Religion in the Media- A Fair Chance Online with the BBC and NYT

“Journalism is merely history’s first draft.” -GEOFFREY C. WARD

As history is taking place for religious and anti-religious groups, are they getting written into this “first draft?” Some argue that religious organizations in England are not getting enough media coverage. Individuals and businesses depend on and live through the news; it is a necessity in our thriving, global society.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the largest broadcaster in the world yet has still received complaints and suggestions to improving their faith coverage. In journalism, it is the journalist/news company’s responsibility to provide the public with impartial, credible information and updates. This means giving all groups a voice or chance to talk and share about what’s going on in their community or group.

The BBC’s religious coverage was brought into question in 2010 by Roger Bolton who works for the BBC, presenting the BBC Radio 4’s Feedback program. He said a religious perspective was commonly absent in their stories. In response, a BBC spokeswoman stated, “BBC News and Current Affairs has a dedicated religion correspondent, and topical religious and ethical affairs stories are featured across all our BBC networks.” Having a correspondent on a specific issue means a member of staff is assigned to strictly that area, also known as having a “beat” for all their stories.

In the United States, the New York Times (NYT) could be considered the equivalent to the BBC for the United Kingdom, or at least a strong comparative. The New York Times not only has a religious correspondent but also a Times Topic for Religion & Belief. If you, for some crazy reason, are not familiar with the New York Times online (the most popular visited online newspaper website in America), Times Topics are explained by the NYT as:

“Each topic page collects all the news, reference and archival information, photos, graphics, audio and video files published on topics ranging from A M Castle & Company to Zyuganov, Gennadi A. This treasure trove is available without charge on articles going back to 1981.”

Times Topics mean an area of news interest is a pretty big deal and has a lot of collections and articles all conveniently compiled. Equivalent on the BBC’s online website is BBC Religion. In the article from 2010, the Church of England council was worried about a cut in mainstream broadcasters’ religious programming. These cuts could apply to any mediums of broadcasting, ranging from news editorial print, to radio or television broadcasting. Regardless of the cuts, online the BBC has really taken multimedia to the next level.

While researching for this post and looking around, I noticed the BBC’s multimedia to be much more impressive and involved. Here you’ll find calendars, podcasts, music stations, radio programs, service segments, and most importantly, videos in the Learning Zone to further advance your knowledge on religious studies. On the BBC’s Religion page you’ll also see an announcement for RE: THINK 2012, a Religion and Ethics Festival coming to the UK in the Fall. This is important because some of the concerns expressed in the past were about religious festivals for various religions and getting coverage.

I might be missing a link, in the middle somewhere between the article about complaints on inefficient religious coverage and the web pages I have explored today, but it seems as though the world’s largest broadcasting company has done their part, at least with their online presence with faith coverage (assessing their nearly-dozen television and digital television stations is a different story).

Sources Used:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8705560.stm

http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/subjects/r/religion_and_belief/index.html

