19 September 2011
I appreciated Amy Sullivan‘s piece at TIME about questioning politicians on religion. She wrote in response to Bill Keller‘s NY Times column, in which he challenged journalists to ask “tougher” questions about candidates’ religious beliefs and practices. Sullivan urges journalists to ask not “tougher” questions, but more relevant and informed ones. Generally speaking, “liberal” journalists have less direct experience in, for example, evangelical or – particularly relevant this year – Mormon communities, and thus often ask questions that, in Sullivan’s words, “compar[e] religious believers to people who believe in space aliens, and refer[...] to evangelical Christian churches as ‘mysterious’ and ‘suspect.’”
For the first time, it seems a real-life political analysis may actually be more hopeful – less cynical – than a TV one. As an avid watcher of The West Wing, I would often lament real-life politics and wish for Aaron Sorkin‘s version; but in this case, I recall a (very good) episode about religion and campaigning, where the Republican candidate Arnie Vinick (played by Alan Alda) – a non-churchgoing John McCain straight-talking centrist type – says at a press conference: “If you ask candidates about religion, you’re just asking to be lied to.” Keep religion completely out of it, Sorkin seemed to be saying in this episode; it’s irrelevant, and always disingenuously presented besides. Sullivan is saying, Oh no, it’s very relevant, but not in the way that goofy gotcha questioning is trying to imply.
I especially appreciate Sullivan’s exhortation for journalists to learn, and use, the language of religion(s) more intelligently. She offers the examples of “devout” and being “called” (to a vocation in politics); both terms that she feels are lazily employed in political journalism.
You can listen to Sullivan talk with Bob Garfield at NPR’s On the Media here.