Dome of the Rock

Big theology news: Pope Francis agrees that various world religions were 'willed' by God

Big theology news: Pope Francis agrees that various world religions were 'willed' by God

Believe it or not, the language of theology can make news, every now and then. This is especially true when the person speaking the words is the occupant of the Chair of St. Peter.

However, this goes against one of the great unwritten laws of journalism, which appears to state something like this: Whenever the pope speaks, even in a sermon, the most important words are always those that can be interpreted as commentary on events or trends in contemporary politics. This is consistent with this journalism doctrine: Politics is the ultimate reality. Religion? Not so much.

For a perfect example of this law, please see this story in The New York Times: “Pope Francis Breaks Some Taboos on Visit to Persian Gulf.”

The taboos that make it into the lede are, of course, political and, frankly, they are important. This is a case in which Times editors really needed to insist on a difficult and rare maneuver — a lede that lets readers know that the story contains TWO very important developments.

The political angle raised eyebrows among diplomats. But there was also a theological statement linked to this story that will trouble many traditional Christians, as well as Muslims. Then again, Universalists in various traditions may have every reason to cheer. Hold that thought. Here is the political overture.

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Pope Francis used the keynote address of his roughly 40-hour stay in the United Arab Emirates to breach delicate taboos on Monday, specifically mentioning Yemen, where his hosts are engaged in a brutal war, and calling on countries throughout the Gulf region to extend citizenship rights to religious minorities.

The remarks by Francis were exceptionally candid for a pope who as a general rule does not criticize the country that hosts him and avoids drawing undue attention to the issues that its rulers would rather not discuss. …

But on Monday, during the first visit by a pope to the Arabian Peninsula, where Islam was born, Francis was blunt in a speech before hundreds of leaders from a broad array of faiths on a day used to underscore the need for humanity to stop committing violence in the name of religion.

“Human fraternity requires of us, as representatives of the world’s religions, the duty to reject every nuance of approval from the word ‘war,’” Francis said at the towering Founder’s Memorial in Abu Dhabi.

“Let us return it to its miserable crudeness,” he added. “Its fateful consequences are before our eyes. I am thinking in particular of Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya.”

Yes, the reference to Yemen was big news. Yes, that had to be in the lede.

So what was the theological news?

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Dear Condé Nast Traveler: Religious details should matter in your stories

Dear Condé Nast Traveler: Religious details should matter in your stories

Condé Nast Traveler is what it purports to be: a publication for the rich, discerning and leisure class traveler for whom the word “budget” is not an option. So one would think it would have the money to pay for knowledgeable copy editors

Or maybe not. According to glassdoor.com, a fair share of employees report low pay, long work hours, no work/life balance, that sort of thing. So maybe their copy desk isn’t top of the line.

Whatever the case, the magazine needs some folks who know the basics of world religions, including the central Christian doctrine resurrection of Jesus. My case in point is a piece written by Brooklyn, N.Y., writer Bliss Broyard out this month that is called “I took my kids out of school for three months of travel.”

The stops included sojourns in Jerusalem, Athens, Istanbul, Rome and Oslo and being Jewish, they wanted to their kids to experience Israel, so that’s where they headed first. All went well until:

The next day, while my husband and E. wait in line to enter the Muslim holy site, Haram Al-Sharif (called the Temple Mount by non-Muslims), R. and I run over to the Church of Holy Sepulchre, where we’re carried on a tide of people through the entrance and up some worn stone stairs, polished and slippery from centuries of the faithful’s footsteps.

We wait our turn to lie on the floor and reach down into a hole to touch the tomb that is said to hold Jesus’s bodily remains. I can see that R.’s curiosity is piqued: whether by the chance to lay his fingers on a tangible relic of history, or a kid’s conditioned desire to join any long queue because it must lead to something cool, I have no idea.

Then we overhear a tour guide saying in a well-practiced phrase that the wait can be over an hour, and it’s not even certain that Jesus is buried there. So we hustle back to the Temple Mount for a chance to see the spot where the Prophet Mohammed allegedly rode his mythical stallion to that final mosque in heaven.

The tomb “that is said to hold Jesus’s bodily remains?” Seriously?

Actually, no one has ever found Jesus’s body that we know of. The whole paragraph would have been improved if it had all been put into the past tense. Or was the author sending the message she doesn’t give a rip about what Christians believe and that as far as she’s concerned, Jesus’s body is still somewhere around? Hard to tell if it’s just sloppy phrasing or something more.

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From Jerusalem to Standing Rock, victors recast past to reflect their religious worldviews

From Jerusalem to Standing Rock, victors recast past to reflect their religious worldviews

Jerusalem's Temple Mount -- as Jews call it in English, or the Noble Sanctuary, the English version of its Muslim name -- is arguably the world's most fought over bit of sacred land.

Today, the area is under Muslim control and houses the magnificent shrine known as the Dome of the Rock and the al-Aqsa Mosque. Of course these Muslim structures are only the latest in a long line of religious sites that have graced the leveled hilltop.

Over the many centuries, Jews, Romans, and Christians preceded Muslims in claiming the site as their own, as I'm sure most GetReligion readers are well aware.

If so, why reiterate this history?

To make the point that dedicating a location to whatever God or gods are favored by the faith of whoever happens to hold political sway over the site at any given moment is a time-honored way to humble the vanquished and exalt the victorious.

In other words, constructing churches atop the ruins of synagogues, and mosques atop the ruins of churches, or -- as happens in India -- Hindu temples atop the ruins of mosques, and vice versa, seems to be just another bit of human nasty disregard for those who are different from us but over who we have power.

Now to my question of the week.

