By James A. Haught
For much of my newspaper career, I was West Virginia’s only full-time investigative reporter.
I wrote about political corruption. (Two of our governors and numerous top politicians went to prison.)
I exposed consumer frauds. (Various roofers, exterminators, baldness-curers, weight salon operators and other fly-by-night entrepreneurs were jailed.)
I revealed stock frauds. (Some local brokers were convicted of bilking investors.)
I reported on crooked evangelists. My firebrand publisher raged about flashy TV evangelists, calling them charlatans. He sent me to camp at the PTL Club in the Carolinas and expose quacko preacher Jim Bakker while Bakker was in his heyday, before going to prison. My evangelist reports became a long Penthouse article.
Back then, in the 1970s, I was a pioneer in a national organization, Investigative Reporters & Editors. IRE remains dynamic today. The IRE Journal chronicles current revelations.
Over the decades, newspaper investigative reporters have revealed plenty of religious horrors. The Boston Globe won a Pulitzer Prize for exposing Catholic priest sexual abuse. The St. Petersburg Times won a Pulitzer for exposing Scientology. Other newspapers reveal born-again swindles, Mormon polygamy outrages, cult murders, evangelist sex messes, and the like.
A clear pattern exists: It’s fine for news media to reveal particular crimes within religion. But it’s forbidden to write that religion itself – worship based on supernatural gods, devils, heavens, hells, miracles, visions, prophecies, divine appearances, etc. – is a glaring global fraud. Religion around the planet reaps trillions of tax-exempt dollars for magic tales, but mustn’t be criticized.Worship of invisible spirits should be considered absurd in modern scientific civilization. Preachers who proclaim such imaginary beings should be denounced as fakers. But, in actual reality, nobody is allowed to say so in mainstream news media. It’s a taboo topic.
I suppose it’s because religion was deeply entrenched in virtually all cultures for millennia. In the past, anyone who “blasphemed” the holies could be put to death. Religion became untouchable. But there’s little reason to continue this taboo in modern secular democracies, where supernatural faith is fizzling.
(Of course, in Muslim lands, where writers can be executed for “blasphemy,” the taboo remains extremely strong. That’s a different situation.)
I wrote to IRE Journal suggesting that American investigative reporters treat religion itself as a field of dishonesty, like other types of corruption exposed by news media. Why expose frauds, but ignore the biggest fraud of all? But I got no response. Maybe IRE editors thought I had lost my mind, to hint that anything could be wrong with holy faith.
But I think plenty is wrong with holy faith. It’s a system of lies. To assert that magical spirits watch people and burn them in fiery hell after death is an obvious falsehood to any thinking, educated person. Ditto for the rest of Bible supernaturalism.
Young Americans are abandoning religion by millions – just as young Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Australians and others did. Those who say their faith is “none” are rising with amazing rapidity, heading toward a possible majority. Eventually, it may be acceptable for news media to say openly that religion is a fraud.
(Haught is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail. He has won two dozen national newswriting awards, mostly for his work as an investigative reporter. He also is a weekly blogger for Daylight Atheism, a senior editor of Free Inquiry magazine, a former writer-in-residence for the United Coalition of Reason and a contributor to other skeptic journals. This essay first appeared in Free Inquiry, Feb-March 2020.)