Godbeat

Your weekend think piece: Interesting historical background about atheists in foxholes

Your weekend think piece: Interesting historical background about atheists in foxholes

Veteran GetReligion readers will know that my academic background is in history, just as much as in journalism and mass media. I have always been fascinated with the history of religion in America (this helps on the religion beat) and, in particular, church-state studies. While doing a master's degree in church-state studies at Baylor University, I focused my thesis research on civil religion in the Vietnam War era.

You can't study church-state issues and a war as controversial as the one in Vietnam without hitting issues linked to conscientious objectors, which leads you into studies of tensions between the military establishment and minority forms of religion. You also end up studying the tensions that have, for generations, swirled around the work of military chaplains.

What a paradox this is. How do people serve in the military without the support of clergy? The idea of a military force without chaplains is hard to contemplate. Yet how do you maintain doctrinal integrity in settings where it is impossible for a wide variety of faiths to be represented? How do you keep a rabbi on a submarine that contains one or two Jews? How do you ask a traditional Catholic soldier to say his confession to a female Episcopal priest?

And what about people who have no faith at all? The absence of faith is, of course, a faith position and these military personnel deserve some kind of support when it comes to stress and conflict over ultimate issues.

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After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

After the synod: Was 'confusion' caused by the press, the pope or the devil?

Let's walk into this minefield very slowly and carefully.

This week, "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I talked about the recent Synod on the Family at the Vatican and some of the themes that emerged out of it. Click here to listen to the podcast.

Truth be told, that primarily meant discussing the tsunami of news coverage about a draft report earlier in the week that was hailed by a major gay-rights group, and thus the elite media, as a "seismic shift" in Catholic attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, the divorced, cohabiting couples, etc. By the end of the week, following blasts of input from cardinals and bishops from around the world, the synod's more modest official report placed a heavier emphasis on affirming Catholic doctrine and, thus, drew far less coverage.

Once again, many Catholics were asking a familiar question: Is there some way for the Catholic church to let the public, especially the world's Catholics, hear the full sweep of what the pope is actually saying? The pope keeps talking about sin, penitence, mercy and salvation, with a strong emphasis on the symbols and language of mercy, and elite news headlines usually report him as saying something like, "Who knows what sin is, anymore, let's show mercy -- period."

After that, criticism of what the press reported the pope as saying -- including attempts to note the content and context of whatever Pope Francis actually said -- is hailed in the same news outlets as criticism of the pope or a rejection of his alleged new direction for the church.

Rinse. Cycle. Repeat.

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By George, I think she's got it: Chicago Tribune reporter has in-depth questions for outgoing archbishop

By George, I think she's got it: Chicago Tribune reporter has in-depth questions for outgoing archbishop

Chicago Tribune religion reporter Manya Brachear Pashman, past subject of a GetReligion interview, asks all the right questions of Cardinal Francis George OMI, the soon-to-retire Chicago archbishop, and is rewarded with newsworthy answers.

Pashman starts with a punchy lede and then launches right into a quote in which the cardinal offers some potent media criticism:

In a sweeping interview weeks before he steps down, Cardinal Francis George expressed frustration that his defense of church doctrine has ever caused offense, discussed the story behind his successor's selection and voiced concerns that expectations placed upon the popular Pope Francis could backfire.

"They've got the pope in a box now. … The danger of that is he's like a Rorschach test, sort of," George, 77, said Monday during an hourlong conversation at the archbishop's Gold Coast residence in which he expressed both pride and remorse about his 17 years as archbishop.

"People project onto him their own desires, and so you've got people who are expecting all kinds of things. Some of them might happen. A large number of them won't and so there will be great disillusionment. … People will write him off."

George's observation about people projecting their own desires onto the pope will ring familiar to anyone who has read GetReligion's coverage of media misinterpretations of Francis, especially our reminders that context is essential to understanding "Who am I to judge?" 

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Writing about religion news: Getting past Ben Bradlee's 'SMERSH' verdict

Writing about religion news: Getting past Ben Bradlee's 'SMERSH' verdict

If you were looking for a quote that perfectly captured the attitude that crusty old-school newspaper editors used to have about religion news (see my 1983 Quill cover story on life in that era), then here it is.

And let's face it, the fact that the quote comes from an NPR piece about the death of the legendary editor Ben Bradlee of The Washington Post -- the ultimate symbol of the politics-is-the-only-reality school of journalism -- just makes it more perfect.

"Major regional newspapers mimicked the format he devised for the Post, with a Style section devoted to features involving politics, regional personalities, celebrity and popular culture and highbrow culture alike. He also insisted on a high profile for beats on the subjects he vigorously and vulgarly called "SMERSH -- science, medicine, education, religion and all that s - - -" -- the subjects from which Bradlee personally took little enjoyment."

So the low-prestige beats were covered, but were not on the radar of the powers that be that ran the big-city newsrooms of that day. This is precisely what I used to hear from the Godbeat scribes who were weary veterans in the 1980s, at the time I hit The Charlotte Observer and then The Rocky Mountain News.

Of course, it is also important that one of the key players who helped create the current religion-news marketplace -- in which, all too often, politics defines what is real and religion is essentially emotions and opinion -- is Beltway matriarch Sally "On Faith" Quinn, who was the talented and high-profile wife of Bradlee's mature years.

This brings me to two items of religion-beat news for the day, both care of friends of this weblog. 

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CBS News looks for 'LGBTQ Catholics,' finds schismatics instead

CBS News looks for 'LGBTQ Catholics,' finds schismatics instead

In the wake of the Vatican family synod, as mainstream news outlets go searching for people angry over the failure of the bishops' meeting to produce hope 'n' change, CBS News joins the fray with a bizarre piece that attempts to represent the views of disgruntled "LGBTQ Catholics."

