I Can't Handle the Guilt, Episode I

Sometime this weekend, a TypePad software czar pushed a button that demoted me to "guest author" status here at GetReligion. Doug is the editor of the blog and he created it, with me as the associate. Yet I still have had the ability to handle my own posts (including all the typos) and art options. Now, I can post to the blog but cannot control the art, which is a major hassle for Doug -- especially when he is on the road out there in dial-up territory. I mention this as a way of reminding you that this blog remains quite experimental and limited, in so, so many ways. We still want to find someone to specialize in issues linked to international coverage. We still want better software and a better design. We still want some kind of format that allows us to do the longer posts, while also posting short items and more of your comments and letters (keep them coming).

Which brings us to this strange post -- the first in what I hope is an occasional blog feature that I want to call "I Can't Handle the Guilt."

It happens every week. I read all kinds of things online and people send me all kinds of interesting stuff. I save these in my email in-basket, with a GETREL slug at the start of the subject line as items worth blogging about somehow, when I get the time. Then something else comes in. Then there are classes to teach here at Palm Beach Atlantic University and work to do with the journalism projects in the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. Or perhaps it is a week with several extra services at church that require more music than is normal in Eastern Orthodox parishes. Maybe it's a normal week for the kids, with lots of marching band gigs and you name it. Maybe we have a hurricane, or two.

Then a new week arrives and I look in my email and there are all of those GETREL tags staring at me. That's when the guilt hits. I have to do something about this.

Thus, pending the arrival of a format friendly to more short posts, I am creating what should be a weekly collection of shorter items -- late, but still interesting -- under the umbrella slug ICHTG. Here goes.

* There have been some interesting developments at the New York Times on the "fundamentalist" front, as noted over at the excellent Christianity Today blog.

First, there was a Sunday magazine cover about some elements of life at Biola University out in greater Los Angeles (a CCCU school, I should note). The cover included a secondary headline that was all wrong -- "Fast Times at Fundamentalist U." But inside, writer Samantha Shapiro actually made an attempt to summarize the historical meaning of the word "fundamentalist." Bravo. This was still a kind of National Geographic feature story on the lives of exotic natives in a distant backward land, but she deserves credit for trying.

Then, the Times ran a short, but amazingly fair, essay on the ongoing intellectual warfare at Baylor University (one of my alma maters, I should note) between the Bill Moyers Baptists and the ecumenical conservatives. Still it included this paragraph.

Founded in Waco in 1845 as a Christian school in the Baptist tradition, Baylor's religious identity has been the subject of controversy in recent decades. In the 1980s, the university found itself under pressure from its sponsoring group, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, to make faculty members sign a statement of faith and to adopt fundamentalist positions on issues like creationism, homosexuality and the ordination of women.

Now what, pray tell, are the fundamentalist positions on "homosexuality" and the "ordination of women"? If this means the positions advocated by traditional Christian faith through the centuries, does that make them "fundamentalist"? Is Pope John Paul II a fundamentalist? Billy Graham? The ecumenical patriarch? The vast majority of the world's Anglicans? The vast majority of the world's Protestants?

* I was reading a New York Times report last week about the fallout from Beslan and realized with a shudder that it opened with a sobering quote from someone I knew.

"We ride on the subway and think it is for the last time," the Rev. Aleksandr Borisov told Russian Orthodox worshipers on Sunday morning. "We gather in a church and think it is our last liturgy."

This was not simply the homily of a Sunday sermon. Following one of the most horrific terrorist acts in recent times, with the massacre of hundreds of children, parents and teachers in a schoolhouse on Friday, Father Borisov said he was speaking quite literally.

"We received a warning yesterday that terrorist acts are planned in churches in the center of Moscow," he said at the Church of SS. Cosmas and Damian in the heart of the capital, one of many churches across Russia holding memorial services for the victims on Sunday. "World War III has begun."

Now, I met him long ago when I was in Moscow just after the fall of the Soviet Union. Borisov is a very courageous priest who, long ago, was filmed by CNN and others as -- dressed in full liturgical garb -- he handed out Bibles to Soviet troops and blessed the sidewalks where men had died only moments earlier. If this man is worried, there is reason to worry.

Also, I have noticed that some media reports are quietly noting that slaughtering children in North Ossetia was particularly symbolic, because this is a rare community -- it is almost overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian, while most of the breakaway republic of Chechnya is Muslim.

