Religion writers get burnt out easily

Published December 3rd, 2007 by Bobby Henderson


Reuters has published an article about the trend of religion journalists quitting their jobs.

Covering religion may be harmful to your faith. Two leading religion journalists — one in Britain, one in the United States — have quit the beat in recent months, saying they had acquired such a close look at such scandalous behaviour by Christians that they lost their faith and had to leave.

Journalist Stephen Bates has recently stepped down as religious affairs writer for the London Guardian. He’s just published an article about what he’s seen at that post over the last seven years. The article is up here at New Humanist magazine, and it’s very good.

Bates ends his position with this:

Now I am moving on. It was time to go. What faith I had, I’ve lost, I am afraid – I’ve seen too much, too close. A young Methodist press officer once asked me earnestly whether I saw it as my job to spread the Good News of Jesus. No, I said, that’s the last thing I am here to do.

We talked about this phenomenon of mainstream-religion-burnout a while ago. I mentioned some issues – the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, interference in schools and government – and I received a bunch of emails from readers full of more reasons people are walking away.

I think it’s a good thing. Freedom of religion means freedom from religion, too. For the first time in history, it’s becoming socially acceptable to be a non-believer, or a believer in a non-mainstream religion.

If the big religions want to keep their members, they’re going to need to do more to keep them. That means holding their worst members accountable for their actions.

I am happy to say that I’ve never become disillusioned by writing about the actions of Pastafarians.

The Reuters article can be found here.

The Reuters article is basically just pointing to Bates’ New Humanist article here. So if you’re going to read one of them, read this one.

58 Responses to “Religion writers get burnt out easily”

  1. Alchemist says:

    At the Prophet :)

    Bobby – how about some guidelines as to what is acceptable and what isn’t?
    Hate speech for example? I’m pretty sure most of the posters here are intelligent and will understand the implications to the site owner (ie you) with regards to defamation and liable.
    Not everyone will though.
    The consensus (well, from the folks I’m in touch with anyway) is that full moderation will kill the site.
    As long as a debate can be carried out in real time I doubt anyone would complain about spam, hate speech etc. being removed.
    Please keep it in real time though – I’ve lost a few posts recently, they were decent ones too – not daft!

  2. Mike Meier says:

    Nice article. I can see how he would loose his faith in religion in general, but hopefully his own religious beliefs were based on more than his opinion of other people and how they behave. On the other hand, I would agree if someone posted to say that most people are religious because friends and family are, and not because they have actually studied their own religion.

  3. Jennyanydots says:

    I agree with the other comments made on the time lag, but with so many of us in different time zones, it’s inevitable unless Bobby never sleeps or goes out of the house – he can’t possibly read everything as soon as it arrives. That being the case, the toggle seems like a good solution. If it doesn’t work out long term, is there scope for several volunteer moderators to work in a team?

  4. neal says:

    Whatever is done with moderation, let’s not lose the comments of the fundies, even if they’re hateful, they’re also extremely entertaining and a spur for responses. Without their hate mail, the site would become a series of pasta based theological puns (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but let’s not let that be the entire diet.)

    I dont care if certain love birds are using the site either. Kinda cute, actually.

  5. rmw says:

    @Prophet bobby–while I’m still not a huge fan of moderation, I do appreciate your response, as well as the fact that it was an actual, reasoned response, and not just “because I said so.” And thank you for working on it.
    @Old Grouch–while the behavior of the priests, et al. was human, in many cases, these people were supposed to be the right and moral representatives of their god. When a priest molests children, and the church looks the other way, and indeed gets parishoners to support said priest; or when people disown their children for defying a belief, I can see how such actions, especially repeatedly witnessed or told about, could cause a crisis or outright repudiation of faith. While my beliefs differ from these men’s, I have no doubt this caused them great pain.

  6. neal says:

    You know if there is to be moderation, we could do it the way the Catholic Church used to do it. Every book that was published in a Catholic country had either the latin phrase “Imprimatur” (let it be printed) OR “nihil obstat (nothing stand in the way of it being published).

  7. Old Grouch says:

    @rmw You have certainly focused on the crux of the problem. It is extremely difficult to differentiate between the intangibles – one might even say,”invisibles” – of faith and the altogether too often very visible and tangible matters of behavior on the part of those who profess a faith.
    What certainly is a part of the problem, and serves also to compound its ultimate effects, is the idea that “journalism” is, somehow, supposed to be something “neutral”; and the “journalist” as person also perceived to have “neutrality” in experiencing, as well as reporting, events. Having edited/published a few minor periodicals over the years, I do know a bit about the fallacies, and problems, in those ideas.
    One of the most difficult of all human quandries comes at the time one is faced with the choice of “phase out” or “burn out”. This choice is always made even more difficult by the whole of the society’s approach to employment/committment; and altogether too often, that which might be a satisfactory form of “phase out” is forced into a much more damaging “burn out”, which could be the case here as well.

    As to the posting questions/positions: Since I am only an occasional surfer/visitor here, I really don’t have all that much right to comment; other than to say that, as is true all over the Internet, this website and blog are, in the end, the property of the person who pays for their existence, and who has agreed to the terms and conditions of the carrier/provider who keeps the site operational. With that in mind, I do think it would be nice to have some form of “real-time” response availability; and some specifics concerning what is, and is not, suitable/permissible for posting. These latter would be in conformity with the provider’s rules, of course. But, the life of a blog – at least insofar as I have observed over time – very much depends upon its openness, within the paramaters of its own context.
    Cerainly, while there are blogs restricted to particular interests, and to those who evidence a genuine personal interest in the subject; nevertheless, blogs which become no more than “mutual admiration societies” do tend to sort of “dry up”, and ultimately disappear. And, too many little personal restrictions are almost a certain sign of a blog’s eventual demise.
    My example here would be one large website who offered a “chat-room”, or “coffee-house” blog, in addition to subject blogs such as are presented here. The editor/moderator posted a whole set of new rules and regulations – mostly prohibiting even basic greetings, and/or particular posts directed to any other individual, along with specific instructions as to how postings to the subject blogs were to be constructed as well. I used to have a “bookmark” to the site, as there were interesting subject postings from time to time. Today, there is little left, both of subject or of personal presences.
    I would hate to see the Flying Spaghetti Monster vanish away.

    (Please feel free to just cut out any of the latter you wish, as I know that the whole is merely a matter of personal opinion on an already well rehearsed subject.)

    Thanks for your patience. Happy Holiday Season to all.

  8. Angel R. Deras says:

    Being that all religions have their Pontificus Maximus, I nominate Mr. Potato Head as ours. Since 300 Million or so Spanish speaking call the Catholic Pontificus Maximus “El Papa”, I suggest we address ours as “La Papa”. The Vicar of the FSM Church should dress in full pirate regalia


    Notice that La Papa dresses in plastics sartorial elegance and not in the gold laden vestiments of the his playmate El Papa

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