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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Letter of the Day

posted by on June 14 at 10:27 AM


EDITOR: I am most likely late in writing this, as I have recently been traveling, but I was very upset by “A Month of Sundays.” Not because I am conservative, or religious (hear me out), but because the very people who felt so like outsiders going into the services wrote of their subjects as if all church-goers were from Mars.

I, like many of the journalists, am a secular humanist (though I hesitate to define myself in any way). My father was raised Catholic and my mother Methodist and sometimes when they were feeling guilty they would drag my brother and me to church (Episcopalian or Unitarian or whatever) for Christmas or Easter, but it was never really serious. Both my parents are now wonderfully accepting secular humanists.

“A Month of Sundays” seems incongruous to your publication mostly because the majority of the article is intolerant and biased. The authors report feelings of surprise and gratitude at the sense of community they see in the congregations, yet they adopt a clearly mocking tone about the people who inspire such feelings. Some of the authors clearly admire the officiants, yet they leave the services early to enjoy beautiful weather rather than fulfill their journalistic duties. Seattle is not a church-going city, as observed by Dan Savage in the introduction to the article, and so it seems obvious that many congregants would be elderly, ascribing to values from waning generations. Yet the authors hardly bother to explore the motives of the people drawn to service, whether it be because of tradition or because some people need a sense of community. (Or because some people actually believe in God. Should we absolutely write them off because of that?)

The dark side of all organized religions is plain to see all over the world. Some people of all creeds, religions, orientations, etc, etc. are not doing good, are not tolerant, are not kind, but some are. And it is not the duty of the journalist to find the good people, but it is the duty of the journalist to look at each and every one as if he or she could be any which way, and report in a manner that lets the reader decide. “A Month of Sundays” approaches the task of appraising Sunday worshippers as if they are the worst Seattle has to offer, only rarely allowing the church- (or mosque, or synagogue) goers to prove themselves otherwise. Haven’t we all had grandparents or teacher or elders whom we respect, who on Sundays might possibly have been a friendly old person in church?

In our own progressive, secular personal lives, we all laugh at the televangelists, and we despair about the people who blow up other people in the name of religion. In attempting to write a piece of journalism, however, please do not let your writers forget to be journalists. Don’t let the personal lives of the writers get the better of the story.

I have not been to church in years. I am lucky because I have a supportive, active community of my own. But I beg of you, who teach and preach tolerance in this terribly intolerant country, to reach outside of yourselves and give everyone a chance. Even the people who make it to church in Seattle. Judge not, lest you be judged. I mean that in a secular, fair, journalistic sense.

Kate deBuys

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"Donít let the personal lives of the writers get the better of the story. "

She has obviously never heard of gonzo journalism.

Posted by Original Monique | June 14, 2007 10:39 AM

A fair point.

Posted by Carollani | June 14, 2007 10:41 AM

Dear Kate -

Why don't you go to 30 churches and tell them the same thing?

It is their turn to exercise journalistic fairness - or any kind of fairness, kindness, or objectivity.

Cry me a river.

Posted by patrick | June 14, 2007 10:42 AM

There are journalists working at The Stranger?

Posted by Sally Struthers Lawnchair | June 14, 2007 10:42 AM

If that article was intolerant and biased, we could use a little more of that kind of intolerantness in the world today. And it's not like this was some hard-hitting investigative journalism that will throw the church into disarray here. It was just a couple paragraphs about each place and personal impressions of it. Can you say "over-sensitive"?

Posted by Tiffany | June 14, 2007 10:43 AM

Bias? At The Stranger? Nooooooo.

I hate the idea that any journalist is impartial or unbiased. The definition of unbiased journalism is, "Conforming to the most widely accepted biases." At least papers like The Stranger are up front about their biases.

Posted by Gitai | June 14, 2007 10:45 AM

She does have a point. While this isn't typical hard news or feature journalism, it still seems a bit harsh to go into something - supposedly open-minded - only to mock the people involved.

It's like staring in at caged monkeys, hoping they'll fling some shit around so you can have a laugh, and when they don't - you fling shit on them and then point them out.

Posted by Sam | June 14, 2007 10:45 AM

I think the writer makes a very good point, but I think the kind of objective journalism she desires has long since died, with the possible exception of the AP, Reuters, or BBC wire services.

My only complaint regarding the article is with the Romans, or whomever, invented the 30 day month. As was pointed out earlier, there were a lot of religions and denominations I would like to have read more about.

FWIW, I don't have a problem with people who believe in God anymore than I do with people who believe in Bigfoot, UFOs, and the Loch Ness Monster. Just because I haven't seen any evidence that they exist, I am not 100% prepared to say they don't. I don't mind people who believe in God, I just wish they wouldn't be so religious about it.

