Blind Spot Part Two

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the book Blind Spot, and the story of how many journalists just don't 'get' religion. The story and a video interview with author Paul Marshall have ranked as one of our most popular articles since then.

Several stories this week prove the point Marshall and his co-authors were making, and so in our review of the week's top breaking links, let me share them with you.

First, a response to Paul Marshall's lectures in Australia, from Australia's 'best and worst' religion writer, as Barney Zwartz describes himself. It's a thoughtful blog post, and sums up the Australian context well. (Thanks to the Media Project for posting it)

Next, Chuck Colson this week has pointed out how media outlets are quick to pounce on any finding of our alleged drift away from religion but don't report it when the statistics point the other way. The figures he talks about are from Baylor University, and among other things, show that the percentage of Americans who are atheist – 4 percent – is the same as it was in 1944. You wouldn't think that from the media coverage. Good on the Wall Street Journal, for running an article by researcher Rodney Stark about his findings. 

The amount of space devoted to atheist views would seem to indicate they are everywhere, but the facts sometimes spoil a good story. Likewise, recently we linked to a gallup poll that showed Americans thought one quarter of the population was homosexual, when the real figure is 4 percent.

Having worked in the media for 30 years, I wouldn't put this down to conspiracy, as some do. I think it's an indication of the urban myth at work. Lazy journalists (or in some cases over-worked journalists with no time to check) fall back on cliches and caricatures, instead of consulting facts. Group think plays a part, too.

One person who has broken out of group think is Blaise Joseph, a 19 year old uni student who has written a thought-provoking piece for the Online Opinion site headlined "Why my generation is wrong about gay marriage'.

Elsewhere, the God-free 9/11 commemoration didn't eventuate. Even though they banned religious figures, it was the politicians who mentioned the G-word. President Obama read Psalm 46 in its entirety, Rudi Giuliani quoted Ecclesiastes while George Bush read from an Abraham Lincoln letter about God comforting the bereaved. Why did Obama read Psalm 46 (even though he mispronouced bows)? Yahoo knows.

Finally, a must read colum from the New York Times. David Brooks writes an article titled "If it feels right..." It concerns social researchers who asked young americans about their moral choices. To quote from Brooks 

When asked to describe a moral dilemma they had faced, two-thirds of the young people either couldn’t answer the question or described problems that are not moral at all, like whether they could afford to rent a certain apartment or whether they had enough quarters to feed the meter at a parking spot. When asked about wrong or evil, they could generally agree that rape and murder are wrong. But, aside from these extreme cases, moral thinking didn’t enter the picture, even when considering things like drunken driving, cheating in school or cheating on a partner. “I don’t really deal with right and wrong that often,” is how one interviewee put it.

Brooks is careful to say this is not just another example of Generation Y bashing. It is a serious, balanced study. The trend it exposes, which may be the same in Australia, is frightening. A must read.




Russell Powell has more than 30 years experience across all forms of media, with a long career as one of Australian radio's most prominent journalists and presenters. He was one of the pioneers of the ABC's NewsRadio network. As well as his on-air work, he has taught at the Australian Film, TV and Radio School. He is now the CEO of Anglican Media Sydney and the Archbishop of Sydney's Media Adviser.


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