Jesusland

Yo, MSM: Anyone planning to stalk Jesusland religion ghosts lurking in 'The Hunt' movie?

Yo, MSM: Anyone planning to stalk Jesusland religion ghosts lurking in 'The Hunt' movie?

What a country we live in, these days. If you have been following the controversy surrounding the now-delayed movie “The Hunt,” you know that this is — according to mainstream media reports — yet another controversy about politics, anger, guns, violence and America’s Tweeter In Chief.

Oh, and there is no way to avoid the dangerous word “elites” when talking about this Hollywood vs. flyover country saga. However, if you probe this media storm you will find hints that religion ghosts are hiding in the fine print — due to the movie’s alleged references to “deplorables” and “anti-choice” Americans.

But let’s start with a minimalist report at The Washington Post that ran with this headline: “Universal cancels satirical thriller about ‘elites’ hunting ‘deplorables’ in wake of shootings.” Here’s the overture:

Universal Pictures has canceled its plan to release “The Hunt,” a satirical thriller about “elites” hunting self-described “normal people,” amid a series of mass shootings and criticism that the film could increase tensions.

“We stand by our filmmakers and will continue to distribute films in partnership with bold and visionary creators, like those associated with this satirical social thriller, but we understand that now is not the right time to release this film,” Universal said in a statement.

The studio already had paused its marketing campaign for the R-rated movie, which was slated for release on Sept. 27. … “The Hunt,” directed by Craig Zobel (“Z for Zachariah”) and produced by Blumhouse Productions, follows 12 strangers who are brought to a remote house to be killed for sport. 

Everything in this media-drama hinges on how this movie is alleged to have described the beliefs and behaviors of these “normal” Americans — who are stalked by rich, progressive folks defined by high-class culture and political anger issues. The elites are led by a character played by Oscar-winner Hilary Swank.

If you are looking for facts in this oh so Donald Trump-era mess, journalists at The Hollywood Reporter claim to have details deeper than the innuendoes glimpsed in the hyper-violent trailers for the movie (trailers that appear to be vanishing online). Here is a chunk of that story, which is referenced — aggregation style — in “news” reports all over the place.

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Childless sex in the city? No doubt about it: America's supercities will impact religion news

Childless sex in the city? No doubt about it: America's supercities will impact religion news

A quarter of a century ago, I started teaching journalism in big American supercities — first in Washington, D.C., and now in New York City.

From the beginning, I heard students (most from Christian liberal arts colleges) asking poignant, basic questions about the impact of journalism on their future lives, in terms of job stress, economics and, yes, marriage and family life. These questions were often asked in private. Needless to say, these questions have continued, and intensified, with the ongoing advertising crisis that is eating many newsrooms.

I continue to urge my students to talk to real New Yorkers (or Beltway folks) who are living the realities — rather than accepting stereotypes. It’s crucial to talk to married folks with children and discuss the communities and networks that help them thrive or survive. The challenges are real, but the stereotypes are — in my experience — flawed and shallow.

These subjects hovered in the background as we recorded this week’s Crossroads podcast (click here to tune that in). This podcast digs into the implications of my earlier GetReligion post — “Think like a reporter: What kind of American cities are booming? Any impact on religion news?” — about an Axios story on the economic and political clout of American super-cities.

If you want a deep dive into the marriage and family issue, check out the stunning essay at The Atlantic by staff writer Derek Thompson that just ran with this dramatic double-decker headline:

The Future of the City Is Childless

America’s urban rebirth is missing something key — actual births.

The opening anecdote will cause a shudder (perhaps of recognition) among many New Yorkers that I know:

A few years ago, I lived in a walkup apartment in the East Village of New York. Every so often descending the stairway, I would catch a glimpse of a particular family with young children in its Sisyphean attempts to reach the fourth floor.

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Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Believe it or not: Vigano testimony is producing a Catholic version of that 'Jesusland' map

Does anyone remember the mini-wave of "Jesusland" maps that grew out of the nail-biter 2000 U.S. presidential election? Click here for some background on that.

