Podcasts

Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

Pod people: Talking scare quotes, red flags and other 'controversial' tools of religion journalism

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In a couple of recent posts, I've delved into the nitty-gritty of religion news writing.

In one post, I focused on the specific language used in a USA Today story on Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.

In another post, I tackled the subject of scare quotes — a term that is familiar to regular Get Religion readers.

On this week's episode of "Crossroads," the GetReligion podcast, host Todd Wilken and I discuss both those posts. Click here to tune in.

Besides addressing those posts, my interview with Wilken turns into a conversation about another recent post — this one on the use of the adjective "controversial" in journalism.

Trust me, it's fascinating stuff.

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Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Weekend think piece: A podcast on Pew Forum ink, church stats and boredom

Like many of our readers, I have been digging into tons of coverage of the new Pew Forum study (full .pdf document here) offering an update on the growth of the "nones" and the cultural-left coalition of religious liberals, agnostics, atheists, "spiritual but not religious" believers and simple unaffiliated people.

As our own Julia Duin noted the other day, the basic theme in the mainstream coverage is that the number of self-proclaimed "Christians" in America is falling, quickly. That's a totally valid, if a rather old and much-reported story.

Also, I noted another old story, which is the fact that the number of religious believers who say they are actively PRACTICING their faith seems to be rather stable. The numbers are level in some pews, slightly down in some (think Southern Baptists), way down in others (think liberal Protestantism and cultural Catholics) and actually rising in a few (think Pentecostalism). The importance of growing ministries to Latinos, African-Americans and Asians is another news story, at the moment.

This was, as you would imagine, the subject of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. However, after host Todd Wilken and I talked -- click here to tune that in -- it hit me that there is another way to frame this debate. In part, Christian leaders are arguing over whether churches grow when they are (a) culturally modernized and less doctrinally demanding or (b) when they hold firm to ancient doctrinal standards and, in many ways, reject trends in the modern world. Then, after that, it hit me that many modern churches -- think evangelical megachurches -- seem to be striving to look and sound modern, while claiming to stay orthodox at the level of morality and doctrine. So that is, kind of, a (c) approach, in their eyes.

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Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

Once again: Do journalists believe there is good religion and then bad religion?

This week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) focused on one of those nasty Godbeat topics that I have been wrestling with since, oh, 1980 or so. The question: Does the press hate religion and/or religious people?

This subject, of course, came up in a post here at GetReligion recently, in which I reacted to a classic M.Z. Hemingway piece at The Federalist that ran under a flaming headline: "Dumb, Uneducated, And Eager To Deceive: Media Coverage Of Religious Liberty In A Nutshell."

In her piece, M.Z. made a reference to the "modern media’s deep hostility toward the religious, their religions, and religious liberty in general." While affirming the rest of her piece, I stressed that I remain convinced that the majority of elite American journalists believe that there are good religious groups and bad religious groups and that the goods tend to be led by clergy and intellectuals "whose moral theology fits naturally with Woodstock and the editorial pages of The New York Times."

As William Proctor -- a Harvard Law graduate and former legal affairs reporter for The New York Daily News -- put it in his book "The Gospel According to The New York Times," the world's most influential newsroom doesn't reject all forms of religion, but does reject what he called the "sin of religious certainty." They reject claims by Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc., who claim that their faiths affirm eternal, transcendent, revealed truth.

Now, is this a debate that has something to do with core journalism discussions of accuracy, objectivity, truth telling, etc.?

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When faith enters the spotlight, should reporters dig into the personal details?

When faith enters the spotlight, should reporters dig into the personal details?

On one level, this past week's "Crossroads" podcast added a few extra layers of information to my recent Universal Syndicate "On Religion" column about the ministry of the late Father Jack Heaslip (video clip above), an Anglican priest who for several decades was the behind-the-scenes pastor to the members of U2.

But there's more to the podcast than that. Click here to tune into the whole discussion.

The key to the discussion is the conflicted feelings that I experienced, back in 2001, when I met Heaslip at a private gathering on Capitol Hill in which Bono address a strategic circle of Hill staffers who shared his convictions about hunger, AIDS and the Third World debt crisis.

The band's pastor asked if I was with the press and I admitted that I was. He said something like, "Well, we're here to hear that man speak," gesturing toward Bono, and slipped away to the back of the room.

I was very disappointed not to "land" a rare interview with this man, yet, at the same time, I admired the degree to which he managed to stay out of the spotlight and do his work without great fanfare. He didn't want to be turned into a "Father Jack Heaslip, secret pastor of U2 superstars!" headline. Instead, he wanted to continue his pastoral support for four men he had known since they were brash young teen-agers in the nondenominational school in which he was their guidance counselor.

So that journalistic tension is what the podcast is about, really.

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Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

Why the whole 'Is President Obama a Christian?' controversy just won't die

This week's "Crossroads" podcast focuses on the Frankenstein question in American public life that has left journalists shaking their heads and muttering, "It's alive, it's alive!"

I am referring, of course, to the whole Gov. Scott Walker and the "Is President Barack Obama a Christian?" thing. Then that media storm -- click here for my previous post -- led into the silly "Does Scott Walker really think that he talks with God?" episode.

