Environment-Climate

Religion ghosts? New York Times says America's biggest economic issue is demographic decline

Religion ghosts? New York Times says America's biggest economic issue is demographic decline

Things were looking good for the Episcopal Church in 1966, when its membership hit 3.6 million — an all-time high. Then the numbers began to decline, year after year and decade after decade. At the moment, there are 1.6 million or so Episcopalians.

Why is this happening? Episcopal Church leaders have been asked that question many times, because it’s a valid and important question.

No one has ever given a more concise — bold, even — answer than the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, when she said down for a “State of the Church” chat with the New York Times Magazine soon after her 2006 election as national presiding bishop. Here is the crucial exchange:

How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Episcopalians aren’t interested in replenishing their ranks by having children? 

No. It’s probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

In other words, her critics said, Episcopalians are too smart to have lots of babies (unlike Catholics and Latter-day Saints) and, besides, most members of this flock have theological reasons not to procreate.

What we have here is a classic example of the formula that I keep writing about here at GetReligion, which I state this way, offering a third factor to a familiar equation: Doctrine equals demographics equals destiny.

That brings me to this new headline at the Times:

America’s Biggest Economic Challenge May Be Demographic Decline

Slower growth in the working-age population is a problem in much of the country. Could targeted immigration policy help solve it?

Here is the rather sobering overture:

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Yet more forecasting on what to expect in religion news and trends during 2019

Yet more forecasting on what to expect in religion news and trends during 2019

Those who read GetReligion on Dec. 20 (thereby postponing their holiday chores) may recall The Religion Guy’s list of the big three religion news themes for the new year:

(1) Ongoing debate over using the CRISPR technique to create human “designer babies” and manipulate genes that will be passed along to future generations. (The Guy – uniquely -- also proclaimed this the #1 religion story of 2018.)

(2) How Catholic leaders cope with multiplying cases of priests molesting minors, both at Pope Francis’ February summit and afterward. And don’t neglect those Protestant sexual abuse scandals.

(3) Reverberations from the United Methodist Church’s special February General Conference that decides whether and how to either hold together or to split over same-sex issues.

On the same theme, Religion News Service posted a longish item New Year’s Eve headlined “What’s coming for religion in 2019? Here’s what the experts predict.” This was a collection of brief articles commissioned from a multi-faith lineup. It turned out to be one of those ideas that seemed better in the story conference than in the resulting copy.

Understandably, no panelist expected an end to the persistent Catholic scandals.

Otherwise, the pieces predicted things like this:

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A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

A Hindu story of garlic and onions, and what it means for our "tribal" religious divisions in 2019

Onions and garlic, slowly simmered with tomatoes and olive oil.

Does that make you hungry? It leaves me salivating. Pour it -- generously, if you don't mind -- over a heaping plate of pasta and I'm your best friend.

Perhaps that’s why I found this story out of India (first sent my way by a friend, N.K.) so interesting. It's about Hindus who reject eating onions and garlic for religiously ascribed health and spiritual reasons.

Moreover, given that it’s the end of the year, I’m also inclined to offer up this story as a metaphor for the world of religion, and its concurrent global political and social machinations, as 2019 prepares to dawn.

But first, here’s a bit of the gastronomical Hindu brouhaha story, courtesy of the liberal-leaning, India-focused news site Scroll.in.

(So you understand: In the Indian numerical system, a lakh equals 100,000; Karnataka is a state in southwest India, and ISKCON is the official name for what Westerners tend to call Hare Krishnas, a modern iteration of an ancient Hindu school of religious thought. Additionally, Ayurveda is an Indian dietary and health care system rooted in early Hindu scripture.)

The Akshaya Patra Foundation, which has been providing mid-day meals to 4.43 lakh school children in Karnataka, has refused to sign a memorandum for 2018-’19 following a directive by the state government to include onions and garlic in the food prepared for the meal, based on recommendations from the State Food Commission.

This is not the first time that the foundation has refused to follow recommended nutritional guidelines in the government scheme. The NGO had earlier refused to provide eggs in the meal saying it can only provide a satvik diet – a diet based on Ayurveda and yoga literature.

The foundation, an initiative of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness or ISKCON, has a religious prerogative of “advocating a lacto-vegetarian diet, strictly avoiding meat, fish and eggs” and considers onions and garlic in food as “lower modes of nature which inhibit spiritual advancement”.

Akshaya Patra, which claims to supply mid-day meals to 1.76 million children from 14,702 schools across 12 states in India, has flouted these norms from the beginning of its contract, failing to cater to children from disadvantaged communities, almost all of whom eat eggs and are culturally accustomed to garlic and onion in food.

But why onions and garlic? What do members of this Hindus sub-group know that the cooks of so many other global cuisines don’t or don’t care about? Even Western and natural medicine practitioners say that onions and garlic are particularly good for our health.

