It is Time for the Mainstream Media to Talk Religion and Politics

It is indicative of the mainstream media’s myopia that it can talk about the “balancing act” of religion and politics in Islamic countries without addressing the same problems being faced here in America, problems one would think would be of far more concern to Americans than what is taking place in Egypt or Tunisia or Libya. In the same way, we hear a great deal about the threat of freedom-killing “Sharia” law but nothing at all about the threat of freedom-killing Mosaic law.

The media can safely criticize Islamic fundamentalism; it doesn’t offend the very vocal and influential Christian fundamentalists in this country. It’s an easy sell: if an Islamic man murders somebody on our streets, its Jihad-time. If a Christian man murders somebody on our streets, a far more common occurrence, it’s just a murder. The murderer might happen to be a Christian, even a fundamentalist Christian, but nobody seems to want to suggest that religion might have been a motive.

Look at the media reluctance to identify Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik as religiously motivated. You wouldn’t have known from mainstream media coverage of the event that not only was Breivik a conservative Christian but that he espoused beliefs identical to those held by conservative Christians in this country and more than that, was actually influenced by dominionists in this country. Or closer to home, remember Bill Maher in July wanting to know why the Fort Hood shooter, Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, is a “Muslim” terrorist but Anders Breivik in Norway is not a “Christian” terrorist:

“I’m sure the media would have no trouble calling the guy at Ft. Hood a Muslim terrorist, but they refuse to call Anders Breivik a Christian terrorist. But that’s what he was. He is a Christian terrorist. He wanted to start a Christian onslaught against the Muslims. And it reminds me that this is not a problem with the Muslim religion — it’s a problem with religion. And Christianity is perfectly capable of coming out of its dormant phase and once again becoming the violent, blood-lusty religion it was under the Crusades.”

As once we blamed entire Native American tribes for the actions of one tribal member but excused our own, we now blame all of Islam for the actions of a few while excusing our own. And the media is complicit in this injustice. It creates a skewed image of reality, one that, sadly, feeds on misconceptions and fear.

Instead of addressing Christianity and democracy in America, we get Islam and democracy in the Middle East.

Look at a recent article in the New York Times, Tunisia Faces a Balancing Act of Religion and Democracy, by Anthony Shadid.

The insults were furious. “Infidel!” and “Apostate!” the religious protesters shouted at the two men who had come to the courthouse to show their support for a television director on trial on charges of blasphemy.

We see this every day in the United States, insults of this sort directed at the rest of us by our religious fundamentalists. But the media doesn’t report them, let alone hold them up for analysis.

Why in the face of the biggest threat to the Constitution  and the American system of government, not to mention our individual liberties, since the Christian Right began its takeover of the Republican Party half a century ago, is the media silent? A narrow brush with theocracy during the Bush administration went unnoticed. Now every GOP presidential hopeful strives to represent the Christian Right – every single Republican hopeful – and the media is silent.

Ignored are things like Newt Gingrich’s endorsement as one of four religiously acceptable candidates by FAMiLY LEADER, the extremist group that says black “families” were better off as slaves than in a modern liberal democracy, or Rick Perry’s endorsement by anti-government dominionist groups at his prayer fast in Houston. Mark Halperin of Time Magazine satisfied himself by vaguely referring to the event as a “righteous rollout for one of the latest-starting presidential campaigns in recent history.” Nothing about the anti-democracy, pro-theocracy  rhetoric, or the hate. Rachel Maddow alone among the mainstream media was willing to expose what really took place in Houston.

It is true we don’t have charges of blasphemy in our courts, but we once did. Tunisia is at the same formative stage of its democratization as we were in the wake of our revolution, when religion was uncomfortably and unhealthily intermixed with our politics. And that day may be coming again: we have seen Bryan Fischer’s call for profanity and blasphemy to be made illegal, and he is far from alone.

Shadid does briefly mention the West:

Some here hope the contest may eventually strike a balance between religious sensitivity and freedom of expression, an issue as familiar in the West as it is in Muslim countries. Others worry that debates pressed by the most fervent — over the veil, sunbathing on beaches and racy fare in the media — may polarize societies and embroil nascent governments in debates they seem to prefer to avoid.

But you would not get the idea from this that there is any serious problem going on in the West related to religion and what we call First Amendment rights.

And our society is already polarized. The rise of the Christian Right since the 1960s has completely changed the landscape upon which American politics are conducted. We are told that the director in the case discussed “was soon charged with libeling religion and broadcasting information that could “harm public order or good morals.” But this is a charge we are also familiar with, one made on an almost daily basis by pundits and politicians on the right. And it is not for lack of trying that American secularists cannot also be charged.

What Abdelhalim Messaoudi, whom Shadid describes as “a journalist at Nessma”, said of his own country is equally true in ours:

“Certain Islamist factions want to turn identity into their Trojan horse. They use the pretext of protecting their identity as a way to crush what we have achieved as a Tunisian society. They want to crush the pillars of civil society.”