Then again, am I alone in thinking that some rather cynical political reporters are creating these monsters and trying to keep them alive? Whatever. I remain convinced that Obama is what he says he is: A liberal Christian who made a profession of faith and joined the United Church of Christ, a denomination that has long represented the left edge of free-church Protestantism.

Anyway, host Todd Wilken and I ended up spending most of our time talking about the subject that I am convinced is looming behind the whole "Is Obama a Christian" phenomenon, especially this latest flap with Walker. Click here to listen in on the discussion.

Believe it or not, this brings us to a discussion of a question that quietly rumbled through the Southern Baptist blogosphere the other day: Forget the question of whether the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by the Islamic State should be declared as Christian martyrs? Were they actually Christians in the first place?"

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Does it matter that a pro-Second Amendment rights, pro-abortion-rights, pro-gay rights atheist killed three Muslim students?

Does it matter that a pro-Second Amendment rights, pro-abortion-rights, pro-gay rights atheist killed three Muslim students?

Well, you just knew that Craig Stephen Hicks had to be some kind of conservative, even if of an angry libertarian stripe.

So is it relevant that the man who is alleged to have gunned down three young Muslim college students has described himself -- his social media profile, or parts of it, are now fair game for mainstream journalists -- as a "gun toting" atheist and that he had a concealed weapons permit? Of course it is.

Does it matter that, as the Associated Press reported that:

... Hicks often complained about both Christians and Muslims on his Facebook page. "Some call me a gun toting Liberal, others call me an open-minded Conservative," Hicks wrote.

Yes, that matters, too. Still, I am not sure that "complained" is the right word, in this case. As The Los Angeles Times has noted, scores of people online are just not buying that:

"U won't see this on the news because it's about a Muslim," one Muslim user tweeted overnight, in a sentiment that was retweeted more than 1,400 times and that was widely shared across social media. Many users also criticized CNN for an early-morning tweet that asked, "Did their faith play a role in the shooting?"
"THEIR FAITH!!!" one Egyptian user tweeted back, earning dozens of retweets. "how about the beliefs of the terrorist who shot them, CNN?"

Yes, Hicks is a man who appears to have had many, many beliefs and they don't add up to a convenient label that fits in 140 characters.

The key question, as the day-two coverage rolls in: Which of his religious, political and cultural beliefs are relevant when discussing possible motives?

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Year 11: It's still important to keep saying that the mainstream press needs to get religion

Year 11: It's still important to keep saying that the mainstream press needs to get religion

The conference last month in Westminster was called "Getting Religion," which tells you something right there. It was sponsored by England's Open University and the Lapido Media, an organization that promotes religious literacy among diplomats and journalists.

The chairman of Lapido Media could not be at the event, however, since he had died weeks earlier at his home in Norway. His name, as loyal GetReligion readers know, was the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad and this academic, Lutheran pastor and mainstream journalist also served as the director of The Media Project that has backed GetReligion since Day One.

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the birth of this weblog and, to be blunt about it, there is no way to talk about this past year without starting with the death of Arne Fjeldstad and, at the same time, the continuing relevance of the academic and journalistic materials that he worked so hard to produce through GetReligion, the "Getting Religion" event and many other similar projects. He was convinced, as we all are here, that there is no way for journalists (and diplomats as well) to understand real news in the lives of real people living in the real world without taking religion seriously.

Here is some of what British media critic Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of Lapido Media, had to say when Arne died:

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Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs? (Plus, the Religion Guy visits 'Crossroads')

Why doesn’t the Bible mention dinosaurs? (Plus, the Religion Guy visits 'Crossroads')

EDITOR'S NOTE: Check out Richard Ostling's first "Crossroads" podcast, focusing on coverage of Islam and violence. Listen in right here, or subscribe to the podcasts at iTunes.

TOM SAYS:

I am confused when the Bible talks about God creating the world in seven days but there is no evidence of humans living with dinosaurs.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This problem arises if “creationism” controls Bible interpretation. That term has come to identify those Protestants whose strictly literal reading of the Bible’s Book of Genesis requires a “young earth.” That is, if God created the cosmos and all species 10,000 years ago at most, then humanity and dinosaurs must have lived at the same time.

“Creationism” is a common but simplistic, misleading label because multitudes who worship God as the creator of all nature also accept standard geology’s vastly longer time frame, based on radiometric and other dating techniques of the past two centuries. By this reckoning, dinosaurs first inhabited Earth some 230 million years ago and became extinct 65.5 million years ago, eons before humanity appeared. The most recent report last November said a dinosaur find in southwestern Alberta, Canada, may be 80 million years old.

“Old earth creationists” believe scientists’ long chronology readily fits with faithfulness to the Bible’s account of origins, but criticize Darwin’s theory of evolution. A third camp of self-identified Bible believers embraces both an old earth and “theistic evolution,” seeing Darwin’s scenario as God’s method of forming species while opposing contentions that evolution was random and without purpose or a Creator.

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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.

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