Faith, sin, and journalism's high priests | Bleader

Faith, sin, and journalism's high priests

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Reasonable people can disagree...
  • Reasonable people can disagree . . .
On the Bleader a few days ago, I posted my response to a John Kass column fretting that "the onslaught of a strident secularism" had "weakened Christianity." I wasn't so sure that strident secularism was the whole story. "It's not consumerism that makes millions of people turn away from their churches," I commented. "It's not relativism. Or narcissism. Or secularism. It's common sense. These churches ask their worshipers to believe in things that are ridiculous. The acid burning through the spiritual life of the West is reason."

Now the Tribune's Eric Zorn has reposted this much of my comment on his blog, and a lively conversation followed. Anyone who cared what I had to say might want to read it. If you do, you'll come across the scornful reception I got from one Zorn reader who doubts I know the first thing about the doctrine of papal infallibility (which I had said millions of worshipers find impossible to take seriously). Let me admit here that I am, no doubt, ignorant of the finer points of this doctrine, but I do understand that it's not an across-the-board infallibility that covers, say, the pope's tastes in wines and cheeses, or even all church matters. What I reject is the idea that any mere mortal could be "infallible" about anything. The Catholic Church has a duty to question change, and when it carries out that duty it should serve us all. But questioning change by hurling dogma at it isn't the most helpful or impressive way to carry it out.

Meanwhile, Chicago magazine (and former Reader) blogger Whet Moser has responded to Wednesday's Kass column. This one asked whether it's possible "to be a traditional Christian or Muslim or Orthodox Jew—and hold to one's faith on what constitutes marriage—and not be considered a bigot? No one with half a brain wants to be thought of as a bigot. But that's what I and others risk as members of a distinct and irritating minority—as traditional Christians in journalism."

Kass continued, "In this media world, I sometimes wonder whether the word 'sin' has been outlawed by the high priests of journalism for fear of offending one group or another. And I'd rather not ask."

It's an interesting question. Like Kass, apparently, I like the word sin. I value the concept. It's important to have a way to think of something as categorically wrong even if it's preferable to the alternative. (There is no "good" war.) I agree with Kass that a lot of people in and out of journalism are reluctant to couch matters in terms of sin. But Moser wondered whether those "high priests" are as secular as Kass made them sound.

"From my readings," Moser writes, "I've found Christians (if not 'traditional Christians,' whatever that means) well-represented in the highest ranks of journalism. Charles M. Blow, Maureen Dowd, Ross Douthat, and Bill Keller, a substantial portion of the New York Times's high priests, identify as Christian. At the Washington Post there's E.J. Dionne, Michael Gerson (a Wheaton grad), and Marc Thiessen. The Wall Street Journal has Peggy Noonan, a devout Catholic; Daniel Henninger seems to be one as well. Fox has Bill O'Reilly; MSNBC has Chris Matthews. At the same time, I'm hard-pressed to think of prominent atheist journalists outside of Christopher Hitchens."

These high priests haven't staked out their place in the nation's culture wars by leaving their faith, Moser argues: "The increase in liberal political views, coinciding with the rise of the Religious Right, pushed liberals and moderates (including 'moderates who lean to conservative') out of affiliation, but not out of religion." If the faithful are abandoning their traditions, Moser believes "this was driven by an interrogation of these traditions: applying them to logic, history, and experience, not coincidentally the foundational tenets of journalism."

I'll add this: journalists tend to be people who at a young age decided to serve people by bringing truth to their lives, and if this task would never make them rich so be it, for it was sacred. I don't know what a traditional Christian is either, but if Kass thinks of himself as a noncomplacent Christian, the Tribune newsroom and the larger community of journalists provide him with plenty of company.

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