to dance or not to dance? it’s not a question.

11 05 2007

This was an interesting article I came across while looking in TIME online. It deals with the separation of church and state in the USA from the angle of how a candidate’s religion affects their chances of election, particularly referring to Mitt Romney’s campaign for Republican candidacy for the presidential election next year.

Romney was, until recently Governor of Massachusetts and is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints having previously served as a LDS missionary in France for two and a half years.

The article can be found by clicking here.

The main news values for this story are:

* Currency – The upcoming US presidential election in 2008 and the selection of candidates for the parties. Also the question of whether America will vote in another Republican president

* Impact – Whoever is elected as the next president of the USA is going to have great impact on the entire world (and indeed much of the universe through their space program) and as such, what the possible candidates believe in is fairly important information to consider

* Prominence – US presidential candidates are generally prominent people already, or soon become so. As Governor of Massachusetts, amongst other high-rating achievements, Romney is quite well-known, particularly in the USA

* Human Interest – Gives the audience a bit of an inside look into the life of the man, creating interest in his beliefs and his ‘human side’





“If any religion had the chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam” – George Bernard Shaw

1 05 2007

I came across this quote whilst trying to find a witty line for the title of this post and was quite astounded at its prophetic nature. Very interesting.

Anyway, the article I’m writing about here was done as a “SPECIAL HERALD REPORT”: i.e. a series of a couple of features and an online forum. These were all really interesting, especially as there’s such a prevalence of negative stories about Islam in the media. It was refreshing and really informative to see inside the ordinary lives of modern day moderate Muslims and how life is for them.

When I was looking up the online versions of these stories, I came across a page on their series of stories, The Face of Islam.

The specific front-page article which drew me to write about this, Islam in Australia: a diverse society finds a new voice is listed on this page, along with many other reports.

Across all of these stories run a few main news values:

* Currency – the issue of Islam in Australia has been pretty constant and huge in the media, especially since 9/11. With the 2005 Cronulla riots bringing tensions between Islamic Australians and racist bogan Australians to the forefront of media attention, thus these moderate (OK, left, if you insist) articles bring a very different attitude to the public

* Human Interest – investigating the human side of publicly Islamic figures such as Sheikh Taj El Din Al-Hilaly

* Conflict – not so much in the reporting, although this is inevitably a part of some stories, but I think for many readers Islam immediately connotes WARNING: FUNDAMENTALIST TERRORISTS ON THE LOOSE!!!  therefore, articles which dispute this notion of the Islamic faith are immediately controversial





Thank Allah it’s Wednesday – upholding religious diversity in the Texan Senate

6 04 2007

This is neither a very exciting post, nor a long one, but I found this article really interesting/exciting. Especially coming from Texas…

Imam leads first prayer by Muslim cleric on Texas Senate floor

A Dallas-area imam became the first Muslim cleric to offer the Texas Senate’s daily prayer on Wednesday.

The visit raised the eyebrows of a conservative talk-show host turned senator who questioned the religious leader’s background and the timing of his visit.

Sen. Dan Patrick stepped off the floor for Imam Yusuf Kavakci’s prayer, in which he recited a passage from the Koran in Arabic and read an English translation.

“I surely believe that everyone should have the right to speak, but I didn’t want my attendance on the floor to appear that I was endorsing that,” said Patrick, a freshman Republican from Houston.

Patrick later gave a short speech on the Senate floor in which he called Kavakci’s prayer an “extraordinary moment” that underscores that America is a nation “so tolerant of others we bend over backwards to allow others to pray as they wish.”

He pointed out that other countries would not do the same for Christians and Jews, who are observing Easter and Passover this week.

Kavakci said he can’t understand why anyone would have a problem with his prayer or with the text he chose, which he said spoke generically about the mercy of God. He said he does not know Patrick or understand why he would criticize him.

“For my perspective as a Muslim, we are all brothers and sisters and children of Adam and Eve as we say,” Kavakci said. “For us there is no problem really.”

Taken from statesman.com, 5th April, 2007.

News Values:

* Novelty – come on, an Islam cleric praying in Texas period. Let alone in the senate. Maybe those Texans are more progressive than our stereotypes give them credit for… (just maybe)

* Timeliness – Easter period

Another event of interest since my last post has been the publication of The Devil’s Own Politics, an investigation into the interplay between church and state in contemporary America. An interesting review can be found here.





Sacrilicious? The furore of the Chocolate Christ

1 04 2007

What am I? I will give the worthy traveller these fine clues three…

Clue 1: I’m chocolate, big and sacred (but this is not me…)

Chocolate Buddah

Clue 2: Nor is this, but getting closer…

Chocolate Chicken

Clue 3: Closer still is is this miraculous Mary formed by dripping chocolate. Neat, huh? It’s truly a sign from above. But it’s not me.

Chocolate Mary the Miracle

No, no, no. The wait is over. This is me. Voici la Chocolat le Christ…

TADDAH…

Choc Christ with Nutrition Information

Who would have thought a chocolate sculpture of the divine could prompt death threats. Death threats, that is, from Christians who, by all accounts, attest to believing in a Christ who advocated love above all things. An interesting little paradox emerging there. Apparently the problem was not only the blatancy of the “attack” on Christianity in general during Holy Week, but the visibility of the Lord’s genitalia. Here I was thinking He was a man. WRONG. He was actually one of those funky god/man hybrids who, when disrobed, rather resemble a dismembered statue. You know the ones with fig leaves in place of genitals. Weird, huh?!?

