Every now and then, I see people or groups produce material that makes me think to myself: "Behold, that's a GetReligion item." Truth be told, I don't quite know what to do when this happens. I mean, it's hard to write a case study about a case study. That's a bit too Zen for me. So let me pass along a few recent examples. I'll try to get rid of as much guilt as I can, all at once.
• First of all, our friend Ted Olsen over at Christianity Today's blog has written up the gigantic New York Times Magazine report on the growing debates -- among Protestants -- about the moral status of contraceptives. You know Olsen is a bit ticked off when he writes that reporter Russell Shorto's 8,000-word story is "horribly underreported" and "contains glaring errors." Thus, he argues that:
Shorto is right that religious conservative Protestants have been increasingly critical about the 1965 contraception case Griswold v. Connecticut, and that recent technologies (especially the emergency contraceptive pill) have forced them to reconsider facile support of earlier technologies (like the non-emergency pill). And he's right in his implication that Catholic-Protestant alliances in the abortion wars (and the reasoning in Pope John Paul II's writings) have also had a dramatic effect.
But for those who have actually been watching this happen, it's like reading a U.S. history text that talks about the American Revolution without also talking about colonialism, Reconstruction without the Civil War, and World War II without World War I. Or like trying to read a subway map that only names four stops. His connect-the-dots puzzle only has the numbers 3, 8, 24, and 31, and the only crayon in his box is labeled "anti-sex."
• Now here's another puzzle. Radio host and author Dick Staub recently wrote an interesting critique of a New York Times report on the high sales of the Christian band called MercyMe. The story was called "Christian Rock Is Edging Toward the Mainstream" and it was written by critic Kelefa Sanneh. The key statement -- the story lurking inside the review -- comes at the very end:
In an overwhelmingly Christian country, it may seem strange that Christian rock even exists as a niche genre; if rock better reflected American demographics, then secular rock would be the niche. But at a time when major labels are struggling to create the multimillion-selling stars they depend on, niche status might not seem so bad. MercyMe already has a devoted fan base, a ready-made touring circuit and lots of loyal album buyers. The devil may still have the best tunes (for now), but can he match that business model?
I also thought it was interesting that Staub invited another journalist -- Lou Carlozo of the Chicago Tribune -- in as a "guest blogger" to take a stab at the issue. Carlozo was B-L-U-N-T:
Until Christian music stresses art over agenda, it can never be anything but second rate. As a music editor at the Chicago Tribune, I have a responsibility to turn my readers on to the best art out there. And as a Christian, I have an obligation to tell the truth at all costs, as I see it. If it's bad, awkward, mawkish art that Nashville keeps shipping to me like so many day-glo W.W.J.D. bracelets, what choice do I have? I would rather be the voice of one crying out in the wilderness than win the approval of any cabal that is convinced -- for all the wrong reasons -- that the majority of "Christian" music serves a noble purpose.
Michelangelo makes us cry by depicting the finger-touch of creation in a majestic image. Johnny Cash could break your heart by revealing the serrated edges of his brokenness. Bono makes you wrestle and challenges all assumptions that God is of the right or left wing. None of this is a "business model" to be emulated. These are ways of approaching art and life we are talking about, meant to be done with all the fear and trembling of someone trying to point the way to a higher truth while walking a narrow path.
Oh man, why didn't I write that?
So, does this movie really matter to anyone out there in mainstream reader-land? The religion-beat consulting squad notes:
The film brings renewed scrutiny of the book's unorthodox view of Christian history and another round of debate about Hollywood's handling of faith. With more than 40 million books in print, this thriller novel asserts that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married and had a child and that the Roman Catholic Church's Opus Dei organization will murder people in order to keep this secret. The book drew critical praise, millions of readers in 44 languages, more than two dozen books about issues raised by the novel, and inevitable adaptations: a movie and a video game. The film from Sony Pictures is directed by Ron Howard and includes an international cast headed by Tom Hanks.
OK, that's all logical. But what's with this laugh-out-loud suggestion at the site?
Questions for reporters
• Are people who read the book going to see the movie?
Well, duh. You think?
6. Should we really pray over the bones of Mary Magdalen?
Yes. Saint Mary Magdalen is honored by the countless churches and women named after her and by a special Mass on her feast day (July 22). In fact, for more than a millennium, Christians have made pilgrimages to pray in the Basilica of St. Maximin in southern France, where a tradition says that Saint Mary Magdalen was buried.