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. rmw says:

    @Old Grouch–I think in many case, the invisible/intangible aspects of faith so completely intertwine with the tangible that it is nigh impossible to separate the two. And when you have something as large-scale and horrific as the priest sex-abuse scandal that has rocked numerous Catholic dioceses, and their congregations, it is unsurprising that this calls into question the faith of many people. Some people make a distinction between their faith/religion and the perpetrators of such acts, and go on believing, their faith perhaps shaken, but unbroken. Others, such as the authors of these articles, are disturbed to a point where they do not see a difference in the intangible and tangible, and their faith utterly collapses. What I’m trying to say is that it seems to be an individual response, but I can see why a person might have this type of crisis in response to scandals such as these.
    While I agree that there is a distinction between “phase out” and “burn out,” in my opinion, I think what these two authors experienced was burn-out. I see burn out as the effect of things continually piling up on one’s plate–either physically, emotionally, spiritually, or some combination thereof. Burn out has negative connotations applied to it, but after reading these articles, I think that is exactly what these men experienced. Phase out, on the other hand, I see more as a gradual, and perhaps “neutral” or at least, less negative, change in one’s perceptions. I think phase out comes with more learning of a topic/issue and can lead to a change in a person’s view, faith, etc. but does not necessarily come from a scandal or something similar.
    @Angela R. Deras–thanks for the link. It’s great.

  2. Old Grouch says:

    @rmw – I was thinking more in terms of continuing to do a job, when I spoke of phase-out and burn-out; of coming to the time at which one had to decide what to do to deal with the stress, or the routine/boredom, or whatever, that the job had now become, or that had now become too identified with the job for continued comfort and high performance.
    Unfortunately, the external pressures in life – just the whole matter of making a living at what one is doing – tend to be so intense as to make any attempt to deal with the internal changes of perception nearly impossible; and the result is burn-out. The individual not only gives up – or loses – the job, but also experiences loss of all sense of balance and ability to distinguish between the intangibles and the tangibles. And, yes. You are quite right, when you say that this has very negative connotations. Especially in the area of our Western idea of “work ethic”, where there is altogether too much value placed upon “bearing up under the load”, or “sticking with it”, or “keeping a stiff upper-chin”, as one of my old Professors often referred to the English approach. All these may be “ideals”, or “goals”, in the abstract. But in the concrete world of reality, they are, more often than not, merely absurdities.
    Learning how to deal with the pressures; as well as how to recognize, and evaluate, the changes both in experience and in perception, leads to the intelligent approach of phase-out. Which is a positive mode, in which the job itself is recognized as having limits, rather than being regarded as the identification of both the individual and his/her existence/life as such. And here, it is enough to acknowlege one’s own attitude towards matters such as “scandal”; and apply that insight properly when considering the worth, or necessity, of continuing to do the job. And again, yes. I believe you have correctly assessed the reasons why the authors wound up burning-out, rather than phasing-out, on the job they were doing.
    Perhaps the major problem in life itself is that of allowing one’s self to fall into the trap of identifying one’s self according to any singular, or particular, external label or category; be that “job”, “sport”, “religion”, “sexual orgasmic partner preference”, even “skin color” and/or “nationality”, or anything else. The individual is more than even the mere “sum of parts”; and certainly more than any one “part” only. But, that takes us rather far afield from here. Except to note that it was, and is, unfortunate that even the great intangible of faith can be lost – or perhaps one might better say, “misplaced” – when the externals become predominant.

  3. rmw says:

    @Old Grouch–you made a good point about self-identification. This was mentioned on another thread as well. (I’m sorry, I don’t remember by who or what thread.) I think by binding ourselves solely to jobs, nationality/ethnicity, sexuality, religion, etc., we do lose sight of who we really are. Yes, these play a role in making person, but do not give the full picture. And if anything changes, especially for the negative, it can throw a person into a tailspin. So, for example, perhaps if these men did not identify themselves by their religion, and instead, saw their beliefs/faith as a *component* of themselves, they would better be able to cope with the negative issues and scandals of organized religion. While they might have been disillusioned with religion, their core faith/beliefs might not have been so shaken as to crumble. They could’ve much easier re-evaluated their beliefs in that matter, and proceeded from there, in my opinion.

  4. mglcsw says:

    I have a Master’s degree. I use to be a very strong “church goin” Christian for many years. I have been an elder in a couple of churches. I have now seen the light. I am no longer a Christian. I do not believe in the christian god. On occasion I go to a Buddhist Temple for my spiritual needs. Keep up the good work FDM!!!

  5. mglcsw says:

    Ooops! FSM

  6. Captain Capelli d'angelo says:


    Not sure you can be an atheist and at the same time admit he exists by taking failt with what he/she/it did or did not do….

  7. Visiting JC Follower says:

    I’m just visiting this site, like going to church with a friend. If you visit church with me I know you won’t criticize in my place of worship so I’ll gladly extend that courtesy to you in here. I just want to say thanks for an interesting article. I love your insightful comment, “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.” So right on. It reminded me of the first time I went to a small church, and the congregation was struggling with how to deal with one of their members who was involved in an extramarital affair. I thought to myself, wow, these people are for real. (Not at all what I expected when I walked in the door looking for hypocrites.) If I were a preacher I could write a sermon on the importance of holding our own members accountable, while persisting in love toward non-believers. There are plenty of Biblical references for this, which I will spare you.

  8. anarkavre says:

    This reminds me of Young Goodman Brown.

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