A journalist’s memories and musings on religion in America.
Woodward (The Book of Miracles: The Meaning of the Miracle Stories in Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam, 2001, etc.), who spent nearly four decades as the editor of Newsweek’s Religion section, looks back on the faith landscape of the United States since his childhood in the 1940s. He comes to his subject matter with a unique background as a broad-based observer of religious trends and practices across a spectrum of American society for several decades. However, as he tries to venture out from pure journalism toward memoir, an otherwise laudable book often feels overly laden with a good-old-days attitude. Woodward begins with a review of society in the postwar years, during which he came of age. As an Ohio Catholic, he saw diversity not in terms of race but in terms of religion. He often risks utilizing his own experience as a norm from which to understand the era. Moving from college at Notre Dame and graduate school in Iowa, he took his first reporting job in Omaha before moving on to Newsweek. Almost accidentally, as a Catholic in the waning days of the Second Vatican Council, he was placed on the religion beat and stayed there throughout his career. This role allowed him to meet fascinating people, ranging from Billy Graham to Hillary Clinton, and to be present for immense cultural sea changes as diverse as the march on Montgomery and the rise of the religious right. Woodward’s Catholic background colors a great deal of his perspectives on religion; Protestantism is always seen as a foreign entity, as is Judaism and other religions. The author also sometimes sounds like a cranky anachronism. From his consistent and jarring use of the term “Negro” to his epilogue, which focuses on the shortcomings of younger generations in today’s America, the aging journalist often seems stuck in the past.
Interesting history, inadequate autobiography.