Reading The New York Times, we traditional-minded Jews often grumble that the Paper of Record rarely misses an opportunity to dismiss our way of seeing the world as so much benightedness. If our faith makes it into the Times at all, it’s most likely to celebrate those who call it into question or to outright reject any attempt to speak of it coherently and movingly. It’s easy, thumbing through the paper’s pages, to assume that someone on 41st Street has it in for us; which is why it was refreshing, in a grim and awful sort of way, to read the Times‘ coverage of the latest scandal rocking the Vatican.
What’s the scandal about? The paper’s reporting out of Rome left little room for ambiguity: “Vatican Power Struggle Bursts Into Open as Conservatives Pounce,” read yesterday’s headline, with the piece going on to portray a riveting civil war between the kind and gentle pontiff, champion of the downtrodden wherever they are, and his nefarious traditionalist challengers, the sort of meanies who blame the “homosexual current” for the sexual abuse rocking the church.
Anyone reading the work of real reporters covering this issue with the seriousness it deserves, however, would’ve gotten a very different impression. Writing in the National Review, the excellent Alexandra DeSanctis bothered explaining what was actually going on: In a newly published testimony, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò alleged that he told the pope in 2013 about the sexual abuse allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, but that Francis ignored the evidence presented to him, lifted the sanctions his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, had levied against McCarrick, and continued to champion McCarrick and place him in positions of influence within the church. Asked about these allegations in a press conference earlier in the week, Pope Francis delivered a bizarrely obtuse response. “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment,” he said. “I will not say a single word about this.”
Observing reality, DeSanctis came to a simple and sensible conclusion. “Catholics Deserve Answers,” was the headline of her piece, “Not Church Politics.” But church politics seemed to be all the Times cares about: Underplaying the allegations as nothing more than a right-wing conspiracy against Francis, the paper uploaded a video of His Holiness from the same press conference, in which he spoke kindly and warmly about the need to embrace gay Catholics. “Pope Francis on Gay Children,” read the headline, “‘Don’t Condemn, Have a Dialogue.'”
This blatant bit of cheap propaganda didn’t go unnoticed. “You *must* be joking, @nytimes,” DeSanctis tweeted. “This paper’s obvious bias and total disregard for the facts somehow never cease to astonish me.”
It shouldn’t, really: It’s not that the Times misunderstands religion, or fails to take its adherents seriously—claims easy to support by noting that the paper’s finest religion reporters are long gone and that its religion coverage enjoys about as many of the newsroom’s resources as, say, Brooklyn’s visual arts scene. The real problem is deeper and more confounding: The Times disdains traditional religiosity because the Times adheres to a competing religion of its own.
Call it Wokenism, with apologies to our Wiccan friends. It’s the sort of doctrinaire approach that appoints a gender editor and celebrates her struggles against “Mantteruptions” online, while assuming, in a thundering editorial, that evangelical women, the overwhelming majority of whom voted for Donald Trump, are trapped in some ghastly bubble of false consciousness, too silly or too sullied by their bitter religious ideology to see the perils of supporting the commander in chief of the war against women. If this faith bothers with, say, Southern Baptists—the denomination of some 15 million Americans—it’s solely in the context of the Baptists’ failure to be sufficiently feminist or sufficiently committed to social justice. No attempt is made to understand the world outside the classrooms and the boardrooms and the newsrooms where fellow Wokens congregate. And yet, ask the Wokens and they’ll tell you that their banners are unfettered debate, rational thought, scientific inquiry, and other enlightened values. The most zealous of all believers, the Wokens will never admit that they’re believers at all; instead, they’ll do their best to portray their opponents as oppressive brutes while blocking any avenue that may lead anywhere but the predetermined corners of political correctness.
We traditional Jews, then, have long suspected that one can not be both Jewish and Woke, the two being conflicted and irreconcilable systems of belief. Sadly, like-minded Catholics are discovering the same thing. The Wokens are fond of defending themselves by going on the attack, yelping that real Judaism is nothing more than an amorphous struggle for tikkun olam, and that real Christians want nothing more than to embrace any and all downtrodden folk, real or, more likely, imagined. This reductio ad absurdum may work in graduate seminars and other places where real knowledge and wisdom have fallen out of favor, but the rest of us, those who cling to their religion, as a celebrated Woken once said, know better. We reject the Times as ridiculous, and seek real news and real empathy elsewhere.