Does a reporter have to be a believer to cover religion?
A simple question, but a vexing one, as there are two currents of thought at work in Western culture today.
The classical view, characterized as the Anglo-American school of journalism, would say no. For journalists working from this perspective, the highest virtue is critical disinterest. The reporter’s personal views play no part in the story. He or she writes from a distance, laying out the facts, providing context and history, with the goal of enabling the reader to make up their own mind.
There are limits. One may assume Hitler and the Nazis were evil. But few questions are as straightforward as that. For example, how do you report on religions on the margins? Do you have to believe in the religion you are covering? What if you are assigned a story on Pastafarians?
The European school of journalism sees reporting primarily as a species of ideological activism. The message the story teaches -- not the content of the story -- is where value lies. The issue for a devotee of advocacy journalism is not whether a story is worth reporting, but what cause will this serve if it is reported?
The precise components of that activism will vary depending on the nature of the politics involved. Radical feminists have their issues and controversies, which tend to differ from issues and controversies that preoccupy devotees of racial, cultural, political, sexual and the other tribal commitments of the postmodern West.
The end product of this school of advocacy journalism differs according to the political aims of the author. But all work from the premise cited by Joseph Stalin in 1932: «писатели — инженеры человеческих душ». (Writers -- engineers of the human soul). Союз писателей СССР, Воронежское отделение, «Подъëм» (1990), p. 48.
Advocacy journalism, by its very nature, is more pleasing to a mind predisposed to its conclusions. A skeptic would likely relish the recent story in The Independent -- “Bible says Canaanites were wiped out by Israelites but scientists just found their descendants living in Lebanon” -- that held the Bible had been proven false by DNA testing. Well, tmatt (working off a strong piece at The Federalist by former GetReligion colleague M.Z. Hemingway) reviewed this canard in a recent GetReligion piece, beginning his critique with the note the Bible does not say the Canaanites were wiped out by the Israelites.
From the classical perspective, this self-contented, hopelessly ignorant, deliberately provocative, commercially compromised, and politically motivated article is wretched journalism. But it's a tour de force of the advocacy school if your goal is to tarnish the Christian faith. It has the added bonus of being “click-bait,” driving up a website’s traffic and hopefully its advertising revenue.
Were those in the Independent team clever, they would have played this both ways by highlighting the falsity of the Old Testament while also proclaiming a newly discovered miracle of Jesus. After all, Mark and Matthew's Gospels recount his meeting a Canaanite woman. Not only did he drive out a daemon from her child, he revived a destroyed civilization!
Not all continental news outlets have sunk to the pamphleteering epitomized by this Independent article. The German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle recently published a story that gives a fair hearing to the Pastafarians.
“German courts take on the Flying Spaghetti Monster” reviews a court ruling in Germany’s Brandenburg state that adjudicated a religious sign dispute.
The hook for the story: As drivers enter the town of Templin, three signs erected by the local highway authority direct motorists to the Catholic, Evangelical and Protestant churches in town. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster erected a fourth sign directing motorist to its weekly Nudelmesse, or “noodle mass.” The dispute centered on whether the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster was a bona fide religious organization.
The article lays out the history of the group, and interviews its local leader, Rüdiger Weida, who goes by the pastafari name "Brother Spaghettus."
Deutsche Welle writes:
Continue reading "Flying Spaghetti Monster flock gets a fair shake in new Deutsche Welle report," by George Conger.