In the decades that I have studied attempts by news media to cover religion events and trends, I have heard this question many times: Why don't they GET IT?
"It," of course, is religion. "They" are editors and reporters in mainstream newsrooms.
Of course, there are journalists -- some religious, some secular -- who totally get the role that religious faith plays in the lives of millions and millions of people. They see the ways that religious questions and beliefs are woven into the fabric of private lives, as well as public life. There are professionals who do a great job on this beat. We need editors to hire more of them.
Yet, I am reminded, from time to time, of that statement the liberal commentator Bill Moyers -- of CBS, PBS, etc. -- made years ago. He told me that far too many journalists are "tone deaf" to the "music of religion." It's more than an intellectual thing, more than a lack of knowledge. They know that something is going on in many news stories, but they don't hear the music. It's just a bunch of sounds to them. It isn't real.
I'm thinking about this today as I prepare to give another lecture at a conference for young journalists in Prague, in the Czech Republic. Most of the participants are from Eastern Europe. Reporting about religion, especially in conflict situations, is a major theme in the conference.
But let's look at a smaller example of these problems. Here is a nice, simple human interest story, in which a footballer from one of the world's most famous squads has been ordained as a Catholic priest. At the very least, the reporter and editors working on this story for the Telegraph need to understand a few simple things about the priesthood and how Catholics talk about it.
Prepare for some sour notes in this song.
A former Manchester United and Northern Ireland footballer ordained to the priesthood has taken part in his first Mass.
Philip Mulryne, 39, returned to his native Belfast for a special Catholic religious service at St Oliver Plunkett Church. The new priest was joined by friends and well-wishers at Monday night's Mass -- just a few miles from Windsor Park Stadium, where he once donned the green jersey of his home country -- flanked by white-robed members of his order.
Grammar! I think that it's safe to assume that this man has "taken part" in quite a few Masses during his life and training for holy orders. I think they meant to say that he celebrated his first Mass after being ordained as a Catholic priest.
Also, note that this was a "special Catholic religious service"? What does that mean? Also, why not mention that we are talking about the Dominican Order right at the top of this story, rather than offering a vague reference to white robes?
Then there is this.
The clergyman said his vocation was a calling, adding: "This is a new chapter now in my life."
He undertook the rites associated with Catholicism, assisted by a more senior cleric, involving the blessing of sacraments, according to Catholic doctrine transforming bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ.
I think that this where the GetReligion reader who sent us this item, well, kind of hit a wall as he tried to work his way through some of these very strange paraphrased quotes. His email said:
The sheer ignorance and butchery of the English language in this article is almost funny. ...
Rites associated with Catholicism... eh??
Blessing of sacraments? What????
He said his vocation was a calling... what else would a vocation be?
There is more, so read the whole piece (which isn't very long). This was a very simple story, with a very low degree of difficulty. That's kind of what helped me see why our reader was so upset.
Did the editors hear the clunkers in this simple piece of music?
I think not.