The New York Times magazine

Is Marianne Williamson being sidelined as a serious candidate because of her spirituality?

Is Marianne Williamson being sidelined as a serious candidate because of her spirituality?

I know next to nothing about Marianne Williamson, in terms of basic facts, and most religion reporters I know are in the same boat. She’s hard to classify. Is she all about religion? Or spiritual but not religious? Guru of mysticism? Inner healing? It’s hard to tell. Although she once led a church of some kind or another, she never got ordained.

She dislikes being called a “spiritual leader;” rather she prefers being called an author. When I was a religion reporter, her books never ended up on my desk for review. I am guessing they got sent to someone on the lifestyle desk.

Sure she talks about prayer. But who or what is she praying to? Thus, I was interested in a recent profile on her by the New York Times Magazine on “The Gospel according to Marianne Williamson.”

However, I don’t think the article really goes into the facts and doctrines of Williamson’s gospel.

No surprise there. Feature writer Taffy Brodesser-Akner asks the same question that conservatives do: Why does the mere mention of religion or spirituality in the public square automatically make one suspect? The following quotes are long, but essential:

The first problem with Marianne Williamson is what do you call her. The other candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination lead with their impressive elected titles: “Governor,” “Senator,” “Mayor.” She’s a lot of fancy things herself: a faith leader, a spiritual guide on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” a New Age guru. But she knows that when people use terms like that outside the nearly $10 billion self-help industry, where a person like her is sought, they mean it to dismiss her. …

She has a patrician, mid-Atlantic accent that she has taped over her Texan accent — she was raised in Houston. She talks so fast, like a movie star from the ’40s, no hesitations, as if the thoughts came to her fully formed with built-in metaphors, or sometimes just as straight-up metaphors in which the actual is never fully explained. (“Am I pushing the river? Am I going with the flow? Am I trying to make something happen, or am I in some way being pushed from behind?”) She is prone to exasperated explosions of unassailable logic (“The best car mechanic doesn’t necessarily know the road to Milwaukee!”). A thing she loves to say is: “I’m not saying anything you don’t already know.” This is the self-help magic ne plus ultra, a spoken thing that rings inside your blood like the truth, a thing you knew all along, like ruby slippers you were wearing the whole time.

But is she really repeating everyone’s inner truth?

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This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

This may be a tough question: Does Rupert Murdoch have a soul? Does this question matter?

Every semester, in my Journalism Foundations seminar at The King’s College in New York City, I dedicate a night to the role that Stephen Colbert’s Catholic faith has played in his life and career.

It’s important, of course, to spend some time looking at the humorist’s break-out show — The Colbert Report, on Comedy Central. This show was, of course, a satire focusing on the flamethrower commentary of Bill O’Reilly for Fox News work.

With Colbert, every thing on the show was upside-down and inside-out, with his blowhard conservative character making lots of liberal political points by offering over-the-top takes on some — repeat “some” — conservative stances. I argued that to understand what Colbert was doing, you had to understand O’Reilly and then turn that inside out.

Thus, I asked: What kind of conservative is, or was, O’Reilly? Students always say things like, a “right-wing one?” A “stupid one”? An “ultra-conservative one”? I’ve never had a student give the accurate answer — a Libertarian conservative.

I realize that there have been lively debates about the compatibility of Libertarianism and Catholicism. However, it’s safe to say that most Catholics reject a blend of liberal, or radically individualistic, social policies and conservative economics. Turn that inside out and you have what? Conservative morality and progressive economics?

This brings me to the massive New York Times Magazine deep-dive into the life and career of Rupert Murdoch. Here’s the humble headline on this long, long piece (150 interviews, readers are told) by Jonathan Mahler and Jim Rutenberg: “How Rupert Murdoch’s Empire of Influence Remade the World.”

So the question: What kind of conservative is Murdoch? Is it possible that there is some kind of moral or even religious ghost in this story?

