Christianity

If churches keep getting vandalized in France, should American news outlets cover the story?

If churches keep getting vandalized in France, should American news outlets cover the story?

Is it a news story if a church is set on fire or vandalized in some other way? What about if it’s part of a string of incidents? What if it happens five times? How about 10 times?

What if there are flames pouring out of one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals and it’s Monday of Holy Week?

We will come back to the flames over Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in a moment.

The answers to the earlier questions are yes, yes, yes, yes and, of course, yes! As someone who worked as a news reporter (and later a editor) at two major metropolitan dailies (at the New York Post and New York Daily News) and a major news network website (ABC News), I can tell you that any suspicion of arson at a house of worship, for example, is a major story.

It must somehow no longer be the case in the new and frenetic world of the internet-driven, 24-hour news cycle. That’s because a major international story — one involving at least 10 acts of vandalism at Catholic churches in France — went largely unreported (underreported, really) for weeks. The vandalism included everything from Satanic symbols scrawled on walls to shattered statues.

That’s right, a rash of fires and other acts of desecration inside Catholic churches — during Lent, even — in a country with a recent history of terrorism somehow didn’t warrant any kind of attention from American news organizations. Even major news organizations, such as The Washington Post, were late to covering it and only did after running a Religion News Service story.

This brings us to Monday’s fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, where a massive blaze engulfed the 12th century gothic house of worship. It’s too early to tell if this incident is part of the earlier wave of vandalism, but it certainly comes at a strange time. For now, officials say the blaze remains under investigation. The cathedral has been undergoing some renovation work and the fire may — repeat MAY — have started in one of those areas.

It would be crazy to assume there is a connection between all of these fires and acts of vandalism. It would be just as crazy for journalists not to investigate the possibility that there are connections.

There will be more to come on the Notre Dame story in the hours and days that follow and comes at the start of Holy Week, the most solemn time on the Christian calendar.

But back to my questions about the earlier string of fires and the lack of coverage.

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Guardian story on British baker's Nativity calendar gets a rise with political angle

Guardian story on British baker's Nativity calendar gets a rise with political angle

There's no business like dough business: Greggs, a British bakery chain similar to America's Panera or Au Bon Pain, is rebounding after years of losses, according to the Marketing Week video above.

Until this week, perhaps when the chain unveiled its 2017 Advent season calendar illustrated with Christmas-related scenes and die-cut "windows" where special offers and coupons appear. One of the windows offers gift cards ranging in value from £5 to £25, the latter more than covering the £24 cost of the calendar.

So what's the news here?

What caused things to bubble over was the depiction of three Magi kneeling around a manger. But instead of the infant Jesus, veneration was being given to a Greggs sausage roll, of which an estimated two million are sold in Britain each week. And not just any sausage roll, but one with a bite taken out of it.

So what did The Guardian, that left-leaning 197-year-old British daily lead off with?

Politics, of course: "Rightwing group calls for Greggs boycott over sausage roll nativity," is the headline. Here's a taste of the story:

The bakery chain Greggs has apologised for offending Christians with a nativity scene advert that replaces Jesus with a sausage roll. 
The chief executive of the Freedom Association, a rightwing pressure group, claimed the advert was “sick” and that the retailer would “never dare” insult other religions.
The UK Evangelical Alliance strongly criticised the baker, saying it was a gimmick that seemed to be about “manufacturing a scandal to sell baked goods”.

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Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

Context, context, context: Financial media outlet flunks basics in millenials flock to astrology story

How does potentially good journalism go bad? Perhaps it's when reporters fail to find (and editors fail to insist upon) more than one side to a story. Let's call it a context deficit disorder.

Today's nominee is MarketWatch.com, part of the Dow Jones media group, which no longer includes The Wall Street Journal, it should be noted. (That daily is now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)

MarketWatch readers are promised an explanation of "Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology." Instead, we're treated to what essentially is a puff-piece for some firms in the metaphysical realm without much, yes, context about whether this really is a thing.

Let's start with the introductory paragraphs. This is long, but essential:

When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”
“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry -- which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services -- grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.

Can you say non-sequitur, gentle reader?

