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The religion beat’s disappearing act

February 20, 2014

Veteran religion reporter Julia Duin posted a state of the God beat on Get Religion. It’s illuminating. And depressing. But I can’t say it’s surprising. When the Religion Newswriters Association held its annual conference in Austin this past fall, it seemed that every other person I talked to was a former staffer at one newspaper or another. Many were freelancing, which is a hard way to make a living.

Julia provides some grim anecdotes about the disappearance of the religion beat in newspapers across the country. I’m sad to see the beat fade at my local paper, the Austin American-Statesman. But in this day and age, specialty beats are an endangered species. As an advocate of religious literacy, I see the lack of a dedicated religion beat — and, for that matter, the lack of dedicated newspaper readers — as a real problem. Good religion writers educate us not only about people with different beliefs from our own. They also shed light on our own beliefs, our own tribe, so to speak. Again, you need readers to be effective. The bright spot in Julia’s GR post is what’s happening with Religion News Service, which has assembled a freelance team of some of the best faith reporters in the country.

But — there’s always a but — I do take issue with one of Julia’s observations on coverage of atheism and secularism. She writes:

… [S]pecialists have had to get current with the fast-growing ranks of the “nones,” which, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, are an estimated 19.6 percent of the American population. Their numbers have ballooned in recent years, as have the numbers of outspoken atheists, creating an interesting conundrum for religion-news specialists because coverage of the non- or anti-religious gets tossed in the lap of the religion reporter. On one level that’s logical, but, still, stop and think about that for a minute. How many stories do sports writers produce about people who hate sports? Do fashion writers cover those who hate fashion?

This comparison doesn’t work. Atheists are actively engaged in the discussion about the role of religion in public life. Many of the “nones” are searching for meaning and rituals and are crafting their own set of beliefs and traditions for their families. Heck, we even have atheist churches now. And on top of all that, Christian leaders are constantly talking about reaching the “unchurched.” They are constantly lamenting secularism in this country. Believers and skeptics go hand in hand when it comes to comprehensive religion reporting.

Otherwise, this is a post worth reading and reflecting on. Where are you getting your religion news these days?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jack Wirtz permalink
    February 20, 2014 10:46 pm

    Always to receive your timely comments.

    The post-Christian West has little, if any, felt or intellectual need left in their lives for the religion of Christ. Culture doesn’t define the people, quite the opposite, the mores of the people define the culture; Modernism’s abandonment of truth, Post-modernism’s abandonment of reason. Eat, drink and be merry_ for tomorrow we die.

    The transition from a deeply religious people to a unprincipled society is the story of steady erosion interspersed by some few momentous events; yet none such speak of the slightest weakness in or failure of Christianity, but the rejection of its principles_ the highest standard of morals and ethics known to man.

    A lot of words for a simple truth_ “If it doesn’t matter what you believe, and that is the tenor of the both the modern schools of religion and religious writers, then it doesn’t matter if you believe anything at all.”

    We read newspapers for interest, entertainment or knowledge, and the current state of religious articles seldom find a home here, especially for the overwhelming majority of the dwindling newspaper readers.

    I used to look foreword for your columns, but I haven’t read but two or three since, and regretted that…

    Miss you Lady…. Jack

  2. Jack permalink
    February 21, 2014 7:18 pm

    If you have not read Dietrich Bonhoffer’s THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP, here pages 269-271, please do so; for it will give you an insight into the mind and life of a real disciple of Christ when being one is no more popular than being a Jew. There are no more left in America now, then there were in Germany in 1940. All that remains is lip service, not discipleship.

    Thus the life of the Christian community in the world bears permanent witness to the truth that “the fashion of this world passeth away” (1 Cor 7:31), that the time is short (1 Cor 7:29) and the Lord is nigh (Phil 4:5). This thought fills them with joy unspeakable (Phil 4:4). The world is growing too small for the Christian community, and all it looks for is the Lord’s return. It still walks in the flesh , but with eyes upturned to heaven, whence he for whom they wait will come again. In the world the Christians are a colony of the true home, they are strangers and aliens in a foreign land, enjoying the hospitality of that land, obeying its laws and honouring its government. They receive with gratitude the requirements of their bodily life, and in all things prove themselves honest, just, chaste, gentle, peaceable, and ready to serve. They show the love of God to all men, “but specially to them that are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10; 2 Pet 1:7). They are patient and cheerful in suffering, and they glory in tribulation. They live their own life under alien rulers and alien laws. Above all, they pray for all in authority, for that is their greatest service. But they are only passing through the country. At any moment they may receive the signal to move on. Then they will strike tents, leaving behind them all their worldly friends and connections, and following only the voice of their Lord who calls. They leave the land of their exile, and start their homeward trek to heaven.

    Amid poverty and suffering, hunger and thirst, they are meek, merciful, and peacemakers, persecuted and scorned by the world, although it is for their sake alone that the world is allowed to continue, and it is they who protect the world from the wrath and judgment of God. They are stangers and sojourners on earth(Heb 11:13, 13:14; 1 Pet 2:11). They seek those things that are above, not the things that are on the earth (Col 3:2). For their true life is not yet made manifest, but hidden with Christ in God. Here they see no more than the reflection of what they shall be. Here all that is visible is their dying, their secret daily death unto the old man, and their manifest death before the world. They are still hidden from themselves, and their left hand knows not what their right hand does. Although they are a visible society, they are always unknown even to themselves, looking only to their Lord. He is in heaven, their life is with him, and for him they wait. But when Christ, who is their life, shall be manifested, then they too shall be manifested with him in glory (Col 3:4).

    They wander on earth and live in heaven, and although they are weak, they protect the world; they taste of peace in the midst of turmoil; they are poor, and yet they have all they want. They stand in suffering and remain in joy, they appear dead to all outward sense and lead a life of faith within.

    That is the Church of the elect, the Ekkesia, those who have been called out, the Body of Christ on earth, the followers and disciples of Jesus (emphasis added).

  3. February 25, 2014 11:18 am

    The atheists I know are a long way from skeptics. Some are pretty shrill in denouncing belief altogether. Could be pretty hard to find any common ground with them. And it seems to me that 20 percent “nones” is optimistic. As for where they go for spiritual sustenance (though they’d probable deny any such thing) there’s always the “religions” of environmentalism, science in general (worshiping the Big Bang) and various political aims.

    G-d religion does seem to be going down almost as fast as newspapers and much of television news which increasingly also is broke. See MSNBC and CNN. At least on the news side, it’s the business model that’s busted and can be changed, staff reduced and salaries lowered. Does religion have any such thing as a business model? Or is that too blasphemous a question?

  4. March 17, 2014 9:07 am

    On this note, I’ve been trying to figure out who in Austin is covering religion news these days to make sure they know that Tom Wright will be in town March 18. If the daytime or evening events at which he’ll be speaking interest you, contact me at earner [at] (Incidentally, I turned to freelancing after the birth of my first–rewarding! hard! and everything in between. Best, Emily)

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