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As on a darkling plain – Prozac and France: Get Religion, November 29, 2013 November 29, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach, stanza 3, (1867)

More bad news for France.

The lede in the back cover story (page 22) in the Nov 26, 2013 issue of Le Monde reports: « La France a perdu un record. Mais personne ne s’en plaindra. » (France has lost a record, but no one will be complaining.)

The article entitled « La France n’est plus leader dans la consommation d’antidépresseurs » reports La belle France has lost its coveted status as Europe’s number one country for pill-popping.

Parmi les champions d’Europe de la consommation d’antidépresseurs en tout genre, le pays est maintenant largement distancé dans sa fringale de psychotropes. Selon le rapport 2013 de l’Organisation de coopération et de développement économiques (OCDE) sur la santé (« Health at a Glance 2013 ») publié le 21 novembre, l’Hexagone se situe même sous la moyenne des 23 pays du classement, ex aequo avec l’Allemagne ! Une prouesse au pays de la « sinistrose ».

Once among the European champions in the consumption of antidepressants, the country has lost ground in its consumption of psychotropic munchies. According to the 2013 report “Health at a Glance” from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development published on Nov 21, l’Hexagone (France) is even below average of the 23 countries ranked, and is tied with the land of gloom, Germany. Quite a accomplishment!

The article reports that France is tied with Germany and Slovenia in 15th place in consuming 50 doses per 1000 people per day, while Iceland reigns supreme with 106 doses per day. The French are now less depressed than the Danes (4), Swedes (5), Portuguese (6), British (7), Belgians (9),  Spanish (10), Norwegians (11),  and Luxembourgers (12).

Greece did not turn in any data, the article adds, but notes the number of suicides in that country has risen 45 per cent from 2007 to 2011.

It is in its discussion of the “why” — why the increase in the use of antidepressants that this piece strays into Get Religion land.  Quoting Gaétan Lafortune, the coordinator of the report, Le Monde writes:

La crise? « l’idée que la récession, le chômage ont plongé certains individus dans une profonde détres se », note M. Lafortune.

The crisis? “We can not rule out the idea that the recession and unemployment has plunged individuals into deep depression,” notes Mr. Lafortune.

However, he adds that in Germany where there is “almost full employment” the use of “antidepressants increased by 46 per cent between 2007 and 2011″, while the “lucky country” of Australia is second on the list of antidepressant consumers. Le Monde further muses on the apparent lack of correlation between economic well-being and consumption of antidepressants, finally coming to the conclusion the increase is due to the lack of stigma surrounding mental illness and over prescription of pills by physicians.

Perhaps, but is there not a religion ghost here as well? Could, or should, Le Monde have addressed the question whether the decline of religious faith, the moral ennui and entropy that has taken hold of Europe been considered? Would the discussion of the “why” been improved by a question or comment or two from psychologists or religious leaders addressing the issue of the meaning of life?

France is after all the land of Sartre, Camus and existentialism. Whether it was couched in faith, philosophy or psychology this story would have been stronger with a discussion of the “why” that moved beyond materialism.

“[F]or the world, which seems,” Matthew Arnold wrote in stanza four of Dover Beach,

To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night

First posted in Get Religion.

Interview: Issues, Etc: May 24, 2013 May 26, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Interviews/Citations, Issues Etc, Presbyterian/Church of Scotland.
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Here is an to an interview I gave to the Issues, Etc. show of Lutheran Public Radio broadcast on 24 May 2013

Podcast: Download (Duration: 14:22 — 5.9MB)

2. Media Coverage of the Church of Scotland Decision on Gay Clergy & Catholic Youth in France – George Conger, 5/24/13

Catho-style: Get Religion, May 21, 2013 May 21, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Marriage, Politics, Youth/Children.
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Let me draw your attention to this fascinating article in the Parisian weekly news magazine Le Nouvel Observateur about the new generation of Catholics arising in France.

The article « Plongée dans la galaxie “catho-réac-décomplexée” » in Le Nouvel Obs(with a circulation of over 500,000 it is France’s most widely read general information weekly) asks the question who is leading the charge against the Socialist government’s gay marriage agenda — and finds that it is the “cathos 2.0″ generation. The 20-25 year old:

Enfants de Jean-Paul II et de Benoît XVI, … une nouvelle génération catho à la tête haute, grisée par la découverte de la militance, est née, très éloignée de la pudique discrétion de ses aînés.

Children of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, … a new generation of Catholic has arisen, intoxicated by their discovery of militancy that is  far different from the modest discretion of their elders.

Deconstructing this article has proven to be a hard task. On the surface the story of the Cathos 2.0 generation is so strong that it cannot be killed by a skeptical or hostile presentation. It is a French man bites dog story — student revolutionaries in Paris as ultramontane Catholics.

On the surface Le Nouvel Obs seems to have framed the story against the interest of the subject. While it allows the young Catholics to tell their own story, the analysis and commentary is drawn from the left — academics and liberal Catholics who bemoan the conservative political and doctrinal views of Cathos 2.0. Nor do we hear from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France. This packaging should have made the issues unattractive and painted the subjects in an unsympathetic light. But  by the end of the story these young people come off well. You like them.

