Jacques Berlinerblau knows a few things about religion. On top of his work as a professor in the School of Foreign Service and as director of Georgetown’s Program for Jewish Civilization, Berlinerblau began writing a blog for newsweek.washingtonpost.com about the interplay between religion, culture and politics, appropriately titled “The God Vote.” In a sit-down with THE HOYA, Berlinerblau discusses the uses and abuses of the Bible today and the role of religion in politics, and shares some insight about life on the Web.
How did you get involved with the `On Faith’ blog at The Washington Post?
It certainly wasn’t my idea because I am not a blogger guy. It was Tom Banchoff, who is the director of the Berkley Center here at Georgetown, who approached me and had to convince me. He did a very good job. He is very persuasive.Ergo I blog.
Is there a particular audience you are trying to reach through the blog?
Yeah, I have always been in search of what might be called `the cultivated layperson,’ which is a well-educated person who is not an academic.
How does your blog intersect with your work at Georgetown?
I am working on a project right now about how politicians use the Bible to justify their policy positions. It intersects in that I am an expert on the Hebrew Bible and it fascinates me to see how this very ancient document is dragged into modern debates.
You have an upcoming book called `Thumpin’ It: The Use and Abuse of the Bible in Today’s Presidential Politics.’ What do you see as the Bible’s role in a 21st-Century text?
The Bible is a repository of messages. The Bible says close to anything under the sun. So what happens in modernity is a political group jumps on one passage to the exclusion of another. The greatest fear for a scholar is to see the Bible used reflectively, simply and without much thought. If there is a mission or a goal to what I do, it is to make people think what about what they are doing when they use this 2,000-year-old document.
During the 2004 presidential election, people began discussing how blogs were changing the way citizens reach their political decisions. How do you think the role of blogs will change for the 2008 elections?
In terms of blog time, the difference between 2004 and 2008 might as well be the difference between 2008 and 1908. It has expanded and become more sophisticated. So many more people are on the Web. Everyone has a micro blog. If anything, maybe the blogs are less important insofar as everyone and their cousins has a blog out there and it is impossible to distinguish the writers of quality from the writers of non-quality.
What do you see political campaigns doing to address the blogosphere?
Almost every time I post, no matter what I say about a candidate, their director of religious affairs will write me saying, “Brilliant post, very insightful, and if you ever need anything or want more information on our candidate, please contact me.” I think the campaign strategists are very aware of the web, and every day they systematically go through everything that is said about their candidate, in the blogosphere and across the web, and react to it.
You discuss the concept of `value voters’ in your blog. How do you think this group of voters will affect the presidential campaigns?
Americans want this. There is nothing a critic and scholar can do about it but point a finger at it. What I really hope this blog accomplishes is it accurately decodes, unveils and reveals the way politicians construct a narrative of their own faith. Showing that you are a man or woman of faith works in America. For whatever reason, we have never had an atheist president; we have never had a serious atheist candidate for president. Americans aren’t asking for some virtuoso of religion. Americans don’t want an image of a saint, but they want to feel that the president has some kind of religious faith.
There seems to be a trend for political candidates to need to show their faith – do you see this trend growing?
It is growing. I think the brass-knuckle, right-wing evangelical movement is losing steam. I think that Hillary Clinton is such a viable candidate because she is not that kind of candidate.she expresses doubt, she expresses religious humility. She doesn’t claim to know God’s will. Barack Obama also has this whole thing about doubt, which is very positive: the whole, “I don’t judge other people because I am a doubting Christian, and that’s what God wants me to be. He wants me to have doubts as a sign of my faith.” That sort of message appeals to Americans.
– Interview by Jimmy Wade