Tourism to Israel is up, and it's obviously because of President Trump, right? Well, let's talk about that ...

Tourism to Israel is up, and it's obviously because of President Trump, right? Well, let's talk about that ...

If you want an in-depth explanation of why “correlation does not imply causation,” you’ll need a more educated source than me.

But here’s what I will say about NPR’s weekend report linking evangelical support of President Trump with rising tourism numbers in Israel: Evidence to support that storyline seems a little squishy to me.

Or maybe a whole lot squishy. I’ll explain in a moment. But first, here’s how NPR sets the scene:

President Trump's evident desire to identify who's most "loyal" to Israel has a clear winner: U.S. evangelicals.

Not only do they outpace U.S. Jews in their support for policies that favor the Israeli government, but U.S. evangelicals have also become the fastest-growing sector of the Israeli tourism market. The developments may even be related.

"I'd say close to 100% of our travelers come back extremely pro-Israel in their political views," says Andy Cook, a pastor who leads evangelical tours of the Holy Land twice a year.

OK, that description of evangelicals as “the fastest-growing sector of the Israeli tourism market” certainly sounds authoritative. However, unless I missed it, NPR doesn’t provide any internet links or other hard data to back up that characterization.

Does actual data exist?

Or is that description attributable to a tourism official eager to tout evangelical travel to a reporter clearing wanting to make that connection?

Let’s read a little more:

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Once again in Royal David's City: Journalists still confused about Christmas who, what, when, where ...

Once again in Royal David's City: Journalists still confused about Christmas who, what, when, where ...

So journalists: When is Christmas in the ancient city of Bethlehem?

Obviously, for many people, Christmas is on Dec. 25th. That's when you'll see television coverage of people singing carols, in English for the most part, in Bethlehem Square. Often, reports will include a glimpse of the Midnight Mass in the modern Franciscan sanctuary known as the Church of St. Catherine.

Next door to this Catholic church is the ancient Church of the Nativity, an Eastern Orthodox sanctuary built with its altar directly above the grotto in which church traditions says Jesus of Nazareth was born.

So, journalists: When is Christmas celebrated at this very symbolic altar?

The answer, of course, is that Christmas is on Jan. 7, for most (but not all) Eastern Orthodox Christians -- those who follow the older Julian calendar. This includes millions of believers in places like Russia, Egypt, Eastern Europe and, yes, Jerusalem and the Palestinian territories. For more information on this, see my 2015 post: "Washington Post covers first of Bethlehem's two (yes, two) Christmas celebrations."

Year after year, journalists cover the events of Dec. 24-25, while ignoring those on Jan. 6-7. This is most strange if the goal is to (a) cover the current state of Christianity in Bethlehem and the  surrounding region and (b) to use Bethlehem tourism as a way to gauge the impact of economic trends and violence in the Holy Land. Like it or not, Russia (and Eastern Europeans) have strong ties to the ancient churches of the Middle East and many believers in the East like to make pilgrimages to these holy sites, while following the Julian liturgical calendar.

The Los Angeles Times recently published a Christmas in Bethlehem story that was, in many ways, business as usual. The good news: This feature showed evidence that Orthodox churches exist. The bad news: The editors of this story still seem to be in the dark when it comes to knowing the details of Bethlehem's two Christmas celebrations (including which church is which and the precise location of the grotto).

The story focuses on Father Hanna Mass’ad, a Catholic priest, and his short Mass in the grotto. Why is the Mass so short? Why the rush? Read this carefully:

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Concerning secular chapels, racy white wedding dresses and other non-religion news

Concerning secular chapels, racy white wedding dresses and other non-religion news

A long, long time ago I was fascinated by a New York Times story about a hot trend in the Big Apple -- all of those folks lining up at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. I started work on a post, but one delay led to another.

So deep into the GetReligion file of guilt it went, until a saw another wedding story with a sexy, literally, new news angle and the two got hitched.

On one level, the Marriage Bureau story had a simple business hook, and a valid one at that. You can see that in this fact paragraph near the top:

Weddings at the Manhattan bureau have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008, according to the city clerk’s office. The increase has been coaxed by two changes in recent years: the legalization of same-sex marriage and an effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2009 to reimagine -- and relocate -- the bureau to rival Las Vegas as a wedding destination with pizazz.

Then later there were references to events inside and outside the "chapel." Such as:

Around 11:15 a.m., the pair entered the chapel of Angel L. Lopez, an officiant who had performed 86 weddings by the close of business. (A colleague handled another 15 during Mr. Lopez’s lunch break.)
Mr. Lopez stood behind a lectern on what appeared to be a doormat.

Interesting. Now, if one looks up the word "chapel" in a dictionary, one finds something like this:

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WPost probes hot debate on the banks of River Jordan

I have crossed the Jordan River twice in my life and both times the experience was quite memorable. The river itself isn’t much to look at, but the social dynamics surrounding the location are fascinating. The first trip was a singer in a choral music tour, done with the cooperation of the U.S. government, to perform “The Messiah” for cultural and political leaders in both Israel and Jordan. No big deal, right? However, this effort took place in late December, 1972. Look that up in the history of the Middle East. The second trip was linked to the 2000 pilgrimage that St. John Paul II made to the region. Look that one up, too.

Do the math and I am automatically going to be interested in the Washington Post news feature that ran under the following headline: “Pope picks one of dueling baptism sites in visit to Holy Land.”

This is a solid story and, first things first, I want to praise the wide variety of images and information contained in it. However, at the same time, I want to challenge the Post assumption that most readers would be most interested in the financial and political angles of this story, as opposed to the religions questions that it raises. You can get to both of those subjects from the material at the top of the report:

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Pod people: What's religion got to do with Egyptian tourism?

In the wake of the events of 9/11, I had the honor of taking part in a forum on religion and the news at the University of Nebraska that, no surprise here, featured a keynote speech by historian Martin Marty, an omnipresent scholar who has probably done as much as anyone to promote serious work on the Godbeat.

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