Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Facile Ignorance of the New York Times Regarding the Resurrection

Here is another item that would seem to piggy-back onto Google's deliberate shunning of Easter and their decision that Cesar Chavez deserved a larger share of acclaim.

Not being a devotee of the New York Times (and for good reason), I rely upon the kindness of such commentators as the wonderful Mark Steyn of National Review Online (among many other far-flung sources) to keep me posted on the dithering nonsense that passes for objective commentary from the Newspaper of Record.  Mr Steyn passes along, by way of Michael Walsh of NRO, another example of a correction in the NYT that simply makes matters worse.

Ancient history

Messrs Walsh and Steyn draw reference to a story therein by Elisabetta Povoledo, of the Easter message of the new Pope Francis.  (Ms Povoledo is the NYT's correspondent in Italy, and they apparently cannot be bothered to post a correspondent to the sovereign Vatican City for matters dealing with the Roman Catholic Church.)  The correction reads in its entirety: 
An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the Christian holiday of Easter.  It is the celebration of Jesus' resurrection from the dead, not his resurrection into heaven. 
My first reaction was that I was glad that they specified the "Christian holiday of Easter" for the understanding of the ignorami who would otherwise confuse it with the Muslim version of the same name.  I am not alone: Mr Walsh's knee jerked in much the same fashion.

But I was then floored by the one-two punch of "resurrection into heaven".  To echo our gentlemen above, what does that even mean?  One does not resurrect to something, but from, specifically death, or the tomb.  True, Jesus (an appropriately secular name; use of the name Christ conveys a religious meaning that the NYT finds uncomfortable) by scripture and doctrine ends up in heaven, sitting on the right hand of God ("from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead"), but the original rendition by Ms Povodero leaves out the inconvenient history of what happens between "resurrection" and "heaven", which is the cornerstone of Christian theology. 

The Apostles' Creed speaks controversially of his descent into Hell (some Protestants, like the Methodists, leave this line out).  Others disagree, for how can Christ tell the thief on the cross (the Repentant Malefactor as Matthew Henry puts it) that he shall be with him in Paradise "this day"?  There is some evidence that the idea was not present in the earliest forms of the Creed.  (Admittedly, a very sparse explanation of the argument.)

Yet nonetheless, what actually counts is the history that Christ rose alive from his tomb, advised the two Marys, ministered to his Apostles along with his Disciples on different occasions, appeared before Cleopas and his friend, and to "more than five hundred brethren at one time".  This, as Paul preached, is the underpinning of the Christian faith as he states in 1 Corinthians 15:12-19, particularly its last verse: "If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied."

For the New York Times: Significance?  Anyone ... anyone? (

(This led to Pentecost, and the movement spread to "thousands" in Jerusalem as explained in the book of Acts, likely contributing a role in the uprisings against the Romans some years afterward and the retaliation which destroyed the city in AD 70, but the Christians by then had already taken strong root in places such as Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, and Damascus.)

Mr Walsh sums it up thusly:

They say you tend to believe what you read in the newspaper until the story concerns something you actually know something about.  The Times has just proven to 1.2 billion Catholics around the world that it knows nothing about their religion.  Read it on all subjects accordingly.
Mr Steyn quite agrees: "How could any expensively credentialed J-school grad type those words?"  But he continues the exposure of how the NYT reporter can be so incandescently obtuse:

Where I think Michael understates the case is when he says that it reveals the Times as know-nothings to 1.2 billion Catholics.  Leaving aside the massed ranks of Anglicans, Methodists et al, it exposes the Times to believers and non-believers alike as culturally ignorant.  The Bible underpins a big chunk of western art, music, and literature, and not to know its basic concepts is to condemn yourself to bobbing around in the shallows.
He goes on to provide just two germane examples, from humorist P G Wodehouse ("There was a death-where-is-thy-sting-fullness about her manner which I found distasteful."); as well as the World War I ditty Bells of Hell ("O Death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling?  O grave, thy vic-to-ry?") – brought back to my generation by the mordant musical Oh, What a Lovely War in 1969. 

Both are taken from "Paul's 'characterization' (as the Times would say) of the Resurrection to the Corinthians".  He goes on to bemoan how tone-deaf and unmoored the Times correction is from our cultural inheritance, "regardless of one's 'faith tradition' (as Al Gore would put it)".

Steyn makes the added observation that he has published a few pieces in the NYT and he knows "a bit about the extraordinary layers of editors between the author and the page, and it's remarkable that not one person up the chain raised an eyebrow over 'resurrection into heaven' before it hit the streets. . . .  [The New York Times] has just announced itself to the world as civilizationally illiterate."

Walsh's admonition to read the NYT "on all subjects accordingly" brings to my mind a comment I have written about before, that of the late Michael Crichton and his Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, and Crichton's words bear repeating:

Media carries with it a credibility that is totally undeserved.  You have all experienced this, in what I call the Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.  (I refer to it by this name because I once discussed it with Murray Gell-Mann, and by dropping a famous name I imply greater importance to myself, and to the effect, than it would otherwise have.)
Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows.  You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well.  In Murray's case, physics.  In mine, show business.  You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward – reversing cause and effect.  I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories.  Paper's full of them.
In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read.  You turn the page, and forget what you know.
That is the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect.  I'd point out it does not operate in other arenas of life.  In ordinary life, if somebody consistently exaggerates or lies to you, you soon discount everything they say.  In court, there is the legal doctrine of falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means untruthful in one part, untruthful in all.  But when it comes to the media, we believe against evidence that it is probably worth our time to read other parts of the paper.  When, in fact, it almost certainly isn't.

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