Although fewer newspapers have a religion page, religion continues to find its way into the press -- for good and ill. Whether the story is peaceful spiritual pilgrimages or sex scandals, religion is still news. With that in mind, Martin Marty, who has made a career watching the ways of religion in public, takes a look at one days news reports and offers his take on what this says about the place of religion in public life. Take a read and offer your thoughts, on this Monday after Super Bowl Sunday.
Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion
The University of Chicago Divinity School
Religion News: One Day
-- Martin E. Marty
“Public Religion” or “Religion-in-Public,” our cause, appears in blogs, films, on TV and radio, and in zillions of sources which together dwarf the coverage in print media, our main source. Occasionally I sample them by reporting and reflecting on one day. At 4:44 a.m. our newspaperwomen drop two NY/National and two Chicago papers at our condo door. Last Saturday the accounts of religion dealt more with its conflict-burdened side; the healing and consoling side, favored by most believers, necessarily got slighted.
The Wall Street Journal gave a page to “The 80 Million-Pilgrim March,” the “World’s Biggest Religious Event,” a Hindu festival on the Ganges in India. It provides pilgrims “a chance to wash away their sins under ideal astrological conditions.” Joanna Sugden also mentions that 3.4 million Muslim Pilgrims showed up in Mecca and 3.1 million came to a Shinto shrine festival in Japan, just a month ago. That “religion is a private affair” was a momentary conceit on the soil of “the Abrahamic religions.”
For the rest, the non-healing, non-consoling side of religion(s) necessarily dominated, because it makes news, and disturbingly so. The lead story in the New York Times was the devastatingly devastating story about our nation’s largest Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Los Angeles. Its current archbishop, José H. Gomez had to put his predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahoney out to pasture, meaning he censured him (an “unprecedented” incident) and relieved him of any duties or roles in his retirement situation. Why? Because the personnel files on 124 abusive local priests had been legally/forcibly exposed in 12,000 documents documenting abuses and official cover-ups. Another page was given over to illustrating the case which is so grievous to Catholics and scandalous to everyone who hears of it. No more need be said here.
Oh, the bottom of the second “Abuses Cases” page was a “Beliefs” column by Mark Oppenheimer on the never-go-away conflict over Darwin and Darwinism within American Christianity. Oppenheimer accurately points out that many Christian communions, including Roman Catholicism, have largely moved beyond the pro- and co- positions staked out from 1859 on, A New Jersey Democrat and a Christian, we here read, would like to turn February 12, former Abraham Lincoln’s birthday day, into a Darwin day. His fellow Democrat legislator and fellow-Christian says “no.”
Oh, again, also on the Times’ front page and many other places there is a major story, “Reply to Faith Groups,” on a “Compromise Idea for Insuring of Birth Control” which would “Free More Groups from Having to Pay Directly” for a procedure that much Catholic and Evangelical leadership conscientiously rejects. That conflict is complicated because polls reveal that the constituent majority, not the leadership, especially in Catholicism, favors and practices birth control. That fight goes on during fine turning of governmental policies.
Back to the East: religion was pictured and described in stories of “Farewell” rites to King Sihanouk of Cambodia. From the world of Muslims there were the usual several stories about Islam in politics, statecraft, and, in its darkest sides, in militancies and terrorism. Of course, coverage of arts evidences at least glances at “the faiths,” as in a Times story about the ballet, “The Mission of Virgil,” a trip to hell. Apologies to fellow-Chicagoans: I didn’t even have space for the numerous religion-rich stories in Chicago papers. Be assured that the upsides and downsides of religion(s) are both prominent.
Joanna Sugden, “The 80 Million-Pilgrim March,” Wall Street Journal, February 1, 2013.
Jennifer Medina, “Diocese Papers in Los Angeles Detail Decades of Abuse,” New York Times, February 1, 2013.
Robert Pear, “Birth Control Rule Altered to Allay Religious Objections,” New York Times, February 1, 2013.
Thomas Fuller, “A Spectacle of Mourning for a King in Cambodia,” New York Times, February 1, 2013.
Martin E. Marty's biography, publications, and contact information can be found at www.memarty.com.
Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center for the Advanced Study of Religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School.