Dalai Lama

Attention readers and reporters: Is this the interfaith Marxist Moment?

Attention readers and reporters: Is this the interfaith Marxist Moment?

Two recent essays — the first by a young Catholic writing for the Jesuit magazine America and the second by a graduate student published in Aeon — argue that Karl Marx is compatible with two of the world’s major religions.

Both devote precious little attention to communism’s sordid history of oppressing people who believe in something transcendent, from Catholic martyrs in Cuba to Buddhists in Tibet.

The question: Does the debate surrounding either of these pieces tell us anything about trends in the age in which we read and report the news?

In his piece for America, Dean Dettloff responds to “What Catholics don’t understand about communism,” which Dorothy Day wrote for America in May 1933. If Dettloff is aware that Day was a communist before becoming a Catholic, he does not make that clear by the quality of his argument. Instead, at one point he reduces her essay to the caricature of “we should hate the communism but love the communist.”

Dettloff finds it impressive that some Catholic theologians have been friends of communist rulers, and that contemporary communists seem more receptive to some Catholics than in past decades:

Despite and beyond theoretical differences, priests like Herbert McCabe, O.P., Ernesto and Fernando Cardenal, S.J., Frei Betto, O.P., Camilo Torres and many other Catholics—members of the clergy, religious and laypeople—have been inspired by communists and in many places contributed to communist and communist-influenced movements as members. Some still do—for example in the Philippines, where the “Christians for National Liberation,” an activist group first organized by nuns, priests and exploited Christians, are politically housed within the National Democratic Front, a coalition of movements that includes a strong communist thread currently fighting the far-right authoritarian leader Rodrigo Duterte. …

The Communist Party USA has published essays affirming the connections between Christianity and communism and encouraging Marxists not to write off Christians as hopelessly lost to the right (the C.P.U.S.A. paper, People’s World, even reported on Sister Simone Campbell and Network’s Nuns on the Bus campaign to agitate for immigration reform). In Canada, Dave McKee, former leader of the Communist Party of Canada in Ontario, was once an Anglican theology student at a Catholic seminary, radicalized in part by his contact with base communities in Nicaragua. For my part, I have talked more about Karl Rahner, S.J., St. Óscar Romero and liberation theology at May Day celebrations and communist meetings than at my own Catholic parish.

Dettloff mentions neither Pope John Paul II’s pointed rebuke of Ernesto Cardenal nor the Sandinistas’ attempts to shout down the pope as he celebrated Mass in Managua.

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After Sri Lanka, news media pros should consider taking a long, detailed look at China

After Sri Lanka, news media pros should consider taking a long, detailed look at China

The horrendous Easter massacre in Sri Lanka dominates the current news cycle, with good cause.

By  coincidence, only weeks ago The Guy surveyed the worldwide phenomenon of  terror, murder and persecution against Christians. Looking ahead, the media might prepare features on a long-running and elaborate government effort aimed at all religions, with this upcoming peg: the 70th anniversary of Mao’s October 1 proclamation of the People’s Republic of China. 

Michael Meyer, author of “The Road to Sleeping Dragon” and other books on China, reminds us in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (behind pay wall) about three religious anniversaries in 2019. It is 10 years since deadly riots in Xinjiang province provoked a major crackdown against Muslims; 20 years since the party launched its effort to liquidate the Fulan Gong movement; and 60 years since Tibet’s young Dalai Lama fled Chinese occupiers’ harassment of Buddhists. All three campaigns persist.

As for Christianity, the regime fears the increasing numbers of converts and continually applies counter-measures.  In north central China, for example, troops last year demolished the Golden Lampstand Church in Linfen, spiritual home for 50,000 evangelicals, just weeks after a Catholic church was destroyed in Xian city.  Under Communist Party boss Xi Jinping’s policy of severe social control, less severe damage has been inflicted on at least 1,500 church buildings.   

The most recent U.S. Department of State survey on global religious freedom notes that China recognizes only five “patriotic” associations that cover Catholicism, Protestantism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. All gatherings are required to register with the atheistic regime  -- which believers understandably resist – or risk criminal penalties.  “There continue to be reports the government tortured, physically abused, arrested, detained, sentenced to prison, or harassed adherents of both registered and unregistered religious groups,” State says. 

For China roundups, writers might ask who  is the most important figure in the world’s largest nation in terms of religion.

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Covering exotic faiths, in Uganda and Tibet, a special challenge for Western religion scribes

Covering exotic faiths, in Uganda and Tibet, a special challenge for Western religion scribes

One of the toughest disciplines for journalists to follow — if not the toughest — is setting aside personal judgements about others’ opinions. It’s a struggle for all practitioners of the craft, but it's particularly difficult for religion specialists.

That’s because of the deep and often unconscious psychological ties between personal identity and beliefs about life’s ultimate questions.

It's even harder to handle when covering faith systems outside the mainstream majority religions, with which we’re generally more familiar and, therefore, more comfortable.

I was reminded of this by two recent Religion News Service stories. RNS published them the same day, but what I want to focus on is how they took opposite approaches to covering some exotic territory.

