Longtime GetReligion readers will recognize the name of Rod Dreher as that of an frequently mentioned longtime "friend of this blog."
Many will also recognize Dreher as the author of the much discussed (check out this search) book called "The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian Nation," published last week by Sentinel. The basic thesis: orthodox Christians -- small "o" and capital "O" -- need to form tight-knit communities to preserve the values in the face of a post-modern onslaught.
This post isn't about that. I'll leave GetReligionistas such as tmatt to comment on the book and the surrounding media mentions. We wanted to ask this veteran reporter a few questions about religion news.
Instead, here's what Dreher had to say in response to our noted "5Q+1." However, since he passed over the "do you have anything else to say" query, it's just 5Qs:
(1) Where do you get your news about religion?
From the Internet. I read websites like First Things, Mere Orthodoxy, Mosaic, Real Clear Religion and The Atlantic, but also mainstream news sites like The New York Times, the Washington Post and others. I find that I'm increasingly dependent on Twitter feeds from key people to pass on news to me. I'm thinking about Mollie Hemingway, Ross Douthat, Michael Brendan Dougherty, Damon Linker, Andrew T. Walker, Russell Moore and Denny Burk. But there are others.
(2) What is the most important religion story the MSM doesn't get?
They are completely missing the ramifications of sociologist Christian Smith's findings about the religious illiteracy among American Christians, which is driving America's steady de-Christianization. As Smith and his colleagues have pointed out repeatedly, what they term "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" is the de facto faith of American young people. I would add of Americans, period.
When I interviewed him for my new book "The Benedict Option," I asked Smith about the de-Christianization of America. He said, "America has lived a long time off its thin Christian veneer, partly necessitated by the Cold War. That is all finally being stripped away by the combination of mass consumer capitalism and liberal individualism."
True, there has been a lot of coverage about the rise of the Nones, but what's missing is a comprehensive, in-depth look at the nature of de-Christianization, and what it looks like in different parts of the country, and in different demographic groups. There are so many aspects to this story. What is a de-Christianized America going to be like?
When I moved to Philadelphia in 2010, a friend of mine, a native Catholic who was plugged in to the archdiocesan leadership, walked me around showing me big buildings that were part of the Archdiocese. He said to me, "By the time my kids are my age, all of this will be gone." So many American Christians have no idea what's coming.
(3) What's the story you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?
I'll be watching very carefully the religious liberty battle. Specifically, I'm going to keep an eye on how the Trump Justice Department makes and enforces policy. I'll be more interested, though, in seeing how Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) laws make it through legislatures and the courts.
Similarly, I'm going to watch how successfully religious schools defend themselves in court when they are sued over alleged anti-LGBT discrimination.
(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?
Religion is most fundamentally about the sacred narratives that bind a culture. "Religare" is Latin for "to bind". Its absence within a society means that society will sooner or later fragment or dissolve, because it will have lost its story. In this sociological sense, I suppose you could say that secularism is a religion, inasmuch as it has its own narratives that it considers axiomatic.
If journalists understood religion better, they would be better able to understand why people do the things they do, even when they don't make sense to seculars. They would also come to understand why their own worldview is essentially religious, even though they typically cannot see it -- and why so many of us religious believers see its supposed neutrality as a sham.
The lack of religious understanding among journalists has made for terrible, ill-informed, simplistic, and even bigoted coverage of the long fight over same-sex marriage, and now transgenderism. This issue is the one above all others in which the "sacred secularism" of journalists warps their ability to comprehend and faithfully reproduce the story fairly, accurately, and completely.
(5) What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?
Well, I don't know if this is funny, though people like me, with dark senses of humor, may find it so. I always find it absurd to read the general coverage of Islam in America. Most American journalists fall all over themselves to present their subjects in a sympathetic light. Yet if they were writing about American Christians who held the same retrograde beliefs ("retrograde" by a secular liberal's standards), the coverage would almost certainly be very different.
What this reflects is the bad habit of American journalists to project their own culture-war commitments onto the people they cover. To many of them, Muslims can only ever be victims of bigots, usually Christian bigots. Of course Muslims sometimes are exactly that. The problem is that journalists are not dealing with Muslims as real, complex people, but as screens upon which to project their own sympathies. I think this is also true, but in a reverse way, when it comes to journalists covering conservative forms of Christianity.
GetReligion's Terry Mattingly once floated an Ur-principle of American journalism: "The Religious Right must lose." It's interesting to observe how often you can tell how a reporter is going to cover a particular story that has to do with religion or values by applying that principle. This is how you get a situation I witnessed myself in a news meeting, in which the suggestion that the paper ought to cover more closely the radical teachings at a local mosque was met by a key newsroom editor by this statement: "We're always hearing about what radical Muslims are doing. What about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson?!"
It's just nuts. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is the operative strategy here. I guess I find it funny that so many American journalists pride themselves on their tolerance and open-mindedness, when what they're really doing is arranging their prejudices.