The article starts off in a critical yet cinematographic mode – – were this a film the opening paragraph would be accompanied by an accordion and perhaps Edith Piaf.

Trois garçons arrivent à Vespa. Un jeune couple veste treillis-capuche-fourrure traverse la place depuis le Café de Flore, situé juste en face. Une grappe de caqueteuses s’approche joyeusement de l’entrée tout en échangeant bises et potins. Une retardataire en talons hauts et breloques diamantées aux oreilles les rejoint en trottinant. Un concert ou un spectacle ? Pas du tout. Comme tous les dimanches soir, la jeunesse chic et branchée de la rive gauche a rendez-vous avec… Jésus ! Le clocher bat le rappel, c’est l’heure de la messe à Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

Dans une église bondée, les jeunes gens, moyenne d’âge 20-25 ans, s’agenouillent devant le saint sacrement comme les bigotes d’autrefois. L’encens brouille la vue, et le choeur entonne un chant latin repris par une assemblée sagement recueillie. Non, nous ne sommes pas chez les traditionalistes de la Fraternité Saint-Pie-X, mais à l’une des cérémonies dominicales destinées à la jeunesse francilienne.

Three boys arrive on a Vespa. A young couple wearing hooded fur jackets crosses the square from the Café de Flore, located just opposite. A cluster of prattling girls happily approaching the entrance while exchanging kisses and gossip. A latecomer in high heels and diamond earrings hurries in. A concert or a show? No. Every Sunday night the chic and trendy youth of the left bank have an appointment with … Jesus! The bell sounds. It is time for Mass at Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

In a crowded church, young people, 20-25 years of age, kneel before the Blessed Sacrament like the bigots of the past. Incense blurs vision and the choir sings a Latin chant taken up by a by the congregation.No, we are not in the traditionalist Society of St. Pius X, but one of the Sunday ceremonies for Catholic youth.

The article continues with this skeptical, near derogatory tone. Traditional Catholic readers are likely to feel the bile rising in their throats as the read the story. Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and act of « les bigotes d’autrefois »?

On les croyait effacés, et de fait ils nous étaient devenus invisibles. Depuis six mois, on les découvre par centaines de milliers battant le pavé sans relâche contre le mariage gay, veillant à la lumière des bougies sur les Invalides, créant happening sur happening grâce à la force de leurs réseaux, formant le gros des troupes de ces défenseurs acharnés de la famille dite traditionnelle.

Were not these people erased from French life? Had they not become invisible? But for six monthshundreds of thousands of them have pounded the pavement tirelessly protesting against gay marriage, lighting candles on the Invalides, creating event after event in the streets on the strength of their social networks, forming the vanguard of defenders of the so-called traditional family.

The presentation and the structure the first three quarters the story follows the conventional secular thinking of the French elites. Yet by the end of the piece you’re hooked by these kids – – their enthusiasm, their excitement, their faith. I cannot tell whether this was an accident or was calculated move to bring the reader on board. Perhaps what we are seeing here is a conscious bait and switch.

How do you get a middle-aged left-liberal secular audience to read a story about a youth movement that detests the values and agenda of the ’68 generation now in power? You do it by couching the story in tropes and phrases that are comfortable to the audience — and then you slip them a story about young attractive — chic — students at France’s elite universities whose faith is changing France and shaking up the French church.

Am I reading too much into this article? What say you GR Readers? For those whose French has faded away since High School, Worldcrunch has a shorter version of this article in English. Beware! The Worldcrunch version is not a translation but a re-write in English and has been de-Francofied for an American audience.

First published in Get Religion.

Gay marriage and golf: Get Religion, February 11, 2013 February 11, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Marriage, Multiculturalism.
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Little news of the gay marriage debate in the French National Assembly has made its way across the Atlantic into the American press. The lack of news coverage could be due to the perception that the outcome is not in doubt. The governing Socialist Party and their allies on the left hold a majority and have directed their members to vote in favor. Or France, being a very foreign country, the goings on way over there are of little concern to the American newspaper audience.

Whatever the reason, the lack of interest is a shame as the debate has been informative, lively and fun to watch. And, some of the arguments being proffered have not been laid before the American public. Let me digress for a moment and bring you up to speed as to where things stand as of this post’s publication.

The story so far — Following last year’s general election victory by the Socialist Party (PS) and its presidential candidate, François Hollande (I have shortened this from François Gérard Georges Nicolas Hollande), the party and its allies on the Left — the Radicals, Communists, etc., began the legislative implementation of their campaign promise to legalize gay marriage and permit gay couples to adopt children. The right has fought the move while social conservative groups — led by the Catholic Church — have mounted a vigorous public protest campaign, culminating in the largest public demonstrations last month in France in the last 30 years.

In the National Assembly, the right, led by the UMP party, proposed 4999 amendments to the bill. After 24 marathon sessions spread over ten days, with many sittings lasting until the small hours of the morning, the National Assembly concluded debate on Friday and a formal vote is scheduled for Tuesday, 12 Feb 2013.  The Senate will then take up the bill on 18 March.

Back to GetReligion — When I say the debate has been fun, I mean that it has been vigorous and pointed to a degree seldom seen in the U.S. Americans fed upon the pap of MSNBC or Fox commentators might find the French political debate indigestible — too spicy, too rich. Part of this lies in the stark polarization of French public life. In European eyes there is very little difference between the American Democrat and Republican Parties. While such an observation would baffle most Americans, from a French perspective the difference between the two American parties is miniscule compared to the spread of ideas between the Communists and the extreme Right in France.

