Monday, June 04, 2007

Faith and politics

Jim Wallis of Sojourners, is someone I respect. I don't necessarily hold his views on theology, even though they are left of center and at least somewhat less strident than the current "Left Behind" theology, currently in vogue and in power.

For the last 20 years, thanks to Falwell and Co., who like Reagan, was awarded a free pass in death, by the sycophantic MSM, religion, particularly when it pertains to politics, has been heavy on hellfire, damnation and judgement, rather than focusing on the social justice and elements of the redemption story that at one time was much more common in our country.

For most Americans, who've allowed the debate on religion to be highjacked by fascists like James Dobson, the aforementioned Falwell, Pat Robertson and columnists like Cal Thomas, the civic religion of the far right has come to define presidential politics. Forced to pass a religious litmus test on issues like abortion, prayer in school and sexual orientation, candidates have been cowed by Dobson and his Family Research Council and others like Chuck Colson whose orientations leans heavily towards theocracy and ridicules a more pluralistic view of faith. During the Bush reign, these religious fascists have set the tone and agenda on all issues pertaining to spirituality. Chris Hedges, in his book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, draws striking parallels between 20th-century totalitarian movements and the highly organized, well-funded "dominionist movement," an influential theocratic sect within the country's huge evangelical population.

The dominionists, with a theology firmly rooted in a radical Calvinism, have wrapped their apocalyptic, vehemently militant, sexist and homophobic vision in patriotic and religious rhetoric. These far right groups seek absolute power in a Christian state. Hedges's book is a powerful and eye-opening read, even for those who purport to having an understanding of American fundamentalism.

I had received Wallis' email from Sojourners, a religious group that I still receive information from, primarily via their email list. Receiving the email, promoting the "Faith and Politics" feature on CNN, I thought I'd tune in. Mentioning that the candidates would be discussing their views on poverty, I decided, despite my tightly packed schedule, to at least have the TV on, as I worked, prepping for my upcoming book release.

Sadly, CNN and in particular, Paula Zahn, managed to miss the mark regarding the amalgamation of religion and politics, as members of the national press do, 99 percent of the time. Heavy on the hype and failing to provide any viable context for a serious issue that could have been handled much better, if CNN had a host that actually had a clue regarding spriituality. Her questioning, or better, haranguing of the candidates regarding how they handled tragedy in their lives, abortion, whether they pray and other issues that define their faith, was absolutely pathetic and exposed Zahn for the shallow talking head that she really is.

While I applaud Mr. Wallis for trying to open up a dialogue to broader theological issues, which are much more representative of Christianity and the various strains of theology that aren't as narrow and monolithic as fundamentalists would like to have you believe, his ambition got the best of him, as he should have recognized that someone like Zahn and a network, like CNN, wasn't the right vehicle for this. Someone like Bill Moyers, or another, more nuanced, sophisticated journalist might have made it more meaningful. Once again, however, a mainstream news outlet showed why this community no longer has any journalistic cred remaining.

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