Why is the media so ignorant about religion?

A few days ago, the New York Times’ Bill Keller proposed asking “tougher questions” of presidential candidates about their faith, causing an uproar in both political and religious circles:

This year’s Republican primary season offers us an important opportunity to confront our scruples about the privacy of faith in public life — and to get over them. We have an unusually large number of candidates, including putative front-runners, who belong to churches that are mysterious or suspect to many Americans. Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman are Mormons, a faith that many conservative Christians have been taught is a “cult” and that many others think is just weird. (Huntsman says he is not “overly religious.”) Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum are all affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity, which has raised concerns about their respect for the separation of church and state, not to mention the separation of fact and fiction.

Later, Keller published the questionnaire he’d like answered — and as it turns out, the entire exercise demonstrates what happens when the ignorant attempt to interrogate people on the irrelevant.  Keller picked out a spooky term in question 7, one that the Left likes to toss around when discussing candidates who profess an evangelical Christian faith, in an attempt to make it appear that candidates like Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum, and Rick Perry (among others) want to establish a theocracy in the US:

7. What do you think of  the evangelical Christian movement known as Dominionism and the idea that Christians, and only Christians, should hold dominion over the secular institutions of the earth?

Well, I guess I’m safe; I’m Catholic.  And so, by the way is Rick Santorum, who is most certainly not “affiliated with fervid subsets of evangelical Christianity.”  He attends a Latin Mass, which might give a few evangelicals — and maybe a few Catholics, too — the vapors.   Keller’s ignorance is on full display right off the bat.  If he can’t even bother to Google, what makes him an expert as a religious inquisitor?

Until a couple of years ago, I’d never heard of dominionism.  The only references I’ve ever seen to it since have come from the national media in the context of wow-those-Christians-are-scary stories … like Keller’s attempts to probe faith as a political test.  At Patheos, Douglas Groothuis demolishes the notion that “dominionism” is any kind of mainstream component of modern evangelicalism:

There is a buzz in the political beehive about the dark dangers of Bachmann’s association with “dominionism”—a fundamentalist movement heaven-bent on imposing a hellish theocracy on America. In the August 15 issue of The New Yorker, Ryan Lizza asserts that Bachmann has been ideologically shaped by “exotic” thinkers of the dominionist stripe who pose a threat to our secular political institutions. The piece—and much of the subsequent media reaction—is a calamity of confusion, conflation, and obfuscation.

Lizza notes that Bachmann was influenced by the writings of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912-84), an evangelical minister, theologian, and philosopher. Schaeffer, along with the contemporary writer Nancy Pearcey and others, are “dominionists.” That is, they believe that “Christians alone are Biblically mandated to occupy secular institutions until Christ returns.” Worse yet, Schaeffer, in A Christian Manifesto (1981), supposedly “argued for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe vs. Wade isn’t reversed.” Lizza also writes of the influence of the prolific author Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001), who advocated “a pure Christian theocracy in which Old Testament law…would be instituted.” Bachman is allegedly thick as thieves with all these “exotic” subversives—and should be exposed as such.

Having read reams of books from all these authors (and every book by Schaeffer) over the last thirty-five years, as well as having taught many of these books at the graduate level, I assign Mr. Lizza the grade of “F.” …

Second, Rushdoony’s devotees make up but an infinitesimal fraction of Christian conservatives. The vast majority of those who have been influenced by certain aspects of Rushdoony’s writings emphatically reject his understanding of biblical law, as do I.

Third, the key Christian influences on Bachman are not Rushdoony and his followers, but Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey. Schaeffer referred to Rushdoony’s views on mandating biblical law as “insanity,” and never sanctioned any form of theocracy. (The name “Rushdoony” does not even appear in the index of Schaeffer’s five-volume collected works.) Schaeffer explicitly condemned theocracy in A Christian Manifesto (p. 120-1). Nor did he call for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe V. Wade were not overturned. Schaeffer rather explained various ways of resisting tyranny according to a Christian worldview and in light of church history. He saw “civil disobedience” (his phrase) as a last resort and did not stipulate any specific conditions under which it would be advisable in America. In fact, Schaeffer worried (on p. 126) that speaking of civil disobedience is “frightening because there are so many kooky people around.” Further, “anarchy is never appropriate.”

And it’s also a good idea to keep in mind what kind of looney sect to which Bachmann belongs … Lutheranism.  As John Hinderaker writes at Power Line, all anyone had to do was ask her:

This reminds me of a time, some years ago–it was either Michele’s first or second Congressional race–when she appeared at a public forum to debate the issues of the day. The first question from a local reporter was, “Do you believe that the Pope is the Antichrist?” The debate went downhill from there.

A few days later I was talking to Michele on the telephone. Despite feeling that I knew her rather well, I had never discussed religion with her. I thought that the reporter’s question must be explained by her being a member of some bizarre sect. So I asked, “What denomination are you, anyway?” She replied, bewilderment evident in her voice, “I’m a Lutheran.”

John also contrasts the hostility shown by the national media towards Christianity with the “benign” treatment it gives Islam:

The press’s weirdly hostile attitude toward Christianity can be contrasted with its benign view of Islam in all its manifestations. The same reporters who fixate on Dominionism, a doctrine hardly anyone had heard of until a couple of weeks ago, take great offense at any suggestion that Wahhabism and other radical forms of Islam are significant. Never mind that Islamic extremists have carried out hundreds if not thousands of terrorist attacks, while Dominionists–assuming such people actually exist–have done nothing to cause the rest of us to be aware of them. The secular press’s attitude toward religion, at best inconsistent and driven throughout by partisan ideology, is one of the strangest aspects of our public life.

Perhaps they are as ignorant about Islam as they are about Christianity.   However, if they want to start asking questions about religion of presidential candidates, how about starting with Barack Obama and his 20-year affiliation with Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ?  Wright took a lot of political stands that the media roundly ignored in the 2008 election, including his sermon that the US deserved the 9/11 attacks as “chickens coming home to roost,” supports Hamas, and infamously declared, “God damn the United States.”  Maybe someone can ask about the TUCC’s adopted “value system” that insists that the US sends black men to “concentration camps.”  Does Obama believe that?  We don’t know, because Keller and his ilk didn’t bother to ask questions about Obama’s religion in 2008.

If we extend Keller’s new position to Congress, maybe we can get answers in the Times to a few questions for Keith Ellison from Scott Johnson:

4. When you were a member of the Nation of Islam, did you believe that Yakub was a black scientist who lived “6,600 years ago” and was responsible for creating the white race to be a “race of devils”?

5. Have you joined a mosque in Minneapolis? When did you join it?

6. Do you believe that Islamic law should be the law of the land in the United States? Do you think Islam should be subordinate to the constitutional separation between church and state?

7. You are a liberal Democrat who advocates the Democratic Party’s positions on gay rights, abortion, and feminism. Which branch of Islam comports with your position on these issues?

Silly Scott.  The New York media is only scared of those Christians that they fail to understand, and fail to even research properly.

Update: By the way, Perry is one of those scary … Methodists.  Also, via Wikipedia, here’s a quote from Perry’s book on the relationship between church and state: “Let’s be clear: I don’t believe government, which taxes people regardless of their faith, should espouse a specific faith. I also don’t think we should allow a small minority of atheists to sanitize our civil dialogue on religious references.”  Oooooh … what spooky tolerance he demonstrates!

Update II: John Sexton at Verum Serum has excerpts from Schaeffer that directly refute Ryan Lizza’s caricature of his work.