Political backlash of an overturned Roe

TomDavisRep. Tom Davis, R-Va., has long been a rising star in Congress. Most outside of Washington know him for the “steroids in baseball” hearings and for his chairing the Congressional hearings on Hurricane Katrina.

He has his eyes on a Virginia senate seat and has said that he wants to run for president someday. As chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, he has immersed himself in the workings of government and is seen as a person who can be bipartisan and very ambitious.

So when I read this Washington Post story — on Davis’ opinion that the political backlash of an overturned Roe v. Wade would not be friendly to suburban Republicans like himself — I can see how the issue of abortion frightens politicians like Davis. They are not at all eager to see Roe overturned. It acts as a stopgap and keeps American politicians from taking a serious stand one way or another on the issue.

This is just another angle that journalists must concern themselves with when writing about abortion and the politics surrounding the issue.

Here’s the summary:

Reversal of the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide could produce an upheaval in U.S. politics and would put candidates who oppose abortion rights at risk of defeat in many parts of the country, a leading House Republican said yesterday.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.), chairman of the Government Reform Committee, said the desire of GOP conservatives to see a newly constituted Supreme Court eventually overturn Roe v. Wade could produce a political backlash, particularly in the suburbs. “It would be a sea change in suburban voting patterns,” Davis said at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Davis’s comments came days after the revelation that Judge Samuel A. Alito Jr., President Bush’s nominee to the Supreme Court, had written in a 1985 memo that he did not believe there was a constitutional right to abortion. Alito has since told senators that those views would not influence his actions if he is confirmed.

But the comments underscored the potential collision between the long-sought goal of religious and cultural conservatives to undo the court’s 1973 abortion rights decision and the political implications for the Republican Party’s aspirations of expanding its majorities in Congress and holding the White House after President Bush’s term ends.

This is not a new concern for moderate Republicans, or a new consolidating thought for liberal Democrats. A few months ago, I read an Atlantic piece on the positive impact of an overturned Roe for Democrats, but because the material is behind a subscriber-only firewall, you’re just going to have to take my word for it.

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Meet C.S. Lewis, pedantic horndog

AdamGopnikEarlier this week, Daniel touched on some newspapers’ breathless “C.S. Lewis had premarital sex” exposes. Some of the comments on his post have mentioned the critique of Lewis in the Nov. 21 New Yorker.

Adam Gopnik’s essay offers the depth of detail readers would expect from The New Yorker, but dwells at tiresome length on Lewis’ sex life. In describing Lewis’ relationships with Janie King Moore and Joy Davidman, Gopnik leaves the impression that they were both married women still living with their husbands when they took to bed with Lewis. (We know that Davidman did. Contrary to Gopnik, we cannot be certain that Lewis and Moore “had a long affair.”)

Gopnik (pictured) does not mention that Lewis was fulfilling a promise to a World War I buddy to look after his widowed mother. (Whether Lewis and Moore ever engaged in a bit of the old non-marital rumpy pumpy is, as some comments on Daniel’s post indicate, not of great interest to Lewis admirers who understand that Lewis did many things before his conversion that he would not have done after it.)

Joy Davidman, in turn, was separated from her husband when she met Lewis, and Lewis left no impression that he was, in Gopnik’s words, “seduced by a married woman” by the time they were wed in a civil ceremony.

But enough about sex, as some of us are at least descended from the British.

Besides, Gopnik also is annoyed by Lewis’s brand of Christian faith. Gopnik depicts Lewis as a victim of that infamous Catholic soul-stalker, J.R.R. Tolkien:

It was through the intervention of the secretive and personally troubled Tolkien, however, that Lewis finally made the turn toward orthodox Christianity. In company with another friend, they took a long, and now famous, walk, on an autumn night in 1931, pacing and arguing from early evening to early morning. Tolkien was a genuinely eccentric character — in college, the inventor of Lothlorien played the part of the humorless pedant — who had been ready to convert Lewis for several years. Lewis was certainly ripe to be converted. The liberal humanism in which he had been raised as a thinker had come to seem far too narrowly Philistine and materialist to account for the intimations of transcendence that came to him on country walks and in pages of poetry. Tolkien, seizing on this vulnerability, said that the obvious-seeming distinction that Lewis made between myth and fact — between intimations of timeless joy and belief in a historically based religion — was a false one.

