From the Editor:
Apologia pro bloga
by Mark Silk
Editing a magazine like this at a
time like this is sort of like being a funeral director in the midst of a
plague. You appreciate the business but have no idea how you can handle it
this more the case than on the American political scene, which has been hit
by a perfect religious storm, what with the Democrats deciding that faith
matters a whole lot and Republicans trying to figure out what on earth to do
we do with it?
when the going gets tough, the tough go blogging, so that’s what we’ve
decided to do. Since the beginning of December, a Greenberg Center blog,
Spiritual Politics, has been following religion and the campaign. For those
of you who wish to check it out—and we hope you do—it can be found at
The idea is
to provide daily tracking of the way religion seems to be enhancing,
disturbing, and otherwise interacting with the 2008 election cycle. As is
our wont, we are trying to do this in a reasonably non-partisan way, though
not without attitude. Most of the posts are by your editor, aided and
abetted by trusty undergraduate fellow Reid Vineis.
From time to
time, however—and we hope more frequently as time goes on—there will be
posts from such learned commentators on religion in American public life as
John Green, Jan Shipps, Gary Dorrien, Richard Wood, and Jerome Chanes. With
any luck, Spiritual Politics will become must-read commentary on the state
of religious play in the campaign, and perhaps beyond.
to claim that we’re doing this purely out of devotion to the public weal.
But confession being good for the soul, I am compelled to admit that the
impulse is not quite so honorable. Twenty years ago, a set of odd
circumstances placed me, a superannuated cub reporter, on the Atlanta
Journal Constitution, into the midst of a presidential election
downsides of covering Michael Dukakis, and there were plenty, it was catnip
to me. Blogging is not much of a facsimile of actually covering a race, but
it does give you the illusion of being on the beat.
campaign happened to be a pretty interesting one from the standpoint of
religion—practically as interesting as this one. It featured important
religious figures in both races: the Rev. Jesse Jackson on the Democratic
side and “religious broadcaster” (as he insisted being called) Pat Robertson
on the Republican.
of the Washington Post, then almost as big of foot among the Beltway
pundits as now, was unperturbed by this. “It’s a healthy phenomenon, in the
eyes of this secular reporter-critic, and not the menace some see,” he
wrote. “The clerics often speak uncomfortable truths to the mighty.”
memories include a number of religious apercus. There was Jack Kemp puzzling
a luncheon of businessmen in Greenville, S.C., in mid-December by opening
his remarks, “In this Christmas and Hanukah season…” There were the Greek
Orthodox priests in New Orleans wandering through the crowd at the annual
convention of AHEPA, the Greek fraternal organization, as Dukakis pressed
Dukakis being asked in Houston if he knew Douglas Ginsburg, a sometime
Harvard law professor nominated (briefly) to the Supreme Court by President
Reagan, and responding, “The only Ginsburg I know runs a deli in Brookline.”
Was that an anti-Semitic crack, one scribe wanted to know?
religion story of that season was Robertson’s second-place finish behind Bob
Dole in the Iowa caucuses. Dole, from nearby Kansas, was generally conceded
first place and the expectation was the George H.W. Bush would take second.
When the Robertson effort, powered by evangelical churches, pushed Bush back
to third, it was left to Gov. John Sununu to rescue the vice president in
Robertson’s stunning achievement, I took a call from a Yankee radio station
wanting to know how I, the Southern political correspondent, thought he was
going to do in the South. Great, I said.
In fact, the
religious broadcaster got cold-cocked in South Carolina on the Sunday before
Super Tuesday and made a pitiful showing across the rest of the region on
the day itself. Little did I know what Karl Rove’s mentor Lee Atwater, a
South Carolinian, had prepared for him. But from the ashes of that defeat
arose the Christian Coalition.
later, a new evangelical paladin, Mike Huckabee, stole the show in Iowa and,
in the absence of a Lee or a Karl, seemed poised to make a pretty good run
through Dixie. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Awakening posed problems for the
Mormon Mitt Romney that his father George, running for the Republican
nomination 40 years ago, never had to face.
Democratic side, Barack Obama’s oratory put some in mind of the Rev. Martin
Luther King, Jr. Obama was able to ring the changes on America’s civil
religion as few secular politicians have done since that music was composed,
by an earlier Illinois pol named Lincoln.
great time for a student of religion in America to be alive and blogging.