Noonan hymns the Net

To experience today’s Peggy Noonan column, one really needs to call it up on the Web. It is, in effect, the first Noonan blog — only printed in a newspaper. What should we call that? Religion news and trends run all the way through it, right down to the last bite (the pope’s email address). Here she is on the Harvard holy wars about President Larry Summers: “What the Summers story most illustrates is that American universities now seem like Medieval cloisters. They’re like a cloister without the messy God part. Old monks of leftism walk their hallowed halls in hooded robes, chanting to themselves. Young nuns of leftist deconstructionism, pale as orchids, walk along wringing their hands, listening to their gloomy music. They become hysterical at the antichrist of a new idea, the instrusion of the reconsideration of settled matter. Get thee behind me, Summers.”

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No Communion in Anglican Communion?

PBandABC.jpgFacts are such pesky things. Every now and then one gets in the brain and just sticks there.

Earlier this week, religion reporter Jonathan Petre reported in The Telegraph that the global showdown of the Anglican primates might include some potent and poignant protests — in part centering on actions that will or will not be taken by U.S. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold (left) and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (right, in the photo). Here is some of that story, with the familiar politics-of-sexuality references trimmed since Anglican-beat watchers already know all of that:

Conservative archbishops attending Anglican crisis talks this week will demonstrate their anger with their liberal counterparts by refusing to receive Communion alongside them, The Telegraph has learned. . . .

Insiders say that Archbishop Peter Akinola, the primate of Nigeria, has warned him that the conservatives will boycott the daily church services during the conference if the liberals are there. The problem could become most acute when Dr. Williams presides at Communion — a sacrament supposed to symbolise the unity of the Church — as Archbishop Akinola is thought to represent up to half of the 38 primates.

Now this is what I call a pesky fact.

Every since reading this, I have been going to Google News and typing in the words Rowan, Griswold and communion, with few results that tell me much of anything. There have been, of course, daily reports from the conservative cyber-scribe David Virtue, the fiery activist who has, in his own unique way, done much to yank many private Anglican events into the open. Everyone knows where Virtue is coming from, sort of like the reports from the official Episcopal press.

This Communion story may seem like an “insider” detail. But this pesky fact concerns a symbol that is also a Sacrament and, well, they are supposed to call it the Anglican Communion for a reason. I will keep looking, even though I realize that the Brits are doing everything they can to lock reporters out of every aspect of these meetings.

Nevertheless, please let us see if you see MSM coverage of the Eucharist issue. On the theological level, it is more important than the on-paper resolutions.

On a related topic, check out the following BBC item. This appeal for web-based feedback has to have one of the most biased headlines I have seen in a long time. Here is the item:

Will Africa split the Anglican Church?

Leaders of the 70 million-strong Anglican Communion have been meeting this week near Belfast in Northern Ireland to discuss an ongoing crisis that threatens to split the church.

The 38 primates will consider the so-called Windsor Report, published after the consecration of gay bishop Gene Robinson in America and the blessing of same sex unions in Canada.

African and Asian leaders have started a campaign to restore order and to discipline an American Church which, they say, has departed from the Bible and Anglican tradition.

Would you back African bishops if they walk out of the meeting? Would you even ask the bishops to leave and create their own Church? Is the unity of the church not more important than disagreements over homosexuality? Shouldn’t the Anglican church modernise and accept that society is changing?

Let us know your views. . . . A selection of your comments will be broadcast on the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme on Saturday 26 February at 1700GMT.

Note the assumption: A stand to defend the ancient doctrines claimed by the overwhelming majority of Anglicans worldwide may split the church, not the innovations approved by the relatively small churches in North America. Why not stay neutral and say that the sexuality conflict might divide the Communion?

UPDATE: On the Google watch, there are two or three reports online with new information. One interesting detail: Williams made a strong appeal for unity, in an Evensong service that did not, of course, include Communion. There is quite a bit of new information in this fresh Church of England Newspaper report. Here is the money quote, from the leader of the American church:

Bishop Griswold entered the Primates’ meeting in a defiant mood, delivering a thinly veiled defence of his decision to consecrate Canon Gene Robinson in a sermon in Belfast Cathedral. He used coded theological language to compare the American Church’s action to the ‘White Martyrs’.

