The Intersection of Facts and Faith


The industry of journalism can sometimes conflict with organized religion. (Courtesy of Flickr)

Erica Scalise, Projects Editor Emerita

This past week The New Yorker, in its usual promotionary fashion, began sharing a nine month old article on its Instagram and Twitter entitled, “If God Is Dead, Your Time Is Everything.” In it, staff writer and literary critic, James Wood critically examines Swedish philosopher Martin Hägglund’s most recent case for atheism in Hägglund’s latest book, “This Life: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom.” 

As expected, the Instagram post’s comments section was ruthless, strangely adopting an entirely new argument pitting religion against journalism. Readers largely criticized the book for marketing “cynicism masquerading as intellectualism” and critiqued the magazine for consistently publishing pieces critical of organized religion to which one reader earnestly shot back, “it’s just a book review.” 

In the article, Wood outlines Hägglund’s arguments, and where they often collapse on themselves, almost seamlessly; I should know — I’m already halfway through the book after a bout of insomnia left me virtually sleepless this past week. Hägglund, making the case for atheism, argues that an eternal life is both unattainable and undesirable so long as it eliminates the care and passion that is simply wrought from living. Rather than exist in anticipation for the promise of something better, the worship of the here and now is right here, to stay. According to Hägglund, it is up to us to seize and sustain it, sowing the seeds of today instead of preparing for the improbable afterlife of tomorrow. 

Though Hägglund’s deepest undertakings are nothing short of regurgitated philosophy — Marx’s “economy of time” is Hägglund’s cri de coeur — I found the text resonated with me on several fronts. Hägglund authors something digestible, unmarked by the usual ostentation of secularist authors and garners the hottest of deconstructed takes: religiosity itself is a kind of committed secularism. 

I’ve spent most of my days walking away from organized religion at an institution I chose, partly based on its commitment to religiosity. As a second semester senior, it’s only recently that I’ve come to accept this. I’ve pored over religious texts in Philosophical Ethics, contemplated the existence of God over beers at Clinton Hall and teared up in the back of the university church when I realized it was no longer a place I felt at home. When I began covering clerical sex abuse for The Fordham Ram, all of my attempts to reconcile any semblance of a faith basis I had once had seemed futile. By the end of my junior year, I began openly identifying as agnostic. 

Despite all of this, I never stopped worshipping. As I watched the sun come up this past Sunday, I supplemented my exhaustion for something I haven’t quite felt since a four day religious retreat I partook in during senior year of high school — the realization that I am still filled up with the presence of faith. 

According to Wood, “the real measure of value,” Hägglund says, “is not how much work we have done or have to do (quantity of labor time) but how much disposable time we have to pursue and explore what matters to us (quality of free time).”

Since advancing in pursuit of a career in journalism, I’ve put faith into miniscule facts and inconvenient truths, pursuing what matters most to me, despite how banal, tedious or unrewarding it may have seemed at the time. I’ve called sources over and over again, been escorted out of buildings, scrapped entire stories at 1 a.m., felt pride when the reporting was done, cried when it wasn’t and mentally quit in the middle of crafting sentences. If the road to faith is rooted in struggle, the secular enterprise of journalism has become the one I’ve traveled and it has made all the difference. 

Where I once struggled to find myself amidst a vast vacuum of claims and questions surrounding organized religion, I’m able to make sense of what and why I worship when I place faith in facts. Similar to the presence of a higher power, there will always be news to wake up to in the morning, that day’s ethical dilemmas to recount at night and the promise of something potentially beautiful, a story, in the days to follow. 

As a journalist, I’ve had the privilege to bear witness to the everyday miracles of news — the last minute email responses, the almost, but never quite perfect ledes, the late night phone calls that turn to early morning wake-ups. Just like a church parishioner at Sunday morning mass, I may zone out from time to time, it’s possible the host might be stale and sometimes I might want to skip altogether, but somehow, I always find myself coming back. 

Messages surrounding faith today have become widely misconstrued. With 84% of people ascribing to religious groups, the gleam of organized religion may have worn, but faith and worship seem to be eternally in fashion. 

In an article entitled, “Journalism is Itself a Religion” for The Revealer, an online publication by New York University’s Center for Religion and Media, journalism professor and media critic Jay Rosen argues in favor of the intersection of journalistic fact and faith. Rosen predicted a future of journalism using religious jargon — a field marked by schisms, tumult, division and evidently, large scale changes that would lead to problems we’re now falling witness to today. 

Like organized religion, it’s no secret that the field of journalism is suffering. Despite grim numbers in local reporting layoffs and steep declines in funding and readership, the existence of facts in pursuit of larger truths, like those of faith and worship, are not going anywhere. The problems that come with worshipping journalism and worshipping religion remain scarcely similar. Worship in anything is often tumultuous, unsexy, without guarantees and requires work without the promise of a reward after all is said and done. It is in those moments of genuine devotion, that we might just experience real acts of faith.

Erica Scalise, FCRH ’20, is a journalism major from Chicago, Ill.