Nice speech title, huh?

fred barnes card 01Hmmmmmm ... A friend sent me a notice to this Faith & Law event here on Capitol Hill next Monday. I wonder if the organizers would let me attend, not to mention the Divine Ms. MZ and young master Daniel. The Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc is a bit out of range, but could come on Amtrak. I mean, after all, look at the title.

Monday, June 11, 2007 Fred Barnes "Does the Media Get Religion?" TIME: Noon LOCATION: 2257 Rayburn

I would really like to hear what Barnes has to say on this topic, in part because he is one of the most outspoken traditional Christians in the Washington media and he has worked on both sides of the whole left vs. right scene here -- with his years at the Baltimore Sun and The New Republic.

These days, of course, he is the very face of the conservative, alternative media at the local and national levels, due to his work at Fox News and as executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

Before some of you click that "comment" button in a holy and political rage, let me make one other observation. While Barnes has been a GOP insider for some years now and a major W Bush supporter, I think it is critical to remember that Fred is someone who is, in this town, known as a "cultural conservative" just as much, if not more, than as a "political conservative." In other words, he would freely admit that when political push comes to shove, his faith matters more than his politics.

Thus, issues of religiona and culture and the intersection of the two have always been part of the mix at The Weekly Standard. A good recent example is an essay that I have been meaning to mention for more than a week now. I am referring to the "Spiritualpolitique" article by the conservative Democrat John J. DiIulio Jr., whose GetReligion-esque work has been noted (and criticized) before on this blog. The long, long second deck of the article's headline tells you what's going on: "Religion matters more than ever in global affairs. But don't count on the experts -- or the State Department -- to know that."

There is, of course, a ghost in this story. One of the reasons the State Department has so much trouble understanding the role that religion plays in global affairs is that the mainstream media struggle to understand the same issues. Even when excellent journalists do dig into these stories, the American public's documented lack of interest in foreign affairs kicks in. This is not a pretty picture.

If it's hard for the mainstream media to "get religion," it's even harder for them to "get religion" when the religion in questions is being practiced on the other side of the planet.

NEWS WorldReligionsThus, DiIulio writes:

... (What) I hereby baptize as spiritualpolitique is a soft-power perspective on politics that emphasizes religion's domestic and international significance, accounts for religion's present and potential power to shape politics within and among nations, and understands religion not as some abstract force measured by its resiliency vis-a-vis "modernity" and not by its supporting role in "civilizations" that cooperate or clash. Rather, a perspective steeped in spiritualpolitique requires attention to the particularities that render this or that actual religion as preached and practiced by present-day peoples so fascinating to ethnographers (who can spend lifetimes immersed in single sects) and so puzzling to most of the social scientists who seek, often in vain, to characterize and quantify religions, or to track religion-related social and political trends.

Consider how this perspective might inform the ongoing debate on Iraq. Some have advocated increasing the U.S. presence in Iraq and staying there until violence is well under wraps. Others have devised or advocated various draw-down or get-out plans. Although it took a few years, almost all now acknowledge that the struggle behind most homegrown bombings that have killed innocent civilians in Iraq has specific religious roots. But some on both sides in the debate over U.S. policy seem not yet to know that any conflict-ending compromise or resolution, no matter its military, economic, or other features, will not last unless it takes those particular religious differences very seriously. It is not a "civil war." It is "sectarian violence," complicated by the region's wider religious rifts and their intersections with state-supported terrorism networks.

This is not an issue or right vs. left or even one rooted in political parties, he stresses. Members of the political and media elites on both sides of Washington's many deep divisions are, as Bill Moyers likes to say, equally tone deaf on some of these issues.

DiIulio is, as always, rather blunt about this elephant in the State Department sanctuary:

There is only one word for American foreign policy elites, Democratic and Republican, left and right, who downplay or disregard religion to their peril, ours -- and the world's -- in deference to the dogma that being faith-free promotes objectivity: preposterous.

I'm glad that Barnes and Co. ran this article in The Weekly Standard. It wouldn't be bad to hand copies of that issue out before his speech next week, which I plan to attend right after I get back from a working trip to Istanbul.

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