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Here’s a fun piece in Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, by sometime CounterPunch contributor Linda S. Heard, about the upcoming U.S. elections. Not sure the Kingdom of Saud is well served with this one.

Heard tells readers that “passions on either side of the divide are running high” — which is true enough, I guess — and then launches a blistering an attack on Bush supporters, “the ‘them and us’ guys and gals with ‘them’ being those envious terrorist enemies of America who hate freedom, and ‘us’ translating into the flag-waving, gas-guzzling, gun-toting, French-bashing believers in the natural supremacy of the US with all that entails for the rest of the planet.”

Bush backers, writes Heard, look to the president to keep America free from “swarthy foreigners, Kumbaya-humming tree-huggers, death penalty opponents, the pro-choice brigade and anything with the label ‘Made in France.’” The core of Bush’s supporters, she informs the Saudis, “are eschatological evangelicals, many of whom are waiting anxiously for the battle of Armageddon as a prelude to the Second Coming. In their eyes, their Creator-invoking president can do no wrong…He’s their ‘born-again’ main man.”

The leaders of these evangelicals, she writes, “are not intellectuals but ideologues.” She lumps the board of the Project for the New American Century (take a look; not lot of prominent evangelicals there) in with “Islamophobic preachers, such as Pat Robertson Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and Jerry Vines” and then segues into an attack on Bill O’Reilly.

Heard does admit that “the entire Bush camp isn’t made up of such fanatics.” Some good salt-of-the-earth people back the president, she argues, because they’re scared to death of waking up one morning to find that a dirty bomb has gone off “outside their local Walmart.”

The article continues for a bit with the usual conspiratorial anti-corporate jabs and charges that the American left has decided to acquiesce to Bush’s reign of pure evil. Not sure how to reply to this collection of clichÃ(c)s, caricatures, and insults (“Allawi deserved a sesame seed cracker”), all passed off as insight to an audience that I hope knows better. Her misrepresentation of evangelicals constitutes a mass libel. It could be just ignorance but the column shows too many signs of actual malice for me to believe that.

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Surprise! Gallup wants to probe faith, public life

Gallup_book_1Months before the 1996 election, some of the politicos behind President Bill Clinton’s campaign tried to find out which poll questions best predicted a voter’s Election Day choice. On which questions were the lines most starkly drawn between a Clinton voter and a voter determined to pull the GOP lever in the voting booth?

They found out that these five worked best: Is religion very important in your life? Is sex before marriage morally wrong? Is homosexuality morally wrong? Do you every look at pornography? Would you look down on a married person who had an affair?

Some of you will be glad to hear that this is not another GetReligion item about the whole red pews vs. blue pews phenomenon (although it could have been).

This is a belated post about Moveon.org’s attack on George Gallup Jr. and his controversial interest in the role that faith plays in American public life. Gallup is an Episcopalian, but one of very old-fashioned beliefs on faith and morals. The problem, as described in the New York Times and elsewhere, is that he has on occasion described himself as an “evangelical.” Salon.com warned its readers that this influential American has even spoken words such as these, in an interview with the “moderate” Baptist Standard in Texas:

“‘The most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,’ George Gallup Jr. said after giving the spring commencement speech at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. ‘When I ask a question on these subjects, what I’m always trying to find out is, Are we doing the will of God?’”

The Baptist Standard also reported that while Gallup recently stepped aside as the company’s leader, his vision remains intact.

“Questions on religion and spirituality are sure to continue, Gallup said, under leadership that shares a keen interest in the topic. Frank Newport is editor in chief of the Gallup Poll and vice president of the Gallup organization in Princeton, N.J. His father, John Newport, served more than 40 years as a philosophy of religion professor and administrator at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. “And because George Gallup Jr. still carries his pocket-sized notebook, for scribbling down survey questions that might come to him at any hour of day or night, his ideas might even find their way into a questionnaire now and then.”

And there you have it. Gallup’s beliefs might be dangerous to Democratic candidates in some way, since his Christian conservatism might somehow favor the theocrats at the Republican Party. This is profoundly disturbing to the folks at Moveon.org, who seem as anxious to punch hot religious buttons in the current campaign as, let’s say, the Rev. Jerry Falwell.

“Why hasn’t he pushed for an update of the company’s likely voter modeling, which his own father pioneered in the 1950s?” the MoveOn.org ad asked. The political group then appeared to answer its own question.

“Gallup, who is a devout evangelical Christian, has been quoted as calling his polling ‘a kind of ministry.’ And a few months ago, he said ‘the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God,’” MoveOn said. “We thought the purpose is to faithfully and factually report public opinion.”

