Frederick Brennan created 8chan, hyped eugenics and then became a Christian (-30-)

Frederick Brennan created 8chan, hyped eugenics and then became a Christian (-30-)

Destroyer of Worlds” by Nicky Woolf is a longform profile of a man who helped spread shortform jibber-jabber. The platform for this piece is Tortoise Media in London, a worthy journalistic venture with a witty name: in a culture of ceaseless notifications, pseudo-events and listicles of outrage, it strives to slow readers down with subscription-funded longform reporting.

The profile’s headline creates a hope that here is a journalist with religion literacy. It alludes to a verse from the Bhagavid Gita that theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer said he thought about during the successful test of the atomic weapon he helped create.

Tortoise editor Ceri Thomas loses no time in warning readers that in creating the Web space known as 8chan (which I have no interest in visiting), Fredrick Brennan did a very, very bad thing:

There’s no room for argument about whether hate-filled internet message boards encourage real-world violence: they do, and none more so than 8chan. It normalises racism, misogyny, and extremism — and helps turn nightmarish, loud-mouthed talk of action into reality. What kind of person would set up a site like 8chan? 

The question matters if we’re serious about trying to regulate it, or prevent similar sites coming into being. We might assume that the brains behind 8chan would belong to a committed, hard-line ideologue; someone, perhaps, we could identify and deal with. But what if other impulses are in play? How do we deal with the motivating power of poverty, disability, anger and self-loathing? Meet Fredrick Brennan.

Likewise, Woolf spends considerable time warning readers away from what is possibly the most concentrated evil (click for classic movie finale) since Terry Gilliam directed Time Bandits in 1981.

But when Woolf has an exquisite plot twist — Brennan became a Catholic — this amazingly symbolic development becomes a drive-by detail in a penultimate paragraph.

How symbolic? Brennan, who suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta (brittle bone disease), spent several years writing about his attraction to eugenics, on the theory that it could have prevented his suffering by preventing his birth. But that attraction has dimmed a bit since his conversion:

He is married, has converted to Christianity, and spends his time designing his own fonts. Asked what he would say to his 14-year-old self, he pauses. “Um. It sounds like a cliché, but it gets better. You’re not going to feel like that for ever.”

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More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

More Washington Post editorial-page news: Stunning Reagan letter about faith and eternity

I was never a Ronald Reagan fan. Like many blue dog, pro-life Bible Belt Democrats, I found it impossible to vote for him. One of my closest graduate school friends said that he lost his Christian faith (I am not joking) because he could not worship a God who allowed Reagan to reach the White House.

Reagan was a B-grade actor, a talented but shallow politico. Thus, I was surprised when the evidence began to emerge that Reagan did most of his own reading and writing. It turned out that all of those pre-politics Reagan radio commentaries were not produced by ghost writers and then read on the air by a PR pro. Reagan wrote them, in longhand. He wrote those punch lines. He wrote the paragraphs summarizing all of those books and journal articles.

As a Jimmy Carter-era evangelical, I also had doubts about the depth of Reagan’s Midwestern, old-school mainline Protestant faith.

I say all of that because of an amazing feature that ran the other day in The Washington Post under this headline: “A private letter from Ronald Reagan to his dying father-in-law shows the president’s faith.” It was written by editorial-page columnist Karen Tumulty.

Once again, we face a familiar question: Why was this a topic for an editorial-page feature, instead of the front page or, perhaps, in the newspaper’s large features section? Where would this feature appeared if a letter had emerged containing revelatory information about Reagan’s views on the Soviet Union, his thoughts on aging or even his views on abortion?

Don’t get me wrong. This is a fine essay and the subject material is gripping. The overture:

Something tugged at Ronald Reagan on that otherwise slow August weekend in 1982.

“Again at the W.H.,” the president noted in his diary. “More of Saturdays work plus a long letter I have to write to Loyal. I’m afraid for him. His health is failing badly.”

Loyal Davis, Reagan’s father-in-law and a pioneering neurosurgeon, was just days away from death.

Something else worried Reagan: The dying man was, by most definitions of the word, an atheist.

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God is in the faith details? The messy, complicated lives of Norma 'Jane Roe' McCorvey

God is in the faith details? The messy, complicated lives of Norma 'Jane Roe' McCorvey

If you ever talked with Norma McCorvey, you know that there was one thing that she wanted journalists to do more than anything else: To tell her story, with all of its messy and complicated details.

She had more than her share of regrets. She had deep sorrows and, through the years, crossed an ocean of shame. As "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade she was a footnote in just about every textbook used in an American History class, at any level of education. Yet, from her point of view, she was famous because of a lie at the heart of her own life.

