September 05, 2006

Should we worry about the religious right?

In the latest American Prospect (print edition), Peter Steinfels, the author of a column on belief and ethics in the New York Times reviewed several of the recent books on the influence of the Christian Right on our country, including both Kevin Phillips' American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money of the 21st Century and Michelle Goldberg's Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. His conclusion was that the books did not make the case that the Religious Right was an major influence on the Bush administration nor had the Religious Right advanced their goal to bring about a Christian (right) nation. He believes that people should not worry about the Christian Right because although some are quite worrying, the Bush administration isn't really influenced by them.

[These] books ... have a common aim: to describe and analyze the nature and the extent of a looming threat and thereby to mobilize a countermovement. Which raises two questions: Are their descriptions and analyses accurate? And will they, in fact, mobilize an effective countermovement?

In the case of the more far-reaching efforts, by Phillips, Rudin, and Goldberg, my answer to both questions is no. ... I share their convictions that the Bush administration has done long-lasting harm to America and its institutions and that a major factor in this evil has been the ideological and organization backing of the religious right.

But the idea, increasingly voiced by left-of-center activists and intellectuals, that religion is the driving force of the administration's policies and the leading threat to American democracy is exaggerated and misplaced....And they know better than to equate hardcore religious-right leaders and organizations, let alone the still smaller kernel of literal theocrats, with evangelical Americans in general, who constitute between 30 percent and 40 percent of the population an who have swung massively into the Republican camp in the last three decades.

The task, in other words, is not simply to shine light on faith-based anti-democratic currents but to map context, patterns, proportions, and trends, tracing not only real connections but also deep differences between what's marginal and what's central. This task, in the end, they failed to accomplish.

Okay. So Mr Steinfels' objection is first that religion isn't a driving force behind the administration and second that Goldberg and Phillips didn't differentiate enough between the "obscure" leaders of the movement and the greater number of evangelicals in this country.

On the first claim, well, we can always postulate that the Bush administration is driven by something else (oil, greed?), but Bush and his people have explicitly stated that he is doing "God's work" and I think most people would see that as having a strongly religious push. Add to that the fact that Tom DeLay has pushed the religious right's agenda after it became expedient and I'd say that most people would think that perhaps religion has a strong context for this administration whether it is a "true" belief or just a cynical ploy to get religious people to follow them.

What I read in Steinfels' review is that he is worried that people will read Goldberg and Phillips and not understand that there is a difference between the leaders and the evangelicals. Well, perhaps he needs to re-read these books with a bit more care and stop thinking that he and his belief are being personally attacked by Phillips and Goldberg.

I've not read Phillips book, but I have almost completed Goldberg's book and I think that Steinfels missed her point. He says that Goldberg does a great job of carrying out her individual reporting, but doesn't connect them correctly to the bigger story.

Goldberg's reports are full of concrete, eye-opening detail, made all the more convincing by her conscientious effort to keep things in perspective. She regularly concedes that America is not "on the cusp of religious totalitarianism" or "close to becoming a theocracy."

But despite these concessions..., perspective is ultimately what is missing from Kingdom Coming, not because of Goldberg's intentions but because of her ideology and the very nature of her project. If I were to visit only the wilder shores of liberal, left, feminist, sexual, and environmental politics, reporter's notebook in hand, I would probably get a similarly worrisome view of the prospects for American life and institutions.

Well, perhaps I'd agree with Mr. Steinfels statement if there was any sign that the liberal shiboleths he has named had ever had a significant say in our government. But, personally, I've never seen a lot of wilder feminists who have succeeded in placing extremely left-of-center judges on the various courts, including the supreme court. I've never seen an animal rightist being put in charge of the FDA. Or a bunch of wacko leftists that have hosted affairs where the leadership of the Congress has come to pay homage.

What Mr. Steinfels misses, is that the places and conferences that Michelle Goldberg attended, have resulted in significant changes in policies, in public funding and in legal restrictions. I would beg for him to show the same level of "influence" in our nation's history from the wild leftists he so fears. And worrying about whether the words, "in God we trust" will be removed from money doesn't count because will not affect the lives of ordinary Americans - whereas destroying public schools, lying about public health issues and trying to subvert our Constitution by packing the court with people who do not believe in the Constitution -- those are truly radical ideas and they have a particularly ominous cast these days.

Personally, I know that one cannot infer that if someone is an evangelical, they would support these goals. And frankly, that is not the question these books raise. What Goldberg does extremely well is to show how the slippery slope has been working for the past few decades. What was completely unacceptable in civil discussion has become mainstream. We see it because it would have been inconceivable that Ann Coulter could have declared Darwin an instigator of the holocaust unless the words and claims of the John Birch Society were now accepted by a sizeable number of people. The right wing who have co-opted the religious hardliners are clearly pushing to take over our country. As patriots and real lovers of our Constitution, it is our responsibility to stop them.

Mr. Steinfels thinks the evangelicals aren't a problem because the "obscure" leaders (who meet with Bush, Rove, Bolton, and all the leaders of the Congress) don't have so much power. Well, I believe they have way too much and I want to stop them from getting any more. And Michelle Goldberg's book is a good place to understand how much power they have and how much they've already accomplished in their goal to takeover our country.

Posted by Mary at September 5, 2006 07:38 AM | Religion | Technorati links |

I think this is a major problem

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