Religion writer praises role of secular media

Published March 1, 2002


Secular media are sometimes more courageous in debating religious issues than churches, according to Pieter van der Ven, a Dutch journalist who won the 2000 John Templeton European Religion Writer of the Year award.

Speaking at an award ceremony in Geneva, Mr. van der Ven, desk chief for religion and philosophy at the Dutch daily newspaper Trouw, pointed to the response of churches after the events of Sept. 11.

Many church people, feeling “more comfortable in the mea-culpa business,” tended to avoid debate about Muslim-Western relations. This is left to journalists, philosophers and professors, he said.

In his remarks at the ceremony, Mr. van der Ven suggested that because the news media were “less concerned about dogma, witness and order, and more about sound and vividness and versatility,” they had some advantages over churches in stirring public interest.

In a competitive market, media try “to attract the attention of the customer, who wants to be informed, amused, provoked, surprised and comforted – preferably all at once.

“In the best of articles and programs you may see some of this achieved,” Mr. van der Ven said. Church communication might take advantage of a similar approach, he suggested, to get free of “unnecessary gravitas.”

He said that his own newspaper was trying to deepen the analysis and the debate about Muslim-Western relations.

The John Templeton European Religion Writer of the Year award, inaugurated in 1994, is given for excellence, enterprise and versatility in reporting religion in the secular press, and includes a citation and a cash prize of 3,500 Swiss francs ($2,130 U.S.).

It is managed by the Conference of European Churches (CEC), based in Geneva, on behalf of the John Templeton Foundation, established in 1987 by Sir John Templeton, a U.S.-born investor and philanthropist, to encourage a fresh appreciation of the moral and spiritual dimension of life.

Sir John also established the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, whose recipients have included the late Mother Teresa, evangelist Billy Graham and writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.


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