Pod people: Faith vs. (one-sided) facts, round II

What do you know? It’s almost midnight here in Baltimore, the eye of Hurricane Irene is just off the coast of Maryland and I still have power. How long can that last?

So let me take a moment or two to alert others — especially those who are burning hurricane lamps — that this past week’s GetReligion podcast is now up on iTunes and on our site (click here to listen to it in a browser).

On one level, this podcast is about my recent critique of the CNN news feature about an evangelical ministry that attempts to help men and women escape their addictions to pornography, the post with the headline, “CNN on porn: Smart people vs. Bible folks.”

But what this discussion is really about was my snark attack on a form of journalism that really gets under my skin. It’s the story that looks balanced, but really pits faith-based quotes on one side against supposedly fact-based quotes on the other — with no real interaction between the two sides. The idea seems to be that progressives are smart and religious traditionalists are, well, not so much dumb (that would be judgmental), but sadly naive.

In reality, it the questions — including valid questions — raised by the critics of this ministry who are quoted by CNN are never really answered. Readers cannot even tell if the questions were ever asked, with the criticized having a chance to offer (or not offer) fact-based answers to their critics.

In the post, I argued that this format looks like this:

* Evangelicals describe their ministry, which centers on faith in the Bible, etc.

* A smart critic from a name-brand university or seminary, speaking on behalf of the vague and omnipresent “many religious scholars,” says that the leaders of the ministry are simplistic and naive in their approach to the Bible and the issues at hand.

* More commentary from the evangelical ministry leaders, but without any direct response from scholars on their side of the biblical issues to the comments of the brilliant name-brand scholar from secular and/or liberal Christian academia.

* More commentary from another critic of the ministry with roots in name-brand academia who does similar work (in this case with believers wrestling with pornography) and believes the evangelicals are naive and simplistic.

* Final faith-based words from the evangelicals, once again with no responses to the issues raised by the critics.

Now here is the question that I hope sends readers to the podcast: What does all of this have to do with the fiery, bloody 1993 siege that ended with the deaths of all of those strange believers who were living in the Branch Davidian compound near Waco?

Enjoy the podcast.

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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.