spirituality

A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

A movie god for sure: Journalists stumble to explain an Indian star's spiritual appeal

Ah, you tame Americans, with your talk about "idols" and "hero worship."  Until you know something of the frenzy around Indian movie star Rajinikanth, you ain't seen nothin'.

Stories abound about the action hero, who has just turned out his first film in two years. But few western news media have captured the fevered fervor like the Washington PostAnd it does so right from the start, with the headline: "India’s biggest action-movie star isn’t just an actor. ‘He is god.’ "

The religion ghosts are dancing right out in the open, in this report. Why didn't the Post team ask specific questions about that? We will return to that subject.

Meanwhile, one fan speaks of an "unmatchable energy" in a theater during a showing. Another compares viewing a Rajinikanth film with seeing his wife's baby for the first time. And in India, some companies are treating the release of one of his films like a religious holiday:

In Chennai, some companies gave employees the day off Friday so they could go see "Kabali," Rajinikanth’s first film in two years. Others had booked entire cinemas for their staff. Air Asia flew 180 fans to the city for the first-day showing in a plane ­custom-painted with the star’s likeness. One county was giving away free tickets to people who pledged to install an indoor ­toilet, taking advantage of the movie’s popularity to address the issue of widespread public defecation.
"Rajinikanth is not a human being. He is not an actor. He is [a] god," said S. Thanu, the producer of "Kabali."

And no, the producer isn’t the only one who talks like that.

Indiaglitz calls him a "demigod." 

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Religion journalists: Why are the UN's ten 'happiest' nations all secular-oriented?

Religion journalists: Why are the UN's ten 'happiest' nations all secular-oriented?

So, how are you today? Feel OK about your life? Are you happy?

Chances are you're more likely to answer those questions affirmatively -- while smiling broadly, no doubt -- if you reside in Denmark rather than, let's say, Burundi. Or if you live in Switzerland and not -- get ready for another shocker -- Syria or Afghanistan.

At least, so says the pretentiously named World Happiness Report produced for the United Nations by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, an international panel of economists, psychologists, public health experts and others.

Most of its conclusions seem beyond obvious. (You don't see many Danes or Swiss risking their lives, and those of their children, to illegally enter Burundi, Syria or Afghanistan, do you?) However, the report does contain a few surprises.

For example, Israelis -- who face knife attacks and other small-scale terrorist actions on a daily basis and who live with the Islamic State, Hizbollah and Hamas on their borders -- say they are happier as a nation than do Germans, Britons, the French and Italians. And even Americans. Israel was listed by the report as the 11th happiest nation on Earth, while the U.S. placed 13th.

Apparently humans prefer facing possible death on the streets than the endless drip-drip torture of presidential primary debates. I can relate.

But I jest. So let me get serious and suggest that the report has much to offer journalists. It's haunted by religion ghosts -- which is to say, there's a host of extractable story ideas in it for journalists inclined to explore the nature of human happiness today from a psychological, spiritual and religious perspective.

Religion writers; I'm looking at you.

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Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about

Covering the funeral of Antonin Scalia, while ignoring what the Mass was really about

In the end, here was the question that loomed over the funeral Mass of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia: Was this a political event? The answer is easy to find, simply by glancing at the coverage offered by several elite newsrooms.

That answer: Of course this was a political event. What would the alternative be? Actually covering the words and symbols of the event itself, which in this case would have led to news reports containing the doctrines at the heart of the Christian faith?

That would never do. That wouldn't be "real," since Scalia was clearly a powerful player in the world of law and politics -- the "real" world.

You know that this inside-the-Beltway prejudice against religious faith being "real" was on the mind of Father Paul Scalia, the preacher and celebrant. As one of the justice's sons, you know that he was more than aware of his father's convictions about the content of funeral rites and the sermons preached in them (and thus mentioned this subject in his funeral sermon). Click here for Antonin Scalia's thoughts on that.

Readers had a chance to know what the family was thinking because of the opening lines of Father Scalia's sermon, which directly challenged the Beltway mindset. If anyone saw these words reported in a mainstream news story, please let me know. I know that this is long. That's the point:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more, a man loved by many, scorned by others, a man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth. It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the Father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of Him, because of His life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

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High Country News ruminates on god, spirituality, wolves, bison and wild morality

High Country News ruminates on god, spirituality, wolves, bison and wild morality

I first heard of High Country News this past year from the copies stacked in the conference room of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks journalism department, which is where I taught this past year. 

