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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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Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

For weeks, I have been hearing from readers asking me when GetReligion was going to address the Catholic News Agency report about the $120,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to the Religion Newswriters Foundation, which owns Religion News Service.

In one article, CNA noted that the grant listing said that its purpose was to "recruit and equip LGBT supportive leaders and advocates to counter rejection and antagonism within traditionally conservative Christian churches." When announcing the grant, Arcus officials said this grant would help foster a "culture of LGBT understanding through the media” by funding news reports and blogging posts “about religion and LGBT peoples of color.”

RNS Editor Kevin Eckstrom defended his wire service's editorial independence, stressing that this public relations represented "Arcus’ description of their funding, not ours.” It is also crucial to note that the funding connections between RNS and the Religion Newswriters Foundation are complex, to the degree that CNA needed to correct some fine details. Please read that whole report carefully.

In that story, Eckstrom also noted that GetReligion frequently criticizes RNS because its work does not meet our blog's "standard of theological orthodoxy.”

I did not respond, although there is much to be said on these matters. First of all, please note that GetReligion frequently praises the work of RNS and we certainly recognize its crucial role as the only mainstream news operation dedicated to covering the religion beat. Second, let me acknowledge that -- over the past decade -- RNS frequently took interns from the Washington Journalism Center (which is now being rebooted in New York City). Eckstrom and his team, frankly, did a fantastic and gracious job working with my program's students and I will always be grateful for that.

So what can I say about the "theological" issues involved in this discussion? Let's start with some background on journalism "theology."

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Concerning that RNS newsletter: 'Two steps forward ...' means what, precisely?

Concerning that RNS newsletter: 'Two steps forward ...' means what, precisely?

It doesn't take a doctorate in Mass Communications to grasp that the Internet and other forms of digital technology that have emerged in recent decades have changed many elements of "journalism" as we know it.

Your GetReligionistas have written about this many times during the past 11 years. I guess that's because -- as a guy with a mass-comm master's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- I am pretty obsessed with the whole "technology shapes content" idea.

What changes? You know what I'm talking about.

The WWW is great at narrow-casting information into niches, as opposed to offering broadly stated information for debates in one mass culture. Also, the Internet is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- yet a business model built on digital advertising cannot sustain the larger newsroom staffs of the past. Thus, there are fewer scribes doing more and more work as they try seize the attention of readers who are surfing past on waves of digital ink.

What to do? Many believe that it's crucial for these digital journalists to write with a sharp "edge" that helps to define their social-media "brands" in order to appeal to loyal readers who agree with their editorial worldview. Thus, the line between news and analysis and old-fashioned editorializing is becoming harder and harder to see.

Meanwhile, information is expensive (think old-school reporters) while opinion is much cheaper (think armies of bloggers, freelance columnists and think-tank public intellectuals). Thus, more opinion and less basic reporting, with on-the-record interviews with articulate voices on both sides of hot-button debates.

This leads me to the following headline, which stopped me dead in my tracks as I marched through my stack of morning emails.

Two steps forward ... then all this

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New York Times opens door to coverage of what ISIS is saying about Islamic faith

New York Times opens door to coverage of what ISIS is saying about Islamic faith

Before I get to a New York Times piece on efforts to counter Islamic State recruiting programs, let me respond to the many people who have sent me emails asking for my reaction to the massive piece in The Atlantic by Graeme Wood entitled "What ISIS Really Wants."

Well that piece is very long and very serious and, to be honest, I have not read all of it yet. I have been in a series of long meetings in New York City -- linked to my future work at The King's College as Senior Fellow for Media and Religion -- and I have not been able to give Wood's piece the attention that it deserves. I plan to buy a copy today and read in on the train back to Baltimore.

However, the thesis of the piece is clear in the online discussions that have surrounded it: Whatever the Islamic State is, it is a movement that is rooted in its own understanding of Islamic faith, practice and tradition. Thus, it is engaged in a bloody critique of other forms of Islam, as well as the modern and postmodern West. (Click here for a massive Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher post on Wood's piece, and others linked to it.)

Meanwhile, this same subject -- the debate INSIDE Islam about ISIS and its approach to the faith -- shows up in the very interesting A1 piece in the Times that ran under the headline "U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine."

This piece operates on two levels, with most of the content focusing on the ISIS process of "grooming" potential recruits online with attention and, later, even gifts. In this context "grooming," the story notes, is a term "more often used in relation to sexual predators."

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Your weekend think piece: Muslim readers offended by news-you-can-use info bites

Your weekend think piece: Muslim readers offended by news-you-can-use info bites

So you are the New York Times public editor. 

You receive the following in a communication from a reader named Rachel Hall, who is responding -- in part -- to a Times online feature built on a list of violent acts carried out by self-proclaimed Islamic believers, almost always people who go out of their way to link their actions to their faith. You have also received letters from other Muslims protesting the same feature.

Hall writes:

In the article, the author has cherry-picked select cases from across North America, Europe and Australia that have no common threads except that they were planned or perpetrated by a person claiming to be a member of a Muslim community. In today’s world where we are constantly bombarded with a negative narrative about Islam, this kind of reporting only serves to demonize a faith of 1.6 billion people and fuels hate and prejudice against all Muslims who abide not only in North America but around the globe.
The people who perpetrate these acts do not represent me or my faith. They do not represent everyday Muslims, but in reading your article it would be easy to see how someone could be confused and think that all Muslims are terrorists. These extremists have hijacked my faith and yet we don’t hear this reported from news outlets such as yours. Instead, the media perpetually fuels fires of hate by not taking care to differentiate between the actions of a small band of crazy people and billions of average everyday individuals who just want to live their lives in peace.

So you are Margaret Sullivan. Looking at this as a journalism issue, how do your respond? 

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Dear International Business Times: What in the world is the 'Second Trinity'?

Dear International Business Times: What in the world is the 'Second Trinity'?

So here is our thought for today: It's hard for journalists to write accurate news reports about confusing religious topics without a basic knowledge of the doctrinal subject material that is being discussed and often twisted.

That said, it is with some hesitation that I ask GetReligion readers to ponder the top of the recent "Faith and Belief" feature from the International Business TImes that ran under the headline, "Pope Francis Supposedly Claimed Virgin Mary At Second Trinity, At Godhead Level -- Report."

Say what? What in the world is the "Second Trinity"? Hold that thought, because it gets worse.

However, before we plunge in, let me note that -- as someone who has walked the long path from Southern Baptist life to Eastern Orthodox Christianity -- I have had more than my share of conversations with Protestants about what the ancient churches did or did not believe about the Theodokos and her role in the Incarnation. I have also had many conversations with Roman Catholics about the differences that have developed, through the centuries, between Rome and the Eastern Orthodox churches on this topic.

Folks, this is complicated territory. It is almost impossible to write a single paragraph of factual material on this subject without expert help. So with that said, check out the top of this story.

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