Well, the famous maps of all those flyover country red states and the northern and coastal blue states evolved into images pitting "Jesusland" against the "United States of Canada" or the "United States of Liberty and Education."

You get the idea, especially if you check out some of the F-word map options that should not be repeated in public.

I thought of this the other day when I read the Crux feature that ran with this headline: "Reactions to Pope allegations offer x-ray of a divided Church." Truth is, at the time I was swamped with all of the commentary and advocacy-news reports about the Archbishop Carlo Maria Vigano letter (see full text here). Thus, I really appreciated a rather calm look at one newsy angle of the story, from high altitude (so to speak). 

What emerged was this thought -- are the doctrinal wars in the American Catholic Church creating another Jesusland map?

What this Crux story did was chart some of the early reactions to this crisis by bishops who are speaking on the record. Here is the overture:

NEW YORK -- Within hours of Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò’s blockbuster claims that Pope Francis knew about former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s history of abuse, the bishop of Tyler, Texas issued a statement saying he found those claims to be credible, asking that it be read at all Masses on Sunday.

“I do not have the authority to launch such an investigation, but I will lend my voice in whatever way necessary to call for this investigation and urge that its findings demand accountability of all found to be culpable even at the highest levels of the Church,” wrote Bishop Joseph Strickland. He went on to include the 11-page testimonial of the former papal ambassador to the United States on his diocesan website.

OK, where is Texas on the Jesusland map? 


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Former NPR CEO visits Jesusland! Returns with sobering media-bias truths for left and right

Former NPR CEO visits Jesusland! Returns with sobering media-bias truths for left and right

Oh my. What's a GetReligionista to do?

There are so many journalism and Godbeat think pieces from the past week that I would like to run in this Sunday slot. Some of them are going to turn into daily pieces, methinks. Some are headed into my large "file of guilt" for later.

But let's start with a very unusual byline atop an op-ed essay at The New York Post. This byline is so strange that the copy desk decided to celebrate it right there in the headline: "Former NPR CEO opens up about liberal media bias."

Then again, it helps to know that former National Public Radio CEO Ken Stern is about to release a major-publisher book with this title: "Republican Like Me: How I Left the Liberal Bubble and Learned to Love the Right." An essay in the libertarian Post made lots of sense.

Now, as a non-Republican, I care little about the political language of the book title. As someone who has spent his life studying media bias issues linked to religion coverage, I am interested in the methodology that Stern used.

Brace yourselves. He went out into flyover country (also known as "Jesusland") and talked to people.

Journalists -- hopefully on the left, as well as the right -- will want to know that his stated motive for writing this book was his horror at the current state of public discourse in our nation. This is not a "Yea Trump!" essay. It's an essay by someone who is concerned about the press and its old -- now dying, I fear -- role as a fair-minded middle ground in American life. Here is a key passage:

Spurred by a fear that red and blue America were drifting irrevocably apart, I decided to venture out from my overwhelmingly Democratic neighborhood and engage Republicans where they live, work and pray. For an entire year, I embedded myself with the other side, standing in pit row at a NASCAR race, hanging out at Tea Party meetings and sitting in on Steve Bannon’s radio show. I found an America far different from the one depicted in the press and imagined by presidents (“cling to guns or religion”) and presidential candidates (“basket of deplorables”) alike.

Now, what does this have to do with religion-beat work?

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Time offers shockingly faith-free look at struggles Democrats are having in heartland

Time offers shockingly faith-free look at struggles Democrats are having in heartland

While President Donald Trump does that thing that he does -- shoving the poles of American public discourse further and further apart -- some journalists have quietly started focusing attention on the fact that the Democratic Party is in horrible shape at the regional and state levels.

Why is that, precisely? Inquiring journalists want to know.

Obviously, a group like Democrats for Life is going to have a different take on that question than the young activists marching under the Bernie Band banner. Never forget, in the age of Nones, that religiously unaffiliated Americans, along with the core atheist-agnostic demographic, now make up the Democratic Party's largest identifiable choir on matters of morality, religion and culture.

With that in mind, check out the headline on that Time magazine cover at the top of this post. The headline inside is less spectacular: "Divided Democratic Party Debates Its Future as 2020 Looms."

