Jesus

Sky-high journalism: A new look at old, old story of whether we're alone in the universe?

Sky-high journalism: A new look at old, old story of whether we're alone in the universe?

Are there other intelligent beings somewhere out there in the cosmos? Forget science fiction. Recent news said level-headed U.S. Navy pilots reported seeing what seemed like UFOs, so classified military protocol deals with how to handle such incidents. Meanwhile, scientists, aided by new technology, have spent decades seeking to contact alien life.

Nonetheless, “perhaps humanity is truly alone,” contends Ethan Siegel, an astrophysics theorist and college teacher turned science writer, in a cover story for the June Commentary magazine. This old, old story is ever new, and perhaps it’s time for journalists to run it past some quotable theologians for an off-the-news if not off-the-wall feature.

Siegel himself offers no insights on the obvious religious implications. That’s not surprising, since he’s an atheist, albeit a Jewish one, who preaches that “everything that has ever happened in this universe requires nothing more than the laws of nature to explain them.”

Still, the questions nag. Did God, or intelligent design's Designer, create beings like us on Earth and nowhere else?

If so, why? Or, if there is intelligent life in other realms, what is God’s purpose with mere earthlings? Are those extraterrestrials “sinful” and “fallen” like us? What would this mean for Christianity’s belief that God was uniquely incarnated on Earth in Jesus Christ? And so forth.

Darwin’s theory of evolution becomes probable when vast stretches of time allow vast accumulations of genetic mutations that can undergo vast selection to yield the origin of vast species. (The Guy, no science whiz, senses that the sudden emergence of countless advanced life forms during the “Cambrian Explosion” half a billion years ago is hard to fully comprehend in such simple terms).

Probabilities also seem to tell us there just have to be many forms of intelligent life beyond those on Earth.

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How many times is too many to mention 'Jesus' in a prayer? That's the controversial question in Pa.

How many times is too many to mention 'Jesus' in a prayer? That's the controversial question in Pa.

A Pennsylvania lawmaker is drawing fire for a prayer in which she referenced controversial figures, including Jesus, God and Donald Trump.

In fact, she mentioned “Jesus” 13 times and “God” six times in less than two minutes, noted a critic who tweeted about the “offensive” nature of the legislative prayer.

Here’s how The Associated Press summarized the fuss in a national news story:

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A freshman Republican’s opening prayer Monday in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives drew complaints that it was inappropriately divisive.

Rep. Stephanie Borowicz began the day’s session with a Christian invocation that thanked Jesus for the honor and President Donald Trump for standing “behind Israel unequivocally.”

“At the name of Jesus every knee will bow and every tongue will confess, Jesus, that you are Lord,” said Borowicz, elected in November to represent a Clinton County district.

Her remarks also brought up George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

A quick aside: Since we’re counting words, AP uses “remarks” three times to describe what Borowicz said in the prayer. Given that she was praying (read: talking to God) and not making a floor speech (although I guess that’s open to interpretation), I wonder if there’s a better term AP could have used in the story.

But back to the main point: Was the prayer divisive? Or did the lawmaker simply pray — as she claims — like she always does?

Courtesy of the Friendly Atheist blog, which transcribed the prayer, here is exactly what she said:

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This is not a trick question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

This is not a trick question: Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

THE QUESTION:

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This topic hit the news February 4 when Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayebb of Egypt’s influential Al-Azhar University issued a joint declaration “in the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity.” Did Francis, who was making history’s first papal visit to the Arabian Peninsula, thereby mean to say that the Christian God is the Muslim God?

Yes, he did, if properly understood, and this was no innovation on his part.

