Easter season, check … Chip away at basic beliefs, check

You know all of those news articles you see published every year at Ramadan that ask if Muhammad really heard from the archangel Gabriel?

No? Well, how about all the stories each Divali that cast doubt on the goddess Lakshmi’s ability to bless her worshipers?

No? Then how about those articles for Eastertime questioning whether Jesus really did rise from the dead?

Ding Ding Ding Ding Ding!

Yep, those come out every year.

Case in point: a feature in the Washington Post on how divisive is this central tenet of the holiest day of Christianity.

The story, actually from the Religion News Service, sets up the resurrection almost as a straw man. First it briefly states the doctrine; then the next four paragraphs try to chip away at it.

It’s “the source of some of the deepest rifts in Christianity,” the story says — “and a stumbling block for some Christians, and more than a few skeptics.” Then it questions whether the doctrine is really that important:

Did Jesus literally come back from the dead in a bodily resurrection, as many traditionalist and conservative Christians believe? Or was his rising a symbolic one — a restoration of his spirit of love and compassion to the world, as members of some more liberal brands of Christianity hold?

As Easter approaches, many Christians struggle with how to understand the Resurrection. How literally must one take the Gospel story of Jesus’ triumph to be called a Christian? Can one understand the Resurrection as a metaphor — perhaps not even believe it happened at all — and still claim to be a follower of Christ?

When a story poses rhetorical questions favoring one side, you get a strong feeling that the tracks have already been laid for this train.

The article tries to argue that the doctrine of a physical resurrection keeps some people from celebrating Easter:

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Was the New York Times Easter error no big deal?

The New York Times has been taking quite a bit of heat for its shockingly erroneous understanding of Christianity. Earlier this week, it published a brief story about Pope Francis’ Easter message and went on to say that “Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus, three days after he was crucified, the premise for the Christian belief in an everlasting life.”

Now, there are many things wrong with that line, as my kindergartner could tell you.

I thought my write-up of the piece was pretty mild. But reader Joshua wrote:

Ok, I understand the error and the argument of how egregious the difference in meanings are, but … call me crazy, I don’t understand the effusive, scornful finger-pointing hoopla over it. It’s not a religious newspaper, and errors happen.

And reader Jeffrey Weiss, well known as a religion-news beat professional, wrote:

Even Homer nods, as the saying goes, and even LeBron tosses the occasional airball. I’d not be quite so fast to dump the NYT for what is a bonehead mistake. For those of you of a particular religious tilt: It’s a human institution and all such are inevitably fallen, yes? Even in these reduced times, I’d put the Times record of accuracy up against most of the rest of the world. Surely tens of thousands of facts a day. In this case, the story showed up on a holiday, of course, where the editing crew is likely skeletal. People who really know Easter probably weren’t working. That’s not an excuse, of course. It’s a major unforced error.

Because I’m a human who errs with alarming frequency, I’m inclined to be understanding and I sure do love how Weiss puts the best construction on the folks working the Easter shift at the Times. And yet I am not sure I agree. Anyone who has gone through a New York Times editing process knows that there really are layers and layers of fact-checking and it boggles the mind that the error could have been made by a Vatican reporter, much less made it through that editing process on the way to press.

The Canadian scribe and human-rights activist Mark Steyn wondered — as relates to the correction and the initial mistake — “How could any expensively credentialed J-school grad type those words?“:

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All hope is not lost: Easter in America’s newspapers

That New York Times doozie-of-a-correction notwithstanding, many American journalists understand exactly what Easter means for Christians.

That fact was evident in some of the exceptional enterprise stories that graced leading front pages on Sunday.

Eight of my favorites (in random order):

1. Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote about a parish’s ministry to the poor resonating on Easter:

Easter is the oldest and most important Christian celebration. It marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion. But more symbolically, Easter represents for Christians a procession — through Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection — from death to new life.

“When we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are also celebrating our own resurrection,” said the Rev. Bruce Forman, Sts. Peter and Paul’s pastor since 1990. “In our lives, we have smaller deaths and resurrections. We die to selfishness, anger and resentment. And when we overcome those things, we discover that something new happens.”

2. Tim Funk of the Charlotte Observer shared the emotional story of a liver transplant bringing new life:

DAVIDSON — On this Sunday morning, when more than a billion Christians celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, Easter’s promise of new life will have special meaning for the Rev. Lib McGregor Simmons and her 1,400-member congregation as they march into the sanctuary singing “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”

For Simmons, the bleakest moment of the year came on Jan. 20, as she conducted the funeral for a 97-year-old member of her flock at Davidson College Presbyterian Church.

“It’s very likely,” she told herself during the service, “that my husband’s funeral will be the next one.”

Gary Simmons was only 63. But unless he got a new liver soon, he had only months, maybe weeks, to live.

3. Renee Elder of the Raleigh News and Observer focused on the rebirth of faith and hope for one family:

CLAYTON — As Christians gather to observe Easter and the resurrection of Christ, the Blackmon family of Clayton has another rebirth to celebrate: their baby daughter Sofie’s second chance at life.

During Sunday morning services, parents Melissa and Brent Blackmon will speak at the Church at Clayton Crossings, giving thanks for the congregation’s many prayers and gestures of support through Sofie’s ordeal. They also will tell their own story of faith and how it grew – even as hope seemed dim for the life of their youngest child.

4. Mary Niederberger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette highlighted an agreement between Episcopalians and Anglicans to allow a homeless ministry to continue:

When Leonard Williams attends the Easter service today at Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, an Anglican church for the homeless in Uptown, like Christians everywhere he will be celebrating the resurrection of Christ from the tomb.

But Mr. Williams, 53, and others who attend Shepherd’s Heart also will be celebrating the new life that has been breathed into their church after a recent significant agreement between Pittsburgh’s Episcopal and Anglican dioceses. A long-running conflict in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh resulted in a 2008 split, with many of the churches leaving and creating the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh,linked to the theologically conservative Anglican Church in North America.

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