Cynical coverage of the 'religion-industrial complex'

heavy industryJacques Berlinerblau, an associate professor and program director at Georgetown University, has launched an On Faith column on the "religion-industrial complex." I find the whole On Faith site confusing in both layout and content. Berlinerblau's project, which is equally confusing in its layout, seems associated with Georgetown University, but there is a reference to "university scholars" so that might mean non-Hoyas will be contributors as well.

That said about the layout the concept of covering the "religion-industrial complex" is pretty compelling. Yes, the "-industrial complex" construction has been overused in Washington since the days of Eisenhower, but it is fitting. It is also rather sad to think that the concept has come to the subject of religion.

According to his Georgetown profile, Berlinerblau holds two doctorates: one in ancient Near Eastern languages and literatures and another in sociology. He is the visiting professor at Georgetown for Jewish civilization and directs the Jewish Studies program. He is also an associate professor of religion at Hofstra University.

A reader of ours, Christian Hamaker, brought the post to our attention using the handy Submit a Story link and said that he's hoping the posts are not saturated in cynicism. But based on the introduction, I have a feeling Christian may be disappointed:

The goal of this blog is to change that by casting a self-reflexive glance on the 2008 faith industry from a non-partisan perspective (about which more anon). By necessity, this will be an incomplete look, a peek. The industry is so vast and decentralized that no one observer could hope to cover it all. But, if all goes well I hope to draw your attention to key trends, emerging patterns, failures of judgment, and moments of critical heroism that will come to pass in 2008.

The goal of this blog, however, is not to appoint or anoint myself ombudsman of the entire, sprawling unregulated enterprise. Such an endeavor would be insufferably boring. Self-righteous. Puritanical. Rather, a sort of overarching apprehensiveness will pervade my bi-weekly posts. My maxim is: when dealing with faith and politics few things do violence to our (already limited) powers of impartiality like our own faith and our own politics. Whether writing about a presidential aspirant's latest play of the religion card, or an emerging issue being championed by a special interest group, or a poll showing that this community of faith supports that candidate, my goal is to write with an acute awareness of how religious and political passion can obscure and cloud the good judgment, moral reasoning, and analytical clarity of industry commentators (including myself) and those they comment on.

Berlinerblau's perspective on religion in politics is somewhat shocking in its honesty. The fact that America has developed a religion and politics industry is rather amazing considering the roots of the country. How often do you see the story framed in those words? Perhaps this blog can help reporters see a different perspective on the stories involving politics and religion.

But as our reader said, let's hoe that cynicism does not dominate the story. Faith has had a persistent and often positive role in American politics since its founding. The fact that it seems to have emerged in the 2008 race may be more of a re-emergence after a generation-long sabbatical. That doesn't mean reporters covering religion in politics shouldn't be somewhat cynical, though. Let's just keep things in perspective and consider the historical role faith has played in American public life.

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