Satan

Beyond covering vigils and funerals: What’s the Catholic church’s position on guns?

Beyond covering vigils and funerals: What’s the Catholic church’s position on guns?

I have attended many vigils and funeral services in my years as a news reporter. I did so primarily as a general assignment reporter covering crime in New York City throughout the early 2000s.

In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, I attended dozens of funerals for firefighters and other first-responders who perished during the collapse of the World Trade Center in the biggest terror attack on American soil.

There is a new terror threat that faces our nation. The rise of domestic terrorists with easy access to guns have made even a routine weekend trip to the mall something to fear. Those memories of covering vigils and funerals — many involving children and teens shot and killed in senseless gang violence — came flooding back to my mind this past weekend.

The back-to-back massacres — one at a Texas Walmart on Saturday and another in an Ohio nightclub the following day — cast a pall on our nation at a time when many families are enjoying time at the beach.

Again, the violence had to do with guns. As flowers and candles piled up at both scenes of the tragedy, the political response was all about finger-pointing and racism. It was yet another example of our country’s increased political (and news media) polarization. Mainstream media news coverage could be summed out this way: Democrats blamed President Donald Trump’s rhetoric, while Republicans pointed the finger at mental illness and violent video games.

The news coverage was predictable, boilerplate even. As usual, it lacked any real focus on religion, either in the many main news stories of the first few days or the sidebars that evolved. You would think the aftermath of two major tragedies wouldn’t lack talk of faith. Instead, the focus was politics — both regarding the motives of the shooters in each case and the need for gun control.

It’s a topic that comes up each time there is a mass shooting. And each time the coverage lacks any real consideration for what faith-based organizations are doing to try and stop future incidents. That is, have religious leaders offered more than prayers.

In this case, what the Catholic church has done to reduce gun violence has gone largely unreported or underreported the past few years.

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Yes, this is a hard news story to cover: More talk about The Atlantic and modern exorcists

Yes, this is a hard news story to cover: More talk about The Atlantic and modern exorcists

The Bible doesn’t come up, all that often, here at GetReligion, unless we are talking about news stories that mangle a crucial piece of scripture. Remember this M.Z. Hemingway classic about the Ascension of Jesus? Or how about this M.Z. post, about The New York Times and Easter?

Anyway, to understand this week’s “Crossroads” podcast (click here to tune that in), I need you to pause and read the Gospel According to St. Luke, chapter 8: 26-36.

The key: Try to look at this through the eyes of a journalist who was going to mention this New Testament passage in a news report. We are doing part of a discussion of that interesting feature that ran the other day in The Atlantic, focusing on the sharp rise in requests for the ministry of exorcists in today’s Catholic church. So, here is our Bible story for today:

Then they arrived at the country of the Ger′asenes, [a] which is opposite Galilee. And as he stepped out on land, there met him a man from the city who had demons; for a long time he had worn no clothes, and he lived not in a house but among the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell down before him, and said with a loud voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me.” For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. (For many a time it had seized him; he was kept under guard, and bound with chains and fetters, but he broke the bonds and was driven by the demon into the desert.)

Jesus then asked him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered him. And they begged him not to command them to depart into the abyss. Now a large herd of swine was feeding there on the hillside; and they begged him to let them enter these. So he gave them leave. Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned.

When the herdsmen saw what had happened, they fled, and told it in the city and in the country. Then people went out to see what had happened, and they came to Jesus, and found the man from whom the demons had gone, sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. And those who had seen it told them how he who had been possessed with demons was healed.

Now, my goal here is not to ask readers — as skeptical journalists — whether they believe this story or not. I am not asking whether readers think this is a mere folk story, as opposed to being inspired scripture handed down by the early church. I am not asking for a scientific evaluation of this text.

I am simple noting that it is hard to read this passage and not grasp that the reality of evil and the demonic is part of the Christian tradition. What we also see her is an archetypal image of the work of the exorcist, especially that of a priest acting in the name of Jesus of Nazareth.

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The Atlantic dares to ask if exorcisms (and thus the supernatural) may be real after all

The Atlantic dares to ask if exorcisms (and thus the supernatural) may be real after all

Five years ago, I had a chance to eat lunch with the late William Peter Blatty, an articulate Catholic apologist who won an Academy Award for turning his novel, "The Exorcist," into a stunning Hollywood screenplay.

