Saturday, October 20, 2012

A Rant: MSN, Rachel Held Evans, and Slapdash Journalism

Popular Christian blogger Rachel Held Evans recently published a book called A Year of Biblical Womanhood, in which she documents her year-long experiment of living as literally as possible according to every Bible passage about women.  Inspired by A. J. Jacobs' book The Year of Living Biblically, Ms. Held Evans' book gives a new, female perspective on "living biblically" that Mr. Jacobs never contemplated.

I received my copy as a birthday present a few days ago.  So far I'm finding the book to be a pithy, thoughtful and thought-provoking look at perceptions of womanhood in Bible times and today-- about what it means, and has meant historically, to be a woman.  But yesterday evening my husband, opening an online article on MSN, began voicing irritation and disgust.  "What does MSN think they're doing?" he wanted to know-- and pointed me to a one-paragraph blurb regarding Rachel Held Evans' year-long experiment:  Tennessee Woman Lives Biblically for One Year.

The blurb begins: "Living strictly according to the Bible's instructions for women was no picnic for Rachel Held Evans, a blogger from Dayton, Tenn." From there it mentions as briefly as possible the most eyebrow-raising things Ms. Held Evans did, including sleeping in a tent during her period and calling her husband "master." There is no mention of her book or her reasons for writing it.  MSN concludes: "Oh, the trials of the stunt blogger."

"Stunt blogger."  This is how apparently views Rachel Held Evans, and this is how it wants its readers to perceive her-- even though the source they linked to, International Business Times, has made it clear that Ms. Held Evans did her "experiment" with the intention of writing the book which she did indeed write.  Noting that she is "both a devout Christian and a feminist," the IB Press also takes the time to quote Rachel on her reasons for the experiment and the book:   "I wanted to sort of challenge that the Bible prescribes one right way to be a woman of faith. . . . The more women know about the Bible the more they can respond when people try to silence them."

My husband and I were both very annoyed with MSN's apparent intention to present Rachel Held Evans as a publicity-seeker and a nut.  The readers' comments on their article were about what you'd expect, given its tone and its dearth of information or explanation.   The comments all more or less fit within the following paraphrases: 

"Crazy Bible-belt Christians."

"I hate it when non-Christians like her mock the Bible and Christianity."

"She's just trying to get attention.  Hope she's satisfied with her five minutes of fame."

"She's completely misunderstanding the Bible.  Apparently she's never read *insert verse of reader's choice.*"

"What do you expect from a backward, primitive, silly book like the Bible?  If you were all just being honest, you'd either live like she just did, or throw the Bible out."

Five minutes of fame.  A blurb on MSN.  That has to be all Ms. Held Evans really wanted or was trying to accomplish. 

But I don't really blame the commenters.  They're just acting according to standard Internet practices, responding to what they read without attempting to read further unless they're really interested.  And why should they be interested to learn more, given that MSN has painted her as a mere "stunt blogger"? 

How can these readers know she's a college-educated author who has published two intelligent and articulate books on Christianity and culture, both of which are eye-opening reads?  She's just a crazy Christian who takes the Bible too literally-- or a spiteful non-Christian who wants to discredit it.   They're going to take their pick, because they aren't going to learn anything more.  Not from MSN.  Not unless they click on the IB Press source link, which most of them won't bother to do.

As far as I can see, there's only one reason why MSN would present this story the way it did.  Because it can write a curiosity-inspiring headline about someone doing something outrageously odd, which people will want to click on and talk about.  Actual facts not required-- facts just get in the way of the news sensation.

Hmm.  There does seem to be someone who is only seeking a flash of attention and publicity.  But it's not Rachel Held Evans.



Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Disappointing, but not surprising.

Too often the media just wants to get people riled up, especially in the online world where more activity means more ad sales.

I can pretty much guarantee that very few of the commenters take their faith anywhere near as seriously as Rachel Held Evans.

Hannah Thomas said...

Honestly? I never have liked MSN. Its not that all outlets at one time haven't done stupid things. They all have.

There overall take on things much to often tends to be rather toxic.

People that are really interested with check Rachel out.

Hannah Thomas said...

lol will check her out I mean! YIKES! Commented to early - and didn't check my typing. Sorry.

Kristen said...

Mike, thanks so much for your kind words. Hannah-- you're right that it's not just MSN, but in this case their reporting was just ridiculous. And they don't seem to care who they hurt or how the person feels who is misrepresented and vilified, all for the sake of getting reader attention.

Kristen said...

There's one other point I want to make, after reading a lot of the dialogue that's going on in cyberspace about this book. Many Christians, and also some Jewish people, are saying that Ms. Held Evans is "missing the point" in the way she followed the Bible. "She's misunderstanding Christianity and the Bible," seems to be the main point people want to make. "She doesn't understand that Jesus fulfilled Old Testament law and it doesn't apply to us today."

I have also read Ms. Held Evans' book Evolving in Monkey Town. One thing that is quite clear to me is that the author is very, very well-versed in evangelical theology and is completely familiar with the idea that certain Old Testament laws are fulfilled in Christ and no longer apply. Her observance of some of these laws is therefore quite deliberate and done neither by accident nor out of ignorance. I am not quite sure yet where she's going, but she is certainly not just "missing the point." I am wondering if part of the point she intends to make is that almost every Christian out there is going to respond with a different version of "you're doing it wrong," and to want to tell her how to live biblically in the "right" way-- and these "right" ways are still going to differ from one another. That perhaps we all ought to hold what we believe to be the "biblical right way" to be a woman a little more loosely.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Well, there's never a shortage of people to tell you that you are doing religion/non-religion wrong.

Beakerj said...

Kristen, I have been reading your comments over at Denny Burke's blog & wanted to stop by & give you a massive round of applause. A voice of sanity amongst the downright weirdness to be found there. I haven't gotten to the end of the comments yet...I'm hoping you may interact with Kamilla by the end...

Beakerj said...

And yes you did, good work, Kamilla is quite the critic it seems.

Kristen said...

Beakerj, thank you so much for your kind words. They made my day!

Lori said...

Just showed up on my kindle! Will read the first chapter or two by the weekend! Great post.