10 years of GetReligion: Labels, labels, labels, labels!

It is my understanding that there was some kind of Jerry Springer-esque debate last night between young-earth creationist Ken (hello dinosaurs) Ham and Bill (The Science Guy) Nye.

Let me state up front that I am not terribly interested in what either man had to say.

However, I am curious to know if any of the thousands of religion-beat pros who live and move and have their being on Twitter can answer the following questions:

(1) At any point in the broadcast, was the term "creationist" defined? Did the definition involve six 24-hour days or was the emphasis on God being meaningfully involved in creation, period?

(2) At any point in the broadcast, was the term "evolution" defined? If so, was the process described as being "mindless, unguided, and without purpose or goal" or words to that effect?

Also, was anyone involved in the debate whose viewpoint resembles the following?

“Rather than the theory of evolution, we should speak of several theories of evolution. On the one hand, this plurality has to do with the different explanations advanced for the mechanism of evolution, and on the other, with the various philosophies on which it is based. Hence the existence of materialist, reductionist and spiritualist interpretations.”

And also:

“Theories of evolution which, because of the philosophies which inspire them, regard the spirit either as emerging from the forces of living matter, or as a simple epiphenomenon of that matter, are incompatible with the truth about man. They are therefore unable to serve as the basis for the dignity of the human person.”

These words, of course, were spoken by the Blessed Pope John Paul II.

Which simplistic term commonly used in mainstream articles about these debates -- "creationism" or "evolution" -- is best used to describe this soon-to-be-official saint's perspective on God, man and creation? Which label, as commonly used by way too many journalists, deserves to be stuck on the forehead of John Paul the Great?

If there is one thing that your GetReligionistas do not like, at all, it is the degree to which the mainstream press accepts the use of vague, simplistic labels. Want to imply that you accept someone? Then call them a "moderate" (like that crucial New York Times self study noted). Want to imply that someone is stupid? Then you know what F-word to pin on them.

This works with all kinds of labels -- political, cultural and religious. Does the term "conservative" or "right wing" imply that a person is racist? As in:

In the world of social media, that infamous MSNBC tweet led to the whole #MyRightWingBiracialFamily phenomenon linked to this Super Bowl ad.

This dust-up led veteran religion-beat pro Cathy Grossman to opine:

That’s the problem with labels. Words such as “Conservative,” “Liberal,” “Ultra-orthodox” and “Fundamentalist” have all been torn from their original anchors in meaning. Once they signified a coherent political viewpoint or a specific understanding of religious doctrine. Now, those words are thrown about as epithets.

To call a Christian a Fundamentalist today -- even a person who believes in the five religious fundamentals that gave the term life -- requires a note from your editor to justify use of the new F-word. Orthodox Jews who follow every letter of Torah law will still object to being called Ultra-Orthodox because it has political, cultural or social connotations.

Far from any ideological or theological front, why should anyone be branded, politically or in any other way, for their cereal choice?

I don't know, at this point I think I would accept use of the term "fundamentalist" when applied to people who actually embrace the Protestant doctrines that historically have fit under that doctrinal umbrella. Then again, one could always follow the wise advice in the Associated Press Stylebook:

“fundamentalist: The word gained usage in an early 20th century fundamentalist-modernist controversy within Protestantism. … However, fundamentalist has to a large extent taken on pejorative connotations except when applied to groups that stress strict, literal interpretations of Scripture and separation from other Christians.

“In general, do not use fundamentalist unless a group applies the word to itself.”


It also helps when journalists seek out a variety of voices to take part in some of these debates, instead of settling for straw-person match-ups between the likes of Ham and Nye. I don't know about you, but I'd appreciate it if the authorities at CNN or somewhere else in the mainstream media pulled of this broadcast.

Please respect our Commenting Policy