She knew that she could not make her lies go away. But she did want journalists to allow Americans to hear her tell the story of when she lied, why she lied and how she came to regret what legal activists built with the help of her most famous lie. Thus, she told her story over and over and over, while also trying to walk the walk of a conception to natural death Catholic pro-lifer.

The key point: For McCorvey, her adult life begins with lies and ends with attempts to live out the truth. For those on the cultural left, her public life began with truth and then sank into sad confusion and religious sentiment.

Now McCorvey has died, at age 69. That means that almost every newsroom in America will offer some version of her story -- one last time. How many of the scandalous details of her complicated life will make it into print? When looking at the mainstream obits, there is one key detail to examine: How seriously did each news organization take McCorvey's conversion to Roman Catholicism?

Let's start with the Associated Press, since that feature will appear in the vast majority of American newspapers. To its credit, the AP piece puts both halves of the McCorvey journey in the lede, where they belong.

DALLAS (AP) -- Norma McCorvey, whose legal challenge under the pseudonym “Jane Roe” led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision that legalized abortion but who later became an outspoken opponent of the procedure, died Saturday. She was 69.

A few lines later there is this crucial summary of her life -- stated from McCorvey's own point of view, drawn from an autobiography.

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The state of Donald Trump's soul: Lots of chortles and, so far, few factual questions

The state of Donald Trump's soul: Lots of chortles and, so far, few factual questions

At least once a month, I receive some kind of angry email (or perhaps see comments on Facebook) from someone who is upset about mainstream press coverage of President Barack Obama that identifies him as a Christian.

Very few of these notes come from people who think Obama is a closet Muslim. Mostly, they come from doctrinally conservative Christians whose churches clash with the Obama White House on moral and cultural issues, most of them having to do with the Sexual Revolution. What they are saying, of course, is, "Obama isn't one of us." His actions show that.

Of course he isn't one of them. But it's perfectly accurate for journalists to note that the president has made a profession of faith (numerous times) as a liberal mainline Protestant. He walked the aisle and joined a congregation in the United Church of Christ, the bleeding edge of the liberal Protestant world, and has, functionally, been an Episcopalian while in the White House. Before becoming president he was quite candid about the details of his faith (the essential interview here). Obama has a liberal Christian voice.

This, of course, brings us to the God-and-politics story de jour right now -- the online interview in which Dr. James Dobson, once the creator of the Focus on the Family operation, says that he knows the person who recently led Donald Trump to born-again faith.

You can imagine the Twitter-verse reaction to this news, coming so soon after that closed-door New York City meeting between Trump and about 1,000 selected evangelical leaders. Here is the crucial material from The New York Times, which, as you can imagine, opened with a question lede. Then:

In an interview recorded ... by a Pennsylvania pastor, the Rev. Michael Anthony, Dr. Dobson said he knew the person who had led Mr. Trump to Christ, though he did not name him.

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Muslims fleeing to Europe: Yes, press can find religion angles in this ongoing tragedy

Muslims fleeing to Europe: Yes, press can find religion angles in this ongoing tragedy

Earlier this week, I wrote a post -- "Refugees flee ISIS: Maybe there is a religion angle in this tragic story? Maybe?" -- in which I complained that quite a few journalists are having trouble spotting some big religion ghosts in the life-and-death story of thousands of refugees fleeing Islamic State persecution.

To demonstrate what I am talking about, I asked a rather basic journalistic question: Who are these refugees? Let's flash back:

They are the people who rejected the reign of ISIS. ... The answer is complex, but one fact is simple. It's impossible to talk about this refugee crisis without talking about the religion angle, because the refugees are either members of minority religions in the region, including thousands of displaced Christians, or centrist Muslims or members of Muslim-related sects that are anathema to ISIS leaders.

Sometimes, after making that kind of complaint, it is good to pause and find an example of a mainstream news report that GETS IT, that sees the ghost in this kind of story and tries to help readers understand what is happening. This brings me to a recent Associated Press "Big Story" feature about the phenomenon of Muslims converting to Christianity in Germany.

Refugees? To varying degrees, it appears.

Cynics are asking a blunt, and logical, question: If some members of oppressed minorities in the Middle East are converting to Islam to save, literally, their necks, might many Muslims in Europe be tempted to convert to Christianity in order to strengthen their cases for asylum? After all, can you imagine what would happen to Muslims who converted to Christianity if they are returned to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan or some other troubled land?

You can see that logic unfold in the anecdotal lede:

BERLIN (AP) -- Mohammed Ali Zonoobi bends his head as the priest pours holy water over his black hair. "Will you break away from Satan and his evil deeds?" pastor Gottfried Martens asks the Iranian refugee. "Will you break away from Islam?"