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Pew 'state religion' survey: Putting data in context is crucial, something The Guardian forgot

Pew 'state religion' survey: Putting data in context is crucial, something The Guardian forgot

While I'm not an expert on Transcendental Meditation, it's my understanding that having a personal mantra assigned to you by an instructor is essential to the practice of TM. Thus, if I were to select a mantra for meditating on the press and religion, it'd be "Con-text, con-text, con-text." (You know, I'm feeling better already.)

Bad meditation jokes aside, careful readers of this blog might sense that calling for context is, in fact, my mantra, or pretty close to it. A good example of why it's important -- as well as what's missing when journalism omits this -- comes courtesy of the Pew Research Center, the Washington, D.C.-based group which this week released a study on life in nations which have an official state religion.

In this country, such a choice is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States, specifically by the Bill of Rights ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, etc."). However, that sanction doesn't exist in other nations, such as the United Kingdom.

Let's begin with Britain's The Guardian, which sticks to the bare facts in its report:

More than one in five countries has an official state religion, with the majority being Muslim states, and a further 20% of countries have a preferred or favoured religion. A slim majority (53%) of counties has no official or preferred religion, and 10 (5%) are hostile to religion, according to a report by the Washington-based Pew Research Center.
Most of the 43 countries with state religions are in the Middle East and North Africa, with a cluster in northern Europe. Islam is the official religion in 27 countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa as well North Africa and the Middle East.
Thirteen countries -- including nine in Europe -- are officially Christian, two (Bhutan and Cambodia) have Buddhism as their state religion, and one (Israel) is officially a Jewish state. No country has Hinduism as its state religion.

Now, as you can see from the 2013 RT television clip atop this page, having a state religion doesn't always guarantee prosperous times for the faith in question. If anything, the Church of England's fortunes are less secure now than they were four years ago, but that's a story for another time.

What is germane to the Guardian report -- but also is absent there -- is any information providing context about how having a state-sanctioned religion affects the people who live in these states.

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'Relig-Un' puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea's Kim is a big story and UK media notice

'Relig-Un' puns aside, deity downgrade for North Korea's Kim is a big story and UK media notice

It's the kind of news story tailor-made for the puns and pokes of Britain's tabloid press, and The Sun, the daily redoubt of topless 'Page 3' girls, doesn't fail to deliver.

The headline says it all: "LOSING MY RELIG-UN Paranoid Kim Jong-un executing record numbers of North Koreans who no longer see him as a living GOD" [sic].

This is one of those cases in which the headline is pretty much the same as the lede, so here that is again in case you missed it:

DELUDED despot Kim Jong-un is executing growing numbers of North Koreans who no longer worship him as a living GOD.
His ruthless regime is persecuting thousands who dare to practise “other religions” within its borders, according to a shock new US government study.

It's not the poetry of a Hearstian scribe in the good old days, but it'll suffice. The "shock new US government study" is a nice touch, although someone should tell the paper that America is the U.S., and not a celebrity-gossip magazine. "Deluded despot" certainly fits the bill, however.

This is not our usual media-bash since even The Sun does "get it" here: there appears to be evidence that the literal cult-of-personality surrounding the Kim family, where the current ruler's father and grandfather were quite literally worshipped by the population or else, is showing some cracks.

A more serious London newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, published a story from which The Sun and rival tabloid the Daily Mail, both appear to have cribbed. As the Telegraph reported, citing the U.S. State Department report:

"An estimated 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners, some imprisoned for religious reasons, were believed to be held in the political prison camp system in remote areas under horrific conditions", it adds.
Those claims were backed up by a North Korean defector who is now a member of the Seoul-based Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea.

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Crikey! Top Aussie journalists insert obvious errors into serious spousal abuse story

Crikey! Top Aussie journalists insert obvious errors into serious spousal abuse story

I've never been to Australia, but I've had a large enough circle of antipodean friends to know that "Crikey!" is an exasperation often used in conversation. What does the term mean? Click here.

It fits, in some respects, to the remarkable story the Australian Broadcasting Corp., known as "ABC," has put together -- on its website and on air -- about the links between spousal abuse and religion, specifically, in this case, Christianity.

Let me assert, up front and in the strongest possible terms, that anyone who abuses a spouse or domestic partner or boyfriend/girlfriend -- anyone -- deserves to be fully investigated and if circumstances warrant, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. There is no excuse, whatsoever, for any violence in the home. For reporting on faith-based connections to domestic violence, ABC deserves to be praised.