Yes, I called Blatty a Catholic apologist.

Why? In part because he viewed his masterwork as a vehicle for criticizing this materialistic age. Here is a chunk of that column, in which Blatty explains his motives. In “The Exorcist”:

The fictional Father Damien Karras experiences paralyzing doubts after his mother's death. Blatty was typing the second page of his earliest take on the story when he received the call that his mother had died.

"I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to make a statement that the grave is not the end, that there is more to life than death," said Blatty, in a Bethesda, Md., diner near his home, not far from the Georgetown neighborhood described in "The Exorcist."

After studying the explicit details in the journals of exorcists, he decided that a story about "what happens in these cases could really be a boost to the faith. It could show people that the spiritual world is real."

The bottom line: "The Exorcist" scared the hell out of millions of people. 

This brings me to the feature story in The Atlantic that stirred up lots of online conversation over the weekend, the one with this haunting double-decker headline:

American Exorcism

Priests are fielding more requests than ever for help with demonic possession, and a centuries-old practice is finding new footing in the modern world.

A serious piece of journalism on this topic faces a big question: How much space should be dedicated to the views of people who, well, think demon possession is real? As Blatty noted, it is impossible to talk about this topic — exorcisms — without debating evidence that the material world is not all that there is. (Click here for a Rod Dreher discussion of this angle.)

Toward the end of this long feature, reporter Mike Mariani offers this summary of what he was seeing, hearing and feeling:

Pore over these spiritual and psychiatric frameworks long enough, and the lines begin to blur. If someone lapses into an alternate identity that announces itself as a demon bent on wresting away that person’s soul, how can anyone prove otherwise? Psychiatry has only given us models through which to understand these symptoms, new cultural contexts to replace the old ones. No lab test can pinpoint the medical source of these types of mental fractures.

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This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

This week's podcast: Colorado fine-tunes legal campaign against Masterpiece Cakeshop owner

No doubt about it, there was a big, big religious-liberty story back on June 28 out in the often-overlooked Rocky Mountain Time Zone.

This was a story that had been cooking for some time and, yes, it involved Jack Phillips of Colorado, the owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop. 

To understand the significance of this news story -- the goal of this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) --  it helps to look at the following timeline:

* On June, 26, 2017 -- the day the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission -- a Colorado lawyer named Autumn Scardina called the bakery and made a rather simple request. Scardina requested a cake with blue icing that was baked with pink batter. The lawyer told a Cake Shop employee that the goal was to celebrate Scardina's birthday, as well as the seventh anniversary of the day he came out as transgender she.

* On June 4, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, by a 7-2 margin, that the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had shown anti-religious animus during proceedings leading to its actions punishing Phillips for refusing to create one of his one-of-a-kind wedding cakes to celebrate a same-sex couple's marriage. Phillips offered to sell the couple any of the other cakes or goods in his shop, but -- because of his faith -- refused to create a special cake to celebrate that rite.

* On June 28, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission ruled that there was evidence that Phillips had discriminated against Scardina because of anti-trans bias, as opposed to this action being another act of conscience by the Christian baker, protected by the First Amendment.

You can assemble those dates in your mind with a bit of editing as you read the Washington Post (or New York Times) coverage of this new chapter in the Masterpiece Cakeshop drama.

So why is the story breaking this week? You can see that in the overture to the Post story:

Add another layer to the legal drama surrounding the Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple -- and took his case all the way to the Supreme Court.

Jack Phillips, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colo., on Tuesday filed another federal lawsuit against the state alleging religious discrimination.

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Concerning truth and lies, fake news and 'snake news,' Pope Francis and St. John Paul II and more

Concerning truth and lies, fake news and 'snake news,' Pope Francis and St. John Paul II and more

A long, long time ago -- as in 2004, GetReligion's first year -- I wrote a piece linked to one of the most interesting articles I have ever read about journalism and, in a unique way, religion. I am referring to the PressThink essay "Journalism Is Itself a Religion," by Jay Rosen of the journalism faculty at New York University.

