We've got a Got News? feature here at GetReligion that highlights a well-documented story that has somehow been missed the MSM. Maybe it's time to add a Not News feature. My first candidate: a story from the Los Angeles Times about a gathering of the Self-Realization Fellowship, headlined "L.A. Convocation honors the world's great religions."
The story has no conflict and nothing new to report. It is puff journalism at its finest -- I'm not sure even Barack Obama got such fluffy treatment in the run-up to the presidential election.
While reporter Duke Helfand does an exceptional job educating readers about what the followers of the late Indian swami Paramahansa Yogananda believe, the article ends up reading like it came from the Self-Realization press office.
The fellowship's recognition of other faiths is evident in its practices: Disciples open their prayers with an invocation that mentions not only their line of gurus but also Jesus and the "saints and sages of all religions." The fellowship's Lake Shrine in Pacific Palisades also has a "Court of Religions," with monuments to Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism.
"We must recognize the unity of mankind, remembering that we are all made in the image of God," Yogananda said during the Lake Shrine's opening ceremony in 1950, according to an account provided by the fellowship.
"It's like spiritual medicine," said Laura Katsanis, 58, a homemaker from San Diego. "I'm connecting with my inner self."
Patricia Anderson, meanwhile, came away from her first convocation feeling a psychic buzz.
"I have gotten grounded, calm and happy to be around a lot of people who know they're on a path," said Anderson, 61, of Anchorage. During the how-to-live class on moral choices, another monk, Brother Achalananda, lamented that spiritual growth had failed to keep up with the spread of material wealth, but he predicted that the world was at the beginning of a new age of greater knowledge.
He urged devotees to follow the yoga system of Pantanjali known as the "Eightfold Path." It calls for practitioners to be truthful, content and self-disciplined as they concentrate and meditate to reach the final goal of "absoluteness," or realizing truth beyond all intellectual understanding.
"Meditate. Love God. Serve others," he told the gathering. "Do the best you can, and you'll get there. God bless."
While such universalism isn't for me, I think it does belong in the newspaper. It's just that I would prefer it actually include some news.
A Self-Realization Fellowship temple.