Eastern Europe

Flip side of GetReligion's coin: Some people (journalists) really think religion is fake

Flip side of GetReligion's coin: Some people (journalists) really think religion is fake

This whole week, I have been in Prague in the Czech Republic, teaching in a conference for young journalists -- most of whom are from Eastern Europe.

You will not be surprised to know that I have been lecturing on the importance of accurate informed news coverage of religion. And that led right into this week's (long distance) Crossroads podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Since I am in serious soccer territory, I talked about my post earlier this week that ran with this headline: "Telegraph hits some sour notes in a simple story about a footballer becoming a priest." I told them that this was not a horrible story, but it contained many awkward, simple, rather stupid mistakes.

What, I asked, if you were a soccer fan and you kept reading stories by reporters who did not know the difference between a striker and a goalie, between a corner kick and a brilliant cross during a breakaway, between the World Cup and the Euro championships? After a while, wouldn't you lose some faith in that newspaper, in its commitment to quality?

This, I said, is how millions of people feel when they read twisted, flawed religion-news coverage.

But what, several of the students said, if you really don't think religion matters? That you believe that religious faith is basically meaningless or worse?

It doesn't matter, I argued. Do you think you need to understand religion to cover the Middle East? How about European arguments about immigration? How about the 2016 USA White House race?

In other words, I made a SOCIOLOGICAL case for religion coverage, not a THEOLOGICAL case. I have known atheists who were fine religion-beat pros, because they grasped the role that religion played in public and private life.

So then a student from the former Soviet bloc asked: So, would you argue that Communism was a religion?

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New Pew survey notes line between religious identity and religious faith in Central and Eastern Europe

New Pew survey notes line between religious identity and religious faith in Central and Eastern Europe

Does anyone recall the 1991 comedy classic "What About Bob?", in which Bill Murray plays an obnoxiously self-absorbed client who cluelessly and unrelentingly pesters his psychotherapist (Richard Dreyfuss) during his annual summer vacation until the therapist suffers a breakdown?

Alright. So maybe it's not a classic. But I thoroughly enjoyed it -- perhaps not the least because I'm married to a psychotherapist who, if you ask me, has had more than her share of clients with professional boundary problems.

Which is to say that it was easy for me to relate to this movie because the situation it satirized is of more than passing interest to me.

That I have this personal bias because of my particular circumstance, should surprise no one. Likewise, it should come as no surprise to GetReligion readers that journalism functions similarly.

The greater the potential impact of a story on a news outlet's core audience, the greater the attention the outlet will lavish on the story. In short, if all politics is ultimately local, so is all news.

Which is why, I'm surmising, the media coverage of the Pew Research Center's survey report on the explosive growth of religious identity -- if not actual religious practice -- in Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian Central and Eastern Europe has played out as it has so far.

Mainstream media attention was relatively scant. While The Economist provided a well-rounded report, this Newsweek story is more representative of the thin coverage overall that I found.

In truth, to anyone who's been paying attention, the survey's findings are far from surprising.

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A sad note of Orthodox reality in Eastern Europe

It’s impossible to know precisely what is happening inside the mind of a politician when he or she is taking part in a religious ritual, whether or not listeners are hearing the voice of a believer or that of a political realist who is skilled at watching national opinion polls.

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