Lord's Prayer

Long on generalizations, short on concrete sources: CNN tackles a school prayer dispute in Louisiana

Long on generalizations, short on concrete sources: CNN tackles a school prayer dispute in Louisiana

I like some things about a long piece CNN published last week concerning a school prayer dispute in Louisiana:

1. It's conversational and easy to read.

2. It devotes a substantial amount of space to a religion issue.

3. It delves into an interesting church-state case.

But the more of the story I read, the more frustrated I became: This is one of those stories that  falls into the category of "a mile wide and an inch deep."

That is, for all the words used, there is not a whole lot of real meat to the story. Readers hear mostly from a 17-year-old student upset with her school starting the day with the Lord's Prayer.

Please don't misunderstand me: Based on the facts presented by CNN, I can understand that student's concern from a constitutional perspective.

But the journalistic problem is this: The 17-year-old's perspective is weaved around vague, generalized characters who — especially through the first big chunks of the piece — don't have names. They are cardboard-cutout figures lacking the nuance and complexity one would expect to find in real life.

Here's how the piece opens:

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Those familiar Lord’s Prayer phrases at issue: Does God lead us into temptation?

Those familiar Lord’s Prayer phrases at issue: Does God lead us into temptation?

The memorized “Lord’s Prayer” is so frequently recited by countless Christians that it can be easy to slide past what the familiar words are saying.

For instance, how do we understand its most puzzling phrase: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13 per the King James Version and many other English translations. A condensed wording for the prayer also appears in Luke 11:2-4).

So, does God lead us into temptation? Why would He? After all, the New Testament tells us elsewhere, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man” (James 1:13, also King James wording).

Pope Francis delved into this in December during a series about the Lord’s Prayer on the Italian bishops’ TV channel. “It is not a good translation because it speaks of a God who induces temptation,” he said. Rather, “I am the one who falls; it’s not Him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen. ... It’s Satan who leads us into temptation; that’s his department.”

The pontiff suggested this colloquial paraphrase: “When Satan leads us into temptation, You, please, give me a hand.” More formally, he embraced the wording recently adopted by the church in France: “Do not let us fall into temptation.”

U.S. Catholics’ New American Bible formerly read “subject us not to the trial,” while the 2011 revised edition says “do not subject us to the final test.” An official footnote explains, “Jewish apocalyptic writings speak of a period of severe trial before the end of the age, sometimes called the ‘messianic woes.’ This petition asks that the disciples be spared that final test.”

Some scholars adopt that end-times interpretation, but there are other choices. Experts also disagree on whether believers ask delivery from abstract “evil” or from a personal “evil one,” namely the Devil. Here The Religion Guy will bypass that one.

Other modern translations:

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New York Times trips on pope's 'Lord's Prayer' story, but Houston Chronicle recovers

New York Times trips on pope's 'Lord's Prayer' story, but Houston Chronicle recovers

If it is possible to be simultaneously perceptive and as dense as odium, which I believe is the most dense material on the planet, then The New York Times is our winner.

Someone decided to head a report on something Pope Francis is thinking about in this manner: "Lost in Translation? Pope Ponders an Update to Lord’s Prayer." Yes, the word "update" appears in the first paragraph, too, but I wonder if it's the right word to use.

More on that in just a moment. Meanwhile, take in the opening of this story:

ROME -- It has been a question of theological debate and liturgical interpretation for years, and now Pope Francis has joined the discussion: Does the Lord’s Prayer, Christendom’s resonant petition to the Almighty, need an update?
In a new television interview, Pope Francis said the common rendering of one line in the prayer -- “lead us not into temptation” -- was “not a good translation” from ancient texts. “Do not let us fall into temptation,” he suggested, might be better because God does not lead people into temptation; Satan does.
“A father doesn’t do that,” the pope said. “He helps you get up right away. What induces into temptation is Satan.”
In essence, the pope said, the prayer, from the Book of Matthew, is asking God, “When Satan leads us into temptation, You please, give me a hand.”

My first journalism problem is that word "update." We are, after all, talking about the meaning of words taken from scripture, words ascribed to Jesus of Nazareth, no less. I'm not at all certain the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church is into "updating" Scripture.

It may seem like a minor point, but words do matter. What I believe the pope is suggesting is perhaps a revised translation, but that's not an update, is it? Is the actual issue a matter of translation?

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Concerning the Church of England, the Lord's Prayer and the Star (culture) Wars

Concerning the Church of England, the Lord's Prayer and the Star (culture) Wars

It was a question that nagged defenders of the English monarchy for years: If and when he ever became king, would Prince Charles declare himself to be the "Defender of Faith," as opposed to "Defender of the Faith"?

In a way, the chance that the crucial "the" would go missing was the perfect symbol for decades of tense "multiculturalism" debates in Britain. Drop the "the" and the implication was that Christianity, and the Church of England in particular, would have lost its status as a foundation for English life and culture. The monarch would henceforth defend the IDEA of faith, as opposed to a particular faith. Theological pluralism would be the new norm.

It didn't help, of course, that the Church of England was on the decline, in terms of worship attendance, baptisms, marriages and just about any other statistic that could be cited. Meanwhile, Islam was on the rise. Wasn't dropping this telltale "the" simply a nod to the new reality?

Prince Charles has, fairly recently, stated that his title would remain "Defender of the Faith." However, the cultural identity debates roll on, as witnessed in the stark message of the new report by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life entitled "Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good (click for .pdf)." Its bottom line: England isn't Christian. Get over it. Reactions? Click here for commentary from veteran religion-beat specialist Ruth Gledhill and here for analysis by Jenny Taylor of the Lapido Media religious literacy project.

These painful debates loomed in the background during this week's "Crossroads" podcast. This time around, host Todd Wilken and I discussed the many implications of the decision -- by the principalities and powers of the movie theater business -- to reject the use of that Church of England ad featuring the Lord's Prayer before screenings of the new Star Wars epic. Click here to tune in our discussion of all of this.

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