Beginning, or end, of religion news?

clinton esquireI’m not sure this is quite the direction I want to see religion coverage veer in mainstream media, but I have to admit that I enjoyed The Dallas Morning News’ “Take our ‘Faith of the Famous’ quiz” feature this weekend. I also learned a few things and, I have to admit, this funny little celebrity feature does show how wacky the modern religious marketplace has become in what I call the age of Oprah America.

The piece, such as it is, was written by Los Angeles freelance writer Sarah Price Brown, who confesses — in writing — that the celebrity quiz idea was lifted from religion writer Tom Schaefer of The Wichita Eagle in Kansas.

Here is the setup:

From Hollywood stars to politicians to pro athletes, the rich and famous live their lives in plain view. But the public usually knows more about what an actress wore to the Emmys, what speaking gaffe an elected official made, or how many points a superstar scored in a game than it knows about what the prominent and powerful really think.

The famous are cultural icons, after all. They’re symbols that stand for something larger than themselves. But they’re also human, with their own thoughts and beliefs about religion, spirituality and the meaning of life. How much do you know about the faith of the famous?

The problem, of course, is that the list is full of silly but famous people and a fair share of serious but famous people, and it is very hard to read the quotations featured in the test and then figure out who said or did not say what. Consider this frightening example:

“I don’t have to worry about what people think of me, whether they hate me or not. People hated on Jesus. They threw stones at him and tried to kill him, so how can I complain or worry about what people think?”

Karl Rove
Tom Cruise
Terrell Owens
Snoop Dogg

And all the people said: “Whoa.”

Or how about this one?

“Probably because of my failings and mistakes in life I’m a much bigger believer in redemption. … I’m much more of a believer in a loving God, a personal God. I’m much less inclined in every way to believe in a vengeful God.”

Robert Downey Jr.
Willie Nelson
John McCain
Bill Clinton

Check it out. Has anyone seen any other novelty features of this kind featued in the news pages of a major newspaper or magazine?

Personal note: No way that I’m telling anyone my score on this confounded thing.

Personal No. 2: I will happily change the photo, if it offends. It is interesting that the old St. Bill image drew such a strong response, since I think we have run it in the past. I found it with a simple Google search for “Clinton” and “saint.”

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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.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I got 10 out of 20. Is that good or bad? :-)

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    I’d gently point out that the DMN is not limiting religion coverage to fun features…1:-{)>
    See, fer instance also from this weekend:
    As you can see, we’re still willing to kill a forest of trees to offer play-by-play on the Episcopal Church…

    No kidding — t’ain’t an either/or question. We’ve always worked to balance the coverage in the section. Some heavy theology, some lighter features.
    (And I’m not telling my score, neither…)

  • tmatt


    Hey man, couldn’t you tell my post was written in irony mode?

    I honestly thought it was a nice addition to the mix.

    And looking forward to your future photo essay on the beauty of nondenominational megachurches in the Dallas area. That’ll be fun, too.

  • dpulliam

    So I’ll be honest and say that I got 30 percent correct.

    What I found most fascinating about the survey were the possible answer line-ups and how you could plausibly think that Bill Clinton and John McCain said the same thing along with Karl Rove and Terrell Owens, or Phil Jackson and Bart Simpson. It is pretty revealing about our culture.

  • Julie D.

    I have been watching the DMN religion section coverage lessen over the last few months … to me this belonged in the GuideLive which carries all their celebrity gossip stuff.

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Nondenom churches? And the people *really* say: Whoa.
    That would atually make a funny foto feech. identify the church in this picture. Then get an office park, a small industrial site, and Fellowship Church Grapevine.
    Reunion Arena, the AA Center, and Prestonwood (which is Baptist but architectually arena-like).

    And yeah, I knew you were poking gentle fun.

  • Jack O’Neill

    25%. I got Britney Spears, Paris Hilton, and Hugh Hefner, so what passes for my mind is shallow enough to see through.

  • Raider51

    Hey, I feel like a success at 60%!

  • John Hollandsworth

    One of my favorites:

    “Who is Yom Kippur? Is that the name of the new Japanese designer?”

    –attributed to Kathy Ireland by 2006 Stupidest Things Ever Said Calendar

  • FzxGkJssFrk

    I got 65%, myself. And I got the first one wrong; inexcusable, really.

  • James

    Does anyone else think that the “Sacred Heart of Bill” image is sacriligous?

  • Corita

    My first thought was not “Sacrilege!” (sp?), but rather,

    “Dear God, how frightening! And to think: now that I have seen that image, it is permanently stored in my memory somewhere!”

  • Larry Rasczak

    Does anyone else think that the “Sacred Heart of Bill” image is sacriligous?

    Well that’s tough. At first I thought, “Tmatt was going to get to visit a very special circle of Purgatory for that one”.

    Then it occured to me that there are a lot of people who, sadly enough, actually think that way. Perhaps not consciously, but that is certianly how they write, act, and vote.

    That made me view it as very good satire, making an excellent point in an unusual (albeit nauseating) way. With luck someone will see it an realize they need to re-order their priorities.

    It does still turn my stomach though.

  • cheryl

    35%! I’m so proud.

    I too find the Sacred Heart of Bill image quite disturbing.

    Just one comment about the link to TMatt’s interview about “taking communion at the mall.”

    That reminded me that when I was a kid (late 60s early 70s) there actually WAS a Catholic chapel at our local mall, and it was often packed for Mass. It has long since been replaced by a Houlihan’s or some such chain, which is kind of sad. A few decades back it apparently did occur to more than a few people that they needed to take time out from shopping (on weekdays!) to pray and go to Mass.

    By the way, this is the same mall where George Romero made the cult classic film Dawn of the Dead (but that is neither here nor there).

  • Jeffrey Weiss

    Say, Matt: Where *did* you find that Clinton image?

  • anne

    I really couldn’t read the post after seeing the picture. It is painful to see such a sacred image profaned like that. Calling it “satire” or “irony” doesn’t make it less offensive.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I think it was a real mistake to put the head of a known rapist, employee abuser, and convicted perjurer on the holy image of the Sacred Heart. If us Catholics out here were Moslems there’d be blood flowing and riots blossoming. And I usually have a good sense of humor about things religious. Maybe my reaction is because I find Bill Clinton so morally repulsive while the Sacred Heart is one of my favorite holy images of Christ.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Thank you for changing your illustration. I doubt if the mainstream media were called out on something like this that they would have the decency and integrity to make such a change. All they would probably give us is a lecture on First Amendment rights with a few insults along the way.

  • Kevin P. Edgecomb

    Hmm. I got a 65% based on only the stereotypes of these people that I’ve gotten through the media, of which I am decidedly not a reader of (so-called) entertainment (so-called) news. I’m not sure what’s the most disturbing aspect of that….

  • Gloria Huberman

    I got a 45% and was very proud of myself! I thought it was a great feature item.

  • Deborah

    I scored 70%. I’m not sure if that’s a good indicator or a bad one.

  • Roberto Rivera

    55% and I’m kinda ashamed that I scored that high.