Jim Davis

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

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Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Washington Post recognizes pro-life pope, but not pro-life bishops

Seems like everyone is into mergers; why not Catholics? A new Washington Post story surveys the Catholic pro-life movement and concludes that it's merging with other social movements, like homelessness and immigration reform.

The story says the merging is a response to Pope Francis' admonition to stop "obsessing" about abortion. Whether that's true, though, is questionable. More on that later.

For now, some of the good stuff. The article catalogs a buoyant mood among Catholic pro-lifers during the recent March for Life: cataloguing a "belief that U.S. culture is turning in their favor."

Among the perceptive facets are an observation that "the March for Life participants were overwhelmingly young and religious." The article also reports on a separate pro-life march in Southern California, "highlighting not only abortion but also homelessness, foster care and elderly rights."

And here are a nice two "nut" paragraphs:

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Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Marcus Borg, by all accounts, blended a nice-guy approach with blunt denials of nearly every historic belief about Jesus. That often drove conservative believers to distraction, of course. But not mainstream media, which helped the Bible scholar spread his ideas for decades.

Much of that enthusiasm also marked the obits on Borg, who died Wednesday at 72. Among the most-republished obits is the detailed, 860-word obit from the Religion News Service.

RNS notes that Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which "helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament." The story correctly calls Borg a "liberal theologian and Bible scholar."

But it appears subtly to take sides in the debates:

Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called 'quest for the historical Jesus,' the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.

Assuming that there is, in fact, myth in the Gospels puts a spin on the term. In another narrative tilt, RNS later says Borg was a "hero to Christian progressives and a target for conservatives." Borg's opponents, then, are against progress.

And although the obit quotes a couple of scholars saying they disagreed with Borg, it doesn't give the what or why of the disagreements. The article mentions Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, who often lectured with Borg and even co-authored a book with him. A live quote would have been a good idea. Otherwise, it's like recapping a horse race by talking mainly about one horse.

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Washington Post's angle on crash survivor: Cue the laugh track

Washington Post's angle on crash survivor: Cue the laugh track

It's one thing when mainstream media miss a religious "ghost," a religious or spiritual angle in a news story. It's quite another when they spot a ghost, then ridicule it.

It happened when the Washington Post wrote up the story of Kaleb Whitby, the driver in eastern Oregon whose SUV was wedged between two semis in a 26-car pileup.

Whitby's vehicle crumpled like tinfoil, yet he walked away with only scratches. He told reporters that he'd prayed as the crash happened, and he thanked God for his survival.

A very normal reaction, whatever the theological issues. But the Post's writer, or his editor, rolled his eyes:

“Thank God that I’m still alive,” Whitby told the Oregonian. “Now I’ve got to go figure out why.”
Divine sources did not immediately respond to this reporter’s repeated requests for comment, so for now we’ll just have to attribute Whitby’s improbable survival to good old-fashioned luck — and no small amount of it, either.

This cynicism, thank God (if you'll pardon the expression), wasn’t the rule in the crash coverage. The report by KTVK-3TV in Arizona actually went the other way: One of the anchors said she posted the crash video on her Facebook page, adding, "This guy definitely had an angel looking over him at this moment."

The Oregonian, where the Post got much of its material, simply quoted Whitby -- "Thank God that I'm still alive. Now I've got to go figure out why" -- without a snide comment.

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With USA Today and gay marriage, impatience is a virtue

With USA Today and gay marriage, impatience is a virtue

Come on, Catholic schools! Iit's been a whole week since gay marriage was legalized in Florida, and you still haven't given them medical and retirement benefits!

That's the impression that emerges from the lede of a story that USA Today ran on Jan. 14. A federal judge legalized same-sex marriage on Jan. 6, but Catholic schools didn't immediately extend to gay couples the same benefits as those for heteros.

The USA Today story seems to brim with impatience:

One week after gay marriage was legalized in Florida, several Catholic universities have not provided a clear same-sex benefits package for employees. There is increasing pressure for public and private employers alike to offer all benefits — from medical insurance to retirement — to all married couples regardless of sex, starting on the day that state gay marriage was legalized. In this case, that date was Jan. 6, 2015.

By "several Catholic universities," USA Today means two schools: Barry University in Miami Shores and St. Leo University in west-central Florida.  The state's other three Catholic schools of higher education -- St. Thomas University, Ave Maria University and Ave Maria School of Law -- are not in the article.

That doesn't stop USA Today from scolding all of the schools.  The newspaper literally lays down the law, via a quote from a gay rights leader:

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Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Francis gives 'Charlie Hebdo' quotes, and mainstream media don’t freak!

Gol' durn. Do the mainstream media finally "get" papal coverage?

You no doubt recall the circus after Pope Francis answered a question about gays -- “If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?” -- a circus that is still ongoing in some outlets. But most journos seem to realize their favorite Catholic has not, in fact, rewritten centuries of teaching on sexuality.

Well, we had another near-viral experience this week, when Francis was flying from Sri Lanka to the Philippines. A French reporter asked about religion and free speech, apparently without mentioning the jihadi massacre of the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. According to the much-quoted account in the Associated Press, Francis used the example of papal trip organizer Alberto Gasbarri:

"If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch," Francis said half-jokingly, throwing a mock punch his way. "It's normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others."

