Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology -- and the lives of women

Washington Post digs into ISIS 'ideology' -- not theology  -- and the lives of women

No matter what else is going on in the world, the Islamic State is still out there attacking cities and seizing territory, constantly striving to create its new version of a heaven on earth, which in this case is called a "caliphate."

By definition, a caliphate is an Islamic state led by a "caliph." So what precisely is a "caliph"?

A typical definition offered by a Western dictionary defines this term as:

* an important Muslim political and religious leader
* a successor of Muhammad as temporal and spiritual head of Islam -- used as a title

So a caliph is both a political and religious leader, quite literally a man who is claiming to be a "successor of Muhammad."

Now, with that in mind let's look at a key passage in a new Washington Post story -- " 'Till Martyrdom Do Us Part" -- about the lives of woman inside the territory controlled by ISIS. This includes women who have volunteered to be part of the Islamic State, as well as those who have been kidnapped. This story is part of an ongoing Post series about life inside the caliphate.

Let me stress that this feature is quite well reported, which is amazing in light of the restraints under which reporters are working when attempting to cover the Islamic State. Much of the attributed information is based on ISIS social media and, I found this amazing, Skype conversations with people living inside the caliphate.

Then there is this summary material that serves as a kind of thesis statement:

In the Islamic State’s ideology, a woman’s place is in the home, tending to her husband and producing children.

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Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

Jewish lives matter: BBC, Al-Jazeera slammed for headlines on Palestinian attack

The Times of Israel and the Israeli government went GetReligion on two networks -- BBC and Al-Jazeera -- for their mishandling of an attack on Jews in Jerusalem and the counterattack by Israeli police.

The drama began on Saturday evening, when a teen stabbed three people in Jerusalem, killing two and wounding the third.  Police shot the attacker at the scene. BBC then outraged many Israelis, including Israeli media, with its headline: "Palestinian shot dead after Jerusalem attack kills two." Sounded like the shooting had nothing to do with the attack. And that it mattered that the shooting victim was Palestinian but not that the stabbing victims were Jews.

After a public outcry, the news network changed its headline several times, but only drew more ire. The headlines weren’t cited in the Times, but they were by a group called BBC Watch, to which the article gave a link.

BBC's second headline was better but still tone deaf: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City 'by Palestinian.' " Looked like sarcasm quotes, meant to cast doubt.

Third try: "Jerusalem attack: Israelis killed in Old City by Palestinian," no quote marks.

Fourth try was the charm: "Jerusalem: Palestinian kills two Israelis in Old City."

BBC Watch still expressed ire: "In other words, professional journalists supposedly fluent in the English language had to make three changes to the article’s headline in not much more than an hour." The organization also faults BBC for not reporting that Hamas and Fatah praised the dead stabber, Mahannad Halabi. (Then again, neither does the Times of Israel in the story above.)

At least the article appears to get the facts straight:

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Can journalists handle questions about Catholic theology linked to LGBT issues?

Can journalists handle questions about Catholic theology linked to LGBT issues?

It's getting to the point where one is tempted to believe that many mainstream journalists simply have no interest in accurately reporting what the Roman Catholic Church, or many other traditional religious institutions, believe when it comes to doctrines linked to homosexual orientation and behavior.

Consider, for example, the top of this Associated Press report -- as posted at NBC News -- about that monsignor who staged a coming-out presser the other day. The headline: "Vatican Fires Gay Priest Who Came Out Before Global Meeting."

First of all, the Vatican doesn't "fire" a priest as a priest. He was fired from his position with the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith. Now, might this priest eventually be "defrocked" for violating this vows? That's another issue altogether.

Anyway, here is the top of this warped little AP story:

VATICAN CITY -- The Vatican on Saturday fired a monsignor who came out as gay on the eve of a big meeting of the world's bishops to discuss church outreach to gays, divorcees and more traditional Catholic families.
The Vatican took action after Krzysztof Charamsa, a mid-level official in its doctrine office, came out in newspaper interviews in Italy and Poland saying he was happy and proud to be a gay priest, and that he was in love with a man whom he identified as his boyfriend.

Now, was Charamsa fired because he was gay?

The answer would be "no." The Catholic church does not discipline priests who -- from the church's doctrinal viewpoint -- carry the burden of being sexually attracted to those of the same gender. Temptation is not a sin. The questions in play are (a) has this priest honored his vows of celibacy, (b) does he support the Catholic doctrines and (c) has he taken public actions opposing church doctrines?