Just how disgruntled are these LGBTQ Catholics? So disgruntled that they attend a schismatic "Mass" at an Episcopalian church.

Although the story appears under the headline "We don't need Vatican affirmation, says gay Catholic congregation" its URL reveals that it was originally headlined, "We don't need Vatican affirmation, says gay Catholic priests." That suggests that the story's original angle was to highlight the discontent of "gay Catholic priests" with the synod's conclusion, and its sourcing bears this out. Two out of its three sources are alleged Catholic priests, and the lone layman's quote comes last.

The lede betrays astonishing bias, presenting the pope seething with "frustration" against his hard, unyielding bishops:

NEW YORK -- After Roman Catholic bishops meeting at the Vatican failed to agree on the issue of homosexuality in the church, Pope Francis appeared barely able to contain his frustration, cautioning the bishops Saturday not to cling to doctrine with "hostile rigidity" and saying the next day that "God is not afraid of new things."

Now, you may well ask, how can it be biased for the reporter to quote Francis speaking against "hostile rigidity" if those were the actual words he used? It is biased if the pope is being selectively quoted in a manner that excludes his overall message, which was more akin to "a pox on both your houses." 

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WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

When you hear or read the words "Orthodox rabbi," what is the image that immediately pops into your mind's eye?

Right. That would be this one (mandatory click).

The problem is that, in this day and age, there are many different brands of "Orthodox rabbis," running from progressive Orthodox rabbis to, well, orthodox and ultra-orthodox Orthodox rabbis. The public may or may not know all of that, however.

Thus, when covering a story about a rather sleazy sex scandal linked to an Orthodox rabbi, it is very important -- especially in Washington, D.C., for reasons we will discuss -- for journalists to provide enough factual information to erase the Woody Allen movie stereotypes and let readers know what brand of Orthodox Judaism is involved, this time around.

This is precisely what Godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein did in her first Washington Post story about what could be called mikvah-gate.

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As the Vatican turns: Dramatic talks about faith and family get soapy

As the Vatican turns: Dramatic talks about faith and family get soapy

Trust me, I am well aware that there are plenty of Catholic GetReligion readers who do not understand my consistent appreciation for the work of reporter and columnist John L. Allen, Jr., formerly of the liberal National Catholic Reporter and now the ringmaster at the new Crux site at The Boston Globe. It's really quite simple: He constantly reports tons of on-the-record information, even when he is writing prose that is clearly labeled "analysis."

Now, let me end this crazy day in Catholic news land -- click here for Dawn's earlier piece -- by pointing readers toward the sources and URLs contained in two rather dispassionate pieces of Allen analysis. It's hard to get more blunt than this:

ROME -- Every day, the 2014 Synod of Bishops on the family, a summit of 260 bishops and other participants convened by Pope Francis, seems more and more like a daytime soap opera. Today brought more surprising turns on multiple fronts.
For one thing, the bishops made the unprecedented decision to release internal reports of small group discussions about a working document released Monday that became a sensation due to its positive language about same-sex unions, couples who live together outside of marriage, and others in “irregular” situations.
The reports photograph a vigorous debate within a divided synod, with one camp seemingly embracing a more positive vision of situations that fall outside the boundaries of official Catholic doctrine, and another clearly alarmed about going soft.

And the perfect, killer quote for a synod on family issues?

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Wha' happened? NYTimes, RNS report on 'real or implied' 'earthquake' at Vatican that 'may or may not' have an effect

Wha' happened? NYTimes, RNS report on 'real or implied' 'earthquake' at Vatican that 'may or may not' have an effect

What exactly happened at the Vatican's Extraordinary Synod on the Family yesterday? NewsBusters' Ken Shepherd observes that, if you look to "many liberal media reporters" for the answer, you will find them "giddy as schoolchildren" at the  synod's midterm report on its discussions about gays and divorced Catholics. A check of Twitter bears this out:

From @CNN:

The Catholic church should welcome and appreciate gays, a new Vatican report says http://cnn.it/1qk9xwt

From @CNNbelief:

An 'earthquake.' [Revolutionary.' 'Stunning.' What people are saying about the Vatican's new report on #LGBT people http://cnn.it/1vXFC1Q

From @JosephineMcK:

#Catholic conservatives furious as bishops propose 'welcoming' gays

Did the earth really move? It did for Josephine McKenna of Religion News Service (author of that last tweet), whose own story on the synod's report breathlessly describes "the real or implied changes that may or may not materialize" in the Church. 

Say what?

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Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Think Advent, early: Divine Mrs. MZ goes gently postal in rant about the War On Christmas

Can you hear the clock ticking as our culture veers toward open warfare?

Can you hear the shopping malls preparing their displays, the lawyers preparing for combat, the atheists preparing their posters for protests, the spin-zone Fox opinion writers preparing their scripts?

Here comes the War on Christmas 2015.

The Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway –GetReligionista emeritus – knows what is coming and jumped into the fray early, but not on the subject of Christmas alone.

Right up front, let me stress that I realize that her recent piece at The Federalist, "Forget The War On Christmas, The War On Advent Is Worse" was not a journalism piece. However, it was an essay with implications for how journalists can (I would plead "should") think about one angle of the Christmas coverage that is to come. Thus, I thought I would share a piece or two of it.

There are some potential angles in this piece for journalists thinking about Christmas Wars coverage.

Angle No. 1: When does Christmas actually begin? In the culture? In the Christian tradition, as opposed to the "American" tradition, the shopping mall tradition?

Angle No. 2: At what point are ordinary Americans already swamped with stuff that is allegedly linked to Christmas?

Angle No. 3: Does any of this have anything to do with religious faith and practice?

Here is M.Z. getting rolling:

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