Wednesday, May 4

More Christian Bashing! Now With Extra Jihad!

From the Washington Post: apparently former NY Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips doesn't care for the recent portrayal of Christians in the news.

In more than 50 years of direct engagement in and observation of the major news media I have never encountered anything remotely like the fear and loathing lavished on us by opinion mongers in these world-class newspapers in the past 40 days.

Okay, I rarely turn on teevee news. I know we went through a period of religious mania, what with Schiavo followed by the John Paul II death watch, followed by the coronation, or whatever you call it, of the new guy. So I was totally unaware of all the evangelical bashing. I might have watched more if I'd known. Where was it?

The opening salvo of the heavy rhetorical artillery to which I object came in on March 24, when Maureen Dowd started her column in the Times with the declaration "Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy...." Three days later Frank Rich...From March 24 through April 23 (when The Post twinned Colbert I. King's "Hijacking Christianity" with Paul Gaston's "Smearing Christian Judges"), I counted 13 opinion columns of similarly alarmist tone aimed at us on the Christian right...

So, in opinion columns, then. You're the newsman, Mr. Phillips, so maybe you know better, but I generally try to make distinctions between news stories and commentary written under a by-line. So, maybe this trend had a little something to do with the news cycle? Did you happen to notice an upturn in the number of columnists mentioning "Iraq" in the run-up to the war? Or an increased interest in Janet Jackson after the 2004 Super Bowl?

I don't mind you being upset at being called a jihadist. I myself get upset when the insistence on a religion-neutral public square gets characterized as "anti-Christian". But it's difference of opinion that makes horse racing. Say it again, and again: the Schiavo case didn't go from private matter to public circus because of secularists. Those complaints about Ms Jackson's breast ornamentation were all typed on the same (Christian evangelical) keyboard, as it turns out. I have only a withered dilettante's interest in Catholic theology, and none whatsoever in overhead shots of throngs in St. Peter's Square. But when the Catholic hierarchy makes blatantly political statement in the middle of the U.S. presidential campaign, I'm involved.

You cannot have it both ways. You cannot drag religion into the public square while simultaneously insisting its vaunted position precludes the sort of criticism everybody else receives. Whatever metaphors Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd choose to employ is their business. Same as with Falwell, and Robertson, and Dobson and their tax-free podia.

Of course nearly every "moral values" issue--from abortion to teaching evolution--falls apart without the stiffening effects of religious pronouncement. Religious right arguments always emphasize the former, and as we saw in the Schiavo case it's the power of a loud minority constituency, not principled argument, which pulls the strings of both the Congress and the White House. You can't control what your enemies think about you. You can control the things you say. Start there.


Anonymous said...

So it even counts as anti-Christian castigation when done by other actual Christians? I think I always assumed that was "legitimate debate between broadly agreeing parties as to the specific direction of their mutual interests". You know, that whole policy thing.
I'm not sure it's a good idea to admit you feel Maureen Dowd is oppressing you, but even if you think she is, isn't she also a Christian and therefore legitimately interested in how "Christian" is defined? Isn't she also an American and therefore legitimately interested in how "American" is defined?
Isn't the fact that some people are trying to argue that you cannot be one without the other a matter worthy of debate by Christians and non-Christians alike?
And to be perfectly honest, up until Pat Robertson opened his mouth Sunday, I'd seen far more respectful (not to say "worshipful") religious coverage than denigrating of late. But maybe like Doghouse, I'm just not watching the right channels.
I'd also suggest that they can't have it both ways: They can't play up the image that they're a persecuted majority while insisting no one is allowed to even criticize them. And if they can't tell the difference, I'm not sure that's Frank Rich's problem.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I read Phillips op piece this morning. My gut reaction was this: tough shit. You don't like being called a Jihadist, then say something--anything--against the extremists in the American Taliban. Do Falwell, Robertson, and Dobson speak for you? How about Fred Phelps and Randall Terry? If so, John, then you are a bona fide Christian Jihadist (aka crusader...really, what's the difference?). If not, and you consider yourself a moderate, then start thrashing these extremists alongside the folks you've already mentioned. I bet you can't.

Full disclosure: I'm live-and-let-live heathen long disillusioned by organized religion, who is engaged to a wonderful Catholic woman. She is practicing, strong in her faith, quite reasonable, and having serious doubts about the direction the church is taking. We have fun conversations--always civil, too.