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





Jesus walks into a bar…

8 04 2007

If you were after a lively/entertaining read, please go to my earlier posts. The Sacrilicious one is my personal favourite. This post and the previous one were done in a hurry and are not particularly in depth or astute on my part. Interesting articles though…

This was an interesting article appearing in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday, cashing in on the timeliness of Easter and current interest in Christianity due to the widespread celebration of this Christian festival. In the print edition of the paper, it appeared as a huge feature, headlining the News Review section for those familiar with the format of the weekend herald.

Highlights of the article below. For full text, follow this link.

‘JESUS asked his mates to stay with him, but they got pissed and fell asleep, the bloody bastards.” As an account of the disciples’ failure in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before Jesus was crucified, it may lack the poetry and majesty of the King James Bible. But the 22 street people in a dingy city basement get the point powerfully.

This rather loose Bible reading from Matthew 26 by a young church worker, Virginia Moebus, is part of a weekly gathering in Credo Cafe, run by Urban Seed in Melbourne, a Baptist Church outreach to homeless and drug-addicted city dwellers.

Most of these people would never set foot in church, but they come faithfully to the gathering, followed by the free lunch served every day. “People see it like their living room, especially if they are on the street. It’s somewhere they can come and sit down and be warm and safe,” Moebus says.

But it’s more than that.

It is solace, spiritual comfort, connection. They sing confidently during the service, accompanied by an extremely competent bongo drummer, and talk freely about the Bible reading.

They are part of an extraordinarily diverse and fast-growing Christian movement catering to the multitudes who reject the institutional church but want to follow its founder, Jesus Christ.

So far, so good. But wait and see what the venerable King Jensenite has to say on the matter…

At the 2004 Anglican general assembly, the Sydney Archbishop, Peter Jensen, spoke about reaching niche groups reluctant to go to church. “There’s a group of lawyers who meet every Tuesday evening in a Sydney cafe for Bible study,” he said. “They don’t know they’re Anglicans yet – we’ll tell them when the time comes.”

Before reading this article, I may have strongly disagreed with some of Jensen’s proclamations, but respected his considerable intellect and passion. Now I have been forced to have second thoughts…

OK, news values, here we come:

* Timeliness – Um, Easter

* Novelty – Whilst not an entirely novel idea (The early Christian church was started with small meetings around meals in people’s homes) this would still be considered by most as a pretty unusual way of worshipping

* Proximity – it’s from the Sydney Morning Herald and about what’s going on in Sydney. Voila.





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…





Get hydrated with a Higher Power

28 03 2007

Holy water…

An interesting article emerged in the Montreal Gazette, among other news sources, over the weekend detailing the release of a new series of Holy Water products available for purchase over the internet and delivered to your home. All with a sin-cleansing guarantee.

Here are the three main front runners on the water-front of the lucrative godly goods market, big business which is forecast to generate $9.5 billion by 2010…

California based Holy Drinking Water

This is the brainchild of California businessman, Brian Germann, who self-professedly “thought people should have something like Holy Water that they could drink and consume and it would help protect them from the devil.” The contents have been blessed by clergy and, according to the label, can cause “burning, intense heat, sweating, skin irritations, rashes, itchiness, vomiting, bloodshot and watery eyes, pale skin colour and oral irritations” when imbibed by those who are “evil in nature.” However, several Catholic authorities disapprove of shopping for salvation, or in church jargon “simony”, as they see this as an abhorrent commercial venture similar to the indulgences sold by their own denomination back in the day of Martin Luther. How could they say such a thing?!?

Holy Drinking Water now has an online donation facility where, due to popular demand, customers can now donate Holy Drinking Water TM to troops in Iraq “for spiritual support and to boost heir spirits.”