Now, if you are old enough (like, well, me) to remember the rise of the Reagan Democrats and the fall of the populist Democrats in the South, then you know that social, moral and, yes, religious issues have played a major role in that political drama.

Yes, economic issues were crucial and they still are in the Rust Belt and elsewhere in the American heartland. However, there is a reason that wits on the left started referring to "flyover" country as "Jesusland."

However, read this Time think piece and see if the political desk there has any clue that the stark divisions in American life are based on cultural issues, as well as radical changes in the nation's economy. I mean, wasn't that the whole logic of the book "What's the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America," that GOP strategists were using moral, cultural and religious issues to distract Middle America from its true economic interests?

Here is the Time overture:

Like virtually all Democrats, Tim Ryan is no fan of Donald Trump. But as he speeds through his northeastern Ohio district in a silver Chevy Suburban, the eight-term Congressman sounds almost as frustrated with his own party.

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Your sobering weekend think piece: A faith-free look at why Americans are so angry

Your sobering weekend think piece: A faith-free look at why Americans are so angry

So, Americans, how mad are you? To be specific, how mad are you at other Americans and what were the seeds of your current level of anger? 

As someone who went through the 2016 election cycle in a #NeverTrump #NeverHillary frame of mind, I can't tell you how many times people asked me if that meant that I basically hated everyone in our tense and torn land.

The answer was no, but I had to admit that -- as a guy who self-identified as a pro-life Democrat for decades -- I was already pretty used to being felt left out of these national dramas. I was used to voting third party or going into a voting booth knowing that I faced painful compromises.

So, should I have felt a degree of satisfaction reading that New York Times think piece the other day that ran with this headline, "How We Became Bitter Political Enemies"?

When I saw that, I thought to myself: "Wow, someone is going to go back and trace the venom all the way to Judge Robert Bork." At the very least, this story was going to have to deal with the cultural and political legacy of Roe v. Wade.

No, newspapers have a very short-sighted view of history. In this case, we are talking about a very important set of Pew Research Center numbers that were already causing intense discussion before the attempted massacre of the entire GOP congressional baseball team.

Let's start here, with a chunk of information that is long, but essential reading. The question: Do you think religious, moral and cultural issues are at the heart of this.

“If you go back to the days of the Civil War, one can find cases in American political history where there was far more rancor and violence,” said Shanto Iyengar, a Stanford political scientist. “But in the modern era, there are no ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ -- partisan animus is at an all-time high.”
Mr. Iyengar doesn’t mean that the typical Democratic or Republican voter has adopted more extreme ideological views (although it is the case that elected officials in Congress have moved further apart). Rather, Democrats and Republicans truly think worse of each other, a trend that isn’t really about policy preferences. Members of the two parties are more likely today to describe each other unfavorably, as selfish, as threats to the nation, even as unsuitable marriage material.
Surveys over time have used a 100-point thermometer scale to rate how voters feel toward each other, from cold to warm. Democrats and Republicans have been giving lower and lower scores -- more cold shoulder -- to the opposite party. By 2008, the average rating for members of the other party was barely above 30.

Ready for the hammer, the killer stat?

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Question for podcast listeners: How does your zip code affect doctrine in your pulpits and pews?

Question for podcast listeners: How does your zip code affect doctrine in your pulpits and pews?

It was a pretty ordinary Catholic news story in The New York Times in the age of Pope Francis. The headline proclaimed: "As Church Shifts, a Cardinal Welcomes Gays; They Embrace a ‘Miracle’."

The story hook was that Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark had welcomed 100 LGBTQ Catholics and members of their families to a Mass on their behalf at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

This newsworthy event was called a "pilgrimage," but the Times called it a homecoming. Here is some crucial material that ran high in the story:

“I am Joseph, your brother,” Cardinal Tobin told the group, which included lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics from around New York and the five dioceses in New Jersey. “I am your brother, as a disciple of Jesus. I am your brother, as a sinner who finds mercy with the Lord.”
The welcoming of a group of openly gay people to Mass by a leader of Cardinal Tobin’s standing in the Roman Catholic Church in this country would have been unthinkable even five years ago. But Cardinal Tobin, whom Pope Francis appointed to Newark last year, is among a small but growing group of bishops changing how the American church relates to its gay members. They are seeking to be more inclusive and signaling to subordinate priests that they should do the same. ...
Four years ago, Pope Francis shook the Catholic world with his comment about gay priests seeking the Lord: “Who am I to judge?” But it was unclear how his words would affect Catholics seeking acceptance in the pews.

