Interviews

Veritas Forum invites college students to think through 'life’s hardest questions”

Veritas Forum invites college students to think through 'life’s hardest questions”

It’s back to school time, and how’s this for a bracing lineup of campus lectures in just the past four weeks?

At Yale University, distinguished philosophy professor Shelly Kagan, who is an atheist, hosted a top theologian, Anglican Bishop N.T. Wright, from Scotland’s University of St. Andrews to jointly ponder “Living Well in Light of Death.”

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat visited Ann Arbor to advise University of Michigan students that “Faith Is Not a Sideshow.”

At arch-rival Ohio State, a panel on “Living and Dying Well” consisted of a physician, a biological ethicist, and a specialist who helps patients with end-of-life planning.

Bob Cutillo, a physician working with Colorado’s homeless, spoke at the Mayo Clinic and its medical college on “The Doctor’s Gaze: Some Ancient Opinions on How We See Our Patients.”

Then it was celebrated attorney Rachael Denhollander, leader of the sexual abuse victims in the Michigan State and USA Gymnastics scandals and among Time magazine’s “100 most influential people.” Her double-header this week at New York University, then Columbia University Law School, addressed how justice can be reconciled with religious faith and forgiveness.

So began the season for the Veritas Forum of Cambridge, Mass., which organizes campus lectures to address “life’s hardest questions” from traditional Christian viewpoints that it believes academe neglects. To date there’ve been Veritas events at 185 colleges and universities, including at all but one of America’s top 25 schools in the new Wall Street Journal rankings.

Lecture topics run the gamut, for example “What Does It Mean to be Human?? “Is There Truth Beyond Science?” “Does Science Point to Atheism?” “Is Tolerance Intolerant?” “Contradictions in the Bible?” and “What Makes Us Racist?”

The concept is particularly intriguing due to heavy involvement of conservative or “evangelical” Protestants, often depicted in the media as anti-intellectual or at best mediocre thinkers.

The journalism hook?

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No 'Crossroads' podcast: So tune in a tmatt alternative, talking Catholic wars with Metaxas

No 'Crossroads' podcast: So tune in a tmatt alternative, talking Catholic wars with Metaxas

The long and the short of it: There is no "Crossroads" podcast this week, because one of our key partners at Lutheran Public Radio has this week off.

It happens. Even clergy/radio pros need a break every now and then.

However, the news coverage of the current uptick in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis rolls on. Recently, I ended up offering a high-altitude overview of that topic in an on-air conversation with author and radio host Eric Metaxas. This took place while I was in New York City for my latest set of journalism classes at The King's College in lower Manhattan.

The key to this discussion is the question that I hear all the time in conversations with readers, friends and even people I bump into everywhere from my church in the Oak Ridge, Tenn., to hole-in-the-wall food joints in New York.

That question: What is this story really all about? The problem is that different crowds of people are shouting different answers to that question.

(1) There are some conservative Catholics who keep shouting, "It's gay priests! It's gay bishops! It's gay cardinals!" That isn't the main issue, when you look at the big picture.

(2) There are Catholics on the other side who are saying: "This is about pedophilia -- period -- and things aren't perfect, but we're getting this horrible problem under control." In other words, it's time for more grief, but no fundamental changes. And don't talk about seminaries!

(3) Lots and lots of people in the press (click here for a rather over-the-top example) who seem convinced that this whole mess is the result of homophobic right-wing Catholics who oppose this pope's efforts to modernize the church and some of its moral theology (see answer No. 1). Hey, I hear that Steve Bannon may even be in the mix.

(4) Many observers say that the real news story right now centers on ex-cardinal Theodore "Uncle Ted" McCarrick and the network of associates and disciples who have promoted and protected him for several decades.

Ok, Ok. Yes, that's my take of the current crisis, narrowly defined. And that's what I explained in my conversation with Metaxas. Click here to tune that in.

So why listen, if you have kept up with the hurricane of posts on this topic here at GetReligion?

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For High Holy Days coverage, consider a look at major Jewish thinker -- Leon Kass

For High Holy Days coverage, consider a look at major Jewish thinker -- Leon Kass

If you’re scouting for a feature pegged to Judaism’s High Holy Days that begin at sundown Sept. 9, consider a high-end piece profiling what they used to call a “public intellectual,” now often thought to be a dying breed.

The Religion Guy is thinking of Jewish philosopher Leon R. Kass and his recent book “Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times” (Encounter), certainly a timely Holy Days theme. These essays are lauded in National Review as “a crowning achievement” that caps this polymath’s decades of reflection. Topics include love and courtship, friendship, the Internet, biotechnology and scientific peril, death and mercy-killing, and of course religion.

The 72-year-old retiree long taught at the University of Chicago’s elite Committee on Social Thought, where he pursued the book’s title mostly through analyzing literary classics. Though he’s not a credentialed Bible scholar, he added  years of informal student seminars and then a not-for-credit course on the biblical Book of Genesis. His approach is unorthodox, indeed un-Orthodox.

