This whole week, I have been in Prague in the Czech Republic, teaching in a conference for young journalists -- most of whom are from Eastern Europe.
You will not be surprised to know that I have been lecturing on the importance of accurate informed news coverage of religion. And that led right into this week's (long distance) Crossroads podcast. Click here to tune that in.
Since I am in serious soccer territory, I talked about my post earlier this week that ran with this headline: "Telegraph hits some sour notes in a simple story about a footballer becoming a priest." I told them that this was not a horrible story, but it contained many awkward, simple, rather stupid mistakes.
What, I asked, if you were a soccer fan and you kept reading stories by reporters who did not know the difference between a striker and a goalie, between a corner kick and a brilliant cross during a breakaway, between the World Cup and the Euro championships? After a while, wouldn't you loose some faith in that newspaper, in its commitment to quality?
This, I said, is how millions of people feel when they read twisted, flawed religion-news coverage.
But what, several of the students said, if you really don't think religion matters? That you believe that religious faith is basically meaningless or worse?
It doesn't matter, I argued. Do you think you need to understand religion to cover the Middle East? How about European arguments about immigration? How about the 2016 USA White House race?
In other words, I made a SOCIOLOGICAL case for religion coverage, not a THEOLOGICAL case. I have known atheists who were fine religion-beat pros, because they grasped the role that religion played in public and private life.
So then a student from the former Soviet bloc asked: So, would you argue that Communism was a religion?