Sunday, September 13, 2009

Not As Easy As Evangelical = Conservative.

I'm as guilty as anyone of tossing around slippery terms to define religious groups that challenge, oppose or condone particular policies at issue in my discussions. Over at KillingtheBuddha, my other sometime home, a discussion, initiated by John D. Boy's Icons of the New Evangelicalism, has sprung up about the future power of American evangelicals. Responds Boy to a commenter who takes issue with his use of terms and analysis of the current vibrancy of evangelicalism:

When informed opinions about the future of evangelicalism in the United States so clearly diverge—with some arguing it is inevitably on the decline and others seeing it firmly established in the halls of power—that’s a pretty sure sign that change is underway somewhere beneath the surface, making itself felt through “a great variety of morbid symptoms.” The question is, what kinds of changes in the general orientation of evangelicalism can we expect? Against the general linear, left-right mappings of these changes, I wanted to give room in my thinking and writing on this issue to the unexpected: People like my friend, an evangelical minister and socialist, who preaches about Jesus, the Bible and Judith Butler, prays for the end of corporate domination, and risks imprisonment at antiwar marches. Or another friend who rejects secular music but speaks about blockbusters more than about being born again. Or the girl I know who is crazy about the Holy Spirit but still has time to worry about how her tattoos impact her sex life. We know anecdotally and from opinion polls that the story is not as easy as evangelical = conservative.

And in this vein, where we fail at our conversations about religion, amongst ourselves, in the media, and in politics, is often with the definitions. Because I am many times writing about the pro-choice issue of assisted suicide, it is assumed that I am an athiest or someone opposed to religion. Nothing of the sort. My grandparents were Mennonites; I went through catechism in college. I love faith and religion as much as I fear them.

Putting ideologies and loyalties into silos just isn't a viable approach to religion, particularly, as Frank Schaeffer notes in my prior post, we wish to understand the political climate enough to regulate how religion is used as a tool by those with nefarious motivations. If you agree with even a shred of this, spend some more time at KillingtheBuddha where their manifesto includes, “a religion magazine for people made anxious by churches, people embarrassed to be caught in the ’spirituality’ section of a bookstore, people both hostile and drawn to talk of God."


The Religious Right Don't Need Our Stinkin' Rules.

UPDATE: At AlterNet an excerpt from Max Blumenthal's new book, "Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement That Shatterd the Party" about the effects of home schooling.

Frank Schaeffer has a column up at Huffpo about who the 9/12 "Tea Party" marchers are, where they came from, why we must take them seriously, and how to prevent them from "making the rest of us lose our democracy by increments."

Schaeffer's got credibility here; he and his father, the evangelical leader Francis Schaeffer, worked to found what we think of as the Religious Right. Since his "falling away," Frank has offered a unique perspective on what he calls the fifth column in our society: those who choose to work outside the rules of democracy for a theocratic nation.

Those of us on the left who became politically engaged during the W. Bush years took heart in the election of Obama, seeing it as a shift away from the inhumane and theocratic track our country was on under the Religious Right. Schaeffer warns us that by working within the system we have failed to recognize that even out of power, those who want to see our country led by religious ideology are still controlling our direction - precisely because they don't believe in the system. They don't even believe in facts. Theirs is a world that counts as illigitimate any liberal ideology that doesn't adhere to their own brand of theology.

Where did all these crazy people come from? Schaeffer says the Christian homeschooling movement:

The fact of the matter is we now know what the experiment in raising children outside of the American mainstream means. It means that there's a whole subculture within American culture that mistrusts facts precisely because they are facts. They glory an alternative view of not just politics but of reality.

They frequent the creationist museum and look at dioramas of dinosaurs cavorting with humans. They believe that gay people choose to be gay just stick it to the rest of us and could change if they invite Jesus into their hearts. They believe that before you run for governor of Alaska, for instance, you should get a preacher specializing in "casting out the spirit of witchcraft" to anoint you so you can win against the demonic forces of secularism -- as was the case with Sarah Palin when she first ran for governor. They believe that the NRA was telling the truth when they claimed that Obama would "take away your guns" and so have loaded up with more guns and ammunition. They think the time has come to rise up and overthrow the government. And yes, most of them also believe that black people are inferior to whites, so to have a black man in the White House is itself "proof" of American's fall from grace.

I would venture that there is more to the American cultural dynamic that gives conservatives - and I mean the crazy tea party, "death panel," patriots who follow Glenn Beck and tote guns to town halls - credence. Not only the home schoolers but those who ascribe to a false narrative of what our country is and should be: Idolization of the founding fathers as models of breaking down "ungodly" government structures; hatred of government as a structure that can and must provide for the needs and beliefs of all citizens; pride in fierce independence that will be supported with violence when necessary; a deep seated skepticism of facts that falls into conspiracy theory territory. Precisely because this country was founded on religious freedom and tolerance, those early ideals have been misconstrued into a narrative that promotes anti-government activism, living outside of a society that functions for all, and distrust of non-believers (or rather, other-believers or even just others, blacks, minorities) as illigitimate.

In this narrative, opposition is valued as not just the American way but Godly, noble, and just. And this narrative is compelling to a segment of society that is successfully, despite the last election, still dictating our country's direction.

We can laugh at the inconsistency of thinking that allows yesterday's marchers to plaster a sign that reads, "Your tax $$$" across an image of Terri Schiavo. We can call these disrupters silly and ignorant. We can dismiss them because they are so far outside what we deem as a realistically viable approach to governing the country. But we would be wrong to do so.

As Schaeffer writes,

In order to "win" -- in other words destroy our country as we know it -- the far right merely needs to be true to its own rule which is, to put it very mildly, that coloring outside the lines is not only perfectly okay but required.

Only clear understanding and acknowledgement of the far right will move us farther along the path of weeding them out of our more liberal political trajectory. Ignoring them will be perilous.