What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

What Mark Silk said! Time, for some strange reason, overlooks 'Oprah' and the MTD wave

A hearty "Amen!" in this corner for the key points in Mark Silk's Religion News Service take down of a really, really strange Time magazine interpretation of a poll on the Bible and religion.

Let's let the man preach:

This week the American Bible Society (Protestant) released its annual survey ranking the “Bible-Mindedness” of America’s 100 largest cities (well, actually, America’s 100 largest media markets). Conducted by the Barna Group (evangelical), the ranking is based on “the highest combined levels of regular Bible reading and expressed belief in the Bible’s accuracy.” This year, Birmingham/Anniston/Tuscaloosa AL won the top spot while Providence RI/New Bedford MA came in dead last for the third year in a row.
OK, so far so good. However, Time, in its story, transformed the results into, in the words of the headline, “These Are the Most Godless Cities in America.” Holy Misconception, Batman! Since when does non-Bible-mindedness equal Godlessness?

Silk, with justification, notes that this interpretation slants everything away from cultural Catholicism and in the Bible-driven direction of Protestantism and, especially, evangelical Protestantism. That's accurate. However, I would argue that Time missed at least two other crucial points in this tone-deaf piece.

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Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Obits make Marcus Borg a "controversial" scholar, while downplaying the controversy

Marcus Borg, by all accounts, blended a nice-guy approach with blunt denials of nearly every historic belief about Jesus. That often drove conservative believers to distraction, of course. But not mainstream media, which helped the Bible scholar spread his ideas for decades.

Much of that enthusiasm also marked the obits on Borg, who died Wednesday at 72. Among the most-republished obits is the detailed, 860-word obit from the Religion News Service.

RNS notes that Borg was a leader in the Jesus Seminar, which "helped popularize the intense debates about the historical Jesus and the veracity and meaning of the New Testament." The story correctly calls Borg a "liberal theologian and Bible scholar."

But it appears subtly to take sides in the debates:

Borg emerged in the 1980s just as academics and theologians were bringing new energy to the so-called 'quest for the historical Jesus,' the centuries-old effort to disentangle fact from myth in the Gospels.

Assuming that there is, in fact, myth in the Gospels puts a spin on the term. In another narrative tilt, RNS later says Borg was a "hero to Christian progressives and a target for conservatives." Borg's opponents, then, are against progress.

And although the obit quotes a couple of scholars saying they disagreed with Borg, it doesn't give the what or why of the disagreements. The article mentions Anglican scholar N.T. Wright, who often lectured with Borg and even co-authored a book with him. A live quote would have been a good idea. Otherwise, it's like recapping a horse race by talking mainly about one horse.

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The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

The Womenpriests march on in the headlines, producing the usual issues of church history and Associated Press style

Week after week they march (or liturgical dance) foward, leaving in their wake a river of YouTubes and mainstream media reports.

Oh, and Associated Press style questions: Are they the "Women Priests," the "WomenPriests" or the "Womenpriests"? At some point, will they be the "Womynpriests"? Right now, at the official site, it is "Womenpriests."

Your GetReligionistas have written quite a bit about this tiny movement because the mainstream media have spilled oceans of ink on coverage of it. Also, the Womenpriests denomination -- and coverage thereof -- really gets under the skin of Catholics who read this blog.

Yes, I just referred to the Womenpriests as a new denomination, because historically that is what this is. This is a new Protestant denomination and the ordination of these women is totally valid to the people who are members of this flock, along with the rites they perform. The problem, of course, is that many reporters continue to refer to these women as Roman Catholic priests -- because they say that they are.

Well, in terms of Catholic tradition, you can't be a Catholic priest unless the Catholic pope says you are a Catholic priest. Ditto for major-league shortstops. You can't say that you are the shortstop for the New York Yankees unless the Yankees have hired you to play shortstop.

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Culture war of cakes: Associated Press story on gay rights, religious freedom less than perfect

Culture war of cakes: Associated Press story on gay rights, religious freedom less than perfect

There's a new twist on the ongoing story of Colorado bakers caught in the middle of the culture war.

The Associated Press boils down the latest development this way:

DENVER (AP) — A dispute over a cake in Colorado raises a new question about gay rights and religious freedom: If bakers can be fined for refusing to serve married gay couples, can they also be punished for declining to make a cake with anti-gay statements?
A baker in suburban Denver who refused to make a cake for a same-sex wedding is fighting a legal order requiring him to serve gay couples even though he argued that would violate his religious beliefs.
But now a separate case puts a twist in the debate over discrimination in public businesses, and it underscores the tensions that can arise when religious freedom intersects with a growing acceptance of gay couples.
Marjorie Silva, owner of Denver's Azucar Bakery, is facing a complaint from a customer alleging she discriminated against his religious beliefs.
According to Silva, the man who visited last year wanted a Bible-shaped cake, which she agreed to make. Just as they were getting ready to complete the order, Silva said the man showed her a piece of paper with hateful words about gays that he wanted written on the cake. He also wanted the cake to have two men holding hands and an X on top of them, Silva said.
She said she would make the cake, but declined to write his suggested messages on the cake, telling him she would give him icing and a pastry bag so he could write the words himself. Silva said the customer didn't want that.

