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Welcome to the Newsless Review, care of a post-newspaper New York Times?

 Welcome to the Newsless Review, care of a post-newspaper New York Times?

A page-one item in the March 15 New York Times “Sunday Review” section,  headlined “How Business Made Us Christian,” highlighted a couple notable fashions in daily newspapering.  Princeton history professor Kevin Kruse drew this article from his new book with the provocative title “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.”

In part, Kruse revisited the familiar theme of “piety on the Potomac” in the 1950s when President Eisenhower was baptized a Presbyterian, Billy Graham led a D.C. revival meeting, Catholic lobbyists got “under God” inserted in the Pledge of Allegiance and annual Presidential Prayer Breakfasts began.

Kruse’s new emphasis is how business interests promoted “capitalism as the handmaiden of Christianity.” It seems a 1930s Congregational pastor to the elite named James Fifield “paired Christianity and capitalism against the New Deal’s ‘pagan statism.’ ” Kruse fuses that with later businessmen backing Graham’s crusades and Abraham Vereide’s prayer breakfasts.

All rather interesting.

Nevertheless, old-fashioned journalism would immediately raise questions. Is the scenario skewed? What’s missing? Was this cynical service to mammon or authentic piety? Did such efforts have any actual  effect on America’s politics and policies?

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You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

Here at the Washington Journalism Center, the full-semester program I lead at the DC center for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, we have a number of sayings that are repeated over and over that they turn into journalism mantras. I imagine that will be true when we reboot the program next year in New York City at The King's College.

One of these sayings goes like this: Everybody in this city knows more stories than you do. I also like to stress this: The most important skill in journalism is the ability to accurately state the views of someone with whom you disagree. And then there's one that is discussed here frequently, in this Keller-istic, Twitter-driven age in which the digital line between newswriting and editorializing is often quite faded and hard to spot: Opinion is cheap; information is expensive.

Then there is another WJC mantra that moves us closer to some news sure to intrigue those interesting in religion-beat coverage in the mainstream press. This one isn't very snappy, but it's a concept that is crucial for young journalists to grasp. Here it is: In the future there will be no one dominant business model (think newspaper chains built on advertising, mixed with the sale of dead-tree pulp) for mainstream journalism, but multiple approaches to funding the creation of information and news.

I warned you that it wasn't short and snappy.

Obviously, one of the crucial emerging models right now is the growing world of non-profit and foundation-driven journalism.

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Two Jews, three opinions: Doctrine and the Netanyahu speech firestorm

Two Jews, three opinions: Doctrine and the Netanyahu speech firestorm

Is there a more desirable photo op for an Israeli politician (excluding Israel's Arab and some of its left-wing Jewish parliamentarians) than one taken at HaKotel, which is the short-hand Hebrew term for Jerusalem's Western Wall?

Oh, never mind; silly question. And ditto for visiting dignitaries who also flock to the mostly Herodian-era stone blocks, the exposed portion of which stands 62-feet high. The resulting image screams identification with Israel's binary raison d'être -- secular contemporary Zionism and traditional religious piety.

Which is why Prime Minister Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu was there the Saturday night prior to his highly charged Washington address to Congress, when he implored President Barack Obama not to sign a deal with Iran that would allow the Islamic republic to retain its suspected nuclear weapon capabilities. The visit dominated the American news cycle for the better part of a week, a virtual eon in this time of 24/7 deadlines.

Yes, it was political theater of the highest order. But it was something more, because anything to do with Israel automatically takes on a religious tone. You know, Jews versus Muslims, the knee-jerk equating of all things Israeli with religious Judaism, the entire Holy Land gestalt.

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Fine Sports Illustrated salute to Dean Smith, yet haunted by one ghostly error

Fine Sports Illustrated salute to Dean Smith, yet haunted by one ghostly error

What we need here is a sports metaphor that will help me make a larger point about an amazing feature story that ran recently in Sports Illustrated, a tribute to the late, great University of North Carolina hoops coach Dean Smith.

This long and detailed piece story ran under the headline, "Hail and Farewell." The subhead provided the sad context: "Five years ago, amid his sad decline, the coach's former players and assistants found a way to say to him what he had always told them: Thank you."

I would love to link to this feature and share some of the finer points in it, in large part because both of my parents experienced dementia, of one form or another, in the last years of their lives. This SI story does a very sensitive job of dealing with the emotions involved in relating to loved ones caught in that bittersweet stage of life.

I would like to link to the piece, but I can't -- because it is behind a firewall, as is often the case with the best SI material (as opposed to swimsuit issue outtakes). I hope to add such a link in the future.

Anyway, my goal here is to praise this article, while also noting a really strange error at the end, during the crucial final passage. What I need here is a metaphor that links sports and religion to help readers understand the nature of this strange error.

Let's try this one, which uses a sports reference in a religion story, as opposed to this SI piece in which there is a timely religion reference in a sports story.

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Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

Welcome Julia Duin: Home in the Northwest and still watching the religion beat like a Seahawk

EDITOR'S NOTE: Veteran religion-beat reporter Julia Duin – now a journalism professor who is active writing books and in magazine journalism – is joining us here at GetReligion. She will focus her work on the American West, which is her home territory. Make her welcome, please. -- Terry Mattingly.

*****

You might say I got into religion reporting while a high school student in the Seattle area. I saw the huge readership -- and tons of letters -- that Earl Hansen received for his religion columns in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and I thought, I can do that. And so my first religion piece ever was for the Covenant Companion, a denominational magazine, about my bike trip around Puget Sound with the youth group from a local Evangelical Covenant church.

