The 2008 presidential election is probably the first in American history that has spawned a veritable faith and politics industry.
Entire non-profit organizations, university departments, think tanks, polling operations, and web divisions at prestigious East coast newspapers, have marshaled their resources in an attempt to make sense of the role that religion will play in the run for the White House. The industry is immense. Its wares displayed on every boulevard, sidewalk and back alley of the mass media. Its potential for influencing public opinion is considerable.
The faith and politics industry also has a variety of “applied” or “hands-on” subsidiaries. There are the lobbyists who work for religious special interest groups. There are demographers who conduct surveys for any client willing to cough up the fee. There is the very lucrative traffic in what I call “religious imaging.” By this I refer to the work of political consultants--an astonishing percentage of whom are graduates of theological seminaries--who advise and often rehabilitate candidates who have somehow drifted off (religious) message.
And did I mention that the industry is completely deregulated? That is to say, there are no standards for entrance, let alone excellence. No one seems to be interested in the identity of the employees or employers in the industry. It doesn’t hold annual conventions in a big, deep carpet-y Hotel where everyone gets to expense their meals back to Headquarters. In fact, no one seems to have much to say about the industry as a whole. It floats under the radar. Which is strange because as regards religion and politics the Industry is the radar.
The goal of this blog is to change that by casting a self-reflexive glance on the 2008 faith industry from a non-partisan perspective (about which more anon). By necessity, this will be an incomplete look, a peek. The industry is so vast and decentralized that no one observer could hope to cover it all. But, if all goes well I hope to draw your attention to key trends, emerging patterns, failures of judgment, and moments of critical heroism that will come to pass in 2008.
The goal of this blog, however, is not to appoint or anoint myself ombudsman of the entire, sprawling unregulated enterprise. Such an endeavor would be insufferably boring. Self-righteous. Puritanical. Rather, a sort of overarching apprehensiveness will pervade my bi-weekly posts. My maxim is: when dealing with faith and politics few things do violence to our (already limited) powers of impartiality like our own faith and our own politics. Whether writing about a presidential aspirant’s latest play of the religion card, or an emerging issue being championed by a special interest group, or a poll showing that this community of faith supports that candidate, my goal is to write with an acute awareness of how religious and political passion can obscure and cloud the good judgment, moral reasoning, and analytical clarity of industry commentators (including myself) and those they comment on.
This is a space for believers and nonbelievers, Republicans, Democrats and others, and your attention, comments and criticism are crucial to its success. In particular, I hope that many of you will use the comment threads to make me and other readers aware of important campaign matters I've missed and of perspectives different than my own. I ask only that you do so in a respectful manner, avoid re-printing campaign talking points or attack ads. Feel free to indulge my oft-stated theological premise that we were put here on this earth to make the world a less imbecilic place. I plan on posting twice a week and responding to comments once a week. I look forward to chatting with you.