Holy Bottled Water

Alberta based Holy Bottled Water (Yes, the photo shows the actual packaging of the beverage… Subtle, me thinks)

Alas, it is not just the bible-belt US cashing in on Jesus. Canadian Holy Bottled Water has also jumped on the bandwagon, labelling their produce with a lovely biblical proverb and caliming to have been “produced by man under the inspiration of God.” Since they’ve just finished extolling the virtues of the Rocky Mountain springs from whence the water came, I am a little puzzled as to where the “production” side really comes in. Let alone the “inspired” production.
Finally, and most hilariously…

Holy Spring Water

OK, I admit this one is not actually a serious company. The satisfaction guarantee on their website (worth a visit for some fine hilarity) reads:

Of the thousands of bottles that we have sold, we have only had a handful of returns, and no one has gone to hell. Our goal is to make our customers happy and free from the guilt of venial sin… Finally, and most importantly, that if you drink our water and follow the directions carefully, we guarantee that you will NOT GO TO HELL.

The FAQ section gives details ranging from the thermodynamics of hell to the punishment awaiting Bill Gates upon his arrival down below. Upon trying to order some of the brew, one is greeted with the message:

Your order has been placed, the confirmation number is 5551212.

God knows everything, so we don’t need your address and we don’t need your credit card number.

Thank you for your order.

However, whilst this site parodies the legitimate salvation product companies (which, amusingly, it also hosts ads for) it’s exaggeration is not really all that far from the truth, and it serves as a pretty convincing hoax.

And just in case some of you sinners out there were thinking of trying the stuff…

Vomiting SinnerSweating SinnerIrritated Sinner

REMEMBER THE WARNINGS!!!!

All of the articles I read about this topic seemed to take a very light approach to the telling of the story. Clearly the news value most prevalent is the unusual or novelty value of the story. This is, at best a silly, light and amusing tale. At worst, it shows the utter tragedy of the commercialisation rife in contemporary society, particularly in America.





Pork is a Very Sweet Meat…

25 03 2007

Moo-shoe Pork

Just a quick one to post a few interesting things I came across. Firstly, a report from FOXNews.com on controversial allowances being made for Islamic employees in some target stores – Some Target Stores Change Duties for Muslim Cashiers Who Object to Ringing Up Pork. It discusses briefly some of the issues faced by Muslims trying to uphold their faith in contemporary America, where it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so. Issues ranging from refusing alcohol-toting passengers in cabs to being “complicit in the sins of others” by scanning pork products at the supermarket.

As the local Muslim population grows, fueled by immigration from East African countries such as Somalia, efforts by Muslims to live by the rules of their faith often conflict with American realities.

In one dispute, some Muslim cab drivers who serve Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport refuse to take passengers who are carrying alcohol. The Metropolitan Airports Commission is expected to vote in April on a proposal that would hand out 30-day license suspensions to cabbies who refuse service for any reason.

Suhara Robla, who works at a SuperTarget, told the Star Tribune newspaper that more than a dozen Muslim cashiers were asked Thursday to do other jobs.

“They told all of us who don’t touch pork to go to the sales floor,” she told the newspaper. “They really didn’t say why. They just said it was a new policy.”

Hmm. Interesting.

And I found this article I was in the middle of writing a fascinating commentary on and then discovered it was from July ’06. Woops-a-daisy.

And now back to current events…

The Tampa Tribune reports Religious Right at a Low Point. This feature reports on the waning influence of the so-called “Religious Right” in the USA. Bible-belt faithfuls have reportedly been meeting to reinvigorate the conservative movement in US politics, following concerns about the appointment of moderate Charlie Crist as governor of Florida and the takeover of congress by the Democrats.

Read it all– it’s really interesting.

TAMPA – At dawn Wednesday, a busload of parishioners from Idlewild Baptist Church will board a bus for a two-day trip to Tallahassee to meet state legislators, after which they’ll come home armed to do grass-roots advocacy for conservative causes.

At 4 p.m. each day, lobbyist Bill Bunkley dons a headset in a small studio across from the state Capitol and hosts a political radio show on Tampa’s Christian talk radio station WTBN, 570 and 910 AM.

On April 4, a group of leaders of religious and conservative organizations from across the nation will meet in Washington to decide whether they can agree on a presidential candidate to support.

These people all are working to advance a cause some say is waning or dead, the social and religious conservative movement in U.S. politics.