The result was “The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis” (Free Press, 2003), praised by Kirkus Reviews as “wonderfully intelligent.” Rather than focusing on matters of faith that are central for Bible believers, Kass’s philosophical approach asks us to ponder what ancient Jewish tradition provides for modern-day justice, sanity and contentment. That feeds into his other writings that seek human happiness through recovery of the West’s old-fashioned values and verities.

Kass says he was raised in a Yiddish-speaking but “strictly secular home without contact with scripture.” There’s considerable unexplained turf an interviewer could pursue regarding Kass’s own personal belief and practice, and whether and how the specifically religious aspect of the Jewish heritage might remain relevant in the 21st Century. 

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) posts a good essay about Kass that can guide journalists. A bit of the basic bio: Kass earned bachelor’s and medical degrees at the University of Chicago, where he met his late wife and intellectual collaborator Amy, and then migrated to Harvard for a second doctorate in biochemistry.

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Despite risks in a time of audience skepticism, anonymous sources can be invaluable 

Despite risks in a time of audience skepticism, anonymous sources can be invaluable 

We live in an ethical epoch when editors at BuzzFeed and Politico have no scruples when a reporter sleeps with a prime source on her beat, after which she lands a prized New York Times job, at the very top of the journalism food chain.

Not that flexible conflict-of-interest standards are anything new. Ben Bradlee, as lauded as any journalist of his era, exploited a close friendship with President John F. Kennedy when he was Newsweek’s Washington bureau chief, giving fits to his competitors at Time. Bradlee was covering events that, one could argue, that he had helped shape in his conversations with Kennedy.

In 2018, such stuff matters more than ever, given the low esteem of “mainstream media” performance. The latest evidence comes in a survey reported June 11 by the American Press Institute, The Associated Press and NORC at the University of Chicago.

We learn that 35 percent of Americans have a negative view of news organizations, and 42 percent think news coverage veers too far into commentary, while 63 percent want to get mostly facts alongside limited analysis. Importantly, 42 percent don’t understand how the use of anonymous sources works and 68 percent say the media should offer more information about story sources.

President Donald Trump’s frequently fake “fake news” attacks on reporters, of course, continually involve complaints about unnamed sources. For sure, the Washington press corps, which makes such lavish use of anonymous sources in coverage critical of the Trump administration, must do everything possible to maintain accuracy and fairness.

Once upon a time -- in 2005 -- the staff Credibility Group formed in the wake of the horrid Jayson Blair scandal advised New York Times colleagues in a report titled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust [.pdf here].” It warned that the daily should “keep unidentified attribution to a minimum” and “energetically” enforce limits across the board -- in hard news, features, magazine sections, and with copy from the growing number of freelance contributors.

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In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

In the end, was journalist Tom Wolfe 'cool' or not? Well, he sure was proud to be a heretic

Once upon a time, there was this era in American life called the Sixties. As the old saying goes, if you remember the Sixties, then you really weren't part of them -- which kind of implies that the only people who remember the Sixties were Baptists, or something like that.

Anyway, lots of things in the Sixties were "cool." Some things were even "groovy," although I thought -- at the time -- that no one who was actually "cool" would have fallen so low as to use the word "groovy." 

Whatever the word "cool" meant, journalist Tom Wolfe was "cool," while at the same time being "hot." If you dreamed of being a journalist in the late Sixties and early 1970s, then you knew about Wolfe and you looked at his writing and thought to yourself, "How does he DO that? That is so cool."

Revolutionaries were "cool" and traditionalists were "not cool."

So with that in mind (and as an introduction to the content of this week's "Crossroads" podcast), please read the following quotation from a 1980 Rolling Stone interview with Wolfe. The key is to understand why, at one point, he calls himself a "heretic." This is long, but essential:

RS: I believe it was in the New Republic that Mitch Tuchman wrote that the reason you turned against liberals is that you were rejected by the white-shoe crowd at Yale.

WOLFE: Wait a minute! Is that one by Tuchman? Yeah, oh, that was great.

RS: He talked about your doctoral dissertation. 

WOLFE: Yeah, he wrote that after The Painted Word. It went further than that. It was called "The Manchurian Candidate," and it said in all seriousness that I had some-how been prepared by the establishment, which he obviously thought existed at Yale, to be this kind of kamikaze like Laurence Harvey -- I think that's who was in The Manchurian Candidate, wasn't it? -- to go out and assassinate liberal culture. I loved that.

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Old news? The New York Times discovers David Brody and CBN's niche-audience power

Old news? The New York Times discovers David Brody and CBN's niche-audience power

Let's ask some basic questions about the journalism world in which we live.

Is it safe to assume that viewers of Fox News are interested in different kinds of issues and news stories than those who watch CNN?

Can we also assume that MSNBC viewers are interested in different kinds of issues and news stories than those who watch Fox? Things get really interesting if you try to discern cultural and political fault lines between CNN and MSNBC.

But the anwser is obvious, in this splintered age in which we all try to make sense of American public discourse.

Some of what is happening centers on changes in technology, as well as what is happening with changes linked to American generations, young and old. If you want to see a nonpolitical take on that, see this new report in the New York Times: "Why Traditional TV Is in Trouble."