And the place of religion in politics is very different in France — some right-wing French groups are ultra-montane Catholics while others are atheists — and there are Catholic Socialists on left (though no Catholic Communists I have found, though friends tell me a few of their seminary professors might qualify).

The right-wing news blog, 24 heures actu, which the Atlantico says

est un média impertinent de droite, radical (sans être extrême), et dans une France bâillonnée par le discours convenu de certaines élites, ça fait du bien !

is an impertinent radical right (though not extreme) publication, and with France gagged by the conventional chatter of its elites, its impertinence is a good thing.

has attacked gay marriage as racist.

Le mariage pour tous serait-il, à l’image du golf, un loisir réservé aux blancs et aux bourgeois ?

Will “marriage for all”, like golf, be a hobby reserved for whites and the bourgeoise?

N.b., “Marriage for all” or “mariage pour tous” is the French equivalent of America’s “marriage equality” — a slogan of the left that seeks to drive the direction of the debate through packaging. But again I digress. Calling “marriage for all” a liberal bourgeois preoccupation that is irrelevant to the lives of “les pauvres, les Noirs, les Arabes, les Asiatiques, les Juifs, les Latinos, les ouvriers et les chômeur”( it is more euphonious in French, but means, the poor, Blacks, Arabs, Asians, Jews, Latinos, and the unemployed), might be dismissed out of hand were it not for the revolt of the black (or should I say Franco-African) Socialist deputies from the Caribbean and Réunion who have broken with the PS and will vote no. The center-left Paris daily Libération reports that none of the black overseas members of the GDR (gauche démocrate et républicaine) of the Front de gauche (Left Front) will support the bill.

Libération cites a speech given to the National Assembly by Bruno-Nestor Azerot, a deputy from Martinique who said in overseas departments, almost all of our population is opposed to this project that “challenges all the customs, all the values” of French citizens. M. Azerot added that it was offensive to link the civil rights movement with the gay rights movement, noting in particular that black slaves could not marry or raise families recognized as legitimate by the state. Marriage for all, he argued would undermine the family and devalue the hard won social and legal rights of France’s former slave populations.

A white PS leader from Réunion (a French overseas department in the Indian Ocean) Jean-Claude Fruteau told Libération he had not received any “negative reaction” from his constituency but added that a demonstration in Saint-Denis-de-la-Réunion organized by the Catholic bishop of the island should not be taken as a sign of the strength of the opposition to the bill. Réunion was a “small department where the Catholic Church has a strong influence,” he said.

Libération explained to its readers why overseas Black deputies would opposed gay marriage by quoting the chairman of the Left Front Group in the National Assembly, Communist Deputy André Chassaigne. In overseas territories, i.e., in departments with a majority black population, the “cultural dimension of family values may be more pronounced, it has a more traditional look.” The overseas deputies were invoking a “family model that was more conservative than in France,” but were “imposing religious practices” and “local circumstances” onto the French national stage.

The Libération article is written from an advocacy perspective — it makes no pretense at being balanced or offering opposing commentary. It quotes the speeches of the black deputies, but offers explanation and interpretation only from the left. The article is framed in such a way to help the newspaper’s liberal readers understand the puzzling phenomena of why blacks, whose rights the Left has always championed, would not return this support on the issue of gay marriage.

Frankly, I would not have expected Libération to have addressed the issue any other way. French newspapers have different standards than American ones. Criticizing Libération for being something that it is not is a pointless exercise, though pointing out its biases to those unaware of the differences between American and European journalism is a necessary task.

My colleagues and I at GetReligion have written hundreds of articles detailing the creeping Europeanization of the American press — where the New York Times and other prominent media outlets engage in advocacy journalism. But unlike the French or British press, they do not admit to their biases. While I would not hold out the European model as the ideal, its unashamed partisanship does allow for a discussion of issues that would never be countenanced in the American press — gay marriage, race (and golf) is one such subject.

First published in GetReligion.

Anti-gay marriage protests prompts the ire of the BBC: Get Religion, January 14, 2013 January 15, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Figaro 14 Jan 2013The BBC has an extraordinary report on its website detailing Sunday’s march in the French capital by opponents of a government bill to create same-sex marriages. Fact free, disdainful of opponents of gay marriage, incurious as to the intellectual and moral issues at play, lacking in balance, padded out with the author’s opinions and non sequiturs — this report entitled “Mass rally against gay marriage in France” is a poor outing for the corporation. It has the feel of a rush job written in the back of a cab on the way to the airport — or at the hotel bar.

Written in the one sentence paragraph style favored by British tabloids, the article opens with the news of the protest, where it took place and why:

But the demonstrators, backed by the Catholic Church and the right-wing opposition, argue it would undermine an essential building block of society.

The BBC then plays the Million Man March game. (For those unfamiliar with this sport, the Million Man March game is one way a news outlet telegraphs its opinions. If it favors the event it accepts the numbers given by the organizers. If opposed, it plays up the numbers offered by the police.)

