Thursday, September 1, 2011

New York Times Editor, Religion, and Politics: Benign But Clueless

I'm not the biggest fan of New York City's famous hometown paper. However, I think executive editor Bill Keller made a sensible suggestion a few days ago.

Asking political candidates about their religious beliefs makes sense.

So does getting facts straight.

Factual Errors, Assumptions, and Some Guy With a Blog

Happily, Mr. Keller has someone on staff who fact-checks now and then. As a result, Rick Santorum is now correctly identified as Catholic in the online version of Mr. Keller's piece. The print edition pegged Mr. Santorum as being an evangelical Christian.

I don't blame Bill Keller for getting Mr. Santorum's faith wrong: Mr. Keller is a busy man in a big city, and probably didn't have time to Google "Rick Santorum religion." (Try it, without the quotation marks.) It's the sort of factual error I've gotten used to seeing in America's "newspaper of record."

Checking facts before publishing is the sort of thing I do - but I'm not an important man with an important job in a big city. I'm "some guy with a blog," sitting at my desk in a small central Minnesota town. I've long since learned that assuming isn't the same as verifying.

Space Aliens, Religious Beliefs, and The New York Times

Here's a (relatively) brief excerpt from Mr. Keller's op-ed. I've highlighted a few points. My take on Mr. Keller's assumptions about religious beliefs pick up at "Religion, The New York Times, and Getting a Grip," below.
"Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith"
Bill Keller, Magazine, The New York Times (August 25, 2011)

"If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan?

"Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively. Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa G.O.P. debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to 'be submissive' to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos - for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets....

"...Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism - which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction....

"...But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history - in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as 'the reality-based community.' I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises....

"...From Ryan Lizza's enlightening profile in The New Yorker, I learned that Michele Bachmann's influences include spiritual and political mentors who preach the literal 'inerrancy' of the Bible, who warn Christians to be suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians, who believe homosexuality is an 'abomination,' who portray the pre-Civil War South as a pretty nice place for slaves and who advocate 'Dominionism,' the view that Christians and only Christians should preside over earthly institutions....

"...Correction: August 28, 2011

"Because of an editing error, an essay on Page 11 this weekend, about the religious beliefs of Republican presidential candidates, misstates the proportion of Americans who believe that extraterrestrials live among us. It is about a third, not a majority. The essay also erroneously includes Rick Santorum among politicians affiliated with evangelical Christianity. Mr. Santorum is Catholic.

"A version of this article appeared in print on August 28, 2011, on page MM11 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Not Just Between Them And Their God."
Since The New York Times may decide to correct Mr. Keller's piece again - or remove it from their online archive - I put the full text at the end of this post.1 I don't do that often, but what he wrote may become an issue - and I don't want what he actually wrote to get lost in a fog of isolated quotes.

Religion, The New York Times, and Getting a Grip

Again, I think Mr. Keller has a basically sound point: the religious beliefs of a political candidate matter. I think it's important to know whether a candidate worships God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Elvis Presley; or nothing at all.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that Mr. Keller seems to have an all-too-familiar set of assumptions about religious beliefs. And the people who take them seriously.

I've gotten the idea that quite a few of America's 'better sort' are convinced that 'those religious people over there' aren't particularly:
  • Normal
  • Smart
  • Educated
  • Safe to have around
That's hardly surprising, I think, in a comparatively insular subculture like The New Yorker's staff and readers. Despite their reputation as a vastly sophisticated hub of cosmopolitan acumen, I think New York City's 'better sort' are a rather insular, parochial lot. Understandably, perhaps, since there's so much to see and do in New York City: why pay attention to those funny people east of Hoboken? 'Everybody knows' what they're like: or, more accurately, assumes.

I've been over this before:
"...The New York times is a newspaper that's been owned by one family for over a hundred years, and started out as New York City's hometown newspaper. To a great extent, it still is the Big Apple's hometown paper...."

"...I think that there's reason to believe that The New York Times is run by what in the good old days would have been called 'the better sort' of New York's people. That means that a very select group of people decides what constitutes 'All the news that's fit to print.' [emphasis mine...."2
New York's upper crust and The New York Times aren't alone in having downright odd notions about what commoners are like:

"You can't make this kind of stuff up.

"Congressional aids were advised to get immunized against several diseases, including hepatitis, diphtheria, tetanus and influenza.

"This precaution may be quite understandable, since they were about to embark on a fact-finding journey to a remote, primitive region: the NASCAR tracks in Talladega, Alabama, and Concord, North Carolina.