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Food and Religion

Food plays an important role in many religions; ideologies followed for centuries are still valued and practiced today. All over the world, people choose what and how to eat depending on their religious beliefs.  According to foodafactoflife.org.uk, the role of food in religion includes a means of communicating with God through blessings or saying thanks, demonstrating faith through following dietary guidelines, and developing discipline through fasting. Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism are just a few faiths in which food plays a significant role.
Growing up in a Jewish family, I have experienced first-hand the importance and significance of food. Our large family gatherings were associated with a wide variety of food. My grandmother used to joke that I was not allowed to leave anything on my plate at dinner. Although I do not follow a Kosher diet, I am still accustomed to traditional Jewish foods. The bagel, oh yes the bagel, originated in Poland and is often associated with the Jewish people. Challah, a braided egg bread, is also a traditional Jewish bread. Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement is the most holy day of the Jewish calendar. Jewish people traditionally fast from sunrise to sunset. In my family, we would always gather at my grandparent’s house for “Break Fast”. There would be bagels, lox, whitefish, challah, chicken, and chopped liver. Typically Jewish cuisine isn’t the healthiest so as my brother and I got older, and health became more important, we would shift recipes around. I have not found any classic Jewish deli’s in London, however there is one bagel shop in Brick Lane.
The Islamic faith also provides specific dietary guidelines; forbidden foods are outlined in the Koran. Foods that are allowed to be consumed are called halal and those that are prohibited are called haram. Similar to the Jewish Kosher guidelines, beef, lamb and chicken are only allowed if the animal has been killed using the halal method. Muslims are allowed to consume meat slaughtered by Jews as well because the Kosher butchering process is similar to the halal process. Foods considered haram are pork, blood and alcohol. BBC.co.uk states that Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims refrain from eating or drinking from sunrise to sunset. While studying in London, I was pleased to find such a diverse community. There are restaurants all over London that offer halal cuisine.
Hindus follow the dietary belief of ahisma, or non-injury to living creatures. The cow is held in high regard and is a symbol of abundance which is why Hindus do not eat beef. Strict Hindus follow a vegetarian diet. Fasting occurs in Hinduism as well. Fasting on special occasions demonstrates ones respect to personal Gods.
There are numerous religious areas in London with varieties of food. Brick Lane is the heart of the city’s Bangladeshi-Sylheti community and is famous for the Indian food and curry houses. I have been to Brick Lane three times and the cultural diversity is eye-opening. If you want delicious Indian food then Brick Lane is the place to go.
Two years ago I took a class at Cal Poly called “Food and Nutrition: Customs and Culture“. The class focused on traditional and contemporary food customs. It was so interesting learning about how food plays important roles in different cultures. Understanding the traditional food customs has been very beneficial because London is such a cultural and religiously diverse area. I have been able to dine at a wide variety of restaurants and utilize proper dining etiquette for each. Understanding the role of rood in cultural and religious practices is necessary in order to respect the different religious communities.

America: God’s New Israel

I couple years ago I wrote a short paper on how Americans use biblical metaphor as a lens through which to view their past, present, and future experiences in transcendental terms. This tradition has a variety of labels, but for present purposes I will refer to it as national providence—the belief that a nation has been chosen by God to carry out his will on earth. My previous focus was on the development of this idea on the American continent, but I realize now that this incomplete without looking first at the religious heritage of our nation’s English roots.  So I’m going to try and do this in a 500 word blog (Just finished and came back to this. I failed).

The development of national providence in the New World can be traced back to the religious thinking of the Old World.  By the 17th century, Christians in England and Europe held two  ideas that shaped their understanding of world events: first, God controlled everything that happened on earth; and second,  God had a particular plan for history.[1]. These two convictions combined to form the concept of national providence, which consign the nation to a unique relationship with God[2]. To understand the conditions of this relationship, Christians turned to the bible. There they found the grand narrative of the Israelites, the first nation singled out by God. In this narrative, God is a helper and guardian, and yet a judge and punisher. The exodus, deliverance of Canaan, and the glory of David’s kingdom were signs of God’s favor; the Babylonian exile and expulsion of Jews from Israel were signs of His disapproval. The English thus interpreted history in these terms. The defeat of the Spanish Armada was a sign of God’s favor; the return of Catholicism was a sign of his disfavor.

This view of history arrived with English colonists, especially the Puritans who settled in New England. They understood their settlement as akin to the Jewish concept of Tikkun Olam, that through their example God’s desires will be spread through the world. They were to accomplish in the New World what the Old World (particularly England) had not. John Winthrop would articulate this in the timelessly quoted declaration that the Massachusetts Bay Colony was to be “a city on the hill, they eyes of all people are upon us.” Increase Mather, the influential minister and president of Harvard, would speak of America’s destiny: “God hath called out a people, even out of all parts of a Nation, which he hath also had a great favour towards, and hath brought them by a mighty hand, and an out-stretched arm, over a greater than the Red Sea, and hath caused them to grow up as it were into a little Nation”[3] (quoted in Guyatt 48). They could see in their experiences the hand of God. The mass deaths of the natives, for instance, was God clearing the land for his people as he had in Canaan, yet the early tribulations of the colonies were signs of God’s dissatisfaction with their actions.

