Islam

Here's your up-to-date roadmap of the so-called American 'culture wars'

Here's your up-to-date roadmap of the so-called American 'culture wars'

On August 20, what was billed as an “unprecedented” alliance of 130 national organizations wrote President Barack Obama asking an end to federal grants for  religious social-service agencies that hire only employees who share their beliefs. The petition denounced the Bush administration Department of Justice’s “erroneous and dangerous” 2007 argument allowing such discrimination.  Ninety such groups sent a similar protest to then-Attorney General Eric Holder last year.

This is an important church-state issue that has entangled the Salvation Army, among others, in local situations, and a change in federal policy would certainly be news. Such petitions are a routine  feature of interest group maneuvers in Washington, but this particular one gives reporters an up-to-date roadmap of America’s “culture wars.” Like so:

The petition signers’ unnamed opponent is Evangelical Protestantism. The DOJ’s 2007 legal blessing responded to complaints about a $1.5 million federal grant to World Vision for mentoring, tutoring, and job training with “at-risk” youths. Like many evangelical organizations, World Vision famously hires staff members who agree with its religious beliefs and values, including traditional heterosexual marriage. 

The endorsers have been regular antagonists of Evangelicalism and also of Catholicism on a variety of issues.

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The Independent takes on journalistic contradictions, faux morality and double standards

The Independent takes on journalistic contradictions, faux morality and double standards

Owned by a Russian oligarch and center-left in its orientation, the British daily The Independent runs a media column that recently addressed the very concerns that prompt me to contribute to GetReligion.

There's no beating around the bush for columnist Ian Burrell.

Here's his opening two graphs:

The need to understand the intersections of religion and civil freedom has never been greater. Hard-won human rights victories of the past century, for women, gays and free thinkers, are still opposed by zealots across the world, while people of faith are under persecution in many lands.
These are complex issues which the news industry has a duty to explain. Instead, however, we have a media rife with contradiction, faux morality and double standards.

I would only make one change to that. I would broaden his lede to include the intersection of religion and the entirety of human culture -- politics, commerce, popular entertainment -- you name it. 

Here's a link to his column; its worth reading in its entirety. I'll return to it below.

Burrell finds fault (as do I) on both sides of the misleading, artificial and media-driven divide that purportedly separates those on the right and left; if only people were that simple to understand and deal with.

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Did you hear about ISIS razing an ancient monastery and desecrating saint's tomb?

Did you hear about ISIS razing an ancient monastery and desecrating saint's tomb?

What is there to say about the never ending Islamic State horrors being reported out of Syria? Clearly the soldiers of ISIS are equal-opportunity oppressors, when it comes to the lives and cultures of religious minorities unfortunate enough to cross their path.

When it comes to crushing truly ancient, irreplaceable wonders linked to the lives and histories of apostates, the ISIS jihadists may view one ruin or sanctuary as the same as the next.

The same, however, cannot be said of how most American journalists view these horrors. Apparently, some travesties are more important than others. Things are quite different on the other side of the Atlantic, however.

Right now, for example, journalists on both sides of the pond are -- as they should -- devoting quite a bit of coverage to the destruction of a priceless ruin in Palmyra. These was the news insiders had been fearing for weeks, especially after the shocking and disgraceful beheading of antiquities expert Khalid al-Asaad.

This solid Washington Post report -- pointing to the BBC -- was typical:

The Islamic State has reportedly destroyed another significant landmark in the ancient city of Palmyra, Syria.
The temple of Baal Shamin stood for nearly two millennia, honoring the Phoenician god of storms and rain, as the BBC reported. Destruction of the site would be directly in line with the Islamic State’s campaign not just against people of other faiths, but against their culture. 
“Oh Muslims, these artifacts that are behind me were idols and gods worshipped by people who lived centuries ago instead of Allah,” one militant said of antiquities in Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year. After the Islamic State captured Palmyra in May, Baal Shamin seems to have fallen to the group’s philosophy.

As I said, this is major news that deserved solid coverage. We've been dealing with the complexities of these topics for weeks, as in this Ira post.

