Jim Davis

With evangelical candidate, Brazil's politics interest European media

With evangelical candidate, Brazil's politics interest European media

Need evidence that you should follow more than one news outlet? Look south to Brazil, where the presidential race is drawing media attention even from Europe.

Both the London-based  Reuters and Paris-based Agence France-Presse (AFP) have produced recent indepth articles on the race for the top office for the 200 million people in Brazil. But although the Reuters piece is nearly twice as long, it isn't twice as good.

Reuters tries hard to make the campaign into a Religious Right power grab, relying largely on demographics and the support by the Assemblies of God for one of the candidates:

Marina Silva, an environmentalist running neck and neck in polls with incumbent President Dilma Rousseff, is a Pentecostal Christian who often invokes God on the campaign trail and has said she sometimes consults the Bible for inspiration when making important political decisions.
Some 65 percent of Brazil's 200 million people are Roman Catholics but evangelicals are rapidly gaining followers and power.
They grew from 5 percent of the population in 1970 to more than 22 percent in 2010 and the trend has continued. Evangelical groups have made particular inroads among urban working Brazilians who benefited from economic prosperity over the last two decades and are now demanding a greater say in politics.

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A few of my favorite things -- in OC Register's story on Christ Cathedral

A few of my favorite things -- in OC Register's story on Christ Cathedral

In telling about the redesign of Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral, the Orange County Register sounds like it's imitating the song My Favorite Things:

GARDEN GROVE – Ceiling lights that mimic stars.

Dozens of crape myrtle trees.

A rebuilt organ.

Those are some of the elements included in the restoration of Christ Cathedral, according to plans announced Wednesday by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange and its architects.

Kinda singsong, dontcha think? But stay with it; the story turns out as light 'n' bright as the glass building itself. Especially compared with the heavier, wordier account in the Los Angeles Times.

The Register briskly sets out the more eye-catching changes in the already stunning, 78,000-square-foot structure. Those include petal-like shades for some of the glass panels; a lawn for outdoor Masses of up to 8,000; outside lights that will make the cathedral glow at night; and painting the walnut organ white, to keep from distraction attention from the altar.

Some sparkly words are sprinkled through the story as well. They include calling the shade panels "petals"; the cathedral as a "Box of Stars"; and the whole 35-acre campus as a "sacred heat map." Nice.

The latter phrase, by a principal architect, summarizes the planned experience of approaching the church:

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NYT on anti-Semitism across Europe: a masterful though flawed report

NYT on anti-Semitism across Europe: a masterful though flawed report

For Rosh Hashana, which began at sundown Wednesday, The New York Times published a mostly masterful overview on the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe, with four reporters covering hateful words and deeds in five nations. I say "mostly," because the story has a few glitches.

Like what? Well, let's start at the end:

For Leonid Goldberg, the community leader of the Wuppertal synagogue, the emergence of a radical Islamic fringe is less a surprise. Just four days before the synagogue attack, someone had spray-painted “Free Palestine” on the front wall of the building. In recent years, Mr. Goldberg has used a celebration of Rosh Hashana at the synagogue — an event attended by elected officials and religious leaders of the city, including Muslims — to warn about rising anti-Semitism among extremist Muslims in the city.
“No one wanted to hear that,” he said.

Well, we readers did. Why run a story on Rosh Hashana, then include the only reference to the holiday just as you're wrapping up the article?

But let's be fair and acknowledge the achievement in putting together events and trends in a variety of places -- France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Hungary -- into an ominous pattern. This is what the Times does best:

SARCELLES, France — From the immigrant enclaves of the Parisian suburbs to the drizzly bureaucratic city of Brussels to the industrial heartland of Germany, Europe’s old demon returned this summer. “Death to the Jews!” shouted protesters at pro-Palestinian rallies in Belgium and France. “Gas the Jews!” yelled marchers at a similar protest in Germany.
The ugly threats were surpassed by uglier violence. Four people were fatally shot in May at the Jewish Museum in Brussels. A Jewish-owned pharmacy in this Paris suburb was destroyed in July by youths protesting Israel’s military campaign in Gaza. A synagogue in Wuppertal, Germany, was attacked with firebombs. A Swedish Jew was beaten with iron pipes. The list goes on.

