Time to wrap up 2016, starting with: 'Religion still matters, whatever your beliefs'

If you have followed GetReligion through the years, the you know that we never completely close our cyber-doors during the 12 days of the Christmas season -- but we do slow down a bit.

We also mark the end of the religion-news years with quite a bit of commentary from hither and yon about the news events and trends of the year that is ending. We'll post the Religion News Association Top 10 stories list, as well as my annual "On Religion" commentary on that, along with a podcast about both of those. Religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling has already turned in a pair of memos looking ahead to 2017.

You get the idea. We will also post more than the usual number of think pieces about subjects we assume will be of interest to people who care about the state of religion news and topics linked to that.

So let's start that off with a piece from The Times on the other side of the pond that ran with this GetReligion-friendly double-decker headline:

Religion still matters, whatever your beliefs
From US politics to Middle East terror, it has never been more important to understand how faith shapes our world

Commentator Tim Montgomerie begins with the rather obvious -- now -- observation that Hillary Rodham Clinton probably wishes, when looking back on the year that was, that she had hired a few more people to pay attention to religious voters in the American heartland, especially the Midwest, when picking out the 4,200 members of her campaign staff.

For example, there wasn't a single Clinton campaign staffer -- saith Slate magazine -- who was assigned to investigate the concerns of evangelical Protestants. If Clinton had done half as well with evangelicals as did Barack Obama, she would be president-elect.

So what's the bigger story here? It's the fact that many journalists just don't get religion, of course. Yes, there is a Dean Baquet salute here. Montgomerie continues:

Mrs Clinton was not the only one to mess up, of course. Few pundits expected Trump’s victory (me included) and the mainstream media has begun to concede what many Americans have long accused it of: that it’s out of touch with more conservative, rural and churchgoing Americans in the pejoratively named flyover states.
We heard something similar after the Brexit referendum about journalists and politicians working harder to understand poorer, northern voters and also after last year’s general election when erroneous polls dominated coverage.
I’m particularly struck that the “Gray Lady” of American journalism and liberalism identified a lack of religious literacy as one reason it misread the US mood. In a frank interview, Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, admitted: “We have a fabulous religion writer, but she’s all alone.” He continued: “We don’t get religion. We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”
The conservative and evangelical commentator David French has welcomed Mr Baquet’s desire to change his paper’s approach to Christianity but wonders how much it amounts to a real road to Damascus moment.

There are patterns in this failure and French offers some interesting observations on the deadly sins can be seen time and time again when investigating this old -- at least for GetReligion readers -- subject.

For starters, journalists just don't understand that many real people in the real world, when dealing with real issues that make news, tend to be really serious when it comes to religious traditions and doctrines. Thus:

Opposition to gay marriage, for example, is invariably blamed on perceived bigotry rather than obedience to centuries of church doctrine. And here is the point. This same lack of seriousness about the authority of religious texts and traditions -- an unseriousness that amounts to complete ignorance in many cases -- explains why the West keeps underestimating Islamist terrorism. ...
Religious literacy should not be an afterthought for any serious politician, soldier or diplomat. We Europeans may be increasingly godless but faith remains a huge force for good and ill in most other countries. Islam is the world’s fastest growing religion but Christianity is growing strongly in Africa and, despite Beijing’s efforts, in China.

Needless to say, read it all.

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