Substitute Christian for Islamist and American for Tunisian and the situations match exactly.

It is a fundamentalist wet dream here – and likely in Tunisia as well – to turn our country into Afghanistan, our capital into Kabul, a grim, lifeless place where religious austerity rules and “quiet, grim, and boring” are the highlights of any printed tour guide. The American media may not have to fear stoning and violence – yet – but they are fooling themselves if they pretend that they are not also being bullied into silence. Even the DHS let itself be bullied into silence when it first issued, then rescinded, a warning about Rght-Wing terrorism being on the rise.

But as supporters of democracy in Islamic countries have realized in the wake of the Arab Spring, if they are silent today out of fear, they will be silent forever, for they have but one chance and one chance only to stand up to the forces of theocracy because the debates allowed in a modern liberal democracy will not be allowed in a theocracy.

Americans must understand that we face the same threat. It is no doubt interesting to talk about how Muslims democracies are going to survive their brush with religious fundamentalism, but I would be far more interested in the question of how we in America will survive our brush with religious fundmanetalism, and that is the last thing the mainstream media wants to talk about.

Photo from the Iowa Republican

14 Replies to “It is Time for the Mainstream Media to Talk Religion and Politics”

  1. This strikes of the Christian fundamentalists is that they are working their way up the ranks through the cities and states quietly. Mr. Gingrich may think that he will be powerful as a president, and we all know that he is just about as much Christian as I am. I think Gingrich would find out in a hurry that he would be in a power struggle between the fundamentalists and his own brand of right-wing silliness.

    People are just not paying attention to what is going on. It is my opinion that within 20 years people running for office will have to have the approval of the fundamentalists while the normal churches just set back and bask in the glow Thinking they are in on the joke.

    People had better pay attention to the “Remove” the birth control movements going on right now.The white races being outpaced by the Brown people And they must remove the birth control to get the white population back up

  2. Where to start…

    Watching “The Iron Lady” yesterday I was reminded of all the violence in the streets of London during “Maggies” austerity programs; middle-class without food or jobs, garbage piling up from worker strikes, police brutality, ect…however, what was the most striking was the domestic terrorism by locals against the establishment aided and abetted by the IRA.

    Picture the Dominionist movement joining forces the Klan/militant racist groups in all out domestic terrorism against minority business, abortion providers, gay and women’s rights organizations…imagine the mega-mall corporate churches “sympathizing” and supplying literature and “ghuns to the chilll’dren” as both christian churches had in Ireland…

  3. Certainly Mitt’s faith could be an issue, not because of what it is, but because he embraces it so tightly but will never publicly discuss it. Frank Rich thinks he should, that it would humanize him. But in my opinion, it is the very thing that permits Mitt to lie so often and so cavalierly, with no apologies. Why? Because the ONLY truth that counts to him is The Truth that his religion alone possesses. All other things are mere details and irrelevant to it.

  4. SinghX – what on earth do you mean by this?????????

    “what was the most striking was the domestic terrorism by locals against the establishment aided and abetted by the IRA.”

  5. Mr. Haraldsson is right, and I admire his ongoing campaign, but pardon my cynicism as to whether the MSM — even if it tried — could convince an increasingly dim US electorate of the benefits of secular rationality.

    Short attention span, anyone?

    “Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned.”
    ~Anonymous – (quoted in Daniel Dennett’s “Breaking the Spell”)

  6. This was a side bar remark on the movie that triggered memories of the chaos that reigned in the streets; lots of groups/factions jumped in during the British street protest with weapons, claiming themselves comrades-in-arms, to include IRA attacks. The “ghuns” were everywhere even though Sinn Fein had stepped back their violence in the early 70’s–“Abetted” may have been improperly used to try and convey the complexity of their enmeshment.

    There were tiny factions working from within the SWP’s of both England and Ireland who were tired of trying to unite workers; they wanted a more “radical” approach…eventually contentions rose and the tiny factions that created the free-for-all (street thugs/racist groups, as I recall) were used to “distract and escalate” violence against the “establishment” which did not help the middle-class nor the SWP. Both the British as well as Ireland’s Socialist Worker Parties wanted the Irish workers to unite against the “divide and rule” capitalist…

  7. An argument can be made that the MSM IS covering Christian religious extremists. Every time they play the clip of Gingrich claiming the Democrats [Obama!] are declaring “war on religion”, or the D’s war on Christmas trees, the 10 commandments, prayer in school…they cover it. They just fail to rebut it. Because it’s a 24/7/365 $ell, $ell, $ell business and Republican religious extremists love them some wars. The MSM (1996 Telecommunications Act – enter Rupert Murdoch) is now in the hands of the few, the 1%. The good news is; thanks to this “series of tubes”, the interwebs, we can look to the Google to locate credible news sources.

