Tuesday, May 17, 2005

 

Who is the Religious Right Anyway?

I have a confession to make: I may be part of the dreaded Religious Right. Mind you, I have no idea what that term means. However, from the connotation of the words alone, I must consider the possibility that the shoe may indeed fit. Afterall, religion – specifically Christianity - is a very important component of my life, and I lean to the right politically.

Now I don’t see anything particularly horrifying about the aforementioned self-description. As far as I can deduce, I do not deserve to be burned at the stake for it. However, judging by the prevailing tone of many left-wing websites, I should be one removed nativity scene away from strapping a bomb to my chest right now.

In their rhetoric, there is absolutely no difference between Islamic fundamentalists who commit terrorism and “the Religious Right” in the United States. Of course, this is absurd, but as long as there is no clear defining of terminology and the likes of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell are out front-and-center in the evangelical community, the lambasting will continue.

In an intriguing new post at Stones Cry Out, Matt makes a good observation regarding the need to provide a clear delineation between the media darlings of evangelicalism and its true scholars. In the article, Matt is looking specifically at a post by Al Mohler in which Mohler references and briefly assesses an attack on the Religious Right by Vanity Fair columnist Christopher Hitchens. Matt states:

While I do not fully agree with Hitchens, it is disappointing that Mohler cannot understand the differences between Robertson and (Catholic scholar Richard) Neuhaus. Until such distinctions can be made and articulated, it is unlikely that the evangelical influence on politics will progress beyond a grass roots campaign.

My concerns are graver. I’m worried that the evangelical community will increasingly be denigrated as lunatics, hypocrites, fundies, and even fascists. In short, I’m worried that it will be in the hands of those on the left to “set the record straight”.

Matt’s right about Mohler needing a little bit of nuance as well. As much as I hate to hear my God derided as a “possibly mythical Nazarene” and my own beliefs condescendingly being addressed, Hitchens is smart, witty, and makes points that need to be addressed and countered. So what does Mohler do? He merely reinforces Hitchens’ characterizations of Christians as “shallow and demagogic” by providing only a few snide and dismissive comments in rebuttal.

Why not take the opportunity to make the case as to how Islamic fundamentalism is very different from the aims of the Religious Right? He could have explained how evangelicals are not advocating a theocracy, but rather are embracing our secular democracy and seeking to strengthen it by trying to move back toward a moral framework that more closely reflects the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the government created by our founding fathers.

Matt pinpoints the problem when he asserts, "The lack of evangelical presence within the conservative intellectual world is no accident, and I am eager to explore the reasons behind this development."

I wish him good luck in this exploration and it’s a topic I’d also consider worthy of exploration. As for the current state of demagoguery, I will take some comfort in knowing that not all atheists are hostile towards Christianity. John Ray wisely states: “If you are secure in your own beliefs you don't need to denigrate the beliefs of others.”

That’s true. I just really hope evangelicals can more clearly spell out those beliefs before these ridiculous labels – and their vague, slanderous connotations - begin to stick. That will involve formulating actual arguments rather than embracing an attitude of mere flippancy. Otherwise, we are no different than the name-callers who need so badly to be disavowed.

UPDATE: Dignan, a blogger I admire a lot for his humility and fairness, has alerted me to a post that will shed some light on my question here. It's a fascinating look at the formation and progression of the whole religious right movement from an "insider's" point of view.

For a more detailed assessment of the argument Hitchens made against the "religious right" and James Taranto's counter to it, plow your way over to The Paragraph Farmer.

Comments:
Chad,
Good post. I have written pretty extensively on this subject and am not done. Not sure if you have read my articles on this but they echo much of what you are saying.
 
I see that I'm one of the "wrong people", even though I'm a Christian and grew up in a Baptist church. I see we're off to a good start.

This ended up being long, but bear with me.

I have to disagree with your statement that the evangelical influence in politics is merely at a grass-roots level. This has started at the top and worked its way down. Read up on the history of the Southern Baptists within the last 30 years for a clue as to the reasons we have such divisiveness within religion and politics today.

I don't know how much of my blog you read, but I hope you read about the Dominionists led by D. James Kennedy, or about the waffling of top evangelicals on politics and religion, and even the abortion doctor killers/mule lovers. Did I mention that I have a couple problems with Pat Robertson and others? (If you don't agree with my characterization of the judiciary, I don't agree with Robertson saying the SCOTUS is "out of control") That's just a snippet as there are plenty of other voices who claim to speak for all Christians.

