About that Michael Gerson think piece: Why (many) evangelicals got hooked by Donald Trump

About that Michael Gerson think piece: Why (many) evangelicals got hooked by Donald Trump

Here is a really obscure fact about American politics that you may not have heard about: Did you know that lots of white evangelical Protestants voted for Donald Trump in 2016?

I know. It's really strange, but it must be true -- because it's in all the newspapers, week after week after week after week.

As I have noted before, it's true that there were evangelical "early adopters" who helped Trump get the 30 percent votes that he needed to gain momentum in the early primaries. As his candidacy became inevitable, many other evangelicals bit their lips and signed on -- many keeping their hard choice private. The best story to read remains this feature at Christianity Today: "Pew: Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump."

Why has the press been so focused on white evangelicals? Trump isn't president today because lots of evangelicals -- for various reasons -- backed him. He is president because lots of blue-collar and labor Democrats voted for him in crucial states. Many of them were white Catholics. Where is the tsunami of coverage of those crucial niches in American politics?

I bring all this up -- again -- because this weekend's think piece is the must-read Michael Gerson cover story at The Atlantic that ran under this double-decker headline:

The Last Temptation
How evangelicals, once culturally confident, became an anxious minority seeking political protection from the least traditionally religious president in living memory

The key part of that headline is the reference to "seeking political protection." Hold that thought, because we will come back to it. Meanwhile, here is the overture:

One of the most extraordinary things about our current politics -- really, one of the most extraordinary developments of recent political history -- is the loyal adherence of religious conservatives to Donald Trump.


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What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

What's the 'A Wrinkle In Time' news story? Flashback to wisdom from Madeleine L'Engle

So what is the story with the new Disney version of the classic, Newbery Award winning novel "A Wrinkle In Time" by the late, great Madeleine L'Engle?

I'm talking about a news story here.

I'm talking about the attempt -- another one -- to make this beloved youth-fiction classic into a blockbuster movie. Why is it is causing discussion, debate and even controversy? Yes, I'm asking this because that's what we talked about this week in the GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Is it news because it appears, to one degree or another, to be a box-office flop? Is it news because, at Rotten Tomatoes, only 40 percent of critics like it? That's bad, but the score from ordinary people in theaters was even lower, to the tune of only 34 percent positive reactions.

Director Ava DuVernay was not amused and argued that race may have had something to do with it, since she -- as a star African-American director -- changed the racial mix of the cast.

It's clear that some of the movie's supporters thought race was a crucial part of the mix, as seen in this NBC commentary: " 'A Wrinkle in Time' isn't a film for critics. It's Ava DuVernay's love letter to black girls." And over at CNN there was this: "Watching 'A Wrinkle in Time' is a political act."

So one more question: Why write a religion column about this book and its author?

That's what I did this past week, for the Universal syndicate. It did that because, nearly two decades ago, I had a chance to spend two hours talking to L'Engle about the crucial themes woven into her book. In particular, I asked her if there were concepts and even quotations from her novel that needed to be in a film adaption of it. Here is a key piece of that column:

It would be hard, explained L'Engle, to grasp this book's cosmic war between life and death, good and evil, darkness and light without two crucial passages.

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Moscow speaking: GetReligion reader chimes in on Washington Post, the 'Putin Generation'

Moscow speaking: GetReligion reader chimes in on Washington Post, the 'Putin Generation'

Isn't the Internet an amazing thing?

I am old enough that this thought still pops into my mind every now and then, just like in the old days when I would pause in wonder while doing a live chat session online with a friend of mine in New Zealand.

Anyway, I would like to flash back to my earlier post that ran with this title: "Dear Washington Post international desk: Does Russia's 'Putin Generation' have a soul?" It focused on an international desk Post feature built on poll data showing that young Russians are among the biggest fans of that Vladimir Putin guy.

This alleged "Generation Putin" liked their nation's current stability and its economic prospects. The Post feature, however, noted that they have, in the past, "taken to the streets in protest" of some Putin policies and that there are many who like Putin despite the fact that they "espouse some liberal values."

This made me curious what kinds of values we might be talking about -- especially on issues linked to religion, culture and morality.

What about faith? What about marriage and family? In other words, I wondered if this interesting piece was haunted by "religion ghosts."

At the end of the post I added this note:

Read the whole piece and let me know if you sense the same hole in this piece, the gap where the Russian soul is often discussed.
I know, in particular, that GetReligion has readers in Russia. Care to drop me a note?

Sure enough, I veteran GetReligion reader chimed in with feedback. Thus, I'd like to do something that I wish I could do more often -- which is run a long, news-focused note from a reader. I know who this reader is and confirm that he is a professional in Moscow. So here goes:

Moscow speaking.
I have only read this post and watched the interview clips on the page of the Washington Post article, but I am already cringing.

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Friday Five: March Madness miracle, faith at the movies, newspaper layoffs and more

Friday Five: March Madness miracle, faith at the movies, newspaper layoffs and more

Go ahead and enjoy the video.

