The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is a lot of things and it fills a lot of roles. With good cause, thousands of media professionals call it the bible of mainstream journalism. However, this omnipresent spiral volume doesn't answer a whole lot of complex questions that scribes will encounter trying to cover life on the modern religion beat. For example, it offers no help whatsoever to a reporter who is trying to figure out how to write out a direct quote from someone who is speaking in an ecstatic, celestial, unknown tongue. The technical term here is "glossolalia."
Of course, the proper theological response -- according to the New Testament -- is to quote the person present who has been given the spiritual gift of interpretation. Try explaining that to your metro editor.
The stylebook on my desk does offer this information, referring to the fastest growing form of Christianity in the world:
"Pentecostalism: A movement that arose in the early 20th century and separated from historic Protestant denominations. It is distinguished by the belief in tangible manifestations of the Holy Spirit, often in demonstrative, emotional ways such as 'speaking in tongues' and healing. ..."
Of course, many charismatic and Pentecostal believers will argue that their movement dates back to, well, Pentecost. It's also important to recognizes that the reality of miraculous spiritual gifts can be seen in the lives of many saints -- East and West -- through the ages. Hardly anyone believes that these gifts went away for a millennium or so. Needless to say, it's hard for a journalism reference book to settle all of these kinds of issues.
The bottom line, however, is that Pentecostal believers are all over the place these days and journalists need to face that.
One even showed up on a typically racy Esquire cover the other day.
Now I am sure that some GetReligion readers have been shocked at how long it took us to get around to the following passage in that story about the human screensaver known as Megan Fox. One of the main headlines even contained a hint of spiritual content: "Megan Fox Saves Herself."
The story contains typically artsy reflections on the meaning of a bombshell babe in a postmodern age, including the degree to which people attempting to merchandize her flesh are walking in the metaphorical footsteps of the Aztecs who practiced human sacrifice. Then, suddenly, there is this:
Today, unfettered sexual beauty is an impediment. To be serious and respected, it is better to be homely or cute. Or else you must disfigure yourself, like Charlize Theron in Monster. Or you must allow yourself to be brutalized, like Halle Berry in Monster's Ball. Or you must pretend that you're really just average, like Tina Fey.
There's no doubt that this transformation has been overwhelmingly excellent. But we're losing something in this process. Because creativity is, was, and always will be sexual. Some of the very first works of art were figures of hugely fecund women dropped all over Europe tens of thousands of years ago. American movies expressed that great fusion of sex and art, too. They are magnificent pagan dreams, utterly profane and glorious. Such movies need bombshells. They need to consume beautiful flesh in their sacrifices. They need women like Megan Fox.
She is preparing for the end times.
"I've read the Book of Revelation a million times," Megan Fox says. "It does not make sense, obviously. It needs to be decoded. What is the dragon? What is the prostitute? What are these things? What is this imagery? What was John seeing? And I was just thinking, What is the Antichrist?"
She's relaxed now. She's much more comfortable talking about the Antichrist than her career.
Yes, you read that right.
Readers veer into a shallow pool of information about Fox and her family. Then suddenly, readers shoot back into a discussion of how her beauty keeps taking over her career, dragging her closer and closer to a professional cliff. Thus, the symbolic and poignant tattoo of Marilyn Monroe on her right arm.
Then, boom, there is the passage that is getting all of the edgy commentary online:
Fox began speaking in tongues around the age of eight, when she attended a Pentecostal church in Tennessee.
"The energy is so intense in the room," she says, "that you feel like anything can happen. They're going to hate that I compare it to this, but have you ever watched footage of a Santeria gathering or someone doing voodoo? You know how palpable the energy is? Whatever's going on there, it's for real."
Others in her situation have found release in booze and pills. Fox has found hers in church.
"I have seen magical, crazy things happen. I've seen people be healed. Even now, in the church I go to, during Praise and Worship I could feel that I was maybe getting ready to speak in tongues, and I'd have to shut it off because I don't know what that church would do if I started screaming out in tongues in the back.
"It feels like a lot of energy coming through the top of your head -- I'm going to sound like such a lunatic -- and then your whole body is filled with this electric current. And you just start speaking, but you're not thinking because you have no idea what you're saying. Words are coming out of your mouth, and you can't control it. The idea is that it's a language that only God understands. It's the language that's spoken in heaven. It's called 'getting the Holy Ghost.' "
Then, what? That sort of covers things at the level of the AP Stylebook. But, if you are like me, there are lots of practical, journalistic questions that you would like to see asked and, perhaps, answered.
Like this one: Where does she go to church? What does her pastor think of her professional dilemma? How has her Pentecostal Christian faith mixed with her career to this point?
And the big one: Has her faith, in some way, fueled her desire not allow her body to literally be consumed by the Hollywood sex machine? That is, after all, the subject of this story. Right? Did I miss something? Did the Esquire team skate right by that rather obvious connection?