I would agree with your assertion that evangelicals aren't focused on a theocracy, but I don't see where a "secular democracy" fits in with the desire of 33% of adults who wish to establish Christianity as America's official religion. As a history major I would point you to why Puritans founded this country. I would point out the reasons why Thomas Jefferson wrote his Bill for Religious Freedom. In brief terms it's because they didn't want the government telling them how to worship.

As a Christian, my greatest problem with the so-called Religious Right is people asking me "You're a Christian? Who did you vote for?" I shouldn't have to account how I personally interpret Scripture and apply it to my politics. Isn't believing that Jesus died for my sins and then trying to serve Him every day more than enough to be a "good Christian"?

I cringe at the contradictions within the various factions of the Republican Party (screwing the poor and uninsured while claiming moral authority to introduce a Christian nation through law). For that matter I cringe at the contradictions within the Democrats, but they don't have the vocal hold on religion like the GOP does.

Which brings me to my long and rambling point. Politics and government are not the answer to our society's ills. You cannot use the force of the government to tell people how to live (see the success of Prohibition, for instance). If you want to further God's Kingdom, I contend that there are other ways to do it. How? I look at the Bible for inspiration.

Jesus changed the world underneath a paganistic and imperialistic Roman government. His direct government was led by Pharisees who were the definition of theocrats. Jesus reached out individually to the down and out while others connived to use the religious authority of the government to kill him.

My biggest fear and the reason I write my blog is because I've met too many people who think that if they go to church and "vote the right way", they've done their Christian duty. I contend that there's more.

Another big fear is the impression all this rhetoric gives to non-Christians. How can people like Falwell and Roberton et al lash out at "pagans" and then claim to try to save them? Pardon me if I don't follow that logic. What message do we send to non-Christians when we usurp God's perogative to judge others for their actions. I'm sorry, I'm as much as sinner as Robertson, Falwell, Mohler, Perkins, Kennedy, Patterson, Land... all of them. Who am I to say "I won't have communion with them because they vote Democrat/disagree with my interpration of Scripture"? God's word is infallable, but our interpretation isn't.

Politics are not the sole answer to our country's problems (and we have lots of them). Yet, the question is, should we tell others how to live, or show them?
 
Hi Nathan, Chad sniped my blog and ran. Typical.

It's easy to snipe and run Chad. Why don't you come back to my blog and lay out your defense instead, rather than using the typical fascist tactic of the snipe and run?
 
Well juliedee, I got the "snipe, run, and insult" deal. Kinda raw.

If someone says they are a part of the Religious Right, I just wanted to point out the kind of company they keep.

Another admonition: One must look at the events within its historical context. We did not simply happen upon fundamentalism and politics intersecting. If one does their research, they will find a quote from Jerry Falwell in 1965 where he says "Preachers are not called upon to be politicians but soul winners. Nowhere are we commissioned to reform externals."

What was that in response to? Hmm... 1965...1965... ah-ha! Civil Rights! Yet in just a few years he was out organizing the "Moral Majority". So politicians shouldn't meddle in the effort to end segregation but should tell me how to live and make life choices for me?

Do you see why I have issues with the so-called Religious Right? Bueller?.... Bueller?

/Couldn't resist
//Just stating my views
///Did you catch that I'm a Christian?
////Did I mention I was insulted?
/////Just "setting the record straight"
 
Nathan, You make some valid points and in fact they are some of the same gripes I have with the right. I think Fallwell and Robertson are horrible representatives of the evangelical community. My gripe is with the lumping together and labeling. It's similar to the stereotypes you are confronting when people ask you who you voted for as a Christian (as if there can only exist one right answer).

My point is this stuff is complicated and I really despise the labeling and name-calling, especially within our faith. Also, I will confess I have taken a look at your blog some more and you do not fit into the category of bombthrowers I was talking about. Sometimes a little provocation is necessary to begin a dialogue, but I can assure you the reference was not personal in nature. (FYI - If you look throughout this blog & ensuing commentary, you'll see I have probably as many "liberal" readers as conservative ones.) And I totally agree that it is much more important and effective to lead by example than by force.

