Last week I suggested that the world would be better off if more people presented religion to children not from a standpoint of indoctrination, but from a standpoint of education — that is, in a relatively neutral way. The post prompted a skeptical commenter to question whether this was possible. He said:
How do you ensure that your representation of the different religions out there is “neutral”? Given your atheism, how do you make sure you’re representing other faiths accurately?
This is an important question, and I’m glad he asked it.
For 15 years, I was a reporter for various newspapers. Most of that time was spent covering criminal courts: arraignments, preliminary hearings, trials, sentencings, you name it. I covered hundreds of them. So many that by the end of my career, I was on a first-name basis with most of the prosecutors, public defenders and judges in my local courthouse. Did I have opinions about these individuals? Yes. Did I have opinions about their cases? Yes. Did I ALWAYS believe, by the end of each case, that I knew whether a defendant was guilty or innocent? Oh, yeah.
But did my own personal opinions prevent me from writing about each of these cases in a fair, balanced and accurate way? Absolutely not. Presenting a balanced story so that people can make up their own minds about the truth is what good reporters do, and, frankly, it’s not that hard.
Listen, there is a difference between unbiased thinking and unbiased reporting. It would be silly to suggest that news reporters don’t make judgments about their subjects on a regular basis. It would also be silly to suggest that only mindless robots could deliver fair and accurate reporting.
When I suggest approaching religion from a relatively neutral standpoint, I am suggesting that you put your own opinions to the side and present religion in the most fair, balanced and accurate way you can. Here are some tips for how to do that.
1. Keep your opinion out of it. You would be surprised by how much can be gained from removing judgmental language from your argument. For example, when you find yourself wanting to say, “Some people believe the world began 6,000 years ago, and those people are fucking idiots,” you might rephrase that to say, “Some people believe the world began 6,000 year ago.” See? Easy. [Read more...]