Through the eyes of believers

st. patrick's church The New York Times tells a story of life after Katrina in New Orleans through the eyes of the faithful, who are attempting to rebuild their lives. Leaving behind the Gray Lady’s usual snarky attitude, Jennifer Medina explores the religious lives of believers who are struggling to regain what used to be everyday routines:

Despite the sparse attendance, Mass at St. Patrick’s was among the signs that life was returning to near normality in some areas of New Orleans. Thousands of residents who had fled Hurricane Katrina began returning to the area this weekend, most of them to homes relatively unscathed.

At St. Louis Cathedral in the heart of the French Quarter, Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes offered Mass for the first time since the storm hit more than a month ago. The overflowing crowd included hundreds of local worshipers as well as police officers, members of the National Guard and dozens of other rescue workers.

“Some of us still suffer from shock, from fear, from devastation, from depression, from anger,” Archbishop Hughes said. “But that is not the last word,” he added. “We in New Orleans are a people of faith.”

The article paints an accurate picture so true to the scene that it includes the not so unexpected frustration the parishioners experienced due to the media attention the service received:

News cameras crowded around the church, annoying some of the residents who had come seeking solace. A sign that prohibited taking photographs during Mass was ignored for the day.

“I just want to hear the Word and go home,” said Larry Bastian, 38, who moved to a new apartment after his home in New Orleans East was destroyed. “I have a job here, but no family, no friends. They are all gone. So here I am, tired and lonely.”

Amid all the gloom and doom, I found this forward-looking story a change of pace from what we’ve been seeing since the Gulf Coast was devastated.

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It’s Kristol clear: the Right is mad

Shark JumpI think it is safe to say, at this point, that the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court has created an explosion, but not where people expected. To one degree or another, cultural conservatives are either furious or they are offering some of the most interesting intellectual tap-dancing that you have ever seen. One way to tune this in is over at World magazine’s blog, where Marvin Olasky is letting people sound off.

But you can also judge the reaction by attempting — go ahead, I dare you — to get The Weekly Standard home page to load on your computer screen. Bill Kristol has written a piece so angry and blunt that the Standard‘s servers have been straining to keep up with the demand all day. Here is the link again.

Meanwhile, since it is quite short, I think I will do what Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher did at the Dallas Morning News blog and simply post the text of Kristol’s entire commentary:

I’M DISAPPOINTED, depressed and demoralized.

I’m disappointed because I expected President Bush to nominate someone with a visible and distinguished constitutionalist track record — someone like Maura Corrigan, Alice Batchelder, Edith Jones, Priscilla Owen, or Janice Rogers Brown — to say nothing of Michael Luttig, Michael McConnell, or Samuel Alito. Harriet Miers has an impressive record as a corporate attorney and Bush administration official. She has no constitutionalist credentials that I know of.

I’m depressed. Roberts for O’Connor was an unambiguous improvement. Roberts for Rehnquist was an appropriate replacement. But moving Roberts over to the Rehnquist seat meant everything rode on this nomination — and that the president had to be ready to fight on constitutional grounds for a strong nominee. Apparently, he wasn’t. It is very hard to avoid the conclusion that President Bush flinched from a fight on constitutional philosophy. Miers is undoubtedly a decent and competent person. But her selection will unavoidably be judged as reflecting a combination of cronyism and capitulation on the part of the president.

I’m demoralized. What does this say about the next three years of the Bush administration — leaving aside for a moment the future of the Court? Surely this is a pick from weakness. Is the administration more broadly so weak? What are the prospects for a strong Bush second term? What are the prospects for holding solid GOP majorities in Congress in 2006 if conservatives are demoralized? And what elected officials will step forward to begin to lay the groundwork for conservative leadership after Bush?

There is that big “C” word again and it is not “conservative.” It’s cronyism. People on the right are asking if this is the final sign that President George W. Bush has jumped the shark. Here is a key question: What do the cultural conservatives think that Bush should do, not what he has made this announcement? Hold lots of secret private meetings to describe this stealth candidate? Roll her born-again credentials out in a public display? What happens now?

