As 2012 comes to a close, I find it intriguing how once again religion was a thread that ran through countless big news stories.
From the election to the debate over Obamacare, from nuns on the bus to a growing number of "nones" (religiously unaffiliated) in our religious landscape, from Catholic bishops in trouble with the law to what in the world we are to do about gun violence -- all that and more required the presence of journalists who understand religion.
Thanks goodness, then, for the reporters at Religion News Service, among other outlets, who do their best to keep the public up to speed on all of this. (The link in the first paragraph takes you to an excellent Religion News Service roundup of 2012 stories with religious angles.)
But it's not enough. The resources newspapers now to devote to coverage of religion stories is shrinking, partly because newspapers are in financially tough straits all over the country and partly because most readers have never insisted on better coverage of religion.
And now at The Kansas City Star, where I spent most of my career (at the end as the Faith section columnist), the religion editor, Helen Gray, who has done that job for decades, is retiring next week. I don't know how the paper intends now to cover religion, given that Helen is the only one currently assigned full-time to that task. Helen has been a good and faithful servant who has been consistently fair to the many different religious communities that make up our region. She has more than earned her retirement.
I plan to continue posting this daily blog that The Star makes available on its website, but perhaps now is the time for people everywhere to contact the news organizations they depend on and ask for more and better coverage of religion because it's nearly impossible to understand any of the major issues in our country today without grasping how those matters are affected by religion.
So if you're a KC Star reader, now is the time to thank Helen Gray (email@example.com) for her long service. Then contact all your news outlets and ask that religion coverage be beefed up.
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A website in the Netherlands has been set up to help Catholics there "de-baptize" as a way of protesting Pope Benedict XVI's anti-gay remarks over the Christmas holiday. The founder of it wisely notes that you can't really be de-baptized, given that the sacrament of Baptism is a once-forever event. But he says Catholics there can "de-register" from being Catholic. Hope the Vatican's next step isn't to change the words of the carol from "don we now our gay apparel."
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THE BOOK CORNER
The Christian World of The Hobbit, by Devin Brown. Ever since J.R.R. Tolkein published The Hobbit in 1937, it has been no secret that its underpinnings are Christian, though as Tolkein himself once noted, the Christianity the book reflects is not on the surface but beneath and woven into the story subtly. But because of the wild popularity of both The Hobbit (now a new movie) and The Lord of the Rings (each has sold more than 100 million copies), the fascination with the story and the core values it reflects never seems to end. Thus, this new book by an English professor at Asbury University, in which the author promises (and then fulfills his promise) that he "will make the case that The Hobbit is a fundamentally Christian work where we can see Tolkien's faith reflected in his fiction. . ." But he is careful to assert that one character in the book doesn't represent Satan while another equals Christ: "While there may be similarities that evoke associations in the reader's mind, the proper claim to make in these cases is something like parallels, echoes, resembles, mirrors, or reflects, not represents, symbolizes, corresponds to, equals, or is (italics Brown's)." The author then carefully walks readers through the book and its fantastic characters and plot, pointing out the parallels, echoes and resemblances. It's a good read, especially for long-time fans of Tolkein who want to be up to speed on the latest scholarship in the field, scholarship that concludes that "readers who embrace the moral principles found in The Hobbit, and who long for a world like Middle-earth where these principles hold true, can find that place in the Christian faith its author professed." (To read a piece by author Devin Brown about the subject of his book, click here.)