What's Missing From the Year's Top Religion Stories?

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The Religion Newswriters Association has released its survey results of the top ten religion news stories of the year. Understandably, four of the top five center on the Catholic clergy abuse crisis, and Cardinal Law is the year's top newsmaker. Other winners include the "just war" debate over Iraq, school vouchers, and the discovery of the putative coffin of St. James. It's funny, though, because I seem to recall having heard some stories about religiously-motivated people bombing bars in Indonesia, ambushing workers in the Philippines, attacking a French tanker in Yemen, blowing up pizza places and schools in Israel, shooting American Marines in Kuwait, and so on. And isn't some guy about to be executed for blasphemy in Iran?

I hate to sound like a Taranto-type crank here (and I think this is more symptomatic of a failure of the imagination than of that ol' hobgoblin, left-wing media bias), but isn't the trend of violence that is intimately connected to Islamic faith a pretty major religion story? Maybe they're applying a dog-bites-man principle, and figuring this story is so common it can't be called news. But wouldn't one of the above stories (if nothing else, the case of Hashem Aghajari, which has theological as well as political import) pass muster as one of the big religion stories of the year? (Suicide bombings in Israel do get a mention, but only as an addendum to the entry on the Church of the Nativity siege.)

I thought maybe the rise of Islamic violence got a mention in last year's poll, but not quite. Although Osama bin Laden grabbed the brass "newsmaker" ring for 2001, the September 11 attacks figured only as context for what RNA considered the year's real news stories: fear of a backlash against Muslims, brisk sales of the Koran, and the almost entirely fictional boom in church attendance after 9/11.

So the news that ardent religious believers launched the most murderous terrorist attack in history for religious reasons, and that other ardent believers continue to do so on a lesser scale, also for religious reasons, has now failed to qualify as an important religion story two years running.

God never gives us more than we can bear, though. The consolation is that only a paltry 71 journalists took part in this year's poll.

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  1. Using Islam as pretext for mass killings would appear to be the top story in religion.

    Number two place should go to the lack of any kind of condemnation of Al Qaeda from top Islamic clerics.

    You see people like Salman Rushdie and the Nigerian journalist getting a death penalty (fatwa) for certain writings. Meanwhile Al Qaeda blows people up at random in the name of Islam and there’s no comment from the Imams.

  2. Whether Islam is a “religion of peace” in the abstract is irrlevant, as we don’t live in the abstract.

    As practiced in the Middle East, Islam is incapable of co-existence with the rest of the world.

  3. Thank you for articulating such obvious truths!

  4. Ever thought of violence in the Christian theology? “Evil” is a religious term and one that should be used like whiskey, judicially.

  5. *******”Evil” is a religious term and one that should be used like whiskey, judicially.**********

    I’m not sure what Lefty is talking about. If blowing yourself up on a bus filled with children is not evil, what is? If blowing up a disco is not evil, what is? If flying planes into the Trade center is not evil, what is? Wake up and smell the whiskey Lefty. The evil is flowing, ontap, so drink up.

  6. “Ever thought of violence in the Christian theology?” Uhh, yeah, and the point? There is a lot of violence in Stephen King novels too, though I have yet to see anyone unleashing a herd of rabid dogs on NYC. The point is what is DONE, not what is said (sticks and stones, don’t ya know).

  7. “Ever thought of violence in the Christian theology?” Uhh, yeah, and the point? There is a lot of violence in Stephen King novels too, though I have yet to see anyone unleashing a herd of rabid dogs on NYC. The point is what is DONE, not what is said (sticks and stones, don’t ya know).

  8. Man, if there was no religions there wouldn’t be any violence. Even the Bolsheviks knew THAT man… Sheesh.

  9. I think that Wahabism is an apostate version of Islam, just as the Jews at the time of Christ were apostates from the Law of Moses.

    The problem of Islam is that it has no central authority, which makes it simple for groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban to hijack the name of the religion and use it to justify oppression and violence. There is a peaceful strain of Islam that is getting far too little attention because it’s adherents don’t believe in condemning other Muslims. Of course, the militants have no such compunctions.

    I think that Bush’s insistence that Islam is a peaceful religion is the proper one. Our Constitution guarantees Muslims the same freedom of religion as the rest of us. If some of them commit crimes in the name of their religion, they are criminals, but Islam itself cannot be made criminal. I’m LDS and my forebears lived through a nightmare like that. The U. S. Congress passed laws allowing the government to seize the property of the church and to deprive its members of the right to vote. There are other examples, like the Japanese internment camps, and slavery/Jim Crow, but I hope we’ve progressed beyond that point.

