The "Witness" and purple spirituality

One cannot overstress the following fact: The whole "red" and "blue" typology works at the level of the Electoral College and, much more so, when applied to "progressive" and "traditional" cultures with counties (think college towns vs. rural) and zip codes (think latte artsy urban vs. Home Depot suburban). But it is impossible to divide American culture into two zones at the level of most people's lives. Study the polls and you end up with true reds, true blues and a wide sea of purple. Study opinion polls about abortion. Or look at a Gallup or Barna survey on religious commitment and beliefs. What you find is that somewhere between 8 and 15 percent of the nation can truly be called consistently red conservative on religious/cultural issues. Meanwhile, somewhere around 10 percent or more of the population is consistently secular or blue liberal on these issues. And what is in between? The answers you get seem to depend on how questions are worded and how people are feeling. The great middle ground is what I call Oprah America.

I bring this up because of the ghost that pops into view near the end of Janet Maslin's New York Times piece entitled "Scott Peterson's Other Woman Speaks (Again). What's Left to Say?" The big question: Why is the new Amber Frey book called "Witness: For the Prosecution of Scott Peterson" at the top of the New York Times' nonfiction bestseller list? Take it away, Maslin:

Why would anyone want to read Ms. Frey's account? Most of it has already been plastered all over every possible tabloid, magazine and television outlet. There's not much more for her to say, except that Pink Lady is her favorite kind of apple (Mr. Peterson once made her a caramel-coated version) and that her favorite Christmas ornament was an angel made out of a clothespin. Oh, and that "to me, Scott Peterson would always be a wolf in sheep's clothing."

This is a depressing subject for those of us who care about the future of Western Civilization. The answer, of course, is linked to how this emotional, tragic story makes people feel about a host of different hot-button issues that the media often have trouble addressing, covering everything from infidelity to murder, from good-for-nothing husbands to abortion. Calvin College communication scholar Quentin Schultze likes to call these kinds of stories "hypernews," when they break out of one region and the whole nation gets obsessed.

Lo and behold, there is even a kind of lowest-common-denominator salvation thread in this story. Say what? Perhaps you missed the part when God served as Amber's romance counselor:

. . . Ms. Frey, a California massage therapist, describes a great deal of weeping, repenting and communicating with God. "You do need someone, Amber," she says God told her. "And you'll find someone." She also writes that God was on her side during Mr. Peterson's trial. And she recommends that Mr. Peterson, whom a jury recommended be sentenced to death, seek God's forgiveness in a hurry. The book refers frequently to the Bible, especially when describing the enlightenment Ms. Frey experiences in its closing pages.

"I was overcome by a sense of power and possibility," she writes. "I didn't know what lay ahead, but I knew I was on the right path, and I felt incredibly good about myself."

Well, that's what really matters. This is also the kind of mushy faith angle that makes red purists and blue purists alike grind their teeth.

Why is "Witness" at the top of the sales charts? Think purple. How are journalists supposed to cover these stories? I think we simply have to let people tell their stories and share their beliefs and then print the results. Who are the experts in this field?

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