The organisers put the number of marchers at 800,000, with demonstrators pouring into Paris by train and bus, carrying placards that read, “We don’t want your law, Francois” and “Don’t touch my civil code”.

Police said the figure was closer to 340,000 and one government minister said the turnout was lower than the organisers had predicted. A similar march in November attracted around 100,000 people.

Where the reader in any doubt as to where this was going, the sentence structure should clear that up. The BBC offers the organizers’ numbers first, but undercuts them with police numbers and the claim of an unnamed government minister who poo-poos the turnout. Absent from this is the news that this is the biggest mass protest in France since 1984 or that the organizers were hoping to have at least 100,000 people in the streets. That is called context and that is missing.

We then move to ridicule, or in modern parlance “snark.”

The “Demo for all” event was being led by a charismatic comedian known as Frigide Barjot, who tweeted that the “crowd is immense” and told French TV that gay marriage “makes no sense” because a child should be born to a man and woman.

A charismatic comedienne shall lead them, the BBC reports — even though the story opens with the news that the march is backed by French religious leaders and the opposition (the right wing opposition the BBC reminds us).  Hiss and boo here. The French press and Reuters reported the presence of French archbishops, the head of the Protestant Federation, the chief Imam of Paris in the march. Gay leaders who oppose gay marriage on the grounds that it is an imposition of bourgeois heterosexual norms on homosexuals — by backing gay marriage French President Francois Hollande is condescending and homophobic some gay activists claim — were marching also. And what does the BBC offer as the face of the opposition? The “muse” of the march, as she is called by La Croix, Frigide Barjot.

The article notes:

Despite the support of the Church and political right, the organisers are keen to stress their movement is non-political and non-religious, and in no way directed against homosexuals, BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield reports.

In its broadcast, the BBC’s Paris correspondent states the organizers of the rally are being “clever”.  They wanted to give a “clear message”.  They “don’t want to be typecast as homophobes and they rather resent the way that what they would see as the ‘left wing liberal establishment’ has tried to paint them as reactionaries and homophobic types.”

Or, the clear message might be, “they don’t want a law passed creating gay marriage” and resent the false caricatures offered by the left wing press. Watch the report to hear that English classic — a harrumph — offered by the BBC’s correspondent when saying “left wing liberal establishment.”

The reporter also mentions the presence of anti-gay marriage gay activists — but tells the audience they are a minority within the French gay community. How does he know this? Is this not a “man bites dog angle” that is news worthy? Evidently not — for the BBC tells us to “move on, nothing here to see.”

The next trick used to rubbish the marchers is the use of selective polling.

An opinion poll of almost 1,000 people published by Le Nouvel Observateur newspaper at the weekend suggested that 56% supported gay marriage, while 50% disapproved of gay adoption. The poll also said that 52% of those questioned disapproved of the Church’s stand against the legislation. Earlier polls had indicated stronger support for the legalisation of gay marriage.

Would it have made a difference to report on other polls showing a shift in public opinion away from gay marriage since the Church began to rally the opposition — or that a majority in France are opposed to passage of both the marriage and adoption bill?

The article closes with this gem.

As the marchers began arriving in the centre of Paris, four Ukrainian activists staged their own protest in St Peter’s Square in the Vatican in support of gay rights. The women from feminist group Femen appeared topless while Pope Benedict recited his traditional Angelus prayer. Police moved to restrain the activists, one of whom was attacked by a worshipper brandishing an umbrella.

Nice photo of a topless blonde being savaged by an old Italian women wielding an umbrella — but apart from the opportunity to use that photo in the story, what purpose does adding four Ukrainian activists in Rome to a story of several hundred thousand Frenchmen protesting in Paris?

Perhaps I am as the psychologists say, “projecting”, seeing in the actions of others my own sins? Perhaps there is some of that behind my ire. But I’ve been at this  long enough to recognize the tricks of the trade.

Read it all in Get Religion.

Missing the grasshopper in the stem cell debate: Get Religion, December 7, 2012 December 8, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Abortion/Euthanasia/Biotechnology, Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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Master Po: Ha, ha, never assume because a man has no eyes he cannot see. Close your eyes. What do you hear?
Young Caine: I hear the water, I hear the birds.
Master Po: Do you hear your own heartbeat?
Young Caine: No.
Master Po: Do you hear the grasshopper that is at your feet?
Young Caine: Old man, how is it that you hear these things?
Master Po: Young man, how is it that you do not?

D0 you remember “Kung Fu?” From 1972 to 1975 ABC broadcast the story of Caine, a Sino-American Shaolin monk tramping across the old West in search of enlightenment and his half-brother. Following upon the martial arts craze of the early 1970′s, “Kung Fu” also instructed America in  the wisdom of the East. Like the Charlie Chan movies of an earlier generation, each episode episode included a faux pearl of oriental wisdom — a philosophical bromide designed to expand the viewer’s conscious.

The deep thought from this episode, young grasshopper, is the distinction between seeing and perceiving. One can see but still be blind to the world around you. Let’s take this lesson and apply it to Wednesday’s reports in the press on the embryonic stem cell vote in the French Senate. (How’s that for a transition …)

In several posts at GetReligion I have lauded the European advocacy model of reporting, where a news story is unashamedly presented from a particular partisan political view. Read the coverage about the same issue in Le Figaro (right), Le Monde (center) and Liberation (left) and you will have a good appreciation of a subject.  (So long as they are not talking about the United States.) My accolade for a partisan press is premised on there being a conversation — a dialogue between the reader and the newspapers — where all the facts are presented and disparate interpretations are offered for the intelligent reader to assess.

