Looking for strong political prejudices? The Atlantic offers a U.S. map packed with revelations

Looking for strong political prejudices? The Atlantic offers a U.S. map packed with revelations

A quarter of a century ago, America was already a bitterly divided nation — especially on matters of religion, culture, morality and politics.

Thus, liberal theologian Harvey Cox of Harvard Divinity School (author of the ‘60s bestseller, “The Secular City”) was shocked when he invited to lecture at Regent University. It’s hard, he noted in The Atlantic (“Warring Visions of the Religious Right”), to titillate his sherry-sipping colleagues in the Harvard faculty lounge, but accepting an invitation to invade the Rev. Pat Robertson’s campus did the trick.

Cox was pleased to find quite a bit of diversity at Regent, in terms of theological and political debates. He was welcomed, and discovered lots of people testing the borders of evangelicalism — other than on moral issues with strong doctrinal content. He found Episcopalians, Catholics and Eastern Orthodox believers.

Politically, too, the students and faculty members I met represented a somewhat wider spectrum than I had anticipated. There are some boundaries, of course. I doubt that a pro-choice bumper sticker would go unremarked in the parking lot, or that a gay-pride demonstration would draw many marchers. But the Regent student newspaper carried an opinion piece by the well-known politically liberal evangelical (and "friend of Bill") Tony Campolo. … One student told me with obvious satisfaction that he had worked hard to defeat Oliver North in the Virginia senatorial contest last fall. If there is a "line" at Regent, which would presumably be a mirror image of the political correctness that is allegedly enforced at elite liberal universities, it is not easy to locate.

The bottom line: Cox found limits to the diversity at Regent, but they were limits that left him thinking about Harvard culture. In terms of debates on critically important topics, which school was more diverse?

I thought of that classic Cox essay a computer click or two into a must-read new essay at The Atlantic that ran with this double-decker headline:

The Geography of Partisan Prejudice

A guide to the most—and least—politically open-minded counties in America

So where does one find diversity that matters, people who are trying to be tolerant of their neighbors who represent different cultures and belief systems? You wouldn’t know that by reading that headline.

So let’s jump-start this a bit with the headline atop the Rod “Benedict Option” Dreher take on this piece, which has been updated several times (including his detailed reaction to a criticism from one of the authors). That headline: “Least Tolerant: Educated White Liberals.”

Where is Dreher coming from? Here is a key passage in the interactive Atlantic piece:

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No actual news? No problem as elite paper puts Bible Belt city under Islamophobia microscope

No actual news? No problem as elite paper puts Bible Belt city under Islamophobia microscope

What do the kind people of Murfreesboro, Tenn., a city of 126,000 about 30 miles southeast of Nashville, think about Muslims?

It's complicated.

Read all 1,800-plus words of today's Washington Post takeout on the "midsize college town" (aka the sixth-largest city in Tennessee), and the difficulty in making broad generalizations about the community's attitudes and opinions becomes clear.

However, nuance apparently does not buy exclusive real estate (read: Page 1) in the dead-tree edition of one of America's elite newspapers.

What does? Try the possibility of Islamophobia and intolerance in the "buckle on the Bible Belt." That'll get a story on the front page, even without a timely news peg (unless you consider events that happened five years ago timely).

Thus, below a headline about Muslims in a Tennessee town "holding their breath," this is the Page 1 lede where the Post acknowledges (sort of) that there's no actual news here. But now that Donald Trump has been elected president, who knows what might happen, so there must be a story here, right?:

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — It was here, in this midsize college town in the dead center of Tennessee, that a right-wing effort to ban Islamic law found one of its first sponsors. Here, too, a congressman co-sponsored a plan to “defund Muslim ‘refugees’ ” and local residents sued to block construction of the only mosque, a fight that ended at the Supreme Court.
The town’s Muslims carried on through all of that, raising their children, saying their prayers, teaching at college, filling people’s prescriptions and filling their tanks, contributing to the civic life in a city of 126,000. They felt the familiar grief and fear of reprisal last year when a Muslim man killed four Marines in Chattanooga, 90 minutes away.
Now Donald Trump — a man who has repeatedly cast doubt on the patriotism of Muslims — is the president-elect, and he has selected a national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, who has called Islam a “cancer.” And a deep unease has again seeped into the daily life of many here in this Muslim community of about 1,500.
There has been a smattering of post-election harassment and insults — at schools, in parking lots, on the road — but nothing to take to the police or put Murfreesboro back in the national headlines.
“Right now, we’re hoping that it’s going to be calm,” said Saleh Sbenaty, an engineering professor at Middle Tennessee State University and one of the founders of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. “But we don’t know if it’s the calm before the storm or the calm after the storm.”

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Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

Mosque and state: Cut 'n' paste approach mars stories on polling controversy

What would happen if mainstream media did their own reporting? They just might avoid the kinds of gaps and gaffes marring the coverage of a controversy over a South Florida mosque.

The Islamic Center of Boca Raton has been used as a polling site for some years by the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, but this year she changed her mind. Why? Because she says she got a lot of complaints, including threats. 

It's a more than worthwhile story acting as a kind of microcosm for national questions of tolerance, terrorism, religious freedom and church (or mosque) and state. And it's worth more than the cut 'n' paste jobs that have been passing for, you know, showing up and/or phoning.

The story came out last Friday in the South Florida Sun Sentinel, but it wasn't till midweek that it caught on in national media. 

Then the gaffes began.

The New York Daily News ran a photo supposedly showing the Islamic Center. But it's really the Assalam Center, a different mosque a little more than a mile south. And the Washington Post today led with, "Since at least the year 2010, citizens have cast their votes within the pastel green walls of the mosque. No, they haven't. The light green mosque opened in 2012. Before then, the members rented space at a shopping plaza.

And those are just the easiest soft spots to spot.

Aside from its error on the ICBR building, the WaPo article may not contain a single original word. It's assembled from eight sources -- including the Sun Sentinel, the Palm Beach Post and West Palm Beach-based WPTV. The newspaper also added canned statements from two Congress members, the Florida Family Association and the Council on American-Islamic Relations. WaPo's only redeeming feature is admitting its sources.

The Associated Press doesn't even wait for you to read its lede. "People Vote in Churches and Synagogues. Why Not a Mosque?," says its headline, which was used by ABC News and elsewhere.

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