Posts Tagged ‘religion’

What journalists talk about when we talk about sex

Over the last week, a lot of newspapers around the US decided not to run Gary Trudeau’s “Doonesbury” cartoon as it delved into the flame-hot issues of sexuality and politics that have emerged in the 2012 presidential season.

The editorial board of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican argued in an essay that the “six ‘Doonesbury’ installments just struck us as too offensive,” and so the strip was shelved for a week.

NCPR has also wrestled with this question:  How do we talk about sex — especially the politicized, polarized aspects of human sexuality now being debated — without being “offensive.”

When our reporter Sarah Harris interviewed Erica Macilintal, a Roman Catholic woman at SUNY Plattsburgh struggling to live within the constraints of her Church’s teaching, we took a deep breath and plunged ahead.

“Are you sexually active?” Harris asked.  “I know that’s a really weird question to ask you, but I’m kind of curious because a lot of people, you know, can believe something and practice another.”

Weird, yes.  Awkward, yes. Borderline offensive, even, by any traditional rules of social decorum.

Polite people just don’t ask other people publicly about their sex lives.

But as Harris’s lead editor on this project, I made it clear that I didn’t think we had a choice.  We had to ‘go there.’

Here’s why.  As a journalist, I’ve reached the conclusion that we have to set aside our squeamishness and address these issues head-on.

If lawmakers are going to force women who are choosing to have legal abortions in the US to have ultra-sounds that include the insertion of medical devices into their vaginas, journalists and pundits need to talk about that stuff honestly, not obliquely.

We need to accept that the politics of sexuality require us to open our airwaves, news pages, and editorial space to frank discussions that might, in some quarters, be viewed as “offensive.”

What, after all, is the alternative?  Should we not speak bluntly and factually about the very issues that are defining much of our politics?

In this culture war era, politicians have marched boldly into our bedrooms, into the treatment rooms of our gynecologists and family physicians, and into the moral decisions that Americans (not just women) make about their sexuality.

They have also hoisted their flags over that fractious, bitter terrain that lies at the intersection of religious faith and human intimacy.

For better or worse, journalists have to follow them.

This isn’t to say that Mr. Trudeau gets it “right.”  His argument that the government-mandated insertion of a medical device into a woman’s vagina is “rape” is clearly only one possible point of view.

Others have argued that requiring these ultrasounds is a way to ensure that women have all necessary medical information “before making such a critical decision.”

This is the debate we need to treat accurately and unblushingly, even when it makes us uncomfortable.

Morning Read: North Country pastor says No to going green for St. Pat’s Day

First Baptist Church, Watertown--"Not a billboard."

The Watertown Daily Times is reporting this morning that a Baptist pastor in Watertown is unhappy with a plan to light up his church tower with green spotlights as part of a St. Patrick’s Day Irish festival.

The Rev. Jeffrey E. Smith…insists the green floodlights will give people the perception he and his church condone the consumption of beer at this weekend’s events.

“This is our house of worship. It is not a billboard,” he said. “We call our church ‘the Lighthouse on the Square.’ This cheapens our church.”

The pastor said he believes the city should have been more sensitive to his parishioners, some of whom are recovering alcoholics and former drug users.

So there you go.  What do you think?  Too grumpy by half?  Or a good, solid principled stand?

Is it “war on women” or a fight for religious liberty?

This morning, NCPR begins several days of conversation with people in the North Country wrestling with moral and political questions surrounding social and family planning issues, as well as religious freedom.

We begin with an in-depth conversation with Bishop Terry LaValley, head of the Diocese of Ogdensburg, which you can hear here.

This issue sparks a lot of really thorny, tangled questions.

Is it fair, appropriate or constitutional for the Federal government to require faith groups to provide insurance coverage for care that some churches disapprove of, including contraception, vasectomies, and so-called “morning after” birth control pills?

Should existing state laws in New York be overturned?
Is it fair for faith groups to deny those insurance services to employees — including non-believers — thus denying them the right to make their own individual moral choices?