And so on. (This exceptionally long rant ends with Lewis on the brink of becoming a churchgoer, as if his conversion consisted primarily of faithful pew-warming at the nearest Anglican chapel.)

For Gopnik, Lewis commits the unpardonable modern sin of insisting that there’s such a thing as objective religious truth (and not merely subjective individual religious preference). On this point, Gopnik manages to make the postwar University of Oxford sound like a center of conformist Anglican piety:

Lewis insists that the Anglican creed isn’t one spiritual path among others but the single cosmic truth that extends from the farthest reach of the universe to the house next door. He is never troubled by the funny coincidence that this one staggering cosmic truth also happens to be the established religion of his own tribe, supported by every institution of the state, and reinforced by the university he works in, the “God-fearing and God-sustaining University of Oxford,” as Gladstone called it. But perhaps his leap from myth to Christian faith wasn’t a leap at all, more of a standing hop in place.

Most tellingly, while criticizing Lewis for his allegories, Gopnik shows a breathtaking literalism:

The trouble was that though he could encompass his obsessions, he could not entirely surrender to his imagination. The emotional power of the book, as every sensitive child has known, diminishes as the religious part intensifies. The most explicitly religious part of his myth is the most strenuously, and the least successfully, allegorized. Aslan the lion, the Christ symbol, who has exasperated generations of freethinking parents and delighted generations of worried Anglicans, is, after all, a very weird symbol for that famous carpenter’s son — not just an un-Christian but in many ways an anti-Christian figure.

So much for the Lion of Judah.

Memo to the legendary fact-checkers of The New Yorker: Lewis wrote A Grief Observed, not A Grief Portrayed.

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Who is shouting “God is great”?

allah akbar 2For those of you who are interested, I have a very GetReligion-ish column up today at Poynter.org that deals with some of the themes we have wrestled with on this blog in recent weeks.

It’s called “Shouts in the Fires” and here is how it opens:

Some of the people involved in the fiery riots in France have been shouting “Allahu akbar!”

If you read The Observer in England, you will learn that, “Spirits had been calmed thanks to the intervention of a handful of young men from the mosque, known as les grands-frères, who stood between the rioters and the police, shouting ‘Allahu akbar!’ — ‘God is great.’”

If you read David Warren, in the Ottawa Citizen, you will learn about gangs of street thugs, openly Islamist, whose “war cry, while hurling missiles and setting fires, is ‘Allahou Akbar!’ — ‘God is great!’”

If you use a search engine to scan American newspapers, you will not read about this at all.

It sounds like a crucial detail, to me. I would like someone out there in the mainstream press to answer this question for me, as a journalist who cares about religion news: Who is shouting “Allahu akbar”? Is anyone shouting “Allahu akbar”?

You can comment here or comment at Poynter.

We have moved into a quieter stage of this story, but I do not think that it is going away. Plus, from the journalism point of view, we face the same questions in Jordan, the West Bank, Holland and other places, too.

This is not about trying to assign blame. It’s about providing crucial information. I want to know why some MSM journalists are covering this side of the story and others are not.

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Update on the preacher in black

The folks at CT have an interesting feature online that addresses many issues related to the role of faith in the Walk the Line biopic of June and Johnny Cash.

witherspoon phoenixThe story includes some commentary from director James Mangold, actor Joaquin Phoenix and self-proclaimed church lady (sort of) Reese Witherspoon. Here’s an interesting, to say the least, detail from a post-dinner encounter with the Cashes in their home, beginning with the Johnny and June singing a duet:

The song was “The Far Side Banks of Jordan,” and Phoenix says he was amazed by the “profound sense of love” he witnessed between the Cashes. “And then, moments later, he quoted to me my most sadistic dialogue from Gladiator, saying it was his favorite part of the movie.” (The line: “Your son squealed like a girl when they nailed him to the cross. And your wife moaned like a whore when they ravaged her again and again.”)

Phoenix says the experience encapsulated the two separate forces that lived within Cash: “It really is night and day. You wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. And he seemed to relish that dialogue as much as he relished looking into June’s eyes and singing this song.”

