Nice speech title, huh?

fred barnes card 01Hmmmmmm … A friend sent me a notice to this Faith & Law event here on Capitol Hill next Monday. I wonder if the organizers would let me attend, not to mention the Divine Ms. MZ and young master Daniel. The Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc is a bit out of range, but could come on Amtrak.

I mean, after all, look at the title.

Monday, June 11, 2007
Fred Barnes
“Does the Media Get Religion?”
TIME: Noon
LOCATION: 2257 Rayburn

I would really like to hear what Barnes has to say on this topic, in part because he is one of the most outspoken traditional Christians in the Washington media and he has worked on both sides of the whole left vs. right scene here — with his years at the Baltimore Sun and The New Republic.

These days, of course, he is the very face of the conservative, alternative media at the local and national levels, due to his work at Fox News and as executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

Before some of you click that “comment” button in a holy and political rage, let me make one other observation. While Barnes has been a GOP insider for some years now and a major W Bush supporter, I think it is critical to remember that Fred is someone who is, in this town, known as a “cultural conservative” just as much, if not more, than as a “political conservative.” In other words, he would freely admit that when political push comes to shove, his faith matters more than his politics.

Thus, issues of religiona and culture and the intersection of the two have always been part of the mix at The Weekly Standard. A good recent example is an essay that I have been meaning to mention for more than a week now. I am referring to the “Spiritualpolitique” article by the conservative Democrat John J. DiIulio Jr., whose GetReligion-esque work has been noted (and criticized) before on this blog. The long, long second deck of the article’s headline tells you what’s going on: “Religion matters more than ever in global affairs. But don’t count on the experts — or the State Department — to know that.”

There is, of course, a ghost in this story. One of the reasons the State Department has so much trouble understanding the role that religion plays in global affairs is that the mainstream media struggle to understand the same issues. Even when excellent journalists do dig into these stories, the American public’s documented lack of interest in foreign affairs kicks in. This is not a pretty picture.

If it’s hard for the mainstream media to “get religion,” it’s even harder for them to “get religion” when the religion in questions is being practiced on the other side of the planet.

NEWS WorldReligionsThus, DiIulio writes:

… (What) I hereby baptize as spiritualpolitique is a soft-power perspective on politics that emphasizes religion’s domestic and international significance, accounts for religion’s present and potential power to shape politics within and among nations, and understands religion not as some abstract force measured by its resiliency vis-a-vis “modernity” and not by its supporting role in “civilizations” that cooperate or clash. Rather, a perspective steeped in spiritualpolitique requires attention to the particularities that render this or that actual religion as preached and practiced by present-day peoples so fascinating to ethnographers (who can spend lifetimes immersed in single sects) and so puzzling to most of the social scientists who seek, often in vain, to characterize and quantify religions, or to track religion-related social and political trends.

Consider how this perspective might inform the ongoing debate on Iraq. Some have advocated increasing the U.S. presence in Iraq and staying there until violence is well under wraps. Others have devised or advocated various draw-down or get-out plans. Although it took a few years, almost all now acknowledge that the struggle behind most homegrown bombings that have killed innocent civilians in Iraq has specific religious roots. But some on both sides in the debate over U.S. policy seem not yet to know that any conflict-ending compromise or resolution, no matter its military, economic, or other features, will not last unless it takes those particular religious differences very seriously. It is not a “civil war.” It is “sectarian violence,” complicated by the region’s wider religious rifts and their intersections with state-supported terrorism networks.

This is not an issue or right vs. left or even one rooted in political parties, he stresses. Members of the political and media elites on both sides of Washington’s many deep divisions are, as Bill Moyers likes to say, equally tone deaf on some of these issues.

DiIulio is, as always, rather blunt about this elephant in the State Department sanctuary:

There is only one word for American foreign policy elites, Democratic and Republican, left and right, who downplay or disregard religion to their peril, ours — and the world’s — in deference to the dogma that being faith-free promotes objectivity: preposterous.

I’m glad that Barnes and Co. ran this article in The Weekly Standard. It wouldn’t be bad to hand copies of that issue out before his speech next week, which I plan to attend right after I get back from a working trip to Istanbul.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • BL

    So, I guess the phrase “get religion” isn’t trademarked, huh?

    Sure seems like you guys should get a royalty check or something.

  • Jerry

    It’s really hard to understand why countries like Iraq which had Sunni and Shi’a living side-by-side for so long suddenly fractured in religious and tribal grounds. I think it would be a mistake to look at this phenomenon too narrowly. We should be looking at similar splinterings in Europe and elsewhere to try to understand the root causes. And we have to get religion:-) to have a well rounded picture.

