Because digital religion reporting can pioneer the capturing of the full sensory spectrum of the practices of religion, it can more easily put the soul, the believing dimension, back into the news. What does this mean?
Any art of religion news must take into account the challenges of adequately portraying how people’s senses are alive to the world in religious ways. For most New Yorkers there is a partly hidden and mysterious dimension to the news. Most New Yorkers say that they get courage, purpose, ideas, guidance and hope from their sensing of the presence of this mostly hidden dimension of reality.
Rikki Tahta is one of many New Yorkers who are searching for God in New York City. Get his book: God in New York
Recently, literary writer Garnett Cardogan and I visited a Taiwanese-American temple in Flushing, Queens. The woman who runs the daily affairs of the temple had a cell phone of photos that showed its history. Part of that history included sightings of the Buddha in the form of brilliant balls of light, “balls of fire containing the Buddha,” in Flushing and, particularly, over the street of the temple site. She excitedly explained that these photos showed the Buddha and his religion is coming to New York City.
How does a news media show off this “purported dimension” that this congregation says is obviously all around (they have photos!), provides them hope, protection and guidance and is a sign to New Yorkers? How do we adequately convey how these visual sightings evoke a whole set of deep feelings?
The reporter faces a difficult task if he or she attempts to skip writing about the object of love and merely describe the experience of love. C.S. Lewis once wrote that emotions are the indirect result of a person focusing on an object. Seeing a lover enter the room, a person feels love rising with the heart. A distant, agnostic reaction, like my interpretative qualification “purported dimension,” hardly seems realistic in comparison to how we might report the players and emotions at a sports event. There, even if the sportswriter hates the damn Yankees, he knows exactly how to describe the Yankee play that arouses the heroic emotions of the crowd.
The agnosticism toward religious claims is an emotional bias that we don’t use nearly as often as we do in other types of reporting like sports stories. In fact in sports news reporting the factual assertions are often grist for round after round of controversies, giving rise to high readership.
The challenge of objective reporting can only be met if we give at least an affirmative sense of the emotional impact of the sighting of the balls of fire. Then, the reader can make his own estimation about what was happening based on a fuller experiential sense of the reality as experienced on the street in Flushing by some Taiwanese-Americans.
Does this practice of sighting the supernatural Buddha have anything useful to contribute to those in our audience who might believe differently? The reporter needs to guide the audience in asking this question. This question of interfaith understanding in New York City is a modern question with ancient roots.
Next: The unconscious influences in the city. The 7 senses of the art of religion news in the digital age. Part 3