Thursday, December 6, 2007


Mark Morford, a columnist for SFGate (which I think is part of the San Francisco Chronicle), penned an interesting column about the way the media reports religion.

"And finally, I think of the eternal chicken-and-egg debate, modified thusly: Which came first, the radical fundamentalists who can't walk and chew warm theology at the same time, or the overeager commercial media, ever in need of tales of shock and titillation and blood to get you to pay attention?"
Mark Morford. "Let us kill all the teddy bears"
During his piece, he takes aim at Pope Benedict XVI, on the strength of a piece from ABC News, in which it is purported that a "Papal Letter Blames Atheism for World's Worst Woes." I popped over the Vatican's website, and read Encyclical Letter Spe Salvi, and realized that this time out, the overeager commercial media got the last laugh. While you can understand how the Associated Press writer came to her conclusions, it's pretty clear that this particular tale of shock has been modified a wee bit, to make it a little more, well, shocking.

The interpretation of papal language isn't exactly my chosen career, so I'm not going to attempt to give you a full picture of Benedict's statements here. But the alleged papal "blame game" goes a little something like this: People see the injustice in the world, cannot understand how a just and loving God allows such things, and turn to atheism. Believing that there is no God to create justice, such people have no hope for the future. If they are in positions of power, and attempt to enforce a just society on people, you can wind up with horrendous atrocities. In other words, lack of faith in God can lead well-meaning people to do nasty things while trying to bring about a just end, not realizing that only God can manage the goal they're striving for. Hardly a scathing criticism, especially when one considers the fact that Benedict feels that this has come about because Christianity itself "has been individualized and primarily oriented towards the salvation of the believer's own soul [...]" Perhaps more importantly, this criticism of atheism is only a very small part of a rather long encyclical - you've got to do a LOT of reading about other topics before you get there.

Lesson for today - if one is going to slam the media for constantly looking to shock and titillate, it's not a good idea to uncritically take their shocking and titillating stories at face value...

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