Julie, Do you suppose that calling me and others like me "fascists" is a way to open up a dialogue? I suspect that was not your intent with the name calling. You can continue to preach to your choir and stay in the echo chamber if you feel more comfortable there. However, I can certainly call you out on it when you use offensive stereotypes. Anyway, I don't believe in "snipe and run" so I'll be back to take some abuse at your sight soon.
 
Chad, I was just coming back in here to remove that post and replace it. The snipe and run stands though. If you really want to debate this with me we'll take it back to the The 1/2 Kracked Kup.

Now, I made it VERY clear in my opinion piece that it is a SMALL minority of the Religious Right I see as fascist (and please, PLEASE buy a dictionary) and I made that clear in the very first sentence: "I’ve been noticing a pattern in the Christian community of late. Not in the mainstream Christian community by any means, but in the small, loud fringe community that has, by their very loudness and cohesiveness, come to power in recent years." If that hit too close to home for you then what can I say... grow more skin. If it walks like a duck, if it quacks like a duck and if it smells like a duck I don't have to see it swim to be sure enough of it's nature to comfortably call it a duck.

Fascism was disguised as religion MANY times before. Just because it comes under the cover of piety does not change the fact that it is still fascism. Read the Christian Reconstructionists, especially Bauer and North who are disciples of R. J. Rushdoony and tell me that I as a lesbian and as a non Christian that they are NOT fascist and that I have nothing to fear.

Now Chad, if you want to discuss this more, come on back over to my place and come prepared.
 
Chad,
Interesting post, and as always props for the intent to dialogue (whether thru provocation or no).

A couple quick responses, w/ respect:

The "burned at the stake" remark: I think it's really problematic for either political side to use persecution language in this country. It's especially dubious for the Right to talk about being persecuted, or slandered, or misrepresented - the government is firmly in the control of the conservatives, and the Religious Right has demonstrated its influence and power in contemporary American. Hell, it's trendy to be evangelical these days. So, I'm not sure if this kind of terminology is helpful. (NOTE: I'm NOT saying you're complaining about persecution - you're not, but it's still a fairly common rhetorical gambit for evangelicals to use these days, and it's specious. I recommend some reading of recent posts by Slacktivist in this regard.)

The asseveration that evangelicals want to "embrace secular democracy" while "mov[ing] back toward a moral framework that more closely reflects the Judeo-Christian values inherent in the government created by our founding fathers" is confusing to me. Could you explain how this is not a contradiction, as you see it? How can one have a pluralist, secular democracy w/ values predicated on a specific religious tradition? Further, can someone on the Right please admit that the founding documents of the nation - the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution - make either, respectively, the barest of references or none at all to God and any kind of Christian heritage? That Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin were in fact deists, an Enlightenment religion that was founded in an explicit rejection of Christianity?

If evangelicals want to differentiate themselves from more extreme fundamentalists (and I know you do!), they have a case to make in the media. More moderate-conservative evangelicals such as yourself need to be as quick as the left to condemn a Baptist church kicking out Democrats, or rhetoric about the judiciary being "hostile to faith", or the bigoted abuse of Islamic prisoners by the US government and Army.

Or, not so quick. Please read these questions as posed with good intent and not as an attack.

Peace.
 
Julie, I've gone through all 14 points of the argument you've made and responded to each of them. It's correct that you made a delineation upfront between "some" in the Christian community and the "mainstream" Christian. So kudos for doing so. However, a lot of these issues (concern for "human rights" for example) are VERY subjective so I'd suggest a more modest approach toward "correctly" answering any of them.

Gaunilo, as usual, your comments are very much making me think and I'll need to ponder them some more. Upfront though, I will cede the point regarding "persecutory" language. I certainly didn't mean it literally, but given the prominent language being espoused by some on the right, it is ill-timed. I have read as much at Slacktivist (and from George Will for that matter).
 
Chad,
Mohler is usually pretty tight. He typically is very fact based, Biblically founded and complete. Oftentimes, he has the same problem that I do - tone.

Mohler is always direct in his issue posts. Perhaps because this was merely a quick blog response - in whichhe was realy just pointing out the two views, using thier own words, and directing readers to it - is why he didn't spend time with it.

Nathan-
That "Dominionist" stuff is tin foil hat material. I direct readers to National Review's recent article on the issue, here.
 
