Academia

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

The Powers of negative thinking about the rise of America's 'illiberal left'

It’s important to know right from the start that Kirsten Powers is a cradle liberal who has never once voted for a Republican.

She was a Clinton-Gore operative in 1992, a Clinton administration appointee, press secretary for Andrew Cuomo’s first New York governor race and held other partisan posts. She then shifted into opinion journalism, currently as a USA Today columnist and token liberal commentator on Fox News.

Powers’s credentials as a card-carrying political liberal have helped create buzz about her iconoclastic new “The Silencing: How the Left Is Killing Free Speech” (Regnery). It’s proclaimed “an important book” by no less than Ron Fournier, National Journal’s editorial director and former Washington bureau chief of The AP. More predictable praise comes from conservatives like Pulitzer Prize winners Charles Krauthammer and George Will, her fellow Fox pundits.

What possessed Powers to issue a broadside against what she calls “the illiberal left”?  Mainly two things.

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State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

State of Palestine coverage: What did pope say? What did it mean?

It broke as do so many stories that burst upon the 24/7 media scene these days -- with a tweet, followed by nearly 3,000 retweets.

The Associated Press (@AP) tweeted at 9:26am -- 13 May 15: "BREAKING: Vatican officially recognizes `state of Palestine' in new treaty."

A major diplomatic step forward for Palestinians in their quest to establish an independent state, right?

Sure sounds like it. But no, although clearly another international boost for the Palestinians, it was not the groundbreaking achievement the initial Tweet implied.

That's because the Vatican actually recognized Palestine as a state in 2012. What happened this time was the Vatican referred to Palestine as a state, a reaffirmation at most, in a new treaty between the two entities concerning Church interests in the Holy Land. (The Vatican recognized Israel in 1993.)

What it was, instead, is another example of how the ultra-competitive race to be first to break news too often results in incomplete information that, for a spell, sets the journalistic world abuzz for no good reason.

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Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

Increase of non-religious Americans: What do Pew Forum numbers mean?

JOSHUA’S QUESTION:

Ed Stetzer suggests the rise of the “nones” -- the religiously unaffiliated -- is a dual trend. On the one hand, the more nominal “cultural Christians” are no longer self-identifying as Christians, and on the other hand the more theologically conservative Christians are becoming more robust. What are the political consequences?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Following Joshua’s posting, the Pew Research Center issued an attention-getting “Religious Landscape Study” of the U.S. that appears to support such a scenario. Introductory notes: “Nones” is shorthand for folks who say “none” when pollsters ask about their religious self-identity. The Pew study calls them “unaffiliated,” whether agnostic, atheist, or the largest subgroup,  those whose religious identity is “nothing in particular.” Stetzer is a church planter turned LifeWay researcher and seminary teacher on mission analysis.

Pew has produced a mass of data that will be chewed on for years. A huge sample size of 35,071 U.S. adults made possible accurate and detailed breakdowns for religious groups. The respondents were interviewed in mid-2014 by phone in either English or Spanish. Unlike most polling with its crude categories, scholars helped Pew frame careful questions to separate out “mainline” Protestants (in 65 sub-categories) from the more conservative “evangelicals.” Keep in mind that there are also significant numbers of self-identified “evangelicals” in “mainline” groups, and in the third Protestant category of “historically black” churches. Since Pew posed these same questions to another large sample in 2007, it can offer timeline comparisons.

The two surveys show that, yes, the “unaffiliated” are increasing. They constituted 16.1 percent of the population in 2007 and jumped to 22.8 percent as of 2014 to become the nation’s second-largest religious category. Evangelical Protestants maintain first place with 25.4 percent of Americans versus the previous 26.3 percent.

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In praise of William Zinsser (1922-2015), 'Who Guided Many Pens' with his 'ministry'

 In praise of William Zinsser (1922-2015), 'Who Guided Many Pens' with his 'ministry'

Almost everyone in the business knows “The Elements of Style,” the crisp 1920 handbook  by William Strunk Jr., later revised by  his onetime Cornell University student, E.B. White of The New Yorker.  Every would-be writer should also absorb a similar and much more enjoyable book that was the best thing to come out of America’s bicentennial year, “On Writing Well” by William Zinsser.