This model does not work well, however, when newspapers devote different space and resources to a story — or when an important perspective is ignored. Le Figaro, Le Monde and Liration — generally considered to be France’s newspapers of record — offered good first day stories on the Senate vote but fell down in the follow up. The politics were done well, the moral issues were not. Here is some background:

The major newspapers reported that the French Senate on 4 Dec 2012 passed the first reading of a bill to overturn the country’s ban on embryonic stem cell research. In 2004 France outlawed research on fetal stem cells and the ban was re-affirmed on ethical grounds in 2011 by the conservative government. The new Socialist government, however, has backed a bill allowing the research.

The parties of the left, the Socialists, Radicals, Communists, all voted in favor, while the conservatives split. The final vote was 203 to 74 — 63 conservative senators were either not present for the vote, or abstained.

All three of the major French newspapers had extensive quotes from senators for and against the measure. Liberation had the most extensive coverage, Le Figaro the least — but from a journalistic perspective all did a solid job as a reader could understand and assess the arguments proffered by both sides. The government and it supporters held that fetal stem cell research would be a boost to French science, would lead to scientific discoveries that would save lives, and would be strictly regulated by the government allowing no “commodication” of stem cells.

The conservatives said fetal stem cell research was immoral, scientifically unnecessary and contradicted established government policy.  From Le Figaro:

« “Il s’agit d’un revirement à 180 degrés » a protesté Dominique de Legge (UMP).  « Les cellules souches adultes ne sont-elles pas une alternative crédible à la recherche sur l’embryon? » s’est-il demandé.

Roughly translated — “This is a 180 degree turnabout,” protested Dominique de Legge of the conservative Union pour un Mouvement Populaire party. “Are not adult stem cells a viable alternative to embryos for research,” he asked.

And:

Jean-François Copé, président proclamé de l’UMP, a dans un communiqué publié avant le début de la discussion vivement critiqué le texte.« Ce projet de la gauche est un renversement complet de la logique actuelle du Code civil qui garantit le respect de la vie et de la dignité humaine », a-t-il estimé.

Jean-Francois Cope, president-elect of the UMP was strongly critical of the bill. In a statement released before the debate he stated: “This project of the Left is a complete reversal of the current logic of our Civil Code which guarantees respect for life and for human dignity.”

The second day stories took a geographic turn, with regional newspapers reporting on how their senators voted. What was nt reported was the news the French Episcopal Conference denounced the bill on ethical grounds. Outside  the Catholic press, I found one mention of the church’s response — in Le Telegramme, a conservative paper from Brittany.

Le Croix, is a “Catholic” newspaper but not a “church” newspaper. By this I mean it is a general interest newspaper, with approximately 100,00 subscribers — roughly a third the size of the big three — and is written from a Catholic intellectual and moral perspective. It covered the senate debate in detail, but also ran a story on the reaction from the hierarchy.

The article “Mgr d’Ornellas juge« choquant » le vote du Sénat autorisant la recherche sur l’embryon” stated the Archbishop of Rennes, Msg. Pierre d’Ornellas was “shocked” by the vote.

Speaking on behalf of the French Episcopal Conference, the archbishop said the church objected to the vote on moral and political grounds.

« L’embryon humain a le droit d’être protégé … », indique Mgr d’Ornellas selon qui le Sénat « a remis en cause ce respect ».

“The human embryo has a right of protection,” Msg. d’Ornellas said, and the Senate “has challenged this respect.”

And:

« Cela est choquant. Et un tel changement est opéré sans même qu’un véritable débat ait eu lieu.»

“This is shocking. And such a change is being made without any real debate taking place.”

Msg. d’Ornellas saved his best argument for last. For goodness sakes, even the Germans do not allow experimentation on embryonic stem cells, protested the archbishop.

« L’Allemagne maintient l’interdiction de recherche sur l’embryon humain. Faudra-t-il que ce soit l’Allemagne qui soit en avance dans le respect dû à l’être humain ? »

“Germany maintains the ban on human embryo research. Will Germany be ahead of us in the respect due to human beings?”

None of this saw the light of day except in Le Croix and other Catholic outlets. All three of the majors reported on the ethical questions raised in the Senate debate — but I’ve not found where they followed up with a report on the the source of these ethical questions — the Catholic Church.

Here is one of the problems of advocacy reporting — the omission of news that does not fit into the worldview of the editorial board of a newspaper. When there is a multitude of voices, there can be a multitude of angles for a story. But as this story demonstrates — it can also lead to the silencing of important aspects of a story. We hear the birds. We hear the water, but do not hear or see the grasshopper at our feet.

First printed at GetReligion.

Whistling in the dark about Islam and reform: Get Religion, December 3, 2012 December 3, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Civil Rights, Get Religion, Human Sexuality --- The gay issue, Islam, Press criticism.
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Has anyone seen a story in the U.S. press about the opening of France’s first gay-friendly mosque? I’ve not come across anything in the U.S. mainstream media so far, but the story has received a great deal of play from the European press.