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Planned Bible museum gets an intelligent, literate look from WaPo

Planned Bible museum gets an intelligent, literate look from WaPo

Last week, my colleague Bobby Ross Jr. briefly praised Michelle Boorstein's long-form feature in the Washington Post on the planned Museum of the Bible. In my own admiring review, let me count the ways.

Boorstein gives details on the look and feel and content of the museum, planned for Washington, D.C. by 2017. She presents the truly celestial numbers: a $50 million price for the 430,000-square-foot Washington Design Center, to be stocked with 44,000 biblical artifacts in Green's personal collection; the need to deal with a "dozen or so agencies" in starting the museum.

She offers an engaging look at Steve Green, president of the Hobby Lobby store chain, who expects to pay $800 million for the museum.

She traces how Green's vision for the museum has shifted, from promoting the truth of the Bible toward a scholarly, nonsectarian approach.

And  (insert Hallelujah Chorus) she spends only two of the 63 paragraphs to the Supreme Court case that won Hobby Lobby the right not to insure some forms of birth control. Some writers would have digressed and obsessed over that case, adding enough text to fill a Bible.

Boorstein often puts us into the scene with vivid wording. In one example she says the future museum building is close to the National Mall: "It’s just two blocks away, and from the roof it feels as though you can take a running leap onto the U.S. Capitol."

Here is the kind of intelligent, searching content you get when an actual religion writer like Boorstein writes a religion story. She avoids taking sides, yet compels you to read further:

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WaPo blog announces a new good (i.e. liberal) South Africa mosque

WaPo blog announces a new good (i.e. liberal) South Africa mosque

No one expects tons of original reporting in a blog like Ishaan Tharoor writes for the Washington Post. But when five sources are patched together in a 382-word post -- and any actual reporting isn't evident -- the result can be, well, patchy.

In this case, it's about the so-called Open Mosque that just formed in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The mosque advertises acceptance of anyone without regard to "sect, gender or sexual orientation." This naturally rankles more traditional Muslims, from whom we never hear.

We'll start with the headline, which of course Tharoor may not have written: "A ‘gay-friendly’ mosque just opened in South Africa." As you know by now, the mosque is billed as cutting across several divisions. To make it mainly about gays creates a pinhole view of the story.

But let's hear from the blog post itself.  Here's the top:

The "Open Mosque" is intended a space of worship for all, irrespective of sect, gender or sexual orientation. It is the creation of Taj Hargey, a Cape Town-born academic and cleric based at Oxford University who has long agitated against fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. This new prayer space, open to all, was a direct challenge to the extremists he opposes.

Hargey delivered the sermon, inveighing against the unnecessary divisions between Christians and Muslims, according to Agence France Presse. He blamed "contaminated Saudi money" for promoting "toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam."

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Biden and nuns on the bus get (mostly) free ride from NYTimes

Biden and nuns on the bus get (mostly) free ride from NYTimes

Do nuns' habits have coattails? To read a New York Times story out of Des Moines, Iowa, the vice president is trying hard to hold onto them.

His latest effort, on Wednesday, was at a stop for the 2014 "Nuns on the Bus" tour -- not coincidentally, a prime stop also for presidential campaigning. It was a natural to link arms with nuns who have promoted liberal causes like Obamacare.

Biden's reported attitude toward their boss, though, was another matter:

DES MOINES — At a Vatican meeting a few years ago, Pope Benedict XVI unexpectedly asked Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. for some advice. “You are being entirely too hard on the American nuns,” Mr. Biden offered. “Lighten up.”
Last year, Mr. Biden seized on an audience with Pope Francis as another opportunity to praise the sisters who remained the target of a Vatican crackdown for their activism on issues like poverty and health care.
And on a visit to Iowa on Wednesday, Mr. Biden literally, as he might put it, got on board with the nuns.
“You’re looking at a kid who had 12 years of Catholic education,” Mr. Biden, wearing a white shirt and a red tie, said before a backdrop of the gold-domed Iowa statehouse and a “Nuns on the Bus” coach bus. “I woke up probably every morning saying: ‘Yes, Sister; no, Sister; yes, Sister; no, Sister.’ I just made it clear, I’m still obedient.”

