[Originally published Nov. 24, 2007]
Writing for michnews.com, Lee Duigon complains that Religion Reporters Don’t Understand Religion:
What could be sillier than a shocked declaration by a paid professional “religion reporter” that Christian churches are full of… (gasp!)…sinners?
I have a feeling that we’re about to find out.
Here we have two such declarations, brought to our attention by the Get Religion Blog (www.getreligion.org/): one from Kevin Eigelbach of The Cincinnati Post (see link here) [note: a broken link, unfortunately], the other from Stephen Bates of The Guardian (United Kingdom), writing for the New Humanist (see http://newhumanist.org.uk/1630 )…
Both are flabbergasted to find sinners in the churches. If they knew their Bible and took it seriously, they would not have expected to find the pews full of plaster saints…
A hospital is an institution dedicated to health; but neither Bates nor Eigelbach would be astounded to walk into a hospital and find it full of sick people. The church is dedicated to spiritual health, and is full of people who are spiritually sick. In fact, they suffer from a birth defect: original sin. Why would a paid professional religion reporter expect to find it otherwise?
Ah yes, the “I’m not perfect just forgiven” excuse. But let’s think about Duigon’s illustration of Christianity as a hospital. It’s a rather strange institution, isn’t it? Duigon is right, it’s not too surprising to find it full of sick people. What’s surprising is that, despite all the time and money the patients spend on hospitalization, their odds of improving aren’t really any better than the spontaneous recovery rate we see outside the hospital, and might be slightly worse. What’s more, patients at this hospital have an increased risk of developing new disorders, like intolerance, denial, gullibility, superstition, and an inability to distinguish between truth and wishful thinking.
The medical care is peculiar as well. We can’t comment on the Physician’s bedside manner because He never actually shows up at the patient’s bedside. The patients treat each other! But they argue about the treatment(s) they prescribe, even though they each claim to have received an authoritative care plan from the Physician Himself, based on their reading of some notes His fellow students took in med school a couple thousand years ago. And even though they boast about how miraculous and effective their treatments are, the only way patients ever get discharged from this hospital is if they die or voluntarily remove themselves from its care.
Duigon wants us to think the reporters are “silly” for pointing out the discrepancies between the results you’d expect from a competent hospital, and the results we actually see coming out of the Christian “hospital.” But all the absentee doctors, the self-appointed nurses and aides, and the til-death-do-part-us-from-your-money prognosis, coupled with a “cure” rate not noticeably better than the ordinary rate for spontaneous recovery, do indeed add up to a newsworthy story. The problem isn’t that reporters fail to understand religion. It’s that, in the case of Christianity, they know it far too well.