The key, again, seems to be the movie’s timeline. It stops precisely at the moment Cash’s faith revived so strongly. However, it does seem to downplay the tensions about faith, sex, marriage, divorce, fidelity and everything else that so shaped the courtship of June and Johnny.

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A serious look at the Dalai Lama?

dalai lamaI wasn’t sure what to make of the media coverage surrounding the Dalai Lama’s visit to the nation’s capitol. Here The Washington Post has him speaking on the hot button issue that is science, which from a man in his position as a worldwide religious leader, is not only a great way for the Dalai Lama to break into the headlines, but also an interesting cultural twist. Here’s what he had to say:

His talk focused on how he developed his interest in science as a boy in Tibet, within a closed and isolated society, and on his view that morality and compassion are central to science. He pointed out in his prepared text, for instance, that although the atom bomb was great science, it created great moral problems.

“It is no longer adequate to adopt the view that our responsibility as a society is to simply further scientific knowledge and enhance technological power and that the choice of what to do with this knowledge and power should be left in the hands of the individual,” he said.

“By invoking fundamental ethical principles, I am not advocating a fusion of religious ethics and scientific inquiry. Rather, I am speaking of what I call ‘secular ethics’ that embrace the key ethical principles, such as compassion, tolerance, a sense of caring, consideration of others, and the responsible use of knowledge and power — principles that transcend the barriers between religious believers and nonbelievers, and followers of this religion or that religion,” he said.

Here in The San Diego Union-Tribune, the Dalai Lama discussed a “convergence of religion and science” in Palo Alto, Calif. Here’s a snippet:

Instead of a conflict between faith and science, this was a virtual love fest.

William Mobley, director of the Neuroscience Institute, put the conference together because he said both neuroscience and Buddhism strive to alleviate suffering.

“Both pursue knowledge about the brain and mind,” he said. “They just go about it differently. I think we have something to learn from each other.”

The Dalai Lama, one of the most ardent supporters of science among religious leaders, often says that if science proves facts that conflict with Buddhist understanding, then Buddhism must change accordingly.

The mainstream media love this guy. He can speak their language and understands what hot-button issues to steer around and what issues to declare he is firmly for or against. Here’s to the first mainstream journalist who will take a critical look at exactly what the Dalai Lama is teaching.

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Yet another festival of Roman balloons

hot air balloons in sandiego DI am still on the road in the Los Angeles area and struggling to catch up, while also enjoying reading — for better and for worse — the Los Angeles Times each morning on dead tree pulp. I have many stories backed up to mention and will do what I can to keep posting this week.

Meanwhile, let me once again spotlight one of the — to me — most fascinating stories out there, especially if you are interested in watching the press try to handle on organization that has mastered the art of, yes, the trial balloon.

Check out these phrases, drawn from yet another MSM attempt to figure out what the Vatican is up to with its still mysterious document on the ordination of homosexual men to the priesthood. This report by Tracy Wilkinson had another one of those dry yet yearning headlines: “Vatican to Define Its Policy on Gay Seminarians.” Yes, we know. Someday the Vatican will do that, but as for now we are left with:

VATICAN CITY — The Vatican is preparing to release a document, years in the making, that will bolster the Roman Catholic Church’s doctrine against admitting gay men into the priesthood.

“Is preparing to…” Yes, we know that.

Despite an acute shortage of Catholic priests in many parts of the world, church leaders under Pope Benedict XVI are advocating a more careful screening of aspiring clerics to keep out homosexuals. However, rather than an absolute ban feared in some circles, the pope is expected to adopt a somewhat more nuanced approach in the final document.

“A more careful screening … the pope is expected to … a somewhat more nuanced … in the final document.” What can you say? How many balloons can one put in a single sentence? But wait! It’s time for a full-scape riot of balloons (to mangle a metaphor), an almost “we don’t have the story, but lots of people are telling us lots of things” festival of second- and third-tier attributions. This is long and I will mark (with italics) most of the fun parts:

The new instructions, expected to be issued with Benedict’s approval this month, will update a 1961 prohibition on gays entering seminaries. That ban declared that men of “homosexual tendency” were “not fit” to be ordained.

