This week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in) is about "religion ghosts" in mainstream news, which is about as basic a GetReligion topic as you can get, seeing as how that was the subject of the very first post on this weblog back on Feb. 1, 2004.
In this case, host Todd Wilken and I were talking about posts in which I focused on Catholic ghosts in the lives of two public figures caught up in very big stories in the mainstream press.
First there was this one: "Spot a religion ghost? Paul Ryan is a busy father who wants to help raise his kids." And the second post was about the young man at the heart of the hidden-camera Planned Parenthood videos: "Washington Post meets David Daleiden, whose Catholic faith is less important than his socks."
In both cases, we were dealing with features stories that were supported to help readers understand what makes these men tick, when dealing with major moral and ethical issues. In both cases, their Catholic faith was all but ignored.
Which brings us back to that "ghost" concept, as explained on GetReligion Day 1. Let us attend:
Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.
They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Now, I think it's crucial to address one concern that people keep raising about the "ghost" concept. Your GetReligionistas -- when we spot a ghost -- are not claiming that a particular news story needs to be dominated by religious content. We are simply arguing that it's hard, if not impossible, to UNDERSTAND the story without the religion component being included.
We are saying religious faith is part of the equation -- not the whole of it.
Take that Ryan story. When he was the GOP candidate to be vice president, Ryan was asked all kinds of questions -- valid ones, in my view of things -- about how his Catholic faith related to his views on subjects like the death penalty, economics, immigration, etc. Journalists wanted to know how his GOP doctrines mixed with his traditional Catholic doctrines.
Quite frankly, Ryan is pretty good at talking about his faith and his work in the public square.
But this Post feature focused on a key issue in Ryan's private life -- his statements that he was not sure he wanted to seek the demanding Speaker of the House job because he is a father with young children.
Again, I argued that his Catholic faith -- all but missing in the story -- was a crucial part of this equation. This led to an exchange with "Howard" in the comments pages:
This is a bit of a stretch. The "ghost" you are seeing is the very weak kind, the kind that can only be heard on highly enhanced digital recordings by people with a lot of imagination. It's not worth chasing such "ghosts".
So you are saying that Ryan's Catholic faith is not a key factor in his beliefs about family and fatherhood. Correct?
And here is "Howard," again:
Pretty much. As you mention, different Catholics have different ways of balancing work (or, if you prefer, patriotic duty) and family, but also identical conclusions are reached by many who are not Catholic. Perhaps this is because the Christian worldview underlies our whole culture, even though present society is taking pains to avoid it.
This is like observing (hypothetically) that he ate a salad at the Congressional cafeteria last Friday. Maybe that is because he is a Catholic, though since this is not Lent it is allowed for Catholics to substitute some other means of observing Friday for abstinence from meat, and many others will choose salad as well -- because they are vegetarians, or on a diet, or they just felt like it at the time.
His Catholicism is neither necessary nor sufficient to explain his choice either of career or lunch, and so it should probably be left out of the story.
Obviously, I disagree. If it's valid for reporters to link his Catholic worldview with economics, life issues, immigration, etc., etc., I think it's equally valid to ask if this family life and marriage issue raises questions that involve his faith.
And I think Pope Francis would agree with me on this one. At least, he said as much speaking to the U.S. Congress, in the passages on family life. Right?
IMAGE: Ghosts in church care of ImageBuddy.