Fidel Castro

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.

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Castro's death: For a follow-up, Associated Press story misses big religious angles

Castro's death: For a follow-up, Associated Press story misses big religious angles

The banging pots and honking horns have faded on Miami's Calle Ocho, where Cuban-Americans noisily celebrated the death of Fidel Castro. Thus, it's time for some reflection on what it means for peace and freedom -- including freedom of religion.

So the Associated Press shows the right instinct in its Sunday story out of Miami on the aftermath of El Comandante's death. Yet it largely leaves ghostly trails in what could have offered some spiritual insights on the story.

We get early warnings of a scattershot story:

MIAMI (AP) -- Celebration turned to somber reflection and church services Sunday as Cuban-Americans in Miami largely stayed off the streets following a raucous daylong party in which thousands marked the death of Fidel Castro.
One Cuban exile car dealer, however, sought to turn the revolutionary socialist's death into a quintessential capitalist deal by offering $15,000 discounts on some models.
And on the airwaves, top aides to President-elect Donald Trump promised a hard look at the recent thaw in U.S. relations with Cuba.

Cuba, as you may or may not know, is on the watch list of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. USCIRF's 2016 report tells of increased surveillance, harassment, closure and destruction of churches there -- on a level with the likes of Russia, Malaysia, Turkey and Afghanistan.

But here is AP's version of the religious facet in this story:

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Religion in Cuba ahead of visit by Pope Francis: Think politics, politics, politics

Religion in Cuba ahead of visit by Pope Francis: Think politics, politics, politics

My fascination with Cuba began in my late teens when I discovered traditional Cuban dance music, which I much preferred to the bubble-gum rock that had supplanted the doo-wop sound, my first musical love. My friends and I -- middle class Jewish guys from New York City's outer boroughs -- referred to the music as "Latin;" today it's know as "salsa," a catch-all term that fails miserably, as did Latin, to do justice to the many musical forms that comprise the rhythmic complexity of the Cuban musical palate.

By the early 1960s, we were regulars on the New York Latin dance scene. One of our wider circle actually become one of salsa's biggest stars. That would be Larry Harlow, nicknamed El Judeo Maravilloso (the Marvelous Jew), who began life as Lawrence Ira Kahn. Go figure.

Our access to the music was greatly, if inadvertently, facilitated by Fidel Castro, who's revolutionary success in 1959 prompted many of Cuba's greatest musicians to flee to the U.S. for the artistic freedom that trumped any revolutionary zeal they harbored. 

I got to Cuba in 1998 to cover the visit of Pope John Paul II and I hope to return there later this year or next with three high school-era friends for a bucket-list musical tour of the island nation. In the meantime, I read all I can about contemporary Cuba, including this recent Washington Post piece that touted what was called a Cuban religious resurgence.

Here's a few graphs that convey the news feature's central point:

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