You see to liberals, Christians are a bigger threat than Islamo-facsists. It doesn't make sense since the Muslims want to kill them and we don't. I wrote about this subject also. http://nashvilletruth.blogspot.com/2005/04/hugh-hewitt-on-hating-religious-right.html
 
Hammertime,

Why don't you read this Cultural Mandate (PDF) from D. James Kennedy's organization and then get back to me about what part of Dominionists is "tin-foil".

Will they ultimately succeed in their goal? I doubt it. Will they influence Christians and drive the debate in their direction. Undoubtedly, and that's where my fear lies.
 
Oh, and read this article as well and explain why I should just dismiss them.

Just because you may agree with them or haven't heard of them doesn't mean they don't exist. They have an agenda, they have money, and they have followers. These days, that seems to be enough.

Also, I respectfully disagree with your assertion of Al Mohler. I personally find his actions of asserting Baptists should believe in predestination, firing women faculty from the Southern BTS simply because they're women, and morphing the Baptist Faith and Message into a creed detestable. He has helped turned Southern Baptists away from the Baptist tradition and created a denomination that reeks of exclusionism. I wonder if he'll get the "Job Well Done" affirmation? Not my place to decide or judge. But I can disagree.

But that's a debate for another day... just my opinion.
 
Thanks for alerting me to the link and your own post, Chad.

I haven't had time to implement "trackback" functionality on the Paragraph Farm.

I like what you said. "One Nativity Scene away from strapping a bomb on my chest"? That's a wonderful summation of the left-liberal agnostic view as distilled through so-called mainstream media.
 
Chad,
Great post... I just love the imagery. On one hand, it's a complete shame that many "progressive" thinkers (and bloggers) insist on name calling and villifying conservative Christians. I must admit how impressed I was with Juliedee's "14 reasons I'd like to live in Sweden" tour de force (which is one of the few non-fascist nations, it would seem). Honestly, it's pretty patronizing to holocaust survivors to compare Nazi Germany with our state of affairs. The irony is that diatribes in that vein are just the sort of discourse that have resulted in candidates supported by the "religious reich" dominating recent elections. You can't call a conservative leaning voter stupid and fascistic and be surprised that Catholics in Ohio don't swing the way you'd like
 
In their rhetoric, there is absolutely no difference between Islamic fundamentalists who commit terrorism and “the Religious Right” in the United States.

I think you're misreading the metaphor. To take the Taliban example, the metaphor (analogy, strictly speaking, but whatever) is that the Religious Right is like the Taliban inasmuch as they both think that religion ought to determine public policy. Inasmuch as we think the Taliban was wrong for proceeding in this way, the Religious Right is also wrong, since their logic is the same.
 
jld, You make a good point. There are rational political reasons to avoid engaging in condescension and sneering toward the opposing side. In so much as they were never strongly repudiated by leading Democratic politicians, I really think Michael Moore and other "haters" on the left were a major factor in actually helping Bush get re-elected. When moderate voters see this sort of extremism embraced (on either side), they tend to go with the other guy.

By the same token, evangelicals need to learn this lesson and not fall into the same trap by failing to distance themselves from outlandish comments from the usual crew seen on TV talk shows. In this sense, I am only reiterating and agreeing with what Gaunilo said about the need for moderate-conservative evangelicals to be sure to point out where others who purport to represent the Christian right have gone wrong.

So, Hammer, this is my main issue with guys like Mohler. I agree that his doctrine is generally sound and his points are valid. My primary issue with him is in what he doesn't say. It really would be beneficial for someone like him to actually temper the tone of the debate by calling out Fallwell and others when they make radical public statements. By repeatedly failing to do that, it is taken as an implicit endorsement of some of the more extreme views.

Glen Dean, I hear what you're saying about many on the left being downright hostile to Christianity. However, I'd be a little more careful with the wording. There are some thoughtful liberal Christians out there. And while I often have a hard time seeing where they are coming from, I'm sure they are frustrated with comments that lump them in with Christian-haters.

The lumping together of all evangelicals is what I perceive Nathan to be doing. He brings up some valid points and clear examples of hypocrisy, but then has a tendency to take the example and apply it to all conservative Christians.
 
Excellent, love it! »
 
Best regards from NY! »
 
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