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May 12, 2010
This is one web site believers should track 'religiously'
“Folly is a more dangerous enemy to the good than evil. One can protest against evil; it can be unmasked and, if need be, prevented by force. Evil always carries the seeds of its own destruction, as it makes people, at the least, uncomfortable. Against folly we have no defense. Neither protests nor force can touch it; reasoning is no use; facts that contradict personal prejudices can simply be disbelieved—indeed, the fool can counter by criticizing them, and if they are undeniable, they can just be pushed aside as trivial exceptions. So the fool, as distinct from the scoundrel, is completely self-satisfied; in fact, he can easily become dangerous, as it does not take much to make him aggressive.”
When friends ask me for a short list of essential web sites they should follow, get religion.org is always in the top five. The reason is simple. It watchdogs our self-styled media watchdogs. Run by veteran reporter and journalism professor Terry Mattingly and reporter colleagues from several different religious backgrounds, getreligion.org tracks how well—or more often, how poorly—America’s mainline news organizations cover faith-related issues.
The results are informative; but they’re rarely pretty. Sometimes the sad quality of today’s religion news coverage stems from honest reporter ignorance and the pressure of thin resources and tight deadlines. But too often, reporters and editors frame their stories with their own shallow assumptions about the irrelevance of religion, the hypocrisy of religious believers and leaders, and the dangers of fundamentalism.
One of getreligion’s recent themes has been the American news media’s ambivalent reporting of Islam. On the one hand, Islam is portrayed almost deferentially, a religion of tolerance, peace and intellectual excellence during centuries when Christianity was (allegedly) backward, primitive and locked in anti-Semitism. On the other hand, Islam is also framed as a dangerous seedbed of suicide bombers and religious fanaticism. Islam of course is a mosaic of different interpretations and cultures, peace and violence, tolerance and bigotry; and very few reporters understand the Koran and Islamic belief any better than they understand the Catholic Church, her faith and her history—which means they know it poorly, if at all. Nor do most reporters spend much time remedying their problem by really learning, respecting and digging deeper into the religious terrain they cover.
This ignorance, when transmitted to readers and viewers, creates an audience stupefied by abbreviated facts, inadequate context and secular prejudices. In other words, in a democracy that depends for its survival on a well-informed and carefully reasoning electorate, our news media too often feed us folly. And folly, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his “Letters and Papers from Prison,” is even more dangerous than evil because folly lacks the depth of character and seriousness of soul that might—just possibly—leave it open for conversion.
The moral of this week’s column is this: Our country’s Founders saw both freedom of the press and freedom of religion as vital in ensuring a thriving democracy. To the degree our news media fail to adequately understand, respect and report the religious life of our country, they fail their own vocation and they fail the needs of our country. We owe getreligion.org our thanks for at least keeping a record of that unsettling process.
GetReligion is available online at www.getreligion.org.
May 12: USCCB Domestic Committee Meeting, Washington, D.C.
May 13: Mass and confirmation, Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish, Northglenn (7 p.m.)
May 15: Priesthood ordination, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (10 a.m.)
May 16: Mass and confirmation, St. Jude Parish, Lakewood (11 a.m.); Mass honoring consecrated religious jubilarians, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (6:30 p.m.)
May 17: Year for Priests Holy Hour, Holy Trinity Parish, Westminster (7 p.m.)
May 18: Mass of Thanksgiving, 25th anniversary of priesthood for Auxiliary Bishop James D. Conley, Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception (5:30 p.m.)