Over on the other side of the aisle, you can read the official Bush v. Choice blog at NARAL, which should keep the links coming on the left. It is interesting that Sen. Harry Reid is sounding content, if not quietly happy. Ah, but does he know about the nominee’s church? I wish I could tell you more about Valley View Christian Church, but its servers are now getting pounded so hard that the home page will not load on either of my work computers.

But when I can get back in there, I will let you know what I have found. I also hope that my partners weigh in here on what they are seeing in the foreign press and in the websites for the magazines. It is going to be a wild 24 hours.

P.S. On the earlier Exodus item — Ex-Gay Watch says Miers worked for the mainline post-prison ministry, not the ministry for those struggling to change their sexual behavior. Andrew Sullivan is breathing easier, sort of, as he reads the rage over at and elsewhere. (Oh, hi Andrew!)

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Attention Andrew Sullivan

exodusWell now, this might create some sparks.

In introducing Harriet Miers, President Bush noted:

Harriet has also earned a reputation for her deep compassion and abiding sense of duty. In Texas, she made it her mission to support better legal representation for the poor and under-served. As president of the Dallas Bar, she called on her fellow lawyers to volunteer and staff free neighborhood clinics. She led by example. She put in long hours of pro bono work. Harriet Miers has given generously of her time and talent by serving as a leader with more than a dozen community groups and charities, including the Young Women’s Christian Association, Child Care Dallas, Goodwill Industries, Exodus Ministries, Meals on Wheels and the Legal Aid Society.

The question that many people — on the lifestyle left and right — will want answered is this one: Is it this Exodus or this Exodus Ministries in Dallas?

I predict it is the latter. The former option — a ministry to those seeking a way out of homosexual behavior — would not go over very well with GOP folks out at the country club.

BTW, for a Dallas Morning News profile, click here. You will notice that readers learn absolutely nothing that would interest anyone at Focus on the Family or NARAL Pro-Choice America. Frankly, there isn’t much there that would interest anyone who lives in Dallas.

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Hear those cheers? Me neither

bomb dudAWell, everyone in town is reading tea leaves and watching for sparks. Over on the Religious Right, that sound you hear is everyone grinding their teeth and trying, trying not to say out loud: Harriet Miers is single? Isn’t Justice David Souter single? She is highly dedicated to her mother? Wasn’t Souter said to be highly dedicated to his mother? Still, some mainstream evangelicals are holding the fort — like Chuck Colson. Ditto for Jay Sekulow and Co.

So many conservatives are not happy. You can follow many of the reactions today on the right over at National Review Online’s Bench Memos blog. David Frum is ticked. We are beginning to hear more and more conservatives using a very nasty word — crony. This is now coming from the right as often as from the left.

Some say she is very soft and will float with the Beltway tide to the left. Some say she is pro-life and others have doubts. So Miers is a very conservative Catholic? Says who? She donated money to U.S. Sen. Al Gore? Huh?

Meanwhile, Andrew Sullivan says:

Think of her as a very capable indentured servant of the Bush family. She’ll do what they want. She’ll be a very, very tough nut to crack in the hearings. And I have no idea about her judicial philosophy. But I imagine that’s the point. When I described her as a flunky last July, a source close to Bush told me: “Don’t mess with Harriet.” I think they’ve found someone whose personal loyalty to Bush exceeds even Gonzales’. And in some ways, I see this very personal, very crony appointment to be a response to being told he couldn’t pick his main man, Alberto. Harriet is his main woman. I reserve judgment on her fitness to serve on the court.

Sen. Bill Frist has a stunningly strange lead on his comments (see this and many other reactions at The Washington Post‘s court blog), suggesting as some have said that Miers is what some say she is — a person the Democrats had pledged not to slime. Or perhaps it is that she is not on the list of women or minorities the Democrats had promised to slime or something like that. Can’t you feel the enthusiasm in this Frist sentence?

This morning, after a bipartisan and inclusive consultation process, President Bush nominated Harriet Miers as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States.

Much more to come, I am sure. Meanwhile, watch this space.

UPDATED: Once again, the blogs are the place to be today. Over at the influential conservative magazine World, editor Marvin “compassionate conservative” Olasky is running a series of short pieces on Miers that includes some interesting original reporting hours out in front of the MSM pack.

