Restoring my faith in media balance

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  • December 5, 2013

As a young lad, I remember coming home after being teased at school and my mother immediately asking me what was wrong.

After listening to my tale of woe, she offered this simple advice: “The next time you’re being teased be thankful because it means someone else is not being teased since they’re busy with you.”

That was a bit of a head-scratcher for a pre-teen boy, yet it has always stuck with me. It was a true Christian way of looking at things; turn the other cheek, sacrifice for others, and those sorts of things.

These days, I often think of her advice when reading/viewing media material about Christianity, particularly the Catholic Church. In the Western world, is there any other religion that is so consistently and negatively portrayed by mainstream media? Maybe it sounds a bit paranoid, but it’s not like you even need to look very hard for media coverage that dumps on Christianity and the Church. (I am not saying the Church has not deserved criticism, especially for its handling of abuse cases, but sometimes it feels like secular media can find nothing good about the Church.)

This month’s issue of Vanity Fair magazine has a lengthy and gossipy article entitled “The Vatican’s Secret Life” in which it delves into the so-called “gay lobby” in the Curia. With healthy doses of “unnamed gay priests and monks” cited as sources, the article would have readers believe that the Vatican is not much more than a Roman bathhouse. It is salacious reading.

But here’s the rub: Amidst all the lively writing about sexual encounters and towel-clad men, the author barely mentions Pope Francis’ vow to expunge any corruption that exists in the Curia. Indeed, the Pope has already made significant moves to clean up misdeeds, from the Vatican bank to Church hierarchy.

And if there are officials in the Curia who could be targets of extortionists because of sexual secrets, that is just the sort of thing Francis and his lieutenants will be ferretting out. But Vanity Fair knows readers would rather read rumours about a “gay lobby” pulling strings in the Vatican than anything to suggest otherwise.

Just after reading this attack, a friend on Facebook posted a link to the popular web site Salon.com and an article entitled: “Jesus’ Resurrection: What really happened?” The friend simply noted that the piece is “powerful.”

Oh, brother, here we go again, I thought. Another piece of journalism attacking the foundation, the very core, of our faith. But, like driving past a car accident, I simply had to look. And I am glad I did.

The piece is a lengthy excerpt from a new book called Jesus: The Human Face of God by Jay Parini, a professor of English at Middlebury College in Vermont. And this was no attack, but a thought-provoking exploration of events from the crucifixion on Good Friday to the Resurrection on Easter Sunday through to His Ascension 40 days later.

Parini plots out why accounts of the Resurrection are not identical through Scripture and why Jesus’ followers and loved ones did not immediately recognize Him in His resurrected form. Parini concludes the reason for that is that it was a resurrection, not a resuscitation. For someone like me with no formal theological training, Parini’s arguments were both educational and enlightening.

“Jesus put before human beings an example, a way to reconcile with God, the source of creation, the ground of all being,” Parini writes. “Overall, the Resurrection represents, for me, a joy that is probably diminished by a reading of this event that fails to embrace the mystical aspect, the idea that the transfigured body of Jesus defies human comprehension.

“Perhaps Doubting Thomas needed a physical manifestation, and some people still do. But the Gospel writers repeatedly suggest that the risen Jesus confounded everyone, and that different people regarded this part of the story in different ways — even at the time, among His closest associates. Jesus Himself seemed to revel in the mystery, as on the road to Emmaus. He didn’t expect, even wish for, instant recognition.”

Reading this article resuscitated, in part, my long-held belief that journalism strives for balance, even when it comes to Christianity. It brought me back to the greatest trip of my life, to the Holy Land, in which I walked the ground trod by Jesus. And, the book has just been added to my Christmas wish list.

(Brehl is a writer in Port Credit, Ont., and can be reached at bob@ abc.ca.)

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