However, did you hear about the destruction of the irreplaceable frescos and sanctuaries at the Mar Elian monastery?

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Commercialized cathedrals? Telegraph story has much to Compline about

Commercialized cathedrals? Telegraph story has much to Compline about

People are flocking again to England's grand old cathedrals, and the Telegraph says it knows why: The churches have adopted tactics from the world of retail.

Attendance is sliding at most U.K. parishes but rising at cathedrals, says the newspaper -- more than 10 million last year, up almost a quarter in a decade, says the Telegraph. The churches still boast their historic appeals, the article concedes, but they're also trying new things:

Cathedral clerics say people are often drawn by the traditional music, the contemplative atmosphere and the fact that large city-centre churches offer services at different times of the day and throughout the week.
But several cathedrals have benefited from moves to attract late-night shoppers by opening late themselves.

Like how? Prepare to be amazed, or not:

St Nicholas Cathedral in Newcastle upon Tyne, has introduced a “night church” idea, opening late on Fridays and inviting people to experience stillness and contemplation.
It also regularly attracts around 300 people for late night compline services.
Salisbury Cathedral has been offering late night classical concerts by candle-light during the summer and Liverpool Cathedral opens its tower late on Thursday evenings.

Not convinced? How about Truro Cathedral? Last Christmas the church "offered its own late night shopping, setting up charity stalls and opening its own Christmas shop and restaurant late, while inviting community music groups to play to lure shoppers in." As if churches have never done anything like that. Try googling "church bazaar" and "church night concert" and you'll find out differently.

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Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

Your weekend think piece: A different take on America's shortage of minority journalists

For several decades, one of the primary goals of those who run American newsrooms has been (and justifiably so, from my point of view) increasing the number of mainstream journalists who are African-American, Latino, Asian, Native Americans and part of other minority groups, defined by race.

At the same time, there have been less publicized debates -- mostly behind the scenes -- about the need to bring more intellectual and cultural diversity into our newsrooms. As one journalist friend of mine once put it, what's the use of bringing in more African-Americans, Latinos, etc., if they all basically went to the same schools as everyone else and have the same set of beliefs between their ears?

You can see these two issues collide in William McGowan's the much-debated 2003 book, "Coloring the News: How Political Correctness Has Corrupted American Journalism." He argues that years of diversity training in American newsrooms has actually made them more elitist and narrow, purging many professionals who come from blue-collar and non-urban backgrounds.

Before you write that theory off as conservative whining, what was that statement near the end of the famous New York Times self-study entitled "Preserving Our Readers' Trust (.pdf)"?

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason -- to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it.
The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.
We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). 

And also: 

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NPR leaves several big holes in report on non-Catholics struggling with Irish schools

NPR leaves several big holes in report on non-Catholics struggling with Irish schools

On American shores, attending a private religious school is an expensive privilege.

Such schools only accept certain people and tuition per student easily eats up $5,000 or more a year. My daughter was briefly enrolled in a kindergarten at a classical Catholic school and although we were allowed in on the “Catholic rate” versus the extra $3,000 most non-Catholics were charged, the extras really added up. We’re talking uniforms, mandatory contributions to the school operating fund and required volunteer hours by the parent.

But what if the only school available to you was Catholic? That’s what NPR tried to describe in this broadcast

In the U.S., parents who want to give their children a religious education have to pay for it for the most part. In Ireland, it's the opposite -- 92 percent of state schools are run by the Catholic Church. That's even though growing numbers of people in Ireland no longer identify as Catholic. And this is creating new tensions for parents trying to find schools for their kids. Miranda Kennedy has been digging into this from Dublin. ...
MIRANDA KENNEDY, BYLINE: Nikki Murphy is showing me around the small house she shares with her husband, Clem Brennan, and their two young children. She loves their neighborhood. … But when their older son Reuben turned 4, they discovered a problem with their neighborhood.
MURPHY: One huge obstacle is trying to get Reuben into school. Yeah, it's been horrendous.
KENNEDY: Nikki and Clem chose not to baptize their son.