Perhaps it was more than a matter of nationalism when the murderers screamed "Allahu Akhbar"? Mark Steyn thinks so. Ditto for Dennis Prager.

* Readers who want more information about the moderate Muslims who are outraged by events in Beslan and elsewhere need to watch this site.

Here is a sample of what the "Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism" is saying:

After numerous admissions of guilt by Bin Laden and numerous corroborating admissions by captured top level Al-Qaida operatives, we wonder, does the Muslim leadership have the dignity and courage to apologize for 9-11?

If not 9-11, will we apologize for the murder of school children in Russia?

If not Russia, will we apologize for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain?

If not Spain, will we apologize for suicide bombings in buses, restaurants and other public places?

If not suicide bombings, will we apologize for the barbaric beheadings of human beings?

If not beheadings, will we apologize for the rape and murder of thousands of innocent people in Darfour?

If not Darfour, will we apologize for the blowing up of two Russian planes by Muslim women?

What will we apologize for?

What will it take for Muslims to realize that those who commit mass murder in the name of Islam are not just a few fringe elements?

* As a veteran of the Jim Bakker PTL wars in my Charlotte Observer days, let me briefly note the Los Angeles Times report on the homosexual (bisexual?) accusations against televangelist Paul Crouch by a former employee in the ministry.

William Lobdell's story has some impressive paper documentation of an earlier settlement for silence - which is the smoke that often points to the fire. What happens next? Where are the other voices? Watch for the follow-up stories and actions by major charismatic churches. Also watch the Christian media.

* Did anyone else note the religion ghost in that George F. Will column on the power of ESPN? Dr. James Davison Hunter may need to check this out:

Michael Mandelbaum, author of eight books on international relations, argues in his ninth book, "The Meaning of Sports," that sports are "a variety of religious experience." Like religion, sports stand apart from the mundane and are a realm of special coherence and heroic example.

The rise of team sports coincided with what Mandelbaum calls the 20th century's "social and political hurricanes." Those were urbanization -- people moving from countryside to town and from job to job -- and world wars, unprecedented confusions and traumas from which people sought diversions. The 20th century, Mandelbaum writes, "was the era of free verse in poetry, stream-of-consciousness writing in literature, atonal music in place of traditional harmony and melody, and abstract rather than figurative art." At a time when Robert Frost was comparing free verse to playing tennis without a net, sports became cultural counterpoints because they are transparent and coherent. Transparent because spectators can see for themselves what is happening, and why. Coherent in that they are defined and governed by rationality -- rules -- and reach definitive conclusions.

* Maybe it is just me, but I see a religion ghost in this David Brooks column as well. He sees two political Americas - spread-sheet people and paragraph people. He notes that, according to PoliticalMoneyLine, the number of C.E.O.'s donating funds to Bush is five times larger than the number donating to Kerry. Then he notes:

Professors, on the other hand, are classic paragraph people and lean Democratic. Eleven academics gave to the Kerry campaign for every 1 who gave to Bush's. Actors like paragraphs, too, albeit short ones. Almost 18 actors gave to Kerry for every 1 who gave to Bush. For self-described authors, the ratio was about 36 to 1. Among journalists, there were 93 Kerry donors for every Bush donor. For librarians, who must like Faulknerian, sprawling paragraphs, the ratio of Kerry to Bush donations was a whopping 223 to 1.

Fascinating. Nevertheless, why are conservative books selling the way they are? Why do conservatives read newspapers so much and thrive online?

And what about clergy and the most active religious believers? Brooks seems to have found another way to analyze some major elites, but that's about it.

* Say WHAT? The Immaculate Heart of Mary sisters made a political donation to Emily's List, the network that backs female Democratic Party candidates who support abortions rights?

* I must have missed this when Howard Kurtz ran with it. Needless to say, folks at the National Right to Life Committee and its partners are still buzzing about it.

After sending out a routine press release on abortion, the National Right to Life Committee received a stinging e-mail from Todd Eastham, a Reuters editor in Washington:

"What's your plan for parenting & educating all the unwanted children you people want to bring into the world? Who will pay for policing our streets & maintaining the prisons needed to contain them when you, their parents & the system fail them? Oh, sorry. All that money has been earmarked to pay off the Bush deficit. Give me a frigging break, will you?"

Uh, might this show just a hint of bias?

Believe it or not, that's about half of last week's GETREL leftovers. I still feel guilty. Help!

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