It opens with a rather apocalyptic scene in January, 2018. The 86-year-old press baron — on holiday with his fourth wife, Jerry Hall — has collapsed on the floor of his cabin on a yacht owned by one of his sons. Is this the end? The big question, of course, is, “Who will run the empire after the lord and master is gone?”

So here’s what’s at stake:

Few private citizens have ever been more central to the state of world affairs than the man lying in that hospital bed, awaiting his children’s arrival.

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R-rated 'Game of Thrones' is also grist for debates about a second 'R' -- religion

R-rated 'Game of Thrones' is also grist for debates about a second 'R' -- religion

Last week, the New York Times magazine produced a fawning piece about George R.R. Martin, fantasy’s “reigning king” because of his seminal “Game of Thrones” series, now at five (immense) books.

I say “fawning” because the story was only on the series’ amazing success and not on the major problems Martin is having at finishing up his series. More on that in a bit. The goal, eventually, is to discuss whether the Times or any other publication has has shown any interest in the role of religion in this global hit.

These books started coming out in 1996, then continued in a (sort of) steady clip until 2011 with the release of book five. Book six, “The Winds of Winter,” was supposed to be out by 2016 at the latest, but the writer got caught up with helping produce the HBO drama (starting in 2011) Game of Thrones.

I read the first two books some years ago, but, annoyed with non-ending violence, I dropped them. I picked them up again in the fall of 2014 and finished the series while teaching in Fairbanks so as to have something to occupy me during that cold, dark winter. Now I’m making my way through the HBO drama and am nearly finished with the fourth season. As the Times says:

After the HBO show premiered, the world Martin had created became a global phenomenon, and his readership reached heights few authors have ever found — his American peers now include other household names of genre fiction, such as Tom Clancy and Stephen King.

The plot of “ASOIAF,” as fans call it, is concerned largely with events unfolding in and around the continent of Westeros around the year 300 A.C. (“after conquest” of the seven kingdoms in the books). The inciting incident of the series is the death, under suspicious circumstances, of Jon Arryn, who had been serving as hand of the king (chief of staff, basically) to a royal named Robert Baratheon. Arryn’s demise sets in motion a chain of events leading to the murder of King Robert himself, which in turn creates a power vacuum, destabilizing the prevailing political order. After centuries of relative calm, chaos erupts into a full-blown war, involving several of the realm’s great family houses.

Millions of people, of course, knew all of that already.

One reason it’s been taking me so long to get through the HBO series is because I can’t watch the stuff while the kiddo is awake because the violence/gore/explicit sex content is off the charts. Maybe that’s why — of the reams of material written about the book and wildly successful series — comparatively little has been written about the role of religion in the Game of Thrones books.

Not to say there isn’t any.

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Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

If you spent anytime on Twitter and other social media this week (and you're a parent) then you probably noted tweets and posts about that ultra-viral New York Times Magazine feature about teen-agers involved in a porn-literacy class in Boston.

So what is the religion angle here?

What makes this our must-read "think piece" for this weekend?

Well, there is no absolutely religion and/or moral angle to this story at all, according to the Times magazine. at least that appears to be the case based on the content that made it into print. Actually, I guess the moral angle is whether constant porn consumption is in some way negatively shaping how young males view sex and, thus, affecting their sex lives and those of the teens with whom they are having sex.

You can kind of see what's going on in the story's double-decker headline:

What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn
American adolescents watch much more pornography than their parents know -- and it’s shaping their ideas about pleasure, power and intimacy. Can they be taught to see it more critically?

At one point in the story, there is this mild form of moral nervousness, when addressing the issue of whether tax-funded porn classes for teens should actually RECOMMEND some porn sites to parents and students as safer and more sex-positive -- in terms of avoiding violence and truly twisted material -- while warning them about others.