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Jewish & Christian? Weekend think piece I would have posted, except I was driving on mountain roads

Jewish & Christian? Weekend think piece I would have posted, except I was driving on mountain roads

When I was growing up Southern Baptist in Texas, the "intermarriage" issue that everyone talked about was unions of Baptists and Catholics, especially Cajuns. Some people worried that folks involved in these marriages would lose touch with their faith -- period -- and that children would be raised either confused or apathetic.

It wasn't until I hit graduate school at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign that, while doing a readings class on trends in post-Holocaust Jewish life, I hit a large body of material about interfaith marriages between Christians and Jews and the their impact on Jewish demographics.

Then, in the early 1980s, I moved to Denver and ended up covering story after story linked to the famous Denver Jewish Population Study of 1981. Although this study touched on a wide variety of issues, the one that everyone ended up focusing on was the rising number of interfaith marriages and how many of the resulting children were being raised, in any meaningful sense of the word, as Jews.

It was the front edge of a national wave of debate on this topic that continues to this day. Hold that thought.

The moment that I remember the most vividly was a seminar in which a rabbi, putting a poignant spin on some of the data, pled with parents in interfaith marriages not to raise their children in both faiths at the same time. Pick one, he said, because the dual-faith approach actually teaches children that faith is confusing and irrelevant. A child in an interfaith home who is raised Christian has a better chance of choosing to practice the Jewish faith later in life than a child "raised in both," since most of these children end up with no meaningful faith at all.

Today, we would say that this rabbi was warning that most children "raised both" end up becoming "nones," joining the ranks of the religiously unaffiliated.

This brings me to an interesting think piece in The Forward that, literally, I saw on my smartphone yesterday during a break in my family's drive back to Oak Ridge from some downtime in the North Carolina mountains.

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It's past time for New York Times to correct report that beheaded American converted to Islam

It's past time for New York Times to correct report that beheaded American converted to Islam

"Is it a fact?"

That was the simple question GetReligion asked back in October after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley — an avowed Catholic — made a "sincere" conversion to Islam before his death.

Four months later, we revisited the issue when the Times produced an in-depth piece seriously exploring Foley's faith and asking many of the questions that its first story failed to acknowledge. We noted that the second piece linked to GetReligion's post questioning the original report.

Now, the Times is facing more heat for its handling of Foley's faith — this time from the victim's brother. The newspaper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, addresses the issue in her Sunday column.

Sullivan writes:

I was drawn into this subject when I received a letter in February from Michael Foley, the younger brother of James Foley, an American journalist in Syria kidnapped in 2012. Last summer, he was the first of the Americans held hostage by ISIS to be murdered, his beheading recorded in a horrific video seen worldwide.
Michael Foley contends that Times articles portrayed his brother inaccurately — particularly when they depicted him as an enthusiastic convert to Islam and as someone who had been repeatedly waterboarded and routinely beaten. He also takes issue with the description of American and British hostages being singled out for extra abuse. Those things aren’t true, he says, and The Times should correct the record.

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New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

New York Times revisits Catholic-bred beheading victim James Foley's reported conversion to Islam

Four months ago, I raised questions after The New York Times reported that Islamic State beheading victim James Foley made a sincere conversion from Catholicism to Islam during his captivity.

Given the circumstances, I asked whether Foley's "conversion" really should be presented as a fact.

At the time, the Times reporter who wrote the story defended the newspaper's characterization of Foley's conversion.


Rome bureau chief Jim Yardley's 1,500-word story tackles important questions concerning Foley's faith that the original Times story ignored.

Let's start at the top:

VATICAN CITY — The Islamic State’s beheading in August of the journalist James Foley stirred global outrage, fury and despair. But for many of his fellow Roman Catholics, Mr. Foley’s death in Syria transformed him into a symbol of faith under the most brutal of conditions.
One Catholic essayist compared him to St. Bartholomew, who died for his Christian faith. Others were drawn to Mr. Foley’s account of praying the rosary during an earlier captivity in Libya. Even Pope Francis, in a condolence call to Mr. Foley’s parents, described him as a martyr, according to the family.
Then came an unexpected twist: It turned out that Mr. Foley was among several hostages in Syria who had converted to Islam in captivity, according to some freed captives. What had been among some Catholics a theological discussion of faith and heroic resistance quickly shifted to a different set of questions:
Is any conversion under such duress a legitimate one? Why would a man who had spoken so openly about his Catholic faith turn to Islam? Given his circumstances, is it even surprising if he did?

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