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Dissed Belief

CNS tries to work up a fit over Beliefnet, ABC's new partner for religious news.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 6/19/2001

Sometimes, you never know what will offend the ConWeb.

CNS has decided to become offended by the seemingly innocuous decision by ABC News to partner with the Web site Beliefnet for its religious coverage, after having laid off its religion reporter in a cost-cutting move.

A June 6 CNS story by Susan Jones states that Beliefnet bills itself as a "multi-faith e-community designed to help you meet your own religious and spiritual needs." And that multi-faith thing is what appears to be the problem.

Jones then starts making unsupported assertions. She notes that "while it claims to be respectful of a wide variety of religions, Beliefnet co-founder Steve Waldman admits 'you'll find things on this site that annoy or even infuriate you.' Waldman promises to be 'balanced, sensitive, and inclusive,' but to some conservatives, the Website, in striving to be politically correct, leans strongly toward the feminist, pro-abortion, liberal dogma."

Jones goes on to cite a number of things from Beliefnet, from the site's definitions of homosexuality and abortion to noting that "the Website offers everything from a 'Gay Community Forum' to a section called the 'Bible As A Sex Manual.'" None of the examples given are detailed as to how this equates to Beliefnet being a seething den of "feminist, pro-abortion, liberal dogma," leaving the impression that the only person who feels that way is Jones. (And probably, by extension, Jones' boss, CNS chief Brent Bozell. Why? CNS sister organization Media Research Center has already trashed an ABC program last year on the life of Jesus that Beliefnet played a part in.) Any Beliefnet visitor will find examples of conservative "dogma" on the site, but CNS doesn't bother to mention any. Not until the final paragraph is a "conservative" -- a spokesman for the Christian Coalition -- actually quoted, and all he says is that Beliefnet's "university approach" to religion is bound to offend people who subscribe to the traditional Judeo-Christian understanding of religion. In other words, he doesn't support Jones' assertions, either.

Two days later, though, CNS finally dug up someone who was outraged at Beliefnet -- the easily offended conservative group the Catholic League. How easily offended and conservative? It has called for food maker Lipton to pull a TV ad that depicts "the fourth person on line (for communion) ... holding a bowl of Lipton Onion dip, obviously suggesting that he is prepared to dunk the Host in the dip." The group also promotes a book heavily critical of the American Civil Liberties Union.

CNS writer Seth Lewis, who starts off with the unsupported assertion that Beliefnet "promotes abortion and irreverently discusses sex," quotes a Catholic League official as saying that the site asks "politically charged" questions about women in Catholicism (but doesn't provide examples) and insinuates that "priests are perverts" (an example is provided, but it merely turns out to be one possible answer in a quiz question on priestly celibacy). The Catholic League's press release mentions a few other things, but Lewis didn't include them in his article.

Lewis notes at the end of his story that "Beliefnet could not be reached for comment," making it highly unlikely that anything Beliefnet has to say will ever appear on CNS.

Missing from all this is any offense being taken of a Beliefnet interview earlier this year with serial liar Jerry Falwell in which he asserts that "the Moslem faith teaches hate." CNS wasn't bothered that that at all, near as we can tell, nor by another Beliefnet article in which Falwell, while discussing the movie "Gladiator" and after being asked to compared the hero Maximus to Kenneth Starr, says the villainous emperor Commodus "reminds me a lot of Bill Clinton."

It's this type of blinders-on world view of religion that Beliefnet seems to be fighting. And the web journal Suck finds it all quite interesting that BeliefNet finds itself in the middle of that fray:

It's an oddly reassuring part of the Beliefnet experience to see how the hard core resists all efforts at We-Are-The-World sweetening. In one Beliefnet discussion, a Jewish teenager claiming to have converted to Catholicism gets read the entire book of lamentations against intermarriage. In another, a Christian identifying herself as pro-choice is given holy hell. The hottest action on the Catholic boards goes to those old chestnuts abortion and anticatholicism. And so on.

Religion is a very touchy thing; everyone believes their point of view is the only valid one. But why is CNS applying this religious approach to journalism? If you only approach an issue in one way, as CNS did here, it stops being journalism.

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