Every now and then, major newspapers run articles that really don't have strong news hooks, but it seems like the editors believe these articles state fundamental truths about American life. It's like they are saying to their readers, "We think we just learned a fundamental truth about American life and we'd like to share it with you, so that you can be enlightened. Behold, here it is." That's how I felt as I read the Jennifer Moses piece in The Washington Post titled "Why Jesus Is Welcome In the Public Square: Religiosity Isn't Just the Right's Territory." It's a fun little piece that includes some nice zingers. Think of it as an aftershock to the aftershocks from the red vs. blue "values voters" earthquake of 2004.
Here's the big idea that Moses brought back from the bayou (where there are old churches like the one in this photo). This is a paraphrase: There sure are a lot of conservative people down here in Baton Rouge, and some of them are not as dumb as I thought they would be.
Here is a direct quote of her point of view:
... (Perhaps) I'm naive, but I tend to believe that the Christian religiosity that's the common currency of great swaths of our country generally does more good than harm, giving people a sense of purpose and community where they might not otherwise have either. But I'm talking mainly about what I call the "good" Jesus -- the Jesus of the Sermon on the Mount, the one who, through his people, clothes the naked and feeds the hungry.
As you would expect, the people who serve this "good Jesus" are an interesting gumbo of folks, down Louisiana way. Moses has even discovered that the Democratic Party includes people who go to church and that some of them -- sit down for this one -- are even kind of conservative when it comes to religion and culture. African-Americans, for example, are not fond of new definitions of marriage. Even the Democrat in the statehouse has to embrace public prayers.
The writer can see this. She is uncomfortable with it, but she can see that this kind of public-square faith is not all bad. Maybe. She's struggling.
This brings us to the roller-coaster quote of the day. Hang on.
If one common mistake liberals make is assuming that the great majority of Bible-thumping (or tapping) comes from the right, a second -- and to my mind, more important -- mistake is equating this style of religiosity with something as simple as narrow-minded ignorance. Rather, bringing God and his word as expressed in the Bible into the debate points to a profound lack of meaning and vision in our public discourse, and a searing pessimism that anyone, or any institution, in public life might put things right. It points, also, to disgust: disgust not only with our elected leaders but also with the cheapening of life around us, whether by blatant sexuality on television, soaring drug abuse, the acceptance of out-of-wedlock birth or the loss of the communal ties that once grounded us.
As far as I can tell, progressives and liberals of all stripes don't even begin to fathom the despair and confusion most ordinary Americans feel when they hear the latest violent rap song or see a billboard plastered with an image of a 16-year-old clad only in Calvin Klein underwear.
And all the people said: "Say what?"
Clearly Moses has been drinking the water down in Louisiana. So I decided to ask Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher what he made of this piece. Rod has more bayou water in his blood than anyone else I know (and family near Baton Rouge). Here's his reaction:
That's a tough one. It's something like, "These people down here are more or less Jesus freaks, and you wouldn't believe the kind of crap a normal person has to put up with living among them, but they seem to be onto something, though I can't quite figure out what it is and really would rather not."
That's about right. What those Louisiana people need to do is go to church less often and watch PBS more often. Then more of them will buy newspapers and let journalists tell them all about what is happening in their lives.