Religion, media affect each other


People in many houses of worship read, hear, and listen to the same news. They also find news outlets more attuned to their politics and their religions than the media resources and religious publications other worshipers find to suit their differing politics and religion. To get along in the bigger society of world religions, people try to use multifaith and interfaith and other ways of walking alongside others—and that includes people of no faith—in their spiritual journeys, as ways to lessen discord, if not always differences. And they look to the media that they share, such as the daily city newspaper, national TV local radio, and Web sites, to show commonalities and explain some of their ways that are more specific or more important to their own spirituality and not common to all.

Religion journalism is not just church news and featured events, not just writing about morals and ethics. It's people, places, and smaller communities within the larger circles of city, region, and state. It's the issues people struggle with: dealing with family, with society, with selves and others, with life and death, with many things common and strange. And it's lived and felt by those who make the news; by the reporters; and by the readers, viewers, and listeners.

Religion definitely has an influence on media, and not just on the religion page. The secular press exists in a society in which religion is common. Plenty of people thank God, have a close personal relationship with their divine savior, pray many times a day in the direction of their holy city, retreat for a time of sabbath, give devotion to cycles of nature, live according to purposes and principles but without a creed, follow the golden rule, behave morally and ethically without a belief in the supernatural. People who observe holiness are the subjects of news, the authors of articles, the anchors of newscasts. Sometimes religion is the story, but most times religion is more important in the lives of the people involved.

And religious people don’t always think entirely for themselves. If their church takes a position on an issue, they might take the same stand because that's what their guidance says to do. Yes, sometimes that’s hypocritical, but hypocrisy has a deep, and religious, history, too.

In most news, religion is not a factor. The reporters and editors are concentrating on finding out the who, what, where, when, why, and how in a story, and the event either is pretty clear-cut or is that day’s report of an event or issue that’s ongoing. The subjects of stories are too often registering "oh,my God" to something unexpected even if they'd prefer to say "dear God" in prayer.

Religion is a tricky thing in journalism. We’re taught to fact check and verify. But organizations of faith are institutions built on belief, and it seems each faith has its own, non-matching, facts, often based on stories that are given divine attribution. Objective journalists can't choose which words to accept as truth and which to “allege.” That can mean that we in the media suppress our own beliefs, our personal "facts," to give respect to our neighbors'. That's not denial, and it's not being false to oneself; it's recognizing the dignity of others and welcoming the spectrum of human life and thought.

It's giving religion a place of honor alongside science and reason as one of the wonders of this world in which we live.

When you view, read, or listen to media, religion is a factor. Secular press or sacred, religion and media fit together in ways very small, and sometimes very large. Each influences the other.