And what about the social services that faith groups provide, often with taxpayer support?  Should those be shaped by religious conviction, even when the services are provided to people of other faiths, or to people of no faith at all?

Do you feel that religion is “under attack” in America?  Or do you feel that religious groups are trying to shape laws that will force you to adopt their moral codes?

These are the questions that we’re exploring this week and I’m interested for your views.  This is difficult stuff, not exactly water cooler conversation.  So please chime in, but keep it thoughtful and civil and respectful.

Sainthood near for Cope and Tekakwitha, Dolan now a cardinal

The New York Times reports that Pope Benedict XVI created 22 new cardinals in ceremonies at St. Peter’s Basilica today. Among those now wearing the scarlet cloak and cap is Timothy Dolan, 62, the archbishop of New York since 2009 and president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A second archbishop from the United States, Cardinal Edwin F. O’Brien, 73, was also made a cardinal. For what it’s worth, cardinals under age 80 are those eligible to elect new popes.

The article went on to state:

Pope Benedict announced that he would canonize seven new saints, among them two Americans: Marianne Cope, a member of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Syracuse, N.Y., who cared for lepers on the island of Moloka’i,Hawaii, in the late 19th century, and Kateri Tekakwitha, an 17th century Mohawk Indian from upstate New York who converted to Catholicism and will be the Catholic church’s first Native American saint.

Read more about Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656, in this post by Martha Foley from December 2011.

I was having trouble understanding when those sainthoods would become official. According to information from the Vatican’s official website, the actual canonization ceremony will take place Oct 21, 2012.

Morning Read: Contraception debate in NY and the North Country

The national debate over a Federal requirement that religious groups provide full health coverage — including contraception — to employees continues to simmer, with hearings yesterday in Washington.

The issue also remains front and center on the Diocese of Ogdensburg’s website, with Bishop Terry LaValley’s letter describing the Obama administration initiative as “a heavy blow” to religious freedom and tolerance.

You must know that we cannot—we will not—comply with this unjust law.  Even those who may disagree with the Church’s teaching on the sanctity of human life recognize that the government has no business forcing religious institutions to sponsor and pay for procedures which violate those teachings.

We’ve asked Bishop LaValley for an interview and hope to sit down with him soon.  Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that Roman Catholic institutions in New York have been living with a similar state law for roughly a decade.

Although Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York has vociferously argued that a national requirement for religiously affiliated institutions to cover birth control in their insurance plans is immoral and unacceptable, some Roman Catholic organizations in his own backyard have for 10 years been grudgingly complying with a state law making them do precisely that.

Many Roman Catholic institutions in NY now “self-insure” in order to avoid the state law (which Catholic leaders sued unsuccessfully to block) but others have added contraception services to their insurance policies.

NPR’s Rob Stein looked in-depth at some of the issues behind this debate, including the fact that many faith groups now see some “contraceptives” as de facto abortion methods, a shift that has reignited the topic.

A new NY Times/CBS poll shows that most Americans (60%) and most Roman Catholics (58%) are more in line with President Obama’s position on all this than with the bishops and the Church hierarchy.  How about you?

What do you take away from this debate?  A fight over religious freedom?  A swing back to 1950s-era thinking?  Comments welcome and — remember — keep it civil and respectful.

Morning Read: Region’s Roman Catholics decry attacks on “religious liberty”

Roman Catholic leaders in northern New York and Vermont are decrying what they describe as a broad-based attack on religious liberties in general, and on their faith in particular.

In Vermont, Roman Catholic leaders say the government should move to block or disallow civil lawsuits sparked by the priest-sex abuse scandal, according to the Burlington Free Press.

“The State cannot infringe on a protected freedom by imposing damages and penalties that the church cannot pay,” the diocese said in a motion asking Judge William Sessions III to throw out a lawsuit filed in 2010 by a man alleging that as an altar boy he was molested in Rutland by the Rev. Edward Paquette in 1974.

