Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Peter Montgomery Responds to Lisa Miller: Continuing Discussion of Religion, the Media, and Politics

At Religion Dispatches, Peter Montgomery issues a rejoinder to Washington Post religion writer Lisa Miller, re: her recent slam of "the left" as it deals with religious issues in political debates.  I linked to Miller's statement at the start of this week in a posting noting the ratcheting up of media discussion of religion in American politics as the 2012 election cycle gets underway.  

Montgomery concludes that Miller does not make her case that "the left" fails to understand and distorts the religious beliefs of influential American political leaders on the conservative end of the political spectrum.  He also offers a valuable summary of dominionist tenets and their historical-cultural provenance.  As he notes, dominionism draws together a "broad swath" of conservative evangelicals who want to compile a set of talking points on which they can all agree, as the religious right brings its influence to bear on the political sector: 

In other words, this is not a movement dreamed up by people with no understanding of Christianity who simply want to stir up fear of conservative evangelicals. The increasingly widespread use of “Seven Mountains” rhetoric reflects an effort by a broad swath of conservative evangelical leadership to adopt a shared set of talking points, if you will, to unite theologically disparate elements in common political cause to defeat the Satanic/demonic enemies of faith and freedom: secularists, gays, liberals, and the Obama administration.

Montgomery's right.  Where Miller sees paranoia among those of "the left" who decry the powerful influence of the dominionist movement on some of the current presidential contenders, Montgomery notes that what quacks like a duck frequently is a duck.  

And in a nation with the soul of a church, these religio-political ideas have "real-world consequences," as he notes.  It's a pity, in a way, that the reporting of folks like Lisa Miller emanates from the secure, protected cultural enclaves of places like D.C. and New York.  If she did some of her research on the ground in places like, say, Erewhon, east Texas or Rough and Ready, south Arkansas, she might have an entirely different slant on the "paranoia" of "the left" as it urges media luminaries to pay attention to what religion really means to many American voters and political leaders.

One of my fantasies about beltway and big-city media mavens like Miller or Ross Douthat, who has been ludicrously pimping for Rick Perry's economic "miracle" in Texas: assign them to spend a year in Erewhon or Rough and Ready, as they talk about religion in American culture and politics, or the economic miracles performed by right-wing leaders like Perry.  Let them find out precisely what life is like in those enclaves of strong faith and staunch conservative values that they imagine "the left" misunderstands.

After a few weeks in a community in which the sale of liquor is prohibited by law (due to the influence of the churches); in which there are no bookstores and the only bookstore that dared to open in the community in the last decade was burned down because it was thought to be promoting witchcraft; in which there is not a soul who admits to being anything other than conservative and Christian; in which divinely ordained gender roles are rigidly reinforced by social strictures, in which anyone contravening the town's cultural norms is quickly and effectively punished; in which any gay person who dares to show his real face is liable to violence: after a few weeks in such places, Miller and Douthat might see and write differently.

They might see and write differently than they do now, ensconced in the comfort, security, and left-leaning diversity of their east-coast cultural enclaves.  Those earthquakes that spooked you all in the privileged places of the land yesterday, and became news worth telling because they occurred on the east coast: they've been going on a long time in the places that don't count enough to warrant much real news coverage.

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