    I think, however, that Islam should teach its people to be grateful for the freedoms guaranteed in this nation and to recognize that they are better off here than they would be in, say, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Syria or Iraq. The Palestinians would be far better off in most respects if they all applied for Israeli citizenship.

  10. ***Ever thought of violence in the Christian theology? “Evil” is a religious term and one that should be used like whiskey, judicially.***

    The question of past uses of Christian theology as a justification for violence (ie. the Crusades, the Inquisition, etc.) pops up often in these kinds of discussions. The difference, of course, is that most of this stuff happened quite some time ago; the Christian world has largely developed beyond the mindsets that support those behaviors. OTOH, similiar behavior by Muslims, justified by recourse to Islamic theology, can be observed in real time on CNN. So to make a slightly different version of BradDad’s earlier point, while both religions can be used to justify violence in the abstract, the one that’s actually being used to justify it here in the concrete is Islam, so this frequent comparison with Christianity is somewhat specious in practical terms (I’m not a Christian, btw, just making an observation).

    Now that having been said, I agree that “evil” is a less than precise choice of terminology. Why not simply criticize specific actions and types of actions by pointing out exactly WHY they’re problematic instead of bringing in an essentially metaphysical construct like “evil”?

  11. “Now that having been said, I agree that “evil” is a less than precise choice of terminology. Why not simply criticize specific actions and types of actions by pointing out exactly WHY they’re problematic instead of bringing in an essentially metaphysical construct like “evil”?”

    Well said liberal loser!
    HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa HA!
    Let us sit down and talk about how murder by the thousands is problematic and then soundly criticize them for it! I’m sure that will work.

    Thank you Lord for making my enemies fools, now can you please do something about getting them soundly trounced in ’04?

  12. I am not a Christian — but isn’t it terribly obvious that Christian virtues and theology (mercy, turning the other cheek, etc.) make it impossible for that religion to justify the Inquistion (which is overated in terms of victims anyway), while the the Koran fully supports acts of violence?

  13. I don’t think the media’s imagination has in any way failed; there’s no reasonable explanation for the non-inclusion of “Islam and violence” stories other than the iron heel of the diversity police in the newsroom.

    Islam is effectively shielded from media criticism — even when the Islam in question is radical and anti-human sects like the Wahabi — because Arabists and Islamic lobbyists (CAIR et al.) have convinced the media that Muslims are a race. And race remains the linchpin of “diversity consciousness.”

    It follows that anyone who criticizes Muslims for “being Muslims” is a racist. As such, the media has been unwilling to cast a critical eye towards radical Islam, choosing instead to focus on reporting its effects (bombings, assassinations, wars, slavery). And it’s for this reason that Taranto isn’t a complete crank.

  14. “…..just as the Jews at the time of Christ were apostates from the Law of Moses. ”

    Huh?

  15. Religious fundamentalism and intolerance is the problem and adherents of ALL religions are susceptible. The wars in the Balkans are the result of religious differences, “the Troubles” in Northern Ireland too. Christianity is involved in both of those conflicts.

    The “Army of God” (which I understand to be a branch of Christianity) advocates killing doctors who perform abortions.

    I’m not trying to pick on Christians more than other religions, just pointing out what I see as the real issue (fundamentalism and intolerance) and trying to provide some balance.

  16. ***Well said liberal loser! HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa HA!***

    Shouldn’t you be over at Free Republic or something? In any case, I’d be willing to bet there are circumstances where you wouldn’t have any problem with “murder by the thousands”, such as if you happen to be in favor of the coming invasion of Iraq. My experience from talking to ideologues of all stripes is that no one is actually against, say, murder across the board on principle. What they’re against is their political opponents committing murder. When people they support do it, ideologues either overlook it or, if the evidence is unavoidable, call it something other than “murder”. The Bush administration is about to launch an unprovoked war, for instance, which will surely result in mass “murder”. As the body count will be difficult to ignore, they’ll probably call it something like “pre-emptive self-defense”.

  17. Islam’s problem has nothing to do with the centralization of religious authority, or lack thereof. Historically, most of the abuse that has been perpetrated in the name of religion has been performed *by* centralized religious authority — and often against sects or denominations who did not recognize that authority, or, indeed, a human religious authority of any kind. That’s a huge part of the history of establishmentarian pre-Enlightenment Europe in a nutshell.

