“To leave an urban setting to live in a tent in the woods just like thousands of boys have done for the last hundred years: that’s a very spiritual experience. Sure, they get on the bus and cry their eyes out — I did at 8 — but after a few days at camp, something magic happens.”—
Through the Twitter vine, a follower of ours (@SOFtweets) turned us on to this brief article in USA Today. During this economic climate, I particularly appreciate the good will of this 25-year-old economist who’s printing out the petitions and physically wedging them in.
Producers and reporters from American Public Media (SOF/Marketplace/American RadioWorks) are gathering to discuss collective climate change reporting. I will be tweeting ideas and following the comments section here.
What’s the story we want to tell, and how do we want to tell it? I’m glad to bring your suggestions into the large and small group discussions. Please help as we’re planning shows for the coming year — leading up to and following on the heels of Copenhagen conference in December.
Context and Viewpoints for the Pope's Latest Encyclical
Trent Gilliss, online editor
With the Pope Benedict XVI’s release of his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, Nancy wondered if we should do a short post pointing to Laurie Goodstein and Rachel Donadio’s article in The New York Times or the press release issued by the Vatican. I recommended we hold off and suggested that perhaps Martin Marty might weigh in Monday’s issue of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
It never came, but last Thursday Rick Elgendy, a doctoral candidate in Theology, took the reins. His piece is smart and helpful, giving us perspectives from several sides and some historical context for this social treatise. We reprint it here for you:
The Radicalism of Caritas in Veritate?
The Vatican recently released the long-awaited papal encyclical Caritas in Veritate, which ranges from theological to political and economic themes. Now that the dust has settled, the encyclical and reactions to it can be seen to be rather remarkable.
Papal comment on social ethics is not itself unusual; Caritas in Veritate is the latest in a long line of encyclicals exploring Catholic social thought. What might be surprising, however, is the character of this encyclical, given its source. Benedict XVI, frequently remembered (from his days as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) for his participation in the institutional resistance to Latin American Liberation Theology, has long been perceived as reactionary by the masses and the media. Yet, this encyclical adopts positions about distributive justice that defy the presumption of papal partisanship. Benedict argues that charity goes beyond but “never lacks justice,” and that “I cannot ‘give’ what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.” Thus, “charity” given under the conditions of systemic injustice is not charity.
Elsewhere, Benedict discusses development (“authentic human development concerns the whole of the person in every single dimension”), world hunger (food and access to water being “universal rights of all human beings”), the moral responsibilities of corporations (to shareholders, workers, clients, suppliers, and “the community of reference”), and the role of the market (which requires forms of solidarity and mutual trust to fulfill its own function), as well as the usual “life” issues. In doing so, he represents the “seamless garment of life” described by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernadin: the essential continuity between the Church’s concern with issues ranging from abortion and euthanasia to structural inequality and international peace.
Though frequently presumed to be the source of authority for those who would, say, deny communion to pro-choice politicians, Benedict here refuses to accept the ideological categories assumed in American politics: The same theological commitments that inform his convictions about the integrity of life demand a reimagining of prevailing social arrangements. Catholic and non-Catholic onlookers alike might hope that the encyclical will inspire political discourse that reexamines the standard binaries and turns to principled and civil conversation before partisan rancor (as Benedict himself did, by most reports, in his recent meeting with President Obama, in sharp contrast to how others dealt with the president’s Notre Dame commencement appearance).
Reaction from some commentators has been as remarkable as the encyclical itself. Michael Novak, for instance, echoes Benedict’s theology, emphasizing that, “[f]or Catholics, all social energy flows from the inner life of the Trinity. Everything is gift.” Yet, Novak draws starkly different ethical conclusions: “Thus, it is no surprise when empirical research shows that people who are believers give more of their time and resources to the needy than do unbelievers, and people who cherish limited government (conservatives) give more than welfare-state liberals.” Whatever its “empirical” status, this is a strange response to an argument that charity is specifically not best expressed in noblesse oblige. Novak’s further comments clarify his intention, though, as he suggests that “[t]he Catholic tradition - even the wise Pope Benedict - still seems to put too much stress upon caritas, virtue, justice, and good intentions, and not nearly enough on methods for defeating human sin in all its devious and persistent forms.”
George Weigel argues that the encyclical is the latest episode in a sordid history of attempts by The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace to insinuate its social thought into the mainstream. As a result, it is “a hybrid, blending the pope’s own insightful thinking on the social order with elements of the Justice and Peace approach to Catholic social doctrine,” and those in the know could easily enough “go through the text…highlighting those passages that are obviously Benedictine with a gold marker and those that reflect current Justice and Peace default positions with a red marker.” Weigel finds those Benedictine sections “strong and compelling,” and exhibits suspicion about the other sections (because, at Justice and Peace, “evidence, experience, and the canons of Christian realism sometimes seem of little account”). He concludes, “Benedict XVI, a truly gentle soul, may have thought it necessary to include…these multiple off-notes, in order to maintain the peace within his curial household.”
