Tom Wolfe, foe of pompous elites, targets Darwinian evolution, so where are the religious responses?

Tom Wolfe, foe of pompous elites, targets Darwinian evolution, so where are the religious responses?

Perpetually white-suited Tom Wolfe is a both a novelist and “new journalism” pioneer who applies fictional techniques to non-fiction with trademark florid verbiage. He gladly punctures elitist pomposity, as in the famed “Radical Chic” satire from long-ago 1970 or later take-downs of modern art and architecture.

At age 85, he’s again rousing the rabble with “The Kingdom of Speech” (Little, Brown). The Religion Guy confesses he has not yet read the book so the following relies on media coverage. There’ve been vigorous responses over recent weeks but, oddly,  little from religious commentators.

Whatever the odds that “natural selection” of advantageous physical mutations produced countless new species across eons of time, religious thinkers often contend that Charles Darwin’s evolution theory cannot explain the origins of humanity’s self-consciousness, love, moral sense, creativity, artistry, or even Darwin’s own mind. So, does the origin of species ultimately and logically require a  Creator?  Are humans unique divine creations or mere mammals with special tricks, “trousered apes,” in Duncan Williams’ memorable phrase? Obviously, hot theological stuff.

Wolfe, a professed atheist, takes aim at Darwinism, also a target of many religious conservatives, because it fails to explain the origin of human language. One Wolfe hero is linguistics professor Daniel Everett, who theorized about the origin of language years ago as a Bible translator in the Amazon jungles. The book also champions the oft-forgotten Alfred Russel Wallace, who simultaneously came up with the natural selection concept while the upper-crust Darwin won the celebrity sweepstakes.

Wallace later broke with Darwin, figuring that evolution explains much, but not human attributes like language, which implies some higher power beyond  nature. 

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Abortion shocker! Media aghast concerning new Texas rules on burial of fetal remains

Abortion shocker! Media aghast concerning new Texas rules on burial of fetal remains

To understand just how biased media coverage of abortion can be, check out this lede from Yahoo News:

Texas’ newly adopted amendments requiring the burial or cremation of fetal remains every time a woman has an abortion are set to take effect on Dec. 19.

Let's run that by again. Read this real slow, because we don't want to lose the shock value of what is being said there.

How utterly horrible.

A woman will have to bury or cremate the fetal remains "every time" she has an abortion.

Did Texas' backward officials not even consider a lesser statute -- such as one as allowing a woman to undergo an abortion or two before the burial rules kick in? 

Of course, as one who believes in the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, I see this from a different perspective than so many journalists -- for whom the ability to end a pregnancy is a sacred right (rite?) that must be protected at all costs.

The journalistic issue, in case it's not clear: The abortion battle is one with at least two sides. The American public remains highly divided on this issue, and there is evidence that young Americans, on this issue, are questioning the current national regime of abortion laws.

Thus, reporters and editors do their readers/viewers -- not to mention their profession itself --  disservice when they give only one side a voice. But that happens all too frequently, as the Texas case illustrates. (Good luck finding a pro-life source in the Yahoo story, for example.) 

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Major anniversary for an American classic: The 'It's a Wonderful Life' arguments roll on

Major anniversary for an American classic: The 'It's a Wonderful Life' arguments roll on

In about a week, Seneca Falls, N.Y., will be hosting a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the release of filmmaker Frank Capra's classic (more to come on that adjective) Christmas classic, "It's a Wonderful Life."

This town was the model, in many ways, for Capra's vision of the fictional Bedford Falls, home of the angry, but blessed, dreamer named George Bailey, portrayed in the film by the great Jimmy Stewart. Some of the events will be held, I am sure, at the town's It's a Wonderful Life Museum

I wrote about the ongoing interest in this film this week in my On Religion column for the Universal syndicate, after interviewing Catholic film critic Steven D. Greydanus and digging through my old copies of "The It's a Wonderful Life Book" and "The Name Above the Title," Capra's chatty, but at times philosophical autobiography.

That led to this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in), in which host Todd Wilken and focused on a two-part question: (1) Is there any real news in the anniversary of this film and (2), while we are at it, what are journalists to make of the fact that "It's a Wonderful Life" remains so popular AND controversial?

Well, I think it's likely that some feature writers will cover the Seneca Falls events as a hook for coverage of the anniversary -- period. However, the real question is whether anyone will probe deeper, exploring the debates that have raged about this film since it was first released (and flopped at the box office).

