In the arena of spirituality, not every malady can be easily understood or solved.

By Shahed Amanullah

The typical campaign rally has an uncanny resemblance to an old-fashioned tent revival: the ceremonies and processions, the adulation of the figure behind the altar, sermons designed to inspire the flock to faithfulness, and the dogma doled out to (and consumed by) adoring disciples.

This is not a coincidence.

Politics these days is a zero-sum game, a contest where the winner takes all and the loser is absolutely vanquished. With so much at stake, it’s only natural that politics invokes the trappings – and by extension, the authority – of religion, especially in a country with such a high percentage of professed “believers.”

Campaigns today are the ultimate persuasive vehicle, brought to you with bright lights, patriotic music, feel-good stories, and adrenaline-inducing attack ads – all fueled by a war chest reaching the hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s easy for the average reporter to be taken in by the spectacle, or to overlook the distinctly apocalyptic tone of the rhetoric. After all, who doesn’t want to believe the rosy promises of better times, or side with the infallible crusader against injustice and oppression? We all want to be, in President Bush’s apocalyptic language, on the side of good against evil.

But the religion-aware journalist can offer a different perspective.

In the arena of spirituality, not every question has an answer, and not every malady can be easily understood or solved. This contrasts sharply with an electorate which expects a surefire solution to each of society’s problems, and a bumper-sticker response to every issue. Religion is one way for mankind to deal with the mysteries and complexities of life, while politics is mankind’s way of asserting control over our earthly domain. Religion writers are arguably better equipped than their peers to point out these distinctions to their readers.

Just after the events of September 11th, when the United States was gearing up for war in Afghanistan, the Defense Department gave the operation a name: “Infinite Justice.” While the selection of this name went unnoticed by most Americans, some in the American Muslim community pointed out the hubris of such a name. Only God can mete out “infinite justice,” they argued, and a more humble name (which ended up being “Enduring Freedom“) would be able to carry a more proper message to the world.

It would take a reporter familiar with the theological issues to explain the significance of this decision to the public. It is this kind of sober analysis that religion writers can bring to the table when covering the elections and other political events. By virtue of their specialty, religion writers can more easily see past the promises and the glamour and put earthly claims to power within the larger framework of the divine, however that may be defined.

Shahed Amanullah is editor-in-chief of the website alt.muslim, a news and discussion forum for the Muslim community.

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