“We find ourselves overtaken by a compassion, which because it is of the Spirit and not the result of our effort or imagination, knows no bounds and can enfold all persons and all things. It is a compassion, which in the words of St Isaac of Syria, embraces not only humankind but the birds and the beasts, the enemies of truth, those who wish to do us harm and ‘even the reptiles’, which may be seen as representing those slithery aspects of our own humanity which we are loath to admit to the company of our ‘better’ selves and therefore often displace on to others as evil.”

I wonder if the “reptile” quote will be unpacked in the MSM.

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Revved up for God

nascar_bg.jpgBack in the 1980s, while working as the religion editor for the Baton Rouge Morning Advocate, I interviewed a man who was a chaplain to NASCAR racers and their families. The chaplain was kind, and patient with my astonishment that NASCAR drivers would feel any interest in his services.

I mention this to confess straight away: I’ve never really understood the lure of NASCAR. As someone who is phobic about dying because of a tailgater dialing the wrong number while trying to order a takeout meal from Applebee’s, I can think of no better approximation of hell than driving in a NASCAR event.

That chaplain was a good example of the church taking its presence into NASCAR culture. From a lighthearted story by Bill Freehling of The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., comes an example of NASCAR culture stepping into the church — albeit at the church’s invitation. Freehling describes the scene at Salem Fields Community Church in Spotsylvania:

Pictures of NASCAR drivers were throughout the Gordon Road church. A mini No. 8 car and Goodyear tire were on its stage, where a band played country. Church officials wore black T-shirts saying “NASCAR Sunday pit crew.” A big-screen television was set up for the race.

The point, said co-pastor Buddy Marston, is to attract people who love NASCAR but haven’t been going to church.

. . . Salem Fields is decidedly more casual than most churches. Most people wear blue jeans and T-shirts — attire that church member Ken Lardie said is more welcoming.

Yesterday’s service opened with a band blasting out the lyrics of “I’m From The Country.” But then the service got serious.

Marston, who is co-pastor with his wife, Gaye, delivered a sermon about the importance of never lying. Using a NASCAR metaphor, he said his marriage was troubled until he started being honest.

“We were on this giant oil slick,” Marston said.

Last Friday, Baptist Press recently published this report comparing NASCAR culture with FAITH, the Southern Baptist Convention’s program that combines Sunday school and evangelism:

An off-site tour of the Daytona Speedway was part of the National FAITH Institute, Jan. 24-27 in Daytona Beach. About 200 pastors and church leaders participating in the institute heard how NASCAR and FAITH share similarities when it comes to teamwork: Everyone on the team is important; if you have to make a pit stop, make it quick, then get back on the track; and there may be a lot of personalities involved, but everyone has the same goal.

. . . The Daytona 500 race brings thousands of visitors to Daytona Beach each February. Institute participants were reminded that those who watch the race are excited about things that don’t last — speed, noise and celebrities — whereas FAITH teams become excited about the one thing that matters for eternity — bringing people to saving faith in Jesus Christ.

There is, perhaps, a case to be made for NASCAR Sundays at churches — especially those hyper-Protestants that want to break away from churches’ traditional image. But these would be questions worth asking: When a church incorporates the events that compete with worship for members’ attention on any given Sunday, how does this affect its identity? Do churches really believe they offer something more important than TV access to a sporting event? Do people who attend NASCAR Sunday show up again before the next NASCAR Sunday? And how should a church differ from our TV rooms at home?

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Peeves make great pets

JPIImad.jpgSo you’re a reporter assigned to write a story about a new book coming out by the pope, his holiness, the Vicar of Christ, current occupant of the chair of St. Peter, that prince among princes of the church John Paul II. You comb through it for material and find that there is a lot there.

To wit, the pope goes on at some length about how “he is convinced the Turkish gunman who shot him in 1981 did not act alone and suggests” — rather forcefully — “that the former Communist Bloc may have been behind the plot to kill him.”