The story, of course, does not include a crucial word found in all discussions of this topic by LGBTQ Catholics who strive to live out the teachings of their church -- "Confession."

When Pope Francis referred to gay priests who are "seeking the Lord," the implication was that these priests were wrestling with their temptations and sins in Confession. (Click here for a transcript and discussion of news coverage of this issue.)

Thus, who was Francis to judge? This issue was between the sinner and his spiritual father and, of course, the ultimate judge was God. Was this the message in Newark?

But never mind doctrinal details like that. This Times story entered into this week's "Crossroads" discussion for another reason. (Click here to tune in that podcast.)

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Thinking about America's new sort-of-civil war: Dividing lines are politics, religion and ...

Thinking about America's new sort-of-civil war: Dividing lines are politics, religion and ...

Yes, it's the "Jesusland" map again.

With good cause. Trust me on that.

I can't think of a better illustration, when it comes to the following must-read think piece by David French, one of our nation's most important #NeverTrump cultural conservatives.

But first, if you never read his National Review piece describing the alt-right's war on his family, because of his opposition to the candidacy of Donald Trump, then read it now. Here is the unforgettable first sentence: "I distinctly remember the first time I saw a picture of my then-seven-year-old daughter’s face in a gas chamber."

Now he is back, with a think piece about the bitter, growing, divisions at the heart of America's alleged public life. This piece -- "We’re Not in a Civil War, but We Are Drifting Toward Divorce" -- contains so many must-booknote URLs and Big Ideas linked to religion news that I hardly know where to start or stop. You know how it is when a book hits you so hard that you basically highlight 90 percent of its contents, turning it into a sea of yellow patches?

The big idea: 

Our national political polarization is by now so well established that the only real debate is over the nature of our cultural, political, and religious conflict. Are we in the midst of a more or less conventional culture war? Are we, as Dennis Prager and others argue, fighting a kind of “cold” civil war? Or are we facing something else entirely?
I’d argue that we face “something else,” and that something else is more akin to the beginning stages of a national divorce than it is to a civil war.

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Fading color purple: America's cultural divisions getting worse, election after election

Fading color purple: America's cultural divisions getting worse, election after election

For various reasons, I didn't get to post a "think piece" this weekend. A "think piece," on this blog, is an essay linked to the news that raises or discusses an issue that I believe is directly linked to religion trends and events that are in the news.

So please consider the following short-ish piece from FiveThirtyEight a kind of holiday weekend thinker for you to scan on your smartphones while flipping burgers at your grills (or pulling pork out of smokers here in the hills of East Tennessee).

To be honest with you, there is little or no religion content in this piece -- which is precisely why it fascinated me. The double-decker headline proclaims:

Purple America Has All But Disappeared
Counties are increasingly super red or super blue, with less and less in between

Purple, of course, represents compromise between liberal blue (urban) and conservative red (Middle America and/or flyover country). The whole fascination with red counties and blue counties really began with that famous USA Today graphic following the 2000 George W. Bush vs. Al Gore race.

What does purple mean on the ground? In my experience, it means liberal social values and conservative economics (think libertarian). On the other hand, it could refer to people who are progressive on economics and conservative on moral issues (think abortion and, now, religious liberty). However, the evidence I have seen indicates that prog pro-lifers, to pick one possible label, have primarily been voting GOP at the national level, due to concerns about the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whatever it means, purple people are an endangered species. The overture in this think piece notes:

President Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was among the narrowest in history, and the country is deeply split on his job performance so far. But if you feel like you hardly know anyone who disagrees with you about Trump, you’re not alone: Chances are the election was a landslide in your backyard.

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