Was the just concluded (for now, anyway), months-long Standing Rock Dakota Access pipeline protest a contemporary example of -- no pun intended -- literally lording it over Native American spiritual beliefs about the intrinsic sacredness of ancestral lands?

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The New York Times blows it, gets sucked into Israeli-Palestinian Temple Mount quagmire

The New York Times blows it, gets sucked into Israeli-Palestinian Temple Mount quagmire

There is no long-running conflict more closely covered today than the struggle-without-end between Israelis and Palestinians. The Website of the Foreign Press Association in Israel says some 480 correspondents from around the world currently work in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

That number swells, of course, when the conflict heats up, the simmer becomes an explosion, and more people die, as -- sadly -- is currently the case as Israelis cope with a wave of Palestinian knifings and other attacks. Adding to the total number of journalists writing about the situation are those doing so from outside the conflict zone -- like those churning out stories from the Manhattan headquarters of The New York Times.

Which brings me to a story about Jerusalem's Temple Mount (as Jews call it)/Haram al-Sharif (as its known in Arabic) produced by the Times' home office last week that provoked an angry backlash from Jews and other Israel-supporters to a degree I've not seen in a very long time.

The piece was headlined "Historical Certainty Proves Elusive at Jerusalem's Holiest Place." It was a mess of a story about what is arguably, as the cliche goes, the world's most contested piece of real estate, a site Jews consider their holiest, and Muslims call their third holiest.

The piece focused solely on the historicity of the two biblical-era Jewish Temples. Given the ferociousness of the conflict, such stories easily become about way more than archeology and whatever may be scholarship's current version of history. That's because they go to the very heart of the clashing Israeli and Palestinian narratives -- historically, theologically and, probably most importantly, politically. 

Even getting such a story "factually" correct is not enough, as fact and fiction concerning the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif vary in accordance with which partisan is talking. Still, this piece could claim no such cover.

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Religion Writing 101: Parsing the language of true believers at the Dome of the Rock

Religion Writing 101: Parsing the language of true believers at the Dome of the Rock

Let's talk Religion Writing 101 for a moment. Which of the following statements is most appropriate in a mainstream news publication? 

I. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the tomb where Jesus Christ was raised from the dead."

II. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the remains of a tomb where Christians believe Jesus was raised from the dead."

III. "The crowd gathered at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the ancient sanctuary containing the remains of a tomb that early Christians said is the place where Jesus was raised from the dead."

What is going on in these three wordings?

The first accepts a statement of Christian faith as historical fact, with no attribution of any kind. This language is often seen -- appropriately so -- in traditional Christian publications.

The second uses the word "believe" as part of this journalistic equation, noting that this fact claim is something Christians believe, while others may disagree.

The third statement adds more content with its factual reference to the early church, which gives the claim some authority, yet also accurately implies that (a) many Christians (especially Protestants) disagree that this sanctuary contains the site of the resurrection and/or (b) that some doctrinal progressives reject belief in the resurrection, yet continue to identify as Christians. Whenever possible, I'm an option III guy.

Why bring this up? This is actually a relevant topic in light of some interesting language in a Washington Post story that ran under the headline, "Meet the Israeli mom who called Muhammad a pig -- at al-Aqsa mosque."

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It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

It's complicated: Who makes what claims to Jerusalem’s Temple site?

IRA ASKS:

Both Jews and Muslims lay religious claim to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount / Noble Sanctuary, which has long been at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is the basis of their competing claims?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

This uniquely and deeply revered religious site in the eastern sector of Jerusalem’s Old City is called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Haram al-Sharif (“Noble Sanctuary”) by Muslims. Smithsonian magazine says this tract “has seen more momentous historical events than perhaps any other 35 acres in the world,” while The Economist magazine considers it “one of the world’s most explosive bits of real estate.”

That second assertion has been amply underscored in recent months. An expert at the U.S. Institute of Peace tells huffingtonpost.com that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has developed a religious character that was not as explicit in the past.”

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Dear Washington Post editors: Why was National Cathedral security so tight during Muslim prayers?

Dear Washington Post editors: Why was National Cathedral security so tight during Muslim prayers?

Over the past few days, I have had quite a few people ask me what I thought of the first-ever Muslim prayer service held inside the vault of the Washington National Cathedral. Would GetReligion be "covering" that? 

My response, of course, was whether they were asking for my personal take on this event, as an Orthodox Christian, or for my take on the media coverage of the event, which is what GetReligion is all about? Most meant the former, which isn't all that relevant to what we do here on this blog. Thus, let me offer a thought or two about the Washington Post coverage of the event, which ran under this headline: "Washington Cathedral’s first Muslim prayer service interrupted by heckler."

Your GetReligionistas rarely critique reporters by name, since we think editors also play crucial roles in the final product that ends up in print or on the air. However, in this case I'd like to note that it was interesting, and I think wise, that the Post editors assigned veteran foreign correspondent Pamela Constable to this story. She has years of experience in Pakistan and Afghanistan and is also known as the author of the book, "Fragments of Grace: My Search for Meaning in the Strife of South Asia."

The information that made it into the story was solid, although at several points I wanted to know more -- such as the actual doctrinal content of the sermon scholar Ebrahim Rasool, South Africa’s U.S. ambassador. In each case, I found myself wondering if these vague spots were the result of editing or the values of editors in the newsroom.

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Is Christian Zionism off the NY Times radar?

Comments given to an American church audience in 2011 by an Israeli rabbi, who stood for election this week to the Knesset on the Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) ticket were a one-day wonder over the weekend in the Israeli press. Atlanta-native Jeremy Gimpel was lambasted by the liberal press in Israel for allegedly calling for the Dome of the Rock, the Muslim mosque built atop the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, to be destroyed and replaced with a new Temple.

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