So, again, was Charamsa fired because he was gay?

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'Are you a Christian?': Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting

'Are you a Christian?': Grading media coverage of faithful after Oregon mass shooting

Major media went to church Sunday in Roseburg, Ore., to report on the faithful coming together after Thursday's mass shooting at Umpqua Community College.

It's time for a "big news report card" on that coverage.

For this report card, I use three main criteria to grade the coverage, including:

• Actual religion content (does the story reflect real prayers, Scriptures, sermons, etc., or just reference generic assemblies?).

• Below-the-surface reporting (does the story rely on clichés or actually delve into the faith angle and spiritual matters?).

• Compelling overall story (beyond the religion questions, is this a solid piece of journalism?).

Read on to see my grades and brief comments:

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Once again, New York Times reporters travel deep into the mysterious Bible Belt

Once again, New York Times reporters travel deep into the mysterious Bible Belt

When you have read as many mainstream news stories about church-state conflicts as I have, the minute you spot another one your mind begins asking a familiar litany of questions.

Like this one: Will the reporters find anyone to interview on the cultural left, other than an expert linked to the omnipresent Americans United for Separation of Church and State?

I mean, you know that someone from the Freedom From Religion Foundation will appear in the article. This is usually the group that is responding to something that someone in the Midwest or the Bible Belt has done to initiate the conflict that is the hook for the story. So you know that the journalists will have talked -- as they should -- with Annie Laurie Gaylor of the foundation.

But why settle for these two groups over and over, especially when dealing with conflicts in the Bible Belt? Why not seek out church-state professionals who live and work in that region?

This leads to the next question: Who will the journalists from the elite Northeast seek out, when researching the story, to serve as expert voices for the other side, for the cultural conservatives involved in this story? I mean, if journalists doing a story of this kind need to talk to the Freedom From Religion Foundation (and they do) and they need to talk to experts on the church-state left (and they do), then who will they find to serve as experts on the other side, on the cultural right?

News flash! There are plenty of academics and lawyers now who work on what could be called the church-state right. There are even folks in think tanks that are in the middle (#gasp). If journalists are going to talk to the groups on the left (as they should), then they also need to talk to experts on the other side. That would be the journalistic thing to do.

This brings us to rural Georgia (you don't get more Bible Belt than that), where representatives of The New York Times (you don't get more elite Northeast than that) are trying to figure out why the locals -- police in this case -- keep wanting to pull God into public life. Here's the top of the story:


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Kryptonite think piece: John L. Allen, Jr., on Vatican signals on religious liberty

Kryptonite think piece: John L. Allen, Jr., on Vatican signals on religious liberty

Even as the Synod of Bishops on the family gets under way in Rome -- with discussions of divorce and gay rights in the air -- it's impossible for Pope Francis and his handlers to avoid talks about you know what and you know who.

Issues of religious liberty and gay marriage -- incarnate in the form of Kim Davis of Kentucky -- remain the glowing Kryptonite in the room for mainstream journalists and the Vatican public-relations team trying to deal with them.

Check out the top of today's John L. Allen, Jr., Crux story from the Vatican. With all of the global intrigue, what takes top billing?

ROME -- In the wake of bitter controversy surrounding a private meeting with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis during his trip to the United States last week, Pope Francis has a chance beginning Sunday to get back “on message” with the opening of a Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome.
The Oct. 4-25 summit of prelates from around the world is a critically important moment for the pontiff, one he’s been building toward for more than a year. If past is prologue, however, he may face a stiff challenge in steering it toward his desired outcome.
On Friday, the Vatican issued a brief statement on the encounter with Davis, saying it was not intended to endorse her position “in all its particular and complex aspects.”
Whatever one makes of how the meeting happened, or what it ultimately says about Francis’ views -- and theories on both matters abound -- the big picture remains intact and works to validate a fairly firm conclusion about this pope. To wit, Francis is positioned squarely in the middle of what Americans have come to know as the “culture wars.”

It really helps to back up a day or so and read the earlier Allen analysis of the Davis hug fallout.

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Define 'agnostic,' please; does it take faith to be one?

Define 'agnostic,' please; does it take faith to be one?


What does it mean to be agnostic?  Are there people who actually consider it to be a religion?


In Pew Research’s much-mulled 2014 religion poll of 35,000 U.S. adults, 3.1 percent defined themselves as “atheists” (compared with 1.6 percent in a similar 2007 survey) while a somewhat larger faction of 4 percent called themselves “agnostics” (versus 2.4 percent in 2007). Pew grabbed headlines by combining them with the far larger numbers who said their faith was “nothing in particular” and concluding that 22.8 percent of Americans are now religiously “unaffiliated” compared with only 16.1 percent seven years earlier.