Three cheers for this new information. His readers are very divided. You should give it a look. It also seems that she was raised Roman Catholic (can’t find a clear affirmation on that), and Olasky says she now is part of the Valley View Christian Church. If you study the site, this appears to be an independent Christian congregation from the center or right of the Independent Christian Churches. I know that crowd pretty well, since I taught for six years at Milligan College. This crowd can be anything from left of center Protestant to mainstream evangelical. It is very non-creedal and it strictly avoids stands on social issues, unless the all-powerful local congregation chooses to do otherwise.

A key source for Olasky’s info is Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, who has served as an elder in this church. It seems that he, like Miers, never married and they have dated in the past. Yes, friends, expect questions at the hearings about all of this — somehow.

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Can the MSM handle abortion compromise?

Mushroom10 1As we prepare to get into our bunkers before the next nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court, I urge you to jump back into last week’s waves of coverage and read a fine Los Angeles Times piece by David G. Savage about the roots of all this controversy, which is, of course, about abortion, abortion and abortion.

The Savage piece was titled “Roe Ruling: More Than Its Author Intended.” The big idea of this story is that, as a new justice on the court, Harry A. Blackmun’s goal was to produce a ruling that would allow compromise on the subject of abortion.

Note — his goal was to allow compromise, through what he claimed would be a reform of laws affecting this issue. But this was not what he would produce. Thus, Roe v. Wade would turn into a story with a completely different ending. Here is Savage:

It is the story of a rookie justice, unsure of himself and his abilities, who set out to write a narrow ruling that would reform abortion laws, not repeal them. It is also the story of a sometimes rudderless court led by Chief Justice Warren Burger. On the day the ruling was announced, Burger said, “Plainly, the court today rejects any claim that the Constitution requires abortion on demand.”

Blackmun proposed to issue a news release to accompany the decision, issued Jan. 22, 1973. “I fear what the headlines may be,” he wrote in a memo. His statement, never issued, emphasized that the court was not giving women “an absolute right to abortion,” nor was it saying that the “Constitution compels abortion on demand.”

In reality, the court did just that.

Instead, Roe became a legal earthquake that, in addition to warping both major political parties, effectively vetoed any attempts by any legislature anywhere to produce any political compromise that would forbid any abortions. Today, the small percentage of Americans who want abortion on demand claim that even a ban on late third-trimester abortions would be a complete loss of the rights protected by Roe.

So this raises a question, one that I have raised before here at GetReligion. Will Roe have to fall in order for a bipartisan coalition to produce compromise legislation on abortion that would actually represent the viewpoints of most Americans? Let me repeat what I have written before, because the MSM will determine how this is debated:

If opposing abortion on demand is the stance of radical conservatives who are out of the mainstream (even if they are Democrats) and defending abortion on demand is the stance of moderates (and even of sane conservatives), then what is the stance of liberals and progressives on this complex issue?

I ask this because it is very hard to find political compromises on this kind of hot-button issue when the principalities and powers of public discourse — that would be the MSM — have already decided that the middle ground is occupied.

Savage’s piece is a rare example of mainstream journalism that actually gets the facts right on this.

Roe made compromise impossible. What the majority of Americans want is compromise. Thus, Roe must fall in order for compromise to take place. Roe must fall for the moderate center to get its muddled and inconsistent way. That’s America.

Will the left be happy about that? Will the right be happy about that? Savage has the numbers straight.

Today, as in the early 1970s, the American public appears to have decidedly mixed views on abortion. In a Gallup poll in May, for instance, only 23% of those surveyed said abortion should be “legal under any circumstances,” the rule set by Roe vs. Wade. Only 22% said abortion should be “illegal in all circumstances,” the rule that could take effect in many states if the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

The largest group — 53% — said abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances.”

Think about those numbers as the nuclear explosions begin (let a thousand fundraising letters bloom) next week inside the Beltway.

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Dolly Parton, call your agent

dice2Thanks to blogger Jon Swerens, who has found this story on Mississippi’s debate about rebuilding casinos on land, on water or at all. The story touches on the religion angle of this debate, but in a regrettable parade of characters from central casting, Bible Belt division:

Religious leaders carried signs and shouted about the evils of gambling outside the Capitol on Tuesday as hordes of casino execs, Coast leaders and lobbyists courted lawmakers inside.