I would like to urge GetReligion readers (I have done this many times) to read this Rosen piece. I do so again for reasons linked to this week's "Crossroads" discussion (click here to tune that in) about the much discussed document from Pope Francis about fake news, "snake news," journalism and the twisted state of public discourse in our world today.

The pope, you see, traces "fake news" back to the Garden of Eden, stressing that it's impossible to communicate when the process is built on lies. This document was the subject of my column this week for the Universal syndicate and a previous post here at GetReligion.

The minute you start talking about lies, that means you're discussing the conviction that it's possible to say that some statements are true and others are false. Your are discussing the belief that there is such a thing as absolute truth and that flawed, imperfect human beings (journalists, for example) can, to the best of their abilities, seek and articulate truth, as opposed to lies.

Yes, this makes me think of one of the greatest works of St. Pope John Paul II -- Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth). But that is a topic for another day.

Now, here is passage in Rosen's piece that I wrote about back in the early days of this blog. This is long, but there really isn't any way around the details:

Here and there in the discussion of religion “in” the news, there arises a trickier matter, which is the religion of the newsroom, and of the priesthood in the press. A particularly telling example began with this passage from a 1999 New York Times Magazine article about anti-abortion extremism: “It is a shared if unspoken premise of the world that most of us inhabit that absolutes do not exist and that people who claim to have found them are crazy,” wrote David Samuels.
This struck some people as dogma very close to religious dogma, and they spoke up about it. One was Terry Mattingly, a syndicated columnist of religion:

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When Pope Francis trashes Satan, journalists need to do more legwork on why

When Pope Francis trashes Satan, journalists need to do more legwork on why

Not long ago, the London Telegraph ran a brief piece about Pope Francis cautioning people not to talk to the devil.

The mere existence of a papal discussion on the matter presupposes that enough people are talking with the Serpent Below to cause the Vatican some thought. I just wish the reporter had done more with this absorbing topic. 

The story begins with this:

The Devil is more intelligent than mere mortals and should never be argued with, Pope Francis has warned.
Satan is not a metaphor or a nebulous concept but a real person armed with dark powers, the Pope said in forthright remarks made during a television interview.
“He is evil, he’s not like mist. He’s not a diffuse thing, he is a person. I’m convinced that one must never converse with Satan - if you do that, you’ll be lost,” he told TV2000, a Catholic channel, gesticulating with his hands to emphasise his point.
“He’s more intelligent than us, and he’ll turn you upside down, he’ll make your head spin.

One hopes the pope was not referring to the famous head-spinning scene in The Exorcist.

Now, one needs to ask a basic question: What got Francis going on this topic? The Telegraph article doesn’t say, except to inform us that the pope has been on a defeat-Satan kick for some time.

"It's a Jesuit thing. He's a Jesuit who is deeply imbued with the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola, which allow people to discern the movements of the good and bad spirit," said Austen Ivereigh, a Vatican analyst and the author of The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope.
"For him, this is real, these are not metaphors. It may not be the way that people speak nowadays and some Catholics may be taken aback by it. A lot of people are uncomfortable with the idea of evil being real, but anyone who knows the spirituality of the Jesuits will not be surprised."

In other words, this is a personal foible, if you will, of a Jesuit pope and not something that reasonable 21st century folks need to be concerned about.

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Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Why is America crazy? That Atlantic cover story has the answer -- it's that old-time religion

Yes, I heard you.

There is no question that the think piece for this week was that amazing cover story at The Atlantic that ran with that fascinating double-decker headline that caused several of you to click your mouses, sending me the URL.

Normally, "think pieces" are non-newsy essays that offer information or commentary on a subject that I think will be of interest to religion-beat pros and to faithful consumers of mainstream religion-beat news.

This one is different. Let's start with that headline:

How America Lost Its Mind
The nation’s current post-truth moment is the ultimate expression of mind-sets that have made America exceptional throughout its history

Now, before we move on, please CLICK HERE (this is really important) and look at the illustration that ran at the top this essay by Kurt Andersen, an essay that was adapted from his soon-to-be-released book, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire -- A 500-Year History. This is, of course, an image of crazy America.

