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Hypocrisy, grace and a fallen cardinal: Get Religion, March 12, 2013. March 14, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Roman Catholic Church.
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The downfall of Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s senior Roman Catholic cleric, has not shown the press at its best. While the Observer, the Guardian newspaper’ Sunday edition, deserves high praise for breaking the story of the cardinal’s misconduct, a number of stories have adopted a gleeful and sanctimonious tone. Sex and religion sells newspapers – – but coupled with sloppy language and malicious hyperbole good reporting can be squeezed out of a story.

On 3 March 2013 Cardinal O’Brien admitted “there have been times that my sexual conduct has fallen below the standards expected of me as a priest, archbishop and cardinal.”

The Guardian reported that Cardinal O’Brien:

… who was forced to resign by the pope last week, has made a dramatic admission that he was guilty of sexual misconduct throughout his career in the Roman Catholic church. … The former archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and until recently the most senior Catholic in Britain, apologised and asked for forgiveness from those he had “offended” and from the entire church.

… O’Brien’s resignation was remarkable in its speed; his apology is all but unprecedented in its frankness. Many sexual scandals or allegations of misconduct against individuals or the wider church have dragged on for years.

A second story by the Guardian commented that the cardinal’s real sin was not his abuse, but his hypocrisy.

In purely human terms, the story of Cardinal O’Brien’s resignation is tragic. He had spent a lifetime reaching the upper echelons of his church, but after allegations of inappropriate behaviour made in the Observer last Sunday his fall from grace took just 36 hours. Not one of the four complainants takes any satisfaction from that. This is not about the exposure of one man’s alleged foibles. It is about the exposure of a church official who publicly issues a moral blueprint for others’ lives that he is not prepared to live out himself. Homosexuality is not the issue; hypocrisy is. The cardinal consistently condemned homosexuality during his reign, vociferously opposing gay adoption and same-sex marriage. The church cannot face in two directions like a grotesque two-headed monster: one face for public, the other for private.

Other outlets took up the theme of hypocrisy with Salon offering the most over-the-top piece that I have seen so far. Under the title, “Cardinal ‘Tyranny of tolerance’ O’Brien is a hypocrite of the worst order”, Salon published a puerile screed that began:

He was a homosexuality-condemning cardinal who is now embroiled in a tale involving his alleged “drunken fumblings” and unwanted advances toward other men. Well, at least this one’s a Catholic Church scandal that doesn’t involve children. Progress, maybe?

Standing outside of the issue of the cardinal’s misconduct, the journalistic question I would question in these reports is the assertion that Cardinal O’Brien is a hypocrite.

Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another. Here the cardinal is accused of hypocrisy for promoting traditional Christian moral virtues while having failed to live up to them in his private life. An example of hypocrisy familiar to most GetReligion readers would be the scene from the movie Casablanca. Ordered by the Germans to close Rick’s Café, Capt. Renault states he is shocked to find that gambling is taking place in the club. Gambling is illegal Capt. Renault states just as he is handed his winnings from the croupier.

Hypocrisy is different, however, from failing to practice a virtue that one preaches. In Rambler No. 14 Samuel Johnson distinguished between hypocrisy and moral failing.

Nothing is more unjust, however common, than to charge with hypocrisy him that expresses zeal for those virtues which he neglects to practice; since he may be sincerely convinced of the advantages of conquering his passions, without having yet obtained the victory, as a man may be confident of the advantages of a voyage, or a journey, without having courage or industry to undertake it, and may honestly recommend to others, those attempts which he neglects himself.

If the cardinal were engaging in homosexual activities today while preaching the necessity of upholding traditional moral standards, he would be a hypocrite. However, no evidence has been presented that the cardinal has done this. My colleague, Peter Ould, wrote about this scandal:

If Keith O’Brien was publicly teaching one thing and privately practising another, then that’s hypocrisy. If on the other hand he sinned in the past, repented and then taught that such behaviour he had engaged in was sinful, that’s not hypocrisy, that’s grace.

And it is this distinction the secondary reports in the Guardian, Salon and other newspapers do not seem to comprehend. I do not know the full story but before I would accuse the cardinal of hypocrisy I would want to make sure that he was the being a hypocrite. Did he repent? Did he seek absolution for his sin? Or is he a reprobate who did not see his conduct as having been wrong — until his story was printed in the Observer? These questions need be asked before the assertion of hypocrisy is made.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien has committed a thought crime — he teaches that homosexual conduct is immoral while being subject to sexual temptation himself. He has fallen short — but does he teach something he does not believe?

First printed in GetReligion.

Buddhists behaving badly: Get Religion, May 12, 2012 May 12, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Buddhism, Gambling, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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Hypocrisy sells newspapers.

This is a conclusion I have drawn in my years as a religion reporter. Story proposals on a new doctrinal development or a report on a major church conference seldom excites the interest of an editor. [A story proposal about doctrinal development discussed at a conference in Canada is the kiss of death].

But if I can work in an angle about church leaders behaving badly, it may generate a return phone call. And if there is hypocrisy involved I’m just about home. I’ve even found that a long time staple of mine — the naughty vicar story — no longer generates the same level of interest. Sex does not sell by itself. You need an element of hypocrisy in the story to close the deal with a commissioning editor.

All of which brings me to a great story from The Korea Times. While there is no sex, it has the next best thing: monks behaving badly.

Here is the lede from the article entitled from the 11 May 2012 story “Jogye Order in disarray over gambling monks”:

The leadership of Jogye, the nation’s largest Buddhist order, is being thrown into question following the disclosure Thursday of a video clip showing monks gambling, drinking and smoking in a hotel room.

