AFP

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

Solid story out of Israel with a king-sized hole left for journalists to fill

The Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) officially announced details Oct. 6 on a major archaeological project in northern Israel south of Haifa near present-day Harish. The inland En Esur site has remains of a town that covered 160 acres, indicating that an estimated 6,000 residents lived there in the Early Bronze Age 5,000 years ago.

This remarkably early date for such a large settlement is an unprecedented find not only within Israel but for the entire region. Without later technological developments, that’s about as big as a municipality could have been. Not only that. The archaeologists found another settlement lying underneath En Esur that dates back 7,000 years. These towns were strategically located along an ancient trade route and with access to fresh-water springs.

The IAA team reports that the Bronze Age settlement demonstrates careful urban planning, with streets, drainage and public spaces that included a notable temple with a sizable basin that contains burned animal bones signaling ritual sacrifices, a town square, storage facilities and a mausoleum. There are many figurines, showing artistic culture and a possible religious purpose. Tools on the site are identified as Egyptian. Huge stone blocks for construction were somehow hauled from a quarry a half-mile away.

The site has long been known, but was only excavated in earnest starting in 2017 by a team led by Itai Elad, Yitzhak Paz and Dina Shalem. Work was funded by Netivei Israel, the transport infrastructure firm that is building a highway interchange at the site. Some 5,000 students volunteered to help with the massive archaeological dig.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Blessing the AR-15s: So this was a 'mass' in an ordinary church linked to famous 'evangelist'?

Blessing the AR-15s: So this was a 'mass' in an ordinary church linked to famous 'evangelist'?

If you want to understand the current cyberspace freakout about those church rites to bless AR-15 rifles (or something like that, that were based on the Bible, or something like that), please watch this CBS News video.

If you are a journalist who works on the religion beat, you are going to want to place coffee cups or other beverage containers far, far away from your computer keyboard or the glowing-screen device of your choice. Try to stay calm.

Did you watch the video? OK, now let's proceed. Based on the contents of this video, answer this: Who are these people and what kind of church is this?

Apparently, these are run-of-the-mill Christians at a normal church. Right?

Or maybe you turned to CNN for further information -- like this online report, with this headline: "Pennsylvania couples clutching AR-15 rifles renew wedding vows." Pretty far into this report, news consumers learn the following about the Rev. Sean Moon, the head of this organization:

Moon is the son of Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church in the 1950s. Before he died in 2012 at age 92, the elder Moon was a high-profile international evangelist for decades. He was famous for conducting mass weddings, including at New York City's Madison Square Garden and another one uniting 360,000 couples in South Korea.
The Sanctuary Church calls itself Rod of Iron Ministries, and is a breakaway faction of the Unification Church, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Unification Church distanced itself from Wednesday's event, saying its ceremonies and teachings do not involve weapons.

Wait, wait, wait. Sun Myung Moon was famous because he was AN EVANGELIST, as opposed to the content of his teachings? He was an "evangelist" like, well, the Rev. Billy Graham?

Believe it or not, even that wording is a little bit better than an Agence France-Presse visual report that started like this:

A mass of unusual sorts takes place in a church in Pennsylvania, where dozens of revelers come to pray armed with semi-automatic weapons.

Wait, wait, wait. A "mass"? You mean like a Catholic Mass? I don't think so.

So what is going on here? Let's turn to religion-beat veteran Bob Smietana, who shows remarkable restraint here:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Once again, Charlie Hebdo takes aim at violent Islamists -- this time in Spain

Once again, Charlie Hebdo takes aim at violent Islamists -- this time in Spain

Here we go again.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a cartoon on its cover page devoted to the August 17, 2017, terror attack in Barcelona that left 13 dead and 130 injured.

Le FigaroEl Pais, and the other European outlets that have picked up the story so far have largely re-published the offending cartoon as has the Qatar based network Al Jazeera.

