Friday, January 12, 2007

Going in religion-news circles

Going in religion-news circles:
"Journalists may not know the precise meaning of the word "theodicy," but, year after year, they know a good "theodicy" story when they see one.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines this term as a "vindication of God's goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil." Wikipedia calls it a "branch of theology ... that attempts to reconcile the existence of evil in the world with the assumption of a benevolent God."

There were three "theodicy" events in 2005, so the Religion Newswriters Association combined them into one item in its top-10 story list. What linked Hurricane Katrina, the Southeast Asia tsunami and another earthquake in Pakistan? Each time, journalists asked the timeless question: What role did God play in these disasters?

Last year, it was the schoolhouse massacre of five Amish girls in Bart Township, Pa. The stunning words of forgiveness offered by the families of the victims added yet another layer of drama to the story. ..."

Terry Mattingly, who also blogs at, is especially interested in how religion is covered in the various media. He quotes Richard Ostling, the recently retired Associated Press religion reporter, as saying "Every year there is going to be some great tragedy or disaster and that causes people to ask, 'Where was God?' These events may not seem like religion stories, but they almost always turn into religion stories because of the way people respond to them."

Because of the pervasiveness of religious faith in people's lives all over the world, it is difficult to separate religion from politics whether it be in the recent US election or the violence that characterizes much of the Middle East. The result is that, according to Ostling, people tend to react to the same stories (or what seem to be the same stories) that come up year after year.

This is complicated by the fact that there are stories within stories, and events that are directly and indirectly related -- or maybe only coincidental. Ostling sees the election of a woman as the Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop to be important, but not particularly surprising. He feels that the larger story is the nationwide revolt by individual Episcopal congregations to be far more difficult to cover. Mattingly points out that the Ted Haggard story was big, but that every year seems to find at least one high-profile sex scandal involving a religious leader.

I wonder what the theodicy stories will be for 2007? And will the news media get it right?

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