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 The News and the Good News 

May 10, 2005 
When a German priest named Martin Luther nailed some of his pet ideas to a church door in 1517, it wasn’t big news. Today's column is "The News and the Good News" -- Read Joe's columns the day he writes them.Nobody knew that the history of Europe was being changed forever, let alone that this would eventually have profound effects on the other side of the ocean that had only recently been crossed.

At the time it must have seemed like a minor local story — one more disgruntled heretic venting his spleen — just as the crucifixion of a Jew in Jerusalem, around what would later be called, in honor of that Jew, A.D. 35, seemed a minor event at the time. At least two others were also crucified in the city that day. Big deal.

Today, even with our 24/7 news coverage, both events would still pass unnoticed. They certainly wouldn’t warrant bulletins of the “breaking news as it happens” variety.

Except when an old pope dies or a new one is elected, religious news hardly counts as news. If you want religious news in the Washington Post, you can find it, as a rule, only on the religion page, buried in the back of the Metro section every Saturday morning. It’s so dull and trivial that I usually forget to read it.

By contrast, the Post devotes whole sections to business, sports, and style every day of the year, with additional sections on the arts, travel, books, real estate, and whatnot — but not religion — in weekend editions. As a human concern, religion seems to rank, for the Post as well as most other newspapers, with stamp-collecting. You’d never guess, from the journalistic attention it receives, that it’s the most vital part of countless people’s lives and has shaped whole civilizations.

[Breaker quote for The News and the Good News: Journalism versus religion]Movies are the same way, of course. How often does Hollywood show people praying? On the big screen, which prides itself on graphic realism, characters vomit more frequently than they pray. I’ve yet to see James Bond appeal to the Lord when his life is in danger, maybe because his enemies are always such bad shots anyway. But let’s stick to journalism.

Secularist journalism segregates religious news from what it deems “real” news. It has no place for the biggest news of all time, the Good News of Jesus Christ, who said he was the only way to God the Father. For Christians, the world is divided into those who accept his claim and those who don’t. Secularist journalism presupposes his unimportance and therefore the insignificance of his followers.

Journalism, as G.K. Chesterton observed, tells us that Admiral Bangs has died without having told us that Admiral Bangs had been born. It takes notice of religious people only when their activities begin to threaten secularism; it failed to notice the rise of the Christian Right and militant Islam until they had already become impossible to ignore, whereupon it reacted with alarm verging on hysteria.

More recently, secularist journalism has been alarmed to discover that the new Pope is a Catholic. It had hoped for someone more, well, reasonable. After Pope John Paul II died, the Post ran just about the only kind of religious “news” it reserves for its front page: reports on the discontents of American Catholics, who, it seems, want their Church to adopt the sort of “reforms” favored by Post editorials (married and female priests, easy divorce, and so forth).

Catholics who oppose the Church, especially “progressive” priests and nuns, are eligible for news coverage, ample and sympathetic. Faithful Catholics might as well not exist. They show up in the press only when their behavior seems bizarre.

Sexual scandals in the Church also rate attention, though priests who abuse teenage boys are called pedophiles rather than homosexuals; and even Protestant evangelists who chase women warrant journalistic notice. Anything that portrays orthodox Christians as hypocrites is grist for journalism’s mill; the hypocrisy of “progressives,” on the other hand, is off limits. I could tell you some stories, but they wouldn’t be “news”: I didn’t read them in the Post.

William Schwenk Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, once wrote to the president of a railway, “Sir, Sunday morning, though occurring at frequent and well established intervals, always seems to take this railway by surprise.” It’s safe to predict that worshipers will continue to make news and even history, but that this will continue to take journalism by surprise.

Joseph Sobran

Copyright © 2005 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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