Worship

Fa la la la la, la la la la -- 'Tis the season (as always) for 'news' reports that debunk the Gospels

Fa la la la la, la la la la -- 'Tis the season (as always) for 'news' reports that debunk the Gospels

“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses. Fa la la la la, la la la la,” says that old carol. The journalism angle in that?

During the Christmas and Easter seasons, journalists have come to expect -- and perhaps to hail --  new, sensationalized and commercialized bids to debunk the New Testament Gospels, the earliest and best source we have about Jesus’ life. The Religion Guy himself has played that game, hopefully with some balance and accuracy.

The most lucrative example by far was “The Da Vinci Code,” an odd novel issued for Holy Week of 2003. In 2014 that  fictional tale about Jesus marrying his disciple Mary Magdalene has been supplanted by alleged non-fiction. Before Easter, a Harvard University press release announced: “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient.”  To the contrary, the testing showed this fragment wasn’t “ancient” but dates from the 7th or 8th Century A.D., and as for the “wife” business, see below.

Then, timed for Christmas the media have publicized a book entitled “The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.”

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The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

The Washington Post wrestles with the dilemma that Muslim parents are facing in the West

If there has been one consistent theme over the past decade in GetReligion posts about Islam it has been a complaint that mainstream journalists rarely attempt to wrestle with the religious and even doctrinal content of the debates that are taking place inside the complex world of modern Islam.

Instead, the assumption in most newsrooms seems to be that so-called "moderate," or pro-Western Islam is the true Islam and that more fervent or even radical forms of the faith are "fundamentalist" and thus fake or twisted. Millions of Muslims, of course, are on opposite sides of that debate, which only goes to show that it is simplistic to view this complex and global faith as some kind of monolith.

But what do these debates look like at the human level, at the level of families, local mosques, schools and trips to the local shopping mall? Have you ever been waiting to board an airplane in an American airport and seen a Muslim family with the dad in a suit, the mother in modest clothing with a veil and the children standing behind them -- video games in their hands, hip headphones in place and decked out in clothing fresh off the fad racks at the local mall? What are the debates inside that family?

Journalists at The Washington Post tried to dig into that kind of story the other day with a Chicago-datelined piece about how some typical American Muslim teens ended up trying to flee this apostate land in order to support the goals of the Islamic State. It's clear that this was an attempt to wrestle with questions linked to what experts call "cocooning," the process of trying to keep children in the faith by, as the story says, "shielding" them from as "much American culture as possible by banning TV, the Internet and newspapers and sending them to Islamic schools."

Does this work? In this case, it didn't.

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The Huffington Post offers a surprisingly nuanced look at a celibate priesthood

The Huffington Post offers a surprisingly nuanced look at a celibate priesthood

Without looking -- who would you suppose would do a better job in reporting on the gay subculture among Roman Catholic clergy in Ireland? The Belfast Telegraph or The Huffington Post?

One was named the Best Regional Newspaper of the Year in 2012 by the Society of Editors and has print run of approximately 100,000. The other is an online news aggregator and blog that also runs additional news content. One is steeped in the traditions of Anglo-American journalism while the other pursues an advocacy approach to news – with the dividing line between opinion and reporting sometimes blurred.

An observer of the Ulster newspaper scene might hesitate before awarding the prize to the Belfast Telegraph, for it along with the News Letter are “Unionist” newspapers, while the third daily, the Irish News, is a “Nationalist” newspaper. Perhaps a residual anti-Catholic sentiment might creep into the Belfast Telegraph’s reporting?

The two outlets treatment of the same story may surprise some, for in its coverage of a recent book on clerical celibacy in the Irish Catholic Church, the Huffington Post is less shrill, more nuanced, and finely balanced.  No, really.

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So what was the point of that 'Tom Hanks goes to church' post the other day?

So what was the point of that 'Tom Hanks goes to church' post the other day?

Hang in there with me for a moment on this one. I want to respond to a few comments I have heard after my recent post on that faith-free Washington Post feature story about superstar Tom Hanks.

But first, let me dig into a topic that "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I discussed in depth while recording this past week's podcast (we're getting to this late because of technical issues). Click here to tune in on that.

Why is Hanks such an important, symbolic cultural figure in the first place?

Let's ponder this for a bit.

Long ago, I had a chance to interview Hollywood director Phil Alden Robinson about some of the cultural and religious themes woven into his famous "Field of Dreams" blockbuster. We discussed, for example, (a) the mental process he went though as he was casting the highly symbolic role of Dr. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham and (b) what he thought of the theory, which some articulated even as he was preparing to film this classic, that he was trying to produce the Baby Boomer edition of "It's A Wonderful Life."

Imagine, he told me, how many people would have connected those two movies if his first choice to fill the Moonlight Graham role had been able to play the part.

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Yes, it does appear that Americans lack faith in politicians who lack faith

Yes, it does appear that Americans lack faith in politicians who lack faith

The intriguing question of atheists who seek public office in America is currently being fictionalized on the TV drama “The Good Wife,” which achieves decent ratings though viewers never know when an episode will start because CBS won’t plan around Sunday football games. Lead actress Julianna Margulies has scooped up award after award for her portrayal of Alicia Florrick, the estranged but never-quite-divorcing wife of the Illinois governor.