Now the cynic in me would want to feign shock at the New York Times not having picked up this story as it deals with an issue dear to its heart. However, it is the foreign policy ramifications of this story that I thought would attract the attention of the U.S. media elite — for the underlying theme of this story has been the philosophical principle behind U.S. Middle East policy. All right-thinking people — government leaders, columnists, the professoriate — believe Islam can be reformed and its tenets brought in line with the Western liberal mind. I am surprised not to have seen America’s public intellectuals jump all over this story.

On Friday Le Monde published a tight, nicely written story entitled « Une “mosquée” ouverte aux homosexuels près de Paris ». Drawing from a Reuters wire service story and its own reporting, Le Monde reported that a gay French Muslim had opened a mosque in a borrowed room on the grounds of a Buddhist dojo outside Paris.

Reuters reported:

Europe’s first gay and lesbian-friendly mosque opens on Friday in an eastern Paris suburb, in a challenge to mainstream Islam’s long tradition of condemning same-sex relationships. The mosque, set up in a small room inside the house of a Buddhist monk, will welcome transgender and transsexual Muslims and seat men and women together, breaking with another custom where the sexes are normally segregated during prayer. Its founder, French-Algerian gay activist and practicing Muslim Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, will also encourage women to lead Friday prayers, smashing yet another taboo.

“It’s a radically inclusive mosque. A mosque where people can come as they are,” said Zahed, 35, whose prayer space will be the first in Europe to formally brand itself as a gay-friendly mosque, according to Muslim experts.

M. Zahed sounds like he has latent Episcopalian-syndrome and uses all the right sort of Christian left buzz words. The story offers a few more words of explanation from M. Zahed, negative reactions from French Muslim leaders and closes with comments from a French academic.

“The goal of these Muslims is to promote a form of Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” said Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, an associate researcher at France’s Research and Studies Institute on the Arab and Muslim World. The push by gay Muslims for acceptance comes as a younger generation of Muslims is questioning some of the existing interpretations of the Koran as over-conservative. “Even though they are still a extreme minority, their views have a solid theological basis. So their message is not having an insignificant impact,” Bergeaud-Blackler said.

The Le Monde story goes a bit deeper. The comments from French Muslim leaders are much harsher than those reported by Reuters.

« Il y a des musulmans homosexuels, ça existe, mais ouvrir une mosquée, c’est une aberration, parce que la religion, c’est pas ça », estime Abdallah Zekri, président de l’Observatoire des actes islamophobes, sous l’autorité du Conseil français du culte musulman (CFCM).

Which I roughly translate as:

“There are Muslim homosexuals. They exist. But to open a mosque, that is an aberration because homosexuality is contrary to our religion,” said Abdallah Zekri, president of the Islamophobia (sorry AP but that’s what Le Monde calls it) Observer for the CFCM.

 Le Monde also has some choice quotes from M. Zahed as well.

« Les musulmans ne doivent pas se sentir honteux. L’homosexualité n’est condamnée nulle part, ni dans le Coran ni dans la sunna. Si le prophète Mahomet était vivant, il marierait des couples d’homosexuels. » Il rêve d’un islam « apaisé, réformé, inclusif », qui accepterait le blasphème car « la pensée critique est essentielle pour le développement spirituel ».

Which I understand to mean:

Muslims should not feel ashamed. Homosexuality is not condemned either in the Koran or in the Sunna. If the Prophet Muhammad were alive, he would marry of homosexual couples.” [Zahed] dreams of  “peaceful, reformed, inclusive” Islam which which accepts blasphemy as “critical thinking essential to its spiritual development.”

Le Monde frames the story in a sympathetic light to M. Zahed. He is the underdog seeking to reform an ossified, dyed in the wool religious establishment. The article offers both sides of the debate — M. Zahed’s beliefs and the institutional response. However, I am surprised this item has not received the New Yorker 10,000 word treatment. A Muslim who speaks like an Episcopalian I imagine would be catnip to the mainstream American media.

The Islam of M. Zahed is that of Presidents Bush and Obama. Government policy since 9/11 has been predicated on the belief that Islam is like Christianity or Judaism. Given enough time, money and jawboning, Islam can reform and accommodate itself within a secularist pluralist society.

Le Monde‘s article about M. Zahed and Islam is written from a Westernized Christian worldview. Change the location to Texas and Islam for Southern Baptists and you would have the exact same story — even down to the buzz words and phrases proffered by M. Zahed. How often is it repeated that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality?

However, Islam is fundamentally different from Judaism and Christianity and this difference is what makes it nearly impossible for Islam to reform. And, it is the consensus of Islamic scholars that Islam is in no need of reform. Writing in the Asia Times under the pen name Spengler, David P. Goldman’, stated:

Hebrew and Christian scripture claim to be the report of human encounters with God. After the Torah is read each Saturday in synagogues, the congregation intones that the text stems from “the mouth of God by the hand of Moses”, a leader whose flaws kept him from entering the Promised Land. The Jewish rabbis, moreover, postulated the existence of an unwritten Revelation whose interpretation permits considerable flexibility with the text. Christianity’s Gospels, by the same token, are the reports of human evangelists.

