JANUARY 6, 2003
Wall Street Journal
Martin E. Marty
Sightings research begins early in the morning, after four daily newspapers thud onto our porch at 4:45 a.m. Among them is the Wall Street Journal. At our house we think of it as two papers: informative and generally fair-minded news coverage coupled with an (in our eyes) unfair-minded, and often infuriating, editorial page. In our business (alas, Journal-speak has taken hold) it is hard to get along without this combination.
A few years ago the WSJ would have been quite irrelevant to those who cover religion. Whether because they had to reckon with the negative (and sometimes positive) effects of religious change on the global scene where religiocification has been a dominant trend in recent decades, or whether the editors noticed that religion, "a private affair" in American discourse, has "gone public," they now cover it extensively. Whatever the motivation, they manage to provoke varied and often informed responses.
Maybe the editors were just cleaning out their "Letters to the Editor" drawer at year's end and decided to dump "religion" responses together on one day. Maybe it was just another typical day. In either case, for the first issue of the New Year (January 2) they printed seven letters responding to four different religion stories. One was a routine letter of interest only to Roman Catholics. It dealt with the way James, whose name is inscribed on a widely-publicized ancient ossuary, can there be called "brother" but was likely a "cousin." The point is important to Catholics who believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary.
Similarly, of particular -- once upon a time it would have been called "sectarian" -- interest are the reactions of two letter writers to a story in which the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints got written out of the Christian Church. They didn't like it.
The others more directly followed the Journal's line. One letter writer ponders why religion prospers almost everywhere that the GNP is low and struggles where the GNP is high, with the notable exception of the United States. The writer assumes, no doubt correctly, that one of the reasons for this American exception has been governmental non-involvement in religion, leaving religionists on their own.
Finally, several reacted to juxtaposed stories that appeared on December 17: one reported on parents buying truly vile video games for their demanding children "because it's Christmas," the other featured an author of one of these vile games deriding Christian (by the way, also often violent) video games. He "wouldn't approve anything that might be ... extreme when it comes to any kind of religious content or rhetoric." The letter writers found his comments to be extremely stupid.
And thus the New Religion Year begins.