The Revolutionary War would forever define the plan that God has for America. In the follow up to the war, the clergy were instrumental in raising support for the cause, and their success came from rousing in the people a sense that their struggle was part of God’s plan for history. This was evident made that more evident through the parallels drawn by the colonists between their own plight and that of the Israelites in Egypt. Sermons like Nicholas Street’s The American States Acting Over the Part of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness identified Britain as the Pharaoh and the colonists as the Israelites fleeing the bonds of their oppressors. Victory only cemented this parallel in the minds of the newly liberated Americans who celebrated this definitive sign that God was indeed on America’s side. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson went as far as propose this parallel be formally cemented in the Great Seal. Franklin’s design was a depiction of Moses parting the Red Sea, with the British replacing the Egyptians as the enemy engulfed by the waves of God’s

Franklin and Jefferson’s proposal for the Great Seal of the United States

judgment while Jefferson suggested an image of the Children of Israel in the wilderness being guided by God. Jefferson’s role in this may come as a surprise, since he is well known for his analogy of a “wall of separation” between church and state. Yet he was an active author in this sacred history of America’s roots, which he reiterates in his second inaugural address: “I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of Old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life.”

Throughout American history this idea of divine providence would pervade such institutionalized events of national communion; not one president has failed to mention God in an Inaugural Address. The significance of this isn’t that every president has believed in the idea, but that the audience addressed (in the case of the inaugural the American people as a whole) finds the rhetoric compelling. I am, and you may be, unmoved by the idea that God has a special relationship with America, but a significant portion of Americans (think of the Religious Right) subscribe to such an interpretation of America’s past, present, and future. When nearly 2nd in line to commander-in-chief Sarah Palin claimed that sending US soldiers to Iraq was a task from God  it was (1) terrifying and (2) proof that this idea is alive and well in modern America. The tasks from God have changed over time, usually involving the deliverance of God-given rights and liberal democracy to those countries of economic or strategic interest. Thus our nation has a history of such missions, from Manifest Destiny to planting the tree of liberty and democratic governance in the sands of a desert and expecting it to grow with only blood, oil, and a hatred of the planter as fertilizer.

Finally, a brief comment on whether this tradition supports the arguments of those who claim that the United States is a “Christian nation” (like how we have no homeless people). Although every president has invoked the figure of God in their inaugural addresses,  not one has referred to Jesus Christ. The rhetoric of divine providence is religious, but not in any specific sense Christian. The vast majority of Americans do hold similar religious beliefs, and that they would pull together these common characteristic in a construction of self-identity is not unexpected. But our political institutions remain based in law, order, and reason rather than the teachings of Jesus (who we would have to pretend was individualistic, greedy, and an enthusiast of semiautomatic rifles). This post is way too long, and if you’ve read this far hopefully you’re not disappointed.


[1] Yep, working in the footnote. Guyatt, Nicholas. Providence and the invention of the United States, 1607-1876. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007, 14

[2] Ibid, 16

[3] Quoted in Guyatt, 48.

General References and Related Items

Bailyn, Bernard. The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard UP, 1967.

Bellah, Robert Neelly. The broken covenant: American civil religion in a time of trial. New York: Seabury Press, 1975.

– “Civil Religion in America.” [Electronic Version] Daedalus 96.1 (1967): 1-21.

Cherry, Conrad. God’s new Israel religious interpretations of American destiny. Rev. and updated ed. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.

Guyatt, Nicholas. Providence and the invention of the United States, 1607-1876. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Heimert, Alan. Religion and the American mind: from the Great Awakening to the Revolution. Harvard University Press, 1966.

Wood, Gordon S. “Ideology and Origins of Liberal America.” [Electronic Version] The William and Mary Quarterly 3rd ser. 44.3 (1987): 628-40.

The Creation of the American Republic 1776-1787. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, 1969.

Commitment, Community and Contributions- where are yours?

It’s that time of the week again. You call your pals and get dressed decently nice before picking them up. There’s a special this week, you can’t wait to get there. As you all pile out of the car and enter, you hear chatter of the townspeople and all your friends. Most of the neighborhood is there- your dentist, a few neighbors- you love seeing so many familiar faces. It’s a great time- you always get something out of it when you come here weekly. You leave a little cash on your way out. What an awesome environment, it’s nice to catch up with everyone.

