Books

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

Update on Atlanta fire chief war, as well as journalism -- left and right -- in the age of 'Kellerism'

When I was teaching at Denver Seminary in the early 1990s, seminary students and pastors used to ask me this blunt question: Why should I risk taking to reporters from secular newsrooms?

Their assumption was that mainstream reporters (a) knew next to nothing about the complicated world of religion, (b) had no interest in learning about religion and (c) were already prejudiced about believers in traditional forms of religion, especially conservative Christians because of biases (all of those media-elite studies began in the late 1970s) linked to hot-button topics such as abortion, gay rights, etc.

I responded that (a) their concerns were not irrational, but (b) it was simplistic to argue that all journalists were both ignorant and hopelessly biased when dealing with religion and (c) how could they expect journalists to accurately report their views on complicated topics if they didn't talk to them? At some point, clergy and other religious leaders should respect the role of the press in a free society (just as journalists need to respect our First Amendment protections for religious faith and practice) and take part in what should be a two-way learning process.

In the 20-plus years since that time, things have only become more tense and more complicated. To cut to the chase, we now face the rise of "Kellerism" (click here and especially here for a primer on this crucial GetReligion term), with more journalists openly blurring the line between basic, accurate, balanced news coverage and advocacy/commentary work. It's hard to have an edgy social-media brand without some snark, you know (said tmatt, speaking as a columnist and commentary blogger).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Why are 'Christian movies' so bad? Talking about Jolie, Zamperini, 'Unbroken' and wisdom from Robert Duvall

Why are 'Christian movies' so bad? Talking about Jolie, Zamperini, 'Unbroken' and wisdom from Robert Duvall

It's a question I have puzzled over throughout my career as a journalist and as a mass-media professor: Why are "Christian movies" so bad?

Yes, there need to be quotes around the term "Christian movies." We are not talking about movies that are made by talented Christians who work in mainstream film. We're not talking about Frank "It's a Wonderful Life" Capra in the past or Scott "The Exorcism of Emily Rose" Derrickson in the present.

No, we're talking about, well, you know -- "Christian movies." The kinds of movies that resemble fundraising letters aimed at people in niche pews. Yes, Hollywood makes some preachy movies, too. That's a topic for another day, another podcast.

But why are those "Christian movies" so bad? Another Christian in the Hollywood mainstream, David "Home Improvement" McFadzean once offered up this brutal quote: The typical "Christian movie" is very similar to a porno movie. "It has terrible acting. It has a tiny budget. And you know exactly how it's going to end."

Ouch.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What is this? Considering some of your questions about that recent Bible blast on the cover of Newsweek

What is this? Considering some of your questions about that recent Bible blast on the cover of Newsweek

Dear readers (and you know who you are):

Yes, yes, yes. Your Getreligionistas received your emails about the pre-Christmas Newsweek cover story "about" the Bible. The problem was trying to figure out how to respond. Let's take this slowly, dealing with a few of the questions that I received in emails.

(1) Hey, who knew that Newsweek still exists? Yes, there is evidence that Newsweek still exists.

(2) Wait a minute. Why is Newsweek publishing a story that is attacking the Bible? Isn't Newsweek owed, these days, by people with connections to one of the other Messiah figures from Korea, as in David Jang of "The Community"?

The short answer is that Newsweek is linked financially to Jang, and this is one of those rare cases in which a commentator (that would be me) gets to point readers seeking background materials to coverage on this and related issues in both Christianity Today and then over in Mother Jones. Dig in. And be careful out there.

(3) Does Newsweek still hold itself out as a "news" publication, these days?

In other words, what, precisely, IS this piece by Vanity Fair contributing editor Kurt Eichenwald supposed to be?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Turn, turn, turn: What is Buddhism’s appeal for contemporary Americans?

Turn, turn, turn: What is Buddhism’s appeal for contemporary Americans?

DANIEL ASKS:

What aspects attract the many religious Americans that convert to Buddhism?

THE RELIGION GUY RESPONDS:

Before discussing what “attracts” let’s consider how “many” Americans have adopted this venerable faith. The over-all U.S. context is a deep divide between native-born converts (presumably Daniel’s interest) and Asian immigrants, also American Buddhists but not new “converts.” Richard Hughes Seager of Hamilton College calls this split “the most prominent feature of American Buddhism” during recent decades.

Due to the 1965 liberalization of U.S. immigration law, Asian-Americans dominate U.S. Buddhism.

As with Islam, it’s hard to pin down the numbers. The religion has no U.S. umbrella organization to represent its myriad branches and issue headcounts. The American Religious Identity Survey in 2001 sampled 50,000 Americans and projected there were 1.1 million adult Buddhists, and later added children for an estimated 1.5 million. The “World Christian Encyclopedia” (second edition, 2001) listed 2.45 million U.S. Buddhists including children but didn’t count “new religions” like Japan’s Soka Gakkai that others consider Buddhist. Experts have said Asian-American immigrants are something like three-fourths of U.S. Buddhists, and by outdated guesses there may be as few as 100,000 non-immigrant converts or as many as 800,000.

