Get ready to add a new website to your daily reading list. So far at least, the Real Clear Religion website, a sister site to Real Clear Politics, is producing some quality religion news aggregation. Real Clear Religion editor Jeremy Lott explains the new site in a blog post.
Religion is serious and silly, scandalous and sublime. Religion writing ought to reflect this reality. Too often, it doesn’t. That’s a problem because religion is vitally important to billions of people the world over. It gives them a way to think about making sense of things, forming families, helping others, and helping themselves.
RealClearReligion.org aims to change this. We want to improve religion writing by highlighting the best of it, by giving interested parties a daily shortlist of news and commentary that they really ought to check out. We will cover religion in itself and religion as it influences those things that we can’t avoid: religion and science, religion and culture, religion and commerce, religion and politics.
Now that you have added the site to your bookmarks or RSS feeds and maybe “liked” the site on Facebook, we wanted to pick Lott’s brain about religion news.
First things first, here’s a short bio: Lott is the author of three books, most recently William F. Buckley (part of Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series), and the recognized ghost for the autobiography of former Maryland governor Marvin Mandel. Lott, who is also associate editor of Real Clear Science, has worked at a number of think tanks and magazines, including the Cato Institute and The American Spectator as well as for, hold on to your hats, GetReligion. He lives in Fairfax, Va., and Lynden, Wash., and does not own a dog.
We’ve asked Lott to respond to our usual 5Q+1.
Where do you get your news about religion?
The short answer is everywhere. The long answer is, well, longer. The way the Real Clear websites work is that there’s a beta phase, where you, the editor, update a website regularly as if you had an audience. And then, at some point, you launch and start to attract an actual audience.
The beta prepares you for the launch in some ways. You get a good feel for what’s out there, what you should be reading regularly, what’s available in a pinch to round our your list ‘o links. But the dynamic also changes when you have readers. Then, people begin to forward and lobby for links.
I think that’s a good thing because, one, I can only read so much, and, two, it’s good to get readers involved in the process. Anybody should feel to drop me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org, though please don’t take it badly if I don’t answer.
One of the things that I find infuriating is when I read a good piece in a print periodical and then can’t find it online to link to it. Come on, publishers, get with the 21st century! Information wants to be free! Or at least, I want it to be.
What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just do not get?
So many choices! I think the Ground Zero Mosque story stunned my fellow journalists because they don’t understand the deep ambivalence that many American have toward Islam. Bill O’Reilly said on The View that people objected to the mosque because Muslims killed Americans on 9/11. That was just beyond the pale. Rather than argue with him, two of the co-hosts walked off the set. There’s a great way to encourage constructive dialogue.
I’m way more of a dove than most Americans about Muslims, but I also do not buy this “religion of peace” line that George W. Bush turned into official US government policy. Islam is a religion that’s capable of peace, certainly. Sometimes for long historical stretches. But 9/11 and the riots that happen every time somebody threatens to draw a picture of Mohammad argue otherwise.
What is the story that you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?
I think the Glenn Beck-Mitt Romney story will be fascinating. Here you have the Tea Party that has just taken over American politics. It consists largely of conservative Protestants and Catholics but one of the big icons of the movement, Beck, is an unabashed Mormon.
Will Beck decide to back Romney out of solidarity or go against him for ideological reasons? If he opposes Romney, how will his fellow Mormons react? If he backs him, how will his largely evangelical audience react? Evangelicals have historically been extremely anti-Mormon. Could that change? We’ll find out.
Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?
Trying to understand the world today without taking account of religion is a fool’s errand. You literally cannot make sense of much of history, including recent history, unless you are willing to grapple with the role played by religion. It’s like walking through a busy train station with a bag over your head.
What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?
My favorite story recently was about how Rev. Terry Jones got a free car for agreeing not to burn a Koran. This, of course, invites the obvious jokes about opportunism. Religious leaders of the world should know that there are literally thousands of your books that I will agree not to burn if you buy me a Can-Am Spyder Roadster.
But I do think that it also hints at the right kind of solution to some of our social conflicts. True, the Ground Zero Mosque folks — sorry, the two blocks from Ground Zero mosque folks –rejected Donald Trump’s overture. But just before 9/11 this year I had a piece in AOL News that argued mosque opponents should create a “move the mosque” fund. If thousands of people offered them tens of millions of dollars to move the building, say, eight blocks, it would be harder to say no.
BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?
Don’t get too attached to that idea of mainstream media. It’s all changing, and faster than you think.