GwgallupjrThis slap at Gallup was a bit much for all kinds of people and anyone seeking a selection of reaction quotes can turn to the New York Sun or, as always, the omnipresent folks at the Christianity Today blog.

All the usual suspects speak out. What is especially interesting is that others cross the politics-as-usual lines and raise questions about Moveon.org’s real motives. Here is Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization rarely aligned with the religious right:

“It’s irrelevant, extraneous, and borders on being offensive to evangelical Christians,” Mr. Foxman told The New York Sun. “It’s one thing to challenge methodology and credibility. It’s another thing to say that the methodology and credibility are motivated by faith. … What if the poll was headed by a devout Jew? How would we have felt?”

And reporter Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times noted that the strategists behind the Moveon.org campaign seem, in their rush to shoot an offending pollster, to have forgotten to ask very, very, very basic questions.

What the advertisement did not say was that Mr. Gallup, who retired in May, is not involved in the company’s political polling and made those comments in reference to his specialty and main interest — polling people on their religious beliefs.

So let’s replay that scene. Gallup is retired and he is not involved in the political polls that have so angered the WWW attack dog that speaks for the “anti-evangelical voter” wing of the Democratic Party establishment. And on top of that, Gallup’s comments were yanked out of context. He was describing the motives that served as a foundation for his organization’s decades of research into American attitudes about religious faith in public and private life, a subject on which his trailblazing work as inspired work at a host of foundations, think tanks and top-notch academic centers.

But let’s end where we began. Bill Clinton’s own pollsters discovered that, to cut to the political heart in 1996, they had to ask blunt questions about religious and moral issues. Should it be surprising that the Gallup organization and other top pollsters need to do the same?

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Ghost in the Stylebook III: New York Times keeps searching

Baby1thumb_2This is one of many stories that I intended to write about last week or even earlier, but let me bring it up here on a quiet non-hurricane weekend. As regulars to the blog know, I have been highly interested in recent stories in the New York Times, the Associated Press and elsewhere, in which reporters seemed to be tiptoeing around a tense area in journalistic style — the rule about referring to an unborn child as a “fetus.”

In part, this journalistic question seems to be rooted in coverage of a leap forward in technology — those amazing 4D-imaging machines now being used virtually everywhere. This digital window is having an impact. It is hard to refer to these images as pictures of fetuses.

Recently, this issue came up again in the newspaper of record. This time, reporter Sam Lubell — in a story called “The Womb as Photo Studio” — carefully walked the edge of the razor and followed the letter of the stylebook law. Thus, here is the lead:

It’s a rite of passage for many expectant parents: baby’s first ultrasound. The fuzzy images of the fetus, produced during an examination in an obstetrician’s office, are prized by couples, passed around proudly among friends and relatives.

Now, trying to capitalize on this phenomenon, a number of companies are selling elective ultrasounds that have little to do with neonatal health. The services, often in small offices or shopping malls, amount to fetal photo studios and use newer 3-D ultrasound technology to produce more realistic images than conventional machines.

Another tricky issue soon follows, as Lubell mentions that one of the most common uses of the technology is to determine the gender of the unborn child. Might this be linked to the controversial issue of gender-selection abortion? Perhaps that is an issue for another story.

When dealing with third-person paraphrases, the story stays with the medically correct “fetus.” The problem is that the story also quotes real, live people. Thus, there is a somewhat awkward dance of journalistic vocabulary. For example, note this reference to the emotional impact of the new technology:

“Women love it,” said Matt Evans, a lawyer, who started his company, Baby Insight (baby -insight.com), about a year and a half ago. “They get to see their baby and have an emotional experience with their baby.”

Or there was this quotation from new mother Shirlesa Glaspie, of Lanham, Md., who said the experience has been both frightening and revelatory.

“He’s yawning, he sticks his tongue out, he smiles,” she said. “It gives you a realization of what’s going on when your stomach is moving around and bouncing around.”

And so forth and so on, swinging back and forth between the voices of people and the style of journalism. The tension is real and there is no easy way around it. But this points to a larger story: When will the people who lobby against abortion realize that this form of technology is on their side? Is the future of pro-life work linked to ultrasounds, rather than picket signs? Might be a story hidden in this style issue.

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Anonymous threats are for cowards

The comments section on Jeremy Lott’s post, The Gauche That Haunts Me, has been active all week, and for that we are grateful.

Today, however, someone posted a threat against another commenter, using a bogus address at Yahoo.com.

The threat closed with “We are following you.” I have deleted the threat and banned the IP address of the anonymous person who posted it.

Such language has no place on this blog.