Now, this brings me to another Times piece, focusing on the Donald Trump-era work of David Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network -- a niche network focusing on the concerns of many (not all) charismatic and evangelical Protestants. Apparently, the Times team is surprised that the interests of this niche audience shape CBN offerings, in a manner similar to those of MSNBC, CNN, Fox, etc. Oh, and The New York Times, too. Here is a typical passage:

Mr. Brody, the chief political correspondent for the Christian Broadcasting Network, was not there to inquire about porn stars. It was the National Day of Prayer, and Mr. Brody asked the vice president whether he was tired of defending his anti-abortion views amid “potshots” from comedians, and whether prayer was “alive and well in the White House.” He inquired whether Mr. Pence would attend the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, scheduled to take place Monday.

Mr. Pence smiled and answered each question. Then he invited Mr. Brody to get coffee.

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God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

So who is that Jordan Peterson guy and why is he so popular with some people and so controversial for others?

Yes, after weeks of getting emails from people asking when I was going to write something about Peterson, the other day I took a look at a very God-haunted Washington Post Style piece that ran with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide." Now, readers can click here and check out the "Crossroads" podcast that digs into some of this.

The cultural divide is easy to spot and to explore. On one side you have people -- millions of them -- who follow Peterson's every move in the digital marketplace of ideas. Some see him as the next C.S. Lewis (or a perfect example of trends that Lewis opposed). Some see him as the new William F. Buckley.

Some like his calm, blunt take on political correctness -- including issues related to free speech, gender wars, etc. It' this old logic: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

On the other side there are those who use similar logic, only they assume that when someone endorses one thing or the other that Peterson has said, that then links the University of Toronto clinical psychologist to that cause, whatever that may be. For example, see this take at The Forward:

Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, many who admire Peterson see him as a kind of anti-Donald Trump, a person who is making a case for a culturally conservative approach to life using logic, education and discipline as opposed to, well, America's Tweeter In Chief.

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How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel

How to cover Jordan Peterson, while avoiding truth-shaped holes in his 'secular' gospel

At least once a week, I receive an email from a reader asking me -- as a columnist -- when I am going to write about Jordan Peterson.

You see, there are lots of folks who believe Peterson is, well, the next C.S. Lewis.

Then there are others who worry that Peterson's unique worldview -- secular philosophy, with no confessed ties to a religious tradition -- are exactly the kind of thing that Lewis warned about in our modern and now postmodern world. Lewis knew a lot about the lines between deism, theism and Christian faith.

Then there are those who, after careful parsing of several thousand Peterson remarks on YouTube about the Bible and truth, are convinced that there is a faith tradition in there somewhere, one that the bestselling author ("12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos") doesn't -- for some reason -- want to state openly.

However, if you study the Peterson phenomenon you are going to run into religion and, in particular, debates about whether truth is relative and evolving or transcendent and absolute. Yes, we are James Davison Hunter territory once again. What a surprise.

Anyway, the Washington Post recently published an oh-so-predictable feature about Peterson, with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide."

I have some good news and some bad news, for GetReligion readers who are interested in this topic.

The good news: There's a ton of material to read in this feature linked to the religion ghosts in his worldview and the issues that have made him so controversial.

The bad news: This long feature was not produced by the religion-desk team at the Post. It shows.

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Bonus podcast: tmatt and Eric Metaxas sift through 30 years of 'On Religion' work

Bonus podcast: tmatt and Eric Metaxas sift through 30 years of 'On Religion' work

Every Friday, our own Bobby Ross Jr., adds a dose of what he calls "shameless promotion" to his Friday Five wrap up of GetReligion stuff.

Let me add a bit of that of my own, a bit early. My apologies in advance.

Readers may have noticed that the "On Religion" column I filed on April 11 marked the 30th anniversary for my weekly analysis piece, which began with Scripps Howard News Service then moved to the Universal syndicate. Our friends at Lutheran Public Radio also did an extra-long "Crossroads" podcast that week, focusing on what I saw as the five "Big Ideas" in that period.

I finished that anniversary column soon after I arrived in New York City for two weeks of teaching and, literally while doing the edits, I took an hour-plus off to head up Broadway a couple of blocks to appear on The Eric Metaxas Show.

Now, Eric and I have been friends for two decades and I have been on the show several times, either by telephone from here in Oak Ridge or live in the New York studio when I'm in town. There are now video cameras in there, which I find disturbing since I have a face for radio (see proof in this video from a lecture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford).

Metaxas and I agree on a lot of things (love of C.S. Lewis, for example) and disagree on others (artistic quality of bubblegum pop in '70s-'80s). He was raised Greek Orthodox and is now an Evangelical. I was raised as a Southern Baptist "moderate" and am now Orthodox. And then there is the Donald Trump thing. I was #NeverTrump #NeverHillary and Eric's views are best expressed as #NeverHillary, period.

Anyway, during this hour of his program, we went all over the place -- but the heart of the discussion focused -- as you would expect -- on events and trends in religion news.

Consider this a bonus podcast, with an occasionally sarcastic (in a nice kind of way) host.

Click here to tune that in.

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