'Faith' vs. 'religion'? A religion-beat pro reacts to that stunning New York Times hit piece

I have been writing about the mainstream news media’s struggles with religion news since 1981 and my first academic exposure to this journalism issue was in 1974.

There are times when you think that you’ve seen it all. There are times when you think that you cannot be shocked or angered — again.

Then a media powerhouse runs a news piece or an op-ed like the one the New York Times ran the other day by a regular contributor, Timothy Egan, with this headline: “Why People Hate Religion.” I saw this piece after following a series of dead-serious tweets by religion-beat pro Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post (she is a former member of the GetReligion team). I affirm everything she had to say in that mini-storm.

This New York Times blast is another one of those pieces in which there are good people of faith and really, really bad people who cling to “religion.” In other words, it’s about mindless evangelicals (What other kind is there?) and the current occupant of the White House.

Oh wait, the target is bigger than that, it’s about the evils of the “overtly religious,” as in:

… The phonies, the charlatans who wave Bibles, the theatrically pious. … Vice President Mike Pence wears his faith like a fluorescent orange vest. But when he visited the border this summer and saw human beings crammed like cordwood in the Texas heat, that faith was invisible. …

Pence is the chief bootlicker to a president who now sees himself in messianic terms, a president who tweets a description of himself as“the second coming of God.” As hard as it is to see God Part II boasting about grabbing a woman’s genitals, paying hush money to a porn actress, or calling neo-Nazis “very fine people,” millions of overtly religious Americans believe in some version of Jesus Trump, Superstar.

There’s more to this acidic, simplistic sermon than shots at evangelical Trump-sters, of course.

There are also shots at Catholics who try to follow the Catechism on a wide variety of issues, not just immigration and a few other issues that align with the editorial page doctrines of elite zip code news publications.

Catholic educators who affirm and defend church teachings on sexuality and education? Egan’s got your number, he thinks:

What you hear about are the modern Savonarolas. In Indiana this summer, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson stripped a Jesuit prep school of its Catholic identity for refusing to fire a gay, married teacher. The same threat loomed over another Indianapolis school, until it ousted a beloved teacher with 13 years of service. He was fired for getting married to another man — a legal, civil action.

The archbishop claimed he was upholding Catholic teaching, an example of the kind of selective moral policing that infuriates good people of faith.

Yes, this is not a hard news piece. But (sorry, I know this is old), try to imagine an op-ed think piece piece of this kind being written about believers or unbelievers in the other half of the American population.

So what’s the bottom line?

This piece is not, you see, anti-faith. There are good people of faith and there are bad people of religion and this scribe, with his powerful pulpit in The New York Times op-ed pages, is the voice of authority that gets to say who is who. He’s a one man tribunal.

If you want a thesis statement, here is some material at the very end.

… Yes, people hate religion when the loudest proponents of religion are shown to be mercenaries for a leader who debases everything he touches. And yes, young people are leaving the pews in droves because too often the person facing them in those pews is a fraud.

They hate religion because, at a moment to stand up and be counted on the right side of history, religion is used as moral cover for despicable behavior. This is not new to our age. Hitler got a pass from the Vatican until very late in the war.

Ah, the Hitler card. So typical. And I’ve never heard that “right side of history” line before.

Here is the trite final bite:

Faith is not that complicated. Religion always is.

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