I’m no fan of the Pope but I do think he should be given a fair crack of the whip, so to speak. At least we might expect him to be described accurately and with a genuine attempt at objectivity by our more intelligent news organisations. Alex Thompson on Channel 4 News last night, over pictures of the Pope saying mass and following some vox pops of evidently thrilled worshippers:
Millions see him as the embodiment of evil; millions also, though, see him as infallible, the embodiment of God.
The sort of sentence I can’t imagine a reporter getting away with when reporting on much else.
Making the ‘millions’ who apparently see him as ‘the embodiment of evil’ at the very least commensurate with those ‘millions’ who see him as ‘infallible’ seems to lack proportion, to put it kindly (there are over a billion Catholics in the world). It’s also a balance along an unusual scale: an inclusive compromise might conclude that he’s infallibly evil.
And, then, what’s this about his being ‘the embodiment of God’? I’d always thought that was Jesus’s prerogative, the Pope’s role being merely representative. He’s something of a Roman emperor in many ways, but not that one. Not exactly an informed summary of the beliefs of those one billion-plus Catholics.
It can’t be easy to get so much careless prejudice into a single sentence of what I’m sure was intended as a balanced report. But when The Guardian – a paper that used to know a bit about religion being founded by Manchester non-conformists – has a Religious Affairs Correspondent who can tweet her ignorance of how to describe the taking of Communion, what can we expect? (If you look at her Twitter Bio she seems pretty incredulous herself that she’s doing the job: “No, really”. Or, perhaps, she’s amazed the job exists at all).
There’s plenty of this sort of slapdash, implicitly disdainful stuff about. However, I don’t think Britain has become more anti-Catholic as some of the Pope’s defenders allege: anti-Catholic bigotry was far more prevalent and pointed fifty or a hundred years ago. What does seem true, though, is that the reporting of religion is more intellectually lazy than it’s ever been. Which is perverse, in its way, as religion is getting more important in the world, not less.