The debate about Newsweek's cover story of a few weeks ago by editor Jon Meacham, "The End of Christian America," continues to intrigue journalists both across the pond (as noted earlier this week) and over here. When an opinion column addresses a topic we've covered (numerous times) then we consider it worth a mention.
In a column Washington Post writer Michael Gerson (a personal fave for his ability to be astute and unpredictable) does a fine job of looking at the strengths and weaknesses of Meacham's essay. He made the wise choice of consulting with John Green, dean of polling at the Pew Forum and Public Life -- interpreting Green's analysis or letting it speak for itself.
Terming Meacham's analysis "accurate, even wise" but also "incomplete" Gerson (riffing on Green) brings some balance to the picture that seems so appealing to some (but not all) in the media: of a battleground in which the secular hordes are overtaking the fainting faithful.
I'm a sucker for anything that challenges conventional wisdom, particularly when it's voiced by pros like Gerson and Green. All of the points they make shake up the truisms that have been flying about recently. Their last point, that conservative Christianity still remains a potent, growing force in United States religious life, has implications for the "culture wars" that roil this American life -- and probably aren't going away anytime in the predictable future.
Green concludes that Newsweek has "told half of the story." "There are certain people moving to the left on cultural grounds. . . . But we can't ignore the other side, the growth of more conservative believers -- evangelicals and conservative Catholics. . . . We may not be seeing the decline of Christian America, but polarization on religious grounds."
This polarization is reason to mourn. But Green warns that we should be careful in allocating blame. "One reason could be the growth of a secular reaction against the Christian right. But it could be the other way around -- the reaction of the Christian right against the growth of secularism. Or they could feed off each other."
How many media narratives examine the possibility that our discourse on social and religious issues may become increasingly polarized? Hopefully journalists will consider this when writing stories about faith, and bore, like persistent moles, below the surface. Much to think about here -- a useful contribution to the ongoing dialogue about the state of play in American religious and civil life.
Picture of a ruined church is from Wikimedia Commons