Weigel’s redaction recalls the work done in the Jesus Seminar, attempting to reveal the sayings and actions of the “historical Jesus” behind the veil of the New Testament. Though the Jesus Seminar uses four colors instead of Weigel’s two, the presumption that one can sort out the wheat from the chaff, the genuine meaning of the authoritative author from the accretions of inexpert subordinates, remains common to both. Apropos, then, is Albert Schweitzer’s well-known suspicion, expressed after decades spent on his own such searching: that the person resulting from such quests often bears a striking resemblance to ourselves. To assimilate the encyclical to our own status quo, however, would mean the tragic loss of its potentially prophetic voice.
Yes, television can be cast as frivolous fare — a kind of cotton candy for the mind. But as Diane Winston emphasizes, television narratives are extremely powerful. They illuminate our collective social concerns. The characters we meet in the shows we come to cherish — as Sotomayor testifies — can sometimes inspire big life decisions about who we want to become in the world.
Television also serves as a touchstone and provides points of connection across different life experiences. Yesterday, newly seated Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) shared how he grew up watching Perry Mason in suburban Minneapolis while Sotomayor took in the show from her home in the South Bronx. “And here you are today,” Franken said.
Opening Clip, from Battlestar Galactica Trent Gilliss, online editor
As I wrote yesterday, Krista and crew went gung-ho on the audio clips from TV series for this week’s show. We included a good number of clips and I thought that would suffice. So, as I was editing Krista’s journal for this week’s newsletter, I find her enthusiasm hasn’t yet waned, as she has promised her devoted readers that they could listen to the Battlestar Galactica clip selected to open the top of the program.
Here I, with Nancy’s help, have isolated, encoded, and uploaded an mp3 for your ears. It’s quite compelling, and I’m glad Krista made the offer.
The production staff diligently spent hours selecting clips from their favorite television series for inclusion in this week’s program with Diane Winston. We’ve even got a title: "TV and Parables of Our Time." Somehow, I am told, downloading and watching 24 and Lost and Battlestar Galactica and The Wire is really hard work. Ah fellow producers, “you suffer for your soup.” *grin*
The professor of religion and media at USC appealed to the heart of Krista’s eclectic consumption of TV series on DVD. After all, they actually have sat together and watched the tube. This enthusiasm spilled over into our search for actualities from these episodes.
And, this passion bore itself out in last week’s cuts and copy session. The script was extraordinarily rough. There were at least five spots for audio clips from some of those series. Then it really got messy — two or three clips with an average length of 3-5 minutes (one more than 8 minutes) were included in the listen. Heads were spinning.
What I experienced was an insider’s perspective. Script was trying to explain too much of each plot, and the opening scene from 24 (“8:00 AM–9:30 AM” - season 2, episode 1) was heavy. So we sussed out the needs of various listeners and focused on illustrating or accentuating a point made at the out-cue. The result: a much better, more listenable production.
What I realized is that I don’t watch that much TV — well, except for my utter obsession of the Tour de France on Versus — and felt a bit sheltered, out of the loop actually, when talking about these dramatic series. Not being part of these conversations and the larger culture is isolating. I’m an outsider who can only politely smile and lean in when Krista and Mitch and Colleen and Nancy start discussing characters like Snot Boogie and McNulty, or Cylons and Caprica, or Jack Shepard and John Locke.
My hope is that an unknowing perspective helps those of you who are in the same boat that I’m in. That Thursday’s podcast clues you in rather than leaving your face pressed against the window watching the family sit in front of a toasty fire, chomping on popcorn and sodas, with a 42” HD screen glowing in the background.
So, here’s a list of the episodes and scenes we considered. I’ve flagged in bold the clips we’re using.
The Wire. The vernacular of the characters is difficult track at first, but somehow your ear tunes in after a while and you get the gist. Nevertheless, the distinct dialects and slang used eliminated a lot of great scenes from consideration for the radio.
"Misgivings" (Season 4, episode 10) - In the scene we chose, Colvin meets with Miss Shepherdson to seek permission to continue the alternative class.
"Final Grades" (Season 4, episode 13) - This scene presents Colvin meeting with Wee-bay in prison and asks if he can adopt his son Namond.
"Corner Boys" (Season 4, episode 8) - Colvin gives speech about corner boys to the alternative class.
"Refugees" (Season 4, episode 4) - Here, Mr. Prezbo (Pryzbylewski ) tries talking to his class after a student has been slashed.
Battlestar Galactica. Probably Krista’s favorite series. And so we found a place for three clips in the program.
"Flesh and Bone" (season 1, episode 8) - Compelling scenes with aural allusions to waterboarding and torture, as well as rich dialogue about the being human and being an artificial life form.
"White Rabbit" (season 1, episode 5) - We used two scenes from this episode: one where Jack Shepard tells the group that they have to learn to live together or die alone, and the other in which John Locke speaks dramatically about looking into the eye of the island and seeing its beauty.