Hurricane Katrina is spawning a new storm, this one political, as Mississippi lawmakers in special session ponder whether to let destroyed casinos rebuild on dry land instead of the floating barges to which they were previously restricted.

“I’m here representing my lord and savior, Jesus Christ,” the Rev. Kendall Boutwell of Brookhaven told the House Gaming Committee at the start of a lengthy hearing. Boutwell said gamblers are covetous, in violation of the 10th commandment, and are idolaters.

“What do you suggest we do about the thousands of people displaced, without jobs, from that industry?” Rep. Leonard Bentz, R-Biloxi, asked Boutwell.

Boutwell responded that the Coast should create more wholesome tourist attractions, like Dollywood.

Reporter Geoff Pender of The Sun Herald‘s capital bureau summarizes the clash this way: “Mississippi, with its Bible Belt roots, and its Legislature have had an uneasy relationship with casino gambling.”

I cannot fault Pender for reporting what he witnessed — including signs, shouting and invocations of Dollywood — but to reduce opposition to gambling to “Bible Belt roots” is to miss a far more complicated and interesting story.

For decades, opposition to gambling has been one issue on which conservative and liberal believers have worked together.

About the art: Dice, posted by RobW on Flickr (Creative Commons Deed).

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From India to Indiana

frontView2A story on the growth of the Hindu population in my hometown of Indianapolis caught my eye the other day, and while I don’t have a lot of thoughts on it, other than sharing tmatt’s opinion that it was a nice change of pace, I wanted to bring it up before the weekend.

While the $1.3 million building is still under construction, I was able to find, on the Hindu Temple of Central Indiana’s website, a drawing of what the temple will look like. It’s quite a change of pace for a Midwestern city that sees modern-style churches constructed on what seems like a monthly basis.

The Indianapolis Star‘s Robert King report is straight up and contains a brief summary of the Hindu faith. Here’s how it begins:

Jagdish Dave remembers when the entire Hindu population of Indianapolis consisted of fewer than a dozen families.

The semiretired engineer from the Northside says the best way for new arrivals to find other Hindus was to search out Indian names in the phone book. Eager to forge a connection, these newcomers would introduce themselves to dark-skinned Asians they might happen across on the street.

Today, some four decades later, the Hindu community of Indianapolis has grown to nearly 3,000 families, still small but large enough for it to build the state’s first Hindu temple, on the Far Eastside. The temple, Hindus hope, will serve as a place for worship as well as a showpiece to educate the broader Indianapolis community about their culture.

While the Indian community here includes Muslims, Sikhs and Christians, it is heavily influenced by a Hindu base.

Ultimately, plans call for a structure that is quite impressive. Once the first phase is complete, the temple will have 11,000 square feet of space, but much more is planned.

A wide stone staircase will rise to an elevated colonnade. Distinctive Indian-style towers called gopuarms will project into the sky. In the front of the building, a pair of three-dimensional elephant murals on each side of the staircase will give the illusion they are pulling the entire structure like a grand chariot.

Inside, 12 Hindu deities — shaped in metal or carved from granite or marble — will reside in specially made “houses” inside the temple.

“It will be very unique,” Dave said. “This is a very exciting time for us to share our culture.”

In my 20 years in Indianapolis, I never saw any structure that comes close to this in its uniqueness and size. How things are changing in the Hoosier state.

And yes, I shamelessly copied the title of this post from the Star story. It was just too good to not use!

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God, libraries and Harry Potter

GobletAs GetReligion readers may know, I am starting to get interested in podcasting (in this post-Katrina era of crowded commuter trains). One of my favorites is the weekly Pottercast program put out by the fanatics at The Leaky Cauldron. This week’s episode (No. 6) is linked to the annual Banned Books emphasis by the American Library Association.

Listening to the show reminded me of a recent piece from The Chronicle of Higher Education that was sent to me by the most excellent librarian who is my wife. It’s titled “The Loneliness of a Conservative Librarian” and it was written by David Durant, head of the government documents and microforms desk at East Carolina University. At first glance, this seems to be an article about politics. Durant writes:

The problem is not that most librarians have liberal or leftist views. It is that the overwhelming prevalence of such views has created a politicized atmosphere of groupthink and even intolerance, in which left-wing politics permeate the library profession and are almost impossible to avoid. . . .