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The (insert adjective here) Islamic State strikes again, for reasons that are hard to explain

The (insert adjective here) Islamic State strikes again, for reasons that are hard to explain

Journalists continue to wrestle with a problem that they now face day after day: How to describe the Islamic State in a way that admits the obvious, that this horror is rooted in its leaders'  approach to the Islamic faith, yet using accurate words that are not offensive to mainstream Muslims.

This needs to be a formula that can be used over and over, with variations, and take a sentence or two at most.

For all of you non-journalists reading this: Accurate daily journalism is tough work.

I thought of this struggle yet again read some of the mainstream coverage of the tragic and twisted death of 83-year-old Khalid al-Asaad, the antiquities expert who was often called "Mr. Palmyra." This story continues to read like nightmares from "Game of Thrones" scripts. In the New York Times story there is this

After detaining him for weeks, the jihadists dragged him on Tuesday to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd, Mr. Asaad’s relatives said. His blood-soaked body was then suspended with red twine by its wrists from a traffic light, his head resting on the ground between his feet, his glasses still on, according to a photo distributed on social media by Islamic State supporters. ...
The public killing of Mr. Asaad, who had retired a decade before and had recently turned 83, his son said, highlighted the Islamic State’s brutality as it seeks to replace the government of President Bashar al-Assad with a punishing interpretation of Islam across its self-declared caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq.

What, precisely, does the word "punishing" mean in that context? There is no "punishing" element -- differences of degree, not kind -- in Iran or Saudi Arabia? What is the specific information readers are supposed to draw from that unique adjective? Hold that thought.

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Jihadi girl power: New York Times tells how teens were seduced by ISIS

Jihadi girl power: New York Times tells how teens were seduced by ISIS

It reads almost like a Greek tragedy when a New York Times newsfeature tells of three teens who suddenly left their homes in the United Kingdom for the Syria-based Islamic State.

In starting with the ending, the Times makes it seem chillingly inevitable. But with its incredibly lengthy, 6,000-word narrative, the paper shows how the girls might have been stopped. Yes, apparently religion plays a role in this. Shocking.

Khadiza Sultana, Shamima Begum and Amira Abase are, of course, only three of the estimated 550 girls and women who leave western nations for the ruthless jihadi territory. And other mainstream media have dealt with the topic before, like a searing piece in The Guardian last October.

But for its telling details and the anatomy of the girls' radicalization, this Times feature stands out. It does have a few places for improvement, but we'll get to that later.

Mustering two writers and two researchers for this article, the article blends narrative with analysis, personal details with an attempt at the whys. It quotes educators, activists and family members. It reveals how the girls' school and police failed their families.

And it shows how they and other jihadi women can affect the rest of us:

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Wait! Which religious schools teach what about the moral status of gay sex?

Wait! Which religious schools teach what about the moral status of gay sex?

In recent years, I have been amazed -- when reading mainstream religion-news coverage -- to see basic moral and cultural beliefs that have been around in traditional forms of for millennia described as convictions that belong to "evangelical" Protestants, alone.

I understand what is going on when this happens. It's easier to bash away at televangelists for saying that sex outside of marriage is sin, as opposed to noting that these same beliefs have been articulated by popes, Orthodox rabbis, traditional Muslim leaders and others. Evangelical Protestants are popular enemies. The problem is that this presentation skews the facts of history.

Thus, I flinched the other day when I read a Salt Lake City Tribune report, picked up by Religion News service, about a Princeton Review ranking of campuses of higher learning that are opposed to recent trends in gay rights. Here is the top of the story. If you are holding a beverage, please set it aside to protect your screen and keyboard.

SALT LAKE CITY -- Brigham Young University remains one of the most hostile campuses in the country for gay and transgender students, according to an annual college ranking list.
But the private university does not top the list of LGBT-unfriendly schools. In fact, it came in sixth in a list of 10, mostly religious, schools. Grove City College (Grove City, Pa.) a Christian liberal arts school of 2,500 students. and Hampden-Sydney College, an all-male liberal arts college affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in Hampden Sydney Va., came in first and second.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that same-sex attraction is not a sin, but that acting on it is.

And? And? Isn't that an accurate description of the beliefs of millions and millions of other believers in a host of different traditions? 

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