Just the facts

fingerprintsElizabeth already discussed Barbara Bradley Hagerty's five-part series on the science of spirituality. That ran on National Public Radio where she's a reporter. The series came out of a book Hagerty wrote called Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality. A reader pointed us to a review of that book in the San Francisco Chronicle, written by Don Lattin, the paper's former religion reporter. Check out this bit:

According to the old rules of journalism, those of us who write about religion for the secular news media are not supposed to tell our own stories or offer up our own opinions about the meaning of life. We are not supposed to question the basic tenets of other people's faith.

That is why the work of a religion writer is different than that of a science reporter or a sportswriter. Most journalists - or at least most good journalists - are supposed to question everything. They are supposed to write about facts.

Religion writers, on the other hand, could care less about the facts - or at least about the basic facts. They write about faith, not facts.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with the premise that every reporter save religion reporters should question the basic tenets of other people's views. Still, it's certainly true that religion writing is a different beast than much other reporting. Namely, religion reporters are dealing with revealed truth and observable truth where most other reporters are only dealing with the latter.

But it's that last line that I just don't get. And not just because the phrase "could care less" got through the copy editing process when "couldn't care less" is clearly intended. If religion writers don't care about facts, basic or otherwise, that's nothing to defend! There's no conflict between writing about faith and facts, per se.

And the review of Hagerty's book shows that. I think he might be trying to criticize her here but he shows why she's one of the very best religion writers out there:

And that is why Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who covers the religion beat for National Public Radio, walks into a religion writer's minefield with her book "Fingerprints of God: The Search for the Science of Spirituality." Using the basic tools of professional journalism - interviewing lots of people and checking to see if what they say is really true - Hagerty sets out to see if God really exists.

Hagerty has certainly expanded my view of what's possible in religion reporting and I think it might be because she understands the difference between revealed and observed truth and how those can and should be reported. And she cares about facts, basic and otherwise!

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