The controversy, described by the head of the Catholic League (that’s right, the Catholic League – HUWAH) as “one of the worst assaults on Christian sensibilities eva*,” erupted when “My Sweet Lord”, an anatomically detailed sculpture of Jesus was unveiled this week in New York. I mean, seriously, it’s got to be right up there with the crusades dude. The 1.8 metre high masterpiece, crafted entirely out of milk chocolate, is Cosimo Cavarallo’s latest large-scale artwork. Quite a feat I feel to actually carve that much chocolate. Let alone then have it hold together while being transported and hung up. The man deserves a medal. It’s also quite a step up from some of his previous efforts which include covering a room of the Washington Jefferson hotel in New York with cheddar cheese. And all in the name of art.

The director of the gallery where the Christ was to be installed, Matt Semmler, announced that neither he nor the artist had intended to offend by creating and showing the artwork.

“For me this is … a place of reverence and meditation – that’s why I chose the piece. This is not intended to be disrespectful.”

In the end, anyway, the religious right won over and the exhibit was withdrawn. Only after the Catholic League made further statements which implied that the artist should be thankful he was not dealing with Muslims. Those damn feisty Muslims. The Guardian reports:

Bill Donahue, president of the Catholic League, said the work was a direct assault on Christians. “All those involved are lucky that angry Christians don’t react the way extremist Muslims do when they’re offended.”

That the work of an internationally renowned artist can be pulled from a gallery in Manhattan – arguably the most liberal city in the US – is an indication of the power that organised religion wields within the country.

My personal belief is that the real ruckus was due more to the correctness of the colour of Jesus rather than the materials or anatomy… Not just the abhorrent brown skin, but the conspicuous-only-by-its-absence flowing blonde wig. What an insult to Western sensibilities!

Even Tom Waits has weighed in on the debate, penning a moving song Chocolate Jesus. Profound lyrics include the following:

Well it’s got to be a chocolate Jesus
Make me feel good inside
Got to be a chocolate Jesus
Keep me satisfied

And meanwhile, other sanctified culinary masterpieces throwing the nation into controversy…

It’s bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S. And it ain’t no hollaback Jeeze.

* OK, I admit it. I changed the spelling to make it sound more gangsta-style. I’m sure I was capturing the original intention of the statement…





It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning – Calvin and Hobbes

18 03 2007

GnuUpon walking into the newsagent last Friday, I was accosted by a flying lady throwing magazines at me. The one (out of three…) that I caught was the week’s edition of “The Bulletin”. Since I would usually struggle to grasp a falling gnu in my outspread arms, I took this as a sign from God that I ought to purchase a copy. Well, that and the arresting “Jesus Loves Money” headline splashed across a silhouetted angel (which suggested a faint possibility of the innards being of relevance to this topic…)

The headline turned out to refer to a fascinating article (7/3/2007), “Book of Revelations“*, discussing the internal workings of the controversial Hillsong Church. The crux of the article tells of Tanya Levin, a disillusioned ex-member of the church, whose book “People in glass houses: how Hillsong became an assembly of Gods” was recently axed from publication by Allen and Unwin, citing legal reasons.

Though these reasons are unclear in this article, a previous Bulletin article (27/2/2007), “Unhappy Clappy“* mentions the publishing house’s concerns about defamation claims by the church. Although corporations cannot sue, the Church, which has an estimated annual tax-free turnover of $50 million, is considered a not-for-profit organisation, and is therefore able to sue away to its (well-obscured) heart’s content.

The withdrawal from publication has caused quite a public reaction, not only due to the disappointment caused to those anticipating the book’s release, but also sparking concerns about the power of religious institutions in society and the apparency of influence on censorship and freedom of speech.

The 8 page feature includes an extract from Levin’s novel consisting of personal anecdotes of life in the church as well as facts on Brian and Bobbie Houston, the couple who founded the Hillsong Church back in 1983. Included also is a column on “Christianese,” a “list of phrases you might encounter at Hillsong, but … can also be useful for interpreting any TV evangelist.” The list includes satirical definitions from “AWESOME: Originally a Valley Girl word, used at Hillsong as a high holy word,” through to “THE THRONE ZONE”, an epitomical evangelist term for Heaven.

Levin explains aspects of the Houstons’ notion of “Prosperity Theology”: the general idea being that money is a panacaea for the world’s ills, justifying Brian’s Harley Davidson bike as “the best way of demonstrating the blessing of God in his life.”

Apart from her own dissatisfaction with the materialism this theology promotes, Levin also tells of a touching encounter with a prison inmate who had been involved in the “Jesus [rehab] program” with the church.

An inmate in a NSW jail was bailed to a Hillsong rehabilitation service. On the first day he was there, one of the young millionaire businessmen leaders took him out to show him his sports car. The idea was to get the client to realise that with a bit of elbow grease and some commitment to the Jesus program, he to could have a car like that one day.

“Tanya he tried to impress me with money,” the young man told me from the jail, where he chose to return rather than continue under the Jesus program. “We’re drug dealers, criminals, working girls. We’ve seen more money than most people. We know what money can do to people. We don’t want to learn how to make money. We need to know how to handle what we’ve got.”

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Did it hurt? Did what hurt? When you fell out of heaven.

12 03 2007

funny-nun.jpeg

Hello possums and welcome to my first post!

Just in case (by some miracle) you are not one of my fellow students reading this post, I should probably start by explaining the purpose of this blog… Otherwise you could be a bit baffled as to why the heck I’m only writing about the reporting of religious happenings in the media.

I am currently studying a Bachelor of Journalism/Bachelor of Laws through the University of Wollongong. As part of an assessment for my Introduction to Journalism subject, I have set up this blog to follow news events in religious and cultural identity.

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