The agnostic term was coined in 1869 by biologist Thomas Henry Huxley, a noted advocate of Darwin’s evolution theory, to distinguish his own doubts from outright atheism. Darwin soon embraced that label for himself. So did a popular U.S. performer of that era, the touring anti-religion lecturer Robert Ingersoll. However, the agnostic outlook was nothing new. This sort of skepticism was found among some thinkers in ancient Greece and India as far back as the centuries B.C.

No doubt (so to speak) the line between agnosticism and atheism can be confusing, but it was well and clearly defined by the great British mathematician Bertrand Russell, a critic of Christianity, in his essay “What Is An Agnostic?”:

“An agnostic thinks it impossible to know the truth in matters such as God and the future life with which Christianity and other religions are concerned. Or, if not impossible, at least impossible at the present time.

Are agnostics atheists? No.

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Ripple effect: Reuters finds Catholics aiding generic Iraqi refugees in Lourdes

Ripple effect: Reuters finds Catholics aiding generic Iraqi refugees in Lourdes

Drop a rock in a lake, and you'll see a splash, then ripples. Everybody knows that. But it takes seasoned news people to spot ways that a story on one continent shows up on another. That's what Reuters did, with a smart, sensitive newsfeature on Christians fleeing from Iraq to Lourdes, France.

Reuters, BBC and others have (appropriately) thrown tons of time and resources into the human river of hundreds of thousands who have walked, floated, and sometimes died on the way from the Middle East to Europe. The Lourdes story takes a quieter, more personal look at the phenomenon -- and how believers in one town have responded.

In telling about the 60 Iraqis in Lourdes (so far), the article also adeptly works the story into the site's history:

For Iraqi Christians fleeing Islamic State militants in their native land reaching Lourdes, the French town long synonymous with miraculous religious visions, feels little short of a modern-day miracle.
Arriving in the town where peasant girl Bernadette Soubirous is said to have had visions of the Virgin Mary in 1858, the refugees have also experienced real Christian charity through the efforts of some dedicated, Lourdes-based compatriots, an ex-soldier and the local parish priest.
"We are split between sadness and joy. But Lourdes is like a flower offering us her perfume. It is the town of the Virgin Mary, giving us our faith," said one of the refugees, Youssif, 48, a former teacher of the Aramaic and Syriac languages.

Reuters fills in background on the Middle East war, noting that the Christian community in Iraq has fallen from about a million in 2003 to 400,000 by July 2014. It notes that the Islamic State has killed not only many Christians but also "members of other religious minorities," including some fellow Sunni Muslims. (Should have mentioned the Yazidi, though; they’ve gotten more than their share of violence.)

We read shot bios of what the Iraqi Christians fled and how they found hosts in Lourdes. Turns out some residents, like Nahren and Amer, left the country years ago:

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Papal visit takeaway: Why did Pope Francis need to hug hicks and old-school nuns?

Papal visit takeaway: Why did Pope Francis need to hug hicks and old-school nuns?

So what do you think we talked about during this week's extra-long "Crossroads" podcast? 

Might it have had something to do with the thousands and thousands of words that your GetReligionistas contributed to the tsunami of cyber-ink about the Pope Francis media festival in the Acela zone between Washington, D.C., and New York City? #Duh

That was going to be the case no matter what happened in the days after his departure. But then the pope talked with reporters on the flight back to Rome and said all kinds of interesting and even controversial things. Click here for my Universal syndicate column on that. Click here for the transcript of that presser.

And then the mainstream media's all-time favorite pope met, to one degree or another, with you know who. How is that sitting with the chattering classes? This Slate piece by Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart -- creator of the "Tiny Butch Adventures" series -- was not typical. But it collected and openly stated so many themes found elsewhere. These chunks contain the key thoughts:

I woke up this morning to reports that during his recent U.S. visit, Pope Francis met with Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk best known for refusing to issue lawful marriage licenses, interfering with the ability of her deputies to issue lawful marriage licenses, and making unauthorized changes to the lawful marriage license formsfor her county. When I saw this news, my heart sank. In one 15-minute meeting, the pope undermined the unifying, healing message that many queer people and our supporters were so eager to have him bring.

This blow hit me particularly hard because I had written so hopefully about the pope’s address to Congress. 

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