The Atlantic Monthly

The lifelong ripple effects of a fertility doctor who poured his Strangelovian essence into his work

The lifelong ripple effects of a fertility doctor who poured his Strangelovian essence into his work

The Fertility Doctor’s Secret,” a longform report for The Atlantic about doctor Donald Cline of Indianapolis, reports dozens of facts — but is bound to disappoint readers who are reasonably informed about Christian teaching on infertility.

There are mere traces of religion in Sarah Zhang’s coverage, and too little digging deeper on remarks that beg for attention. In other word, this story has religion-shaped holes in it.

But first the basic narrative: Cline, who opened his clinic in 1979, is believed to be the father of at least eight children by virtue of using his sperm to impregnant unknowing patients.

That this story has come to light is one of the perverse miracles of connecting through Facebook and discovering the secrets of one’s DNA through consumer-focused DNA testing offered by 23andMe and Ancestry.com.

We’re told twice that Cline cited Bible verses to these now-grown humans, which raises some interesting factual questions. Zhang presents a sole example:

For months, nothing much happened. Then one of [Jacoba] Ballard’s half sisters went for it. She found Cline’s children — those he raised with his wife — and his adult grandchildren on Facebook and sent them a group message. A granddaughter replied, saying she didn’t know anything and couldn’t help.

But then, Ballard says, she got a message from Cline’s son. He had been looking through her Facebook photos and recognized her priest — he said he was Catholic too. He helped broker a meeting between his father and six of the siblings at a restaurant. Cline, who was then in his late 70s, walked in with a cane.

Ballard remembers this first family reunion of sorts as oddly matter-of-fact. Cline admitted to using his own sperm but said the records had been destroyed years ago. He asked each of the siblings what they did and where they lived. He read them Bible verses from a notepad. Ballard saw this as a misguided attempt to comfort her, and she snapped at him: “Don’t try to use my religion.”

Late in the story — in the 101st paragraph, to be specific — Zhang reveals only one example of Bible-thumping:

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The long good-bye: The Atlantic describes the inevitable loss of Christian life in Iraq

The long good-bye: The Atlantic describes the inevitable loss of Christian life in Iraq

I remember the Nineveh Plain well. I was being driven from the Kurdish city of Dohuk in far northern Iraq to the regional capital of Erbil further south and around me in all directions stretched a flat plain. To the west were low-slung hills and in my mind I could hear the footsteps of conquering Babylonian armies as they sought to overrun the city of Nineveh in 612 BC.

Irrigated by the Tigris River, it’s actually a fertile place with crops everywhere — assuming that they’re allowed to grow.

Several millennia later, it was the ISIS armies whose footsteps were heard on this plain back in 2014 when the events at the heart of this story take place.

I must say I envy The Atlantic’s Emma Green for getting sent to Iraq to do this fascinating piece along with a photographer or two. (My 2004 trip there was entirely self-funded).

The call came in 2014, shortly after Easter. Four years earlier, Catrin Almako’s family had applied for special visas to the United States. Catrin’s husband, Evan, had cut hair for the U.S. military during the early years of its occupation of Iraq. Now a staffer from the International Organization for Migration was on the phone. “Are you ready?” he asked. The family had been assigned a departure date just a few weeks away.

“I was so confused,” Catrin told me recently. During the years they had waited for their visas, Catrin and Evan had debated whether they actually wanted to leave Iraq. Both of them had grown up in Karamles, a small town in the historic heart of Iraqi Christianity, the Nineveh Plain.

But the 2003 invasion of Iraq had changed everything, including the impression that Christians had had it easy under Saddam Hussein. Once he was gone, it was payback time.

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Thinking (sort of) about Trump's base: What does 'corruption' mean to his true loyalists?

Thinking (sort of) about Trump's base: What does 'corruption' mean to his true loyalists?

Big headlines in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis have postponed this "think piece" from The Atlantic for several weeks now.

However, I still think this essay by Peter Beinart -- a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York -- is important enough to spotlight for readers and, hopefully, for some journalists who are covering religion and politics these days.

Here is the double-decker headline, which offers a lot to think about in and of itself:

Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt.

What the president’s supporters fear most isn’t the corruption of American law, but the corruption of America’s traditional identity

Now, the lede is pretty dated, in this age of multiple crises were week. So prepare for a flashback. On a not so distant morning:

... the lead story on FoxNews.com was not Michael Cohen’s admission that Donald Trump had instructed him to violate campaign-finance laws by paying hush money to two of Trump’s mistresses. It was the alleged murder of a white Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented Latino immigrant, Cristhian Rivera.

