By Jack Lessenberry, Toledo Blade ombudsman
I received several angry calls on March 8 from readers upset about that day’s religion pages. TK Barger, The Blade’s religion editor, had written a feature about a children’s summer camp.
Camp Quest, however, is different. It was founded by atheists and is, as its Web site says, “particularly geared towards building a community for children from atheist, agnostic, humanist, and other freethinking families.”
“What is that doing on the religion page? It is an outrage and an insult,” said one caller, who did not leave her name. Another said, “I can’t figure out why that would be there, except as a cautionary tale.”
Yet another said he thought the editors of The Blade should be and would be damned. (This is not the first time I have heard this.)
Your ombudsman’s first reaction was to ask Mr. Barger what his views were — especially since he spends his life thinking about different aspects of religion.
“As religion editor, I try to include much more than ‘church news,’ he told me. “We cover place of worship, we cover holidays and other events, we cover ideas and issues … and sometimes we get to show how people actually ‘do’ religion differently from the way the religious organizations say it should be done.
“Readers of The Blade come from many faiths and no faith. Atheism is one element in religious orientation, and it shouldn’t be ignored just because atheists say there is no God.”
The religion editor went on to tell me that he attempts to approach every faith and its members with honor, respect and dignity, with the goal of getting all of us to see how “we are all people together.”
Your ombudsman totally agrees with that. The old-fashioned combination of church notes and social news that defined religion coverage in, say, the 1950s, is now hopelessly out of date. I think Mr. Barger’s philosophy is a good model for a framework for religion coverage for every newspaper in the land.