GetReligion reserves the right to delete all anonymous comments, and I expect to exercise that option far more vigorously if this sort of nonsense continues.

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Tony the tiger

“He is the conservative bastion of the US supreme court, a favourite of President Bush, and a hunting partner of the vice-president. He has argued vociferously against abortion rights, and in favour of anti-sodomy laws. But it turns out that there is another side to Justice Antonin Scalia: he thinks Americans ought to be having more orgies.”

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Is Al Gore's God aiming these hurricanes at Florida?

God_vs_bush2Some of you may remember that, while stuffed inside my shuttered concrete and metal fortress West Palm Beach fortress, I sent out a missive the other day on the theological implications of being hit multiple times by hurricanes in the space of a few weeks.

It included the following lines that were went in jest, sort of. Maybe. Maybe not. I am not a Calvinist, so I can say it is all a mystery.

God shows up in quite a few of the news stories during hurricane season, but, so far, no one has put in print the question that you actually hear down here on the sidewalks and in the pews. The question is simple: Why is this happening? Close behind that question is this one: Why is God doing this to us? And then this one: Was it something we did? Why is Pat Robertson mad at us this time?

In the past few days, more than a few people have sent me the graphic that accompanies this post, which has been floating around in people’s email listservs. Has it actually been published anywhere? It proposes a somewhat partisan explanation for what has been happening to Florida, in light of the 2000 election. It is sort of Pat Robertson for Unitarian activists at www.MainstreamCoalition.org.

The thing’s pretty funny, if you ask me. However, look at one tiny detail on that pre-Jeanne map — that blue-tinted Palm Beach County. Let me assure you, as a resident of this fair locale, that we have not been missed by the storms. (Wait, I need to save my work because I think the campus computer network is still shaken by storm damage. There, I’m back.) Also, St. Lucie County as been pounded.

So, while I have questions about the fine details in this map, I stand by my statement that the whole subject of theodicy and hurricanes is fair game. Some one ought to take it seriously.

And that someone is not columnist Mark Morford of the San Francisco Chronicle. Still, I have to admit that he gets off some funny lines in his “Does God Hate Florida? After four brutal hurricanes, why aren’t Bush evangelicals talking about the Almighty’s wrath?” Here’s the opener:

You know it’s true. You know if, say, San Francisco had just been blasted by not two, not three, but fully four lethal trailer-park-eating earthquakes, why, the Right-wing Bible set would be yelping with barely disguised joy.

Of course they would. They’d be jumping up and down and saying I told you so and pointing to Volume 18 of “Left Behind” and claiming that this was, of course, God’s wrath upon the sinners and the gays and the heathens and sodomites and the tofu eaters and the Toyota Priuses and the yoga studios and the anal sex and the incense burners and the Zen meditation centers.

Ha ha snicker, they’d say. Serves you right, they’d sneer. Shoulda voted Republican, they’d add.

And so forth and so on, paragraph after paragraph (some of which are actually funny), while adding zero content to the discussion. Maybe, even though he is a columnist, he could have tried interviewing an actual theologian or two, offering competing perspectives. Just a thought. The religious left is easy to find out there, but, hey, the Southern Baptists even have a seminary nearby. Give ‘em a ring.

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Theology vs. realpolitik

Bushjesus2Many writers pursue consistent themes in their work. Mark Steyn has his campy references to show tunes. Paul Greenberg works in journalists’ inside joke of “It was as if an occult hand had.” GetReligion’s editors chafe at glib references to fundamentalism. And Jon Meacham of Newsweek chips away at “certainty” and “literalism,” which means he managed to find a theological angle in last night’s presidential debate about foreign policy.

Here’s what Meacham said as part of a panel on Hardball with Chris Matthews immediately after Thursday night’s presidential debate:

But you had consistently Bush saying, “You cannot lead if you send mixed messages, and Kerry saying, “You can be certain and be wrong.”

And I think the fight between the theological view of the president and the more historical, realpolitik view of Kerry is something that is going to shape the race the rest of the way.

In making his remarks about certainty, Kerry said that Bush is “not acknowledging what’s on the ground [in Iraq], he’s not acknowledging the realities of North Korea, he’s not acknowledging the truth of the science of stem-cell research or of global warming and other issues.”

What issue in this list is theological in nature? (Granted, Ron Reagan has implied, incorrectly, that only theological conviction could lead a person to Bush’s conclusions regarding limited funding for embryonic stem-cell research.) Has George Bush argued that the United States had to go to war in Iraq in order to convert Muslims? Has he speculated that Kim Jong-il is the Antichrist? Has he said not to worry about global warming because Jesus is coming back soon?