But indications are that the new document, which will set out more specific guidelines intended to enforce a rule that everyone agrees has often been ignored, also will leave a small degree of flexibility or discretion.

The final document has not been made public, and the clerics who drafted it have not spoken publicly on its contents, following the Vatican practice of avoiding comment until the pope has formally published any new instructions. Consequently, the precise language remains unknown, and in Vatican documents even the most minor inflections of language can make a world of difference.

Still, the most reliable reports suggest the following strictures will be included: Men who have been celibate for at least three years, regardless of their sexual orientation, would be eligible to be admitted to seminaries. In addition to celibacy, they should not participate in a “gay lifestyle,” including the use of books, movies and Internet sites with gay content or themes. Nor should they join related political activities, such as pride marches.

Bravo! I think we get the picture. There are still major problems with the document. Bishops in the chilly West are almost certainly divided and some simply plan to ignore the document anyway. Rome is getting pounded on by the leaders of major religious orders and seminaries. You get the picture, kind of.

Yes, I still think there are more balloons ahead. We’re getting closer to the vague document that is ahead. Maybe.

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Meanwhile, back at the Air Force Academy

v4n2 03jOK, so everyone remembers where GetReligion stands on the Air Force Academy story, right? We back free speech. Chaplains do not have to edit their own faith, especially in meetings that students choose to attend. Religious groups have the same rights as secular groups, when it comes to using emails, posters, public announcements and all of that.

Religious believers have a right to discuss their faith with others. The nonbelievers have a right to tell them to shut up. If believers keep at it, you throw the book at them. Right?

This brings us to the latest Alan Cooperman report in The Washington Post, in which the anti-proselytizing police have latched onto a fundraising letter from the well-known — at least to most people who know any evangelical Protestants at all — prayer and evangelism group called The Navigators.

It seems that this Colorado Springs-based organization is training cadets how to share their faith. Shocking. It also seems that the group has an office on the grounds of the Air Force Academy. This is something like learning that the Mormons have classes to teach people foreign languages and how to remove stains from white shirts.

In Cooperman’s breathless report the scandal of it all sounds something like this:

A private missionary group has assigned a pair of full-time Christian ministers to the U.S. Air Force Academy, where they are training cadets to evangelize among their peers, according to a confidential letter to supporters.

The letter makes clear that the organized evangelization effort has continued this year despite an outcry over alleged proselytizing at the academy that has prompted a Pentagon investigation, congressional hearings, a civil lawsuit and new Air Force guidelines on religion.

“Praise God that we have been allowed access by the Academy into the cadet areas to minister among the cadets. We have recently been given an unused classroom to meet with cadets at any time during the day,” the husband-and-wife team of Darren and Gina Lindblom said in the Oct. 11 letter to their donors.

This raises some questions, of course. But here is the big one: The Navigators, and many other religious groups, do this kind of work on campuses — state and private — all over the place. Under equal access laws, prayer groups and Bible studies are even held on public-school campuses, to the same degree as each school allows other student groups to use these facilities. The state is, in other words, not allowed to practice viewpoint discrimination.

So the question Cooperman needs to ask, concerning this Navigators rampage, is this: Are there any other student groups at the academy? Do they meet to discuss things like the environment, Islam, Jane Austen, NASCAR, skiing or other subjects of interest? Have other groups — religious or secular — been denied a similar use of facilities? Are the meetings voluntary?

If The Navigators have a unique arrangement, in comparison with secular student groups, then this is a scandal. If not, then repeat after me: “View-point dis-crim-i-na-tion.”

And by the way: When does The Washington Post plan to begin quoting church-state experts on the right as well as the left, to seek some kind of balance in its coverage on this issue?

What am I talking about? There are folks on the church-state left who could ask and answer the relevant questions in this case.

If The Navigators have claimed turf that other secular and religious groups have been denied, then book ’em. Otherwise, this is another case in which the answer to free speech is more free speech. The answer to freedom of association is freedom of association. Equal access is equal access.

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Missing Lewis

narnia2In a preemptive strike against Aslan and his fans, The New York Times has launched an attack today against the mind behind the Land of Narnia.