So what’s up?

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New York Times: Climate change is personal in Australian pastor's drought story

New York Times: Climate change is personal in Australian pastor's drought story

Did the recent United Nations report on climate change leave you alarmed but also bewildered?

If so, my bet is you're one among many. Given the situation’s described magnitude, it’s extraordinarily difficult to make sense of the report’s predicted dire consequences.

What's an ordinary citizen supposed to do about it? (Hint: Recycling your jars, can and papers isn’t enough.)

Making it more difficult, I believe, is that some key world leaders either reject the scientific consensus on climate change or prefer to ignore it in favor of shortsighted and immediate economic gains they believe are more likely to attract materially oriented voters. 

No, I’m not just leveling a dig at President Donald Trump. Click here to read a Washington Post story about other important leaders who reject the political steps necessary to stimulate broad public understanding and global action to slow climate disaster, to the degree that’s still possible.

What about journalists? 

Given the depth of climate change’s predicted and irreversible societal upheaval, is climate change the most important story of our time? Washington Post media columnist Margaret Sullivan seems to think so.

But that still begs the question: How can this mind-boggling issue be covered in a way that makes it more comprehensible to the ordinary reader?

Allow me to suggest journalism 101’s time-honored formula: explain the macro by focusing on the micro — which is to say tell the story by highlighting one person’s experience at a time.

The New York Times did just that with this piece that ran as a sidebar to its main story on the UN report. Moreover, GetReligion readers, the piece has a strong, and valid, religion component.

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Thinking about Christians in politics: 'Usual suspects' labels just don't work, do they?

Thinking about Christians in politics: 'Usual suspects' labels just don't work, do they?

Stop and think about the following for a moment.

What political label would you stick on a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox person who believed all of his or her church’s moral and social teachings, as they are being articulated in this day and age?

Let’s list some of the crucial issues. Abortion and related “life issues” — such as euthanasia — would have to be mentioned. Many Catholics, including people frequently called “conservatives” (take me, for example), would include the death penalty in the “life issue” list. Then there would be the defense of the sacrament of marriage, as defined throughout Judeo-Christian history, and the belief that sex outside of marriage — for gays and straights — is a sin.

Now, there are other issues that are commonly linked to a “whole life” approach to the public square — such as immigration, the environment, medical care, economic justice, racial equality, etc. Traditional believers in the ancient churches may debate the fine details of some of these issues, but my point is that it is often hard to stick conventional political labels on the conclusions reached by these Christians.

So, where do you put someone who is pro-life, and favors national health care (with conscience clauses built in)? This person is pro-immigration reform and leans “left” on the environment. She is a strong defender of the First Amendment — both halves of that equation. Are we talking about a Democrat or a Republican?

After the chaos of the past couple of weeks, this is a timely and newsworthy topic for a think piece. Of course, the “lesser of two evils” debates surrounding Donald Trump also fit into this picture. Thus, I saved a recent New York Times op-ed by the Rev. Timothy Keller — founder of the Redeemer Presbyterian network of churches in New York City — for this occasion. The double-decker headline proclaims:

How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t

The historical Christian positions on social issues don’t match up with contemporary political alignments


Here is Keller’s overture:

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Rainforest thoughts: Considering news coverage of Orthodox ecumenical patriarch's views on climate

Rainforest thoughts: Considering news coverage of Orthodox ecumenical patriarch's views on climate

I’m writing this sitting on the deck of a rainforest lodge in a remote corner of southwest Costa Rica just a few miles north of Panama. And I’m wondering; when will today’s afternoon tropical downpour begin?

They don't call them rainforests for nothing.

The forest surrounding the Golfo Dulce is thick and seriously humid, filled with a dazzling variety of climbing, slithering, flying, and just plain-old walking wildlife doing what they can to survive and multiply. (My wife would be happy to do without the gazillions of insects, but it just ain't a rainforest without them. Sorry.) And the best part?

Virtually all the hills and mountains here are government protected. No hunting, no logging -- no human habitations other than a few widely scattered, and small, lodges along the gulf’s shoreline and reachable only by small boat.

Given where I am, is it any wonder that the following two stories caught my attention the day previous to my arrival here last week?

The first was from The New York Times, detailing the rapid loss of rainforest environments around the globe -- and their importance to slowing the growing planetary upheaval we call climate change. Click here for that story. If you happen to know little about how critical rainforests are to the global environment, or how fast they're disappearing, please read this piece in full. Consider it a crash course.

The second piece is from the Washington Post. It carries the enchanting dateline, “ABOARD THE SHIP MORE SPACIOUS THAN THE HEAVENS.” That’s the name of a ship commanded (not literally; I'm sure he didn't steer it) by the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, one of the world's most environmentally oriented global religious leaders.