Does Bush’s once-frequent use of the words evil and evildoers mean that his foreign policy is theologically driven?

I agree with Kerry that a person can be certain and wrong, and that “certainty sometimes can get you in trouble.” If by “certainty” Jon Meacham refers to a proud and stubborn refusal to engage with any differing views, I join him in rejecting it.

But I find his contrast between Bush’s “theological view” and Kerry’s “more historical, realpolitik view” too certain in its tone.

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Top o the mornin'

This has been an unusually fertile week for religion news from the Emerald Isle — including one unexpected ray of hope. Local Catholics celebrated the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s 1979 visit to the Republic of Ireland, apparently the first time that any pope had ever set foot on that very Catholic soil. It may be hard to remember now but the pope used to stay in Rome rather than fly all over the globe.

War_of_buttons_1The Irish press was abuzz with will-he-or-won’t-he speculation about whether the former bishop of Galway, Eamonn Casey, who fled the country in disgrace in ’92 when it was revealed that he had fathered a child with an American woman, would show up to help mark the occasion. On the one hand, he was instrumental in the pontiff’s historic visit and it would only seem fitting. On the other, the local hierarchy was concerned enough about Casey’s possible return to Erin’s soil that, when he tried to relocate from Ecuador in 1998, they forced him to live in England instead, and allowed only occasional visits. From his hospital bed the current bishop of Galway blamed the press for keeping Casey away. To an extent that was true: The local bigs do not want any more bad press out of the whole affair.

After all, they’ve got bigger things to worry about. The Irish Times reported that Dr. Diarmuid, archbishop of Dublin, warned a conference of priests Wednesday night that “the full dimensions of the clerical abuse scandals, sadly, may yet still have to appear.”

Of course, the skeletons that have fallen out of closets so far are pretty ugly. Though the Irish clerical sex scandals may not be as far reaching as the American ones, things have gotten pretty bad: priests committing suicide rather than stand trial, bishops resigning in disgrace when their practices of shuffling the abusive priests around were exposed, and some truly horrific stories have come from the victims.

All of this has happened at a time when the church has been fighting not to lose its grip on the Irish people: Mass attendance is down as is respect for priests, abortion laws have been liberalized, and hate crimes laws have been used to try and muzzle the moral voice of the church.

Depressing, yes, but it’s not the whole picture. A report in the Tuesday edition of the Irish News began thus:

The Pope decided to make his historic pilgrimage to Ireland against the recommendation of his advisers.

They feared that, with the north in the grip of the Troubles, the Pope would be a target for loyalist paramilitaries and that his visit would heighten tension between the Catholic and Protestant communities in Northern Ireland. A month before the pilgrimage was scheduled to start, the Queen’s cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, had been killed in an IRA bomb attack on his boat in Co Sligo. Hours later that same day, August 27, 1979, 18 British soldiers were killed in two bombs at Narrow Water Castle near Warrenpoint.

As a result, John Paul II agreed to leave Northern Ireland off the itinerary and security was increased. An estimated half of the Catholics in the north marched south to see the bishop of Rome during his three day visit. At the time, the pope implored, cajoled, and flat out begged for an end to the violence.

And this week, on the 25th anniversary of the pontiff’s plea, the most unlikely of things occurred. According to the Guardian, the Rev. Ian Paisley, the hardest of Protestant Unionist hardliners and leader of the largest party in Northern Ireland, Thursday “made an historic journey south of the Northern Ireland border for his first political meeting with an Irish prime minister in Dublin.” The purpose of the meeting was to explore the possibility of Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party eventually sharing power with Sinn Fein. For this to occur, of course, the IRA would have to effectively disband.

These tentative steps toward cooperation could lead nowhere, but a letter to the Irish News from one Brian Duffin of Toomebridge captured the crazy new hope best:

It is almost 25 years to the day that my wife and I travelled – together with a quarter of million Irish souls to Drogheda, Co Louth — to welcome Pope John Paul II to Ireland.

On that amazing day, Saturday September 29, 1979, the Pope appealed to the IRA for an end to violence in Northern Ireland: “On my knees I beg of you to turn away from the paths of violence and to return to the ways of peace”.

It seems incredible that it took nearly 15 more years before the IRA heeded his advice.

It is even more incredible that the IRA has now agreed to decommission, not for the Pope, but for Dr Ian Paisley – the man who called the Pope “the anti-Christ” and vowed to destroy the Good Friday Agreement.

[A footnote: There are few links in this story because it seems that every Irish newspaper not only demands that readers register for the privilege of perusing the websites but that they shell out a subscription fee as well, which upset my Irish temper.]

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