Readers respond to Juan Cole's "In Gods We Trust" and Eric Boehlert's "A Tale Told by an Idiot."

Published April 5, 2005 8:00AM (EDT)

[Read "In Gods We Trust," by Juan Cole.]

I appreciated Mr. Cole's article, with one exception: The second paragraph closes with: "George and Laura's respectful nod to the spirits in the Meiji Shrine violated those precepts in the eyes of true believers." I hope the author does not really believe that only fundamentalist Christians are "true believers." We liberal Christians are continually struggling to wrest the label "Christian" from the clutches of the religious right. It is inevitable, I suppose, that we will many times get painted with the same brush as the fundamentalists, but thoughtful articles like this one need not use such broad strokes.

Just as the label "Muslim" does not exclusively mean "wild-eyed suicide bombers," the label "Christian" is also claimed by inclusive, progressive, and even mystic individuals who strive for peace and cooperation among believers and nonbelievers alike. The term "true believer" is almost always a red flag for divisive rather than unifying discourse.

-- David Marks

I must take issue with Juan Cole's definition of "devout Christian" in his otherwise fine article. He characterizes devout Christians as "people who believe in a literal heaven and hell and spend their idle moments devouring the 'Left Behind' series." I'm afraid this shows ignorance and prejudice on the author's part. There are many of us "devout Christians" who do none of those things. He mustn't confuse the extremists in the evangelical movement with those of us Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans and many others who consider ourselves politically liberal (and are active in liberal causes as an expression of our deeply held Christian faith, not in spite of it). I, as a devout Christian, was deeply offended by Judge Moore's blatant disregard for the separation of church and state.

-- Valerie Mayhew

The thing that really touched me off about this article is the focus on the monuments of the Ten Commandments. If people outside the Christian faith are really concerned about the importance of monuments and symbology, the Ten Commandments monuments are, frankly, the least of their concerns. Consider briefly the symbolism on the ubiquitous one-dollar bill. The triangle with the eyeball is called the "eye of God" and it refers to the trinity of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our government monuments and seals are rife with biblical, magical, Christian and Masonic symbols.

If we each insist that the government only use symbols that in no way reference any religion or god, we might as tear down most government buildings, burn all the flags, coins, bills, and sealed documents, deface the murals and let the bald eagle go extinct. (The eagle, in Christian symbolism, refers both to Christ and to John the Evangelist.) I think it is wrong-headed to take down the Ten Commandments; I think that instead we need to embrace the different heritages, religious and secular.

Please don't think that I mean to suggest that we shouldn't keep a keen eye on the conservative radicals. I just mean that this isn't the right battle.

-- Carmen Devine

[Read "A Tale Told by an Idiot," by Eric Boehlert.]

I want to commend Eric Boehlert for his excellent article. Mr. Boehlert rightly rails against reporters and pundits who unquestioningly adopt Republican "frames" -- but in the process does so himself. He refers repeatedly to "pro-life" supporters and protesters, without even bracketing "pro-life" in quotes (as I have just done). The Republican's use of the term "pro-life" is a brilliant stroke of framing. It is a term that progressives and Democrats need somehow to take back. In the meantime, I urge Mr. Boehlert to be vigilant and not further promote the notion that the religious right has a monopoly on "life" support.

-- Beverly Marcus

Thank you, Mr. Boehlert, for your commentary on the media's response to the Schiavo case. I found it to be very insightful. I do have one quibble:

As proof of the overemphasis that the media gave to this story you pointed to the relatively large number of times "Schiavo" appeared in the press compared to how many times "tsunami" appeared during that story's cycle. While that evidence is impressive, I believe it may not be as pertinent as you suggest.

The name "Schiavo" was needed not just to identify Terri Schiavo, but also to distinguish her husband and his attorneys from her parents (the Schindlers) and their attorneys. Thus, in every story run about this event it was necessary, for clarification, to mention the name Schiavo at least twice.

With the tsunami, there was only one wave, and once that was established as the subject of the piece it wasn't necessary to repeat the word to make the story clear.

While I completely agree with your take on the media's coverage of this story relative to other issues, I believe it would be a better comparison to look at the number of actual pieces published rather than the number of occurrences of a single word.

-- Brian Harris

Having just finished reading "A Tale Told by an Idiot," I have a few questions/observations.

I was wondering if you noticed how loath the media seemed to ever discuss Terri Schiavo's eating disorder -- to me, a widely ignored and important part of the story. I say "important" because this case always seemed like it should double as a warning to young women about the dangers of bulimia. But most print articles wouldn't touch it (I can't speak for television), and the sources that mentioned it at all did it in a very qualified manner, such as, "a heart attack that may have been related to an eating disorder..." I'm an attorney, and I can't think of a plausible legal reason like defamation concerns. I have come to believe that ignoring this detail was part a calculated strategy coordinated by the right to avoid mentioning anything -- like how she came to be in a coma in the first place -- that would make Terri Schiavo appear less of a "victim." Most people I asked had no idea why she was in a coma, or responded "potassium deficiency" or "heart attack."

I also noted the repeated references to her in the coverage as "Terri Schindler Schiavo." Was that actually her name? The one she used after she got married? Or did the press allow the Christians to rename her in order for her parents to reclaim her rhetorically -- along the lines of "estranged husband"?

-- Colleen O'Brien

Although I agree with most of Mr. Boehlert's assertions, I think he's missed a key issue.

The reason the case has been covered so exhaustively by the media isn't because the press is afraid of offending a small but vocal religious minority. It isn't even because reporters are reluctant to skewer the eminently skewerable Bush.

The main reason for the rabid coverage is simply because (if you'll excuse the expression) people have been eating this story up. Even though the polls show that a clear majority thought Congress and the president were way, waaay out of bounds, that doesn't mean those folks were tuning out the news coverage.

If it sells, if it makes ratings skyrocket, it's going to get covered. Polls or no polls, right or wrong, real or faked. It's not a tale told by idiots, it's a tale listened to by idiots.

-- Lisa Leitz

By Salon Staff

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