What aspects attract?

Meditation is certainly the key.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Must-read think piece: German activist and scribe visits Islamic State, with his eyes open

Must-read think piece: German activist and scribe visits Islamic State, with his eyes open

Journalists have been known to do crazy things, dangerous things and sometimes both at the same time. For example, how is the outside world going to know what makes the Islamic State tick without on site, independently reported information?

Thus, German peace activist and "Why Do You Kill, Zaid?" author Jurgen Todenhofer, headed into the heart of ISIS -- guaranteed that he would be harmed. His family thought he was crazy. In an online think piece entitled "ISLAMIC STATE -- Seven Impressions Of A Difficult Journey" -- he notes:

The guarantee turned out to be genuine, and the ISIS stuck to their agreement during our visits to Mosul and Raqqa. Though, we were under surveillance by the secret service for most of the time and had to hand over our mobile phones and laptops. Also, all of our pictures and photos were inspected at the end of the journey. ...
On several occasions, ISIS and I ran into heated disagreements about details of the journey. Let me tell you that arguing with heavily armed ISIS fighters isn’t exactly the easiest thing to do. I was close to abandoning the journey twice during that time. In view of the acute danger that all of the involved were dealing with daily, they often were short tempered. Yet, overall, I was treated correctly.

As the title states, Todenhofer offers seven observations about what he saw. This is not neutral, "American model of the press" material. However, I thought that journalists and those who care about religion news would want to see this.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Memory eternal: Editing out P.D. James the believer and the mystery of the human heart (and soul)

Memory eternal: Editing out P.D. James the believer and the mystery of the human heart (and soul)

If asked to name the work of new fiction (in other words, as opposed to Jane Austen) that I have read in the past few decades that moved me the most, I would without hesitation say "The Children of Men" by P.D. James.

No, I have not seen the movie that is allegedly based on the book because friends who are fierce James fans warned me not to. Why? They said the team behind the movie ripped out the book's gripping Christian foundation, which I have heard referred to as a sci-fi take on the "Culture of Death"  theme in the work of Saint John Paul II.

Here is the last sentence of the book, in which an underground (and very fragile and flawed) circle of Christian believers fight to bring life back into a world that has mysteriously gone sterile: "It was with a thumb wet with his own tears and stained with her blood that he made on the child's forehead the sign of the cross."

Now, we are watching a similar editing process take place in some -- repeat some -- of the mainstream media obituaries for one of the most important English writers of the past half a century.

C.S. Lewis said the world didn't need more "Christian writers," it needed Christians who were willing to do the hard work of writing for everyone. That was P.D. James. The great Dorothy L. Sayers considered murder mysteries the perfect form of writing for Christians because they open with an act of undeniable evil (evil exists) and then someone goes into the world seeking concrete evidence of truth (truth exists) in order to produce justice (it is possible to do good in the real world). That's P.D. James, as well.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

ROBERT ASKS:

Can we read Christ into the Old Testament?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

According to Jewish tradition, no, and understandably so. According to Christian tradition, yes, since the New Testament interprets various passages in the Hebrew Bible (= Old Testament)  as prophecies that foreshadow the future life and message of Jesus. Christians commonly view other Old Testament texts this same way, following Jesus’ own example: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

A classic expression of such linkage is Handel’s beloved oratorio “Messiah,” whose songs hailing Jesus Christ use not only the New Testament but a couple dozen Old Testament texts taken from Isaiah, Job, Lamentations, Malachi, Psalms, and Zechariah.

Many modern-day liberal scholars from Christian backgrounds side with Judaism and doubt that Old Testament writers could have been referring to Jesus. Now, surprisingly, an esoteric dispute on this theme at Pennsylvania’s Westminster Theological Seminary is dividing certain conservative Protestants.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A deeper religion hook inside the spiritual drama of the 'Rare Bird' memoir?

A deeper religion hook inside the spiritual drama of the 'Rare Bird' memoir?

If you know anything about the world of religious publishing these days, you know that publishers are very, very aware that "spiritual" content is good, and can lead to massive "crossover" sales, while explicit "religion" is bad and can shove good books into narrow niches.

Thus, we live in the age when religious publishers -- the kind of folks who publish doctrinal books -- are trying to start not-so-religious special branches with cool names that try to fly under the media radar, publishing books that reach out to the non-doctrinal masses with faith that would be too foggy for the publisher's normal readers.

Right now, one of the imprints that is making news is called Convergent Books, which is part of the evangelical WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. However, as this report in the conservative World magazine notes, both are operating under the secular corporate umbrella that is Penguin Random House. 

This brings me to some questions that GetReligion readers have been asking about that Washington Post feature focusing on blogger Anna "Inch of Gray" Whiston-Donaldson, author of the memoir "Rare Bird" about the death of her young son, Jack. The headline on this Style piece says it all: "She let her son play in the rain. He never came back."

Please respect our Commenting Policy