UK

Extraordinary actions by pope and Italy draw little USA ink, with the Alfie Evans story (updated)

Extraordinary actions by pope and Italy draw little USA ink, with the Alfie Evans story (updated)

Once again, people who care about religion news have proof -- as if they needed more -- that not everything Pope Francis does and says is worthy of intense coverage by elite news media.

What's the overarching trend?

When Pope Francis sounds small-o "orthodox," it isn't news. When this pope sounds small-p "progressive," it's big news.

Yes, say hello to Dr. James Davison Hunter of "Culture Wars" fame.

The latest case is, of course, the struggle over the body and dignity of British toddler Alfie Evans who, as I type, is still alive and breathing on his own. His hospital room is surrounded by guards just in case his parents or anyone else attempts to carry him to the medical care that is waiting for him in Italy.

Italy? If you read European newspapers you would know all about that. News consumers here in America? Not so much. Here is the top of a short Associated Press update about this religious-liberty crisis:

LONDON -- The parents of a terminally ill British toddler whose case has drawn support from Pope Francis plan to return to the Court of Appeal Wednesday in hope of winning the right to take him to Italy for treatment.

High Court Justice Anthony Hayden on Tuesday rejected what he said was the final appeal by the parents of 23-month-old Alfie Evans, who suffers from a degenerative neurological condition that has left him in a "semi-vegetative state." ...

But Alfie's parents, who are backed by a Christian pressure group, have been granted a chance to challenge that ruling at the appeals court Wednesday afternoon.

A "Christian pressure group"?

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Welcome to the UnHerd scribes, who also think journalists should, you know, 'get religion'

Welcome to the UnHerd scribes, who also think journalists should, you know, 'get religion'

Now this is what you call an easy weekend "think piece" post.

I had not heard of the just-launched UnHerd blog over in England until a reader sent your GetReligionistas a URL for a post that was guaranteed to get our attention. More on that in a minute.

Here is the top of an article in The Spectator about the launch of this interesting new blog featuring news and commentary.

A new star is born today into the centre-right blogosphere: UnHerd. The latest brainchild of Tim Montgomerie, founder of ConservativeHome, it has launched with a mission statement to ‘dive deep into the economic, technological and cultural challenges of our time’. Its launch blogs show a wide mix of subjects: a YouGov poll revealing the low regard with which the public view traditional news media, Peter Franklin on why we should get ready for Prime Minister Corbyn, James Bloodworth on the crash ten years on and Graeme Archer on how meat-eating may come to be seen as barbaric by our grandchildren.
UnHerd is also marked out by its financing model. It has no paywall; all articles will be free to read with the costs covered by an endowment from Sir Paul Marshall. He is a former Liberal Democrat donor and a Brexit backer -- but, unlike the others, has not run away from the field.

Well, it was another early UnHerd post that caught the attention of a GetReligion reader and, thus, your GetReligionistas. The catchy headline on that short, but provocative, post by religion researcher Katie Harrison of greater London?

Why journalism needs to get religion

You can see how that might get the attention of folks at this here blog.

 

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The New York Times runs two Charlie Gard editorials, with one in the news pages

The New York Times runs two Charlie Gard editorials, with one in the news pages

At the heart of the tragic Charlie Gard case are two clashing values.

On one side: Doctors and UK officials who argue that they have the power to rule that cutting life support, and ceasing an further experimental treatments, is in the child's best interest.

On the other side are the stricken infant's parents, who believe that they should have the right to care for their child with their own funds and with the help of other doctors who want to treat him.

Pope Francis, of course, issued a statement backing the rights of the parents:

“The Holy Father follows with affection and commotion the situation of Charlie Gard, and expresses his own closeness to his parents. ... He prays for them, wishing that their desire to accompany and care for their own child to the end will be respected.”

It's impossible to understand this story without a clear presentation of the parental rights claim, which clashes with the rights articulated by UK officials and a specific set of medical experts. There are two essential points of view.