"Sensible, that is, if you regard everything that isn't in the New York-Washington megalopolis, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a few other outposts of civilization as a more-or less primitive region, inhabited by wild natives and dubious drinking water...."3

"Death Cookie," "God Hates You," and a Professor

I might shun religion and 'those religious people,' like America's self-described best and brightest: if I got my data from what I see on the news. The enthusiasts in this photo are a sample of Christianity, media style:


(Reuters photo, via FoxNews.com, used w/o permission)

That lot is part of Fred Phelp's traveling band of believers. The photo shows them at Arlington National Cemetery.


(Chick Publications, via FoxNews.com, used w/o permission)

Chick Publications isn't the only outfit that seems convinced that the Catholic Church is not nice: but they're one of the major players when it comes to spreading that message.

Small wonder that a university professor thinks that religion makes people "hateful and stupid." To make his point, he desecrated a page from the Quran, and a consecrated Host. Here's the photo he published:


(from PZ Myers, Pharyngula (July 24, 2008), used w/o permission)

The other page is from an atheist's book. University of Minnesota, Morris, associate professor Paul Myers explained why he wanted to enlighten us:
"There are days when it is agony to read the news, because people are so goddamned stupid. Petty and stupid. Hateful and stupid. Just plain stupid. And nothing makes them stupider than religion...."
(Quoted in Another War-on-Terror Blog (August 4, 2008))
That sort of thing is considered protected speech, by the way: part of American academia's notion of academic freedom. And that's another topic. Almost.

Being 'Spiritual,' the Dalai Lama, and Religion

Oddly, some of the same folks who think that religion kills people also think that the Dalai Lama is cool. I suspect it's because they see him as a "spiritual" person, not "religious." And that's still another topic.

When you start by assuming that Fred Phelps and his "God Hates You" followers are typical Christians, and that the pedophile priests are typical Catholics: Yeah, I can see why a person might assume that religion is bad for people.

I don't think that's true: just that I can see where the notion comes from.

Like the fellow said:
"There are not a hundred people in America who hate the Catholic Church. There are millions of people who hate what they wrongly believe to be the Catholic Church — which is, of course, quite a different thing."
(Bishop Fulton Sheen, Foreword to Radio Replies Vol. 1, page ix (1938), via Wikiquote)

Separation of Church and State, Ephesians, and All That

It's late, and this post is a long one. Thanks for reading this far, by the way.

I plan to get back to my take on what seem to be Mr. Keller's concerns about religious beliefs tomorrow. I've been over most of it before:But it's late, and I need my sleep. Goodnight, and may God bless.

Related posts:
News and views:

1 Full text of Mr. Keller's editorial regarding the religious beliefs of presidential candidates:
"Asking Candidates Tougher Questions About Faith"
Bill Keller, Magazine, The New York Times (August 25, 2011)

"If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan?

"Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively. Michele Bachmann was asked during the Iowa G.O.P. debate what she meant when she said the Bible obliged her to 'be submissive' to her husband, and there was an audible wave of boos - for the question, not the answer. There is a sense, encouraged by the candidates, that what goes on between a candidate and his or her God is a sensitive, even privileged domain, except when it is useful for mobilizing the religious base and prying open their wallets.

"This year's Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life - and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a 'cult' and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not 'overly religious.') Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann are both affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity - and Rick Santorum comes out of the most conservative wing of Catholicism - which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

"I honestly don't care if Mitt Romney wears Mormon undergarments beneath his Gap skinny jeans, or if he believes that the stories of ancient American prophets were engraved on gold tablets and buried in upstate New York, or that Mormonism's founding prophet practiced polygamy (which was disavowed by the church in 1890). Every faith has its baggage, and every faith holds beliefs that will seem bizarre to outsiders. I grew up believing that a priest could turn a bread wafer into the actual flesh of Christ.

"But I do want to know if a candidate places fealty to the Bible, the Book of Mormon (the text, not the Broadway musical) or some other authority higher than the Constitution and laws of this country. It matters to me whether a president respects serious science and verifiable history - in short, belongs to what an official in a previous administration once scornfully described as 'the reality-based community.' I do care if religious doctrine becomes an excuse to exclude my fellow citizens from the rights and protections our country promises.

"And I care a lot if a candidate is going to be a Trojan horse for a sect that believes it has divine instructions on how we should be governed.

"So this season I'm paying closer attention to what the candidates say about their faith and what they have said in the past that they may have decided to play down in the quest for mainstream respectability.

