PR skills: “They may believe everything they believed before, but they’ve learned to speak in ways that are more measured and cautious and designed not to attract attention.”

The tone continues as she describes newcomer John Thune:

Sen. John Thune is the movement’s new David, having overthrown former Senate minority leader Tom Daschle. When talking about abortion, the South Dakota Republican prefers abstractions: “I like to connect my principled view with my policy objectives,” he says. “Good principles can lead to good policy.”

“Principles.” “Policy.” This could be Hillary Clinton talking about health care, Ralph Nader discussing emission standards. He could be anyone in Washington, talking about anything.

To secular humanists or even your average Democrat, Thune Land is a scary, scary frontier. “He is this new kind of Republican creature who puts an innocuous face on the religious right,” says a Daschle aide who worked on the campaign. “Behind this cheerful frat-boy basketball-star persona is just the same old beast of the far right.”

What qualifies Thune for this description? That never becomes clear, unless holding conservative positions on abortion or gay rights now qualifies as far right: “But Thune has nothing to hide. Ask him about abortion or gay rights, and he will answer straightforwardly, nicely, sensibly. He’d rather be elected deputy majority whip (which he just was) than lead a fringe movement.”

Ah, but Rosin sees through the façade of civility. Evangelicals still believe that, whatever the question, Jesus is the answer:

Rick Warren heads the list, and he is the perfect embodiment of the new ethos. Warren, who is a pastor in California, wrote “The Purpose Driven Life,” the best-selling hardcover book in U.S. publishing history. There is only one way to find purpose: “placing our faith in Christ,” by being “born-again.” Period.

Is that not the most horrifying punctuating mark you’ve read in months?

On another cultural front, the Post‘s David Montgomery makes a lighthearted visit to Church of the Pilgrims Presbyterian, a gay-friendly congregation in the District, for a covert screening of the gay-friendly episode of Postcards from Buster.

Montgomery writes of the episode — TiVo’ed and burned onto a DVD by a church member’s sister — as if it’s video samizdat for the preschool set.

He quotes this dialogue from the show:

Buster: So Gillian’s your mom, too?
Emma [age 3]: She’s my stepmom.
Buster: Boy, that’s a lot of moms!
Emma: Yup. [Showing framed family photo.] This is mom and Gillian right here.
Buster: That’s a nice picture.
Emma: This is one of my favorite pictures.
Buster: How come?
Emma: Because it has my mom and Gillian, people I love a lot, and they read a lot to me.

Montgomery paraphrases Gillian Pieper, one of Emma’s two moms, as saying the producers “had been looking for two-mom families and settled on hers after another option fell through.”

It’s probably only a matter of time before pirated versions of the episode become available on eBay. If GetReligion readers know where to screen the episode via the Internet, give us a holler.

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