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Time for next wave of election ink: So it's time to look for the elusive Catholic vote -- again

Time for next wave of election ink: So it's time to look for the elusive Catholic vote -- again

Election Day is upon us. You may have noticed what a big deal the midterms are given the extensive coverage and hype from both the networks and cable news channels over the past few weeks.

While the fight for Republicans to maintain control of Congress has been framed, of course, as a referendum on President Donald Trump’s first two years in office, there is also a religion angle — specifically a Catholic one) to examine. These elections could also serve as a litmus test for
American Catholics and whether they opt to go left or right. After all, Catholicism is the country’s single largest religious denomination, and the ultimate swing vote, although you wouldn’t know it from all the aforementioned news coverage.

Overall, the data is mixed on whether Catholics as a whole backed Trump or Clinton.

But there’s the key fact. There is no one Catholic vote. That’s a myth.

It’s that elusiveness that makes Catholics and the midterms a difficult story for news organizations to tackle. In a polarized world where loud voices on Twitter get lots of attention,
black and white issues and point-of-views reign supreme. There isn’t much room for gray.

Nonetheless, moral and religious issues like abortion, religious freedom and immigration could make the Catholic vote – even if split — an important factor in the midterms. While immigration, climate change, abortion and the Brett Kavanaugh hearings have gotten lots of attention this election cycle, the religious angle — specifically looking at Catholic candidates and voters — is what has been lacking from mainstream news coverage.

Let me stress: It isn’t that coverage has been devoid of religion. In the Trump age, evangelicals are the group news organizations like to focus on because so many of them backed the
president (see this tmatt update on that).

The Catholic vote has become even harder to pin down in recent years.

Catholics have not voted as a bloc since the 1960s when John F. Kennedy became the first, and to date the only, Catholic to win the White House. In recent decades, Catholics have been evenly split between Democrats and Republicans. The key? Look for information about how often a Catholics go to Mass.

Journalists should look at the nation’s political divisions and how they are akin to what we see in the current church. Catholics are divided among conservatives (of various kinds) and liberals (of various kinds) — which means there are a lot of people in between. As always, abortion and immigration remain hot-button issues.

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Was there a big Catholic ghost in 'The Exorcist'? Don't ask the Los Angeles Times about that

Was there a big Catholic ghost in 'The Exorcist'? Don't ask the Los Angeles Times about that

It feels really stupid to say that there was a major religion “ghost” in William Peter Blatty’s classic screenplay for “The Exorcist,” the horror classic that was based on his own novel.

It would be hard to write a story that — R-rating and all — contained more in-your-face religious issues and references than this one. Blatty, who died last year, was super candid about his goal to create a tale that (all together now) scared the “hell” out of people. But hold that thought, because we will come back to it.

No, what I want to note in this post is that the entertainment desk at The Los Angeles Times managed to do a major story about the 40th anniversary of this classic while avoiding any of its haunting spiritual symbols and themes.

How do you do that? Well, you start with the business angles linked to this monster hit and stay there. Damn the supernatural and full speed ahead. Here’s the overture:

During the production of the masterpiece of horror “The Exorcist,” director William Friedkin and screenwriter William Peter Blatty enjoyed having fun with the suits at Warner Brothers. At one point, the two were going to shoot a mock scene from the movie with Groucho Marx and send the footage to the executives.

“We always put them on,” said Friedkin. “They were always concerned that we were both crazy and would eventually implode the movie. We even staged blowups in front of them.”

Of course, study executives had other worries about this film and its contents. But, again, hold that thought, because the Times has a Hollywood event to plug.

“The Exorcist,” the first horror film to be nominated for a best picture Oscar, is being feted Monday by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a 45th anniversary, sold-out screening at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. …

Based on the runaway 1971 best-seller by Blatty, “The Exorcist” scared — and still does scare — daylights out of audiences. [Ellen] Burstyn stars as actress Chris MacNeil who, much to her horror, discovers her sweet young daughter, Regan (Linda Blair), is possessed by the devil. The only way to get rid of the demon is to call in two priests, the tormented young Jesuit Father Karras (Jason Miller) and the elderly exorcist Father Merrin (Max von Sydow) to cast out the devil.

Toward the very end of this long feature there is a hint — if you know what to look for — about the role that Blatty’s conservative Catholic faith played in this movie and the battles to get it on the screen.

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Ideal doctoral dissertation for the Trump Epoch: Washington's religious lobbyists

Ideal doctoral dissertation for the Trump Epoch: Washington's religious lobbyists

Last May 9, Donald Trump tweeted (yes, at 3:05 a.m.) that the Rev. Dr. Russell Moore is “truly a terrible representative of evangelicals,” not to mention “a nasty guy with no heart!”

As beat specialists know, Moore, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, had issued numerous sharp moral denunciations of Trump during the campaign.

Nonetheless, Moore has now found one deed of President Trump worth praise. The Baptist was first out of the box in religious maneuvering over Neil Gorsuch’s Supreme Court nomination, within hours rallying 52 evangelical Protestant leaders to endorse the Episcopalian. The 52 declared that the “Senate should work diligently to confirm his appointment without obstruction.” Good luck with that.

By coincidence, the day of the Gorsuch announcement patheos.com blogger Jacob Lupfer lauded the ERLC’s effectiveness as the socio-political voice of America’s biggest Protestant denomination. Lupfer said the experts consider this “highly professional” shop to be “definitively the premier conservative evangelical public-policy organization,” which outpaces “just about any other faith group involved in politics.”

Lupfer admits he is “an unlikely person” to say such things, considering his own  disagreements with the Baptists' views.

But here is an alert for scribes: In April he completes a Georgetown University political science dissertation about religious lobbies in Washington, D.C. This study should provide journalists good grist for an article, with a book sure to follow, and Lupfer will remain a quotable source throughout the Trump Epoch.

Moore issued a Christmastime semi-apology if anyone thought he scorned  Christians who voted for Trump, explaining: “There’s a massive difference between someone who enthusiastically excused immorality, and someone who felt conflicted, weighed the options based on biblical convictions, and voted their conscience.” He's also come under fire from some Southern Baptists because his agency supports religious freedom for Muslims seeking to build new mosques. 

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WPost examines the demons (and a ghost) in 'The Exorcist'

It’s that time of year again, the time when reporters keep trying to reach author William Peter Blatty to talk about pea soup, noises in the night, long flights of stairs and the degree to which human necks can swivel.

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Still falling for 'The Exorcist,' 40 years later

Long ago, pre-Internet, some researchers tried to find out which movie had the greatest spiritual effect on viewers, in terms of provoking people to think about sin, salvation and life after death.

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Sandra Fluke, Time's 'Person of the Year' and tender stories

Time magazine is doing its annual PR blitz for its “Person of the Year.” After I won the designation in 2006, I stopped paying attention to it. Since then the honor has gone to Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, Mark Zuckerberg and “the protester.” And yes, if you’re wondering, the tradition of selecting a Man of the Year began in 1927 with Time editors contemplating newsworthy stories possible during a slow news week. We’ve all been there.

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