Much of what is best about religion does not need journalism to thrive. Probably the most impressive people in the world of religion are those whose faith motivates them to take on tasks others would regard as hopeless. They work in neighborhoods, schools, and prisons, with the poor, the sick, the dying. Many of these people go out of their way to do their work outside the glare of the media. They would do what they do whether anyone ever heard of them or not. Perhaps they understand instinctively that the brief glow of journalistic attention ultimately doesn't mean much in the struggle they have chosen to take on.
I worry a bit about those in the world of religion who seem eager for media coverage. I wonder if what they are really seeking is political power. And yes, I am very wary of the intersection between religion and politics. Six years of covering religion has only heightened my concerns on this subject. I am not entirely comfortable with any political candidate, whether Jewish, Catholic, or evangelical Christian, arguing that the country needs to return to religion to restore its moral life. Too much evil is done in the name of religion for me to accept that statement without an argument.
A photo hanging on the wall of my office captures a special moment in my career as a journalist covering religion. I am walking across the campus of the University of Virginia, clutching a microphone in my hand, with the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu, two men who have been part of important political struggles with compelling moral lessons. Both understand the power of the media and spend a lot of time in the glare of the spotlight. Did they seek it out? Or did it find them?
If the cause is compelling, if the movement big, if the struggle is important, the spotlight will find you. You won't need to seek it out.
Lynn Neary is a National Public Radio correspondent.