Newsweek and a handful of American mainstream news outlets have picked up the story, too, but unlike their European counterparts have not reprinted the cartoon. The American press has been down this road before -- engaging in self-censorship so as not to offend radical Islam. And it also revolved around Charlie Hebdo.

The left-wing, satirical magazine entered the conscience of the Anglophone world on January 7, 2015, when two gunmen forced their way into the magazine’s offices and killed twelve of its staff. Brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, Muslims of Algerian descent, carried out the attack in revenge for a cartoon published by the magazine that lambasted the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

In the weeks after the attack, free speech advocates adopted the cry “Je suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie), to show their solidarity with the magazine and the right to free expression. However, support for free speech and Charlie Hebdo’s right to offend was not universal. And this support has further dimmed in recent years.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Fired gay priest: AFP article packs two distortions into one story

Fired gay priest: AFP article packs two distortions into one story

Gotta hand it to Agence France-Presse. Its story on the Rev. Krzysztof Charamsa neatly packs two distortions in one lede.

In advancing Charamsa's interview with a TV channel, the article starts off limping:

Rome (AFP) - A high-ranking Polish priest who was fired after coming out as gay before the Vatican's key synod on the family said on Sunday that there was no "gay lobby" in the Church.
Krzysztof Charamsa told a private Italian television channel that he has "never met a gay lobby in the Vatican", referring to rumours of a network of homosexual priests.
"I met homosexual priests, often isolated like me... but no gay lobby," said Charamsa, adding that he also met gay priests who were "homophobes" and had "hatred for themselves and others".

You could almost use this story for a seminar on how not to write news.

To start: Charamsa was not fired as a priest. He was fired from his position as an assistant secretary in the Vatican-level Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Other media, like the New York Daily News, said more accurately that he was "dismissed from his post at the Vatican." The News also pointed out that Charamsa hadn't lost his credentials as a priest; that decision was left to his bishop.

Nor was Charamsa fired merely for coming out. He was fired for coming out at a press conference beside his male partner, calling for a change in church doctrine about homosexuality. He even issued a 10-point "liberation manifesto" against "institutionalised homophobia in the Church."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

New persecution in Sudan: Religion News Service report leads mainstream media

New persecution in Sudan: Religion News Service report leads mainstream media

"Courage is contagious," Billy Graham has said. "When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened."

Whether from courage or just old-school nose for news, the Religion News Service deserves thanks and applause for its Wednesday story on a new round of persecution in Sudan.

Remember Meriam Yayha Ibrahim, the Sudanese woman who was jailed and threatened with death last year? Well, something like that is happening again: The government there has jailed two pastors, charging them with spying and, according to RNS, with "assault on religious belief."

In a way, it's even worse this time around. Ibrahim was accused of "apostasy," deserting the Islamic faith. Her counter-argument was that her mother raised her as a Christian and she never converted to the faith of her father. She won her case and was released in a month, then emigrated to the United States.

In the current case, neither the Rev. Michael Yat nor the Rev. Peter Yein Reith is accused of leaving Islam. At bottom, their arrests stem from the creation of South Sudan in 2011 after a long, brutal civil war. Both ministers are members of the South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church.

As RNS tells it:

Yat was arrested last year after visiting the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church’s Bahri congregation in Khartoum, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a charity that works on behalf of persecuted Christians.
The congregation had resisted the takeover of the church by a Muslim businessman, who had demolished part of the worship center.
In December, police beat and arrested 38 Christians for worshipping in the church.
With Yat’s arrest, South Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church sent Reith with a letter to the authorities to demand his release. He was arrested on Jan. 11.

RNS adds that since the creation of South Sudan, the northern nation "has forced out all foreign missionaries, raided churches and arrested and interrogated Christians on grounds that they belonged to South Sudan." So Yat's and Reith's case is an apparent blend of governmental paranoia and Sudan's militant form of Islam.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

African agony: AFP story and photos keep our eyes on Muslim-Christian strife

African agony: AFP story and photos keep our eyes on Muslim-Christian strife

So virulent are outbreaks of violence like the shootings at Charlie Hebdo magazine, and the Middle Eastern plague known as ISIS, it's easy to forget or overlook slow-burning fevers like the religio-Civil War in the Central African Republic.  But Agence France-Presse has not forgotten.