I mean, after all:

That may be more than most parents, even of older teenagers, can bear. But even if parents decided to help their teenagers find these sites, not only is it illegal to show any kind of porn -- good or bad -- to anyone under 18, but, really, do teenagers want their parents to do so? And which ones would parents recommend for teenagers?

Yes, read that a second time and think about it.

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Southern Poverty Law Center gets sued by Christians and Muslims and hardly anyone covers it

Southern Poverty Law Center gets sued by Christians and Muslims and hardly anyone covers it

he Southern Poverty Law Center has had a pretty nice week, getting $1 million from George and Amal Clooney and another $1 million from Apple in the wake of the Charlottesville riots. And from JP Morgan, another $1 million.

But it appears that some of that money may need to go for a legal defense fund now that a conservative Christian organization is suing it for including its name on a hate group list (and on a hate map pictured above). And not only that, but a Muslim is suing the SPLC as well. 

What’s amazing isn’t so much the lawsuit from the Christians, which isn’t unexpected. It’s how, more than 24 hours since the story broke, mainstream media coverage of this story just hasn't happened. Considering how some of the best-known liberal groups or personages just dumped $3 million on the SPLC quite recently, don't you think a lawsuit against it would be news?

As for media -- this is one of those "conservative" news topics -- that have stepped in, Fox News began it this way:

A prominent evangelical ministry has filed a federal lawsuit against the left-leaning Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), saying it defamed the Christian organization as an “active hate group” because it endorses the biblical view of homosexuality.
The clash marks the latest chapter in a growing feud between those who embrace historic monotheistic beliefs, whether Christian, Jewish or Muslim, and progressive activists who have begun targeting mainstream Christian groups that hold traditional beliefs about sex and other issues. 

By the way, Fox is one of the very few media organizations that covered Maajid Nawaz’s lawsuit against the SPLC in June. I looked up who else covered it and I found more conservative-leaning outlets: The National Review, Breitbart.com and the Washington Examiner.

Yes, there was a pre-lawsuit profile by the New York Times magazine. Other than that, there was a lot of silence from the other MSM.

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New York Times Magazine tells dramatic story of Aleppo, minus all that tricky religion stuff

New York Times Magazine tells dramatic story of Aleppo, minus all that tricky religion stuff

Please allow me to start this post with a personal note, so that readers will understand my point of view when I write about Aleppo and the wider conflict in Syria.

When I converted into Eastern Orthodoxy 19 years ago, I joined the ancient Antiochian Orthodox Church -- which for centuries has been based in Damascus. For most of my 19 years in Orthodoxy I have been part of parishes that are largely made of American converts to the faith. But for four years (including Sept. 11, 2001) my family was active in a West Palm Beach, Fla., parish that was predominately made up of people from Syria and Lebanon.

Although I now am now active in a convert-oriented church with Russian roots, I still read Antiochian Orthodox publications. To be blunt: My daily prayers include petitions for the protection of Christians, and all of those suffering, in Damascus, Aleppo and that region.

However, Christians with ties to Syria have a very complex view of events there. I have often, here at GetReligion, quoted a 2013 sermon by an Antiochian leader here in America -- Bishop Basil Essey of Wichita, Kan. -- stating the following:

Anyone who prays for peace in Syria must acknowledge, at the beginning, that "vicious wrongs" have been done on both sides and that "there's really no good armed force over there. No one we can trust. None," concluded Bishop Basil.
"So the choice is between the evil that we know and that we've had for 30-40 years in that part of the world, or another evil we don't know about except what they've shown us in this awful civil war."

This brings me to an amazing, but for me ultimately frustrating, New York Times Magazine piece that ran with this headline: "Aleppo After the Fall -- As the Syrian civil war turns in favor of the regime, a nation adjusts to a new reality -- and a complicated new picture of the conflict emerges."

Note that the defeat of the rebels holding half of Aleppo is referred to as "the fall" of the city. Needless to say, there are others -- and not just enthusiastic supporters of President Bashar Hafez al-Assad -- who see that development as its liberation.