But wait, there’s more! Controversies have already sprouted like dandelions in Germany when leaked excerpts from the book caused some Jewish groups to get their backs up over the pontiff’s comparison of abortion to the Holocaust.

In a few sections of the book, the pope remembers and rages against Nazism and the Communism, two ideologies that he confronted and outlasted, and does a bit of crowing.

And then there’s the bookkeeping stuff: geopolitical musings applying Catholic interpretations of natural law to world events, including the shape of the European Union and the prospects of gay marriage.

What’s the headline, and what do you lead with? Click on this Reuters story to find out.

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Press on, John Paul

John L. Allen Jr., the National Catholic Reporter‘s Vatican correspondent, makes a four-point case for why Pope John Paul II should not resign.

Here are two especially strong paragraphs:

“Second, many observers believe that John Paul II is providing precious testimony about the inherent value of human life, from beginning to end. In a culture that worships youth, beauty and efficiency, his reminder that elderly and infirm people can provide important contributions is perhaps a valuable one.

. . . The Catholic Church regards the pope as important principally for who he is, not what he does — the living center of unity for a global family of faith. For him to resign because he is no longer an effective administrator would, in the eyes of some, compromise the church’s teaching about the nature of the papal office.”

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This revolution will be televised

GayPatty.jpgThe New York Times‘ coverage of Patty Bouvier’s coming out party on The Simpsons follows a familiar script — the religious right is the sole aggressor in the culture wars — and, in a breathless search for Ultimate Meaning, manages to drain the episode of every moment of humor.

Alessandra Stanley writes in a review/essay:

A few years ago, the coming out of a prime-time character would probably not have caused much of a stir. But in the current climate, with the issue of gay rights spiking in the public discourse, the episode stood out. What could have seemed like a sweeps month gimmick became instead an aptly satirical comment.

The debate over same-sex marriages, and the way the conservative right inflated that debate into a wedge issue during the presidential campaign, is one factor. At the same time, growing fears about the possible spread of a rare strain of H.I.V. that is resistant to virtually all of the standard drugs has revived concern about unsafe sex among gays.

Stanley also wins honors for editorial whiplash of the week for this segue from the Doug Wead-President Bush tapes story back to the imaginary world of Springfield:

. . . On the tapes, some of which were played for The New York Times, Mr. Bush explained to Mr. Wead that he told a Texas minister, James Robison: “I’m not going to kick gays, because I’m a sinner. How can I differentiate sin?”

Patty decided to wed her girlfriend, Veronica, after the town of Springfield legalized gay marriage to boost tourism and Homer Simpson became an ordained minister over the Internet to marry gay couples for cash.

In her news report for the Times, Sharon Waxman seemed incapable of finding a conservative who watched the episode, so she turned to L. Brent Bozell III. Waxman also writes about the show being a rebuke to the cultural right:

“It’s saying to those who demonize homosexuality, or what they call the homosexual agenda, anything from ‘Lighten up’ to ‘Get out of town,’” said Marty Kaplan, associate dean of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and host of a media show on the talk radio network Air America. “It sounds as though they’re saying that what the religious right calls ‘the homosexualist agenda,’ as if it were creeping Satanism, is: these people are your neighbors in the Springfield that is America.”

Indeed, in some ways the Simpsons’ fictional hometown, Springfield, has become a surrogate for mainstream, small-town America, with Homer its bumbling working-class hero. The closest parallel may well be the endearing though intolerant Archie Bunker, who became a symbol of working-class America in the 1970′s show “All in the Family.”

Odd, isn’t it, that the animated equivalent of Archie Bunker ended up obtaining his minister’s credentials through the Internet and then presiding at all of Springfield’s gay unions?

Against all odds, Kathryn Masterson of the Chicago Tribune found a well-known conservative activist who watched the program:

Peter LaBarbera, head of the conservative Illinois Family Institute, wasn’t too riled about gay marriage and a gay character coming out on “The Simpsons.” LaBarbera thinks the public may be tired of seeing gay characters and gay situations on so many TV shows.

“Every TV show has to have the ‘gay episode,’” he said. “I just think the ‘all-gay-all-the-time’ is generally wearing on people.”

