The coverage of religion in news media is odd. Journalists in mainstream outlets tend to be dismissive of organised religion and frequently cite (clearly accurate) polls showing the decline in the numbers of the faithful and of church worship. Typical example here.
But religious and spiritual ideas – including agnostic and atheist arguments – and the struggles of the institutions which embody them speak to something beyond the daily round of news stories about politics and money. The sexual abuse cases haunting the Catholic church which reveal such astounding corruption of spiritual authority have had the effect of making that church better known throughout the world. Religion retains a capacity to occasionally move public events in surprising ways. When the Cold War was still a fact, who would have guessed that in the late 1980s a Polish Pope, John Paul II, would have been a factor in bringing about the largely peaceful collapse of the communist regimes? Ideas move slowly but powerfully.
Much of the best writing about organised religion isn’t in mainstream media but in magazines which are more user-friendly to ideas. Here are three pieces published in advance of Pope Benedict’s visit this week and all of which contain rich added value to make you think.
- First and perhaps most unusual is from the Irish novelist Colm Toibin and from the London Review of Books.
- Sympathetic piece making the case for the present Pope as an important European thinker from the American academic George Weigel in Standpoint.
- Lastly, the curious case of the Papal hijacking of Cardinal Newman, due to be beatified this week: John Cornwell in the Financial Times magazine.