This is my last Sunday French Press, and I confess that I have profoundly mixed feelings. I’m grateful and honored by the chance to join the New York Times, but my community of Sunday readers here at The Dispatch is like nothing else I’ve ever experienced in my career. From the heartfelt comments to the often moving personal emails, it’s plain to me that there simply haven’t been enough open, transparent discussions and explorations of faith within American media. People are hungry for conversations about the role of religion in our lives.
I’d long been frustrated with the failure of much of the media to understand faith communities, but that frustration built to a boil during the post-9/11 era, culminating with the rise of ISIS. In the constant search to understand jihadism, there was a frustrating tendency to overlook the religious argument that the jihadists were making—constantly and loudly—to find the “true” cause of their militaristic rage, whether it was the legacy of colonialism, poverty, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or political repression.
That’s not to say that those factors were irrelevant. Many of them rendered the soil fertile for the seeds of apocalyptic religion. But when jihadists told us their motivations, we should have believed them, and if we didn’t believe them, then we didn’t truly understand them.
But understanding religious motivations and religious culture is far from the only reason to do deep dives into faith and people of faith. As I’ve argued at length, for years, religious arguments often connect with human nature in a deep and profound way. Through faith we can often understand the world (and ourselves) better than we can through a purely secular analysis.