Pod people: Treat religion news like crime news?

Did anyone else have a good time watching the Olympic’s opening ceremonies tonight? I learned a lot about how the British, or at least how the ones running the Olympics, see their own history.

Mr. Bean running in Chariots of Fire was fantastic. A glimpse of J.K. Rowling and several versions of Mary Poppins made me grin. There were even some hymns, but my Psalm-singing background caught the tune, few of the words. Bob Costas noted that many Muslims will compete during Ramadan, taking a variety of approaches to fasting during the season. Facts are interesting.

There were no references to the work of C.S. Lewis or J.R.R. Tolkein that I could tell, which is rather strange in a salute to great British literature for children, but you can’t hit everything, I suppose. I would have liked to see more religion in the history telling, but what can you do?

If you do see good coverage on the religion angles in the coming days, please do share them with us.

Anyway, most of you already know that we get all antsy about stories that don’t offer details about someone’s faith. Take a recent story from The Atlantic, for example, about one of the United State’s female boxers in the Olympics. I was casually reading the story as a print subscriber and like a true girl, I flipped to the story about the first female boxer right away. It combines everything, as an American woman, I’m supposed to love: The Olympics, America, women, strong women, boxing, something new, the first woman at something.

So I’m reading through, grinning and all of that, and then I hit this sentence.

The headphone dangling from her left ear was playing Christian hymns. She used to listen to Drake and Eminem, but she found that rap music riled her up too much before a fight. When she gets in the ring, she wants to be calm—to think about each punch, and never just throw it.

Wait, what?

She listens to Christian hymns? Besides getting her calm, when, where, why, how did she start that? Is it just something from her upbringing, or is there some faith element there? If she is a Christian, does she feel any tension between her faith and boxing? Or is everything a-OK? Or maybe she isn’t religious at all and just uses hymns to calm herself?

I don’t know. But I can’t tell anything specific from that sentence.

Why does this bring me to crime reporting?

Here’s the connection: I see this tendency among reporters to use intense tenacity when it comes to crime or courts reporting, getting all the facts, down to the address, the clothes, the color of eyes, important details, right. If they tried to pass a story without the details through an editor, they would get clobbered.

Yet when it comes to religion reporting, people are described as part of some bland religion. Maybe they’re Christian, maybe they’re Baptist. What kind of Baptist? You know, like President Bill Clinton and the Rev. Pat Robertson?

We’ll never know, at least from this story. Thank goodness for Google and Wiki, but really, shouldn’t reporters want to offer as many specifics as possible? Adding a faith element can turn a ho hum whatever story into a “Wait, what?!” story.

All of this brings me to last week’s podcast, which I failed to post on earlier. We talk about George Zimmerman’s and Trayvon Martin’s family’s vague remarks about God’s will. And then we talk about that weird Bloomberg Businessweek cover on Mormons and business.

It’s quite a fun discussion. You should listen.

Image of magnifying glass via Shutterstock.

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  • Jerry

    That’s a great point about crime reporting and religion reporting. Turning it around and a crime report would read something like:

    Today the police arrested Joe for a dastardly crime illustrating our suffering from an unprecedented crime wave of two crimes in the past year. Evidence was found at the crime scene. Joe’s brother’s wife is upset. The psychiatrist we always use blamed the crime on the puppy that Joe had when he was younger than now. A person we found loitering around our office was asked about the crime and said something about not expecting anything better from people named Joe.

  • JoFro

    “There was no CS Lewis or JRR Tolkein”

    Sarah, Sarah, Sarah, did we both watch the same opening ceremony? Yes, there was no CS Lewis, but did you not see the Lord of the Rings? The green shire dissapears, Isengard staring at me, with those smoking chimneys and the Ring is forged!! Tolkein was all over it.

    This article cleverly said in words what I was thinking!

  • MisterDavid

    Wait, you’re a religion reporter, and you missed the hymns, not to mention the whole symbolic use of Glastonbury Tor (where Jesus *visited* in childhood) as the focal point?!

    In any case, those in the US should know that one of the main stories of the opening ceremony was overtly religious: from its coverage NBC cut (in its entirety) the hymn Abide With Me, all 5 verses, sung in remembrance of victims of terrorism. Why? Religion ghosts perchance?!

    Here’s the excerpt:

    And, just for the record, the hymns I spotted:
    Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer
    Good Christian Men Rejoice
    Abide With Me

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    You guys have convinced me to do a follow up. To be continued! (Keep the tips coming)

  • Martha

    The boxing story did cover the religion angle very deep down into it; it explains that she was raised Catholic then started attending the non-denominational church (so presumably those are the ‘Christian hymns’ she listens to) – but nothing about why did she stop being Catholic, what is her family’s opinion (her father is mentioned as being involved in her boxing but nothing about what did he think about this), and not even a name for the church.

    Anyway, best wishes to our Olympic lightweight contender and medal hopeful, Katie Taylor!

  • Jerry

    “Abide With Me” was mentioned in http://abcnews.go.com/Sports/olympics/2012-london-olympics-begin-uk-history-lesson-complete/story?id=16873552&page=2 but I suppose ABC decided that viewers were not interested in religion.

    The cheers were interrupted with a somber moment that came as video screens showed photos of “friends and family who could not be here tonight” sent by audience members. With the atmosphere calmed, singer Emili Sande took the spotlight with the hymn “Abide With Me.”
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    Some of the loudest applause of the night was for soccer star David Beckham,



    Dark or dull in color or tone; gloomy.
    Oppressively solemn or sober in mood; grave:

    I guess remembering God in that context was gloomy and oppressively solemn to the reporter.

    And I guess remembering victims of terrorism is another ghost based on what that online ABC story indicated as generic losses selected from photos sent in by people.

  • Jerry

    Sarah, you got me started. I’m about to run out to the farmer’s market but I looked around a bit. Is this really true that Jerusalem is a “de facto national athem”?

    The ceremony opened with a scene inspired by the work of another English literary genius, the Romantic visionary poet and painter William Blake: Specifically, the preface to his epic “Milton a Poem” — “And did those feet in ancient time,” better known as “Jerusalem.”

    Written in 1804, the poem was set to music in 1916 by Sir Hubert Parry, and sung to bolster flagging spirits during the war years. With its lyric describing the establishment of a new Jerusalem in England, it has become England’s most recognized patriotic song, sung as a religious hymn and a de facto national anthem at many sporting events.


  • Jerry

    One more, billboard. There’s a few “songs” missing from the list although maybe they don’t consider hymns to be “songs”?


  • Jerry

    One last one and then I’m gone. Another “tradition”? I wonder what the meaning of singing hymns at sporting events might mean?

    Rising urban star Emili Sandé sang “Abide With Me,” the hymn traditionally sung at many U.K. sporting occasions, in a section dedicated to the victims of the London 7/7 bombings, which happened the day after London was announced as the Olympics host city in 2005.


  • http://ecben.wordpress.com Will

    “ENGLAND doesn’t have a national song. It’s all ‘Rule,Britannia’…. but for ENGLAND, all you have is ‘Jerusalem’…” — Flanders and Swann

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Martha, I zoned in on that one sentence. Good comments! Jerry, you are on a roll, my friend.

  • Julia

    It turns out that most of the pieces done by Mike Oldfield, the Tubular Bells guy, were recorded by him sometime ago.
    Example is this religious piece wrtten in the 1300s at the earliest – In Dulci Jubilo – which I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere. It was played while the kids and nannies danced around. Appears from the YouTube description that it was recorded at least by 2006.