……..Where are you? Was that a Sunday service at your local church or a weeknight at your favorite pub down the street? Was the cash you left a tip for your server or your weekly donation into tithes & offerings?

As we can see, there are multiple similarities between attending a church service and regularly eating and drinking at a pub you enjoy, and both usually involve loyalty. I present the point that these can both be considered religious practices.

In British culture, faithfulness to a particular pub is common- they find themselves committed to (one or a few) that they fancy. C. Mitchell, a college student in London puts it, “We are very loyal to a group of pubs in our town. My favorite is a pub called the Last Post. We are loyal there because it is cheap and has a really nice feel. I also love spending time with my mates.”

https://i0.wp.com/www.ehow.co.uk/DM-Resize/i.ehow.com/images/a07/21/c6/english-pub-cabinet-styles-1.1-800x800.jpg

MercyMe performing live at Rock & Worship Roadshow, March 2012

What if a few of those words were changed; if “a group of pubs” was switched for “a local church?” They are both about commitment and finding the right one that “has a really nice feel,” as he put it. (Of course when speaking of churches, it wouldn’t be plural. For the most part, when people commit to a specific church, they choose ONE and this would be singular). And consistency is key; this is what builds on the attendee’s positive perspective of the facility. Consistency provides the attendee with routine, trust, and tradition. These are all important in a religious practice, whether that is at a church (or other religious building) or pub. Then a personal connection can start being formed- when one finds themselves comfortable, welcomed, and can see themselves coming regularly. This is one’s personal initiative to take action and become a part of something.

But how does one experience these positive feelings and make a decision? That’s where community comes in- it’s all about the people. Networking is how one’s personal initiative branches out and becomes a group commitment. They start relying on each other to keep up with their “weekly tradition” and can form accountability partners. When it comes to community, either pub culture or church attendances are reinforced by communication and relationships with the others that partake. Coworkers might email each other to go out for their weekly Thursday night drinks, just as a parallel of college students texting each other for rides to church on Sunday morning. Community takes the forms of carpooling, plans, inside jokes, support, and probably a lively and diverse environment.

Lastly, both of these depend on contributions. Contributions come from the commitment of the community and how they have decided to use a facility for a certain purpose and practice. Pub culture and church services need contributions of not only money but also time. Staying at home and just sending money to either your favorite pub or church would not do them any good. They need PEOPLE. They need users of their services. Just as only spending time there and never pitching in any money would also not do them any good. They need FUNDS. They need donors and sponsors. Contributions of time and money don’t only come in one form, it could be servicing the facility through service, volunteering or purchasing something at an event. There are many ways to further advance either of these religious practices through contributions, whether it be personal or a group effort in community.

One could also argue that both pub culture (going out for food and drinks) and religious services (seeking prayer, worship and usually a message) are both nourishing and “feed you.” Whether that is physically, literally being fed or spiritually being fed, they contribute to a better well-being and peacefulness of the body & mind.

I think the pub culture of the Brits can be considered religious because it shares the same fundamental building blocks as does a religious practice or attending services with one’s religion. Both “religious activities” thrive on commitment, community and contributions.

Pride in Faith

I was excited to have the opportunity to experience a little bit of London World Pride last weekend. London’s annual summer LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and other non-heterosexual or cisgender identities) celebration is usually a big one, and add the honor of hosting pride events for the whole international LGBT community, this was quite a large-scale production. Although budget constraints had affected the planning committee recently, I did not notice any compromises.

A number of religious LGBT groups participated in the procession


The planning committee estimates about 25,000 people participated in Saturday’s procession, marching from Oxford Street to Regent Street, through Piccadilly Circus, and down to Trafalgar Square. From my vantage point on Regent Street, the parade lasted an hour and 40 minutes from beginning to end! I have never seen so many people proud to just be who they were, not just proud to be Queer, but proud to be a parent, a doctor, a lawyer, an outdoor enthusiast, a leather daddy, a dog lover, a musician, etc. A significant portion of groups marching represented some sort of religious organization that celebrated both their beliefs and their sexual identities.

