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Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

Rare mid-week think piece: That communitarian Pope Francis encyclical said what?

I realize that it's rare for your GetReligionistas to serve up one of our "think pieces" in the middle of the week, but, frankly, I am still digging out from the move to East Tennessee and missed this handy little essay this past weekend. So here we go.

Has anyone else been amazed that so much of the coverage of the papal encyclical Laudato Si (full English text here) has (a) tried to turn it into a truly radical political document and (b) seemed to suggest, as usual, that Pope Francis is the first occupant of the Throne of St. Peter to wade into these troubled waters.

I mean, this document has all kinds of things in it, including -- for liberals, surely -- some highly troubling language in which the pope's communitarian and Catholic moral vision is applied to, let's say, abortion:

120. Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?

Or how about that passage that many are interpreting as a statement addressing life choices facing those who see themselves as transsexuals?

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An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

An important new Jewish resource, with something important missing

In a poignant New York Times Book Review piece, Leon Wieseltier said our hyper-networked culture creates journalism "in which words cannot wait for thoughts, and first responses are promoted into best responses, and patience is a professional liability." And yet the Religion Guy insists that those covering our complex field must write on reflective, bookish themes, and thus passes along three tips that helped his career: obtaining a master's degree in religion (slogging through night classes while working full-time), trying to read a book per week, and investing in key reference works not available in newsrooms.
 
On the third point, note the valuable second edition of "The Jewish Study Bible" from Oxford University Press, which is about all you need to know given that publisher's reputation.

Why did a rewrite seem necessary a mere 10 years after the acclaimed first edition? The preface explains that Bible scholarship is "ever-changing." All 24 essays on Bible interpretation are new or revised, as are many annotations printed alongside the Jewish Publication Society's 1999 Bible text.
 
Chief editors Adele Berlin (University of Maryland) and Marc Zvi Brettler (Brandeis University) report that "Jewish participation in mainstream biblical scholarship" with its "critical approaches" only really took off in the 1960s. They say even during this past decade Jews have become more sophisticated about "how the Bible came to be," the "many voices reflected (or suppressed)" in Scripture, and what later editors "imposed on" prior biblical materials.

The new edition shows journalists the ways liberal Protestant and secular thought is reshaping Judaism.

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Battlefield PTSD, the healing power of community and one giant religion ghost

Battlefield PTSD, the healing power of community and one giant religion ghost

Sebastian Junger is as fine a reporter specializing in war and conflict coverage as there is today. He shot to fame in 1997 with his book "The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea" (a non-military saga, of course) and ever since has been producing award-winning journalism for print and screen, most of it conflict related.

His work includes the extraordinary feature documentary "Restrepo," a 2010 Academy Award nominee. Restrepo resulted from his spending a full year embedded along with photojournalist Tim Hetherington with an Army airborne platoon manning a highly vulnerable forward position in the mountains of Afghanistan. Restrepo was the name of a platoon member KIA.

Junger's now produced an absorbing piece of long-form magazine journalism (more than 7,100 words) published in the June issue of Vanity Fair on the subject of battlefield PTSD, now more prevalent than it's ever been for U.S. military personnel. Junger writes that it's also probably the highest military PTSD rate in the world, following more than a decade of American involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.

(Exact PTSD rates are hard to determine for various reasons, including some fraud cases and some conflating of military PSTD with pre-existing conditions. Here's some numbers from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

But Junger's piece is about way more than psychological battlefield wounds that often do not manifest until a soldier reenters civilian society.

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Crux profiles martyrs who don't fit the typical categories

Crux profiles martyrs who don't fit the typical categories

Many times this blog has mourned the lack of decent coverage on the persecution religious minorities, which should be the No. 1 religion story in the world every year. The numbers of people dying for their faith -- or for stands mandated by their faith (and there is a difference) -- is at ever increasing levels according to the latest Pew research.

Which is why it was nice to see Crux’s package this past Sunday on Christianity’s new martyrs in Colombia. Assembled by veteran reporter John L. Allen (who was down that way for beatification ceremonies in El Salvador for Archbishop Oscar Romero), it concentrated on a part of the world that has gotten less attention than, say, the Middle East in terms of human suffering. Allen, of course, is the author of the book "The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution."

Allen begins with:

BOGOTÁ, Colombia -- Anti-Christian persecution is unquestionably a premier human rights challenge in the early 21st century. It’s happening not just in the Middle East but around the world, including nations where Christians are a strong majority.
Compassionate concern over that stark reality should not short-circuit legitimate debate over the positions some Christians take on social and political issues. And there is no suggestion here that Christians have a monopoly on pain, because plenty of other groups are suffering, too.
Yet the numbers nevertheless are eye-popping. Estimates vary, but even the low-end guess for the number of Christians killed each year for motives related to the faith works out to one every day.
Given the scale of this global horror, it’s sometimes easy to forget that behind the statistics are flesh-and-blood people whose experience is no less intensely personal for being part of a broader pattern.
Two encounters in Colombia last week — where a civil war has dragged on for a half-century and left 220,000 people dead, including scores of new Christian martyrs — drive that point home.

Allen said the carnage is so bad in Colombia, it's become a "factory" for martyrs.

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Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Anyone who has ever taken the time to read the first essay published at this blog more than 11 years ago -- "What we do, why we do it" -- or who knows how to use a mouse and a search engine well enough to reach Wikipedia knows that one of my closest friends in journalism is a writer whose byline, back when she was a nationally known religion-beat professional, was Roberta Green.

