I Wish I’d Been a Newspaper Man

My sophomore year of college found me in Dr. Charles Hedrick’s office, talking about where I wanted to be in five years. I had been curious about a doctorate in Religious Studies, my primary undergraduate degree, more because I had no idea what to do with my life than because I had any burning desire to study religion for years on end. School is a good place for those who don’t know where they are going, because even if the student doesn’t, the professor certainly does.

Hedrick told me about the New Testament and the Old Testament, about Koptic Greek and ancient Hebrew, and he told me that I would need to learn at least six languages well enough to read them. It would take years, I would have to go to another school for my PhD, and I would get to study X, Y, and Z. I was quite overwhelmed.

He suggested the same thing the head of the department had, though: look into writing about religion for a newspaper. Everyone in the department knew I liked to write, and a lot of papers had religion writers who tackled current events, holidays, history, and a plethora of other angles. It might be something I would like, they thought. As for me, I had ruled out working at a newspaper in high school. The thought of being chained to a desk, of having deadlines, and of having to report to someone for my writing was unbearable. I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I most assuredly knew where I did not want to be.

In a sense, my impetuous aggravation with the newspaper industry was a boon. I could have pushed through four years of college, gotten a job at a newspaper, and been laid off three years later when the business crashed. Religion writers are nice, but they’re frivolous, which is what makes them among the first to be cut. While I can note the irony of cutting frivolity from the papers (for frivolity is what they were built on, and the excision of frivolity has certainly doomed them more than the economy), I am also glad to not be on the cutting room floor myself.

Despite that, in many ways I regret my antipathy back then. As I read the occasional posts of Chris Orcutt and the impact the newspaper had on his life and writing, or about Chesterton and how working for a paper influenced his knowledge of the world, I wish I had decided differently. Even if only for a year or two, I might have learned something more through the experiences of working at a paper.

And now those chances are gone. I do not foresee the newspaper industry ever recovering from its current slump to become what it once was. Something new will almost certainly arise from the ashes, but it will be something else entirely, and likely more akin to what I do now. News will become distributed, but there will be less editors driving writers to improve, far less competition to get published, and less financial investment in investigation and travel for the sake of reporting.

The news hasn’t been “what it once was” for quite some time, perhaps decades, and the newspapers were on their way out when the first evening news was broadcast. Nevertheless, I regret not having the opportunity to be a part of that era, that cadre of writers. Entire generations of writers got their start in the papers, an experience the new generation of writers will know nothing about.

Who will push us to become better? Who will invest in our education? It seems the answer, at least for me, is no one but myself. What an opportunity we have lost with the death of the newspaper industry.

Don’t Pull Your Punches

I'd really like to own this poster someday, JUST LETTING YOU KNOW.
I'd really like to own this poster someday, JUST LETTING YOU KNOW.

I’m currently taking a 200-level religion class that is required for my major, though I somehow overlooked it until last semester (I’m currently in my sixth year at Missouri State University, partially due to how much I suck at reading degree audits) so I’m just now taking it. Paths of World Religions is essentially a world-religion-summary class, with an hour or two dedicated to each religion in a whirlwind tour of belief systems.

Unlike most 200-level religion classes, I have been surprised to see that a lot of the class is actually interested in the subject and excited to be learning this stuff. Since it also counts as a general education requirement (which is the reason most people are in there), you usually see students who are just looking for a grade, but this particular class has a lot of people who honestly want to learn about religion.

That’s all fine and well, and it’s nice to see, but they’re also people who are only now being introduced to some of these religions and concepts. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it means that their conclusions are usually wrong.

And though I like the teacher, who is a very nice woman with a great deal of energy and exuberance, I think that she should probably be telling them that.

When a student compares the Buddha to Jesus, stating that the Buddha was doing OK but then made a mistake and sinned so he had to go out into the desert and meditate/pray before becoming a religious leader, well that’s just wrong. It’s historically inaccurate, and though there are some similarities between the moral codes of Christianity and Buddhism, the view that they’re practically the same religion is incorrect.

We don’t do a person any favours when we go on letting someone think something that is wrong. Yeah, you can inform them nicely, but you still have to tell them the truth or they will continue being ignorant. There’s nothing wrong with ignorance in and of itself–we’re all there until we gain in knowledge on a particular subject–so I don’t think it’s something to be feared, ashamed of, or hidden. But I do take umbrage with people who 1) willingly remain ignorant or 2) allow someone to remain that way, particularly if the person is looking for knowledge.

So if you’re hear someone say something that’s wrong, correct them. Tell them they’re wrong and then explain how, why, and what the truth is. You’re not doing them any favours by pulling your punches and letting them think they’re smart for making a connection between the Tao Te Ching and the Hebrew Bible simply because they’re both religious texts. We have an obligation to spread truth and knowledge, and sometimes that will mean telling someone they’re wrong. Don’t worry, they can probably handle it.

And if they can’t, then I guess they’ll have to learn how to.

They’re a little something I like to call “Liberal Arts”

I was asked last night how I know so much. I guess four and a half years of a liberal arts education (you know, lots of history and foreign language and literature and such) has paid off. I replied that I’ve been in college… the sad part is that I’m still not really close to done.

Tonight, I’ll be watching lectures for the Hero & Quest class I am in, studying Arthurian Legend. Thankfully, it is something about which I am well-informed. I’m also going to start working on my new wiki, in which I will store notes for the book I’m (still) working on. I’m going to start researching the Middle Ages and those notes will go in there, as will notes about the land, the characters, religion and politics, geography, etc. It stores my work in a place where it can’t be destroyed by a fire, and it also lets me get to my notes from just about anywhere. Plus, it’s a new program/toy I can play with.

Hour and a half of overtime so far this week. Maybe I’ll get to come home early tomorrow.