“If the protections of the First Amendment are to mean anything, the government should not be allowed to shut the doors of a church and put it up for sale,” church lawyers Kaveh Shahi and Tom McCormick wrote.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Ogdensburg in northern New York is blasting an Obama administration rule that would force the church to offer health insurance that includes services that the church rejects, including contraception, voluntary sterilization, and abortion.  This from the Adirondack Daily Enterprise:

“The federal government, which claims to be ‘of, by, and for the people,’ has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those

People – the Catholic population – and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful,” [Bishop Terry] LaValley said.

So what do you think?  Do you see a Roman Catholic church under siege in an increasingly secular world?  Comments welcome below.

The first Mohawk saint

Pope Benedict XVI has signed the decree recognizing a miracle performed by the Mohawk-Algonquin woman born in 1656, and known as Kateri Tekakwitha.

The Vatican announced that the Pope has deemed her worthy of sainthood, so she will be canonized at a ceremony sometime in the future.

Tekakwitha was a Native American baptized in 1676 in the Mohawk

Valley. She fled to a mission in Canada after being scorned and

threatened in her home village near what is now the village of

Fonda.

You can read more about Kateri here, in Indian Country.

Earlier this year, a segment on NPR looked at the process of certifying Kateri’s miracle, which was then underway.

Pope Benedict signed decrees Monday approving miracles attributed to six others, in addition to Kateri.

The Blessed Marianne Cope, who also has ties to New York, was also on the list.

Cope was a Syracuse Franciscan sister who cared for leprosy

patients in Hawaii in the late 1880s. She’d previously taught and

helped establish the first two hospitals in central New York in the

1860s.

Morning Read: Amish beard cutting attacks plague Ohio

The North Country has a growing and robust Amish community, particularly in the St. Lawrence Valley, so this story — reported most recently by NPR — caught my eye.

In Amish country in Ohio, there has been an outbreak of a particular kind of violence:  beard cutting.

On the night of Oct. 4, Myron and Arlene Miller were asleep in their home in Mechanicstown, Ohio, when they heard a knock on the door. According to their friend Bob Comer, when Myron came downstairs, he found five men standing on his doorstep.

“They pulled him out in the front yard, and they have scissors and a battery-powered shaver and everything,” Comer says. “They’re trying to hold him down and cut his beard off and cut his hair off.”

Miller yelled at his wife to call 911. Then the men let him go and ran back to the trailer and had the driver take off, Comer says.

Myron Miller, who declined an interview, was left with a ragged beard: a shameful state for an Amish man.

“The beard for Amish men is a symbol of their adult manhood,” says Donald Kraybill, a sociologist at Elizabethtown College and author of several books about the Amish, including Amish Grace and Concise Encyclopedia of Amish, Brethren, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

There have been no reports of similar incidents in the North Country.

Post-apocalypse instructions (Open on May 22nd)

So here’s one of those biases that journalists are supposed to keep carefully tucked away in the backs of their minds:  I’m kind of disgusted by doomsayers.

Preachers of apocalypse, almost invariably, are evangelists of over-simplified fairy tales.  And they are purveyors of that most unattractive of social ailments, the Big Cop-ut.

A fairy tale is what you’re hearing whenever someone tells you that the earth is set to end on a certain date.  A fairy tale is a warning that if we elect a certain political party, or pass a certain law, the Republic will come to a crashing end.

And yes, a fairy tale is when someone tells you that the Mississippi flooding is definitely part of global climate change.

Whenever someone reduces big stuff (the fate of the world, complicated science, complex political dealings) to something that fits on the back of a napkin — or a pamphlet handed out at a subway stop — it’s a fairy tale.

So here’s the first instruction for anyone reading this on May 22nd:  You should thank the latest gaggle of apocalistas for educating you about the complex, unpredictable nature of life on earth.

Next time someone shoves a brochure in your hand and tells you to quit your job, thank them very kindly for trying to boil the world down into a nursery-room-level set of talking points, then get back to your life.

The second reason these people peeve me is because their world-view invites the Big Cop-out.  That’s the way of thinking that goes something like this:  “We’re all doomed, so I might as well do nothing.”

