Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, April 06, 2007

Good Friday, Bad, Bad Media

The Culture and Media Institute provides a rundown of anti-Christian propoganda, diatribes and frontal attacks launched, with all due insensitivity, during this holiest of weeks for Christians.

We are all familiar with some of these stories, including Jesus Christ as Easter Bunny (the chocolate Jesus) and James Cameron and the Discovery Channel's buffoonish "Lost Tomb of Christ." There there are others, many many others. Some lowlights, from CMI's list:
  • On Easter Sunday, the History Channel will question whether the Bible is God’s genuine revelation to mankind.
  • The current – Holy Week – issue of Newsweek teases readers with the headline “Is God Real?,” and features a debate between a prominent evangelical pastor and an outspoken atheist. National Public Radio also carried an atheist/Christian debate.
  • An April 3 New York Times article dismisses the story of Moses parting the Red Sea as a “myth.”
  • Newsweek’s March 19 cover story, “The Evolution Revolution,” showcases the latest evolutionary theories attempting to explain the development of humanity without God.
  • A March 4 New York Times Magazine piece, “Darwin’s God,” describes religious belief as “an outgrowth of brain architecture that evolved during early human history.”
Most offensive of all comes to us courtesy of the New York Times:
Also on March 31, a New York Times story suggested that a “secret” gospel of Mark may describe “Jesus initiating his disciples” with a “homosexual rite.” The text, which may be a hoax, was supposedly found in 1958.

The discoverer or hoaxer, Columbia historian Morton Smith, wrote a book about it in 1973, and three other authors wrote books about Smith’s work in 2005.

Reporter Peter Steinfels never explains why the story suddenly became newsworthy on the eve of Holy Week, 2007.
That's right; Steinfels never does explain why he wrote the story now, although his lead attempts to justify it ... and sensationalize it:

Imagine the discovery of a previously unknown Gospel of Mark, a secret text suppressed by church authorities that pictured Jesus initiating his disciples with a hallucinatory, nocturnal and quite possibly homosexual rite. Imagine the headlines, the four-alarm book promotion and the cable network special.

Ho-hum, you say? Isn’t it simply Easter season, when fresh Gnostic gospels or dubious ossuaries show up like spring daffodils?

Ah, but those with long memories know that just such a “secret Gospel of Mark” once did make headlines. In 1973 ...
... and on to Morton Smith's book he goes. It's clear he couldn't justify the timing even to himself.

The whole thing is based, by Steinfels' own admission, on "an 18th-century copy of an otherwise unknown 'letter to Theodore' from Clement of Alexandria, a church father of the late second century." Alarm bells, anyone?

The earliest copies of Mark's real gospel trace back to within years of Christ's death, when eye witnesses were still around who could have refuted it -- but didn't. That's why the book is in the Bible ... and it's why this "otherwise unknown" letter by Clement, who lived 200 years after Christ, a single copy of which appeared 1,800 years after Christ, is not in the Bible.

Steinfels could have used this as an opportunity to discuss how books were selected or rejected for inclusion in the Bible, but he chose not to.

He is not a fan of this particular false gospel and does get into criticism of it via a boringly objective discussion of books that take sides on the matter. Still, he does so only after leading a story that ran the Saturday before Palm Sunday with sensational and disrespectful speculations about Christ's homosexuality -- speculations even he can't sustain.
Clement, in this letter, acknowledged the existence of a longer Gospel by Mark known only to initiates. Clement quoted a section involving Jesus’ raising of a young man from his tomb and a nighttime encounter in which Jesus taught the lightly clad youth “the mystery of the kingdom.” Finally, denouncing a heretical sect that had “polluted” this secret text with “carnal doctrine” and “falsifications” emphasizing the nakedness of the encounter, Clement demanded that Theodore deny the existence of this secret longer version of Mark altogether, even under oath.
Even if one were to accept this fraudulent letter as somehow meaningful, it remains quite a reach to go from a "nighttime encounter with a lightly clad youth" to "Jesus as homo." I've had a couple embarassing nighttime encounters with lightly clad daughters in the hallways of our home; that does not make me a child molester.

In the end, Steinfels' story wraps up with a very justifiable call for "CSI: Academia," a much-needed look into what passes for research and publishable material regarding religion in our universities. But to get there, he pandered, he played to those hungry for fallen saviors, and disgraced a religion at its most holy time of year.

Despite his Jewish-sounding name, Steinfels is not Jewish; he's Catholic and a quite involved one at that:

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Peter Steinfels, former senior religion correspondent for The New York Times and author of A People Adrift: The Crisis of the Roman Catholic Church in America, will speak at Santa Clara University's graduate commencement ceremony ....

Steinfels currently directs the Fordham Center on Religion and Culture with his wife, Margaret O'Brien Steinfels. He has served as an editor of Commonweal magazine, the independent journal published by Catholic lay people, and The Hastings Center Report, the leading journal of medical and scientific ethics. He has been a visiting professor at Georgetown University, University of Notre Dame, and the University of Dayton. Peter and his wife will receive honorary degrees from the university at the ceremony.

"Peter and Margaret have enhanced our society through their ongoing work to educate the American public about the importance of spiritual life and their careful analysis of the role of the Catholic Church in American society. We believe that our students and their families can learn from Peter and Margaret's knowledge, wisdom, and experience," said SCU President Paul Locatelli, S.J
Be that as it may, I hope he visits his priest soon, confesses this sin, and begs forgiveness for this great disservice he has done to his savior, his church, and to those who might yet be saved, were it not for garbage like this running during the Easter season.

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