I don’t read to the end of many online essays anymore — either most writing is dull and pointless or I have developed blog-induced attention deficit disorder, you decide which. But I read “Love Thy Neighbor: The religion beat in an age of intolerance” at the Columbia Journalism Review start to finish (hat tip: Get Religion).
The essay stresses the odd fact that both tolerance and intolerance seem to have flourished in America. The author represents tolerance by James Madison and the Bill of Rights, in particular the religion clauses. Intolerance is represented by John Winthrop and the Puritans, which seems rather unfair. Secular intolerance and government intolerance are as prevalent as the intolerance of religious believers. It seems to be an artifact of human nature, not religious belief. For an essay on the theme of intolerance (and a fine essay, I might add) this seems like a poor choice for framing the issue.
Evolution and education get coverage as well, primarily in comments on a just-released book by a reporter named Laurie Lebo entitled The Devil in Dover: An Insider’s Story of Dogma v. Darwin in Small-town America. Sounds like a good read, but it’s not quite a model of balanced religious reporting (hint: the author sports a tattoo of the Flying Spaghetti Monster). The author of the essay does recognize and note that Lebo has moved from objective reporting to a form of journalistic intolerance but doesn’t really engage the more general question: Are journalists, who regularly discuss intolerance as a specifically religious problem, really part of the problem themselves?
The most entertaining part of the essay was the candid summary of the vitriol the author endured when an innocuous story he wrote about an Islamic mosque got its 15 minutes of online fame. No one who has run a religion blog can help nodding in agreement at the description of a certain species of drive-by commenters as people “who sport anonymous Internet handles and spend their days trolling blogs dedicated to the disparagement of other faiths.”
So how does “the Utah press” handle religion stories? I think the Deseret News and the Salt Lake Tribune do a pretty good job avoiding the pitfalls discussed in the essay, and the SL Trib’s reporting on the recent FLDS raid in Texas was outstanding, running circles around the national media. Then there’s the question of whether bloggers do any better than journalists …