bless what is for being
*Religion reporting gratitude moment*
Religion can be a cause for people to do terrible, violent, really inhumane things. The rhetoric invoked by Russian authorities in the war in Ukraine is one example, but it’s far from an original Russian sin for state violence to co-opt religious language.
Religious power or spiritual authority seems to tap more deeply than anything into the ugliest parts of our selves— our self-righteousness, our pride, our vainty (oh, hello there, Milton's Satan. Didn't see you there.)
It's important to elucidate all of the darkness, to point to the deformations of power's corrupting influence, of pointing out blind spots, and hypocrisies. It’s important to cast a light at the ignored on the margins.
But one of the reasons I find myself grateful to be a religion reporter is that religion is made up of truly ordinary people—and a lot of them. And it's in the multitudes that I find so much encouragement and beauty.
Even in a monolithic religion, each adherent is so different. In one global religion, believers come from many different places, they have vastly different cultural norms (even in the United States), their sense of what is “normal,” what is “ordinary,” what is the natural way of living out their faith differs. To speak with each of them is to learn something new about something you thought you knew most everything about.
Religious institutions, sure, can become decrepit, even corrupt, they can inflict harm, they can offer up victims to keep their wheels turning and coffers filled.
But the people inside of them are often just so manifestly good. It is stunning to see people shining (even across a telephone line) like the sun. And that's what excites me about being a religion reporter as opposed to being a religion writer or being a pundit—or being any other kind of reporter and leaving religion to spheres outside my work (although trust me, it sounds tempting, often).
What excites me is because I find—even though I didn't start out believing this, and even though I'm not looking for it—that I am so often stopped in my tracks in awe of people dedicating their lives to things that they believe matter in a consistent, persistent, faithful manner, carrying on even when reporters are not looking and no one is shining a spotlight on them.
Shining a light on them, I feel, is one of the best things that I can do. Sometimes it feels like there's not enough goodness in the world, and it's a privilege to meet people who prove me wrong. You’d think reporters spend a lot of time discovering how bad people are, but what keeps you going is the desire to articulate how good people are, to tell the many surprising twists and turns of their story, how imaginative and creative people are in approaching the deepest questions of meaning in their life, and how the unique particulars of someone’s life offer a new way of imagining the world.