January 27, 2019

Faith Section In Your Local Paper?

newspaper machines

I realize that local newspapers are considered obsolete by many people these days. While it is clear that few of us rely on them for national or world news, many do still provide us with an effective way to get local news. Unfortunately, my local paper is not one of them. It tends to mention local events for the first time after they have taken place, and that does not help much when it comes to identifying those I might like to attend. This is the main reason I no longer subscribe to it.

If you are familiar with your local newspaper, I am curious about whether it has a section devoted to religion. My local paper has a section called "Faith and Values" that appears every Saturday. As might be expected from my location (i.e., Mississippi), it is exclusively Christian and mostly Southern Baptist. Moreover, it clearly and explicitly promotes Christianity in the community. Some of what appears in it includes blatant proselytizing; however, much of it simply involves church-related news.

I have lived in many other states where local newspapers did something like this, but some would occasionally print op-ed articles written by non-Christians and even atheists in this section. Not surprisingly, this often seemed to infuriate some Christians, prompting them to write crazy letters to the editor. My local paper does not include material written by atheists in this section, but it did print some op-ed articles written by a local atheist in the Opinion section several years ago. These generated some lively discussion on the paper's Internet forums. Most of the discussion was civil, but there was often a sense that local Christians would prefer not to be exposed to what atheists think. It is almost as if simply being reminded that we exist is interpreted as a lack of respect for their religion.

This may surprise you, but I really don't have a problem with having a religion section in my local paper. I wish they would call it something other than "Faith and Values" because these terms, when used together, have an unpleasant political connotation. I also grow tired of the implication that religious faith is somehow necessary for someone to have values. We all know that isn't the case. I'd also like to see broader content rather than having it be so Christian-focused. Then again, I realize that the overwhelming majority of people here are evangelical fundamentalist Christians and that many of them would oppose anything else.

What I'd really like to see in the future would be some explicit efforts by those responsible for this section to inform readers that not all of their neighbors are evangelical fundamentalist Christians. Over time, I think that could help to reduce some of the ignorance and bigotry. I remember seeing other papers do something like that, and I always thought it was nice to see. Perhaps it could even become a space where atheism is gradually normalized.

An early version of this post appeared on Atheist Revolution in 2008. It was revised and expanded in 2019.