May 10, 2005

by Joe Sobran

     When a German priest named Martin Luther nailed some 
of his pet ideas to a church door in 1517, it wasn't big 
news. Nobody knew that the history of Europe was being 
changed forever, let alone that this would eventually 
have profound effects on the other side of the ocean that 
had only recently been crossed.

     At the time it must have seemed like a minor local 
story -- one more disgruntled heretic venting his spleen 
-- just as the crucifixion of a Jew in Jerusalem, around 
what would later be called, in honor of that Jew, A.D. 
35, seemed a minor event at the time. At least two others 
were also crucified in the city that day. Big deal.

     Today, even with our 24/7 news coverage, both events 
would still pass unnoticed. They certainly wouldn't 
warrant bulletins of the "breaking news as it happens" 

     Except when an old pope dies or a new one is 
elected, religious news hardly counts as news. If you 
want religious news in the WASHINGTON POST, you can find 
it, as a rule, only on the religion page, buried in the 
back of the Metro section every Saturday morning. It's so 
dull and trivial that I usually forget to read it.

     By contrast, the POST devotes whole sections to 
business, sports, and style every day of the year, with 
additional sections on the arts, travel, books, real 
estate, and whatnot -- but not religion -- in weekend 
editions. As a human concern, religion seems to rank, for 
the POST as well as most other newspapers, with 
stamp-collecting. You'd never guess, from the 
journalistic attention it receives, that it's the most 
vital part of countless people's lives and has shaped 
whole civilizations.

     Movies are the same way, of course. How often does 
Hollywood show people praying? On the big screen, which 
prides itself on graphic realism, characters vomit more 
frequently than they pray. I've yet to see James Bond 
appeal to the Lord when his life is in danger, maybe 
because his enemies are always such bad shots anyway. But 
let's stick to journalism.

     Secularist journalism segregates religious news from 
what it deems "real" news. It has no place for the 
biggest news of all time, the Good News of Jesus Christ, 
who said he was the only way to God the Father. For 
Christians, the world is divided into those who accept 
his claim and those who don't. Secularist journalism 
presupposes his unimportance and therefore the 
insignificance of his followers.

     Journalism, as G.K. Chesterton observed, tells us 
that Admiral Bangs has died without having told us that 
Admiral Bangs had been born. It takes notice of religious 
people only when their activities begin to threaten 
secularism; it failed to notice the rise of the Christian 
Right and militant Islam until they had already become 
impossible to ignore, whereupon it reacted with alarm 
verging on hysteria.

     More recently, secularist journalism has been 
alarmed to discover that the new Pope is a Catholic. It 
had hoped for someone more, well, reasonable. After Pope 
John Paul II died, the POST ran just about the only kind 
of religious "news" it reserves for its front page: 
reports on the discontents of American Catholics, who, it 
seems, want their Church to adopt the sort of "reforms" 
favored by POST editorials (married and female priests, 
easy divorce, and so forth).

     Catholics who oppose the Church, especially 
"progressive" priests and nuns, are eligible for news 
coverage, ample and sympathetic. Faithful Catholics might 
as well not exist. They show up in the press only when 
their behavior seems bizarre.

     Sexual scandals in the Church also rate attention, 
though priests who abuse teenage boys are called 
pedophiles rather than homosexuals; and even Protestant 
evangelists who chase women warrant journalistic notice. 
Anything that portrays orthodox Christians as hypocrites 
is grist for journalism's mill; the hypocrisy of 
"progressives," on the other hand, is off limits. I could 
tell you some stories, but they wouldn't be "news": I 
didn't read them in the POST.

     William Schwenk Gilbert, of Gilbert and Sullivan 
fame, once wrote to the president of a railway, "Sir, 
Sunday morning, though occurring at frequent and well 
established intervals, always seems to take this railway 
by surprise." It's safe to predict that worshipers will 
continue to make news and even history, but that this 
will continue to take journalism by surprise.


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