This time, though, most mainstream media didn't seem to freak. AP noted that Francis has also denounced religious violence as an "aberration" and has called on Muslim leaders to speak out against religious extremism.

The Washington Post folds the AP piece into its own report on Francis' remarks. The newspaper then updated its piece with a Vatican statement:

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Pass the coffee & donuts, hold the faith: KC Star looks at a non-church

Pass the coffee & donuts, hold the faith: KC Star looks at a non-church

GetReligion has occasionally looked at stories about "church" for the unchurched, as tmatt did last February. But the Kansas City Star takes a close, detailed, 2,100-word look at the so-called Oasis movement, especially in the newspaper's hometown.

These "self-described freethinkers, humanists, secularists, atheists and agnostics" chat, nosh, listen to music and hear engaging messages. All without God or Bible or prayers or doctrines or other stuff that made them leave church. But with a lot of what they really value -- community:

A half-hour before everyone takes a seat, the Sunday morning coffee and doughnuts are producing their desired effect.
Fellowship: Hearty greetings, handshakes and hugs. The chatter gets boisterous as the gathering space fills.
Coffee and doughnuts are a classic element at many a house of worship. This isn’t a church, though. That’s about the last place most of these people want to be. But it’s not anti-church, either.

It's a thought-provoking story,  posing the question -- without even asking -- of the nature of the "fellowship" offered in regular congregations. But as we'll see, the story doesn't quite get to the nugget of the "community" offered at the Oasis.

Although the topic has been done and done -- invariably pegged off the Pew study on the "Nones" in October 2012 -- the Star at least featurizes the topic for its magazine. And you can't fault the story on sourcing, not with 12 quoted sources.

They include:

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How does the Catholic Church work? Miami Herald didn't get the memo

How does the Catholic Church work? Miami Herald didn't get the memo

"Can't imagine where this piece goes, can you?" a faithful reader says in tipping us about a Miami Herald story. "At least they're clear in the headline."

They sure are. "Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski’s memo draws fire from marriage-equality groups," the headline says. Wenski, like other Catholic bishops, opposes same-sex marriage. So he's against "equality."

The story lede, too, reads like a DUN-dun-DUNNN!

After judges in Florida lifted the state’s ban on same-sex marriage this week, thousands of employees in Miami’s Catholic Archdiocese got a memo from their boss, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, that read as a warning: watch what you do or say, even after work or on social media, or you might lose your job.
Wenski’s note, after a brief reference to court decisions that he said “imposed the redefinition of marriage,” merely quoted from the employee handbook as a reminder to Church workers of longstanding policy: Every archdiocese employee, Catholic or non-Catholic, from ministerial leader to school teacher and custodian, is considered a Church representative and is expected to abide by Catholic teaching, and any conduct “inconsistent” with that can draw disciplinary action, up to termination.

As a frequent freelancer for the Florida Catholic newspaper -- and a former religion writer for the Sun Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale -- I was naturally interested in the story. I've known Wenski since he was an earnest young priest ministering to Haitian immigrants in the 1980s. He has always struck me as a John Paul II-type Catholic: tough on doctrine but warm toward people. So the image of a ruthless overlord seemed out of place.

I also note that the story appears on the Herald's "Gay South Florida" page. So I have to ask, as the logo above says: "What is This?" News? Editorial? Commentary? If the former, why wasn’t it in sections A or B of the newspaper? If the latter, why isn't it marked as such?

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African agony: AFP story and photos keep our eyes on Muslim-Christian strife

African agony: AFP story and photos keep our eyes on Muslim-Christian strife

So virulent are outbreaks of violence like the shootings at Charlie Hebdo magazine, and the Middle Eastern plague known as ISIS, it's easy to forget or overlook slow-burning fevers like the religio-Civil War in the Central African Republic.  But Agence France-Presse has not forgotten.

AFP's Miguel Medina spent three weeks in the battle-scarred land, coming back with a story and photos that are at once gripping, insightful and despairing.

In 10 photos and 1,000 words, Medina paints a picture of battling factions in towns like Bangui. There are the Seleka, a Muslim rebel force, and the "anti-balaka," the Christian militia organized against them. And there are the French and African soldiers brought in as peacekeepers, who themselves often do killings of their own.

One paragraph especially illustrates the randomness of the violence. Medina describes a massive explosion in a neighborhood, then:

Some Burundi soldiers had hurriedly evacuated two women, Christians who’d been hit by shrapnel, toward a neighboring shack. The attack had injured three other people - a Muslim, a Burundi troop and a young man I didn't know anything about. This is how it is at the moment in Bangui. Christians and Muslims recognise each other and randomly attack one another. It's an infernal cycle of attacks and counterattacks. No one is safe.

He photographs a Chadian Muslim family cowering against a wall, saying that only French parachutists kept an angry crowd of Christians at bay. "Tensions are so high that taxi drivers -- whether Christian or Muslim -- risk being killed by people of their own faith if they dare take a client from the other community," Medina says.

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