It's MercyMe's official music video for the "I Can Only Imagine" movie, which opens in theaters nationwide today.

Speaking of which, USA Today has an interesting story on how that song became the biggest Christian single ever (selling 2.5 million copies) and inspired the movie.

Promoters showed the trailer at the Religion News Association annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn., last fall, and it looks interesting. The film stars Dennis Quaid, who talked to Parade about finding inspiration in the real-life story.

As we dive into this week's Friday Five, we'll highlight another faith angle on a Hollywood hit.

But first, a bit of March Madness:

1. Religion story of the week: A divine 3-pointer won the game at the buzzer. That's how the Chicago Tribune characterized 11th-seeded Loyola's 64-62 upset win Thursday over No. 6 seed Miami in the NCAA Tournament.

Enter Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, whose fans include former President Barack Obama:

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Scientology gets a TV channel, but rates little more than a yawn in the news coverage

Scientology gets a TV channel, but rates little more than a yawn in the news coverage

The Church of Scientology started its own TV channel this week, but coverage of the event -– such as it was -– didn’t come from religion specialists. Instead, it was general assignment reporters who did the job.

That left readers with some pretty predictable questions about this story. For example: What about the "why?" factor in the traditional journalism "who," "what," "when," "where," "why" and "how" sequence?

I found the show on YouTube and watched it for an hour. Muzak played throughout and much of the content was focused on how you, the viewer can -- through Scientology, of course -- set personal goals, overcome adversity, sail through life, and more. There was a ton of testimonies from members (or really good actors) on how Scientology had improved their lot.

There were snippets from weekly church services, although not enough to get an idea of of what typically goes on. There were odd parts; like showcasing their bookstore? But after smiling personage after smiling personage informed me of the benefits of Scientology, my interest began to wane after a half hour.

CNN Money said

The Church of Scientology is headed to television.
The organization is set to premiere Scientology TV on Monday, a new network that will air on DirecTV and available via streaming devices like Roku, Apple TV and Fire TV.
"The only thing more interesting than what you've heard is what you haven't," read a promo announcing the channel, shared on Scientology social media accounts.

The Associated Press did a more in-depth summation that mirrors what I saw:

The first hour offered a slickly produced taste of the series to follow from an in-house studio, including “Meet a Scientologist,” ‘’Destination Scientology” and the three-part “L. Ron Hubbard: In His Own Voice.” The channel is available on DIRECTV, AppleTV, Roku, fireTV, Chromecast, iTunes and Google Play.
(Scientology leader David) Miscavige didn’t directly address critics, but Scientology doesn’t lack for them. Several high-profile projects have investigated the church’s alleged abuses of former members, including actress Leah Remini’s A&E docuseries “Scientology and the Aftermath” and Alex Gibney’s Emmy-winning documentary, “Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief.”
Instead, the channel’s debut offered interviews with church members who touted Scientology’s rewards, showed off its impressive facilities in cities including Melbourne, London, Tokyo and throughout the United States and its work with other churches and community groups.

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In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

In reporting on ruling against Down syndrome abortion law, this pesky detail seems important

Let's consider a mirror-image scenario, as GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly calls it.

The scenario: A federal judge, who once served as a local chapter director and board president for the National Right to Life Committee, hears a case concerning abortion. In his ruling, the judge rejects a new state law friendly toward a woman's right to choose an abortion.

Might news reports on the judge's decision mention his connection to the anti-abortion movement? (You think?)

Now, let's look at a real-life scenario involving a U.S. district judge in Ohio with ties to Planned Parenthood, the nation's leading abortion provider.

CNN reports:

(CNN) — An Ohio federal district court judge blocked legislation that would have banned abortion in cases where a fetus is diagnosed with Down syndrome.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed the legislation into law in December of last year, and it was scheduled to go into effect March 23. The legislation is now blocked until a final ruling is made in the lawsuit.
In a court order granting a preliminary injunction Wednesday, Southern District of Ohio Judge Timothy Black said that federal abortion law is "crystal clear" that "a State may not prohibit any woman from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy before viability."

A quick aside: My colleague Julia Duin recently delved into "Outlawing Down syndrome abortions: Isn't religion always part of this news story?" I, too, have explored the holy ghosts that have haunted much coverage of the Ohio legislation.

But for the purposes of this post, my focus is this specific question: Does news coverage of Black's ruling inform readers of his possible bias? In a case such as this, that seems like a pretty crucial detail, right?

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Dear Washington Post international desk: Does Russia's 'Putin Generation' have a soul?

Dear Washington Post international desk: Does Russia's 'Putin Generation' have a soul?

I have spent the last several days on the West Coast, hanging out with a circle of journalists from around the world -- think Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc.

