Two articles I read this morning are illustrative of a major problem facing people of faith generally and candidates of faith specifically. One piece, by Noah Feldman in Bloomberg View, talks about Congress, Netanyahu, the Pope and eschatology. It paints conservative Christians as a politically fickle lot and grossly confuses eschatology with theology. The other piece, a profile of John Kasich and his faith by Elisabeth Stoker Bruenig in the New Republic, is clearly an attempt to a) make Kasich look like he is not really a religious conservative and b) so superficial in its analysis that it almost assumes religious faith as a guise or pose rather than an actual transformative force in an individuals life.
That media does not “get” faith is old news. Both of these pieces treat faith as at best a set of precepts or beliefs held by individuals grouped by sharing those beliefs. At worst it treats faith as a pose, or maybe identity, held by an individual to somehow feel a part of a grouping. And yet genuine faith is so much more than that. Whether you use the evangelical language of “relationship with God,” or the more arcane language of sacrament, religion is not something we put on and control, but rather a force that shapes us into better people, and that shaping process involves congregating together. Even that sentence makes religion sound a little too therapeutic when it is actually simply holy.
Media, which pretty much views everything as a pose or a guise because such is the very essential nature of media, makes it almost impossible for genuine faith to be shown thru media. This can set up an ugly cycle. When people come to their faith through media, it often never advances to any more than a guise which validates media’s perception of faith – spiraling the cycle downward. How to break this cycle is a task to which all congregations in the church must put its mind and energy.
But more, when the media creates this veil, how does a candidate break through it to reveal their own deep faith and more how do we voters see through it to detect the candidates that might be posers or manipulators? This is especially true for those of us that cannot afford to “max out” our donations to a campaign and therefore have a meager opportunity to interact with the candidate for a few moments.
I wish there were an easy answer, but I have never found one. It just takes hard work. We have to look into the candidates deeply. No single media source will ever give us a complete picture but by reviewing multiple sources, with discernment one can create a reasonable composite picture. Anyone running for president has governed before – look deeply into their record – how have they acted what have they done? Do not just look at the proclamations or legislation someone has done, but who did they actually help, why and how?
And finally interviews, always seek interviews. Not news reports about interviews and not interviews edited for time or other reason, but live, raw interviews. Listen carefully, not just for the yes or no, but for tone and reason. Seek interviews that ask a candidate about their personal life. You can often learn more about a candidate’s inner workings in how they respond to a sports question than how they answer something their consultants have trained them on.
The plethora of candidates that confront us is going to make this process even more difficult than normal. But smart voters will do it.