The Archangel Gabriel, by contrast, dictated the Koran to Mohammed, according to Islamic doctrine. That sets a dauntingly high threshold for textual critics. How does one criticize the word of God without rejecting its divine character? In that respect the Koran resembles the “Golden Tablets” of the Angel Moroni purported found by the Mormon leader Joseph Smith more than it does the Jewish or Christian bibles.

Now almost 10 years old, Spengler’s “You say you want a reformation?” remains fresh and his observations stand as a challenge to U.S. government policies that believe Islam can be transformed into another variety of American Protestantism.

Speaking at the U.N. in September, President Obama said of the Arab Spring:

“True democracy—real freedom—is hard work,” Mr. Obama said. “Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissidents. In hard economic times, countries must be tempted— may be tempted—to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”

Can Islam, which allows for no distinction between church and state, reform? The academic cited in the Le Monde piece believes it can. France’s first gay mosque will be a symbol of the younger generation’s desire for an “Islam that is inclusive of progressive values,” she stated. A contrary voice speaking to Islam’s response to minority voices (past and present) would have been a welcome counterweight. And give pause to those expecting peace to break out all over the Muslim world.

First printed in Get Religion.

La France Catholique Renaissante: Get Religion, August 14, 2012 August 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Everything is at root dependent on politics

Jean Jacques Rousseau

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary — August 15 — will be marked by the Catholic Church in France by the revival of prayers for the eldest daughter of the Church (France).

Reuter’s report on the prayers characterizes them as:

opposing the same-sex marriage and euthanasia reforms planned by the new Socialist government.

The prayer, to be read in all churches on Aug 15, echoes the defense of traditional marriage by Pope Benedict and Catholic leaders around the world as gay nuptials gain acceptance, especially in Europe and North America.

King Louis XIII decreed in 1638 that all churches would pray on Aug 15, the day Catholics believe the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, for the good of the country. The annual practice fell into disuse after World War Two.

While there may be more to the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary than its being of benefit to France, overall this article is nicely done — tight, balanced and precise. Yet I cannot help but wonder if an American political lens is the one through which this prayer is being viewed. The Reuter’s article demonstrates there are political ramifications to the prayers — but should these be the focus of the story?

The article states the prayer that children “cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother” is a rejection of gay adoption, while the prayer that Catholics pray for government leaders “so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands” is a rejection of the Socialist government’s plans to authorize gay marriage and euthanasia.

The article notes:

The prayer is unusual for French bishops, who usually keep a low political profile. Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said they wanted to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.”

The article also ties the story into a wider global political context citing Pope Benedict XVI’s January statement that gay marriage threatened the “future of humanity itself” along with the political push to legalize gay marriage in the U.S. and the U.K.

A front page interview in Le Figaro printed on 14 August with the Archbishop of Lyon, Mgr. Phillipe Barbarin entitled: «Il ne faut pas dénaturer le mariage» may strengthen a political interpretation of these prayers. In response to questions from Le Figaro about their political nature, Mgr. Barbarin stated:

Politics is not a “dirty word”! Prayer has a political dimension, but it is primarily a spiritual act. We turn to God with confidence, asking his help for our loved ones, especially those living in hard times. Nothing is more natural than to pray for our family or our country. [Catholic] prayer has never ignored the issues of social life, let alone human suffering. We can say that our prayer is marked by the living conditions of the society in which we find ourselves.

Nicely said — I would almost characterize this as an American response that defends the place of religion in the public square. American in that, as Reuters notes, the French hierarchy has a reputation of being politically supine.

Le Figaro responds by asking whether the church’s intervention crosses a line, violating the secular nature of the state. And Mgr. Barbarin again pushes back:

Secularism prohibits prayer? Is that what you are asking? Do we live in tyranny? Must  we submit our rituals and our formularies to the dictates of group think? … The situation is serious. … But the primary mission of the church is prayer, and I hope she will be faithful to that calling and speak regardless of public opinion.

But when we get to the text of the prayer, through a question from Le Figaro asking why the church would use the occasion of the Assumption Day prayers to express its opposition to “gay marriage and the adoption of children by such couples”, Mgr. Barbarin changes tack.

Have you read this prayer? None of the phrases you use is there. We can pray for the commitment of spouses, children and youth so that they “fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother” without being accused of homophobia I hope! These are the intentions that rise spontaneously in the heart of believers.

Perhaps the archbishop is being coy in decrying any specific reference to gay marriage/adoption, but he has no problem in a forthright rejection of euthanasia. “A law which would justify euthanasia supports the idea that some lives are not worth living,” the archbishop said, adding that speaking out against Euthanasia on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary was a duty for the church.

The archbishop also appeared to be pleased by the harsh reaction from secular quarters, saying the Catholic Church will no longer be

the doormat on which [French intellectuals] wipe their feet. This suggests that, in these reactions — paradoxically and happily — some seem to be afraid of prayer. Prayer is powerful, indeed!

Let me say I am not criticizing the Reuter’s story not developing the context and providing an analysis of what these prayers mean for France. In the space allotted and in the format of a wire service story, it does a great job.

Yet, I would argue that taken in conjunction with the Le Figaro interview, we are seeing new things — a politically resurgent Catholic Church in France (as Reuter’s points out), but also an intellectually and theologically confident Catholic Church in France.