    Islam’s problem is that the universally-recognized source of authority within the religion, the Koran, contains some very martial and uncharitable edicts as to how to treat non-believers, Jews in particular. It also contains some contrasting *suras* about tolerance and peace, but the more bellicose and condemnatory passages are the ones that have curried favor among the militant and the opportunistic among the Islamic faithful ever since the days of Mohammed.

  18. The issue isn’t that the Christian religion has moved on, it’s that people in the Christian world have no need for religion to redress grievences. Imagine, if you will, September 12th, 2001, and the US Government is powerless to do anything about the terrorist attacks. Instead, they meekly grovel, make threats, but generally have absolutely no power. I imagine it wouldn’t take long for Christian militias to take up the fight.

    Radical Islamism grew out of a world with impotent, corrupt, and indifferent and/or evil states which had no way of making anyting happen against the percieved enemies of the region. To counter this, people used the yoke of Islam to commit acts of murder, revenge, and tactical strikes against the perceieved enemies (the US and allies).

    In short, every religion has its flaws and when circumstances reach a point where other framworks (state, familial, etc) are unable or unwilling to deal with the “problem,” the religion which because of its essential goodness is more subject to manipulation that virtually anything else. We can see this manipulation by Anti-Abortion folks (stymied for the most part by the government to stop what they see as murder) Jewish Fundamentalist Settlers (given some but not complete state backing for their land grabs) and of course the current dominant Islamic fundamentalists who see a variety of transgressions their states are unwilling or unable to put a stop to.

    Kudos to Cavenaugh for pointing out one of the major problems with the media– an inability on the left to criticize anything percieved as a “minority” and an unwillingness on the right to dig beyond good and evil. An intelligent list would surely have included the (what some feel is the last hurrah) of Islamic extremism, as well as the context which allowed

  19. I think the explanation is even simpler than
    left-wing media bias or failure of imagination.
    It is just that most Americans, including
    American journalists, ignore everything that
    happens outside the U.S. That’s too strong.
    It is more like Adam Smith’s example that we
    weigh the deaths of thousands of Chinese in a
    flood about the same as we would the pain from
    cutting our finger. The top eight of the ten
    stories are about the U.S., just like pretty
    much every story on CNN or Headline News or
    MSNBC or Fox News. It’s really startling to
    go overseas and watch serious news like the
    BBC. Hey! There are other countries out there!

  20. Funny how “locking up Islamists in concentration camps” is a non-issue —

    yet that is all that Leftists seem to discuss. One can hardly mention a suicide bomber without some leftist whining about putting Japanese in camps in the 1940s and how we must not do this to muslims (which nobody of any consequence has even suggested).

    Meanwhile they refuse to discuss the fact that Islamists have murdered thousands of human beings in an meaningful context.

  21. First time poster here. I fail to see what makes Islam exceptional in regards to “no central authority.” While the Catholic Church has the Pope, individual strains of Protestantism operate independently (apart from the Anglicans, but I lack the background to address that matter). They may be organized as institutions (e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention) with some central tenets, but individuals and churches are free to have their own beliefs.

    In Judaism (my faith), there is no Sanhedrin to lay down the law for all Jews. Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox movements follow their own interpretations of traditional and law.

    So Islam’s lack of a central ruling authority would seem to make it more the norm than the exception.

  22. Ron Dionne:
    “Also relevant was an Atlantic magazine article about the changing face of religion worldwide, in particular the extremely conservative, almost medieval forms of Christianity that are booming in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia.”

    Ron, please spare us your ignorance: The particular article you’re citing is worrying about a CHARISMATIC and PENTECOSTAL form of Christianity, which had its origin in the Appalachians of the United States in the 19th century! Hardly Medieval!

    At the same time, to be open about it, the entire point and goal of the Charismatics and Pentecostals is a return to the apostolic Christian religion, a time when God’s Spirit resided in men and women, took an active and vital part in their lives, and accomplished feats and miracles. Read the records: excepting Paul, there was not a violent person among them, and even Paul repented of his violence.

    We ALL have good cause to be uneasy: the advent of Christianity transformed the world then, and ushered in a period of persecution BY NONCHRISTIANS to suppress the new church. A return to that primitive form, both powerful and profoudnly non-violent, will put one hell of a lot of huge wedgies in not a few undies.