While majoring in English at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, I came to know the religious community in western Oregon pretty well. I also could not believe what a poor job the local papers did of covering the religion beat. I soon got a job as a reporter at a small daily just south of Portland where the editor told me I had to choose one page to edit: agriculture or religion. I chose religion and have not stopped covering it ever since. I also began corresponding for Christianity Today at that point in an era when women rarely wrote for that publication. 

I then moved to south Florida for a few years, covering religion among other beats and my work at CT and a first place in an RNA competition for religion reporting for small newspapers caught the eye of The Houston Chronicle. They hired me as one of two full-time religion writers in 1986. Those were the salad days of covering the beat: the Jim-and-Tammy-Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart "Pearlygate" scandals, Pat Robertson running for president, a local United Methodist bishop dying of AIDS, Pope John Paul II’s swing through the southern USA and Oral Roberts’ claim that God would “take me home” if he was not able to raise $4.5 million. It was rich. 

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So they are back in the news (yet again): Adam and Eve and all that

So they are back in the news (yet again): Adam and Eve and all that

On the religion beat, the news often consists of new books about old texts with old stories, and the oldest old story of them all is the Genesis portrayal of Adam and Eve. Their status as the first humans and parents of the entire human race is a big biblical deal, especially for evangelical Protestants. 

Since no evangelical school outranks Wheaton College (Illinois) in prestige and influence, journalists should get ready for an incendiary device about to explode in March. 

A book by Wheaton Old Testament Professor John H. Walton will upend many traditional -- or certainly "evangelical" -- ideas about Adam and Eve.  Moreover, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate” comes from the certifiably evangelical InterVarsity Press. Click here for the online press kit (.pdf).

Walton (Ph.D., Hebrew Union College) formerly taught at the Moody Bible Institute, which professes that “the first human beings were a special and unique creation by God as contrasted to being derived from any pre-existing life forms. Further, God created everything ‘after its kind,’ which excludes any position that allows for any evolutionary process between kinds.” As a Wheaton professor since 2001, he’s required to reaffirm each year the “biblical doctrine” that “God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race,” who were “distinct from all other living creatures.” 

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No gray area: Look what happened when a Godbeat pro covered '50 Shades of Grey'

No gray area: Look what happened when a Godbeat pro covered '50 Shades of Grey'

I haven't read the book. Don't plan to.

I haven't seen the movie. Don't plan to.

But alas, "50 Shades of Grey" — which opens in theaters today — has been pretty impossible to miss in my Twitter feed.

Amid the 50 shades of links — most promoting blog posts and columns — I was pleased to spot an actual news story by a top Godbeat pro quoting religious leaders.

JoAnne Viviano, as regular GetReligion readers will remember, is the award-winning religion writer for the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

Her story on "50 Shades" quotes a half-dozen religious people — from a Catholic bishop to a Jewish rabbi to a liberal Protestant pastor.

The lede quotes a woman familiar to me:

Lynn Stevens has been watching in horror as her friends make plans to see Fifty Shades of Grey, a film that tells the story of a recent college graduate involved with a man who introduces her to sadomasochism.
“My stance is empowering women, not overpowering women,” said Stevens, who directs We Are Cherished Ohio, a group that takes the Christian message to women who work in the sex industry.
The film, which opens Friday in advance of Valentine’s Day, “glamorizes and glorifies domestic violence” and creates a romantic image of a man who abuses and manipulates women, she said.

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Deseret News editorial: Religion news is real news, so there

Deseret News editorial: Religion news is real news, so there

As I mentioned earlier this week, GetReligion turned 11 on Feb. 2 and I noted that with a salute to the late journalist and pastor Arne Fjeldstad, the leader of The Media Project that backs this weblog, who died earlier this year. I also mentioned a major religious literacy conference for journalists and diplomats -- fittingly called "Getting Religion" -- held recently in England.

I wrote a pair of "On Religion" columns (here and here) about that conference that, among other voices, quoted Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of the Lapido Media network. I mention that because one of those Universal syndicate columns ("Ignore religion's role in real news in the real world? That's 'anti-journalism' ") let to something that I don't think I have ever seen before.

That would be a major editorial in a daily newspaper that warns the press not to ignore religion news. No, really.

The newspaper in question is The Deseret News in Salt Lake City, which is, of course, not your normal daily city newspaper. I should also mention that, as of a year ago, former GetReligionista Mark Kellner has worked in that newsroom helping produce its expanded religion-news coverage.

So here is that editorial.

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Man of science, man of faith: AP obit reveals both sides of Charles Townes

Man of science, man of faith: AP obit reveals both sides of Charles Townes

Whenever we play a DVD, watch a light show or have a clerk scan our groceries, we may not think of a religious thinker. Yet those modern marvels and many others are possible because of Charles H. Townes, inventor of the laser -- and an eloquent believer.

We can thank the Associated Press for its obit reminding us of this man of brilliance and goodwill, who converged both parts of his life as well as he synchronized light beams.

And AP gets to the point right after the lede:

On the tranquil morning of April 26, 1951, Townes scribbled a theory on scrap paper that would lead to the laser, the invention he's known for and which transformed everyday life and led to other scientific discoveries.
Townes, who was also known for his strong spiritual faith, famously compared that moment to a religious revelation.

AP sounds that dual theme of faith and science often in the 800-word obit. It gives a few details on how Townes, who died in Berkeley, Calif., on Jan. 27 at the age of 99, developed the laser and its microwave predecessor, the maser. It reports how his work led to his winning the 1964 Prize in physics along with two Russian physicists.

The article also says much about the concept on which Townes often spoke and wrote, that science and faith could work in tandem -- a belief that earned him another major award:

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