This is not a generic prayer story: A flooded cave, 12 Thai boys and a former Buddhist monk

This is not a generic prayer story: A flooded cave, 12 Thai boys and a former Buddhist monk

When it comes to emails from GetReligion readers, the notes I have received about the ongoing drama in the flooded Thai cave have been quite predictable.

Of course, people are concerned. Of course, readers are following the dramatic developments in the efforts to rescue the 12 young members of the Wild Boars soccer team and their coach. Click here for an evolving CNN time line of the rescue.

But there is a rather logical question that people are asking, one that goes something like this: We keep reading about people praying for the boys. What kind of prayers are we talking about?

Ah, another case of generic-prayers syndrome.

Actually, there have been a few interesting religion-angle stories written about this drama, with the Associated Press offering a feature that must have run in some publications (we can hope). Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it.

However, here is a piece of a rather typical faith-free news report -- care of the New York Times -- similar to those being read by many news consumers.

Many family members have spent every day and night at the command center near the cave, praying for the boys to come out alive.

Relatives said they were not angry with the coach, Ekkapol Chantawong, for taking the boys into the cave. Instead, they praised his efforts to keep them alive during the ordeal.

“He loves the children,” said Nopparat Khanthawong, the team’s head coach. “He would do anything for them.”

The boys got trapped in the cave on June 23 after they biked there with Mr. Ekkapol after practice. The vast cave complex was mostly dry when they entered. But the cave is, in essence, a seasonal underground river, and rain began falling soon after they arrived. Within hours, they were trapped by rising water.

You can see a similar story at The Los Angeles Times, only with zero references to faith.

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Covering the new female Buddhist monks, which reminds AP of Catholic scandals

Covering the new female Buddhist monks, which reminds AP of Catholic scandals

When journalism professors discuss about the traditional American Model of the press, with its emphasis on accuracy, balance and a lack of editorializing, we often talk about how this model is demonstrated in the work of wire services.

In fact, in recent decades advocates of edgier, trendier news styles have often gone out of their way to contrast their "new journalism" philosophies with "mere" wire-service writing. You know, that old-school journalism with its emphasis on inverted-pyramid hard-news stories and a neutral, balanced approach to reporting that is supposed to serve the needs of readers in news sources across America and around the world?

But clearly, someone has been putting something in the water some folks are drinking in AP land, especially when it comes to coverage of religious and moral issues.

Consider this recent AP feature on the rise of female monastics or "bhikkhunis" in modern Buddhism. On the surface, the key journalistic issue here is whether AP editors will allow any voices in traditional Buddhism to speak in defense of their beliefs. Surprise! The answer is no. Only the advocates of women being allowed to serve as monks are interviewed. 

Then there is something else interesting going on in this story. Read carefully:

NAKHON PATHOM, Thailand (AP) -- On a rural road just after daybreak, villagers young and old kneel reverently before a single file of ochre-robed women, filling their bowls with rice, curries, fruits and sweets. In this country, it's a rare sight.
Thailand's top Buddhist authority bars women from becoming monks. They can only become white-cloaked nuns, who are routinely treated as domestic servants. Many here believe women are inferior beings who had better perform plenty of good deeds to ensure they will be reborn as men in their future lives.
Yet with the religion beset by lurid scandals, female monastics or "bhikkhunis" are emerging as a force for reform, not unlike activists in the Christian world seeking gender equality including ordination of women as priests in the Catholic Church.

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