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'Bullets Rarely Miss': Rolling Stone offers faith-free vision of suicides in the American West

 'Bullets Rarely Miss': Rolling Stone offers faith-free vision of suicides in the American West

To the extent that it’s possible to write beautifully about suicide, with sympathetic portraits of people who have killed themselves and of the survivors who must live with the wreckage and agonizing questions of what they could have done differently, Stephen Rodrick has achieved it in “All-American Despair,” a 9,000-word report for Rolling Stone.

This is the type of longform reporting — comparable to the magazine’s field reports from the counterculture’s dance of death at the Altamont Free Concert in 1969 and the trampling of Who fans at a general admission concert in Cincinnati in 1979 — that for many decades made Rolling Stone more than a source for record reviews and lots of first-person-voice (“ … as I drove down the highway with Julia Roberts, I noticed that …”) visits with celebrities.

Yet in these 9,000 words, any concept of God or of a meaningful spiritual side of life is nebulous. The first sentence mentions Toby Lingle’s funeral at Highland Park Community Church after he shot himself.

That’s poignant. Yet there’s no indication of why Highland Park was the host of this somber gathering. Was Lingle an occasional visitor? Was his sister a member? Was it simply a matter of seating capacity?

We learn deeper into the story that whatever faith Lingle had was extinguished by the death of his mother, who protected him from verbal lashings by his father:

Toby and his older brother, Tim, and his sister, Tawny, grew up in the one-gas-station town of Midwest, Wyoming, about 40 miles outside Casper. His graduating class was just 16 kids. His mom was an EMT who answered the doctorless town’s medical questions at all hours. His father was a mean alcoholic who worked in the nearby oil fields before retiring on disability. Often cruel, according to Tawny, their dad took particular pleasure in tormenting his youngest son. When a teenage Toby quit a hard, unforgiving job in the oil fields, his father sneered, “We’re not going to have Christmas this year because of you.”

Toby’s brother joined the Navy, and his sister had a baby and moved away. It was just Mom, Dad and Toby in the small house. Toby’s mom tried to protect him the best she could. But she had her own problems: long, unexplained crying jags that scared her kids. Then, at just 46, a lifetime of smoking caught up with her, and she was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. Toby took her to Casper for doctor appointments and begged her to stop smoking, but she couldn’t. She died six months later; Toby was 19. Talking to his friends and family, it’s clear that Toby’s emotional growth ended the day his mom and protector died. (His father died two years later.)

“He said, ‘God couldn’t exist if he took our mom,’” Tawny told me at her tidy Casper apartment where Lingle would crash when he was having one of the crying spells that tormented his adult life. “He could never see any good in the world after that.”

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Sometimes chasing 'Why?' questions pushes scribes past motives, into evil and tragedy

Sometimes chasing 'Why?' questions pushes scribes past motives, into evil and tragedy

When it comes to the big question in Las Vegas, news consumers around the world are still waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.

Journalists want to know what kind of label to pin on the motives of Stephen Paddock, so we can go back to wrestling with theodicy questions like, oh, why so many Democrats voted for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. Where was God on election day?

Alas, new details in Vegas (Paddock shot a security man before the massacre began?) have only complicated the timeline of this tragedy.

What are journalists supposed to do? Well, this is the rare case when I want to point readers to a think piece during the middle of the week (as opposed to our weekend slots), in part because I get to plug a Poynter.org essay while sitting in the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. I've been here for several days speaking to a circle of international journalists.

The Poynter.org essay is called "The Journalism of Why: How we struggle to answer the hardest question," and it was written by veteran journalist and educator Roy Peter Clark.

Clark starts where I started here at GetReligion, hours after the massacre: With that familiar journalism mantra Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

Who? We got that information pretty quick (unless you're talking about Paddock having help).

What? We got that. When? The massacre timeline is evolving, but we know (or think we know) some of the basics. Where? You get the point. Then Clark notes, quoting one of the journalism scholars who most influenced my academic career:

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Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump

Listen to the silence: It does appear that most evangelicals will reluctantly vote Trump

In the beginning, when there was a massive GOP field of candidates for the White House, about 30 percent of America's white evangelical Protestants backed Citizen Donald Trump. There was evidence -- primarily the ongoing World magazine coverage of evangelical leaders and thinkers -- that Trump's supporters were "cultural" evangelicals, as opposed to folks at the heart of evangelical institutions and churches.

The headlines proclaimed: Evangelicals flocking to Trump.

As Trump rode waves of free press coverage, other candidates dropped out of the race. Slowly, the percentage of Trump evangelicals rose, backed in part by the endorsement of several old-guard evangelical leaders with strong, but old, Religious Right credentials. Trump support among white evangelicals passed 50 percent. See this April release from the Pew Forum team.

The headlines proclaimed: Evangelicals flocking to Trump.

Now, Trump stands alone and the world of mainstream conservatism, especially cultural conservatism, has not produced a ballot-box alternative. The Pew Forum has produced poll research that shows a solid majority of white evangelicals are now planning to vote for Trump.

The headline at Christianity Today, one of the voices of mainstream evangelicalism, states the trend like this:

Pew: Most Evangelicals Will Vote Trump, But Not For Trump
With half of voters dissatisfied with both presidential candidates, white evangelicals primarily plan to oppose Clinton.

Meanwhile, headlines in the mainstream press continue to proclaim: Evangelicals flocking to Trump. Here is what that looks like at Religion News Service. What is crucial, of course, is the framing language at the top of the report:

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The atonement debates: Why did Jesus Christ 'die for our sins'?

The atonement debates: Why did Jesus Christ 'die for our sins'?

JOHN’S QUESTION:

I understand there is currently a debate between orthodox and progressive theologians on the doctrine of the atonement. I always considered this a cornerstone of Christian theology. Can you encapsulate the arguments?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

A tough one, and this mere journalist has long pondered how to reply. Tough because the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion stands right at the heart of the Christian faith -- indeed the cross is its universal symbol -- and so is vitally important, sensitive,  a highly complex concern of many great minds the past 2,000 years, and ultimately beyond human comprehension. But here’s a rough attempt at an answer.

Like many people, Christians see the reality of good and evil, believe this awareness tells us God is holy, seek to live morally, yet admit they fall short due to an inherent sinfulness in themselves and humanity in general. Theologians call this “original sin.” Finally, they believe  Jesus’ agonizing death by crucifixion somehow overcame humanity’s sin problem and offers salvation.

That belief originated with the Bible. Jesus himself said the Son of Man came “to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28), and that the Christ should suffer and “repentance and forgiveness should be preached in his name to all nations” (Luke 24:46-47).

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Ghosts in Baltimore's bloody, troubled, doomed 'Murder Mall'

Ghosts in Baltimore's bloody, troubled, doomed 'Murder Mall'

Another long road trip.

Thus, another big stack of Baltimore Sun newspapers waiting in my comfy reading chair. It's tough work, but somebody's got to do it.

We will get back to crime reports and Charm City in just a moment, after I try to explain why one crime story -- out of many -- caught my eye during my blitz through the newspapers that collected during my week-long road trip into the mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

You see, this particular article contains absolute zero references to God, religion, faith, worship or prayer -- topics that often show up in Sun reports about murders and violence.

Why is that? Why did I see a GetReligion angle here? A "ghost" even?

You see, it is very common for Godtalk to show up in the language of ordinary people in the aftermath of crimes in the most troubled neighborhoods in our city. They pray for peace in the city. They crowd into churches for funerals in which ministers talk about sin and guilt and redemption and hope. Reporters, every now and then, quote these voices.

This makes sense.

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