Richard Ostling

Fa la la la la, la la la la -- 'Tis the season (as always) for 'news' reports that debunk the Gospels

Fa la la la la, la la la la -- 'Tis the season (as always) for 'news' reports that debunk the Gospels

“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses. Fa la la la la, la la la la,” says that old carol. The journalism angle in that?

During the Christmas and Easter seasons, journalists have come to expect -- and perhaps to hail --  new, sensationalized and commercialized bids to debunk the New Testament Gospels, the earliest and best source we have about Jesus’ life. The Religion Guy himself has played that game, hopefully with some balance and accuracy.

The most lucrative example by far was “The Da Vinci Code,” an odd novel issued for Holy Week of 2003. In 2014 that  fictional tale about Jesus marrying his disciple Mary Magdalene has been supplanted by alleged non-fiction. Before Easter, a Harvard University press release announced: “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient.”  To the contrary, the testing showed this fragment wasn’t “ancient” but dates from the 7th or 8th Century A.D., and as for the “wife” business, see below.

Then, timed for Christmas the media have publicized a book entitled “The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.”

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Another one of those Bible puzzlers: Why did God spurn Cain’s offering?

Another one of those Bible puzzlers: Why did God spurn Cain’s offering?

JANE ASKS:

Why did God spurn Cain’s offering?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Some weeks ago our blog treated the classic Bible question of where Cain, Adam and Eve’s first son, found his wife. In response, The Guy received this about another Cain puzzler from the Book of Genesis, chapter 4.

Here’s the story from  “Genesis: Translation and Commentary” (Norton, 1996), a euphonious (look it up) rendition by Robert Alter. Cain was “a tiller of the soil” who “brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to the LORD. And Abel too had brought from the choice firstlings of his flock, and the LORD regarded Abel and his offering but He did not regard Cain and his offering.”

Then Cain “was very incensed, and his face fell.” God  said: “Why are you incensed, / and why is your face fallen? / For whether you offer well, / or whether you do not, / at the tent flap sin crouches / and for you is its longing / but you will rule over it.” God’s admonition did not overcome Cain’s resentment and he murdered his brother.

The Bible doesn’t state explicitly why God did not “regard” Cain and Cain’s offering.

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At an old news service, a new reporter (blush) that readers really need to watch

At an old news service, a new reporter (blush) that readers really need to watch

Here is today’s tip for people looking for value in the news marketplace: Religion News Service, a unique, non-sectarian U.S. shop that’s been in operation for 80 years, e-mails without charge a daily Roundup that is (or ought to be) essential reading for news executives who run newsrooms, journalists who cover this field, executives of religious organizations and anyone else who wants to be well-informed about faith developments. Just go to the RNS home page, look for “Get The Roundup” and click to subscribe.

Though the Roundup is free, in return for some 250 daily news feeds a year you’ll surely want to also click on “Support R.N.S.” and send a tax-deductible $50 or $100 gift. (RNS is owned by the non-profit foundation of the Religion Newswriters Association, which acquired it in 2011 from the Newhouse newspaper chain.)

GetReligion has, of course, been praising (and critiquing) RNS work for a decade, while also arguing that this is an absolutely essential news outlet. As a veteran on the beat, I want to add another praise – even if it's a bit awkward.

Last year Sarah Pulliam Bailey joined RNS’s well-seasoned staff as a New York-based national correspondent. This young reporter is an alumna of Christianity Today magazine’s online operation, Odyssey Networks and – we blush to add – GetReligion.

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Yes, it does appear that Americans lack faith in politicians who lack faith

Yes, it does appear that Americans lack faith in politicians who lack faith

The intriguing question of atheists who seek public office in America is currently being fictionalized on the TV drama “The Good Wife,” which achieves decent ratings though viewers never know when an episode will start because CBS won’t plan around Sunday football games. Lead actress Julianna Margulies has scooped up award after award for her portrayal of Alicia Florrick, the estranged but never-quite-divorcing wife of the Illinois governor.

At the moment, the atheistic Alicia (Margulies herself is quoted as saying “I’m not really religious”) is running for chief prosecutor of Chicago. The Constitution says in article 6 that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” but that law doesn’t control individual voters’ choices.

During the 2012 campaign, Gallup asked whether respondents would vote for “a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be” an atheist. Only 54 percent said yes, the lowest standing of any group, compared with 58 percent saying yes for a Muslim, 68 percent for a gay or lesbian, 80 percent for a Mormon, and virtually total acceptance for a Jewish, Hispanic, Catholic, female, or black president.  In 1958, only 18 percent would vote for an atheist. 

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It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

IRA ASKS:

Both Jews and Muslims lay religious claim to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, which has long been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is the basis of their competing claims?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This uniquely and deeply revered religious site in the eastern sector of Jerusalem’s Old City is called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”) by Muslims. Smithsonian magazine says this tract “has seen more momentous historical events than perhaps any other 35 acres in the world,” while The Economist magazine considers it “one of the world’s most explosive bits of real estate.”

That second assertion has been amply underscored in recent months. An expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace tells huffingtonpost.com that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has developed a religious character that was not as explicit in the past.”

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'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades? 

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would to experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period. 

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

In all too many weeks, the Saturday “Beliefs” column provides the only coverage of religion in The New York Times. The influential daily’s Nov. 8 item dealt with World, an unusual Christian magazine because it covers mostly general news rather than just parochial topics.  This biweekly for those wanting “Christian worldview reporting that reinforces their core beliefs” has a conservative slant on politics as well as faith.  A recent GetReligion post by our own tmatt, for example, noted his differences with the journalistic philosophy of World Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky. 

Sadly, investigative reporting has suffered greatly with media downsizing and the Times rightly commends that aspect of World’s work. Religious periodicals generally don’t rake muck, especially about folks sharing their ideology.

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The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?

The Guy poses this question: So what does the Bible teach about polygamy?

THE RELIGION GUY:

Nobody has yet posted a question about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a.k.a. “Mormon” or “LDS”) acknowledging delicate details about founding Prophet Joseph Smith’s polygamy, but The Guy decided he ought to examine the classic matter of how the Bible views polygamy.

Smith declared that God was simply using him to restore “plural marriage” (the church prefers that term to “polygamy”) that was divinely inspired in the Old Testament. A major interpretive question affects such Old Testament issues, including slavery.

Did God command, or commend, a practice, or did he merely avoid punishing what humans were doing on their own? If the Bible recounts an action without tacking on moralistic criticism, does that signal divine endorsement, or only recording of facts that may be problematic?

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Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades?

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period.

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

Grumble  if you wish, but in this era of perpetual campaigns it’s nearly time for the usual news media blitz assessing evangelical Protestants’ presidential feelings about the Republicans’ notably God-fearing 2016 list.

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Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

Why does the ancient Christian creed say Jesus 'descended into hell'?

LISA ASKS:

What do Christians say happened during [Jesus'] “descent into hell,” and do most denominations believe this happened?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This week, as every week, uncountable millions of Christians attending church will profess that Jesus Christ “was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again from the dead…”  So states the venerable Apostles’ Creed, which includes a cryptic “descent” phrase about the period between Good Friday and Eastern. Some modern rituals say Jesus “descended to the dead” instead of “hell.”

Unlike the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed moves directly from Jesus’ crucifixion and burial to his resurrection with no mention of a descent. Lisa’s full question pointed out this key difference between the two ancient creeds that have long dominated Christian worship services and catechisms.

The Apostles’ Creed is part of Catholicism’s baptism ritual and widely recited by Protestants. Though Eastern Orthodoxy uses only the Nicene Creed in worship it has affirmed Jesus’ descent since ancient times.

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