On their face, the two stories have little in common. Fox is simply covering the Iowa murder because it distracts attention from a revelation that makes Trump look bad. But dig deeper and the two stories are connected: They represent competing notions of what corruption is.

Cohen’s admission highlights one of the enduring riddles of the Trump era. Trump’s supporters say they care about corruption. During the campaign, they cheered his vow to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. When Morning Consult asked Americans in May 2016 to explain why they disliked Hillary Clinton, the second-most-common answer was that she was “corrupt.” And yet, Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history.

Once again, a crucial question in this piece is one asked many times here at GetReligion: Who, precisely, are these "Trump supporters"? 

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Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Still thinking about Chick-fil-A, as well as the emerging face of world Christianity

Every now and then, a magazine like The Atlantic Monthly -- a must-read publication, no matter what one's cultural worldview -- publishes a cover story that transforms how thinking people think about an important issue. At least, that's true if lots of members of the thinking classes are open to thinking about information that may make them uncomfortable.

This was certainly the case in October, 2002, when historian Philip Jenkins published a massive Atlantic cover story that ran with this provocative headline: "The Next Christianity." For those with an even longer attention span, there was the book, "The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity."

Now, before I hit you with a key passage from that important Atlantic piece, let me tell you where we are going in this Sunday think package.

Jenkins was writing about a wave of global change in pews and pulpits, as the face of Christianity moved -- statistically speaking -- from Europe and North America to the multicultural reality that is the Global South. Thus, if you are looking for a "typical" Christian in the world today, it is probably an African woman in an evangelical Anglican (or maybe Methodist) congregation. She is probably a charismatic believer, too.

Now, I thought about that Jenkins piece when reading an amazing new Bloomberg essay by Yale Law School professor Stephen L. Carter, addressing the media storm surrounding that bizarre New Yorker sermon about You Know What (click here for my most recent piece, and podcast, on this hot topic). Here is the dramatic double-decker headline on the Carter piece:

The Ugly Coded Critique of Chick-Fil-A's Christianity

The fast-food chain's "infiltration" of New York City ignores the truth about religion in America. It also reveals an ugly narrow-mindedness

What's the connection here, between Jenkins and Carter?

Hint: Demographics is destiny (and doctrine is important, too). Here is a famous (and long) summary paragraph from the 2002 Atlantic essay:

If we look beyond the liberal West, we see that another Christian revolution, quite different from the one being called for in affluent American suburbs and upscale urban parishes, is already in progress.

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Tale of two French stories: Beltrame's Catholicism, Knoll's Judaism, and why press covered them differently

Tale of two French stories: Beltrame's Catholicism, Knoll's Judaism, and why press covered them differently

The news business involves lots of subjective judgements. For starters, what constitutes a legitimate story and what are its most important aspects? How do journalists know the heart of a complex story?

Here at GetReligion, we pay particular attention to the journalistic judgements associated with questions of religion -- including, when are they key to a story and when are they peripheral?

Two recent events in France -- a nation that prides itself on holding to secular public standards -- underscore the trickiness involved in answering questions concerning religion. In short, why did French and international media generally agree that religion was a peripheral issue in one story while putting religious identity at the center of the second?

Some background is due.

The first story was about a French policeman who volunteered to switch places with a woman being held by an ISIS-connected terrorist in southwest France -- he put himself in danger while allowing the woman hostage to go free. Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame -- who died in the encounter — was an adult convert to Roman Catholicism who was soon to remarry his wife Marielle in a Catholic ceremony, two years after they wed in a civil ceremony.

GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly twice posted on the tragedy last week. His main point: News media gave Baltrame’s faith short shrift. He argued that the French and elite international media -- while appropriately emphasizing Baltrame’s selfless heroism -- had ignored the voices of friends, priests and others who thought his faith helped influence his actions. Click here and then here to read tmatt's posts.

The second story -- here’s a Reuters version to help you catch-up -- concerned the murder in Paris of an elderly Holocaust survivor. Authorities have painted it as a robbery attempt that turned into a case of murder with clear anti-Semitic overtones. The alleged killer was a Muslim man who the victim had long known (his alleged accomplice was a homeless man; his religious affiliation, if any, has not been reported, as far as I could ascertain).

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