Telling people that you write about religion for a living always raises a couple of eyebrows. In the past, I’ve covered everything from fashion to pop culture, but no one ever questioned why someone might be interested in lipstick or TV.
However, religion is one of those things that can scare people just by being mentioned. I’ve been accused of promoting an agenda, of lecturing people, and of being boring – and that’s without putting a single word on a page. As a kid, I learned that you should never talk about religion, sex, or politics in polite company, but it’s only when I write about the first one that people start to clam up or get upset. So, why do I write about religion?
First of all, religion played an interesting role in my own life. I grew up in an interfaith household – my mom is Christian and my dad is Jewish. Though neither of my parents are particularly religious, my sister and I learned about both faiths and were encouraged to ask questions and do more reading about topics we found interesting. I was never told that one religion was “right,” which left me pretty free to explore my options. That interest in religion continued into college, where I took religion classes and made friends with people from a variety of faith backgrounds, from Episcopal to Mormon to Ba’hai.
My first editorial job out of college was at Beliefnet.com, a multifaith religion and spirituality website. Though I mostly covered pop culture there, I had to know enough about every major religion to write confidently about it or to explain its relevance on a TV show or in a movie. I wrote about everything from Christian singers on “American Idol” to the Diwali episode of “The Office.” But working there also gave me my first taste of backlash. At a party, a cute guy I was talking to stomped off mid-conversation when I told him what I did for a living. “Religion is retarded and anybody who believes in God is an idiot,” he snapped at me before making a hasty exit. “But I don’t tell people to be religious, I just write about ones who are,” I said to the air. But he isn’t the only person who responds that way to any mention of faith, even if he might have been the best-looking.
So, why do I write about religion? Because I like things that make people angry. As a journalist, it’s not my job to only cover topics that are warm and squishy and make people happy — it’s about covering things that are controversial and thought-provoking. I also don’t have the luxury of only writing about stuff I personally like. I’ve interviewed people whom I find odious because it made for an interesting story. (Not naming names unless you buy me enough drinks.) And religion is one of those topics that everybody has an opinion on, even if the opinion is that it sucks. For many people across the world, their faith determines who they marry, how they vote, what they eat, and what they consider right and wrong. That’s what I find so utterly fascinating about it – some people in the modern world still consider it important to carry on traditions that have lasted for thousands of years, even if it makes their life more difficult or causes them to ask challenging questions.
I want to know how people manage to believe so deeply in something they can’t see or touch, and how that belief permeates every aspect of their existence. And until I can figure out what makes people believe, I’ll still write about religion. Especially since I have plenty of questions myself.
Lilit Marcus is the blogger for Faith Goes Pop.