    I could not agree more that this issue needs greater audience. Education is the solution. I was taught that Jesus talked love and Jesus walked love. Anyone claiming to be a Christian that preaches fear and hate is one of those wolves in sheep’s clothing or the snake in the tree, or the mega churches, er, moneychangers etc…

    I respect everyone’s right to practice their religion as they see fit (I draw a line at violence, like virgins and volcanoes). I am an American, and that means that *you can’t make me* go to your church/synagogue/temple/place of worship. It’s called freedom. Freedom means that you can’t make me. But, hey, I am for loaves and fishes. And preventing angry mobs from throwing stones. Also eating, drinking and being merry. Peace.

  8. Sorry I really don’t follow your train of thought – nobody was in league in any meaningful way with the IRA. There were no “domestic terrorists” to speak of and the IRA and their protestant equivalents were universally despised across the political and social spectrum outside of small sympathetic enclaves……

  9. Hrafnkell,
    I so enjoy your articles on religion. I find the movement of the fundamentalists since the mid-century quite interesting and almost hair-raising. Everytime I read about how these men of power can live such questionable lives and get away with it I remember something I read, particularly, in Jeff Sharlet’s books about these men being considered the “chosen” ones. It does not matter how they live their lives because they are there for a higher purpose and can continue their power climb unscathed. It boggles the mind.

  10. The Klan and the dominionists are already heavily entwined, but I don’t think that they would be the domestic terrorists used by the dominionists. The Dominionists are raising their own in their churches – think “Jesus Camp” and the “Army of God”.

  11. Sarah considers herself ‘chosen’ as well, as the creepy pastor who saved her from witches told her so.
    But as we have seen, every person the ‘chosen’ one anoints has failed: Christine, McCain, Tebow, and now Gingrich. there are others. I am hopeful that this movement is going to be shown for what it is: a danger to freedom. The anti-contraception, embryo as person people are sick. And yet, the uneducated lap it up as if God himself were telling them what to do.

  12. …”The Klan and the dominionists are already heavily entwined…”

    That is the entire point; entwined, enmeshed, aligned, these groups of people do “use” one another as chaos ensues. They borrow ideas, people, guns, etc, sort of “intuitively”, regardless of who is invited to their party.

    The anarchist joining the Occupy and creating mischief is a perfect example. Or, terrorist organizations NOT claiming responsibility when something occurs; it just “happens” to be another faction from within the movement at large. Remember that “militia” woman who shot up those people in a trailer down on the AZ border–she was part of a larger group of “domestic terrorist” (which is the point of the article to start calling these thugs what they are) but decided to do her own “thang”, and all her “comrades” distanced themselves real fast-like
    …but secretly, they cheered…if the violence keeps up against immigrants, she’ll be a hero in a couple years. Look at the “hero worship” of those who have gone to prison for killing abortion doctors; it’s sick. Lone wolves my arse!

    …just like the thugs, neo-nazi skin-head types in Europe have joined in the chaos for the past few decades…these groups co-exist and are perfectly aware of the their “comrades” capacity to either help them get “the ghuns” or use them…I don’t think they really care who uses who as long as they satisfy the brotherhood of blood lust.

  13. …”The Klan and the dominionists are already heavily entwined…”

    That is the entire point; entwined, enmeshed, aligned, these groups of people do “use” one another as chaos ensues. They borrow ideas, people, guns, etc, sort of “intuitively”, regardless of who is invited to their party.

    The anarchist joining the Occupy and creating mischief is a perfect example. Or, terrorist organizations NOT claiming responsibility when something occurs; it just “happens” to be another faction from within the movement at large. Remember that “militia” woman who shot up those people in a trailer down on the AZ border–she was part of a larger group of “domestic terrorist” (which is the point of the article to start calling these thugs what they are) but decided to do her own “thang”, and all her “comrades” distanced themselves real fast-like
    …but secretly, they cheered…if the violence keeps up against immigrants, she’ll be a hero in a couple years. Look at the “hero worship” of those who have gone to prison for killing abortion doctors; it’s sick. Lone wolves my arse!

    …just like the thugs, neo-nazi skin-head types in Europe have joined in the chaos for the past few decades…these groups co-exist and are perfectly aware of the their “comrades” capacity to either help them get “the ghuns” or, use them; terrorist talk out of both sides of their mouth…

    I don’t think they really care who uses who as long as they satisfy their brotherhood of blood lust.

  14. It does seem that many of the want-a-bees think that they are chosen, Palin certainly does. By “chosen” in my comment, I mean chosen by the christian fundementalists that call themselves “the family”. They are the ones behind the National Prayer Breakfast held this morning in DC. They have slowly been infiltrating all halls of our government, even every branch of service, for many decades. Their goal is to eventually run the county according to their interpretation of the Bible. They want their activities to be as covert as possible. They choose young men they see as up and coming then groom them for many years and then make sure they get elected where they can do the Family the most good. They have also been involved in some very devious affairs in other countries. I have been hearing and reading about this for a while and it is well documented in Jeff Sharlet’s books. As I said, it boggles the mind.

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