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Atheism

Breaking news: Religious people do religious things!

(EDIT: When I originally wrote this up, the article's headline was the far more absurd "Faithful pray for collapse victims." The new headline is somewhat more informative, and the article has shifted slightly to focus on the main memorial event rather than prayers in general. My critique still applies, to some degree, and I don't want to waste an entry when I write them so infrequently :-P )


I have a question:

Why is THIS AP story news? Why is it on the front page of Yahoo?

Before I continue: The bridge collapse is, without ANY doubt, a huge disaster and a terrible thing, and I would hate for anyone to think I'm trivializing that. It's a scary thing, even if it's a terribly UNLIKELY and freakish thing to happen. I have nothing but sympathy for the families involved.

That said, WHY do we need to know that the faithful are praying? Isn't that what we would ASSUME them to be doing anyway? It'd be a far more interesting story if it were reversed: "Faithful not praying for collapse victims." Or if it were slanted to a slightly different audience: "Atheists, Agnostics wish collapse victims well." Neither of those would be terribly newsworthy, I admit, but I think you get my point.

Honestly, who cares what the faithful are doing in this situation? I'm more interested in what's actually happening than in what people are saying to their mystical sky-daddies. What are engineers learning from the collapse? How preventable was it? How likely is another such incident? Instead, we get this pablum, a galling attempt to turn a terrible situation into a feel-good human interest story... "Jeez, it's awful bad about dat der bridge, donchaknow? But we're all prayin' for ya, real hard, der!" (apologies for my poor attempt at Minnesota nice)

I'm so tired of the way media handles this sort of hokum. Yes, I understand, America is largely a religious nation, and this sort of story sells papers/gets click-throughs from that religious population. From a business standpoint, it makes sense to feature stories like that. But what's the NEWS value? What's the TRUTH value? Do either of these things matter? I didn't learn any new facts about what happened, didn't get any insight into whether there is cause for concern elsewhere...nothing. Only a profile of a bunch of grieving people seeking results from faith, a glimpse at what religious folks do WHENEVER this sort of thing happens.

It's that shameless banality that galls me. The article is an attempt at shilling, a reference to a recent tragedy that grabs people's attention by ostensibly discussing an event that's still on many of our minds. Yet, it's utterly nondescript. By changing the location and maybe 50 words, I could make this same article be about ANY event. That's how empty and uninformative this shallow bit of journalism comes across to me.

And, as if the emptiness of the article weren't bad enough, it's not as if what these people are doing is HELPFUL in any realistic way. Why not have a story about rescue/recovery workers? It'd be interesting to hear what the people who may actually find the missing/deceased have to say about what they're doing. Why not a story about, say, charitable funds set up to aid victims and families? No. Instead, the front page story is a bit of pandering to the masses, with no informational content, discussing people doing something that has never been proven efficacious in any way.

Now, I'm not totally heartless. I realize that religion and prayer can help some people overcome grief, can make people feel like they're doing something in moments when they otherwise feel powerless. And all of that is FINE. I may disagree, but if that's what you want to do I'm all for your doing it. What I'm NOT all for is using that social function of religion as an excuse for tolerating such vapid journalism. No one is helped or informed by this story.

There weren't people somewhere in Des Moines, say, waiting with bated breath for the answer to the question "What are the faithful doing about the Minnesota bridge collapse???" I even doubt that anyone was made to feel better by this knowledge. "Ah, well, the faithful in Minneapolis are on that one...I can relax now and not worry about the bridge in my own town."

Yes, I know, I'm a curmudgeon. But I make no apologies for it. This is simply not news and I cannot understand why people accept this sort of non-story from their media. Have we really run out of important, informative, and useful angles from which to cover this story? Or is this simply a mediated version of "preaching to the choir," so to speak, spinning the story towards the religious and reaffirming their faith while counting the ad views?

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