For starters I was delighted to find a publication that covered the Rocky Mountain West, in any way, shape or form. It’s based in western Colorado (Paonia, to be exact) and covers environmental, land use and public lands issues.

So I was interested in a recent piece on HCN’s site that is an author interview: “Can studying morality help Yellowstone’s wolves and bison?” There’s a photo of a wolf with the caption: "Majestic spiritual icon, or religious abomination? Depends whom you ask."

Here are some excerpts from a discussion with sociologist Justin Farrell:

HCN: It seems like wolves epitomize the “what is wildlife good for” debate. Some outsiders assume that the people who hate wolves hate them for economic reasons -- they’re ranchers and hunters who are worried about livestock and game. But you say people seem morally opposed to wolves. What’s the source of that opposition? 
JF: One of the primary feelings I heard is that individual rights are being infringed upon by the federal government. The reintroduced wolves came from Canada, so there’s also the fact that people see the wolf as an “immigrant” -- a word that brings up a lot of connotations right now. The wolf links to all sorts of other issues in American politics that go well beyond the Yellowstone area.
HCN: People often oppose wolves in religious terms, too -- it’s an animal that symbolizes man losing dominion over the earth.

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Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga

Pseudo-guru Bikram Choudhury and another scandal in the totally secular world of yoga

Wait, wait, wait. I am sure that I have read this news story before. This hot, sweaty New York Times news feature -- which just screams alternative spirituality at the top of its gray lungs -- sounds so familiar.

LOS ANGELES -- He is the yoga guru who built an empire on sweat and swagger. He has a stable of luxury cars and a Beverly Hills mansion. During trainings for hopeful yoga teachers, he paces a stage in a black Speedo and holds forth on life, sex and the transformative power of his brand of hot yoga. “I totally cure you,” he has told interviewers. “Whatever the problem you have.”
But a day of legal reckoning is drawing closer for the guru, Bikram Choudhury. He is facing six civil lawsuits from women accusing him of rape or assault. The most recent was filed on Feb. 13 by a Canadian yogi, Jill Lawler, who said Mr. Choudhury raped her during a teacher-training in the spring of 2010.

Let's see, we have a story about a pseudo-guru whose teachings are handed on to this disciples, teachings (doctrines maybe) about sexuality (perhaps the word tantra is used), healing, spiritual transformation, philosophy, anatomy and the meaning of life.

Now there is trouble in paradise. Where have I heard this before?

Maybe it was back in 2012 in The Washington Post?

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Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Mitt Romney is still a Mormon: The Washington Post takes a shot at the 'pastor' vs. 'bishop' question

Back in the 1980s, when I was working at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP, maybe) in Denver, I was in regular contact with press officials in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints both locally, especially during the building of the Colorado temple, and those working in the big white tower in Salt Lake City, Utah.

We frequently discussed issues of newspaper style and how the church's unique beliefs were handled in the mainstream press. We didn't always agree, of course, but I knew where they were coming from. We had many discussions, for example, about what to call the leaders of local and regional Mormon flocks. The key: Mormons don't have professional, full-time clergy in the same sense as other churches. The word "ordain" isn't used in the same way.

Thus, it has been interesting to follow the many interesting comments on my recent post about the New York Times story covering the ongoing political and religious pilgrimage of Mitt Romney. The key reference was right near the top:

WASHINGTON -- A prominent Republican delivered a direct request to Mitt Romney not long ago: He should make a third run for the presidency, not for vanity or redemption, but to answer a higher calling from his faith.
Believing that Mr. Romney, a former Mormon pastor, would be most receptive on these grounds, the Republican made the case that Mr. Romney had a duty to serve, and said Mr. Romney seemed to take his appeal under consideration.

It seems clear to me that Mormons have, in recent years, continued in their efforts to find ways to talk about their lives in language that is less foreign to other Americans. Thus, rather than saying that a local LDS leader was the "bishop" of his "ward," it is becoming more likely that -- when talking to outsiders -- Mormons are more likely to say that some is the "pastor"  of their local "church" and THEN go on to explain the differences.

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Sun sheds very little light on new linebacker's faith

If you know anything about the Baltimore Ravens, then you probably know something about the complex legacy left behind by retired linebacker Ray Lewis, a sure fire first ballot Hall of Famer.

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