One piece was about a subset of Pentecostal Christian leaders in Uganda warning their followers not to rely upon traditional Western medicine rather than their faith to see them through ill-health. The second concerned the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, the fourteenth in his lineage, and speculated about his reincarnation, or even if he should — which is monumental for Tibetan Buddhists.

Both pieces, I’d say, likely strained the belief systems of the preponderance of Westerners, including religion journalists.

Before we jump into those two stories, let me offer some caveats.

When I talk about putting aside our personal judgements I’m not including niche religion publications written for particular faith groups. Nor am I talking about opinion journalism, which includes the posts here at GetReligion.

Rather, I’m talking about mainstream news reporting, the sort historically defined by professional standards that attempt to provide “objective” journalism.

Frankly, I don't believe objectivity was ever really attainable for subjective humans (meaning all of us). So I prefer the label “fair and fact-based.” And yes, I’m fully aware that highly opinionated journalism is the increasingly preferred format in today’s 24/7, atomized, web and cable TV-dominated news environment.

One more thing. In no way should anything I write here be misinterpreted as an unqualified endorsement of any of the beliefs noted.

Now back to the RNS stories. Here’s the top of the Uganda piece:

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Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Journalistically speaking, however, each case may be reduced to a “story,” each competing for press attention at a time when shrinking industry resources and an ominous uptick in American political chaos make grabbing international media coverage increasingly difficult.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is one such religious minority. The Kremlin has come down on Russian members of the faith like a ton of bricks.

The situation, from time to time, gains some coverage from western media elites. That attention soon fades, however, which prompts the following question: Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?

I’ll try to answer that question below. First, though, let’s get current on the plight of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses.

This Los Angeles Times piece about their seeking refuge in neighboring Finland is a good place to start. Here’s a snippet from it:

In the 16 months since Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group on par with Islamic State, raids and arrests of the religion’s estimated 175,000 members in the country have increased rapidly. The ruling criminalized practicing the religion and ordered its 395 branches closed. Members face prosecution for doing missionary work, a fundamental part of the faith.

There are now an estimated 250 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum in Finland. They wait out their asylum applications in several refugee centers across the country, including the Joutseno refugee center outside Lappeenranta in southeastern Finland.

How has this impacted individual Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Read on.

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Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

Various Christians, Tibetan Buddhists or Muslims. Pick your top China religion story

What’s the biggest religion news story currently percolating in China?

Your answer probably depends upon your religious worldview.

If you're evangelical Protestant -- or any other sort of Christian, for that matter -- it's probably the rapid spread of Christianity across China, and Beijing’s effort to control the phenomena.

This piece from The Atlantic makes clear that Chinese authorities have their hands full maintaining the smothering control they prefer to have over all nongovernmental groups, religious or otherwise.

If you’re Christian and Roman Catholic, the Vatican’s effort to reach some sort of recognition compromise with Beijing may be your preferred story. Here’s a recent piece from Crux on the issue.

If you're a Buddhist, you're likely focused on China’s effort to suppress Tibetan-style Buddhism so as to limit international support for Tibetan independence, or even limited self-rule. A major part of China’s effort is to try to undercut support for the Dalai Lama, the global Buddhist religious celebrity who leads Buddhism’s Vajrayana wing, the form dominant in Tibet and other areas of Central Asia.

This recent New York Times story details how China’s campaign to maintain its imperial hold on Tibet bleeds into its political and economic dealings with India, though India is far from alone in this.

If you're Muslim, however, the following story about the forced and brutal reeducation of Chinese Muslims is likely to be the religion story in China that most concerns you. (In case you don’t know, both pork and alcohol are banned in traditional Islam.)

Muslims were detained for re-education by China‘s government and made to eat pork and drink alcohol, according to a former internment camp inmate.

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Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

Sri Lanka: Buddhists again turn on Muslims. So where do Western Buddhists stand?

It’s no where near as widespread as the vicious attacks against Buddhist Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority, but a similar inter-religious clash is currently roiling Sri Lanka.

If you're not current with the breaking situation, this Reuters news piece will help. So will this analysis from Britain’s The Independent.

There are two takeaways here that journalists need to understand.

First, some majority Buddhist nations -- all of them in Asia -- are reacting to the growth of Islam in their midst in similar fashion to the reaction of some European countries, not to mention a large number of American Christians (religious and cultural) and others.

That is to say, with much alarm; fear of Islamic terrorism being a prime motivator. A second motivator is cultural in nature; the fear of losing one’s historical national dominance as global demographics shift. Call this the tribal component.

This New York Times analysis explains what I mean in far greater detail. Its’s headlined: “Why Are We Surprised When Buddhists Are Violent?” Here’s a taste of it.

