Colleen Carroll Campbell knows all about the new Christian faithful. A serious Roman Catholic, she is one of them. In her first book, her last acknowledgment was not to her dog or an inside joke to a friend, but rather to "the God who answered the call of my restless heart. Without him, nothing would be possible or meaningful."
She has also written extensively about them. Among various accomplishments, Colleen is the author of The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola, 2002); the host of EWTN's Faith and Culture; a weekly columnist for the St. Louis Post Dispatch; and a fellow at The Ethics and Public Policy Center. She was a presidential speechwriter for President George W. Bush; studied philosophy as a doctoral student at Saint Louis University; is an alumna of Marquette University; and had an essay about Alzheimer's disease, "Hope in the Ruins," featured in Take Heart: Catholic Writers In Our Time. Her full bio is here.
I cannot write about Colleen objectively, as I am good acquaintances with her. But I know that in her book, articles, and columns, she manages to find some morsel of information about the intersection of faith and politics -- some statistic, quote, or theme -- that less talented writers miss.
Here are the six standard questions:
(1) Where do you get your news about religion?
I get most of my religion-related news online, from sources as varied as the Drudge Report, The New York Times, CNN, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, and Catholic World News, as well as commentary sites like this one (Get Religion), blogs, e-mailed articles from colleagues and friends, and a very helpful daily roundup of religion-related stories compiled by a St. Louis-based blogger and friend of mine, Sherry Tyree. I read my local newspaper, of course, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and I subscribe to various religion publications, from First Things to Catholic World Report. I cruise the religion aisles of bookstores regularly to keep abreast of the latest religion trends. But most of my religion-related columns deal with the way religion influences and intersects with politics and pop culture, so my news tends to come from secular sources.
2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media do not get?
Although I have seen mainstream media coverage of young adults and religion improve in recent years, I still see signs of the same blind spots and untested assumptions that led me to write my book, The New Faithful: Why Young Adults Are Embracing Christian Orthodoxy (Loyola, 2002). Most journalists still struggle to understand or even acknowledge the hordes of young Catholics who flock to papal youth rallies, the throngs of young pro-lifers who fill the National Mall to overflowing every January for the March for Life and the trend among many young adults toward a more liturgical and traditional Christian faith and a firmer defense of the dignity of every human life, from conception to natural death.
No matter how many events, rallies, publications, campus clubs and the like turn up year after year attesting to these countercultural trends, they remain largely invisible to many journalists -- or they are regarded as evidence only of a "fringe element" with no bearing on the larger culture. Journalists, especially those who came of age during the 1960s, tend to be adept at writing about young adults who reject religious authority and tradition and embrace progressive political causes. But the growing cohort of young adults who are attracted to authority and tradition and see no conflict between traditional moral values and care for the poor and vulnerable tend to be overlooked or dismissed. If they are taken seriously enough to merit the occasional story, the reasons these young adults offer for their life choices often are glossed over and more weight is given to the reasons that their critics offer -- rigidity, naivete and nostalgia. The media's coverage of young adults and religion has seen some improvement in recent years, but there is room for much more.
3) What is the story you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?
As an op-ed columnist, I'll be following the presidential election, of course, and the various religious story lines that emerge in the campaign and its aftermath. More broadly, I am increasingly interested in the topic of women, Christianity and American culture -- how the challenges and problems posed by contemporary feminism intersect with traditional Judeo-Christian ideas about faith, family and freedom. The divide in our post-feminist culture between women who view religious tradition as an oppressive force and those who regard it as liberating interests me a great deal. I hope to examine the conflicting ideas at the heart of that divide more deeply in the coming years.
4) Why is it important for journalists to grasp the role of religion in the world?
Our most contentious cultural debates and momentous political decisions rest on essentially religious assumptions, whether we acknowledge them or not. What else, after all, is at the core of our disputes on such topics as embryonic stem-cell research, physician-assisted suicide and same-sex marriage? Our disagreements arise from competing ideas about the value of human life, the meaning of human sexuality and whether and how we can know moral truth. Journalists need to understand the competing worldviews driving these debates or they cannot cover them with fairness and accuracy. Astute religion coverage can cut to the heart of an issue and help us understand more clearly the assumptions and motivations of those with whom we disagree as well as our own.
(5) What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?
Perhaps only a political junkie would find this funny, but I have been amused at how pundits and journalists who spent the past eight years warning us against George W. Bush's imposition of a theocracy now are tripping over themselves to tell us how wonderful it is that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has gotten religion. Whether Obama is promising to expand Bush's once-reviled faith-based initiative, assuring voters that his Christian faith will influence him as he strives to "do the Lord's work" or telling religious crowds that he wants to create a Kingdom of God "right here on Earth," he wins plaudits from the very same voices that once castigated Bush for weaving in far less pointed references to his own Christian faith. I guess they think faith and politics should mix after all -- if you have the right kind of politics.
(6) Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?
For all of its flaws, the American media establishment still has a much more nuanced and favorable view of religion than most of its European counterparts. And I think religion coverage has improved a great deal even in the past decade.
There are still many American journalists who fail to do their homework when writing religion-related stories and fail to understand the significant role that religion plays in nearly every major news story they cover. I'm glad GetReligion.org exists to keep them on their toes.