Krista's Journal: Maintaining Balance, Avoiding Stereotypes

October 9, 2008

Rod Dreher is an interesting thinker — and not a predictable one. He is an outspoken critic of mainstream Republican economic and environmental ideas and the conduct of the Iraq war, but he voted for George W. Bush twice. His Christian faith is central to his life and traditional in sensibility, as he puts it, but he is not evangelical like the influential bedrock of the Republican base of recent years. And in 2006, he published Crunchy Cons, a book that grew out of the thunderous response he received to an earlier article he wrote for the National Review Online, titled "Birkenstocked Burkeans." The long subtitle to Crunchy Cons tells you quite a lot about Rod Dreher's resistance to boxes our culture has assigned to liberals and conservatives: How Birkenstocked Burkeans, gun-loving organic gardeners, evangelical free-range farmers, hip homeschooling mamas, right wing nature lovers, and their diverse tribe of countercultural conservatives plan to save America (or at least the Republican Party). I find this conversation with him refreshing and thought-provoking, as I did last week's with Amy Sullivan, and I hope you will too. In creating this series, we of course gave a great deal of thought to the matter of balance. But we were determined not to give in to the superficial way balance is often practiced in media and in political life. We found two voices who are at once counterintuitive and influential. We chose them because they are wise observers of the complex relationship the conservative and liberal realms of U.S. politics have with religion. They are committed to conservative and liberal values, respectively, and at the same time each deeply critical of the way such values have been lived in their respective parties in recent years. These are not "equal" conversations just as the situations within the Republican and Democratic parties are not presently "equal." Defining balance as a matter of two talking heads on opposite sides of a short list of hot button issues offends the gravity of this year's election, and is a disservice to the intelligent listener. It also distorts our sense of what is genuinely, profoundly at stake. Covering politics and religion at all can be a minefield. Some listeners worried after last week's broadcast that we are offending separation of church and state simply by discussing this. Others felt dismissed because both of my guests are Christian, and those listeners' own religious identities are not Christian, or not Christian in the same way, or not religious at all. Yet neither Amy Sullivan nor Rod Dreher fits the stereotype of religiosity or lack thereof that we've assigned to the two parties in recent years; and that's what makes them diverse in this case — and interestingly so. So as this series ends I'm left mulling a few questions, which I hope to pursue in a less heated environment after November. How can we possibly move forward on the great issues of our time — much less the real crises that face us right now — unless we all, from our respective corners, endeavor to listen as hard for what we might be able to engage constructively as for what reflexively alarms and potentially offends? I'm the first to acknowledge that strident religiosity — given inordinate play by media as well as politicians — has driven the culture wars and intensified fears and divisions. Is there a special role for religious people of all stripes, working in every discipline in our society, to provide vocabulary and models of action for a more edifying way forward? What do you think?

Recommended Reading

Image of Crunchy Cons: The New Conservative Counterculture and Its Return to Roots
Author: Rod Dreher
Publisher: Three Rivers Press (2006)
Binding: Paperback, 288 pages

Rod Dreher's book is a lively, well-written, thought-provoking look at a slice of the American conservative movement to which he has given a compelling voice.

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is a columnist for the Dallas Morning News and the author of Crunchy Cons.