Newspaper editor Paul Baumann reconciles religion and journalism

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Tradition versus change. Obedience versus conflict. The tangible versus the mysterious. Paul Baumann, editor of the Catholic magazine Commonweal, opened his talk in the Nott Memorial this past Thursday with an examination of the conflict between Christianity and the news media.

Baumann was appointed editor of the traditionally liberal-minded magazine, which is managed by people of the Catholic Church. As editor, Baumann works to bring perspectives from outside of the ecclesiastical hierarchy to show how religion maintains its importance and applicability in modern times, despite the inherent incongruity between religion and journalism.

Baumann made a case for the continued relevance of religion in everyday life by reminding his audience that the news is concerned with quick facts and the fads of the moment. In contrast, religion is based upon considered opinions and truths that have been subject to theological scrutiny for centuries. As such, he believes that religion should not be so easily discounted.

In modern times, Baumann sees that even the foundations of traditional religion are being shaken. Today, there is a more fluid religious landscape, which Commonweal magazine attempts to represent. Instead of showing a close-minded portrayal of only one sector of the spectrum of opinions, Baumann and his magazine examine issues and views outside of their own faith community.

The most current issue of Commonweal magazine, edited by Paul Baumann. Courtesy of Commonweal magazine
The most current issue of Commonweal magazine, edited by Paul Baumann. Courtesy of Commonweal magazine

Moving beyond these restricted boundaries also fosters a mutualistic relationship between the religious and secular world ­– the two worlds that the Catholic magazine is forced to reconcile.

On the one hand, the church can learn about the ideals of having institutional transparency. On the flip side, Baumann believes secular institutions can learn respect for traditional and familial values.

While tradition is often perceived as the enemy of a liberal-minded society, Baumann attempts to dispel the misconception that religion and secular institutions cannot coexist harmoniously through the more liberal viewpoints that Commonweal conveys. Indeed, Baumann and the Commonweal team are trying to convey just the opposite.

In Baumann’s estimation, the heart of the Catholic faith is characterized by a challenge to religious complacency, meaning that one’s faith challenges the practitioner to not just to accept the church’s beliefs as absolute truths. The magazine attempts to show that religion is meant to encourage its believers to question their motives in practicing their faith in order to reach a greater and introspective understanding of Catholicism as it relates to their own individuality.

Another myth that Baumann attempts to dispel through Commonweal is the idea that religion judges outsiders from the faith harshly. He argues that while the Catholic faith is forgiving, it judges its believers most harshly by challenging them to uphold high standards of the faith.

In fact, Baumann argues that the secular world has become complacent, allowing prejudices and injustices in society to be perpetuated.

While emphasizing a commitment to religious values in Commonweal, Baumann also made a pledge to uphold high standards of journalism. As editor, he tries to avoid predictable plotlines, noting that every story has two sides. In this way, he emphasizes that issues are not merely black and white, but rather different shades of grey. Seeing as how the world and its issues are not one-dimensional, journalism should reflect that complexity.

Ultimately, the joint goal of Baumann and Commonweal as a whole is to demonstrate the value of religiously informed thinking, even for those who reject religion. While everyone is entitled to their own perspectives, differing ones should not be ignored or, even worse, blotted out. As most current media outlets happen to be left-leaning, religious thinking might seem odd to some, but for the sake of a stronger press, it might be time to incorporate it.

Through its seemingly unconventional methods, Baumann and his team exemplify the values of the Catholic faith by having Commonweal focus on inclusivity and turning common misconceptions on their head.

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