I wrote last time about an NPR story covering a conservative Catholic congregation in Maryland claiming a “religious liberty”-like justification for turning to a proto-monastic congregational style.  NPR Fails to Improve

I criticized the story and the reporter for failing to contextualize such rhetorics.  They had fallen into a common trap for journalists–treating religious claims with deference, and leaving them more-or-less unexamined.  In the case, members of this congregation were portrayed as feeling alienated by the broader culture and choosing to separate themselves, and their claims were treated as authentic and sound in historical and theological terms.  At least that was the tacit message.

The problem is–as I pointed out there–discourses about alienation and “religious liberty” do not refer to long-standing or historic relations but in fact are modern, and the product of particular efforts among conservative Christians that are more political than they are theological or historical.  I found a recent New York Times Piece by Molly Worthen to provide some helpful insights into these things.  Worthen describes in detail the history of conservative and Evangelical strategies to position questions of social truth and meaning in structured contexts of argument and discourse.

By so doing, they craft a theological claim for political meanings (about things like the authority of science).  Journalists who treat such claims with deference, as theological and thus beyond scrutiny, fail to fully cover the sources and meanings of important social movements–rooted in those religions–today.