How to Get Religion

It's the hiring, stupid.

With that line, Julia Duin set off a lively debate over Poynter.org on how to improve religion coverage.

Here's my two cents.

  • Avoid Either/Or thinking. "There are at least 11 sides to every issue," Michael Gartner told Poytner's Scott M. Libin of the Poyter. Here's a bit more:

    These (either/or) are red flags of the false dichotomy, the logical fallacy of implying that only two mutually exclusive possibilities exist, and denying the existence of other alternatives. It's a popular persuasive device: Either you're part of the solution or part of the problem. Either you're lying now or you were lying then. Either you're with us or you're against us. Poynter Vice President and Senior Scholar Roy Peter Clark wrote about the false dichotomy for Nieman Reports in the fall of 2000: "It diminishes our conversations, limits our options and divides us into camps, setting one orthodoxy against another; all of this violates the interest of those we serve."

  • Immerse yourself in someone else's world/ Spend a lot of time with people who are different. You just might find, as Mark Pinsky did, that evangelicals (or Catholics, Mormons, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Jews--take your pick) are people too. Once he moved to South Florida, "a sea of believing, faithful Christians," his writing and reporting were transformed.

    ...the most intense part of my education came from outside the job, apart from the mediation of a reporter’s notebook. At PTA meetings, at Scouts, in the supermarket checkout line, and in my neighborhood I encountered evangelicals simply as people, rather than as subjects or sources of quotes for my stories. Our children went to the same birthday parties. We sat next to each other in the bleachers while the kids played recreational sports. Our family doctor went on frequent mission trips and kept a New Testament in each examining room

    You might even find that Blue Staters, and Red Staters have a lot in common, as
    Elaine McArdle did when she traveled South for the Boston Globe's Magazine .

    Here's her wrap up, based on a conversation with Michael Johnson, 32, "a lawyer for the Shreveport office of the Alliance Defense Fund, a national conservative legal group."

    Johnson, too, has some thoughts on Massachusetts. "Well, you know in our minds, it's kind of the land of Ted Kennedy and John Kerry. Obviously, it's more liberal in its leanings. I don't have a negative view of all the people in Massachusetts. I know there are a lot of good God-fearing people up there, good Christians . . . ' He pauses, and then, with a kidding tone, he adds, "outnumbered though they might be."

    He jokes that perhaps we should arrange field trips: "If some of our good neighbors in Massachusetts just came down here and spent some time here, they'd realize there are many, many intelligent, articulate, educated people who just happen to believe differently than they do."

    I think about Johnson's words as I fly back to Boston, out of the 60-degree December days and into a city covered in snow. I reflect on this irony: that I love Boston because it is so open-minded and tolerant, and yet it shows little interest in trying to understand the South, a beautiful part of our country, where, as you walk down a sidewalk, a stranger will smile and say, "Hey, how you doin' today?" I think of how these cultural differences have enormous political implications. We ignore them at our peril.

    We ignore them at our peril.


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