“Liberal Jewish atheist” Paul Waldman thinks we should talk about God more:
The United States has far and away the highest levels of religiosity of any industrialized democracy, and all presidential candidates are expected, at least at some point, to be photographed going to church and testify to their deep and abiding faith in God. As long as that’s the case, we have not just a right but an obligation to ask them specific questions about what they believe and how it would affect their actions in office.
….But journalists are extremely squeamish about getting into those details, no doubt because they’re worried that it will come off sounding like criticism of the candidates’ beliefs instead of a worthwhile exploration of them….We spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to get inside the heads of those who would be president, but when the topic of religion comes up, we take a tentative step forward, then rush back lest we give offense.
This is quite a change from 1960, isn’t it?
In any case, I’ll toss out an alternative explanation: most mainstream reporters aren’t very religious themselves and don’t think they can keep up their end of an interview about faith. When the Rev. Jeremiah Wright says “God damn America,” that’s catnip for the press: it’s not really about religion, it’s about somebody saying something outrageous and then tallying up the responses. Easy peasy. But a serious discussion about the ins and outs of various faith traditions and how different candidates ended up where they did? It’s sort of like talking about the details of handgun design. There’s a serious chance of a liberal journalist embarrassing himself badly.
The reason I don’t think that mainstream journalists are genuinely worried about religious questions coming off as criticism is because plenty of journalists do ask questions about religious faith. And presidential candidates talk to them. The thing is, these are mostly journalists for religious publications, who have the background to talk about this stuff without sounding ignorant. Mainstream reporters are well aware of this, and well aware that most presidential candidates are happy to talk about it. They’re just uneasy about their ability to do the job right.