Pride flag flown at St. Martin-in-the-Field


For many, participating in a public pride event takes a lot of courage. Regardless of religious convictions, many social stigmas still exist towards publicly associating with the LGBT community. But depending on your faith, there may be even stronger religious and cultural barriers that would discourage you from participating in a pride parade.


In the US especially, Mormons are generally known for not embracing homosexuality in their communities. But last month saw an exciting, almost shocking, event when over 300 Mormons joined together to march in Salt Lake City’s annual pride parade. Even more amazing was a YouTube video featuring several LGBT-identified Brigham Young University students published in April. The video was in response to a campaign called the It Gets Better Project, meant to encourage Queer youth in knowing that they are not alone, and to be optimistic for their future. The students who participated in the video were under a lot of pressure for a short time after the video was released. While it seems like most of the student response on campus was positive, others felt that publicizing their identity was in violation of the university’s honor code, which prohibits “homosexual behavior.” Technically, the honor code is action-based, and merely stating or having feelings for the same gender does not violate this code. Administrators stated that the students would not be punished for participating in the video.

Participants seemed to be proud of both their faith and their sexuality


Other groups represented at the London procession included Christians At Pride, The Jewish Gay & Lesbian Group, and The Rainbow LGBTQI Unitarians. While I wasn’t surprised to see the Unitarians represented at Pride, I was inspired to do more research on them, as I knew very little about them. I had heard of Unitarian Universalist churches and known them to be fairly progressive; they were present at many rallies during the anti-Proposition 8 Campaigns. I was surprised to learn that Unitarians believe in helping find people “find their own spiritual path, rather than defining it for them.” There is a Unitarian church in our Borough of Kensington… perhaps I will be adventuring to this church next weekend!

West London Synagogue- An Outsider’s Brief View into the Jewish community

 

 

 

I never thought I’d find myself walking through a Jewish temple, sitting in their seats, listening to personal experiences of an attending Jew, and attempting to read their holy Torah. There we were absorbing Jewish life in London and spending time in one of their places of worship. I felt a little out of place and almost disruptive as we walked through their holy grounds, which goes back to the religious tourism aspect of traveling.

Last week our class visited the West London Synagogue and experienced their sanctuary, walking through their facilities. I was very intrigued by the trip- getting a chance to gain an inside perspective, especially since I’ve never had any type of exposure to Jewish culture and practices. Besides what we learned in class lecture, everything I absorbed was news to me.

I understand that there is a full range of versions and interpretations of Judasim and the ways a temple chooses to practice, just as there are in other religions. I learned that Jews can identify anywhere from Orthodox/Conservative all the way to Liberal/Reform, just as Christians in my faith communities can identify anywhere from Catholic or Conservative all the way to Pentecostal/Evangelical. For this temple specifically, it was eye-opening to see and hear their own ways of practicing their faith on a regular basis. West London Synagogue is a Reform Jewish congregation and their facility was founded in 1840, making it the oldest Reform synagogue. It is one of the oldest among the 409 synagogues in the UK. Some highlights from my observations of this experience include:

• Hebrew readings and writings

• head coverings

• the uses of the Torah

• symbolism on their walls and ceilings

Anne, our “guide” for the morning, explained how if you were to chisel on stone with your right hand, it would be awkward to go left-to-right (how we are used to reading), and that carving/chipping right-to-left (how their books and documents are written out) would’ve been much easier. Once realizing this, we see why their Torah and Hebrew texts are written and documented this way. This temple still maintains the tradition of head coverings in their sanctuary even when a service is not going on- so the males were asked to wear a kippah for our time inside. I was surprised to learn that no one may ever touch the original Torah copies, which are kept in scrolls with protection and adornments, up at the back of the stage. Lastly, different symbols painted and carved onto the temple walls and ceilings almost all had complex meanings or symbolized something. Anne pointed out the three stars of David (layered over one another) and explained how Jewish festivals and events start the night before the day of the event, after the first three night stars are out in the sky.

These are only a few of the things I saw and learned at the West London Synagogue but they were very interesting for me to experience. I see this class’ quick view into the Jewish culture as a snippet of what there is to learn from this community.