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Ignorance, Intolerance & Religion News

Australia | Media & Religion

WHEN IT COMES TO THE MEDIA, you have, as Mark Twain observed, a difficult choice: If you don’t read the newspaper you are uninformed. If you do read the newspaper you are misinformed.

We find American openness off-putting, let alone their exuberance; it’s a
cultural difference. Asking someone if she is born again is like asking
what she earns – intrusive and unwelcome.

For much of these nine years in my role as religion editor at The Age, I have been far and away the best mainstream print religion reporter in the country. And, at the same time, much the worst. Obviously, I have been the only one, and I think The Age deserves great credit for backing me in the role and giving me space – though not, of course, as much as I’d like.

Both the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) and Australian have sometimes had someone on the round and sometimes not. Now the SMH has a religion reporter again, but the Australian – so far as I know – does not, let alone the Herald Sun, Telegraph or most state dailies.

It is important to understand, of course, that Australia is very different from America in its religious practice. Where about 40% of the US population are in church every week, here it is about 9%, and Australians are much more low-ley about their religion.

Manning Clark called it a shy hope in the heart. We find American openness off-putting, let alone their exuberance; it’s a cultural difference. Asking someone if she is born again is like asking what she earns – intrusive and unwelcome.

The most jarring intolerance of religion, at least in the West, is that of the secular liberal unbeliever for the religious. That, I think, is true and is getting worse. I was impressed by an article submitted in February by a young Christian, Fatima Measham, with whom I have occasionally exchanged emails. Sadly it did not run on the opinion page.

She said the biggest obstacle for young believers today is not temptation or excess but “the mockery and contempt from non-believers. It seems that you can be more easily forgiven for being a drunken lout, than for calling for prayer for victims of disaster.”

I’m still quoting Fatima.

“Unfortunately for young, thinking believers, the media gravitates toward incongruities between basic tenets of faith and the behaviour of its proponents, including their language. A Muslim cleric describing women as “uncovered meat” who ought to dress more appropriately.  An Australian evangelist blaming the Queensland floods on a former Prime Minister who spoke “against Israel”. A Catholic leader describing the parents of two daughters who had been abused by clergy as “dwelling crankily on old wounds”. An American bishop excommunicating a nun and stripping an Arizona hospital of its Catholic designation after they terminated a pregnancy to save the life of the mother.

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