Most adherents of the world’s religions claim that their traditions place a premium on virtues like love, compassion and forgiveness, and that the state toward which they aim is one of universal peace. History has shown us, however, that religious traditions are human affairs, and that no matter how noble they may be in their aspirations, they display a full range of both human virtues and human failings.
While few sophisticated observers are shocked, then, by the occurrence of religious violence, there is one notable exception in this regard; there remains a persistent and widespread belief that Buddhist societies really are peaceful and harmonious. This presumption is evident in the reactions of astonishment many people have to events like those taking place in Myanmar. How, many wonder, could a Buddhist society — especially Buddhist monks! — have anything to do with something so monstrously violent as the ethnic cleansing now being perpetrated on Myanmar’s long-beleaguered Rohingya minority? Aren’t Buddhists supposed to be compassionate and pacifist?

I know this is on the longish side, but allow me to also quote this part of the Times essay. It's illuminating, as is the entire article.

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Next up: Look past terrorism to probe Europe's deeper changes tied to its Muslim influx

Next up: Look past terrorism to probe Europe's deeper changes tied to its Muslim influx

You may recall that just last week I wrote about Australia’s reticence to accept Muslim refugees and an apparent New York Times failure to identify Muslims as Muslims in a featured article on the issue.

My guess is that more than a few Australians who are against accepting Muslim refugees felt vindicated in their position when they learned about a new Pew Research Center report on how Muslim refugees are demographically transforming Europe.

My question: What is the appropriate reaction to this historical population shift and oes it vary from one host non-Muslim nation to another?

I'm referring to more than current -- and hopefully just temporary, even if lasts another decade or so -- fears about terrorism committed in the name of Islam.

Not to be misunderstood, let me make clear that I do think those fears are -- in many but not all instances -- absolutely warranted.

But what I’m attempting to address here are the more long-term impacts -- cultural, social and political -- guaranteed to result from this vast human migration from Asia and Africa into the historically white Christian nations of Europe.

Like Humpty Dumpty, the Europe of old will not be put back together again,

There will be so many ramifications ahead that journalists -- religion beat pros and others -- need to start addressing now, and doing it openly and honestly, without fear of offending but with sensitivity and respect as well.

We need to go beyond our journalistic uncomfortableness about projecting future possibilities. 

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Washington Post hints at big changes afoot for Tibetan Buddhism. Is there a local story in that?

Washington Post hints at big changes afoot for Tibetan Buddhism. Is there a local story in that?

Tibet ceased to be an independent nation nearly six decades ago. Moreover, the likelihood is that Tibet — birthplace of the Dalai Lama and home to a unique and dramatic form of Buddhist practice — will remain under Chinese domination for the foreseeable future.

In short, the Dalai Lama’s immense international popularity (primarily in Western democracies) and the good deal of advocacy on behalf of Tibet by Western supporters over the decades has, politically speaking, achieved virtually nothing.

Why’s that? Because China’s massive economic and military power trumps, on the international stage, any sympathy for Tibet in Western capitals.

If that’s not enough, there’s now a new -- and surprising -- threat to Tibetan nationalism. The Washington Post wrote about it last month.

That threat is Indian citizenship.

India, home to some 122,000 Tibetan exiles, earlier this year decided to grant many of them Indian citizenship. Until now officially stateless, the Tibetans who accept Indian citizenship will gain a slew of government perks withheld from non-citizens. That includes an Indian passport, allowing them to leave India and travel the world with far greater ease than previously.

That raises at least three questions. One’s political, one’s religious and one’s journalistic. As usual, the three are interrelated. To begin:

* What does accepting Indian citizenship mean for the Tibetan national movement?

* What impact will this have on Tibetan Buddhism?

* Three, why did the Post story not address question two -- given how central Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism is to Tibetan cultural and political identity?

Yes, we're talking about the possibility of a slow but eventual assimilation into Indian cultural identity.

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Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Why not quote Buddhists in news about Buddhist mistreatment of Myanmar's Muslim Rohingyas?

Here at GetReligion we're constantly going on about the sources journalists rely upon when reporting religion stories. We keep asking, for instance, why religious liberals are the only voices quoted in stories critical of this or that traditionalist position.

One reason for this is Kellerism, the GetReligion term for when editors at a news outlet decide that it only needs to quote one side in a debate because the other side is simply on the wrong side of history or is flat out wrong.

However, there are many other times when appropriate positions are missing simply because journalists do not know they exist or how to find them.

That’s the case with Buddhist views on the goings on in Myanmar, where Rohingya Muslims are being harshly persecuted and forced to seek safety in neighboring, and Muslim, Bangladesh. Even the presence of a Nobel Peace Prize winner as Myanmar’s ostensible leader has not helped the Rohingya minority.

Why? Because Myanmar’s overwhelming Buddhist majority simply has little sympathy for its Muslim neighbors.

Surely, though, there must be some Buddhist leaders who are more sympathetic and who can be contacted for a quote or two that expresses another Buddhist viewpoint? Or do we have to make do with global political leaders and humanitarian groups for comments critical of Myanmar’s handling of the situation, as has generally been the case.

No, we don't. #JournalismMatters

Still, other than the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan Buddhist leader that Western journalists, in particular, seem to think speaks for all Buddhists everywhere, prominent Buddhist voices are generally absent from the many stories being produced about the plight of the Rohingyas.

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