Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Domino-what now?

The religious controversy du jour is that a New York Times editor wrote that he wants to ask the Republican candidates for President certain questions about whether their religious views would have an effect on their governing. It's mostly a controversy because he doesn't realize that the same questions would be just as appropriate for Democrat candidates. President Obama, for example, has said explicitly that his political views are directly influenced by his Christian beliefs. Nor does the editor seem aware that religious devotion has influenced many of America's greatest Presidents, such as Abraham Lincoln. Moreover, he claims that three candidates in particular belong to a "fervid subset of evangelical Christianity", despite the fact that the three mentioned are Methodist, Lutheran, and Catholic respectively. At any rate, the article in question is just condescending to all religious believers, and the editor seems completely oblivious to it. This just feeds into the charge that the mainstream media doesn't "get religion." So of the myriad responses that have been made, I'll just send you to the rebuttal posted at Get Religion. (Oh, OK, here's one from Strange Herring too.)

But one part of the article that stood out to me is his emphasis on whether the candidates support "Dominionism", a theological movement to establish the Old Testament laws as the laws of the United States. I've heard of this movement before, but not in the places one would expect. I have a Masters degree in Theology from a fairly conservative-minded seminary (theologically conservative, that is) that was essentially evangelical. Our two main textbooks for the standard theology courses were Christian Theology by Millard Erickson and Integrative Theology by Gordon Lewis and Bruce Demarest, although these were supplemented by dozens of other books on all sorts of theological topics. So I've studied evangelical theology pretty extensively. At no point in my studies was this Dominionist movement mentioned, or anything comparable to it. The point being that this movement has no influence within evangelical Christianity. It is an extreme position that simply has no purchase on most Christians or Christian theologians precisely because it is so extreme.

So I didn't hear of this movement from studying evangelical Christian theology. Where did I hear it? You probably already know: from the mainstream media. Every now and then, certain forces in society feel the need to exaggerate the dangers of their political opponents, and so discovered this insignificant movement and decided to apply it to any and all Christians -- or wait, sorry, just those Christians they disagree with politically. It's not that different from smearing all Christians as flat-earthers just because there are some actual people who claim that the earth is flat. The number of proponents of Dominionism and flat-earthism are probably about the same, after all.

To be clear, though, I don't consider this to be anything like a conspiracy on the part of the media. I think it is simply a blind spot. A willful blind spot perhaps; a self-reinforcing blind spot. But a blind spot nonetheless.

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