  23. Don’t forget the rise of Hindutva in India, as witnessed by recent electoral wins in Gujarat state based on blatant Muslim-hating and pride in anti-Muslim pograms (which were conducted in response to Muslim raids on religious Hindus).

    Also relevant was an Atlantic magazine article about the changing face of religion worldwide, in particular the extremely conservative, almost medieval forms of Christianity that are booming in Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia.

  24. Jeffrey Smith wrote: It is just that most Americans, including
    American journalists, ignore everything that
    happens outside the U.S.

    I’m an American living in Central America, and have found that most people–whether they live in Milwaukee or Managua or Milan–tend to ignore what happens outside their country! Do you think everywhere outside the U.S., citizens are eagerly tuning into BBC World Service or passing around copies of The Economist to learn the latest international news??

    The front page stories in El Dia and La Nacion, Costa Rica’s national newspapers, are alsmot always about Costa Rican news and issues. The “war on terrorism” is not a burning issue here.

    I recently met a Peace Corps volunteer who works in rural Nicaragua. Her little village gets TV stations from Costa Rica, and the uneducated campensinos she deals with think 9/11 happened in San Jose (Costa Rica)!

  25. you are all weirdos!

  26. ********I’d be willing to bet there are circumstances where you wouldn’t have any problem with “murder by the thousands”, such as if you happen to be in favor of the coming invasion of Iraq. My experience from talking to ideologues of all stripes is that no one is actually against, say, murder across the board on principle. What they’re against is their political opponents committing murder.*******

    You are an idiotarian for sure. Were the innocent people of Germany MURDERED by us in WWII? Were the innocent Japanese Murdered by us? There were plenty of innocent people killed, but their blood is on the hands of their Xenophobic fascist dictators that led them down the path of total distruction. Not us. Are we perfect? No. Have we made mistakes? Yes. Big ones? Yes. Are we still better than than the ISLAMIST fvcks that are attacking us and our allies? YES. WE ARE BETTER THAN THEM. You should try saying it. It’s quite liberating to realize and admit that all things may be created equal, but they sure as hell don’t stay that way.

  27. the iqra should all be killed

  28. people fail to see the crimes made against muslims and the suffering they have gone through for many many years at the hands of the west. if a woman cant go to hospital to give birth or a father and son cant go car shopping without being pounded by bullets then why should they sit down and let the other side enjoy. as long as the brutal zionist occupation of palestine continues there never will be peace for anyone.

  29. actually to say that a terrorist uses islam
    to justify killing us is correct. christianity ,
    in its time, did the same thing. thankfully, and
    i hope i’m not wrong about this, we have moved
    past it.

    but the underlying justification, the real reason, has a lot more to do with social
    and economic problems within their society. we
    get the blame because they cant afford these
    neat little things like what were typing on and other such niceties of modern life. of course,
    its not our fault that we are an industrious people.

    are we to blame? not really. humanity, as a
    whole, is pretty selfish. they would probably
    do the same if the tables were turned. and we,
    as they, would probably be the ones with the bombs strapped to our bellies.

    quick thought. how to stop the suicide bombings?
    pretty easy actually. but theres a catch. you
    gotta suicide bomb them back. havent seem many
    self-blows from the israelis have you? much easier for them to shoot through a scope. not
    quite as much viscous (did i spell that right?) humanity involved either. now if all they could
    use were butter knives to kill each other this
    thing would go away pretty quick. not quite as easy to kill a man
    when you have to look him in the eye first and hear air going out of a hole its not intended to.

    on the US side. give it some time. stay out of
    their countries as much as is safe for our own.
    and maybe, if we could find the time and the money, make theirs a society as culturally rich
    and economically stable as our own.

    thats what jesus would do, right? jesus was all about the economic love.

    by the by, if you ever get the chance. The Moral Animal, Steven Wright. Read it. Think on it for a few years.

    you know, the real problem were having here. (now
    that i’ve lit another cigarette) is that God,
    in all of his infinite power (oops, just capitalized Steven Wright and not God, go back here for a sec,… there we go.)
    “back to sentence”
    is that he doesn’t just come down for a minute
    and say “y’all simma down now” and tell us whose
    side he’s on. throw some lightning around and
    whatnot. and then put some holy light into our
    brethren from afar and allow them to see that we
    really the same God. damn free will. damn it to
    hell. (those last two sentences, btw, are a synopsis of about 30% of the greatest books ever written. give you that one for free)

    oh well, my cigarette has expired. see you gents and ladies on the other side. ttfn

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