Praise isn't all the web version of story deserves, however. It also merits some scrutiny, especially when paired with a video interview with reporter Julia Baird (see clip above).

The web story, with the click-attracting headline "'Submit to your husbands': Women told to endure domestic violence in the name of God," begins with a suitably dramatic (and long) retelling of a harrowing incident:

The culprits were obvious: it was the menopause or the devil.
Who else could be blamed, Peter screamed at his wife in nightly tirades, for her alleged insubordination, for her stupidity, her lack of sexual pliability, her refusal to join him on the 'Tornado' ride at a Queensland waterpark, her annoying friendship with a woman he called "Ratface"? For her sheer, complete failure as a woman?

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Dear political reporters: Does Sanders 'Feel the Bern' over Article 6 and religious tests?

Dear political reporters: Does Sanders 'Feel the Bern' over Article 6 and religious tests?

The relationship of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) with religion is a bit vague: Born Jewish, Religion News Service in 2015 called him "unabashedly irreligious" and said he only "culturally" identifies as Jewish these days.

As mayor of Burlington, Vermont, Sanders once defended the placement of a menorah in a public square.

I devoutly hope Sanders' relationship with the Constitution of the United States is less tenuous, particularly as it relates to the last 20 words of Article 6. This is certainly an issue in the news, right now.

...no religious Test [sic] shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Forgive the long preamble, but it's needed to set up today's other hot Donald Trump administration-related story, the question of whether or not Russell Vought will be allowed a vote by the full U.S. Senate on his nomination as deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sanders may object to Vought on other points -- deadlines didn't allow a review of the full Budget Committee hearing video -- but about 44 minutes into the recording, we find a remarkable attack on the nominee centering on an article Vought wrote about 16 months ago defending Wheaton College, his alma mater, during the controversy over then-professor Lacryia Hawkins and her views on Islam.

Writing at The Resurgent, a conservative blog, Vought declared:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

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Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

Manipur, India, horses, polo and societal change: So what's missing in this picture?

In the beginning, it appeared to be merely a story about quasi-abandoned horses in northeastern India and for the most part, that’s what “In the Kingdom of Dying Ponies” was a recent offering of Foreign Policy Review.

Until I began realizing the scene was set in Manipur, that neglected corner of India that tourists rarely get to. Northeastern India is the one part of the country that is either majority Christian or has equal parts Hindu and Christian, which is the case with Manipur.

A bit of history: It was mainly the Baptists who swept through the area converting folks in the late 19th century, plus establishing schools, hospitals and translating the Bible into their language. That area of India has seen its Muslim population grow due to immigration from nearby Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

So … in a piece about society in Manipur, would you expect to see at least a little bit about the religious demographics happening there?

Two paragraphs into the piece:

Polo is the archetypal sport of snobs. But in Manipur, where the British learned of the game before introducing it to the world -- or at least the aristocracy -- polo is still a commoner’s game. And the exalted status of the Manipuri pony, the only breed used at the Manipur tournament, is one reason why. The indigenous semi-feral pony is a sacred figure for residents of Manipur, featuring prominently in the ritual life of the Meitei people, the area’s majority ethnic group. The ponies are treated as regal mounts, never put to labor, and trace their origin in local lore to the Pegasus-like Samadon Ayangba, the “swift first among beasts.

The Meitei, by the way, are Hindu.

But the ponies’ regal status has not stymied their slow demise. For decades, the ponies’ numbers have gradually dropped and now there are thought to be only around 500 left. In Imphal, one spots them on the streets, huddled together in pitiful herds, red-eyed, skinny, and surrounded by honking traffic. At night, they forage through garbage piles alongside cows and mongrels. Many of them seem hardly in a condition to be used in sport, which is just as well, because there are far fewer places in Manipur to play polo than there once were. “People in Manipur have forgotten the legacy of the pony,” lamented one local musician.
The ponies’ sorry state is a symbol, and result, of Manipur’s own downward trajectory. For centuries a prosperous, independent kingdom, it is today a pariah on India’s fringes. If it is ever in the national conversation, it is over its separatist unrest, heavy militarization, endemic corruption and overall dysfunction. But for residents of the New Jersey-sized state, the biggest shift isn’t just the violence and disorder -- it’s the area’s marginalization, and the way it has sapped the city’s pride, autonomy, and political will.

The author only sees political reasons behind the region’s poverty of spirit. Something is missing.

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