What kind of debates? That's where you get into the details of Capra's whole worldview -- which is both Catholic and fiercely American -- and the film's unique blend of stark darkness, even anger, and light. The key is that you really need to watch the whole movie, not just the joyful end of the famous final act.

As a clue to the contents of the podcast, let's compare two different views of this movie. First, there is this material from the values section of the Vatican's Best Films List:

This well-known film directed by Frank Capra is made great by the acting of Jimmy Stewart as a genuinely good man who resigns himself to having all of his life plans thwarted by his duty to his community and family. Sometimes vocation is more about doing one’s duty than fulfilling one’s desires. It is only when Stewart’s character submits entirely to his calling, and sees what good he has done for others in his life, that he realizes that his life has been worth living.

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Silent sanctuaries full of stories: The Post Gazette chronicles Pittsburgh's golden era

Silent sanctuaries full of stories: The Post Gazette chronicles Pittsburgh's golden era

Recently I stumbled upon a collection of photos and prose about my old stomping grounds in western Pennsylvania.

Few places shone with the lights of a thousand churches like Pittsburgh did when steel workers arrived by the boatload from Eastern Europe, bringing their beliefs and clergy with them. Today, many of these buildings are empty and forsaken.

Thus, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has put together a series of beautifully written stories and photos about an era whose “silent sanctuaries” still haunt us today. There are all kinds of fascinating trends stories hiding in these empty buildings and there is no way to talk about them all in this one post. Readers really need to click around and explore all of this.

In the early 1990s, I lived just north of Pittsburgh; a place where churches were named after saints I’d never heard of (St. Canice, anyone?) and there were churches founded by people groups (think Carpatho-Russians) I’d never heard of.

But even then it was clear that the tiny city I lived in could not support five Catholic parishes. Starting around 1993, the Diocese of Pittsburgh began closing churches, much to the dismay of many Catholics who didn’t want to see their beautiful, historic buildings shuttered. I remember attending one candlelight vigil for a closing church on the city’s South Side. My reporting on the closings nettled then-Bishop Donald Wuerl (now ensconced in Washington, D.C. as Cardinal Wuerl) to the point where he summoned me to his office to ask why I was so troublesome.

The parishioners left out in the cold deserved a voice, I told him; a voice he didn’t seem to be hearing. Nevertheless, churches continued to close and this fall, the Post-Gazette chronicled how these empty places symbolize a glory this part of the country once knew. The lead article begins thus:

As they gathered over a banquet of roast chicken and rissole potatoes on May 30, 1948, members of Our Lady Help of Christians Catholic Church had every reason to think the future of their Larimer parish would be as golden as the 50th anniversary they were celebrating that night.
In its first half century, the parish had been a spiritual and cultural hub for the Italian immigrant community, officially witnessing some 2,918 marriages and 1,3125 baptisms. And the landmark sanctuary -- with its deep, round-arched windows and its trio of golden-colored domes -- stood as a point of pride for the neighborhood. ...

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Save this New York Times Sunni-Shiite conflict backgrounder while awaiting Trump moves

Save this New York Times Sunni-Shiite conflict backgrounder while awaiting Trump moves

The New York Times -- still outclassing its Americans rivals in Middle East coverage -- has served up a valuable historical overview of the Saudi-Iranian proxy war conflict. It's not only worth reading, it's worth saving for those deadline moments when a quick history check is in order.

I've posted here before about the Saudi-Iranian competition for Middle East domination. I've also posted on the ongoing, multi-angled coverage of Saudi Arabia at the Times.

Why so much attention to this topic? And how might President-elect Donald Trump handle the situation?

 First question first.

Why, because the conflict, at its root a continuation of Islam's historic, internal holy war between the religion's majority Sunnis (read, Saudi Arabia) and minority Shiites (read, Iran) is at the core of today's seemingly endless Middle East bloodshed.

(Yes, it's the Sunni-Shiite contest, inflamed by political maneuvering by a coven of authoritarian dictatorial governments, and Russia, that's at the root of the chaos. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as central as it may be to these two actors, long ago took a backseat to the Islamic sectarian war.)

Here's how the Times historical overview explains it, starting with the lede:

Behind much of the Middle East’s chaos -- the wars in Syria and Yemen, the political upheaval in Iraq and Lebanon and Bahrain -- there is another conflict.

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Hopping on, once again, the old GetReligionista merry-go-round ...

Hopping on, once again, the old GetReligionista merry-go-round ...

If there really is "nothing new under the sun," I suppose a return to GetReligion isn't really "news," however pleasant it might be for a particular writer.