Posted by elswinger | June 14, 2007 10:50 AM

People who believe in imaginary sky fairies have no compunction against mocking the beliefs of others who believe in different sky fairies than theirs, or the beliefs of those who don't believe in any sky fairies at all, so they deserve all the mockery they receive in return.

Posted by Hard Atheist | June 14, 2007 10:52 AM

if you can look past the mocking it's actually a funny and interesting article. and I for one could look past it.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 14, 2007 10:56 AM

I found that the mocking in the piece was more directed at the services/leaders than the congregations. I guess that's a fine line but it's an important one. Giving a movie a bad review is different than mocking the other movie-goers.

In addition, this piece wasn't some sort of lofty journalistic endeavor. It was giving a Seattle community, Stranger-readers who mainly view organized religion as something between an anachronism and a cancer, a glimpse into what life is like for other Seattle communities. Bias is fine in a piece like that provided that it's readers are aware of it.

Anyone not aware of the Stranger's biases at this point?

Posted by dirge | June 14, 2007 10:56 AM

dirge @ 11,

Very well said. I thought the article was typical for the Stranger's POV, and the Stranger writers mock themselves fairly regularly, so perhaps the letter writer simply isn't familiar with their style.

That said, it's easy for non-believers to feel like we're constantly under seige by Christians, especially since the Talibangelicals took over the Republican Party. Here locally for example, we have the Mars Hill cult claiming that they're going to out-breed everyone and take over the city to impose Old Testament style hell on Earth. Pretty small-time megalomania by today's standards, but a threat nonetheless.

Posted by Original Andrew | June 14, 2007 11:09 AM

i find the CFC way worse than Mars Hill. Simply because their followers are stupid and useless and need to believe that god wants them to be rich because they are so poor.

Posted by Bellevue Ave | June 14, 2007 11:20 AM

I have to say it was good to see Cienna Madrid writing for the Stranger again.

Dan, if Cienna was really the Stranger's Worst Enemy (TM) you should have made her do to all 30 churches by herself. Maybe next year?

Posted by elswinger | June 14, 2007 11:25 AM

Hmm... I read the article and (being a non-religious non-church-going person) interpreted it as, if I were to go to one of these churches this Sunday, what would my experience be like? What would I see? What might I think? So, I thought it was spot on. I would probably be a little uncomfortable, laugh at some things, be surprised by others, and moved by others. Which, is exactly what the writers portrayed, I thought (not hard-hitting objective journalism).

Great job, guys, the piece was excellent....

Posted by Julie | June 14, 2007 11:25 AM

The author of the letter is exactly right. Making fun of things many people find a lot of happiness and support in, is just not productive and contrary to the open-mindedness you promote in almost every article and blog post.

Sure, there are nutty churches with a lot of really crazy things, like the creation museum and James Dobson & all. Thing is, there are also lots of cool churches out there, who host the homeless and invite gays and their families in to be full members without blinking an eye. But you conflated them all, and you made all religion out to be a joke. It isn't. Take note of the above comments, and let people know more about the great variety that really has something for everyone. Everyone, that is, who has room in their heads for something perhaps greater than their own ultra-hip ego.

Posted by calvin | June 14, 2007 12:07 PM

Secular humanist my ass. She just prefaced with that in a pathetic attempt to give her tired we-get-no-respect take some credibility.

That's clearly a Christian who, at best, is going through a non-Christian phase and will be back in church suckling on the evnagelicals' proverbial tits shortly. More likely, to claim she is not religious and takes no interest in defending their faith is flat out bullshit.

Nice try, bullshitter.

Posted by Gomez | June 14, 2007 12:16 PM

...and you made all religion out to be a joke. It isn't.

But it is.

Posted by PdxRitchie | June 14, 2007 12:40 PM

what is a "church"?

Posted by adrian! | June 14, 2007 1:02 PM

Bullshit... churches and religion are all ABOUT personal lives, and it's impossible and undesirable to write about them without a personal slant.

Posted by Katelyn | June 14, 2007 1:43 PM

Agree with #6: Pretending you're unbiased is just making a better effort to hide your biases. It's sinister to suggest there's some level of untainted and Obviously Correct form of reporting being done out there. Some are definately more so than others, of course.

Most of those pieces weren't mean spirited in any way. At their worst, their tone was exactly the sort you'd expect to read from any good, unbiased, professional journalist reporting on, say, a Plushy Convention, or crusty punk show, tranvestite sushi bar. I'd expect all these reports to be fair and reasonable, but definately biased by culture, and biased by the writer's feelings of being an outsider - just as many of the stories in the article were.

Posted by Dougsf | June 14, 2007 2:23 PM

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