Bahai News - A stroll through the minefield of religion Toronto Star
April 10, 1999

A stroll through the minefield of religion

WHEN THE topic of religion surfaces in the paper, it's a safe bet: (a) inaccuracies will be discovered, or (b) someone will take offence. Or both.

This is an immutable law of journalism in the multi-faith universe. Many reporters, editors, and even those merry miscreants who draw comics for a living know the law but persist in their scribblings.

Some mistakes made in day-to-day coverage of religion may seem trivial, unless you happen to be an adherent of the faith that's written about. Then you may have reason to protest the ignorance, carelessness, lack of sensitivity - or worse.

In that regard, consider the typo last Sunday that turned the celebration of Baisakhi or Solar New Year in the Hindu, Jain andSikh faiths into something called Badisakhi.

An extra keystroke on deadline proved fatal here. The samearticle hinted at the potential for offence: there are nearly 250,000 Hindus, Jains and Sikhs in southern Ontario. The story, attempting to summarize complex religious celebrations and rites of spring, including Passover and Easter, in 472 words, also left a mistaken impression that most members of the Baha'i and Zoroastrian faiths are Persians or Iranians.

In Canada, only 15 per cent of the Baha'i membership is of Iranian heritage, noted a spokesperson at the Baha'i National Centre. Nor is Farvardin a religious holiday in the Baha'i faith, as the story suggested.

Added reader Susan Eslambolchi: ``Farvardin is simply the name of the first month of the Iranian calendar. It is not a holiday, religious or otherwise.

``All Iranians of ALL faiths celebrate the New Year (Naw Ruz), which incidentally is NOT a religious event. It marks the first day of spring (March 21st) and our New Year.''

Then, there are those aforementioned cartoonists, such as Mike Baldwin (Cornered by Baldwin). Recently, he sketched a cleric reading a passage from The Newest Testament to the congregation:
``So Judas is all, show me the money and JC is all, whatever . . .''

That hip rendition of scripture was too much for Richard D. Holliday. ``It is not humour to ridicule Jesus Christ, who is loved and worshipped by millions.'' He called the cartoon ``cheap blasphemy.''

In reply, cartoonist Baldwin said he was only trying to show how hard it is to ``update'' the Bible using the limited dialogue of today's casual street talk. He didn't intend to offend, but conceded, ``Maybe faith is too big an issue for the comics page.''
Johnny Hart, who draws the cartoon strip B.C., also didn't set out to offend with a gag line in the strip on Easter Sunday. ``What do you get if you cross an atheist with a Jehovah's Witness?'' a prehistoric bird asks a prehistoric turtle.

``Someone who knocks on your door but doesn't have anything to say.'
Remarked a reader, ``I am not even a Jehovah's Witness, but I think that comic was tasteless.'' `Where's the offence?'' asked chairman Richard S. Newcombe of Creators Syndicate in Los Angeles. To him, the comic was funny and clever. (Nhake Hanbrss, 'And by coincidence, Hart told Newcombe this week he think anyone would object to a cartoon ``complimenting Jehovah's Witnesses because of their energy for knocking on doors and atheists who, on the subject of God, have nothing to say.''

However, a senior Star editor vowed ``more vigilance'' in spiking cartoons that unfairly single out a religion, even in jest. (Besides, atheists too have plenty to say about religion.)

And while we're at it, maybe those chronic glitches in stories about religious festivals are worth a newsroom review. End of sermon.


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