Overall, the AP story is pretty straightforward and makes an effort to present a range of viewpoints on the cake — er, culture — war.

But the opening sentence bothers me. 

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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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Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Covering abortion: Why do so many journalists use labels from only one side of the debate?

Once again, it's time to talk about the many symbolic modifiers and verbs that offer clues to how journalists frame coverage of you know what. Consider, for example, the top of that Washington Post news report about Republicans backing away from a strategically timed vote on a bill that would protect unborn children after the 20th week of a pregnancy.

Now, you saw how I described that bill -- using the word "protect." It would even be possible to frame this issue by stating that the bill would have "expanded" legal "protection" for the unborn.

That is loaded language and I know that. It's the kind of language that, say, Pope Francis uses in speeches that draw minimal coverage. But that is the language used on one side of the abortion debate, here on Jan. 22nd.

Now, what would the framing language sound like on the opposite side of this debate? Let's look at the top of that Post report:

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Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

Terri Schiavo case revisited: What role did faith play in Jeb Bush's fight to keep her alive?

In a fascinating story, the Tampa Bay Times explores former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush's role in the case of Terri Schiavo, the severely brain-damaged woman who died a decade ago after the feeding tube that sustained her for 15 years was removed.

The front-page report published Sunday focuses on Bush's decision to "err on the side of life" in a messy conflict over the fate of Schiavo, whom medical experts described as in a "persistent vegetative state."

The lede:

Tricia Rivas had never written to an elected official, but gripped with emotion, she composed an urgent email to Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. "Please save Terri Schiavo!" she wrote from her home in Tucson, Ariz., on March 20, 2005. "Do something before it is too late … please! Every parent is watching this drama unfold … and will remember the outcome in future elections." Schiavo would be dead by the end of the month at a hospice near St. Petersburg, but not before Bush took a series of actions that, looking back a decade later, are stunning for their breadth and audacity.
A governor who was known for his my-way-or-the-highway approach — and who rarely was challenged by fellow Republicans controlling the legislative branch — stormed to the brink of a constitutional crisis in order to overrule the judicial branch for which he often showed contempt. Bush used his administration to battle in court after court, in Congress, in his brother's White House, and, even after Schiavo's death, to press a state attorney for an investigation into her husband, Michael Schiavo.
While many Republicans espouse a limited role for government in personal lives, Bush, now a leading contender for president in 2016, went all in on Schiavo.

Brief glimpses of faith and religion appear throughout the 2,200-word story. Unfortunately, those glimpses function more as flashing lights — as buzzwords — than real spotlights illuminating any kind of spiritual insight or depth.

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Washington Post's angle on crash survivor: Cue the laugh track

Washington Post's angle on crash survivor: Cue the laugh track

It's one thing when mainstream media miss a religious "ghost," a religious or spiritual angle in a news story. It's quite another when they spot a ghost, then ridicule it.

It happened when the Washington Post wrote up the story of Kaleb Whitby, the driver in eastern Oregon whose SUV was wedged between two semis in a 26-car pileup.

Whitby's vehicle crumpled like tinfoil, yet he walked away with only scratches. He told reporters that he'd prayed as the crash happened, and he thanked God for his survival.

A very normal reaction, whatever the theological issues. But the Post's writer, or his editor, rolled his eyes:

“Thank God that I’m still alive,” Whitby told the Oregonian. “Now I’ve got to go figure out why.”
Divine sources did not immediately respond to this reporter’s repeated requests for comment, so for now we’ll just have to attribute Whitby’s improbable survival to good old-fashioned luck — and no small amount of it, either.

This cynicism, thank God (if you'll pardon the expression), wasn’t the rule in the crash coverage. The report by KTVK-3TV in Arizona actually went the other way: One of the anchors said she posted the crash video on her Facebook page, adding, "This guy definitely had an angel looking over him at this moment."

The Oregonian, where the Post got much of its material, simply quoted Whitby -- "Thank God that I'm still alive. Now I've got to go figure out why" -- without a snide comment.

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Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Yo, Washington Post editors: Do faith issues matter to the Islamic State death crews? Maybe they do ...

Once again, we are seeing the dreaded orange jumpsuits on our television screens during the news. Once again, it appears that we have an Islamic State video threatening the lives of hostages, if a Western power does not give the terrorists what they want.

This time, it's Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who is facing the threats made by the YouTube-seeking terrorist with the British accent.

And who are the two hostages? What are there stories and, this time around, will journalists dig into the poignant details?

In The Washington Post, readers were told early on:

Japanese officials declined to discuss whether they would consider paying for the release of the hostages: journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and self-styled military consultant Haruna Yukawa.

The Post team doesn't tell us much about Goto, but is truly interested in the details of the story behind the "self-styled" -- what a loaded term -- military consultant.

Goto, 47, a well-respected Japanese journalist, was last heard from Oct. 24. He had told friends he was traveling to Kobane, a flashpoint town on the Turkish-Syrian border, but it is unclear exactly where he was kidnapped while covering Syria’s multiple conflicts.

And Yukawa? That's another story:

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