  • Will Harrington


    Its not the first time a strongman kept hostile factions together as a nation during his reign. It seems that when this happens, the end of the dictators rule shows that those hostilities, though supressed, simply worsened. I suspect in Iraq the Sunni’s were radicalized by the way they were treated during Sadaam’s reign as well as influenced by the very unSunnilike Ayatollahs of Iran who took an apolitical sect and turned it into a political force. If you want to look for root causes in similar splinterings its just this. Injustices will be remembered and the desire for revenge will fester. When that force which supressed revenge is no longer there, all aicht ee double hockey sticks breaks loose.

  • Art Deco

    The biographical information I found on Fred Barnes indicates that he graduated from the University of Virginia in 1965 (in May, presumably), so any student deferment he had would have concluded then. Prior to March of 1965, there were no more than 30,000 American troops in Vietnam, and these attached to South Vietnamese units as ‘advisers’. (The American force peaked at 630,000 in June of 1969). He apparently had a stint in the military in the years between completing high school and attending college. Why does he qualify as a ‘chickenhawk’? Is it the contention of these people that he was honor-bound to re-inlist in 1965? (And what if he had and been posted to Fort Dix?)

  • Steven Andrew Miller

    That is the photo of Barnes you choose to post? Wow, how juvenile.

  • tmatt


    I used it as a nod to the atmosphere here inside the Beltway in which he works. You can find much worse very easily.

  • Jerry


    I’m aware of the phenomenon you mentioned – the cork out of the bottle syndrome. But we have counter-examples such as South Africa which did not explode. And, somewhat earlier, we had the US civil rights movement which was largely peaceful in spite of a few firebrands. So that’s one reason I think that the simple answer can be wrong.

  • Larry Rasczak

    “In other words, he would freely admit that when political push comes to shove, his faith matters more than his politics. ”

    The word for that condtion is, I believe, “wisdom”. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your news cycle.

    Seriously though, I think we need to understand that relgion plays two roles in politics, not just one.

    There is the simple role of “God is on OUR side”, when politicians use religion as a standard to get people to rally around. (In the sense of “…on 19 August 1745 the standard was raised in Glenfinnan and the Old Pretender proclaimed King James VIII and III, with Prince Charles as his regent.) It is just as easy for a politican or a poltical advisor, (even an atheist one if what I hear of Mr. Rove is true) to raise the standard of religion as it is for them to raise the standard of nationalisim, or race, or class, or clan, or scientific progress, manafest destinty, the workers struggle, “Peace, Bread, and Land”, “No Taxation without Representation”, “Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood”, or “Work, Family, and Fatherland”. While the Wars of the Reformation had a religious component, in many cases they were actually wars that had more to do with economics, the rising power of the middle class, and the European ballance of power. (Which is why Catholic France under Cardinal Rechelieu wound up coming in and saving the PROTESTANT side in 1636.)

    So when someone says “Well the Sunis hate the Shites” they are oversimplifying things. The two sides may IDENTIFY themselves on the basis of relgion, but religion is not why the two groups hate each other…religion is only the mechanisim by which the two groups distinguish themselves from each other (as opposed to race, or nationality). The reason the two groups hate each other may have nothing to do with their religious differences. In fact in many cases it does not. The Catholics of Northern Ireland and the Protestants have disagreements relating to past discrimination, how the two groups will be represented in their government, the role that the Catholic Church should take in politics, economic discrimination and past political opression. They may be blowing each other up over the potato fammine, or the Irish Civil War, or over the lack of jobs in Ulster or even over the dream of a United Ireland, but nobody is blowing each other up over transubstantiation. Most of the post 1969 IRA’s (meaning the Official IRA and the Provisional IRA) were Marxists anyway, IIRC.

    On the other hand, sometimes religion IS the driving force in politics. If a law is passed that requires Jews to eat pork and sacrifice to the Greek Gods, and they revolt, that would be religion driving the conflict. Abortion and Homosexuality (and to a lesser extent divorce, porn, and contraception) are the great drivers of religious conflict today… the positions that the Democratic Party takes on these issues is in direct conflict with a couple thousand years of Christian teaching on the issue.

    When they took these postions the Democrats literally drove thousands of believing Christians out of their party (my Uber Catholic family amongst them). This caused the serious Christians to rally to the GOP…. not through any doing of the GOP (Rockerfeller Republicans were fine with abortion and contraception… it kept their kids from getting in trouble while they were at Brown, Columbia, and Riverdale Country School.) The fact that, as traditionalists, the traditionalist Christians also mostly held traditionalist views on things like Taxes, Gun ownership, etc. is purely coincidental.

    Someone who does not have a religious background, and even many who do, can easily confuse these two roles that religion plays in politics… and the fact that many people have a vested interest in confusing the two roles doesn’t make it any easier.

    I do wish I could attend the speach, it would be interesting I am sure. I can’t wait to hear about it.