culture wars

God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

God, man, Trump, gender, YouTube, males, the Bible and the omnipresent Jordan Peterson

So who is that Jordan Peterson guy and why is he so popular with some people and so controversial for others?

Yes, after weeks of getting emails from people asking when I was going to write something about Peterson, the other day I took a look at a very God-haunted Washington Post Style piece that ran with this headline: "Jordan Peterson is on a crusade to toughen up young men. It’s landed him on our cultural divide." Now, readers can click here and check out the "Crossroads" podcast that digs into some of this.

The cultural divide is easy to spot and to explore. On one side you have people -- millions of them -- who follow Peterson's every move in the digital marketplace of ideas. Some see him as the next C.S. Lewis (or a perfect example of trends that Lewis opposed). Some see him as the new William F. Buckley.

Some like his calm, blunt take on political correctness -- including issues related to free speech, gender wars, etc. It' this old logic: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

On the other side there are those who use similar logic, only they assume that when someone endorses one thing or the other that Peterson has said, that then links the University of Toronto clinical psychologist to that cause, whatever that may be. For example, see this take at The Forward:

Jordan Peterson is a public intellectual adored by neo-Nazis, white supremacists and conspiracy theorists. The neo-Nazi website the Daily Stormer called Peterson, a Canadian psychology professor-turned-self-help-guru, “The Savior of Western Civilization.” Paul Joseph Watson, a prominent conspiracy theorist for Infowars, has tweeted, “Jordan Peterson for Canadian Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, many who admire Peterson see him as a kind of anti-Donald Trump, a person who is making a case for a culturally conservative approach to life using logic, education and discipline as opposed to, well, America's Tweeter In Chief.

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Washington Post skips key questions in covering doctor's transgender surgery dissent

Washington Post skips key questions in covering doctor's transgender surgery dissent

Pullman, Washington, doesn't get much attention: Trivia buffs might know the city was named for railroad industrialist George Pullman, in the hope that he'd run a rail line through the city. (It went to Spokane instead.) Those deep in the weeds of President Donald Trump's cabinet might know that Secretary of Defense James Mattis was born in Pullman. Apart from those who know that Washington State University is there, Pullman is pretty much under the radar.

Comes now The Washington Post to help change that. Pullman, you see, has jumped into the vanguard of sex-change surgery, technically known as "Vaginoplasty," in which a male's genitals (and nerve endings thereof) are rearranged into a, well, you know.

I'll cut to the journalistic chase: The Washington Post has effectively decided who's right and who's wrong in this story. We can tell from the headline: "A small-town doctor wanted to perform surgeries for transgender women. He faced an uphill battle." Read the opening paragraphs, and the "angle" should be clear:

The surgeon had spent several years preparing -- reading medical journals, finding someone to train him, practicing on cadavers -- until only one hurdle remained: getting permission for the medical procedure he wanted to bring to this small community on the Washington-Idaho border.
“Vaginoplasties,” Geoff Stiller remembered telling the CEO of Pullman Regional Hospital, referring to the surgical construction of vaginas for transgender women. “I want to do them at your hospital.”
Nine months later, Stiller looks back on that conversation as a final moment when his request still seemed like an easy one. Nobody yet had cited Bible verses or argued that culture was blurring the line between men and women. Another doctor at Pullman hadn’t yet sent an email to eight co-workers, who forwarded it around the hospital, with the subject line “Opposition to Transgender Surgery at PRH.” The hospital hadn’t yet received hundreds of letters from the community. Stiller hadn’t yet lost 20 pounds from the stress, nor had he yet anticipated that his request might turn for him into something more -- a fight not just over a surgery, but over what he’d later call a “moral issue.”

This is a long article, even by Post standards.

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Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

Culture War Night at Kauffman Stadium: Kansas City Royals draw criticism for anti-abortion ads

"Thank you, God, for the Kansas City Royals," my friend Cheryl said on Facebook recently.

Like me, Cheryl is a devoted and long-suffering Texas Rangers fan. Sadly, our team is off to a rotten start this season. But at least the Rangers are doing better -- but just barely -- than the Royals, who have the worst record in the American League. (Except, as my friend Murray will be quick to point out, Kansas City won the World Series in 2015, something Texas never has done.)

But forget that baseball religion angle for a minute. This week, the Royals are receiving a bit of national media attention unrelated to their 25-32 record.

A welcome diversion perhaps? Probably not. Yes, there is a non-baseball religion hook here, too.

