The horror, the horror


Jeff Sharlet is guest-blogging on Beliefnet, and at the end of his most recent post writes:

The new media narrative, in which the Wright controversy will go down as a speed bump on the path to power, is evidence that they believe they have rid the candidate of his demons. But all they really did was banish any serious conversation about relationship between religion and politics – the good, the bad, and the ugly — from the public square.

I find this jejune. The media as such don’t believe anything, and aren’t exactly doing anything. The Wright affair, the Pfleger affair, the Hagee affair, the Parsley affair–all have been driven by YouTube clips. Journalists have tagged along behind the bloggers, who depending on their ideology have flogged the outrage. A lot of the latter (including re: Hagee and Hitler) is ill-informed–dare I say theologically illiterate. For what it’s worth, I think Hagee’s genuinely anti-Catholic, an odd kind of genuinely philo-Semitic pre-millennialist, and all-round self-promoting bombastic bad news. I think Wright is a genuine radical, in what’s becoming a classic Mainline Protestant mode, as well as a lot of other things. But the public square is not an easy or kind place in the middle of a heated presidential campaign, and to expect “the media” to be able to sort out a lot of hot religious rhetoric and complex religious context in a learned and dispassionate way is expecting too much.
Now it may be that, for those of us in the religion-and-public-life business, it’s not particularly pleasant (in a self-interested sort of way) to contemplate the rise of a new controlling media narrative in which religion is re-consigned to politicians’ private lives and good riddance. And ok, so maybe Jeff’s book would be doing a lot better if journalists only realized that The Family is a very much more consequential religion-and-politics story than Hagee or Wright. Maybe it is. And, if Hillary were about to become the Democratic nominee and not Barack, then probably they would, sooner or later. So curse the darkness if you will, but don’t blame “the media.” We’re all in this together, now more than ever.