While I enjoyed Charles McGrath’s article for its freshness and willingness to depart from the standard C.S. Lewis script, he doesn’t provide any new information and simply repeats some of the speculation presented by A.N. Wilson, author of C.S. Lewis: A Biography (Norton, 1990).

McGrath devotes six paragraphs of his article to speculation surrounding Lewis’s relationship with a Mrs. Moore, also known as Minto. McGrath goes as far to call Wilson “the best and most persuasive of Lewis’s biographers,” and states that “there’s no reason at all to think they didn’t [sleep together], leaving us with the baffling and disquieting psychological picture of C.S. Lewis, the great scholar and writer and Christian apologist-to-be, pedaling off on his bicycle, his academic gown flapping in the wind, to have a nooner with Mum.” Here’s the crux of the subject:

For more than 40 years, he lived with the mother of a friend named Edward Moore, with whom he had made one of those earnest World War I pacts: if anything happened to either of them, the other would take care of his friend’s family. In the event, it was Moore who died, while Lewis came down with trench fever and was later wounded, not severely but badly enough that he was sent home.

Lewis, then 20, went to Oxford in January 1919, but he kept his word and moved Mrs. Moore and her daughter, Maureen, to lodgings nearby. In those days, for an Oxford undergraduate to spend the night away from his college, let alone spend it with a woman, was a serious offense, and so Lewis embarked upon a double life, spending the week in college and weekends and vacations with Maureen and Mrs. Moore, or Minto, as she was known. The arrangement persisted for the rest of Minto’s life, long after Lewis earned his degree and became a don.

In 1930, he and Minto bought a house together, and Lewis’s brother, Warnie, a career army officer whose excessive drinking had forced him into early retirement, moved in. But during the term, Lewis still slept in his rooms at Magdalen College. Many of his friends didn’t even know about Minto; others had the vague impression that she was his stepmother.

The exact nature of their relationship is something that many of Lewis’s biographers would prefer to tiptoe around. But Lewis was far from a sexual innocent, and the evidence strongly suggests that, at least until he got religion, there was an erotic component to his life with Minto. Did they actually sleep together, this earnest, scholarly young man, conventional in almost every other way, and a woman 26 years his senior? Walter Hooper, the editor of Lewis’s “Collected Letters,” thinks it “not improbable.” A.N. Wilson, the best and most persuasive of Lewis’s biographers, argues that there’s no reason at all to think they didn’t, leaving us with the baffling and disquieting psychological picture of C.S. Lewis, the great scholar and writer and Christian apologist-to-be, pedaling off on his bicycle, his academic gown flapping in the wind, to have a nooner with Mum.

The true authoritative Lewis biographer, George Sayer, in his Jack: A Life of C.S. Lewis (Crossway, 1994), deals with the psychobabble presented by Wilson. Since he knew Lewis closely through this years and talked to others who lived at the house at the time, he is fairly certain that the relationship was innocent.

The NYT piece also fails to even mention when Lewis converted to Christianity. Such a significant event in a person’s life surely deserves at least a mention.

This then leads to a disturbing speculation by McGrath, that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe was motivated by some Freudian, drunken, crazy man whose wardrobe symbolizes something a little more disturbing than a place where you put your coats and scarves. Fortunately, McGrath rejects that speculation:

But if in fact there is a psychological explanation for how the books came to be, it is probably a good deal simpler. Lewis was at the time so despondent and worn down, so weary of the world of grown-ups, with their bedpans and whiskey bottles, that he must have longed for a holiday in a land of make-believe.

Lewis later claimed that in writing the Narnia books, he “put in what I would have liked to read when I was a child and what I still like reading now that I am in my 50′s.” Children’s literature — the notion of books written specifically to be read to or by young people — was a Victorian invention, and Lewis as a child was shaped by a typically Victorian reading list. With the indiscrimination that so troubled Tolkien, he cannibalized much of it for “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Here’s the NYT elevating speculation on a man’s life that belongs in the gutter. Can’t it find a more serious angle on the man who is still considered the most prominent Christian writer in the last 100 years? How about the discussion that we could have regarding why Lewis has not been replaced and passed up by another?

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