As the headline on his New York Times obituary proclaimed, Zinsser (1922–2015) was an “Editor and Author Who Guided Many Pens.”

Indeed, 1.5 million copies of his classic are in print. He embraced all the Strunk commandments about clarity and concision but with a magazine writer’s flair, e.g. “There’s not much to be said about the period except that most writers don’t reach it soon enough.” A Zinsser maxim about writers: “If their values are solid, their work is likely to be solid.”

After World War Two Army service in North Africa and Italy, Zinsser achieved his “boyhood dream” and was hired by The New York Herald-Tribune. That stylish voice of Eastern Republicanism (final edition April 24, 1966, R.I.P.) was the last serious broadsheet competitor of The Times until The Wall Street Journal recently expanded its general news coverage.

The Religion Guy harbored Zinsser’s same ”dream” after a junior high tour of the paper’s 41st Street plant inspired the journalistic vocation, but it was not to be. Pardon the nostalgia, but here’s Zinsser describing the venerable paper’s city room in “Writing Places: The Life Journey of a Writer and Teacher”:

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Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Yes, 'nones' are still a big story. Now we need a punchy label to define other side

Way back in the early 1980s, when I was working at The Charlotte News (now gone, alas), I heard the Rev. Billy Graham make a very interesting statement about American religion. It was much easier, he said, to do an evangelistic crusade in a highly secular city like New York or Los Angeles than in a Bible Belt location such as Atlanta or Dallas.

Why? The problem with the Bible Belt, he said, was that most of the people like to think they are Christians, when they are actually nominal Christians who don't take the faith very seriously. It's like they have had an "inoculation of faith" that makes it harder for them to embrace the real thing. People In the big, secular cities were much more honest, he said, about what they believe or don't believe.

No, I don't think he used the word "nones" in that press session. But he could have.

I share this flashback, of course, because the Pew Research Center has released another blast of newsworthy information about one of the most important trends in the past quarter-century of so in American life -- the rising number of people openly identifying as atheists, agnostics or as "unaffiliated," when it comes to claiming a specific religious tradition. This new study -- click here for the full .pdf text -- follows the famous "Nones on the Rise" study in 2012 that generated a tsunami of headlines and coverage.

Once again, the big action in this study is on the doctrinal and cultural left, as well as in the muddy middle of American religious life, the sector I have long called "Oprah America."

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While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

While faithful fill pews, movers and shakers can’t get enough of Sunday a.m. TV gabfests

Movers and shakers from the realms of media and politics can’t get enough of those five Sunday morning TV news gabfests from Washington. Meanwhile, millions of churchgoers ignore the weekly action, unless they religiously remember to set their DVRs.

It’s an important season for these influential shows due to the upcoming  presidential campaign, tight competition for ratings, and three big changes in the cast of characters.

On behalf of his fellow geezers, the Religion Guy is tickled that spry Bob Schieffer, 78, the host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” regularly grabs more viewers than the younger hosts.  This summer he retires to be replaced by John Dickerson  (a former colleague at “Time” magazine). After last year’s tumult over David Gregory, NBC’s venerable “Meet the Press” is gaining ground with replacement Chuck Todd. In the third switch, CNN cable has tapped Jake Tapper as Candy Crowley’s “State of the Union” successor come June.

The other two personalities: Chris Wallace, Son Of Mike and a onetime “Meet the Press” anchor, has led “Fox NewsSunday” the past dozen years. It’s much the ratings also-ran on broadcast but nears audience parity due to Fox News cable reruns.  Onetime Friend Of Bill George Stephanopoulos continues on ABC’s “This Week.” (Religion beat veterans know his father Robert as the longtime dean of Greek Orthodoxy’s archdiocesan cathedral in New York, and his mother Nikki as the Greek-American church’s news director.)

Here’s what we got in the entirety of the five shows for May 10, chosen because there was no one commanding news story gobbling up air. That would have allowed for a timely little roundup on religion and the 2016 race.

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New York Times claims Rand Paul is 'lone candidate' in GOP defending civil liberties

New York Times claims Rand Paul is 'lone candidate' in GOP defending civil liberties

As a rule, your GetReligionistas do not write entire posts about headlines. I will make an exception in this case.