It seems that Tuesday turned into a sort of unofficial Culture War Night, as USA Today reports:

A national women's advocacy organization says it will fly a banner over the Kansas City Royals’ Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, protesting the team’s advertising agreement with an anti-abortion group. The banner will appear before the Royals’ game against the Houston Astros.
The advocacy group, UltraViolet, is calling for the Royals to cut ties with the Vitae Foundation, an anti-abortion group based in Jefferson City, Mo., that has branded ads on video boards at Royals games and is advertising on the team’s radio broadcasts.
The banner, which will read, “ROYALS FANS DESERVE TRUTH — DROP VITAE,” comes as a result of the Royals’ continued affiliation with Vitae.

Since we focus on journalism here at GetReligion, I have three questions about this story. I'll try not to swing and miss, but I can't promise that.

1. Is this really national news?

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Grating Eggs-pectations? Omission of 'Easter' nod roils world press, British prime minister

Grating Eggs-pectations? Omission of 'Easter' nod roils world press, British prime minister

Perhaps the greatest celebration of the Christian calendar is Easter, the commemoration of Christ's resurrection. Though not specified by that name in the Bible, the fact that Jesus rose on the third day, as promised, is of great comfort and inspiration to believers around the globe.

The resurrection, and not the advent, is what many believers would assert distinguishes Christian faith from other world religions.

Some traditions that have attached themselves to Easter are, one could say, rather extraneous to the biblical narrative. There's no scriptural mention of bunny rabbits or eggs of any sort in connection with the resurrection or with the early church, for that matter. But never mind: such elements of the celebration are enjoyed by many children in many lands.

Youngsters in England's fair and pleasant land, as William Blake called it, were in peril of hunting for special Easter eggs -- chocolate candies, actually -- without knowing that this was Easter.

Forget the calendar, it's the branding that matters. Calling it "Cadbury's Great British Egg Hunt," without the E-word, was this side of blasphemy.

Or so saith the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Dr. John Sentamu, the Church of England's Archbishop of York and Primate of All England, second in rank behind the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Dr. Justin Welby.

Sentamu's complaint was made via Britain's Daily Telegraph, but it jumped the pond rapidly, gaining space in The New York Times, no less:

[Sentamu] lamented that omitting an explicit Easter reference was akin to “spitting on the grave” of John Cadbury, a Quaker who founded the company, which initially sold cocoa and drinking chocolate, in Birmingham in 1824.

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Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

Elvis statues, segregation: Atlanta paper lays Deep South template over Nashville news

The Atlanta Journal Constitution raises Deep South, Civil War-era caricatures in its weekend story on cultural stresses in Tennessee.  And it does so in almost a robotic, paint-by-the-numbers style.

The article strains mightily to contrast urbane, liberal city dwellers with backward, "ignorant" -- yes, one source uses that word -- country folk. It takes a patronizing attitude toward these yahoos and pits people on the street against scholars and think-tankers. It even compares so-called "bathroom bills" in some states with "White" and "Colored" signs from segregation days.

How else to read paragraphs like:

Across the country -- the South in particular -- a wave of bills, proposals and court fights in recent months are again ramping up the culture wars. The measures come in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing same-sex marriage, a decision many religious conservatives see as an assault on their beliefs.

And:

The South finds itself in the middle of that conflict. It’s a place where city folks may have a decidedly different take on social issues than their peers in the country, a region where progressive notions rub up against more traditional, conservative values.

For context, the article brings Georgia's"religious liberty" bill -- complete with sarcasm quotes -- vetoed by Gov. Nathan Deal. There's also Gov. Bill Haslam vetoing a bill to make the Bible the state book in Tennessee, then signing a bill to let counselors refer out people who conflict with their "sincerely held principles" -- yes, more sarcasm quotes -- to reject gay, lesbian, transgender and other clients. Would it be better for these religious counselors to handle these cases, even though they have a clear conflict of interest?

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And there is one more thing: Did press hear what Pope Francis said about abortion?

And there is one more thing: Did press hear what Pope Francis said about abortion?

So Pope Francis had something to say about the theological views of one Donald Trump. You probably heard about that.

During the same in-flight presser while returning to Rome from Mexico (full transcript here), he also addressed a question about contraceptives and the Zika virus. You probably read about that, too. Maybe.

But what did he have to say about abortion, which remains a hot-button subject? Before we get to a very interesting Religion News Service commentary on that, let's flash back for a moment.

