Axing the wrong questions after Brat-Cantor stunner

There’s analysis, and there’s hack ‘n’ slash. When blindsided by the come-from-behind election of David Brat over Virginia’s longtime congressman Eric Cantor, many mainstream media fell back on the latter. Often with dull, rusty blades.

Brat is a (gasp) fiscal conservative, some pundits said. He’s an (gasp #2) evangelical, said others. And a Calvinist. And a Catholic. And still others insinuated that he’s a closet anti-Semite, or his supporters are, or something.

Let’s take the last first. In the otherwise distinguished Wall Street Journal, Reid Epstein seizes on something that Brat wrote three years ago:

David Brat, the Virginia Republican who shocked House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.) Tuesday, wrote in 2011 that Hitler’s rise “could all happen again, quite easily.”

Mr. Brat’s remarks, in a 2011 issue of Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology, came three years before he defeated the only Jewish Republican in Congress.

Whoa. Linking the Holocaust with the defeat of a Jew. What sinister intent can we draw from that? Well, as Epstein himself says, Brat was dissecting Nietzsche’s idea of the “weak modern Christian democratic man,” and warned believers not to become passive in the face of massive evil:

Hitler came along, and he did not meet with unified resistance. I have the sinking feeling that it could all happen again, quite easily. The church should rise up higher than Nietzsche could see and prove him wrong. We should love our neighbor so much that we actually believe in right and wrong, and do something about it.

So Epstein reports Brat’s horror at Nazism, yet he still tries somehow to tie Brat with some kind of Holocaust thinking. This amounts to a flailing attack on a level with medieval battle-ax fighting.

The New York Times tried to have it both ways in its own post-game analysis. It confronted a question by TheWeek.com on whether Cantor lost because of his Jewishness. The Times answer was “no” — a good call for someone who has held public office in Virginia for more than two decades.

But then the writer tries to show that Brat’s familiarity with Christian talk played better with Virginia voters than did Cantor’s more general moral language, mustering a couple of political “analysts” to agree with her on that. Among them was David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report:

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Megan Fox, glossolalia and AP Style (you read that right)

The Associated Press Stylebook and Briefing on Media Law is a lot of things and it fills a lot of roles. With good cause, thousands of media professionals call it the bible of mainstream journalism. However, this omnipresent spiral volume doesn’t answer a whole lot of complex questions that scribes will encounter trying to cover life on the modern religion beat.

For example, it offers no help whatsoever to a reporter who is trying to figure out how to write out a direct quote from someone who is speaking in an ecstatic, celestial, unknown tongue. The technical term here is “glossolalia.”

Of course, the proper theological response — according to the New Testament — is to quote the person present who has been given the spiritual gift of interpretation. Try explaining that to your metro editor.

The stylebook on my desk does offer this information, referring to the fastest growing form of Christianity in the world:

“Pentecostalism: A movement that arose in the early 20th century and separated from historic Protestant denominations. It is distinguished by the belief in tangible manifestations of the Holy Spirit, often in demonstrative, emotional ways such as ‘speaking in tongues’ and healing. …”

Of course, many charismatic and Pentecostal believers will argue that their movement dates back to, well, Pentecost. It’s also important to recognizes that the reality of miraculous spiritual gifts can be seen in the lives of many saints — East and West — through the ages. Hardly anyone believes that these gifts went away for a millennium or so. Needless to say, it’s hard for a journalism reference book to settle all of these kinds of issues.

The bottom line, however, is that Pentecostal believers are all over the place these days and journalists need to face that.

One even showed up on a typically racy Esquire cover the other day.

Now I am sure that some GetReligion readers have been shocked at how long it took us to get around to the following passage in that story about the human screensaver known as Megan Fox. One of the main headlines even contained a hint of spiritual content: “Megan Fox Saves Herself.

The story contains typically artsy reflections on the meaning of a bombshell babe in a postmodern age, including the degree to which people attempting to merchandize her flesh are walking in the metaphorical footsteps of the Aztecs who practiced human sacrifice. Then, suddenly, there is this:

Today, unfettered sexual beauty is an impediment. To be serious and respected, it is better to be homely or cute. Or else you must disfigure yourself, like Charlize Theron in Monster. Or you must allow yourself to be brutalized, like Halle Berry in Monster’s Ball. Or you must pretend that you’re really just average, like Tina Fey.

There’s no doubt that this transformation has been overwhelmingly excellent. But we’re losing something in this process. Because creativity is, was, and always will be sexual. Some of the very first works of art were figures of hugely fecund women dropped all over Europe tens of thousands of years ago. American movies expressed that great fusion of sex and art, too. They are magnificent pagan dreams, utterly profane and glorious. Such movies need bombshells. They need to consume beautiful flesh in their sacrifices. They need women like Megan Fox.

She is preparing for the end times.

“I’ve read the Book of Revelation a million times,” Megan Fox says. “It does not make sense, obviously. It needs to be decoded. What is the dragon? What is the prostitute? What are these things? What is this imagery? What was John seeing? And I was just thinking, What is the Antichrist?”

She’s relaxed now. She’s much more comfortable talking about the Antichrist than her career.

Yes, you read that right.

Readers veer into a shallow pool of information about Fox and her family. Then suddenly, readers shoot back into a discussion of how her beauty keeps taking over her career, dragging her closer and closer to a professional cliff. Thus, the symbolic and poignant tattoo of Marilyn Monroe on her right arm.

Then, boom, there is the passage that is getting all of the edgy commentary online:

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