Over at WaPo’s “The Fix” blog, Amber Phillips takes the occasion of Bobby Jindal’s announcement to recount Jindal’s recount of what appears to be an exorcism that he was a part of in college. I really do not want to open up a discussion here on the theology and practice of exorcism – I want to focus on the journalism aspects. This piece does nothing really other than reprint something Jindal wrote years ago with very minimal background research on the the story and the phenomena. In other words, this piece is little more than the journalistic equivalent of a freak show barker. “Come one, come all, look at the freak…!”
This type of thing grew commonplace during the two Romney runs. In part blogging, without the tight restraints of reporting, has allowed for it. But its effectiveness was proven in the countless pieces in the last two cycles that reminded us of a fact everyone already knew – that Mitt Romney was a Mormon. Such barking is designed to hit fissure points inside the religious coalition on the right. The Mormon/orthodox Christian divide has by now been talked to death. Here Amber Phillips is, astutely I might add, driving a wedge into a different divide altogether – two divides actually.
On the one hand this story plays into divisions between Protestants and Catholics. Not as prominent or divisive as it once was, this divide still exists, and with the right pressure it can become irritated. On the other hand, this story plays in the charismatic/cessationist divide, which cuts across denominational and affiliation lines.
Briefly and incompletely, “charismatic” Christians believe that God still actively produces signs, wonders and miracles in the world today. So Charismatics speak in tongues, do healings, exorcisms and other rather spectacular things. Cessationists believe that God ended such overt supernatural activity in the world after the original apostles left the earth. These two theological parties have been known to engage in some pretty divisive debate as both are represented in most denominational traditions. Buy me a beer sometime and I can tell you some pretty hair-raising stories of my own experience.
But back to the journalistic “freak show barking” tactic – it is troubling that we let these internal divides hurt us politically. I don’t have a dog in the presidential hunt yet and am no particular fan of Jindal – this is not about defending Bobby Jindal. This is about the fact that we allow our internal squabbles to divide us and cost us big in elections.
This is a weakness that the left routinely exploits in us. Somehow the animal rights activists and the socialists on the left manage to unite when it is time to vote, and those are two pretty spectacularly different sets of priorities. But we who are fundamentally united allow our petty differences to cause us to fold our arms across our chests and say, “NO! Not voting for that….”
And such divisiveness just adds to the areligious left’s view of us as freakish. They simply cannot believe that we can get that worked up about stuff that is in the end pretty trivial, and of course to their mind “fantasy.” If we keep letting ourselves get played this way, “freakish” will soon look like “foolish.” We can ill afford that.