I get a lot of complaints about our letters and commentaries on our opinion pages. Too liberal, too conservative. Too favorable to development, too biased against development. Too pro-wine, too anti-wine.
Nothing, however, gets quite the same reaction as the topic of religion.
Occasionally, we’ll get a series of religious-themed letters, such as a debate back in 2016 over the evidence for (or against) the existence of God, or the debates in 2014 and 2015 over the practice of tithing. We have one occasional writer who likes to tweak believers by cataloging contradictions in the Bible.
We also get commentaries submitted by religious leaders (Rabbi Lee Bycel, for example, was a frequent name in our pages before his recent retirement). Sometimes, when the flow of local letters and commentaries from readers slows to a trickle and I am in need of something to keep the opinion pages filled, I will pick up an essay from the venerable weekly Thursday Pulpit series from the Weekly Calistogan and St. Helena Star. We had to do this several times in July since our normally prolific cadre of letter writers seemed to be on vacation.
Anytime we have even a small handful of religious-related items on the opinion pages, I start to get letters and emails like this:
“If I or anyone else is interested in hearing a religious sermon, there are many houses of worship in Napa where such sermons are available on a weekly basis. You may personally be highly religiously motivated. That, however, does not make a secular newspaper the proper venue for religious tracts.”
“Napa is not an exclusively Christian city nor our nation a Christian country…we remain deeply offended by the supposition that when we purchase the Register, we must pay for and be subjected to not just Christian-related information, but Christian messaging and heavily biased content.”
One letter writer suggested back in 2015 that we ban religion entirely from the Opinion pages.
“The column inches of the letters section are precious space for public comment. I look forward daily to reading the opinions and insights of citizens regarding local issues,” she wrote. “May I suggest that the ‘Letters to the Editor’ section be secular? Perhaps religious discussions can [be] printed on the Religion page as essays or sermons.”
I am not a religious person, but I find it odd that we get such a hostile reaction to matters of faith, particularly given that they appear on the opinion page. I have never had any complaints that we allow political opinions in a non-partisan newspaper. Or that we give too much space to development and land use issues in a general interest publication. But something about religious issues seems to irritate some readers, even if it is just as much a matter of opinion as any secular topic.
Here’s how I look at it. You don’t have to be a believer to realize that faith occupies an important place in the lives of many people. I’d be willing to bet a large percentage of readers, perhaps even a majority, have attended some kind of religious service or ceremony in the last year, probably in the last month or even week.
To arbitrarily restrict religious views on the opinion page would be to ignore a vast and important part of our community. Worse, it would mark us not so much as a “secular” newspaper, but as an “anti-religious” one.
So we’ll keep allowing religious-themed letters as long as they meet our other general standards of length and decorum, and I’ll continue to use the Thursday Pulpit items occasionally, though as always, I will give higher priority to original letters and commentaries that come in through regular channels.
Don’t like it? Don’t see your perspective (religious or otherwise) reflected? Please write me a letter to the editor.