In 1965, Pope Paul VI and the world’s Catholic bishops at the Second Vatican Council approved Nostra Aetate, the declaration on relations with non-Christian religions. The decree’s denunciation of calumny against Jews gets most of the attention, but it also proclaimed this:

“The church also regards with esteem the Muslims. They adore the one God, living and subsisting in himself, merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth,” although “they do not acknowledge Jesus as God” and regard him as only a prophet. The subsequent Catechism of the Catholic Church likewise defines the belief that “together with us [Muslims] adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

Such interfaith concord is disputed by some conservative Protestants in the U.S. For example, the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry believes the Catholic Church has “a faulty understanding of the God of Islam,” and Muslims “are not capable of adoring the true God.” Hank Hanegraaff of the “Bible Answer Man” broadcast — now a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy — has asserted that “the Allah of Islam” is “definitely not the God of the Bible.” [Note that “Allah” is simply the Arabic word meaning “God.”]

Back in the century after Islam first arose, such thinking was expressed in “The Fount of Knowledge” by John of Damascus, a revered theologian for Eastern Orthodoxy. John spelled out reasons why Islam’s belief about God is a “heresy” and Muhammad is “a false prophet.”

Islam’s fundamental profession of faith declares that “there is no god but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God.”

How are we to understand this one true God?

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Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Monday Mix: Sex abuse probes, 'controlling' church, Mormon Jesus, sanctuary arrest, empty churches

Welcome to another edition of the Monday Mix, where we focus on headlines and insights you might have missed from the weekend and late in the week.

The fine print: Just because we include a headline here doesn't mean we won't offer additional analysis in a different post, particularly if it's a major story. In fact, if you read a piece linked here and have questions or concerns that we might address, please don't hesitate to comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion. The goal here is to point at important news and say, "Hey, look at this."

Three weekend reads

1. “The Catholic Church has proven that it cannot police itself. And civil authorities can’t let the church hide child sexual abuse allegations as personnel matters. They’re crimes. We need a full accounting of the church.”

The Washington Post rounds up the wave of state and federal investigations spurred by the Pennsylvania grand jury report:

The explosive report about sexual abuse by Catholic priests unveiled by a Pennsylvania grand jury in August has set off an unprecedented wave of investigations over the last several months, with attorneys general in 14 states and the District of Columbia announcing probes and demanding documents from Catholic officials. Those efforts have been joined by a federal investigation out of Philadelphia that may become national in scope.

The swift and sweeping response by civil authorities contrasts sharply with the Vatican’s comparatively glacial pace. While some U.S. dioceses have published lists of priests they say have been credibly accused of sexual abuse and two cardinals have been ousted, the Vatican this month put on hold a vote by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops on measures to hold bishops more accountable until after a global synod in early 2019. In the meantime, Rome has done little to address the crisis.

2. "It totally sucks you away from all other aspects of your life. It doesn’t allow you to enjoy your life.”

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Here we go again: ESPN.com trims J-word out of big Florida rite in Tim Tebow's life

Here we go again: ESPN.com trims J-word out of  big Florida rite in Tim Tebow's life

Greetings from SEC football territory, deep down in the Bible Belt.

I was not surprised that my recent posts about the coverage — or the lack of coverage, in many cases — of sports and religious faith drew some reader responses. Click here for the main post and then here for the “Crossroads” podcast on the topic.

The podcast post included the following throwaway line, talking about how it’s impossible to discuss some sports figures without mentioning their faith, especially when their views on sex are part of the story: “Can you say ‘Tim Tebow’? I knew that you could.”

Well, a Catholic priest caught something in the news that I missed.

Apparently, Tebow was induced into the University of Florida football ring of honor the other day. As you would expect, ESPN did a story on this big day in the life of an SEC Network star. And, as you would expect, Tebow was asked to make a few remarks during the ceremony. And, as you would expect, Tebow did a shout-out to Jesus.

The priest noted: “Funny that tmatt should have just mentioned Tebow. Compare what he says in the video (about 28 seconds) with what's quoted in the article. Something's missing.”

Click this ESPN link to see the best video (or watch the longer version at the top of this post).

