In a recent iPolitics column, veteran journalist Paul Adams argues persuasively that reporters should definitely pay attention to new Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer’s Christian faith.
However, Adams insists such reporting should be well informed and straight-up, minus the media sneering, eye-rolling and willingness to mock that has been directed at other openly faithful political leaders.
“I reject the idea that journalists can or should just ignore the religious thinking or motivation of politicians — that they should regard it as somehow off-limits,” Adams writes.
“To the extent that someone’s religious beliefs affect the world outside the home and the place of worship, they are a legitimate area of public and journalistic inquiry. If a politician’s beliefs — religious or ideological — inform political action, we want to know about it.”
Scheer, he suggests, could benefit by following the lead of former President John F. Kennedy and setting out how he understands the relationship between his faith and the public role he’s just been given.
“If he doesn’t,” Adams said graciously, “that’s no excuse for journalists to join in a smear or substitute their own ignorance for evidence, as they sometimes did with (Canadian Alliance leader) Stockwell Day.”
Such fair-mindedness is a far cry from the yowl unleashed by Adams’ former CBC compatriot Neil Macdonald, whose ferocious CBC.ca barracking of Scheer’s Catholicism has led to threats of human rights complaints. It also prompted Jonathon Van Maren, of the Centre For Bio-Ethical Reform, to pen a bruising rejoinder headlined: “Neil Macdonald is an Ignorant Bigot.”
He is nothing of the sort, though Van Maren’s column might be a pointed reminder for Macdonald about the dangers of getting a Dutchman’s Irish up. Though he is no bigot, the long-time CBC reporter is, like all of us poor banished children of Eve, eminently capable of the kind of selective seeing that can look very much like blind ignorance. Such blindness led him to ignore the crude insensitivity of arguing, in a forum provided by Canda’s public broadcaster no less, that his fellow citizens have no business taking religious beliefs outside the door of their place of worship.
As Paul Adams noted, the intricate relationship between religious belief and political worldview makes the very idea of shushing up the faithful a non-starter. Remarkable as the ability of some politicians to speak out both sides of their mouths might be, they do not have two heads. To have faith is have within one’s whole self a force that forms (though it never need blindly dictate) what one believes the world should be.
Curiously, while Adams extends this understanding to political life, he offers no such grace to his own craft of journalism. He does acknowledge journalists can be people of faith. Yet he insists that journalism itself is “by definition” secular. In its own way, this strikes me as a very polite way of making exactly the point Neil Macdonald pushed more intemperately: Faith is universally welcome except in all the places it isn’t.
It is always iffy to launch a counterargument based on a population sample of one, especially when oneself is the one. But if it is the case that faith is unwelcome in self-defined secular journalism, then I am one of the unwelcome faithful journalists. I am a Catholic journalist. I am not a Catholic who is a journalist. Nor am I a journalist who is a Catholic. There is no duality in my identity. There is a (reasonably) unified anthropology in which my understanding of what it means to be truly and fully human is firmly grounded, and which governs (however haphazardly as a sinner) how I encounter the world.
I go into the world as a Catholic. I go into a world that I believe is sacred, i.e., pointed toward God, no matter how much others may wish to declare it secular, i.e., pointed toward humanity. That takes nothing away from my understanding of the secular proposal. Rather it provides a calibration point of discernment from which to evaluate it. It supplies an outsider’s context that can offer space for more fair, more clear, more truthful judgment. And is that not the basis of all good journalism?
I would certainly argue that what applies to me as a Catholic journalist applies to the vast majority of other journalists of faith as well. I’d argue further that it applies to most other vocations, too, not just politics. To be a person of faith, whether in journalism or politics or wherever, is not some obligatory reflex to seek to “impose” one’s particular creed on the unwilling. It is to hold up a mirror to the world so it can see itself, its worthiness and its vanities, through different, distanced eyes. Surely there is a legitimate place in our public life for that.
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