The Miracle Detective outs a believer

sullivan-miracle_detective.jpgDuring the 25 years or so I have been studying the religion beat, I have read more than my share of stories and statistics about media bias. It is still a subject that makes headlines several times a year, with roots running deep into the world of politics as well as religion.

But every now and then you run into someone whose take on this whole, tired, nasty topic breaks new ground. There is something about their experience that transcends the stereotypes and gives us a glimpse of the larger reality — which is that religious faith, in and of itself, drives lots of people in the MSM absolutely nuts. Traditional, ancient forms of religious faith are even worse.

Take, for example, the story of Rolling Stone scribe Randall Sullivan — author of several well-received works of contemporary journalism. He is also the author of The Miracle Detective, a (to me) remarkable volume in which he investigates the Roman Catholic authorities who investigate miracle stories.

What’s the problem? Sullivan tells the story in a first-person essay in Points, the weekly commentary magazine at The Dallas Morning News. It’s edited by friend of this blog Rod Dreher. Here is how Sullivan begins:

When my book The Miracle Detective was published last spring, I felt as if I had come out of the closet. I wasn’t revealing some secret sexual identity, but rather violating a more contemporary taboo — the one against making a public statement about private experiences that result in religious faith.

This prohibition is especially powerful in my particular workplace environment, where the term “religious nut” is a redundancy. If there’s one thing that the vast majority of my colleagues can agree upon, it’s that nobody in his or her right mind would join the ranks of the devout, at least not openly. Churchgoers, after all, are so obviously pathetic, so patently deluded, so totally uncool.

And there I was identifying myself as the worst of this sort, not only writing sympathetically about miraculous claims and mystical experiences, but actually making it clear that my investigation of such phenomena had resulted in a profound respect for certain reports of supernatural contact. My greatest folly, though, was to describe my own numinous moments and how they led me to convert to Christianity.

You have to read the whole essay, if only to enjoy the bittersweet humor of Sullivan — a longtime political progressive — getting stiffed at a reading when he refuses to mock the faith of President George W. Bush. Then there’s his visit to the Air America program of Janeane Garofalo.

Well, at least someone in Hollywood liked the book. There are, after all, lots of theaters in red zip codes. I wonder if it is Icon Productions that is considering bringing The Miracle Detective to the big screen.

And what is the bottom line in this story? Here is Sullivan again:

I was discovering something a lot of people on the right already understand very well, and that is the depth and breadth of America’s cultural divide, especially when it comes to religion. Back when Publishers Weekly praised The Miracle Detective as the rare book “that should appeal to believers and skeptics alike,” I imagined I could bridge this divide. I had a lot to learn.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Stephen A.

    He’s in hostile territory, and now he knows it and they know about his little “secret.”

    Expressing any religious faith in the workplace can be a dangerous thing, especially if you’re surrounded by raving fundie secularists. Then, the knives are out for you. It’s probably more visible in the varous news media because we see the results so clearly: undeniable slant.

    As far as the media is concerned, are you optimistic that eventually, some balance will come and there will be gradual change? I don’t know if you or anyone here has discussed that before.

  • http://www.anotherthink.com Charlie

    It goes back to the title of your blog, Terry. Yes, there is bias in the media, but perhaps more crippling is that most of the media just don’t get religion, and really don’t want to get it, either. No amount of “neutrality” in the approach to a religion story can overcome the fundamental skepticism and distaste held by the writer for the subject matter. And it shows.

    Sullivan’s book sounds fascinating and I hope it becomes more widely read and promoted by evangelicals. I’m certainly going to read it.


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