The Los Angeles TImes

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Key American Buddhist innovator dies; media ignore his role in shaping religious landscape

Globalization has scrambled just about everything, for better AND worse.

Technology has compressed physical space and time, forcing the myriad human tribes to deal more directly with each other. Nor is there any going back — no matter how isolationist, anti-immigrant or simply anti-change some current political rhetoric may be.

This means that ethnic and religious groups many of our parents, and certainly our grandparents, had little chance of meeting in their neighborhoods can now be encountered in any large American city, and also in our nation’s rural heartland.

Buddhism is one such example.

But it's not just that Asian Buddhists — be they Thai, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese or others — have come to North America, where their beliefs and practices have attracted considerable interest.

What’s also happened is that some Western Buddhists — formal converts and the larger number of individuals with no interest in converting but who have been influenced by Buddhist philosophy and meditative techniques (myself included) — have melded broad concerns for Western social justice issues with traditional, inner-oriented Buddhist beliefs.

These Western Buddhists certainly did not single-handily start this trend. Vietnamese Buddhist monks who immolated themselves to protest severe discrimination against their co-religionists by the Roman Catholic South Vietnam government in the early 1960s preceded them.

But these Westerners — many of them marinated in 1960s American liberal anti-war and anti-discrimination activism — pushed the envelope far enough to create a uniquely Western Buddhist path now generally referred to as Engaged Buddhism.

A key figure in this movement died earlier this month. His name was Bernie Glassman and he was 79.

The elite mainstream media, as near as I can ascertain via an online search, totally ignored his death. An error in editorial judgement, I think — certainly for the coverage of how American religion has and continues to change. His contribution to this change was monumental.

Western Buddhist publications reacted otherwise, as you would expect.

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Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

Jehovah's Witnesses: Why some persecuted faiths grab consistent headlines and others don't

The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities. Journalistically speaking, however, each case may be reduced to a “story,” each competing for press attention at a time when shrinking industry resources and an ominous uptick in American political chaos make grabbing international media coverage increasingly difficult.

The Jehovah’s Witnesses is one such religious minority. The Kremlin has come down on Russian members of the faith like a ton of bricks.

The situation, from time to time, gains some coverage from western media elites. That attention soon fades, however, which prompts the following question: Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?

I’ll try to answer that question below. First, though, let’s get current on the plight of Russian Jehovah's Witnesses.

This Los Angeles Times piece about their seeking refuge in neighboring Finland is a good place to start. Here’s a snippet from it:

In the 16 months since Russia’s Supreme Court banned Jehovah’s Witnesses as an extremist group on par with Islamic State, raids and arrests of the religion’s estimated 175,000 members in the country have increased rapidly. The ruling criminalized practicing the religion and ordered its 395 branches closed. Members face prosecution for doing missionary work, a fundamental part of the faith.

There are now an estimated 250 Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses seeking asylum in Finland. They wait out their asylum applications in several refugee centers across the country, including the Joutseno refugee center outside Lappeenranta in southeastern Finland.

How has this impacted individual Russian Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Read on.

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Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Negative circumstances can sometimes produce a surprisingly positive results. That's the case now with American Jews and Muslims as an outgrowth of the wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts currently making unwanted headlines.

An increasing number of groups and individuals within the two religious communities -- historically wary of cooperating because of their profound political differences over Israel and the causes of Islamic-inspired terrorism -- have come to each others' assistance in response to the incidents.

If you haven't kept up with this twist, the following stories can bring you up to speed.

This one's from USA Today. Here's a second from NBC News. And here's one from The Los Angeles Times.

It's a step forward when generally estranged communities come to each other's aid. But let's be realistic.

This new-found cooperation does not for a second offset the gravity of the hateful incidents, which have also impacted non-Muslim, non-white immigrants.

Nor does it mean that the cooperation will continue once the current crisis passes, which I certainly hope is soon. I say this because this scenario has played out before.

The 1994 Oslo peace accord signing is one such instance. American Jews and Muslims fervently embraced cooperation then, only to back away from each other when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heated up yet again. Anger and distrust on both sides forced the swift pull back.

So my advice to journalists covering this story is to be careful not to over inflate the strength of this cooperation.

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Celebrate good times, come on! Enjoy these three great reads from the Godbeat

Celebrate good times, come on! Enjoy these three great reads from the Godbeat

Like most everybody in the blogging world, we're focused on producing engaging content that people will read, share and, just maybe, comment on.

That means that we often gravitate toward the hottest, most timely topics — the kind trending on social media — when deciding which stories to review.

Moreover, negative posts pointing out journalistic problems and bias in mainstream media coverage of religion news tend to generate much more interest and buzz.

Please allow me to summarize the response to most of our positive posts about stories that do everything right: zzzzzzzzz. In case you need a video illustration of that response, here goes.

But since — amazingly — you actually clicked on a post promising "great reads," I'm going to reward you with three nice stories by Godbeat pros. All published within the last week, these are the kind of excellent pieces that sometimes get lost in our GetReligion guilt files.

What's the common thread that binds all three of these stories together? For one, all of the writers are religion beat pros who've received frequent praise from GetReligion: Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times, Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and our former GetReligion colleague Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post.

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Hindu Nationalism, Indian Christian persecution and the global rise in right-wing populism

Hindu Nationalism, Indian Christian persecution and the global rise in right-wing populism

Right-wing populism is the global political backlash du jour. Cultural, religious and ethnic competition are the prime causes. They, in turn, are directly traceable to the swift and societal-altering changes flowing from economic and demographic globalization.

