News analysis articles can provoke valuable awareness of important societal trends

GetReligion emphasizes the importance of objective news reporting, and rightly so at a time when journalism’s old ethic is eroding.

Nevertheless, The Religion Guy -- with decades of experience in magazine journalism -- also insists that opinionated long-form articles by newsmakers and analysts have a place. For reporters in particular, they provoke reflection on broad societal trends amid the daily news parade.  

A buzz-worthy example about politics appeared in the “Review” section of The Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall) which is always worth perusing. An excerpt from Columbia University Professor Mark Lilla’s new book “The Once and Future Liberal” sought to convince the Democratic Party to shed identity-group fixations and return to FDR’s concept of Americans’ collective solidarity. Lilla pursues the theme in this extensive interview with Rod Dreher.

A different diagnosis comes from U.S. Senator Chris Coons of Delaware. His lede: “For a generation, the Democratic Party of which I’m a member has steadily moved away from communities of faith,” which doesn’t “reflect the views of most American voters.” In a previous Christian Century piece, the senator recalled how upset his liberal Yale Law buddies were decades ago when he began simultaneous studies at Yale Divinity School.

Coons’s latest lament appeared at theatlantic.com, which has emerged as a major interpreter of religion’s role. However, a vastly more revealing Atlantic item is the cover story in its September print issue, headlined “How America Lost Its Mind” and excerpted from the new book “Fantasyland.” (Our own tmatt at GetReligion previously noted this item).  

Author Kurt Andersen fits snugly within our cultural establishment: Harvard grad; acclaimed novelist; Hollywood scriptwriter; Off-Broadway playwright; host of National Public Radio’s Peabody Award-winning arts show; and alumnus of Random House, The New York TimesNew YorkerNew York and Time. (The Guy overlapped with Andersen at Time but didn’t work directly with him.) 

Andersen is derisive toward religious faith, thus maintaining fidelity with a Nebraska upbringing by “godless” parents. Conventional Jews, Christians or Muslims would actually agree with much that he decries, and with his identification of two sinister forces behind the alleged national crackup: a relativism that dissolves any line between truth and falsehood, and the Internet’s impact in spreading hokum.

However, Andersen’s hokum list tosses together long-cherished religious beliefs with UFO sightings, extraterrestrial visitors, 9-11 “truthers,” “Consciousness III,” assorted conspiracy theories, spoon-bending, mental telepathy, past lives and Esalen Institute psychobabble, a “new American religion” for the irreligious.

He laments that American masses still believe in stuff like, say, the “Christian fantasy about history’s happy ending,” heaven, life after death, miracles, the supernatural and, oh yes, “a personal God -- not a vague force or universal spirit or higher power, but some guy” (lower-cased). And he blames religion for unwanted political conservatism.

Though the nation’s purported rejection of “reality” is recent, Andersen says, historically the U.S. was the faith-drenched creation of believers, dreamers, “hucksters and their suckers” and “a people uniquely susceptible to fantasy” epitomized by witch-burning, Mormonism, Scientology, Billy Graham and, my oh my “speaking in tongues.”  

Religion’s influence in his scenario of a great republic going bonkers proves Coons’s point. But well beyond liberal and Democratic power-brokers, Andersen announces a devastating divorce between important elite segments among the “mainstream” news and entertainment media, cultural taste-makers and academicians, over against culturally despised believers in whatever religious faith.

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