For years -- decades even -- I have been active in the whole "media literacy" cause, trying to help Americans (especially in religious circles) understand more about the role that mass media play in our culture.
During these same decades, I've heard journalism educators -- on the cultural left and right -- argue that the same thing needs to be happening in elite newsrooms and even educational institutions, only in reverse.
Let's stick with the journalism angle: One of the main reasons that pros in our newsrooms often do such a lousy job of covering religion is that there are so few editors and managers who know any thing about religion. Let me stress that the issue is not whether these journalists are religious believers. The issue is whether they know crucial information about the lives, traditions and scriptures linked to the lives of millions and millions of believers who reside in this culture and often play roles in public life.
I've mentioned this before: I'll never forget the night when an anchor at ABC News -- faced with Democrat Jimmy Carter talking about his born-again Christian faith -- solemnly looked into the camera and told viewers that ABC News was investigating this phenomenon (born-again Christians) and would have a report in a future newscast.
What percentage of the American population uses the term "born again" to describe their faith? Somewhere between 40 and 60 percent back then? I mean, Carter wasn't telling America that he was part of an obscure sect, even though many journalists were freaked out by this words -- due to simple ignorance (or perhaps bias).
This brings me to this weekend's think piece in The American Conservative, a magazine defined by cultural conservatism not conservative partisan politics (thus the presence of several big-league #NeverTrump scribes). The double decker headline on this piece asks:
Woke Progressivism’s Glaring Religion Gap
Identity politics demands that we "educate ourselves." So why are its practitioners so often ignorant of religious belief?
Here is Georgetown University graduate student Grayson Quay's overture, which ends with a stunning anecdote:
When I was an undergraduate, my favorite professor was Dr. Messer an expert on the great 20th-century Southern Catholic novelist Walker Percy.
Percy’s novel The Last Gentleman begins with an epigraph from the philosopher Romano Guardini, predicting a future in which “the unbeliever will…cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies” and love “will disappear from the face of the public world.”
To help us understand this abstract post-Christian prognostication, Dr. Messer would tell us a story. His wife had a friend who was educated, cultured, and smart. One day, the friend asked Mrs. Messer a question: “You’re a Christian, right?” Mrs. Messer confirmed that she was. Well then, the friend wanted to know, why do so many church buildings have the letter “t” on the roof?
Uh, that isn't a letter "t," is it?
Later on, there's this paragraph -- moving the issue into a journalism context. Recently:
... San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral (which is, of course, Episcopal) held a “Beyoncé Mass” that featured choral renditions of Beyoncé songs and a Beyoncé-based sermon designed to empower women of color. The entire thing was reprehensible, but there was one moment from Vice’s coverage that really caught my eye. About a minute into the video, Vice reporter Nyasha Shani Foy mentions that the Beyoncé Mass could help attract a younger crowd to church, and then recites some statistics about how drastically Catholic Mass attendance has fallen since the 1950s. I was flabbergasted. Foy, who I’m sure knows an entire encyclopedia of identity politics terminology backwards and forwards, couldn’t be bothered to learn the difference between Roman Catholicism and Episcopalianism.
Also, while declining Mass statistics in Catholic pews is a huge story, so is the implosion in church membership statistics in the often edgy world of Episcopal Church life. So there were two levels of confusion present in that one image.
There's more. Are there similar problems on the cultural right, where activists don't know the fine details of the liberal religious traditions they encounter in public life? Of course. That's the other half of this equation.
But for now, please read this Quay piece. All of it.