"Exodus part 2" (season 1, episodes 24/25) - A rich discussion between Jack and Locke on science and faith.
House. A late entry to the production process that wasn’t part of the first cuts and copy session. A clip from this series was selected because it’s a different genre of drama and it is a popular series still in production.
"Informed Consent" (season 3, episode 3) - Here we have multiple scenes featuring a patient who wishes to die and not be treated while Dr. House tricks him into continuing testing/treatment.
"The Socratic Method" (season 1, episode 6) - We strongly considered this scene with Dr. House and his nemesis Dr. Cuddy about the ethics of using unapproved protocols to shrink a patient’s tumor so it could be operated on.
Students who enroll in Diane Winston’s "Religion, Media and Hollywood" class at USC get to watch a lot of good TV. Even better, some of the best TV writers and producers in the business visit their classroom to discuss the influences, themes, and ideas undergirding their shows.
Fortunately for the rest of us, many of these guest lectures are videotaped. Take this 2007 talk by Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of the sci-fi series Battlestar Galactica. He spoke to Winston’s students about the religious influences embedded in the original 1978 version of Battlestar Galactica, including Mormon theology, numerology, and the signs of the zodiac. Moore talks about his development of the mythology of the 2004-2009 version of Battlestsar Galactica to reflect modern concerns around religious fundamentalism and a clash of civilizations propelled by different beliefs.
You can also check out other videos from Winston’s class, including House and Nancy Miller, creator and executive producer of Saving Grace. Both of these shows were mentioned in Krista’s conversation with Winston for our upcoming broadcast, “TV and Parables of Our Time.”
Our immersion into the world of neuroscience for this week’s program with Paul Zak has given me a label for one of the uplifting parts of my weekdays — my “oxytocin moment.” It’s the moment I exit work to pick up my 7-month-old son. Walking to the car, a rush of energy, excitement, and warmth comes over me as I eagerly anticipate how his smile widens when he recognizes me, and the giggle that bubbles up when I hug him and tickle him under the chin. I can’t get to him fast enough, and I’m certain one day a fender-bender will be the result of my mad dash to exit work and pick him up.
So now I interpret that rush to be a surge of oxytocin in my brain. The hormone has long been known for its role in childbirth and the mother/child bonding process that I acutely experience these days. But as Zak’s research is showing, it has other profound influences on broader social behavior, including our ability to trust. Since my brain fails to fire the neurons needed to comprehend neuroscience, I went looking for easily digestible descriptions of his work, and found a few helpful things.
His article, "The Neurobiology of Trust," in the June 2008 issue of Scientific American is a helpful overview, with simple visuals, of how he became interested in oxytocin’s relation to trust, how his experiment — the “Trust Game” — was conducted and its findings, and some of the implications of his research. Besides its impact on the field of economics, I’ll be curious to see if future insights emerge about oxytocin’s relationship to neurological disorders like schizophrenia or maladies such as social anxiety.
Also helpful, and fun, was a 2005 television segment from the Australian Broadcasting Company science program Catalyst. The reporter participates in Zak’s trust game as well as a related experiment using MRI imaging of his brain. He talks to Zak and other scientists about the biology of trust, from primates to humans.
And, given my current life status as a new mom, I enjoyed stumbling upon Hug the Monkey, a blog about the latest research and issues around oxytocin’s best-known function by science and technical writer Susan Kuchinskas.
NPR has taken some sharp criticism recently about a news policy against the use of the word “torture” relative to Bush administration policy regarding techniques employed during interrogation of suspected terrorists. I find Salon’s Glen Greenwald’s point of view pretty persuasive, as he critiques one version of journalistic balance (emphasis in the excerpt below is his):
"There are two sides and only two sides to every "debate" — the Beltway Democratic establishment and the Beltway Republican establishment. If those two sides agree on X, then X is deemed true, no matter how false it actually is. If one side disputes X, then X cannot be asserted as fact, no matter how indisputably true it is. The mere fact that another country’s behavior is described as X doesn’t mean that this is how identical behavior by the U.S. should be described. They do everything except investigate and state what is true. In their view, that — stating what is and is not true — is not their role.”
At SoF we had a similar editorial conversation with a different outcome when we recently produced a program with Darius Rejali on torture. In a world where there is a plurality of views on whether water-boarding, for example, constitutes torture, should journalists be prevented from calling it torture? Or, does that mean journalists are caving in to Orwellian “double-speak?” What do you think?
BTW, I should point out that while Speaking of Faith is heard on many NPR stations across the country, we are actually produced and distributed by American Public Media, and therefore not part of NPR itself.
Caught this on The Onion's Twitter “news” feed and couldn't resist sharing it here. I sense that this may open the floodgates — watch out, Waffle House!
"These steep and serene blue roofs, which arc to the heavens, in truth house corrupt souls who once sought succor in a simple pancake, but have now succumbed to the temptation of caramel cheesecakes and Caesar salads," Lyman wrote. "Only by returning to its hearty breakfast roots can IHOP save itself and its customers."