Opinion: Media Mangle

Religion Reporters Just Don’t Get It

Religious reporters, like professors, just don't seem to like religion

Most religion reporters are a lot like religion professors. They really don’t seem to like religion or religious people, and their approach to the subject is usually from a left-multicultural mindset. Recent research has shown that among the most left-wing disciplines at universities is Religious Studies. Reporters, for their part, cover religion mostly as pathology these days.

A religion reporter who once worked for me would become agitated every year when the Southern Baptist Convention would roll around. She couldn’t understand why Baptists could be for the things they were for and against the things they were against. “It’s their RELIGION,”
I would tell her every year. “It’s what they believe. They have no choice. You either believe or you don’t believe.”

To this particular religion reporter, whose default position on every issue was quite left of center, the positions of so-called conservative fundamentalists were the result of hate, racism, homophobia or some other impure impulse. She couldn’t grasp the notion that faith had anything to do with it. She felt that these positions were so self-evidently wrong that these faithful adherents should just change their positions.

That mindset was not limited to the paper I worked for at the time. A story by The Associated Press on April 5, reporting on a snap poll regarding the direction of the Catholic Church after Pope John Paul II, reveals the same biases and misunderstandings.

The poll purports to show that a majority of people want the church to take directions other than those set out by John Paul II. The framing of the questions is not included in the story, so I’ll reserve judgment as to whether this poll was as poorly conducted as the poll on Terri Schiavo a couple of weeks ago. Both polls seemed to spontaneously combust at the optimum time to influence public opinion rather than gauge it.

Reading the lede on this story automatically makes one suspicious:

“Admiration for Pope John Paul II aside, most Americans surveyed in a poll — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — would like to see a successor willing to institute far-reaching changes: allowing priests to marry and women to join the priesthood.”

OK, so apparently this guy was so admired that everyone disagreed with him. Not only that, but the numbers in this poll included non-Catholics. What concern should they have in the matter? And isn’t it strange that the issues mentioned (women in the priesthood and priests being allowed to marry) just happen to be the top issues for the Religious Left in this country, regardless of denomination.

The opinions in this poll, intones the AP writer, “reflect the cultural divide between the United States and the church, a gap even the charismatic John Paul could not bridge.” Sound familiar? This is the “we are a nation divided” meme of the 2004 presidential campaign. I’m surprised the reporter didn’t criticize John Paul II for being a “divider, not a uniter.”

And whom do they dredge up to comment on this poll? None other than the 85-year-old Rev. Robert Drinan, the Jesuit priest who made a career out of his anti-war activities in the 1960’s before making a career out of Congress for most of the 1970s. Drinan’s comment was so incoherent that the AP writer had trouble making any sense of it. You can just see the reporter’s furrowed brow as she wrote this paragraph:

“While Drinan described the ‘great job’ of John Paul, who visited Jewish synagogues and Islamic mosques, sought to heal old wounds and bring Catholicism to corners once dominated by communism, he said his death was ‘like a grandfather dying and one girl reminded me that her grandfather never approved of her jeans.’”

I’ve read that at least 10 times and I just don’t get the bluejeans point. Now we know why John Paul II ruled that cardinals over the age of 80 will not be able to vote for the next pope.

The reporter makes the same mistake my religion reporter made years before. She assumes that religious positions should be subject to the whims of public opinion, especially the public opinion as expressed by liberals and leftists.

“Changing views about the role of women and the predominance of married clergy in other faiths may help shape the opinions of Americans and American Catholics toward the Vatican’s rules on ordination and priest celibacy,” the reporter writes. This is the ecclesiastical equivalent of the “Constitution-as-living-breathing-document.” There are no absolutes. Everything is relative. There are no “truths” to adhere to. Every time I read stuff like this I think of Flip Wilson’s fictitious “Church of What’s Happenin’ Now,” with the choir singing “Do Your Thing, Do What You Wanna Do.”

The reporter speculates that major changes “seem unlikely soon for the tradition-bound church” but, engaging in some wishful thinking, adds “some within the clergy say they may be inevitable, especially with the Vatican hard-pressed to enlist new priests.”

It is pretty clear that “tradition-bound” is not a good thing in the eyes of this reporter. But then, tradition is the bugaboo of leftists. Everywhere you turn leftists and their agents are trying to destroy some tradition, whether it’s the Boy Scouts, men-only at VMI, crosses on city seals or the Ten Commandments and Nativity scenes on public property.

Oh, one thing never mentioned in this story? Jesus.

Jon Ham is vice president of The John Locke Foundation and publisher of Carolina Journal.