As you would expect, when journalists get together it's rather common for us to talk about the news and, in particular, stories in major media that have captured our attention. #DUH

One of the stories that came up for discussion this week was a Washington Post feature that ran with this headline: "The Putin Generation -- Young Russians are Vladimir Putin’s biggest fans." The bottom line: That headline clashed with the impressions several of these journalists have had in the recent past while working in Russia or talking with Russia experts.

In particular (here comes the GetReligion "ghost"), several journalists wanted to know more about the role that moral, cultural and religious issues -- think LGBTQ questions, to name one example -- played in this equation.

To be blunt: The story contains no information on moral and religious issues at all. However, there is evidence that it should have.

Hold that thought, while we explore the overture:

KURGAN, Russia -- A young woman, riding a city bus to her journalism class, enjoys using the time to scroll through an independent news site that can be scathing in its reports on Russia’s authoritarian president -- leaving her to wrestle with a paradox, the paradox of her generation.
“What the Russian soul demands,” says Yekaterina Mamay, “is that there be one strong politician in the country who resembles a czar.”
In Russia’s upcoming presidential election, the 20-year-old student, who knows that journalism in her country is not free, will nonetheless vote to reelect Vladimir Putin.
Here, where the forest of the taiga meets the grassy steppe, the “Putin Generation” is no different from anywhere else across Russia’s vastness: coming of age without a rebellious streak. Today’s Russian young adults have no memory of life before Putin, who first took power as their president 18 years ago. Some have taken to the streets in protest, but social scientists say many more have grown to accept him. Polls show that Putin enjoys greater support among youth than among the public at large.

OK, I'll ask: What kinds of issues have driven young Russians into the street in the past? What Putin-era issues have they protested?

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As year six begins, Pope Francis’s devotion to Mary shows a traditionalist streak

As year six begins, Pope Francis’s devotion to Mary shows a traditionalist streak

Liberal Catholics have often rejoiced, and Catholic conservatives have sometimes grumbled, over Pope Francis, who was elected on March 13, five years ago.

A Pew Research survey (.pdf here) released in time for the anniversary shows 84 percent of U.S. Catholics over-all have a favorable opinion of Francis -- but 55 percent of Catholic Republicans find him “too liberal” (up from 23 percent in 2015). Yes, it would have been nice to see some survey questions framed in doctrinal terms, rather than this political reference point.

 A new decree on the Virgin Mary reminds reporters going forward that the pontiff does have a traditionalist streak worth remembering, as surely as there’s a perennially interesting feature theme in how Catholicism honors the mother of Jesus Christ and the resulting ecumenical conflict.

Upon endorsement from Francis, the new decree was issued March 3 by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. (Why such convoluted titles at the Vatican?). It states that all church calendars and liturgies will now honor Mary as the “Mother of the Church” the day after Pentecost Sunday, also citing her “divine motherhood” and “intimate union in the work of the Redeemer.”

This is an annual “memorial,” the lowest level of recognition in worship. But higher “solemnities” with obligatory Mass attendance are already on the universal calendar, hailing Mary under the dogmas of her bodily Assumption into heaven (August 15) and her Immaculate Conception free from original sin (December 8). Those provide yearly feature pegs.

Writers who want to develop this aspect of the pope’s personal piety should read a 2015 rundown in the doctrinally conservative National Catholic Register. For instance, twelve hours after the cardinals elected Francis, he quietly visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major to venerate the icon of Mary as the Protectress of the Romans.

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Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

So here is the question of the day: Does it matter that famed physicist Stephen Hawking was -- as best one can tell from his complex and even impish way of expressing himself -- an atheist who still had moments when he could hint at doubts?

Does it matter that the mind that probed the far corners of the universe couldn't handle the mysteries of the human heart and that this pained him? After all, in an empty, random universe, there are no moral laws to explain the physics of love and attachment.

If you pay close attention to the major obituaries, it's also clear that Hawking's giant reputation and celebrity was the black hole that sucked some thoughtful coverage into nothingness.

On one level, I thought that some of the best material on Hawking's faith questions was found in a compact, logical sequence in The New York Times. As always, things begin with the book that made him a global phenomenon:

In “A Brief History of Time,” Dr. Hawking concluded that “if we do discover a complete theory” of the universe, “it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.” He added, “Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.”
“If we find the answer to that,” he continued, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we would know the mind of God.”

But Hawking kept writing and, as always, his opinions grew more provocative.

Nothing raised as much furor, however, as his increasingly scathing remarks about religion. ...
In “A Brief History of Time,” he had referred to the “mind of God,” but in “The Grand Design,” a 2011 book he wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, he was more bleak about religion. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper,” he wrote, referring to the British term for a firecracker fuse, “and set the universe going.”
He went further in an interview that year in The Guardian, saying: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

So what is missing from that version of Hawking? What did the Times skip over in its main obituary?

The answer can be found over at The Washington Post, where the main obituary wrestled -- briefly -- with a faith angle in the other part of Hawking's life that produced headlines.

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