Is it going to reverse global warming for you to buy a more efficient car, or eat more local food.  No, of course not.

In the same vein, it wasn’t going to end Jim Crow for one business owner in the South in the 1950s to open his doors to African Americans.

But little steps multiplied by billions of people really do matter.

All of us making small, generous contributions to our shared world make it livable, make it better, make it incrementally more hopeful and sustainable.

So here’s instruction number two:  Next time someone tells you that any particular end-times scenario is about to play out, fight back by doing one cool, generous, positive thing.

Sure, you could go out and arm yourself and stock up your basement with a year’s worth of Evian water and wrap your children’s heads in lead foil.  (Don’t ask…)

But wouldn’t you rather go down with a shovel in your hand?  Wouldn’t you rather see the fireball rise while planting a tree or while cleaning up a park?  Why not go up in smoke at a potluck dinner surrounded by your best friends?

Before I go, let me mention a final reason that doom-sayers creep me out:  Life on earth is actually pretty hard for a lot of people and this kind of stuff makes a mockery of their struggles.

It’s a patently sad fact that most of these outbreaks of hysteria occur among people who are fairly well-off and fairly comfortable.  If I had to simplify, I’d say that a lot of these True Believers are just sort of bored.

Getting up and going to work every day, and raising your kids, and paying your mortgage, that’s all sort of dreary when looked at from one point of view, especially if money’s tight and you’re not sure about your future prospects.

But set all that hum-drum daily stuff against the backdrop of Judgment Day and it begins to look a lot more melodramatic.

That’s why you don’t see the folks staring down the flooding Mississippi or braving the tornado outbreaks in the South standing in their yards with goofy home-made signs welcoming the Rapture.

Those are the real heroes, the people who are facing the real dramas, the real crises that our world often hurls our way.

They’re doing it with hope and faith and grit.  And with that trait that most often helps us to push back the darkness:  a sense of humor.

So here’s my final post-doomsday instruction:  Next time someone asks you to donate to or volunteer for an organization that believes in the end of the world, give a little instead to a group that actually believes in saving the world.

An environmental group.  A community rebuilding coalition.  A church that’s building affordable housing.  A political group that has real plans for a better America.

Yes, building stuff is a lot harder than sitting around waiting for that first Crack of Thunder.  But in the end, it’s also a lot more satisfying.

Morning Read: Is the priest scandal a product of the Sixties?

The Roman Catholic church is still reeling from the “pedophile priest” scandal, which damaged the institution’s credibility badly, while also culling a lot of desperately needed (but dangerous) clergy.

The Diocese of Ogdensburg is reconfiguring its entire mission in the North Country to account for a growing priest shortage.

Now a new study by researchers at the widely respected John Jay College of Criminal Justice has reached a startling conclusion:

The sex-abuse crisis wasn’t a side-effect of the Church’s culture, or of the chastity vow, but a product of the 1960s.

[M]ost of the priest-offenders came from seminary classes of the 1940s and 1950s who were not properly trained to confront the upheavals of the 1960s, when behavioral norms were upended and crime overall in the United States spiked, the researchers said.

“There’s no indication in our data that priests are any more likely to abuse children than anyone else in society,” said Karen Terry, principal investigator for the report, at a news conference where the report was released Wednesday.

The study is the subject of an Associated Press article that appeared today in the Glens Falls Post Star.

Terry argues that their research was conducted independently, without input of meddling by bishops.  But critics of the church quickly blasted the report.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests dismissed the report as “garbage in, garbage out” because the bishops paid for much of the $1.8 million study, along with Catholic foundations, individual donors and a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Some additional questions are likely in order here.  If the sex-abuse crisis was a product of the 60s, why did it also erupt in parts of the world — Ireland, Mexico, Spain — that remained socially conservative?

But at the very least, this study will add to a meaningful discussion of the crisis that has wounded a cherished North Country institution.

It also suggests another important question:  If priests weren’t being adequately prepared for the modern world, has that training improved?

Will the next generation of priests be better equipped to deal with the complexities and ambiguities of American life?

As always, your comments welcome.