India -- home to the world's second-largest population, more than 1.25 billion people, just short of 80 percent of them Hindu -- certainly has not escaped this trend.

At play in India is a slow decline in the Hindu population growth at a time when the Muslim population of about 14 percent is growing. That's a scary proposition for Indian Hindus, who have been in conflict with their Pakistani Muslim neighbors since the 1947 partition.

That, plus a Hindu nationalist backlash against India's increasing secularization and an overall Western cultural tilt, also thanks to globalization, have produced the right-wing backlash that's comparable to what we are also seeing in a host of nations -- from the Philippines, across Europe, to our own United States.

Read this Times of India analysis that explains the connection between Indian right-wing populism and what's happening elsewhere.

Indian Christians -- who for Hindu nationalists become conflated with Western inroads into traditional Indian Hindu culture -- are caught up in the larger Indian Hindu-Muslim competition, even though they account for only about 2.3 percent of the population.

I've written about all this before, including one of my earliest GetReligion posts that focused on Hindu criticism of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, perhaps still better-known as Mother Teresa.

So why rehash the above info?

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After Dylann Roof verdict, best stories aren't about the killer — but resilient survivors

After Dylann Roof verdict, best stories aren't about the killer — but resilient survivors

As I noted earlier this week, a big part of me would be happy never to see Dylann Roof's name in print again. Or hear it on the TV news.

But stories about the victims and survivors of last year's rampage that claimed nine lives at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C? I could read those all day — as long as I had a box of tissues handy.

That's why — after a federal jury found Roof guilty on all 33 counts Thursday — my favorite verdict stories were the ones that focused not on Roof but the victims.

A year and a half after the church slaughter, Emanuel AME's demonstrations of faith and forgiveness still resonate in a powerful way. More on that in a moment.

As background: Major news organizations — from The Associated Press to Reuters to the Washington Post — all covered the jury's conviction of Roof. No surprise there.

However, victims were secondary in most of these straight-news reports. I didn't see any survivors or victims' loved ones quoted in the Los Angeles Times' story (although readers did learn up high that Roof wore a "blue cable-knit sweater" as the verdicts were read). Perhaps I missed a sidebar.

But besides its main report, the New York Times had a gripping narrative on "Congregants’ Quiet Agony at the Dylann Roof Trial."

Wow, this is worthwhile reading, full of precise detail and real human emotion:

CHARLESTON, S.C. — Each morning they flowed into Courtroom Six, escorted by federal officials from a holding room reserved for survivors and families of the victims. The accused, Dylann S. Roof, never turned from the end of the defense table to acknowledge the parents, widows and widowers, children, grandchildren and fellow congregants of the nine African-Americans he confessed to killing in June 2015 at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church.
Felicia Sanders, who survived the rampage but lost her son and her aunt, watched from the first of six rows of wooden benches, along with her husband, Tyrone. The Rev. Eric S. C. Manning, who now inhabits the office once occupied by the church’s pastor, the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, who was among those killed, sat one row back. The Rev. Anthony B. Thompson, whose wife, Myra, led the evening Bible study that Mr. Roof joined, always took his place in the fifth row, along with John Pinckney, the former pastor’s father.

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#DUH — Key to Boy Scouts story is located in pews, pulpits and debates on doctrine

#DUH — Key to Boy Scouts story is located in pews, pulpits and debates on doctrine

When I was growing up in Port Arthur, Texas -- certainly one of the most racially divided cities in America -- one of the primary forces for change was the Boy Scouts of America. My father was the pastor of an inner-city Southern Baptist congregation and working with children in the neighborhoods around our church was one of his priorities.

As you can imagine, some of the people in church pews in the late 1960s didn't share his perspectives on that issue. My father did what he could.

Thus, there was a simple reality: Look at a church's Boy Scouts troop and it told you quite a bit about the leadership of that church, as opposed to the policies of the Boy Scouts.

That's why I was interested, to say the least, in the following passage in the recent Washington Post story about the remarks by Boy Scouts of America President Robert M. Gates in which he urged the organization to reconsider its ban on openly gay Scout leaders.

... Steeped in tradition as they were, the Boy Scouts often struggled to handle change. Though the Girl Scouts formally banned segregation of its troops the 1950s -- prompting the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to call the group “a force for desegregation” -- the last Boy Scout troop wasn’t integrated until 1974, according to NPR. ...

And unlike the Boy Scouts of America, from the beginning the Girl Scouts declared themselves to be “non-sectarian in practice as well as theory.” In 1993, when a prospective member protested the phrase “serve God” in the Girl Scout Promise, the organization ruled that members could substitute whatever phrase fit their beliefs. The Girl Scouts have never had a policy on homosexual members and have admitted transgender members since 2011.

The Boy Scouts, on the other hand, have long been inextricably tied to tradition and religion. The Scout’s oath pledges boys to “do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” A 2011 study of messaging in the Girl Scout and Boy Scout handbooks found that the Boy Scouts handbook relied on “organizational scripts” rather than autonomy and critical thinking, promoting “an assertive heteronormative masculinity.” Meanwhile, more than 70 percent of all troops are chartered to faith-based organizations, most of them Christian.

It doesn't take a doctorate in gender studies to find good and evil in that paragraph.

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