As anyone who reads elite newspapers knows, early in the Pope Francis era the mainstream press reported, over and over, that he had ordered Catholic conservatives to stand down when it came to fighting about abortion, marriage and other "culture wars" topics.

Remember that exclusive America interview? Of course you do. It is still be quoted whenever these topics come up in church discussions. Next to the out-of-context "Who am I to judge?" soundbite (that wasn't a soundbite), we are talking about some of the most popular Pope Francis language -- ever. Here's how I summed that up in a column at the time:

... The pope unleashed a media tsunami with a long, candid interview published exclusively in America and other Jesuit magazines around the world. While the pope talked about confession, sin and mercy, one quote leapt into news reports and headlines more than any other.
"We cannot insist only on issues related to abortion, gay marriage and the use of contraceptive methods. This is not possible," he told the interviewer, a fellow Jesuit. "The teaching of the church ... is clear and I am a son of the church, but it is not necessary to talk about these issues all the time."

The strange thing is what happened next, right in the middle of that media storm. The pope addressed -- drawing next to zero coverage -- a gathering of Catholic gynecologists. And what did he have to say?

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Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

Your weekend think piece: Scribe lets God respond to The New York Daily News

So what kinds of thoughts pop into your mind when you are watching a newscast, after some kind of tragedy, and the anchor-person ends a report by saying, "All of our thoughts are with the families involved in this event," or words to that effect.

The key buzz word, of course, is "thoughts." In some parts of America, anchor-people still dare to say "thoughts and prayers."

Either way, here is what I usually think when I hear that: "Really?"

Cynical? You betcha. This brings me, of course, to this week's media storm about The New York Daily News cover -- in the wake of the San Bernardino massacre -- with the infamous "God Isn't Fixing This" banner headline. Click here for Julia Duin's post on the "prayer shaming" debate that followed that piece.

The key, of course, was whether one took the headline as a shot a God, a shot at Republicans who issued statements about praying for the victims (as opposed to calls for gun-control legislation) or as both.

Lots of folks, this week, asked why I thought the Daily News ran that headline. I immediately thought about the numbers in the Pew Forum report that put the "nones" -- the growing number of religiously unaffiliated Americans -- in the news. You may recall that one implication of that survey was that a coalition of secularists, "nones" and our nation's small cohort of religious liberals was now the largest constituency group in today's Democratic Party.

Clearly, Democrats -- with the media that service them -- need to please that base, from time to time (just as Republicans have to worry about the concerns of the very religious). Might the Daily News leaders (who desperately need someone to fund their newspaper) have been courting that audience?

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KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

KHOU takes a quick, and sadly typical, trip into another public classroom culture war

Rare is the week in which your GetReligionistas do not receive some kind of note from a reader pointing us toward a news report in which there are claims that conservative Christians have suffered some kind of discrimination at the hands of the agents of "political correctness," usually public-school officials.

It's pretty clear that the correspondents are primarily upset about the contents of the story, as opposed to the efforts of journalists to cover it. In other words, these readers want GetReligion to publicize or protest THIS CASE, as opposed to critique the coverage.

Now, don't get me wrong. Often the coverage of these stories is pretty lousy, and that's usually just as true in alternative "conservative" media as it is in the mainstream press.

The basic problem is one that reporters face all the time: Once the conflict begins, public officials tend to stop answering questions and hand things over to their public-relations teams. This leaves journalists with quotes from one side of the story -- the angry activists -- and that's that. Some journalists turn this around and only quote the public officials, thus assuming that the people complaining about discrimination are totally out of line and have no facts on their side.

A classic Catch-22.

Consider this recent story from KHOU about an all-too-typical conflict in a public-school classroom in Katy, Texas:

A Katy seventh grader has some strong accusations. She says her teacher asked the class to deny God exists.

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Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

One of the big ideas here at GetReligion is that we live in an age in which many of our comfortable journalistic labels are becoming more and more irrelevant. They simply don't tell readers anything.

For example, there is this puzzle that I have mentioned before. What do you call people who are weak in their defense of free speech, weak in their defense of freedom of association and weak in their defense of religious liberty (in other words, basic First Amendment rights)? The answer: I don't know, but it would be totally inaccurate -- considering the history of American political thought -- to call these people "liberals."

There are other religious and moral puzzles out there on the religion beat, these days. What to do? When in doubt, don't label people. You ask them very specific questions, especially when dealing with religious issues, and you quote what they say.

With this in mind, consider the following slice or two of a short think piece. My question, for journalists who read this: What is the proper cultural label for the speaker? I will ID the speaker at the end.

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