"From Ryan Lizza's enlightening profile in The New Yorker, I learned that Michele Bachmann's influences include spiritual and political mentors who preach the literal 'inerrancy' of the Bible, who warn Christians to be suspicious of ideas that come from non-Christians, who believe homosexuality is an 'abomination,' who portray the pre-Civil War South as a pretty nice place for slaves and who advocate 'Dominionism,' the view that Christians and only Christians should preside over earthly institutions.

"From reporting in The Texas Observer and The Texas Monthly, I learned about the Dominionist supporters of Rick Perry, including a number of evangelists to whom Perry gave leading roles in his huge public prayer service, called the Response, early this month.

"Neither Bachmann nor Perry has, as far as I know, pledged allegiance to the Dominionists. Possibly they overlooked those passages in the books and sermons of their spiritual comrades. My informed Texan friends tell me Perry's relationship with the religious fringe is pragmatic, that it is more likely he is riding the movement than it is riding him. But as we have seen with the Tea Party (another political movement Perry hopped aboard in its early days), the support of a constituent group doesn't come without strings.

"In any case, let's ask. In the last presidential campaign, Candidate Obama was pressed to distance himself from his pastor, who carried racial bitterness to extremes, and Candidate McCain was forced to reject the endorsement of a preacher who offended Catholics and Jews. I don't see why Perry and Bachmann should be exempt from similar questioning.

"Asking candidates, respectfully, about their faith should not be an excuse for bigotry or paranoia. I still remember, as a Catholic boy, being mystified and hurt by the speculation about John Kennedy's Catholicism - whether he would be taking orders from the Vatican. (Kennedy addressed the issue of his faith and mostly neutralized it, as Romney tried to do in a 2007 speech that emphasized his common ground with mainstream Christian denominations.) And of course issues of faith should not distract attention from issues of economics and war. But it is worth knowing whether a candidate has a mind open to intelligence that does not fit neatly into his preconceptions.

"To get things rolling, I sent the aforementioned candidates a little questionnaire (which you can find on The 6th Floor blog). Here's a sample:

"•Do you agree with those religious leaders who say that America is a 'Christian nation' or a 'Judeo-Christian nation?' and what does that mean in practice?

"•Would you have any hesitation about appointing a Muslim to the federal bench? What about an atheist?

"•What is your attitude toward the theory of evolution, and do you believe it should be taught in public schools?

"I also asked specific questions of the candidates. I wanted Governor Perry to explain his relationship with David Barton, the founder of the WallBuilders evangelical movement, who preaches that America should have a government 'firmly rooted in biblical principles' and that the Bible offers explicit guidance on public policy - for example, tax policy. Since Barton endorsed Perry in the past, it would be interesting to know whether the governor disagrees with him.

"And what about John Hagee, the Texas evangelist who described Catholicism as a 'godless theology of hate' and declared that the Holocaust was part of God's plan to drive the Jews to Palestine? In the 2008 campaign, John McCain disavowed Hagee's endorsement. This time around, the preacher has reportedly decided to bestow his blessing on Perry's campaign. I wonder if it will be accepted.

"My note to Representative Bachmann asked about the documentary produced last year by a group now known as Truth in Action Ministries, in which she espoused the idea that all money for social welfare should come from charity, not government taxation. Is that a goal she would pursue as president?

"And I'm curious if she stands by her recommendation of that biography of Robert E. Lee by J. Steven Wilkins, who contends the Civil War was a clash between a Christian South and a godless North. Wilkins writes that in the South, contrary to the notion that slaves were victims, there was a 'unity and companionship that existed between the races' because they shared a common faith.

"We'll be posting the campaigns' answers - if any - on nytimes.com. And if they don't answer, let's keep on asking. Because these are matters too important to take on faith.

"Bill Keller is the executive editor of The New York Times. Beginning Sept. 19, he will write a column for the Op-Ed page of The Times and contribute longer reports to the magazine.

"This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

"Correction: August 28, 2011

"Because of an editing error, an essay on Page 11 this weekend, about the religious beliefs of Republican presidential candidates, misstates the proportion of Americans who believe that extraterrestrials live among us. It is about a third, not a majority. The essay also erroneously includes Rick Santorum among politicians affiliated with evangelical Christianity. Mr. Santorum is Catholic.

"A version of this article appeared in print on August 28, 2011, on page MM11 of the Sunday Magazine with the headline: Not Just Between Them And Their God."
2 Source:3 Another excerpt from my war-on-terror blog:

2 comments:

Brigid said...

That? "Bill Keller for getting that Mr. Santorum's"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...

Brigid,

Oops: found, fixed, and thanks!

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More

Advertisement

Unique, innovative candles


Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.