The ESPN.com news report goes out of its way, at the very top, to quote Tebow’s “message to the fans.” But was this all that he said? Here is the overture:

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Tim Tebow became the sixth player to join the Florida Ring of Honor on Saturday, as the crowd inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium chanted, "Tebow! Tebow!"

Tebow, who won the Heisman Trophy and two national championships as Florida's quarterback from 2006 to 2009, was honored after the first quarter in No. 22 Florida's 27-19 home victory over No. 5 LSU.

A Tebow highlights package played on the video screens as he stood near the 20-yard line. When his name was unveiled, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and chanted his name. Tebow then took the microphone and had a message for the fans.

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What happens when a travel story about spiritual spaces in Los Angeles goes wrong?

What happens when a travel story about spiritual spaces in Los Angeles goes wrong?

Well, it seemed like a delightful story. 

A New York Times freelancer decided to visit contemplative sites and institutions in greater Los Angeles and make a travel story out of it.

I was in LA for few days in January. And after experiencing the region’s numbing traffic several days in a row, I hid out at a friend’s home in a gated community in Buena Park. I was thanking God that I had never gotten a job in this region. I thought commuting in DC was rough. This was the Beltway on steroids.

But this writer gave a positive spin to all the craziness. Thus, we follow him as he explores what Los Angelenos do to escape the maddening crowd.

The key: Finding vaguely spiritual sites that help people calm down and deal with stress. But are all "spiritual" places created equal? Are some "spiritual" activities linked to, you know, religion?

This meditative mind-set was fitting for my 3 p.m. appointment, which I was now 45 minutes late to. I was supposed to be visiting the Peace Awareness Labyrinth & Gardens as part of a larger quest to seek out spaces of refuge and retreat across the city’s endless suburban sprawl. I wanted to find the quiet, contemplative Los Angeles, the hidden pockets of reverence, reflection, silence; places Angelenos repair to in order to recharge their batteries so that they are ready to face another day, another traffic jam, another screaming child, another vindictive boss. A city is not necessarily defined by its landmarks or its flashiest moments but by all the subtle ways its citizens forge the necessary solitude that allows them to live in proximity to their neighbors. ...

He showed me how to walk the labyrinth, a circular pathway of travertine marble. Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Labyrinths, unlike mazes, are unicursal -- they have only one way in and one way out. Each step becomes a purposeful movement. They are an ancient form of meditation; this one is based on the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France, built in the early 13th century. As you walk, the city becomes a distant dream, a movie half-remembered. In a way, it is bit like the festina lente of Interstate 10, but without the cars, the smog, the man in the neon-yellow Dodge Charger listening to Whitesnake’s “Here I go Again” at peak volume. One way in, one way out.

The writer introduces the reader to the concept of shinrin-yoku, which is immersing oneself in greenery, as in a forest. Stay with me for the next lengthy passage:


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Still talking about it: Chris Pratt zoomed past normal Godtalk in his non-news MTV sermon

Still talking about it: Chris Pratt zoomed past normal Godtalk in his non-news MTV sermon

If you watch a lot of pop-culture award shows (confession: I don't do that anymore), then you know that a certain amount of generic God talk is normal and acceptable.

On sports awards shows, and sometimes the Grammy Awards, you will even hear people offer gratitude to "my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ," or similar phrases. 

You will, of course, also hear plenty of political announcements, off-color humor and endorsements of various progressive social causes. Right now, pop superstars seem determined to make statements that will eventually show up in Donald Trump campaign ads, demonstrating what the cultural elites think of lots of folks in flyover country.

This is the wider media context for discussions of Chris Pratt's interesting "Nine Rules For Living" sermonette during the recent MTV Movie & TV awards. You can click here to watch this MTV moment or look at the end of the CNN.com report to read a transcription of what he had to say (or part of it -- hold that thought).

