What's Missing From the Year's Top Religion Stories?


The Religion Newswriters Association has released its survey results of the top ten religion news stories of the year. Understandably, four of the top five center on the Catholic clergy abuse crisis, and Cardinal Law is the year's top newsmaker. Other winners include the "just war" debate over Iraq, school vouchers, and the discovery of the putative coffin of St. James. It's funny, though, because I seem to recall having heard some stories about religiously-motivated people bombing bars in Indonesia, ambushing workers in the Philippines, attacking a French tanker in Yemen, blowing up pizza places and schools in Israel, shooting American Marines in Kuwait, and so on. And isn't some guy about to be executed for blasphemy in Iran?

I hate to sound like a Taranto-type crank here (and I think this is more symptomatic of a failure of the imagination than of that ol' hobgoblin, left-wing media bias), but isn't the trend of violence that is intimately connected to Islamic faith a pretty major religion story? Maybe they're applying a dog-bites-man principle, and figuring this story is so common it can't be called news. But wouldn't one of the above stories (if nothing else, the case of Hashem Aghajari, which has theological as well as political import) pass muster as one of the big religion stories of the year? (Suicide bombings in Israel do get a mention, but only as an addendum to the entry on the Church of the Nativity siege.)

I thought maybe the rise of Islamic violence got a mention in last year's poll, but not quite. Although Osama bin Laden grabbed the brass "newsmaker" ring for 2001, the September 11 attacks figured only as context for what RNA considered the year's real news stories: fear of a backlash against Muslims, brisk sales of the Koran, and the almost entirely fictional boom in church attendance after 9/11.

So the news that ardent religious believers launched the most murderous terrorist attack in history for religious reasons, and that other ardent believers continue to do so on a lesser scale, also for religious reasons, has now failed to qualify as an important religion story two years running.

God never gives us more than we can bear, though. The consolation is that only a paltry 71 journalists took part in this year's poll.