Just goes to show you that while you may be a staunch theological traditionalist -- is there any Christian body more traditionalist in form than the Orthodox churches? -- you can still be quite progressive on other issues. This is one reason the GetReligion team is not fond of journalists pinning shallow labels on people with complex beliefs.

Here’s the top of the story written by Juliet Eilperin, who deserves a shoutout for her prolificacy and ability to toggle between being the Post’s senior national affairs correspondent chronicling the Trump administration’s policy changes, and global environmental stories.

(Wait. Maybe that’s how she stays sane in today’s Washington.)

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Hey big spender: NPR highlights another side of embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt

Hey big spender: NPR highlights another side of embattled EPA administrator Scott Pruitt

Scott Pruitt — the former attorney general in my home state of Oklahoma — has been making a lot of national headlines lately.

Not-so-positive headlines, I might add.

A week ago Sunday, the New York Times featured Pruitt — now the administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency — in a front-page investigative piece. The headline: "Scott Pruitt Before the E.P.A.: Fancy Homes, a Shell Company and Friends With Money."

Religion did not figure in that story. Nor, let's be honest, did the fascinating details revealed by the Times portray Pruitt as a choir boy.

(Just this afternoon, I got an emailed news alert from the Washington Post with this headline: "Lobbyist helped broker Scott Pruitt’s $100,000 trip to Morocco.")

But now comes NPR with a new, in-depth report with quite a different headline: "'On Fire For God's Work': How Scott Pruitt's Faith Drives His Politics."

NPR notes:

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Is climate change an excuse to not have kids? The New York Times focuses on half of this debate

Is climate change an excuse to not have kids? The New York Times focuses on half of this debate

Some of you are old enough to remember the 1960s, when books like “The Population Bomb” warned of coming mass starvation if people didn’t stop having kids. And some folks took that warning seriously and decided to forgo childbearing.

Places like China with its brutal, obscene “One Child” policy forced people onto birth control after one child (and aborting any further pregnancies) while none of the predicted famines occurred

Fast forward 50 years and while Africa is still booming, demographic drops in places like Japan and Korea are at near-crisis levels; China’s population is aging faster than anywhere else and half the world’s nations have fertility rates below the replacement level of two children per woman. 

Now there’s another reason not to have kids: Climate change. The New York Times tells us why:

It is not an easy time for people to feel hopeful, with the effects of global warming no longer theoretical, projections becoming more dire and governmental action lagging. And while few, if any, studies have examined how large a role climate change plays in people’s childbearing decisions, it loomed large in interviews with more than a dozen people ages 18 to 43.
A 32-year-old who always thought she would have children can no longer justify it to herself. A Mormon has bucked the expectations of her religion by resolving to adopt rather than give birth. An Ohio woman had her first child after an unplanned pregnancy — and then had a second because she did not want her daughter to face an environmental collapse alone.
Among them, there is a sense of being saddled with painful ethical questions that previous generations did not have to confront. Some worry about the quality of life children born today will have as shorelines flood, wildfires rage and extreme weather becomes more common. Others are acutely aware that having a child is one of the costliest actions they can take environmentally.

I’m glad they involved someone from a religious background and a Mormon at that, because of Latter-day Saints’ doctrine encouraging large families. Another few paragraphs later:

Parents like Amanda Perry Miller, a Christian youth leader and mother of two in Independence, Ohio, share her fears.

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It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

It's the end of the world as they report it: New York Times listens to echo-chamber voices

Good morning, journalism class. Today's topic is the question of the voice in writing, specifically news writing.

No, we're not talking about active voice versus passive voice, Rather, let's look at the voices -- the "subject matter experts" as the phrasing goes -- selected by a reporter and a media outlet to speak to a given item.

For this question, we can thank The New York Times and their recent feature titled, "Apocalyptic Thoughts Amid Nature’s Chaos? You Could Be Forgiven." While the subject itself is interesting, it was the voices heard in the story -- as well as those not heard -- that caught my attention.

Here we go:

Vicious hurricanes all in a row, one having swamped Houston and another about to buzz through Florida after ripping up the Caribbean.
Wildfires bursting out all over the West after a season of scorching hot temperatures and years of dryness.
And late Thursday night, off the coast of Mexico, a monster of an earthquake.
You could be forgiven for thinking apocalyptic thoughts, like the science fiction writer John Scalzi who, surveying the charred and flooded and shaken landscape, declared that this “sure as hell feels like the End Times are getting in a few dress rehearsals right about now.”

We go on to a survey -- written and published before now-Tropical Storm Irma made its first U.S. landfall as Hurricane Irma -- the thoughts of several experts about the relationship, if any, between environmental disasters and the End of All Things.

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