The monks were seen playing poker with hundreds of millions of won, which is believed to be from donations from believers.

Many within and outside the Buddhist circle sees the case as only the tip of the iceberg, saying the government must take action to address corrupt practices in religious groups. Some activists urged the government to introduce a “tax on religion” in a bid to make their spending of donations and expenditure transparent.

Behind the revelation is an internal conflict between the head of the Jogye Order, Ven. Jaseung, and his critics.

The article lays out the disputes within the Jogye Order, which have led to lawsuits between the various factions (Who says Episcopalians have all the fun in suing each other?) And reports that the leader of the Jogye Order has issued an apology for the actions of his worldly clerics.

We deeply apologize for the behavior of several monks in our order. The monks who have caused public concern are currently being investigated and will be punished according to Buddhist regulations as soon as the truth is verified by the prosecution,” said Ven. Jaseung in a statement.

He added that his order will conduct a 108-bows ritual for 100 days starting next Tuesday to repent the misbehavior of the monks.

The Korea Times also reports on how the film of the monks made it into the public eye. It reported that the leader of the dissident faction within the Jogye Order gave the film clip to government prosecutors after he “found a USB drive containing the footage on the floor of his temple.”

I give the Korea Times great credit for playing the article straight. Imagine what another newspaper whose name contains the word “Times” would do with this story about hypocrisy in top religious leaders coupled with a extraordinary explanation of how the tape came into the possession of the dissident faction. He might as well have said it fell off the back of a truck.

The article closes with a comment from an advocate for the reform of the Buddhist orders who states:

“In Europe, religions pay taxes to the government on donations from believers and that money is redistributed to religious groups. In Korea, there’s no such system so temples or churches are not properly monitored. It’s not like the monks make money out of farming or any other work. So basically all the money comes from donations,” said Chung.

“The Jogye Order and its monks must make their financial affairs transparent and rethink the role of Buddhism in society.”

All in all this was a great article. There were opportunities galore to be cynical or to advance an agenda, but The Korea Times allowed the facts to tell the story, provided the context of the internal feuds within the Jongye Order, and closed with a note about the scandals relevance to the Korean religious scene. No hyperbole — just solid reporting. Well done.

As this article was written for an English-speaking Korean audience, or for resident foreigners in Korea, there was one angle that is not mentioned in the story that would have been helpful for a foreign reader. Is gambling, smoking and drinking problematic for Jogye Order monks? One can deduce that this is so, but it isn’t spelled out in full.

This is not a problem for a Korean newspaper as the answer would likely be self-evident in a Korean context. However, this issue leads me to a deeper journalistic issue. It begins with the question as to whether there are universal human norms of moral conduct. Couched in journalistic terms — should a reporter assume that an action that is regarded as bad behavior in the West be labeled a bad behavior when it occurs in the non-Western world? In the Christian, or post-Christian, or Jude0-Christian West hypocrisy is regarded as sinful, or bad conduct. Can we assume that this is so in non-Western cultures?

In this particular case, the Western conception of bad behavior is in line with the Buddhist, both have clearly defined standards of ethical conduct. In the Simile of the Cloth, the Buddha lists the sixteen defilements of the mind of which number 9, maya, is hypocrisy:

1. Thus have I heard. Once the Blessed One was staying at Savatthi, in Jeta’s Grove, Anathapindika’s monastery. There he addressed the monks thus: “Monks.” — “Venerable sir,” they replied. The Blessed One said this:

2. “Monks, suppose a cloth were stained and dirty, and a dyer dipped it in some dye or other, whether blue or yellow or red or pink, it would take the dye badly and be impure in color. And why is that? Because the cloth was not clean. So too, monks, when the mind is defiled, an unhappy destination [in a future existence] may be expected.

“Monks, suppose a cloth were clean and bright, and a dyer dipped it in some dye or other, whether blue or yellow or red or pink, it would take the dye well and be pure in color. And why is that? Because the cloth was clean. So too, monks, when the mind is undefiled, a happy destination [in a future existence] may be expected.

3. “And what, monks, are the defilements of the mind? (1) Covetousness and unrighteous greed are a defilement of the mind; (2) ill will is a defilement of the mind; (3) anger is a defilement of the mind; (4) hostility…(5) denigration…(6) domineering…(7) envy…(8) jealousy…(9) hypocrisy…(10) fraud…(11) obstinacy…(12) presumption…(13) conceit…(14) arrogance…(15) vanity…(16) negligence is a defilement of the mind.

4. “Knowing, monks, covetousness and unrighteous greed to be a defilement of the mind, the monk abandons them …

There are hypocritical Buddhists just as there are hypocritical Christians, but the way this hypocrisy works itself out has different theological connotations. Shallow Buddhists have not renounced their selfish desires. Shallow Christians have not surrendered their lives to Christ’s authority.

While Western and Buddhist ethical standards matched up in this instance, they do not always do so — nor do the ethical constructs of other thought or religious systems always line up with Christian or Jewish moral teachings. If a reporter does not address this issue, is he not guilty of some form of imperialistic thinking? Is he not saying “the world operates according to my culture’s norms and shall be judged by my standards”?

In writing a story of less than 500 words a reporter is not given the opportunity to speculate on the nature of truth. Should he not then have a line in a story that states why a particular behavior offends in non-Western cultures? Or, is this stating the obvious? Or, are there non-negotiable moral norms that are present through out humanity?

What say you GetReligion readers? What is truth and where can it be found?

First printed in GetReligion.