In what ways he's been obedient after lecturing two popes isn't clear. The story does note that obedience is the issue also with Network, the nuns' group on the tour. They're a subset of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which, as the Times reports, is under a Vatican crackdown.  

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Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Covering Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam: How peaceful is his 'Peace Train'?

Cat Stevens soothed ears and gained fans with his boyish grin, light humor and lyrical songs like Moonshadow, Wild World and Peace Train. At least until 1977, when he converted, renamed himself Yusuf Islam and dropped out of popular music.

But over the last decade, he's eased back into performance and has just announced a new musical tour, "Peace Train ... Late Again," in North America and Europe. The coverage thus far is not quite a train wreck, but it does miss a chance to examine the freight: the intolerance that once prodded him to recommend Salman Rushdie's death.

Most news media have seemed to rely on the Associated Press story, which deals mostly with Stevens' "unhurried music career." They note his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring, as well as his upcoming blues album, his first studio album in five years.

They tend to sidetrack Cat's Islam-carnation, preferring to play up his witty, cheery ballads. The BBC notes that he even popularized a "Christian hymn," Morning Has Broken.

Among the few stories that even hint at controversy is the Washington Post's version of the AP story:

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NYT tackles Ebola in Liberia, but gives short shrift to spiritual facet

NYT tackles Ebola in Liberia, but gives short shrift to spiritual facet

In a new feature, The New York Times  inspects the specter of Ebola in Liberia. Unfortunately, the religious ghosts stay fairly well concealed.

The 1,700+ article does have its positives, including a lucid narrative of the virus spreading throughout Monrovia, the Liberian capital of 1.5 million. Here's the lede:

The girl in the pink shirt lay motionless on a sidewalk, flat on her stomach, an orange drink next to her, unfinished. People gathered on the other side of the street, careful to keep their distance.
Dr. Mosoka Fallah waded in. Details about the girl spilled out of the crowd in a dizzying torrent, gaining urgency with the siren of an approaching ambulance. The girl’s mother had died, almost certainly of Ebola. So had three other relatives. The girl herself was sick. The girl’s aunt, unable to get help, had left her on the sidewalk in despair. Other family members may have been infected. Still others had fled across this city.
Dr. Fallah, 44, calmly instructed leaders of the neighborhood — known as Capitol Hill, previously untouched by Ebola — how to deal with the family and protect their community. He promised to return later that day, and send more help in the morning. His words quelled the crowd, for the moment.
“This is a horrific case,” he said as he walked away. “It could be the start of a big one right here. It’s a ticking time bomb.”

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Female imams in China: Detail-rich report reveals a little-known Muslim community

Female imams in China: Detail-rich report reveals a little-known Muslim community

Non-mainstream media often live with a compromise: fewer facts and less-professional writing in exchange for promoting their own viewpoint.

Not so with ChinaFile, a project of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society. Its  detail-rich, faith-related, enterprising feature story on a little-reporting topic: women's mosques in China that are led by other women.

The work of veteran China writer Kathleen McLaughlin, the story centers on the Hui, an ethnic group in the inland. McLaughlin delivers both a broad overview and personal anecdotes alike. She offers a taste of its three centuries of custom, and even tries to assess its precarious prospects.

And she adds plenty of color, making us almost feel part of the land and the communities. Check this out:

Sangpo, a dusty hamlet about two hours from the capital of China’s landlocked Henan province, is home to about 5,000 people, some 95 percent of whom are Hui Muslims. The Hui, China’s third-largest ethnic minority, number nearly 10 million followers of Islam in China. Many are direct descendants of Arab traders on the Silk Road who married local Chinese women, but the Hui today are mainly identified through their religion rather than by ethnic characteristics.
Packed into this town are six mosques run by women, whose congregants are all female, and only five headed by men—an imbalance the women point out with pride, and a rarity among Muslim communities in China, let alone the rest of the world.

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