The Religion Newswriters Association has released its annual poll to determine the top 10 religion-news events and trends of the year. It is, in my opinion, a very ordinary year with an all-too-familiar blend of politics, Episcopal sex, Middle East warfare, one tragedy and one (or often two) events involving the pope. Some things rarely, if ever, change.
Meanwhile, you can click here to see all of the RNA poll materials, including the choice of the Amish -- all of them -- as the religion newsmakers of the year.
But this was one year when I really, really felt there was an important religion event that was overlooked in the poll. In fact, it did not even appear on the ballot as an option.
Thus, this is how I opened my Scripps Howard News Service column covering the RNA poll results. Yes, there are GetReligion echoes in this column -- obviously.
Imagine the following event in your mind's eye.
President George W. Bush is addressing the United Nations amid global tensions about nuclear weapons. He closes with evangelical language that expresses his yearning for the triumphant second coming of Jesus Christ and prays that this apocalyptic event will unify the world -- sooner rather than later.
Do you think the speech would cause a media storm? Do you think journalists would dissect his mysterious words, along with his theology? Would this be considered one of the year's most controversial religion-news events?
Bush, of course, never delivered an address of this kind. However, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did say the following as he ended his dramatic Sept. 20th United Nations speech.
"I emphatically declare that today's world, more than ever before, longs for just and righteous people with love for all humanity; and above all longs for the perfect righteous human being and the real savior who has been promised to all peoples and who will establish justice, peace and brotherhood on the planet," he said, referring to a Shiite doctrine about a coming apocalypse.
"O, Almighty God, all men and women are your creatures and you have ordained their guidance and salvation. Bestow upon humanity that thirsts for justice, the perfect human being promised to all by you, and make us among his followers and among those who strive for his return and his cause."
If these references to "the perfect human being" do not sound familiar, there is a reason for that. This section of his address received little media attention. Thus, it isn't surprising that the Iranian leader's end times vision was not selected as one of the top 10 stories in the Religion Newswriters Association's 2006 poll. In fact, it didn't appear in the top 20 events.
Instead, the top story selected by the religion-news specialists was the deadly violence ignited by the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad in periodicals in Denmark and a few other European nations. Boycotts led to protests and then to destruction and, in Nigeria, Muslims and Christians died in the riots.
Clearly, mainstream journalists still struggle with the complicated religious beliefs that loom behind today's headlines. Offensive cartoons in the West are a huge story. But mysterious words in the East -- even offensive words -- do not draw nearly as much ink.
Updates: If you want to read the whole Scripps Howard column, here is the full text. Sorry for the delay, but WiFi is hard to find in Crawford, Texas. Chicken-fried steak? That's another matter.
If you want another point of view, here is a short version of the Religion News Service report on the poll. And the gang at Christianity Today's blog have now posted their take on the year's top 10 events. It offers several non-RNA poll twists, but Ahmadinejad is missing from this list, too.