SEPTEMBER 2, 2003
Religion News 101
Martin E. Marty
"Homosexual bishops? How long before we see pedophile bishops, necrophile Deans of Cathedrals and cannibalistic Archdeacons?" Those questions come from a Wall Street Journal op-ed (August 28) by an Anglican-ist from London. Sharing the same page is an editorial that mildly chastises Justice Roy "Ten Commandments" Moore of Alabama and then really chastises his chastisers.
On that same August morning, I read in the Chicago Tribune (another daily that bounces onto my porch at 4:44 a.m.) a "fair and balanced" op-ed by Joseph Loconte on "The Public Square: Should It Be Naked or Sacred?" His remarks are historically informed and alert to the options available today. David Broder, on the same page, discusses the civil rights movement as "An Exercise in Moral Education." He includes a citation that speaks of "a guiding Providence" in national affairs. Columnist Eric Zorn writes at full-length on "What Does 'Forgiveness' Really Mean?" and quotes a Lutheran minister while sorting out that theme theologically.
Then, opening the New York Times editorial page, I read comments on the murder of former priest John Geoghan, unprotected in prison, after a life of betrayal. And, finally, I look over the Chicago Sun-Times and find Jesse Jackson's editorial on Martin Luther King and the role of churches in the civil rights movement.
Why bring this up this week? It's back-to-school time, and I take the occasion to ask whether collegians today are getting sufficient knowledge about religion to appraise editorials such as these. More important: do they learn to do their own discerning about what is on Page One? Here was a typical news day (August 26) from last week:
The New York Times front-paged four explicitly religious themes: John Geoghan, a blast in Bombay by "so-called jihadi groups" in holy war, "Shiite Clerics Clashing Over How to Reshape Iraq," and, closer to home, a story on religious supporters of the President's call for "compassionate conservatism" -- a call many clerics and lay people say is not backed by action. The Sun-Times put the story of the murdered "pedophile Boston priest" on page one, while the Chicago Tribune featured a Milwaukee story, "Church 'Healing' Is Ruled Homicide," along with a fine story of a religiously-motivated mother of over 120 foster children. Inside the same paper was a color picture of a Justice Moore-supporter sporting a crown of thorns in protest against god-less law and enforcement.
Not many years ago, many of us pointed to nearly zero coverage of the little bit of religion news that was occurring. Now the question has to do with readership. Who will interpret these sacred happenings, and how will anyone put to work any knowledge gained of them? Now there are more happenings and printed reports and events than ever before, but is a college-bred population ready to do some discerning?
Undergraduate curricula can help Americans prepare to deal with news of economics, business, entertainment, athletics, military action, and other news. Will school administrators and custodians of collegiate assets and curricula design more courses, attract faculty, and nudge students to learn more about the lethal and health-giving world of religion?