Borden Spears is senior editor and editorial ombudsman for the Toronto Star, Toronto, Ontario. In this column in Canada’s largest newspaper, reprinted here by permission, he looked at the secular press’s treatment of religion.
The subject of religion comes off rather poorly in the press, not so much from want of attention as from a failure of comprehension.
Lack of understanding is not confined to the press—the most extreme of published misconceptions come from the people, in the form of letters to the editor—but it is reflected there.
Among press and people alike, religion is a subject as arcane as economics; such terms as atonement and redemption are as little understood as fiscal determinants and multiplying factors in the money flow. It’s a pity, if for no other reason than the impoverishment of dialogue.
Most newspapers are aware that religion is among the important news categories, like health and money.
The Star gave a demonstration one day last week when it assigned the main position on its front page to a nation-wide survey of religious attitudes in Canada. The survey confirmed what everyone had suspected, that in the past generation there has been a massive decline of confidence in organized religion and church leadership.
The heading on this news story ran: “Poll shows public forgetting religion”. And the heading on a second story, in which spokesmen for the churches were interviewed about the survey’s finding, said: “Public’s indifference to religion comes as no surprise to clergy”.
Both headings were wrong. They missed an essential point—that the people have lost confidence not in religion but in its traditionally organized forms. And they contradicted the story itself, which said:
“The opinion poll reveals that Canadians ...1
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