At the moment, the atheistic Alicia (Margulies herself is quoted as saying “I’m not really religious”) is running for chief prosecutor of Chicago. The Constitution says in article 6 that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States,” but that law doesn’t control individual voters’ choices.

During the 2012 campaign, Gallup asked whether respondents would vote for “a generally well-qualified person for president who happened to be” an atheist. Only 54 percent said yes, the lowest standing of any group, compared with 58 percent saying yes for a Muslim, 68 percent for a gay or lesbian, 80 percent for a Mormon, and virtually total acceptance for a Jewish, Hispanic, Catholic, female, or black president.  In 1958, only 18 percent would vote for an atheist. 

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Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Divine Liturgy alongside the pope of Rome or in presence of pope? (updated)

Any list of the defining moments of Christian history -- if not the history of religion on Planet Earth, period -- would have to include the Great Schism of 1054.

That's the split, of course, between the Orthodox East and the Catholic West and there is hardly anything that you can say about the who, what, when, where, why and how of that schism that will not lead to a millennium or two of debate. It's complicated. 

However, it's pretty easy to understand that the Church of Rome and the churches of Eastern Orthodoxy are not in full Communion -- with a big "C" -- with one another. The primary symbol, and reality, that demonstrates this is that their clergy cannot celebrate the Eucharist together.

Now, with that prologue, let's flash back to the recent meetings in Istanbul between Pope Francis and the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Since I am Orthodox, lots of people have asked me what I thought about their latest statements on their desire for full unity, meaning Communion. My question, in response, was: Yes, the pope asked Bartholomew to bless him, but did either man kiss the other man's hand? There was also quite a bit of confusion about the rite they took part in at the Phanar.

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Was the Washington Post all that interested in the heart and soul of superstar Tom Hanks?

Was the Washington Post all that interested in the heart and soul of superstar Tom Hanks?

Every year, the Kennedy Center Honors are handed out and this often creates, in my opinion, some of the most interesting Beltway journalism about the arts and culture.

The point, of course, is that these honors are given to truly transcendent artists, those who have helped shape American life or who somehow symbolize essential trends in our times (as defined, of course, by the principalities and powers behind the honors process).

The Washington Post features team, as you would expect, rolls out massive, deeply researched stories about these artists. This brings me to the long, long feature that ran the other day about actor Tom Hanks, who is about as likely a Kennedy Center honoree as anyone who has ever lived.

The big theme in this piece is that people respect Hanks as a thinker, as an artist and as a man, yet they also know that he has kept his private life in the shadows. The bottom line: It's just hard to find out what makes this guy tick. Here is the crucial passage:

Poke around. Ask other actors. Google at will. There’s not much you can find on Hanks. No storming off sets. No DWIs. No errant tweets. He did once extend his middle finger to the paparazzi after being stalked at lunch, but he has never pulled an Alec Baldwin.
In person, he is warm, thoughtful and funny. ... Just don’t mistake that warmth for accessibility. Tom Hanks, the public figure, has rehearsed his lines as well as Tom Hanks, the actor. Long ago, he built a wall between his personal and professional lives. No magazine cover is worth scaling it. Over the years, the few snippy comments the genial Hanks has made to interviewers have come when others have tried to intrude.
“If people don’t know the real me or know what my life’s about, that’s good, because I don’t want them to,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1993.

All well and good. Hanks has been a rather private man, but not all THAT private. 

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It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

IRA ASKS:

Both Jews and Muslims lay religious claim to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, which has long been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is the basis of their competing claims?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This uniquely and deeply revered religious site in the eastern sector of Jerusalem’s Old City is called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”) by Muslims. Smithsonian magazine says this tract “has seen more momentous historical events than perhaps any other 35 acres in the world,” while The Economist magazine considers it “one of the world’s most explosive bits of real estate.”

That second assertion has been amply underscored in recent months. An expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace tells huffingtonpost.com that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has developed a religious character that was not as explicit in the past.”

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Black church unites with white church: A symbolic story about modern 'Baptist' life

Black church unites with white church: A symbolic story about modern 'Baptist' life

Veterans on the religion beat know that there are Baptists, Baptists, Baptists and then there are other kinds of Baptists.

There are Southern BaptistsAmerican Baptists, several kinds of National Baptists (not to be confused with the Progressive National Baptists), Free Will BaptistsReformed (Calvinist) Baptists, various Conservative BaptistsPrimitive BaptistsCooperative Baptists and legions of others. Then, of course, there a kazillion totally independent Baptist congregations with no ties that bind them to anyone.

So the Rev. Pat Robertson, last time I checked, is a Baptist and so is the Rev. Bill Moyers. The Rev. Jesse Jackson is a Baptist, as is the Rev. Billy Graham. Former President Bill Clinton remains a Baptist and the same is true for former President Jimmy Carter, although he famously dropped his Southern Baptist ties.

What's my point? When journalists write about Baptists it helps to provide a bit of context. Take, for example, the very interesting Huffington Post story the other day that -- in the midst of #Ferguson shock waves -- ran under this headline: "Two Florida Churches Merge With Hope Of Bridging A Racial Divide." Here's the top of the report:

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