Television viewers from the pre-Discovery Channel epoch might remember "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom," a nature program that examined wild creatures such as the anaconda (video above) with a mix of detachment and drama.
In a similar vein, the St. Joseph, Missouri, News-Press has trained its editorial eye on another rare and exotic species -- a young, faithful member of the Roman Catholic Church.
After reading the story, it seemed a bit odd for a newspaper smack dab in the middle of the so-called "Bible Belt" to take such an approach. Plus, the paper fails to ask, let alone answer, some key questions about the subject's story, a physical therapist who goes online to promote her faith.
The headline, which at first sounded like something from The Onion, reads "Woman incorporates religion into daily life, practice." For this observer, things went downhill from there:
During the age of information, it can seem as if most have turned away from religion, but as Maureen Holtz has found, incorporating her faith into her everyday routine has given her the grounding she needs.
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Pew Research Center, millennials are much less likely to be religious than previous generations, but Holtz says being raised Catholic has provided the framework for her life.
While Holtz, a millennial herself, credits her strong Catholic upbringing for her ties to the church, she also shares her faith online, too. With only 4 in 10 millennials saying religion was very important to them, there is more of an ideological divide than ever before. Coupled with social media, Holtz said it’s not uncommon to be met with negativity online when someone shares his or her beliefs.
The impression that comes from the lede is that here is an unusual specimen, someone who still believes in something during "the age of information," whatever that is. In the second paragraph we learn Holtz was "raised Catholic."
Some background on the city where this story takes place: Along with being named after St. Joseph, the city is known, among other things, as the birthplace of newsman Walter Cronkite and the place where the outlaw Jesse James met his end. Rapper Eminem is from St. Joseph, as was -- wait for it! -- the late televangelist Paul Crouch, founder of the Trinity Broadcasting Network.
I mention this to suggest St. Joe (as the city is also known), isn't some secularist stronghold, but rather a city that has a deep history, including associations with religion. There are, Wikipedia tells me, seven parochial schools in the town, of which five are Roman Catholic. Out of the eight FM radio stations licensed in the city, five feature Christian religious talk or music programming, including a Catholic-oriented outlet. And native son Crouch's TBN operates an over-the-air broadcast television outlet there, too.
So here's a city named after a saint, with five Roman Catholic schools, a Catholic radio station and a host of other Christian media. Why, then, do we get reporting such as this:
Along with reconciling her traditional beliefs that differ from society, Holtz said recent tragedies, like the shooting in Las Vegas, make her want to spread the message of God’s love despite the horrific events.
“When you feel like you’re losing your faith, that’s when you need it to be strongest,” Holtz said. “People get angry at God for letting things like this happen ... There are so many people who are so angry about what that guy did in Vegas, and I don’t blame them. It just breaks my heart to think of the victims and their families and to see their pictures, but I want to pray for them and their families and I want to pray for that guy and his family because we are all people.”
For those struggling to deal with the chaos and multiple tragedies in the world, Holtz says she focuses on spreading a message of love and forgiveness.
As the paper seems to gawk at Holtz's behavior, there's a lot of unanswered questions, journalistic ones.
Which Catholic parish does she attend? How active is she there? Is she married (there appears to be a wedding ring on her left hand) and if so, is her husband involved in her faith-sharing? Is there a priest who might offer a comment about what she's doing? Or perhaps someone reached by her ministry, which appears to focus on sharing via Facebook?
The problem here is the basic lack of basic facts about the details of this woman's life and how she affects other people.
Instead of thoughtful questions and answers, we get a quick hit: Here's somebody in the millennial generation who's a practicing Roman Catholic sharing their faith on Facebook. The Facebook part is relatively new, with the service having opened up to general users about 10 years ago. The online angle goes back to the 1980s, of course.
But seeing young adult Christians witnessing to their beliefs goes back to at least the first Day of Pentecost,circa A.D. 33. Why is it newsworthy in a heavily Christian town?
There may be a reason, but we only get mushy hints here, and not much more.
If reporting on religion and on the people who practice it has come down to the "look at that anaconda" approach of "Wild Kingdom," we're at a rather sad pass, indeed.
FIRST IMAGE: Urban area of St. Joseph, Missouri, from a U.S. Census map, via Wikipedia.