FEBRUARY 24, 2003
Religion: Front and Center
Martin E. Marty
"Is There Any Non-Religious News Anymore?" Provocative, hyperbolic, ironic? Yes. But also my assigned topic at the Journalism School at the University of Nebraska some months ago. Both university professors and journalists, as well as other media professionals, get paid to be alert to cultural change. Now any number of critics are pointing out that these "cultural watchdogs" were the last to know about and notice the surge of intense religiosities in our day.
Not many years ago, when the Pew Charitable Trusts and the University of Chicago assigned us the task of "sighting" "public religion," most thought there would be "slim pickings." Wrong. One case in point: the forthcoming war in Iraq.
Weeks ago we were noting that the press (and the academy) was slighting religion on all sides in the American deliberations and rhetoric on war. Back then only the pro-war religionists had access to the White House (still the case) and were covered. Things have changed suddenly, and there are so many voices and viewpoints and theological justifications (as well as cautions) to cover that the war issue threatens to jeopardize our space and time for other themes. Sightings tries to "change the subject" often and not let our scopes get stuck on one zone of action alone.
We thought of these things as we read the much-circulated, much-quoted
To the point: Brooks is an Atlantic correspondent, senior editor of the conservative The Weekly Standard, a regular on the NewsHour With Jim Lehrer, and a self-confessed "recovering secularist" who claims he "got religion" with the wake-up call of September 11. Like many a convert, he may have over-converted: "It's now clear that the secularization theory is untrue," which is a half true statement about a half-truth, but not an insignificant observation. "At the same time, we are in the midst of a religious boom," which he proceeds to document. He has the usual snide things to say about "modern" and "relevant" religious movements that go against the grain of the "ecstatic" and "anti-modern" (e.g., Islamic thrusts and African Christian growth). Then he closes with "six steps in the recovery process" -- pointed testimonies by a late convert.
Yes, there still is non-religious news, but it no longer has the monopoly.