So what do we see? Well, there's bigfoot and a church steeple, Mormons and hippies, Fox News and a burning witch, UFOs and Disneyland. Oh, and several symbols of Donald Trump's base. Wait, I guess that should be several OTHER symbols of Trump's base, because all of that craziness is linked to the rise of The Donald. And that craziness has been around in American since The Beginning.

Now, the question that I heard this week from several readers was this: Is this piece at The Atlantic telling us what American journalists think of the American people and, in particular, Americans who are conservative religious believers? Or, is this just what Andersen thinks and the powers that be at The Atlantic simply ran it on the cover as a way to fire up their base, their core readers (kind of like "War on Christmas" stories at Fox News, only in reverse)?

Now, I would stress that it is never helpful to say that journalists in America are some kind of cultural monolith. That's just wrong.

Trump was clearly out of his mind with populist rage when he said that journalists (or the "news media") are the enemy of the American people That's simplistic. As I said over and over on Twitter, it would be more accurate to say that many, perhaps even a majority, of elite journalists on the left and right coasts are the enemies of about 20-25 percent of the American people.

OK, so what does the piece say?

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Satanic ritual abuse back in the news, only now these claims are being met with skepticism

Satanic ritual abuse back in the news, only now these claims are being met with skepticism

Satanic ritual abuse is back in the news, but this time around the press is doing a much better job in reporting on allegations that secret covens of satanists are abusing and murdering children in America and Britain.

Beginning with the McMartin preschool case in 1984, when KABC trumpeted the news that the operators of a Manhattan Beach nursery school had ritually abused several dozen children, much of the media accepted without question fantastic claims brought by police, parents and prosecutors. But by the early 1990s when the the courts began tossing out convictions based on recovered memories, coached testimony and magical thinking, the media backed away.

In 1991 David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles examining the media’s coverage of the McMartin preschool trial, finding his own newspaper had failed in its duty to provide balanced, honest coverage.

In its analysis of the McMartin case, the New York Times wrote:

The verdict has produced a self-examination by the media, most notably a four-part series in The Los Angeles Times in which David Shaw, who covers the news media for the newspaper, asserted that his own newspaper consistently favored the prosecution and failed to give critical scrutiny to its charge.

Academic and government studies have subsequently found no truth in claims of organized groups abusing children for satanic ritual purposes. Some abusers have used these motifs to frighten their victims, but in the U.S. and Britain there is no such thing as ritual satanic abuse (SRA).

I qualify my statement by saying "the U.S. and Britain," in that religiously motivated ritual abuse does exist in Africa. Police have investigated incidents in the West of suspected ritual abuse committed by recent immigrants who may have brought their customs with them.

Two current stories in the U.S. and British press have resurrected SRA: the Pizzagate story from the 2016 presidential election campaign and abuse claims lodged against deceased British Prime Minister Edward Heath.

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Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Mirror image time again: So Florida pastor went to a 'demonic' President Trump rally? (updated)

Every now and then, I like to write what I call a "mirror image" post. The basic idea is that you take a current news story and change one detail that flips the perspective around. Up becomes down, left become right, GOP becomes Democrat, etc.

The goal is to try to imagine how some elite newsrooms would have covered the mirror-image story, in contrast with how they covered the story that is making real headlines in the here and now.

So, in this mirror-image mode, let's go back four years. Pretend that it's the Barack Obama era and the president is holding a Florida rally to urge his base to back his agenda for the new term.

The pastor of a local church -- a single pastor from a normal church -- goes to the rally with his daughter and finds the attitude of Obama fans a bit unnerving, a bit too worshipful. Maybe there is language and symbolism in the rally that is worthy of that Obama Messiah website that collects material about Obama supporters comparing him with Jesus.

This pastor goes home and writes a Facebook post in which he opines that, instead of being a wholesome civic lesson, he thought that this rally was an ugly spectacle in which "demonic activity was palpable."

OK, here is the mirror-image question: Would this one Facebook post by this one ordinary pastor in which he voiced a strong opinion about supporters of President Obama have become an international news story?

I ask this mirror-image question because a journalism friend of mine who now lives on the other side of the world -- not a Trump fan by any stretch of the imagination -- wrote me when she saw this headline in The New Zealand Herald: "Trump rally: 'Demonic activity palpable' says pastor."

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