By now most folks know that Newsweek magazine ran a cover story about the death of American Christianity. I've already done some blogging about the ingredients of American exceptionalism (including some related to Christianity), and I've said up-front that I do not think America is, or should be, a "Christian nation" in a formal sense. So that's not the direction of this post.
Likewise, it's not really a rebuttal of the story, although that would be interesting, too. The jumping off point for the story is a poll that shows that self-identification among Christians is down about 10% since 1990. Whether those who no-longer consider themselves "Christian" were previously committed disciples of Christ, or merely Americans for whom the default position was a non-commital generic Christianity is untouched. Also unexamined is the fact that the more theologically "liberal" mainline denominations are those shrinking, while the more "evangelical" groups are growing. And further ignored is whether the seeming shrinkage of the role of the "Christian right" in today's politics is the cause of, or caused by, or merely correlated with, the other cyclical elements of politics (certainly, in the age of Obama, ALL conservatives are down).
What gets me about this story is how much Newsweek seems to ENJOY it. To run a story questioning the importance and impact of Christianity on the eve of Holy Week is a slap. They have done the same thing at Christmas. Can you imagine, for even a moment, a major news magazine or TV network running a hit piece on Islam on the eve of Ramadan? Shucks, most of them wouldn't even exercise their free-speech rights to run controversial political cartoons depicting Mohammed for fear of giving offense (although there was zero hesitation by Pat Oliphant to run a glaringly anti-semitic cartoon in the Washington Post last month). Now, part of that is self-protection... radical Jews and Christians don't tend to commit acts of violence when offended at quite the same rate as radical Muslims. But there also is an underlying bias--Newsweek has become a liberal, secular opinion magazine. And that's what bothers me.
This past year, my father-in-law got a subscription to Newsweek from some magazine offer--whether Publisher's Clearing House or Reader's Digest... may have even been my daughter hawking them for Girl Scouts. He picked it because it was cheaper than Time. The most recent issue has been on his end table every Sunday when I have lunch over there, so I got to read their "reporting" throughout the election season. Never have I seen a supposedly "objective" magazine so in the tank for one side. Not only did Barack Obama get dozens of glowing cover shots (contrast with the unretouched close-up of Sarah Palin's face that showed every mole, hair, and blemish), the articles were as slanted as can be. Don't get me wrong: I like opinion magazines. I used to subscribe to National Review, but it was too expensive (and now I donate to their online site). I like to read The New Republic for liberal opinion (although I don't send them money). It doesn't bother me a bit that Fox News leans right and MSNBC leans left. But it would bother me if Rush Limbaugh lied and said he was playing it straight down the middle. Don't get me wrong--we all have biases, and I understand that most journalists are personally liberal. Walter Cronkite was a big-time lefty. But when he went to work, he was objective and honest. Too many modern "journalists" could learn something from that example.
So, when I see a hit piece on faith in Newsweek, I consider the source. But what irks me is that they present themselves to the public as "objective." And too many Americans don't know any better, so they accept the narrative put forth by the "mainstream media," hook, line, and sinker. It's easy to mislead the voting public if you've got the media in the bag.