A few years ago, I had the joy of watching Dr. Martin Marty tear up a stack of newspapers during a forum (here's a column on that) about religion and the news at the University of Nebraska. Marty was interested in the religion stories, of course. But he was also interested in all of the stories that raised religious questions. It seemed like he had marked up or torn out about half of the stories in those newspapers. Religion was just about everywhere.
So that's what I did with today's New York Times as I headed back to Washington, D.C., after a wonderful trip to Princeton University to spend the day sparring in several settings with Jeff Sharlet of The Revealer. The Princeton Center for the Study of Religion is supposed to do a podcast of one of the forums, so watch this site (XML) -- if you choose to of your own free will. The video may hit the Web, too.
Some of the religion stories in today's gray pages are just too easy. I mean, the Dalai Lama story is obvious. Pass.
It seems that support for the genocide resolution on Turkey is fading in the political heat. Pass.
What about the latest news on Richard Roberts, son of Oral? Pass.
No, let's look for the religion questions buried in some of the other stories in today's Times. Some of the stories do not have much religion in them and that is, of course, the point. That's why I have questions.
• Take this story about the French opening their new National Center of the History of Immigration. The lede sums things up this way:
Immigration is the big, unavoidable issue not just in the United States but across Europe now, and nowhere more obviously than here in France. The latest proof arrived last week in the form of a new museum, the National Center of the History of Immigration. On the edge of the city's Bois de Vincennes, in a comfortable neighborhood, it has opened far from the poor suburbs where Muslim youths rioted a couple of summers ago, burning thousands of cars partly in protest against Nicolas Sarkozy, then interior minister, now president.
Right. I remember that story, a dizzying blend of economic, racial, cultural and, yes, religious issues. It is hard to discuss what is happening in France right now without addressing that. But read the rest of the story. Anything missing, in terms of covering the conflicts that the museum is avoiding?
• Some of the leaders of Habitat for Humanity are arguing over money. Wait a minute, are they saying that affiliates are supposed to "tithe" 10 percent of their income to the international authorities? Pay a tithe? Does religion have anything to do with that?
• I've been following the story of evangelicals and global warming pretty closely. Of course, since "evangelical" is now a political word, that means this trend has to affect GOP politics. Say "Amen!" I get that, but what in the world does this passage mean in today's Times story on this topic?
The debate has taken an intriguing twist. Two candidates appealing to religious conservatives, former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas and Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas, call for strong actions to ease the effects of people on the climate, at times casting the effort in spiritual terms just as some evangelical groups have taken up the cause.
Easing the "effects of people on the climate" is an interesting way of saying that. Can someone translate that into English for me? The effects of people, or of the actions and choices of people, or is that the same thing in terms of doctrine these days?
• Or what about the story of Debbie Almontaser and her battle to win back her job as the principal of Khalil Gibran International Academy, New York City's first Arabic-language school? It seems there are conservatives out there who are not sure that tax dollars should be used to support a school dedicated to Arabic culture. Can you imagine the conflict that would occur over Christian culture (with tax dollars) or Hebrew culture (with tax dollars)? Wait a minute, that's easy to imagine. So where is the mosque and state discussion in this report?
• And out in Pittsburgh, there is a Planned Parenthood vs. NPR controversy. Wait, you're having trouble imaging a conflict between those two institutions? Here's the lede:
A public radio station here stopped running underwriting messages from Planned Parenthood and returned its $5,000 donation after the station's license holder, Duquesne University, decided the organization was "not aligned with our Catholic identity."
The decision by the station, WDUQ 90.5 FM, came in the midst of the station's fall pledge drive, and it appears to be costing the station contributions.
The problem? Is this "Catholic identity" warping the news at this station?
Now journalists always stress that there is supposed to be a high wall of separation between the news side and the business side of things. For example, there have been times when newspapers -- the editors, the unions, even the corporate foundations -- have given lots of money to groups like, well, Planned Parenthood. However, this was not supposed to be a problem because the these professionals insisted that they maintained a high wall that divided news and business.
So, why can't that be the case this time around? Just asking.
I could go on and on. I am sure that I missed dozens of other stories in the Times today -- tree pulp and online -- that raise religious questions of this kind. Please point them out to me in the comments section.