But here I am again, friends, happily climbing into the saddle to critique -- well, whatever tmatt and company permit.

There will be one exception. I will not be taking on the Deseret News, where I served 20 months as a national team reporter covering faith and freedom. That's a fine paper with good people, but having been in their employ, I can't be as fair-minded as you should expect a GetReligionista to be.

There remains, of course, a ton of material out there to examine, so, the Good Lord willing, I won't be short of subjects.

Take, for example, that religious freedom divide. That very timely subject -- though I agree with the crew here that we could all do without the "scare quotes," please -- is a particular interest to me. This blog has always been concerned with First Amendment issues, on both sides of the equation (religious liberty and freedom of the press).

So, too, is the way the media does (or doesn't) understand religious movements with which they are unfamiliar.

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Damned by association: BuzzFeed 'news' story goes after the 'Fixer Upper' couple

Damned by association: BuzzFeed 'news' story goes after the 'Fixer Upper' couple

Yesterday, the quasi news-entertainment-gossip-vent site Buzzfeed posted a piece about a couple who has put together a very popular HGTV show about home remodeling. Their crime: They attend a megachurch where, the subhead said, "Their pastor considers homosexuality to be a 'sin' caused by abuse -- whether the Fixer Upper couple agrees is unclear." 

Buzzfeed was angling to rally a digital mob after this couple, but that's not quite what happened.

Yes, this click-bait piece did get a lot of traction on social media within a few hours, much of which was furious reaction from liberals and conservatives alike who felt the article was nothing but a hit piece. Responses on Twitter ran quite the gamut from calling Buzzfeed “the new Inquisition” to one poster who wondered, “I thought it was the alt-right folks who were bringing back McCarthyism.”

Here's how Buzzfeed started it all:

Chip and Joanna Gaines’ series Fixer Upper is one of the most popular shows on HGTV. The couple has recently graced the cover of People magazine; their book, The Magnolia Story, has been on the New York Times’ best-seller list for five weeks; and they were the subject of a long profile in Texas Monthly that credited them with revitalizing the city of Waco, Texas, where the show is set and where their businesses are located.

So far, so good. Then:

They are also, as they detail in The Magnolia Story, devout Christians — Joanna has spoken of and written about her conversations with God. (God told her both to close her store to spend time with her children, and then to reopen it a few years later.) Their church, Antioch Community Church, is a nondenominational, evangelical, mission-based megachurch. And their pastor, Jimmy Seibert, who described the Gaineses as “dear friends” in a recent video, takes a hard line against same-sex marriage and promotes converting LGBT people into being straight.

The Buzzfeed folks may not realize this yet, but a lot of evangelical pastors oppose same-sex marriage.

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Fires in the mountains: About that haunting Bible passage that was blowing in the wind

Fires in the mountains: About that haunting Bible passage that was blowing in the wind

First, a word of thanks to those who sent messages about the wildfires here in East Tennessee, asking if all was well here in the tmatt.net corner of the hills.

It helps to understand that the Tennessee Valley is about 40 miles wide here near Knoxville (click for map) and the worst fires have been in the East, in the Great Smoky Mountains. I live in Oak Ridge, which is up against the face of the Cumberland Mountains in the West. There is quite a bit of land, and often water, between the two ranges.

Still, everyone here knows people, or lots of people, who have been caught up in this story. I have been wondering -- given the culture in these parts -- when some kind of faith-centered story (other than people of faith jumping into the action at the level of volunteers, aid, etc.) would emerge from the flames.

If you've seen images from the Gatlinburg and Dollywood area fires, you know that hotels, lodges and rental cabins were hit hard. Can you imagine how many Bibles there were stashed in bedside drawers in all of those rooms, not to mention in the possession of the local residents?

That leads me to this interesting, and rather haunting, story that ran in The Knoxville News Sentinel and then was picked up by Religion News Service. To be blunt, the local headline doesn't do much to hint at what's really going on here: "Dollywood employee finds burned Bible page after wildfires."

The main difference between the News Sentinel and RNS versions of this story is that the team that worked on the original made the unconventional, but wise in my opinion, decision to put the Bible passage on that charred page right at the top of the text. Thus, the overture looks like this:

"O Lord to thee will I cry: for the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness, and the flame hath burned all the trees of the field. The beasts of the field cry also unto thee: for the rivers of waters are dried up, and the fire hath devoured the pastures of the wilderness." -- Joel 1:19-20, King James Version

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It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

In the United States, a big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, with is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves it it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting.

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