Charles’ fine “crying wolf” post got me thinking about the boundary lines the media–and by extension the popular culture–draws when it comes to religion and the public square.
We’ve seen the media express not-so-veiled concern about Catholics, evangelicals (google Religious Right), and Mormons in public life. The message in such reporting is often as follows: these “conservative” faiths are dangerous to the future of the republic. If reporters are feeling especially bold they might even drop the “t-word”–theocracy. In so doing they are attempting to draw boundary lines that seek to marginalize—if not exclude—people of certain types of faith from the political process. But boundary lines do more than exclude. By their very nature they also include.
For an idea of what those boundary lines include consider the New York Times’ story on Barack Obama’s religious journey and relationship with his minister (empathetically titled “A Candidate, His Minister, and the Search for Faith”). The piece is a shining example of the type of faith the media is willing to accept—even laud—as part of the political process.
On Obama’s attraction to the teachings of his minister, Jeremiah Wright:
Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views.
Followers were also drawn simply by Mr. Wright’s appeal. Trinity has 8,500 members today, making it the largest American congregation in the United Church of Christ, a mostly white denomination known for the independence of its congregations and its willingness to experiment with traditional Protestant theology.
Mr. Wright preached black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as the story of the struggles of black people, who by virtue of their oppression are better able to understand Scripture than those who have suffered less.
On Obama’s faith:
While he has said he shares core Christian beliefs in God and in Jesus as his resurrected son, he sometimes mentions doubts. In his second book, he admitted uncertainty about the afterlife, and “what existed before the Big Bang.” Generally, Mr. Obama emphasizes the communal aspects of religion over the supernatural ones.
Are you seeing the same message in that last paragraph that I am? Namely, that Obama isn’t like those religious types who actually believe in the tenets of their faith with great certainty and emphasize the supernatural aspects of faith over the communal ones? Are you seeing the Times‘ implicit endorsement of what we might call “squishy” faith over faith with more clearly defined edges? Do you see how refusing to support Gov. Romney because he is a Mormon allows the Times (and others) to move that boundary line so that it excludes not only Mormons, but ultimately all people with deeply-held beliefs rooted in the supernatural?