AFP's Miguel Medina spent three weeks in the battle-scarred land, coming back with a story and photos that are at once gripping, insightful and despairing.

In 10 photos and 1,000 words, Medina paints a picture of battling factions in towns like Bangui. There are the Seleka, a Muslim rebel force, and the "anti-balaka," the Christian militia organized against them. And there are the French and African soldiers brought in as peacekeepers, who themselves often do killings of their own.

One paragraph especially illustrates the randomness of the violence. Medina describes a massive explosion in a neighborhood, then:

Some Burundi soldiers had hurriedly evacuated two women, Christians who’d been hit by shrapnel, toward a neighboring shack. The attack had injured three other people - a Muslim, a Burundi troop and a young man I didn't know anything about. This is how it is at the moment in Bangui. Christians and Muslims recognise each other and randomly attack one another. It's an infernal cycle of attacks and counterattacks. No one is safe.

He photographs a Chadian Muslim family cowering against a wall, saying that only French parachutists kept an angry crowd of Christians at bay. "Tensions are so high that taxi drivers -- whether Christian or Muslim -- risk being killed by people of their own faith if they dare take a client from the other community," Medina says.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

WaPo blog announces a new good (i.e. liberal) South Africa mosque

WaPo blog announces a new good (i.e. liberal) South Africa mosque

No one expects tons of original reporting in a blog like Ishaan Tharoor writes for the Washington Post. But when five sources are patched together in a 382-word post -- and any actual reporting isn't evident -- the result can be, well, patchy.

In this case, it's about the so-called Open Mosque that just formed in a suburb of Cape Town, South Africa. The mosque advertises acceptance of anyone without regard to "sect, gender or sexual orientation." This naturally rankles more traditional Muslims, from whom we never hear.

We'll start with the headline, which of course Tharoor may not have written: "A ‘gay-friendly’ mosque just opened in South Africa." As you know by now, the mosque is billed as cutting across several divisions. To make it mainly about gays creates a pinhole view of the story.

But let's hear from the blog post itself.  Here's the top:

The "Open Mosque" is intended a space of worship for all, irrespective of sect, gender or sexual orientation. It is the creation of Taj Hargey, a Cape Town-born academic and cleric based at Oxford University who has long agitated against fundamentalist interpretations of Islam. This new prayer space, open to all, was a direct challenge to the extremists he opposes.

Hargey delivered the sermon, inveighing against the unnecessary divisions between Christians and Muslims, according to Agence France Presse. He blamed "contaminated Saudi money" for promoting "toxic and intolerant manifestations of Islam."

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Latest box scores from France: USA 67 -- Islam 19

Latest box scores from France: USA 67 -- Islam 19

Voters were no longer the subjects of politics, democratic citizens deciding the fate of their country. They were objects to be counted, studied, and counted again. The proliferation of polls had allowed almost any newspaper or televisions station in the nation to measure the feelings of any population. Measurement, not democratic debate, was becoming the stuff of American politics.

-- E.J. Dionne "The Illusion of Technique" in Media Polls in American Politics (1992)

The wire service AFP reports that a poll published at the end of June finds the French have a pretty high opinion of the United States, but they don't like immigrants or Islam. The headline in the French daily Midi Libre states: "Sondage : la "famille" plébiscitée, "immigrés" et "islam" massivement rejetés" (Poll: Acclaim for the "Family", "Immigrants" and "Islam" massively rejected."

Those cheese eating surrender monkeys really like us, they really like us (to mix Simpsons and Sally Fields metaphors). But how is this news?

Please respect our Commenting Policy