Why? In the past couple of months I have had conversations with a number of mainstream journalists -- both in Washington, D.C., and New York City -- about this whole issue of the "scare quotes" (also known as "shudder" or "sneer" quotes) that editors keep putting around the term "religious liberty" in news coverage of events such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act wars in Indiana.

One theme consistently emerges in these talks: The vast majority of journalists covering these stories believe (a) that these disputes don't have anything to do with religious liberty since they don't affect what happens inside churches, and religion is what happens inside religious sanctuaries, and that (b) what we are dealing with here is intolerant speech and/or hate speech (or actions) and, thus, is not protected by the First Amendment. Good religion is protected, while bad religion is not.

One journalist summed it up this way: This isn't about religion. It's about hate. It has nothing to do with religious liberty, so that's why journalists are using those scare quotes.

This brings us to the following headline in The New York Times:

Rand Paul Tries to Stake Territory as Lone Candidate Who’d Guard Civil Liberties

Really now?

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Crux leaves out crucial details in story on gay activists, Catholic education

Crux leaves out crucial details in story on gay activists, Catholic education

Crux is the Boston Globe site that covers “all things Catholic” with a staff of six. They got everyone’s attention in 2014 when they snared famed Vatican scribe (formerly with the National Catholic Reporter) John L. Allen, Jr., to be their omnipresent front-line reporter, as well as a columnist and blogger.

Many of us who watch this beat were grateful that a large newspaper put time and money into covering a flock that is so dominant in their circulation area. And Boston is a very Catholic place, in many ways the heart of progressive Catholic life in this land.

Anyway, the Crux team just ran a piece about a council of war by five organizations that are concerned that crackdowns by bishops - specifically in San Francisco -- on who may or may not teach in Catholic schools will result in employees being fired.

CHICAGO -- A group of Catholic activists gathered in Chicago over the weekend for a brainstorming session aimed at stopping the firings of gay employees, Crux has learned.
The “Church Worker Justice Strategy Session” was held at the Catholic Theological Union Friday through Sunday.
Representatives from several organizations — Catholics for Choice, Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, New Ways Ministry, Dignity USA, and Call to Action — attended the meeting, along with workers from Catholic parishes, dioceses, and schools. About 30 people participated.
Participants discussed “discrimination, at-will employment, morality clauses, and how we might build some power to push for just employment practices in the workplace,” said Ellen Euclide, program director at Call to Action.

First, I think it’d be only fair to mention near the top of this piece that most if not the groups mentioned are not exactly considered Catholic by the leaders of the Catholic church itself. That factoid gives the story a lot less weight -- since the Catholic church remains, to say the least, a hierarchical church.

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Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

Big picture: Will global Islam overtake Christianity by 2050?

The Pew Research Center scored ample ink at GetReligion and elsewhere with its important April report on global trends that all religion writers will want to keep on file: “The Future of World Religions: Growth Projections, 2010–2050" (.pdf file here). The 245-page publication provides religious population estimates as of 2050 for each of the 198 nations and territories that have  populations of 100,000 and above, by calculating such factors as birth rates, age distribution, migration, life expectancy and  rates of switching between religions in 70 nations for which we have data.

The headline item was the Pew team’s estimate that “by 2050 there will be near parity between Muslims (2.8 billion, or 30 percent of the population) and Christians (2.9 billion, or 31 percent), possibly for the first time in history.” (Pew explains that Muslims might have outnumbered Christians sometime between 1000 and 1600 as Muslim forces repeatedly invaded Christian strongholds and the Black Death decimated Europe. But we’ll never know because estimates for the Middle Ages are “fraught with uncertainty.”)

The most significant response to Pew’s report (.pdf file here) comes from another essential resource for journalists, the Center for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.  That analysis tapped the annual CSGC survey for the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, which was expanded this time to include projections to 2050 (.pdf file here).  This center, which the Religion Guy recently visited, provides statistics for various reference books and has just began work on a 3d edition of its World Christian Encyclopedia.

As of 2050, CSGC projects a slightly lower global count than Pew for Muslims at 2.7 billion, and a considerably higher 3.4 billion for Christians.

Why the disparity?

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