Roberta and I were on the beat during the same era, primarily when I was at The Rocky Mountain News and she was at The Orange County Register. Then, in the pre-Internet era, she vanished from the beat when she married someone she met in a church Bible study. Our paths crossed again a few years later, at a Columbia University conference on religion-news issues, linked to the famous Freedom Forum study called "Bridging The Gap (.pdf here)."

As it turned out, Roberta had married a philanthropist named Howard Ahmanson, who at times has been a controversial figure in Southern California cultural and political life. At this point, I will simply say that if you want to know more about his evolving views on a host of subjects, you should check out his blog -- "Blue Kennel." For those who know political symbolism, it's logical to note that blue kennels might house blue dogs, a label Ahmanson embraced a few years ago when he left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat.

For the past two decades, Roberta and I (and a host of other journalists and academics) have been involved in many journalism-education projects working with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Global Media Project, Poynter.org, Oxford University Press and now The McCandlish Phillips Journalism Center, a project at The King's College in New York City that honors the legacy of the great New York Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips. My work with GetReligion.org has been part of all of this, for 11 years.

Like I said, these connections were put into print the day this blog opened. Still, I was not surprised when the GetReligion reader named "Jay," or whoever resides at the lambda98 address at Hotmail, had this response to my recent post about GetReligion, Religion News Service and debates about "church" and "state" conflicts in newsrooms.

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How do Christians — past and present — interpret 'You shall not murder'?

How do Christians — past and present — interpret 'You shall not murder'?

GEORGE’S QUESTION:

When are we as Christians allowed to fight back and protect our civilization?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

George wonders whether Christians should work in police departments, whose conduct is much in the news, as well as the armed forces or other security vocations that  involve use of violence and possible  injury or death.

The Religion Guy previously addressed various religions’ views of military service in this post. But it’s a perennial and important topic worth another look, this time limited to Christianity. [Thus the following leaves aside the pressing problem of Islam's growing faction that applies religiously motivated terrorism against the innocent, fellow Muslims included.]

The Christian discussion involves especially two Bible passages. In the Ten Commandments, God proclaims, “You shall not kill” (Exodus 20:13, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:17).  Or so say the familiar Douay, King James, and Revised Standard versions. However, most recent Christian translations instead follow the same word choice as the Jewish Publication Society editions of 1917 and 1985: “You shall not murder.”

Hebrew scholars tell us the verb here refers specifically to illegitimate taking of life, that is “murder,” as distinct from various other types of “killing.”

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Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

For weeks, I have been hearing from readers asking me when GetReligion was going to address the Catholic News Agency report about the $120,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to the Religion Newswriters Foundation, which owns Religion News Service.

In one article, CNA noted that the grant listing said that its purpose was to "recruit and equip LGBT supportive leaders and advocates to counter rejection and antagonism within traditionally conservative Christian churches." When announcing the grant, Arcus officials said this grant would help foster a "culture of LGBT understanding through the media” by funding news reports and blogging posts “about religion and LGBT peoples of color.”

RNS Editor Kevin Eckstrom defended his wire service's editorial independence, stressing that this public relations represented "Arcus’ description of their funding, not ours.” It is also crucial to note that the funding connections between RNS and the Religion Newswriters Foundation are complex, to the degree that CNA needed to correct some fine details. Please read that whole report carefully.

In that story, Eckstrom also noted that GetReligion frequently criticizes RNS because its work does not meet our blog's "standard of theological orthodoxy.”

I did not respond, although there is much to be said on these matters. First of all, please note that GetReligion frequently praises the work of RNS and we certainly recognize its crucial role as the only mainstream news operation dedicated to covering the religion beat. Second, let me acknowledge that -- over the past decade -- RNS frequently took interns from the Washington Journalism Center (which is now being rebooted in New York City). Eckstrom and his team, frankly, did a fantastic and gracious job working with my program's students and I will always be grateful for that.

So what can I say about the "theological" issues involved in this discussion? Let's start with some background on journalism "theology."

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Religion angle? WWII vet united with his prayer book, long after it fell from 30,000 feet

Religion angle? WWII vet united with his prayer book, long after it fell from 30,000 feet

For a decade, starting in 1995, I led a month-long reporting "boot camp" here in Washington that always included Memorial Day. Year after year, I was amazed at the personal stories that would emerge as I helped young reporters cover these events for local newspapers across the land.

You want symbolic details in poignant stories? Cover Memorial Day in greater Washington, D.C. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Memorial Day stories.

This brings me to an amazing Baltimore Sun story -- "Towson WW II airman's prayer book returned from Europe after 70 years" -- timed for Memorial Day that, for some reason, the editors decided to play on A2 with timid art.

This story really got to me, and not in a good way, in part because of how it failed to take seriously it's strong and obvious religion angle. Let's start with the "probably" angle in a lede -- atop a story with a near miraculous fact that slid down a few paragraphs. 

By the time he was drafted and deployed to Italy in 1945, Larry Hilte was probably familiar with one of the most popular songs of the World War II era, "Comin' in on a Wing and a Prayer."
The lyrics of the song describe the plight of desperate airmen trying to find their way back from bombing runs over enemy territory in airplanes either shot full of holes, on fire or both.
Little did the Towson resident know then that 70 years later his prayer book, which fell from the Consolidated B-24 Liberator he rode on a mission over Europe in the final months of World War II, would find its own safe landing. Hilte does not know exactly when the prayer book fell from the plane, and, at this point, it doesn't really matter.

Right. The details of a pop song the veteran may or may not have known are more important than the personal details linked to his "Jesus Teach Me to Pray" prayer book that fell from the sky onto a house, where it was retrieved and ended up, decades later, in a flea market.

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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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