The solution is not to replace left-wing with right-wing politicization. Rather it is to leave politics to the individual. Just as we should collect and provide access to materials representing a broad range of beliefs, we should welcome diverse viewpoints within our profession.

And so forth and so on. It seems that ALA meetings may, in the near future, turn into Michael Moore film festivals.

Like I said, this sounds political. But when you listen to the Pottercast, you realize that — at the local level — the conflicts between librarians and their conservative patrons are almost always about (wait for it) — sex, salvation and, OK, some people would say Satanism. The entire story of the challenges to the Harry Potter books is built on the distrust that exists between the powers that be in public libraries and conservative parents.

But there is more to this story than “banned books.” If journalists want to cover this story, I suggest that they dig a bit deeper. Once again, there are interesting people on both sides of these debates. A few years ago, I had a chance to cover Nimbus 2003 — a global Potter studies festival — and I was surprised to find that the two largest flocks in the hallways were real-life witches (Wiccans and druids, mostly) and, believe it or not, evangelical Christians (many homeschool moms). It was interesting watching them study each other before and after the main sessions.

With that scene in mind, I wrote the Pottercast staff a letter. I offer it here, in case it might interest any journalists who are thinking about doing Banned Book Week stories or follow-up reports on faith and the Potter books.


I wanted to make a comment or two about your Banned Books Podcast.

First of all, please know that I am a mainstream journalist who covers religion and church-state issues; the husband of a librarian; a life-long Democrat; and the father of two children who has, after some initial skepticism, read all of the Potter books to them myself — in part because of JKR’s highly intelligent use of traditional Christian images, names and themes. I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian, although I was raised Southern Baptist. Art and reading are crucial in our home.

Now, a few quick comments. Much of the protest about the Harry Potter books is, in my opinion, uninformed and knee jerk. Yes, they should read the books and even some of the books about the books, on both sides of the argument.

You should know, however, that there are millions of dedicated Rowling readers out there in church pews — something you have never addressed in your Podcasts. It is wrong to leave your listeners with the impression that, when it comes to things Harry, the world is divided into smart secular people and stupid religious people. You also need to know that many people, when they talk about Banned Books, tend to forget:

* To consider a different form of banning, which is the issue of books that librarians — acting on their own biases — never purchase in the first place. What shape might this bias take? As New York Times columnist David Brooks has noted, in the months leading up to the 2004 election “the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations” by librarians “was a whopping 223 to 1.”

Now, I am not all that interested in the political implications of this. What I wonder about are the religious and cultural implications. What percentage of the best-selling religious books in America never make it to library shelves or are never given multiple-copy status (even with millions of copies being sold across the nation)? What controversial books by cultural conservatives never make it to shelves and are, thus, banned books of a different stripe?

* That many parents do not fear the presence of objectionable books in libraries. They fear that tax-funded professionals will deliberately undercut parental authority. In a school context, they fear that children will be required to read objectionable books — with no alternatives given.

Many parents do not want to ban books. They want alternatives. Try to imagine public school teachers and librarians deliberately assigning objectionable books to, let’s say, Muslim parents. Try to imagine an educator assigning a Unitarian kid a book by, let’s say, Pat Robertson.

Parents have rights. They do not have the right to ban books for other people’s children. No way. But parents should be able to trust librarians and teachers not to actively attack the values taught in their home.

So I would urge you to open up your Podcasts to more points of view, not fewer. I would urge the people who organize the Banned Books events to be open to more points of view (and more books), not fewer.

The bottom line: Liberials can ban books, too, especially if they are in charge of library budgets.

So let’s hear a cheer for diversity and intellectual freedom — beginning in libraries.

Oh, and if Sirius Black died in the (using alchemical terms) black book, and Albus (white) Dumbledore died in the white book, who might die in the RED, or final, sacrificial stage of the alchemical process? Rubeus (Latin for “red”) Hagrid? Someone in a family that is, well, rather red-oriented? Just asking.

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