Saturday, November 13, 2004
Public radicals vs. powerful radicals.
Kevin Drum starts out by offering a simple, almost indisputable observation about the mainstream media's difficulty covering conservative American Christianity:
Whether or not the national press has a liberal bias in its actual reporting, it's indisputable that most of the reporters themselves are standard issue social liberals. Thus, while they may or may not approve of, say, radical environmentalists, they write about them anyway. Why? Because they're aware of them. They are, roughly speaking, part of their social circle. They are comprehensible. They make good copy.
For the most part, though, they don't write about radical Bible Belt Christians. Sure, there's an occasional piece when a judge smacks a two-ton monument of the Ten Commandments on his courthouse lawn, but that's about it. Why? I don't think it's so much a conscious decision, as Bob suggests, but rather that most reporters are barely aware they exist. Christian extremists are decidedly not part of their social circle, and writing about them is more akin to anthropology than reporting.
Then he offers what I find to be a terrifically useful insight into how it is that a group most of us hear almost nothing about turns out to be so much more powerful than, well, all the activist groups we do hear about:
But there's a bit more to it than that. Lefty extremists actively crave attention. They organize marches in cities, they chain themselves to redwood trees, they toss buckets of blood on women in fur coats. They want the national press to write about them.
Bible Belt Christians, by contrast, don't. For the most part, they are an insular group, sending their newsletters to each others, attending each others' conferences, and mobilizing voters in their own churches.
The result of all this is that most Americans are well aware of lefty extremism, even though the actual number of lefty extremists is fairly small. And to a lot of people, they look pretty scary.
But most Americans aren't well aware of Christian extremism. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson occasionally show up on morning chat shows, and sometimes they slip up and say something scary, but not often. Thus, when something like this screed by Frank Pastore shows up in the LA Times, readers are shocked. What they don't realize is that within their own fire and brimstone circles, this kind of talk is commonplace among Bible Belt Christians. And there are way more of them than there are members of the Earth Liberation Front.
Why are there more hard-right Christians than left-wing activists? One group concentrates on building a movement; the other concentrates on attracting the media. (Wait! Haven't I heard a version of this idea before?) Religious liberals and others who want to exert a long-term effect on American society should take note: The real challenge isn't generating a news story every now and then about the "religious left." The challenge is building a base.
Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 13 November 2004 at 10:12 PM