I knew it would fail, but somehow I wanted to do it anyway. So I submitted what was admittedly a poorly researched opinion piece -- poorly researched and far too loosely written. I was interested in the topic, but not interested enough to do the work and really nail it to the wall. I wrote it in the same lazy spirit I have evinced and heard others evince in spiritual endeavor with the words, "I understand." But, since this place is largely dedicated to various bits of failure and mental bric-a-brac, I thought I would park it here ... if only as a reminder in future: Laziness is laziness and just because others find success is lazy thinking, it is a poor excuse to be lazy.
Aug. 22, 2011
As someone who spent more than 25 years of his life working for newspapers and 40 years of his life as a Zen Buddhist, it has always been a source of wonder to me that news outlets should treat religion with the same kid gloves they generally reserve for sports.
The journalistic back-story for both religion and sports reporting seems to be that they don't quite deserve the same acuity or investigative spirit that might be brought to bear on politics or business or banking. A bubble of imputed purity seems to surround both and set aside a more usual journalistic skepticism that posits, more or less, that human endeavors are just human endeavors and, as such will contain blacks and whites and an infinite number of nuanced grays in between.
But instead of assuming that there is as much chance of shenanigans as there is for benevolence, religion and sports seem to exist only on the highest and lowest points of journalistic investigation or reaction.
And when the bubble of imputed purity occasionally pops, there are swoons that would do Scarlet O'Hara proud.
What!? -- pedophilia in the Roman Catholic Church? Gasp! Who would have suspected?
What!? -- performance-enhancing drugs on the sainted field of sport? Be still, my heart!
On the upbeat side of things, how glowing the treatment of religious efforts to aid and assist the most-needy. And what a sense of between-the-lines pride can accompany the story when the home team hits some hard-fought sweet spot ... a collective and agreeable cheer which news organizations quietly and sometimes not so quietly endorse.
All in all, sports and religion seem to be treated with the same warm and blurred attention that might be granted to a local tatting circle that makes blankets for cancer victims. The bubble is inflated as the metaphors rise up: Sports is like life and teaches healthy discipline; religion, while ineffable, can infuse a sense of ethical decency. And all of that may be true, but ...
What is missing from this approach is the simple matter of humanity -- a broad-ranging humanity that is every bit as capable of bad deeds as good. No one is surprised when a politician or a banker is caught lying -- or 'misspeaking,' if you insist. Why should human corruption be any more or less surprising in any human endeavor ... or be given more or less acute attention?
The Anglican theologian and author of some spiffy metaphysical thrillers, Charles Williams, once put some relevant words into one of his character's mouth: "People believe what they want to believe." Believe in God, believe in the Red Sox, believe in the stock market, believe in money, believe in kindness, believe in war ... people believe what they WANT to believe. And if this is so, then each is responsible and can be held accountable for the actions that evolve from those beliefs. Is there some reason that this should be less true in religion or sports than it would be in politics or money-gathering? Each activity is composed of human beings with an enormous capacity for both shenanigans and decency and news organizations would serve us better by treating responsible human beings as just that -- responsible and accountable. Not just some of the time, but all the time.
Some will argue that religion and sports are "not the same" as politics or business. Business and politics affect hundreds of thousands of people where they live -- in their pocketbooks. Business and politics deserve a different brand of investigative spirit, a different mind-set and a more probing focus. Their depredations, when they occur, are vast. Religion and sports are the also-rans -- kind of important or even very important, but not all that serious. No one's going to get dispossessed or go hungry because the home team won or lost or because some little-known peasant was named a saint.
But I would argue that news organizations would be better off bringing the same well-founded skepticism they occasionally bring to so-called hard news to the other realms that excite agreement and credulity. When was any large-scale human endeavor ever free from politics, money, back-stabbing, conceit, double-dealing or smug assurance any more than it was free from constructive, uplifting, ethical or decent potential?
It's all human and it's woven with grays.
And it's those grays that bring honesty to any realm of interest ... even news.
Let's lose the bubble.