Editors at The New York Times know this, of course. They know this because one of their own columnists -- while expressing his convictions -- clearly described the standoff. However, it's interesting to note that the latest Times news story on this case covers the arguments of the state, but contains zero clear references to the parental-rights arguments. The pope is mentioned, for example, but the content of his words was ignored.

In other words, the Times ran two editorials: one an op-ed column and the other, alas, an unbalanced, advocacy news report in the news pages.

Columnist Ross Douthat opened his essay like this:

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The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

 The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

How many Jews does it take to write a newspaper story about same-sex education in private schools?

When the article is about an Orthodox Jewish school, it would be nice to have at least one.

It would be especially appropriate to quote an Orthodox Jewish scholar familiar with British laws affecting religious liberty.

The Independent ran an article on a government report that found an Orthodox Jewish girls school did not meet its standards in providing instruction to its pre-teen students on LGBT issues. The article entitled “Private Jewish school fails third Ofsted inspection for not teaching LGBT issues” is a fiasco, in terms of journalistic integrity.

It talks about and around the subject of the story, giving voice to critics, but does not speak with the subjects -- not one person who could offer an explanation why a Jewish Orthodox school might not be all that keen to conform to the cultural standards of The Independent and its left-wing readers.

The lede sets the tone for the story -- by being shown false by the second sentence of the story and setting forth The Independent’s biases.

A private, faith-based school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

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The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

A hackneyed phrase, I admit. But the question it poses is relevant to several important questions in the newspaper business.

What comes first, advertising or content?

Do you tailor your content to generate the greatest number of readers (or "hits" or "clicks" on-line), or do you generate content that attracts readers seeking balanced reporting?

Do you seek advertisers first, or readers whom advertisers seek to reach?

This question loomed large in my mind as I read a recent article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “'Astonishing' rise in demand for exorcisms putting mental health at risk, report finds.” In this story, the Telegraph has chosen to sensationalize an item rather than report faithfully.

The title of the piece recycles the war between science and religion so beloved by bores. Not hirsute, feral pigs, mind you, but the dreary sort of folk one comes across in the chattering classes.

The suggestion raised in the title is softened slightly by the lede -- moving the problem from the war between science and religion to the war between science and the religion of immigrants. It states:

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It would appear first UK 'same-sex Muslim wedding' featured nice clothes and that's that

It would appear first UK 'same-sex Muslim wedding' featured nice clothes and that's that

If your GetReligionistas have said it once, we have said it a thousand times since we opened our digital doors 13 years ago: There is no one, monolithic Islam.

Thus, there is no one Muslim "Tradition," with a big-T. There is no Muslim Vatican or college of cardinals. There is no conference that speaks with one voice, like the annual gathering of the Southern Baptist Convention. There is no Islamic equivalent of the global Anglican Lambeth Conference (which, come to think of it, doesn't speak for all Anglicans these days).

With that in mind, let's ponder this: What makes a "Muslim wedding" a real Muslim wedding?

This question is not easy to answer, since in Islam weddings do not have the same kind of sacramental significance that they have, let's say, in Christianity. But two things appear to be clear and they create a kind of creative tension linked to this subject.

(1) When people talk about Islamic wedding traditions they often discuss fine details -- clothing, rituals, social events, even the amount of religious content -- linked to the culture in which the rite is taking place.

(2) In Islam, weddings have strong legal, as opposed to sacramental, implications. The key is that the rite creates a relationship that is viewed as legally binding in a Muslim community. Thus, it is a Muslim wedding.

With that in mind, consider this Time magazine headline: "This History-Making Couple Just Had One of the U.K.'s First Same-Sex Muslim Weddings." Here is the heart of this short story:

Newlyweds Jahed Choudhury and Sean Rogan are helping make history in the U.K., which legalized same-sex marriage in 2013.

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Anglicans OK casual-dress liturgical option: Did The Guardian know this is part of an old war?

Anglicans OK casual-dress liturgical option: Did The Guardian know this is part of an old war?

As a rule, your GetReligionistas critique religion-beat stories in the mainstream press when journalists get something really right or really wrong. Often we simply note the presence of "religion ghosts" in stories, our term for a religion-shaped hole in the content that makes it hard for readers to know what is going on.