In her final paragraph, Stanley announced:

The episode was not the funniest in “Simpsons” history, but it was a tonic at a moment when television seems increasingly humorless and tame — fearful of advertiser boycotts by the religious right and fines from the Federal Communications Commission.

Thanks, mighty Times, for the definitive ruling on the history of Simpsons humor — and the pedantic reminder that the only thing we have to fear is a conservative Christian who’s involved in politics.

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What in hell?

The Toledo Blade is digging into a story that has national hypernews potential — if other journalists can believe what they are reading. This isn’t another case of sexual abuse involving Catholic priests. It’s a case involving a murdered nun, stab wounds in the shape of a cross, memories of ritual abuse and fiends in robes. Summary: “Investigators have talked to numerous priests and former students at local Catholic grade schools to determine if they knew anything about children being molested in bizarre ceremonies involving a small ring of clerics, according to several people interviewed by police. Four women told detectives about being abused between the late 1960s and 1986 during cult-like ceremonies involving altars and men dressed in robes, the accusers told The Blade.” Stay tuned.

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Can the Mouse sell Thee, Lion?

Narnia lamp.jpgThink of it as the mirror image of the choices director Ron Howard has to make in creating a red-zip-code hit with The Da Vinci Code. Think of it, in the words of the ever-witty Amy Welborn, as The Chronicles of Marketing.

Actually, the headline that The New York Times copy desk wrote for reporter David Kehr’s recent story on the forthcoming Narnia movie franchise wasn’t all that bad, either: “Disney’s Next Hero: A Lion King of Kings.” The article makes it clear that the artists charged with bringing the beloved classic The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to the screen face a major challenge, one that is sure to create news for years to come as the seven-book series unfolds. Here are the money quotes:

Company representatives . . . have little to say publicly about the “Narnia” cycle, which is being produced in partnership with the financier Philip Anschutz’s Walden Media. They cite a natural reticence about promoting work that is still in progress: the director Andrew Adamson, an animation specialist whose only previous films are the computer-generated comic fairy tales “Shrek” and “Shrek 2,” is still behind his digital console.

But this time, the pros at Disney are wrestling with a special challenge: how to sell a screen hero who was conceived as a forthright symbol of Jesus Christ, a redeemer who is tortured and killed in place of a young human sinner and who returns in a glorious resurrection that transforms the snowy landscape of Narnia into a verdant paradise.

That spirituality sets Aslan apart from most of the Disney pantheon and presents the company with a significant dilemma: whether to acknowledge the Christian symbolism and risk alienating a large part of the potential audience, or to play it down and possibly offend the many Christians who count among the books’ fan base.

And all the bankers said: Amen.

This is precisely the same dilemma faced by Peter Jackson and his crew as they began work on The Lord of the Rings, only the Christian themes and symbols used by apologist C.S. Lewis are much more explicit and, well, evangelistic. Jackson thought this through and made the crucial decision to leave J.R.R. Tolkien’s vision intact, even if that produced behind-the-scenes worries that the films might be seen as too culturally conservative. That turned out to be a wise decision in the marketplace.

It’s also important to note that Walden name — Philip Anschutz. His name is usually connected with words such as “reclusive” and phrases such as “Christian conservative.” He is not the normal Disney dancing partner.

One more thing. As Kehr makes clear, the Disney-Walden team plans to push the logical, post-Passion marketing plan. They will have to sell this to the people who already love Narnia — the most beloved works of Christian fiction in that exist in mainstream contemporary Christianity, period. Is that too strong a statement?

But there will be voices to weaken the doctrinal content of the product — will Queen Susan end up, in book seven, as an apostate? Comments by Disney veteran Martin Kaplan, director of the Norman Lear Center of the University of Southern California, cut to the heart of the matter.

Of Lewis’s work, Mr. Kaplan said: “There’s enough story and traditional emotion in the ‘Narnia’ books that they can let the Christian mysticism in it either be a subtext or not a part of it at all. I suspect you can portray resurrection in the same way that E.T. comes back to life, and that practically every fairy tale has a hero or heroine who seems to be gone forever but nevertheless manages to come back.”

That sound you hear is C.S. Lewis devotees (and scholars) screaming.

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