Do others see this confidence in these reports? And if so, how should a reporter tell this story? Should this story even be touched by a secular reporter? Is this primarily a political story or a religious one? Must everything be reduced to politics and the political, or is it possible for journalists to address a changing intellectual and moral world?

First printed in Get Religion.

Gay marriage and the French Catholic vote: Get Religion, May 17, 2012 May 17, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Politics, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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In light of the media’s fascination with interplay between sex, the Catholic Church and politics, I am always surprised at its lack of curiosity when these worlds collide overseas.

The 6 May 2012 French presidential election is a case in point. Socialist Party (PS) candidate François Hollande captured 18 million votes to incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy’s 16.8 million: 51.64 per cent to 48.36 per cent. The role religion played in the election has received little play in the U.S. save for conservative bloggers, who reported that 93 per cent of France’s 2 million Muslim voters went for Hollande.

Some liberal blogs are warning of the resurgence of a Catholic far right. Writing in the Huffington Post, Eric Margolis argued the National Front was one of the winners in the election, as a Socialist government would invigorate the conservative fringe parties at the expense of Sarkozy’s center-right Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP) party.

But the National Front — xenophobic, racist, violently anti-Muslim and anti-Europe — is poison to moderate French and many members of the UMP. To no surprise, UMP may split, or disintegrate, over the issue of joining forces with the National Front, seen by many French as a reborn fascist movement. In fact, it’s not really fascist, but an avatar of the old 1940 far-right, ultra-conservative, ultra-Catholic movement.

It may very well transpire that a Socialist victory will empower the parties of the far right, but I believe Margolis is off the mark in lumping the far-right with the ultra-Catholic movement (and what exactly is the ultra-Catholic movement anyway?). As I noted in a pre-election post, the French Catholic Church did not endorse any one candidate for the election, but it made it clear that the policies of the National Front were not supported by the Church.

The first article I have seen that looked into how Catholics voted came in the Catholic weekly, La Vie — and its results were a surprise as they closely matched observations made by the editor of GetReligion Terry Mattingly about the American Catholic vote.

Roman Catholics who “go to mass as least once a month” voted 4 to 1 in favor of Sarkozy: 79 per cent to 21 per cent, according to a poll commissioned by Le Vie and conducted by the Harris Institute. Catholics who went to Mass less than once a month, voted 62 per cent to 38 per cent for Sarkozy. Those who self-identified as Catholics but who did not attend mass showed the same voting patters as the French population at large. Those who identified themselves as atheists voted 70 per cent to 30 per cent in favor of Hollande.

In an odd twist to the conventional media wisdom, Sarkozy increased his margins among mass-going Catholics in this election form 70 per cent in 2005 to 79 per cent this month. What was odd about this increase was that Hollande campaigned on a theme of personal probity — fostering a dour frugal image in contrast to the flamboyant Sarkozy.

Gay marriage was one of the reasons for the Catholic rejection of Hollande, the survey found. In an interview with the French gay-oriented glossy magazine TÊTU Hollande stated he would honor the PS’s campaign promise to legalize gay marriage and gay adoption — measures rejected by the UMP-dominated French parliament in 2011. The Harris survey found that mass-going Catholics were not keen on France’s new Socialist President because he was “in favor of same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.”

Last month the LA Times reported that:

A recent poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper found that 64% of French disapproved of Sarkozy. That’s higher even than the rating for the unpopular Valery Giscard d’Estaing during his tenure. Giscard was the last president to lose his reelection bid, in 1981.

The truth is that Sarkozy, 57, has never succeeded in shaking off the negative impression he made at the beginning of his five-year term, that the conservative leader was the “president of the rich.” That image plays badly, especially given that a few months after he took office, the global recession hit, leading to belt-tightening measures.

Before the 2007 election, he had hinted that he would go into retreat in the days before the transfer of power to consider how to lead France. Instead, he threw a party at Fouquet’s, one of the most ostentatious restaurants in France. Then he spent a few days vacationing in the Mediterranean on the yacht of a billionaire businessman friend.

Sarkozy, the French were told, had no hang-ups about celebrity or money; instead of reassuring them, however, the flashy watches and aviator sunglasses simply cemented his reputation as the “bling-bling” president.

Distaste among French voters concerned with social values — the segment were most mass-going Catholic voters can be found — for Sarkozy’s lifestyle appears not to have translated into more votes for Hollande.

La Vie explained the “massive” move to the right by practicing Catholics by stating:

Among the many factors to consider – sociological, economic and cultural – should undoubtedly include anthropological and ethical convictions of these strong Christians.

And for French Catholics gay marriage appeared to be key amongst these convictions. The American Catholic voter matrix created by Tmatt — with the Catholic vote divided amongst Ex-Catholics, Cultural Catholics, Sunday-morning American Catholics and “Sweats the details” Roman Catholic — appears to hold true for France also.

It may be that the sort of article that looks at the big picture of values voters is beyond a newspaper and lies in the realm of a monthly. However, I would welcome an acknowledgement in the American press that the issues that animate our political debates are not unique to these shores.

What say you GetReligion readers? Is this merely interesting ephemera, or a news angle that should be developed further?

First published in GetReligion.

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