I also wrote a GetReligion post on this topic, focusing on the fact that Pratt's remarks were a red-hot topic on Twitter, but didn't push any "news" buttons in elite newsrooms, especially in the world of print news. Now "Crossroads" host Todd Wilken and I have done a podcast on this topic and you can click here to tune that in.

* The original GetReligion post on this topic focused on the simple, but hazy, question: Were Pratt's remarks newsworthy. It's clear that if Pratt had (a) discussed Trump, pro or con, or (b) discussed LGBTQ rights (pro or con), then it would have been news. If he had discussed to state of his love life and recent divorce, that would have been news. Instead, he offered remarks linked to his evangelical Christian faith. This is not "news," even in an age when explicit faith is supposed to be private?

* It's interesting to note that Pratt pretty much stated what he was doing, in rule for life No. 4., in which he said: 

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Your weekend think piece: David French's painful letter to Trump's evangelical defenders

Your weekend think piece: David French's painful letter to Trump's evangelical defenders

Last summer, I did something that I had been thinking about ever since the first years of this 14-year-old blog.

I read went to this website's archives and looked around a bit, glancing at quite a few topics and then scanning posts inside some key ones. It's pretty easy to spot big, repeating topics, since the press has a pretty consistent worldview when it comes to deciding what is news and what is not. As the old saying goes: The news media don't really tell people what to think. However, they do a great job of telling news consumers what to think ABOUT.

After taking lots and lots of notes, I wrote out an outline for a journalism classroom lecture entitled, "The Seven Deadly Sins of Religion Reporting." This weekend's think piece is linked to Deadly Sin No. 2:

* Assume that religion equals politics -- period. After all, politics deal with things that are real, as opposed to mere beliefs. Thus, whenever people claim that their actions are based on centuries of doctrines and traditions, journalists should assume that those actions are actually rooted in political biases, party politics, economics, sociology, etc. Whatever you do, go out of your way to ignore doctrine.

Examples: Too many to number.

This brings us to this weekend's think piece, which is linked to one of those topics that you know will appear in elite media at least once a week -- Donald Trump's loyal defenders among white evangelicals. Here's a key post I wrote on this topic, just before the election: "Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump."

Now, please check out this National Review piece by David French, a Harvard Law graduate who is a religious-liberty specialist. He is also one of the nation's most outspoken #NeverTrump religious conservatives.

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Hey editorial writers in Pittsburgh: Do be careful when attempting to correct Jesus

Hey editorial writers in Pittsburgh: Do be careful when attempting to correct Jesus

As a rule, GetReligion doesn't post critiques of editorials, columns and analysis pieces in mainstream media or religious publications. Now, we may quote them, from time to time. Also, I frequently point readers to "think pieces" that aren't really news, but are linked to important Godbeat topics.

How do you criticize bias in opinion pieces? They're supposed to be biased. How do you criticize advocacy pieces for a lack of balance? They're supposed to advocate a specific side of an issue that the writer or publication thinks is correct. However, we can ask editorials to to be accurate when it comes to facts and quotes. Right?

Thus, a religion-beat veteran sent me a note this week about a really interesting problem in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial that ran with this headline: "The noble gendarme: Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame gave his life for others."

I've been writing about news-media coverage of the Beltrame case all week, as in this post: "Sacrifice in France: 'Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life ... ' " I also wrote my Universal syndicate column about religious themes in this drama in France.

The editorial in Pittsburgh was interesting, in that it attempted to steer around Beltrame's own Catholic faith, while praising his actions in secular terms. Kind of. Here is the opening of the editorial:

The French, who are under sustained attack by Islamist terrorists, have found a hero in French national police Lt. Col. Arnaud Beltrame.
On Friday, Lt. Col. Beltrame voluntarily traded places with a woman who was being used as a human shield during an armed assault by a self-proclaimed Islamic State “soldier.”

The piece then added more material about why this case was so important, while avoiding religious facts about Beltrame and his work, his marriage and his life.

Then, at the end, there was this leap into theology:

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