Last week Buddhistdoor Global published a View about infusing the media industry with the values of the Noble Eightfold Path. Each “stoke” of the Eightfold Path can have fairly complicated considerations, but then again, journalism is a complicated industry. I also believe that regardless of our platform, whether it’s online or print, writers don’t give enough consideration to how personal values and convictions affect our discipline. This isn’t some insular, navel-gazing obsession, but a critical engagement with the motivations and outcomes of our writing.
My thoughts were stimulated by my reading of the work of Dr. Robert Moynihan, editor of the magazine Inside the Vatican. I’m not a Catholic and I don’t follow Vatican politics as much as I would like, but I fully appreciate the frankly magnificent skill and attention Moynihan applies to his letters and articles, combining the readability of a news report with the nuance of a theologian. As an ex-student of Christian theology who knows the multilayered richness of English that theologians deploy, I confess to having strived to produce work in a similar spirit, but from a Buddhist perspective.
It’s my opinion that truly reflective writers aren’t afraid to consider whether they’re writing to seek attention and nurture their sense of ego. This isn’t a blanket assumption, let alone a condemnation. However, we must admit that it takes a certain kind of personality (a good one, very often) to believe that their opinions matter to the point that they need a column or blog to express them. The difference with religious writing (whether you’re a correspondent covering the Vatican’s affairs or a Hindu blogger writing about the BJP’s political philosophy) is that you ostensibly write for a transcendental purpose, not just for the civic good or for readers. Even the most powerful priests and gurus claim to be in service of a higher power. Religious reporters pray and work and see no boundary between the two.
The tabloids and gossip or fashion magazines and vlogs enchant us with shiny baubles and the distractions of material pursuits, whilst making us disenchanted with the nobler things of life: faith, service, moral refinement, and sober belief and authenticity. The spiritual writer, be they ecclesiastic or lay, does exactly the opposite. She “disenchants” the reader from the illusions of the world, pointing out their hollowness and ephemerality, and how such temporary distractions from existential estrangement ring hollow. Yet she strives, all the time, to “re-enchant” them with new ways of looking at the spiritual dimensions of existence.
The difference between religious journalists and purely secular media is not just the specialized foci of the former. We get fewer chances to cover broad topics, although we do address societal issues from a religious perspective, while the secular reporter never quite has an insider’s view of the religion like we do. It’s the fact that we see the world differently; we don’t see it primarily as a market of competing publications, political parties, or traditional platforms versus new media. Instead, we see a world torn between wisdom and ignorance, light and darkness, insight and illusion. Our calling or vocation should be to constantly promote the good and unveil insight through our publication and pen. We write for a force beyond us but also for the reader who lends us their precious time. For a journalist, all else is vanity.