Your weekend think piece: It's time for our politicians (and journalists) to get religion

Yes, this post is about an op-ed piece from an advocacy publication.

However, every now and then your GetReligionistas share material of this kind when it has obvious relevance to debates about the quality of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press, here in America and abroad. This Damian Thompson piece from The Spectator (hat tip to Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher) is precisely that kind of think piece.

The context, of course, is the wave of persecution and violence in Syria and Iraq, with the Islamic State leading the charge. The U.S. government experts watched and watched and watched (thank you, Kristen Powers) as this tsunami of blood rolled over the land, affecting all kinds of religious minorities, including Christian communities with roots all the way back to the early church fathers.

Why the delay? Partially, it was a matter of politics. The right wants to blame President Barack Obama for literally everything that is going on. The left still wants (with just cause, in my opinion) to keep bashing the culture-building dreams of President George W. Bush, who was absolutely convinced that Western democracy works for everywhere, for everyone, even without that whole Bill of Rights thing going on.

Thompson's thesis is quite simple: Our elites just don't get religion.

Obviously, your GetReligionistas think it's safe to say that -- especially at the global-news level -- this applies to elite journalists, as well. Here is his overture:

Today we are witnessing the extraordinary -- and long overdue -- spectacle of an American president intervening in Iraq to protect religious minorities from ISIS death squads motivated by their own extreme religious beliefs. The minorities are Christians, whose looming extinction the West has ignored for years, and the Yazidis, members of an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism that very people had heard of until the past fortnight. The butchery in Iraq and Syria -- and that is exactly the right word, since ISIS have literally cut children in half -- bears out my argument that ‘religion is the new politics’.

So what is going on here?

Simply stated, Western elites are sliding in a post-religion direction while the rest of the world never got that memo and, in fact, it is possible that -- for better (angels) and for worse (demons) -- large segments of the world have been getting more religious, while living in increasingly deep silos defined by often radicalized forms of doctrine.

Meanwhile, our scribes and rulers in the West have trouble drawing a cultural and doctrinal line between Islam the "religion of peace" and the radicalized forms that are running wild in Syria, Iraq, Pakistan, etc., etc. And what is the press supposed to do with Buddhist terrorists? Or truly radical Hindu activists? 

Here is a key chunk of the essay:

... Religion has made a startling comeback around the globe. Religion in general, that is -- including, but not confined to, the nasty stuff (torching of dormitories, bombs on the Tube, stoning of adulterers, Giles Fraser’s sermons etc). In fact, in many respects, religion has become the new politics.
In dozens of countries, disputes that we may think of as ethnic, political or economic are now unmistakably religious in character: everything from squabbles over school textbooks in New Delhi to throat-slitting in Syria. We see this most clearly in the Middle East, where national boundaries are dissolving and reforming along religious lines. Our inability to recognise religion means, for example, that we plotted an invasion of Iraq in 2003 without realising that we’d be blowing the lid off a Sunni vs Shia civil war.
Even in Britain, our politicians keep being surprised when religion bursts back into the public debate.  ... Over the years Britain has, by some measures, become the least religious country in the developed world. Our overwhelmingly secular outlook means that we struggle to understand international affairs. The Foreign Office seems to live in world clearly marked with political borders, where power lies in the government ministries and police stations. But the jihadis know that to control a chunk of Nigeria they impose Sharia law -- more effective than a coup. They’re playing old power games with new, religious rules. Also, we instinctively divide ‘faith traditions’ into fundamentalists versus democrats -- a crude, naïve and dangerous dichotomy.

Read it all. And pass it on to journalists, activists and politicians you know.

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