On weekends, I often point readers toward "think pieces" linked to religion-beat trends and issues -- essays, op-ed page columns, etc. -- that we wouldn't normally feature, because of our emphasis on basic news reporting.

The following piece from The Guardian -- "Clergy to ditch their robes in further sign of dress-down Britain" -- is a little bit of all of this.

First, it's a news piece about a highly symbolic and rather edgy decision made by the Church of England. Second, it contains material that -- think-piece style -- points to larger trends in England. Finally, while the story is pretty solid, it does contain an important hole that editors could have filled with a few sentences of content by a religion-beat pro who knew what she or he was doing.

The overture does a great job of putting this church decision in a wider cultural context:

First it was ties in parliament, now it is surplices at communion.
Following Speaker John Bercow’s decision last month to relax the convention requiring male MPs to wear jackets and ties in parliament, the Church of England is to allow clergy to conduct services in civvies.
The C of E’s ruling body, the synod, meeting in York, has given final approval to a change in canon law on “the vesture of ordained and authorised ministers during the time of divine service”. The measure needs to be approved by the Queen, who swapped her crown for a hat at last month’s state opening of parliament in another sign of dress-down Britain.

So what, pray tell, is a "surplice"? What are "vestments"?

This is where The Guardian team needed to add a few extra sentences. For starters, the editors seemed to think that all Christian bodies are branches on the same tree, when it comes to traditions about liturgical details. Instead, this latest Anglican innovation is yet another sign of a church body moving toward Protestant influences and away from it's ties to ancient Catholic and Orthodox traditions.

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Teen sex and pregnancy in UK: The Daily Mail and The Times abstain from discussing religion

Teen sex and pregnancy in UK: The Daily Mail and The Times abstain from discussing religion

“If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it,” argued Ronald Reagan.

A study released last month in Britain reports this maxim is true not only of economics, but sex. 

The Daily Mail, The Times and other outlets report that claims that cutting government spending on sexual education would lead to a rise in teen pregnancy have been shown to be untrue.

Researchers actually discovered the obverse: cutting sex-ed spending leads to a decline in the rate of teen pregnancies. The question GetReligion readers will want answered, of course, is this: Might there be a religious or moral angle to this news story?

The lede in the May 30, 2017, story in The Times entitled “Teenage pregnancies decline as funding for sex education is cut” states: 

Teenage pregnancy rates have been reduced because of government cuts to spending on sex education and birth control for young women, according to a study that challenges conventional wisdom. The state’s efforts to teach adolescents about sex and make access to contraceptives easier may have encouraged risky behavior rather than curbed it, the research suggests.

The Times story is behind their paywall, but the Daily Mail’s version, entitled “Sex education classes DON'T help to curb teenage pregnancy rates and may encourage youngsters to have unprotected intercourse” lays out the same story.

 

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Must reporters take a man at his word? UK paper caught in a 'Quaker' conundrum

Must reporters take a man at his word? UK paper caught in a 'Quaker' conundrum

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.” “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master -- that's all.”

-- From "Through the Looking Glass," by Lewis Carroll

A story in a local newspaper in the U.K. caught my eye this week, raising questions on the nature of truth and the craft of journalism.  

The news that the Rev. Philip Young was standing for election to Parliament in the forthcoming General Election is of interest to the retired vicar’s family and friends -- and the electors of Suffolk no doubt. But I expect little notice to be taken of the news.

What I found of interest, from a professional journalist’s perspective, is the descriptors the subject of the story used in talking about himself. Young is identified as a retired clergyman of the Church of England -- but also as a Quaker and a Franciscan.

Young’s claim raises the philosophical question for journalists: to what extent may a person identify themselves? What shapes reality? Is it the social construction given by the subject of a story, or an outside arbiter -- an eternal truth, natural law, the Associated Press Stylebook? Which, to borrow from Humpty Dumpty, is to be master?

This issue arises on questions of gender these days. Is it Bruce or Caitlyn Jenner?

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