This piece (written in first-person voice by Robert F. Worth) does an amazing job when it comes to letting readers hear from voices on two sides of this story. The problem is that there are three essential voices in this story, if one looks at it from a religious, as opposed to strictly political, point of view. Worth hints at this several times, as in this thesis paragraph:

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As it turns out, hijabs were the most obvious religion issue in Women's March

As it turns out, hijabs were the most obvious religion issue in Women's March

By now we’ve all heard about the Women’s March on Saturday that caused millions of pink-clad people to take to the streets around the world, even in Antarctica. (Even more impressive were the 2,000 people marching in -50º weather in Fairbanks. Now that’s dedication).

But where did faith fit in? Before the event, Religion News Service had a columnist assemble “a Christian packing list” for the march. Jewish Telegraphic Agency did a walk-up describing where two Jewish groups will organize and meet. 

On the day of the March, RNS had two people survey the religious women to be found on the mall, all of them with the religious left. Buzzfeed followed pro-life women and documented the less-than-enthusiastic reception they got. (I wrote about the controversy surrounding them last week.)

The lone mention about religion from the actual speakers at the Washington March was documented by New York Magazine, which broadcast a quote from Janelle Monae (in the above video) who plays mathematician Mary Jackson in the movie “Hidden Figures.”

Janelle Monáe started her speech at the Women’s March on Washington today with a history lesson. “I wanna remind you that it was woman that gave you Dr. Martin Luther King Jr,” she said. “It was woman that gave you Malcolm X. And according to the Bible, it was a woman that gave you Jesus.”

But the big religion topic that most media missed had to do with how one of the major symbols for the event was a woman swathed in an American flag wrapped to look like a hijab.

This intriguing column in the New York Times dealt with the March disintegrating into “a grab-bag of competing victimhood narratives and individualist identities jostling for most-oppressed status.” The writer wondered why Muslim women were one of the oppressed classes named in the “Guiding Vision and Definition Principles of the March” when Jewish and Latino women weren’t mentioned at all. Her explanation:

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That cushy Bart Campolo profile: Why weren't the tough, logical questions asked?

That cushy Bart Campolo profile: Why weren't the tough, logical questions asked?

A lot of folks are talking about a piece in the New York Times Magazine that profiles Bart Campolo, the born-again atheist son Tony Campolo, famous progressive evangelical activist and media-friendly buddy of President Bill Clinton.

This is a very readable, albeit totally non-critical, look at a new spokesman for a growing movement that is linked to the whole coalition of atheists, agnostics, religiously unaffiliated "nones" and the old religious left.

The writer, Mark Oppenheimer, wrote the “Beliefs” column for the Times for six years, at which point he did his own exit interview this past summer. (The most astonishing thing in that interview was his remark that he’s paid $3/word for his freelance work. Maybe .00001 percent of all freelancers get paid sums like that).  

Oppenheimer also did a Q&A with GetReligion back in 2012. The bottom line is that he is a brilliant columnist and magazine-style writer. Those looking for hard-news content are going to be frustrated.

The Campolo article begins with a long intro about a bike accident he had in the summer of 2011 and then:

For most of his life, Campolo had gone from success to success. His father, Tony, was one of the most important evangelical Christian preachers of the last 50 years, a prolific author and an erstwhile spiritual adviser to Bill Clinton. The younger Campolo had developed a reputation of his own, running successful inner-city missions in Philadelphia and Ohio and traveling widely as a guest preacher. An extreme extrovert, he was brilliant before a crowd and also at ease in private conversations, connecting with everyone from country-club suburbanites to the destitute souls he often fed in his own house. He was a role model for younger Christians looking to move beyond the culture wars over abortion or homosexuality and get back to Jesus’ original teachings. Now, lying in a hospital bed, he wasn’t sure what he believed any more.

After the accident:

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