The Wisdom of Doubt, Part VII

Slacktivist tells us that “Amy Sullivan has, again, written that Amy Sullivan article, this time for TIME magazine: ‘The Origins of the God Gap.'”

The God Gap refers to the copyrighting of God by the Republican Party and the alleged “unfriendliness” of Democrats to religion. Sullivan writes,

Today, Democrats find themselves in an unusual situation, with a surfeit of faith-friendly front runners. If they want to court and keep new religious voters, however, this time the conversion will have to be party-wide.

Sullivan provides a thumbnail history of Religion and Politics in America. According to Sullivan, prior to Jimmy Carter presidents didn’t talk much about God beyond the occasional generic reference to “Providence.” Carter was, she said, the first president to wear his evangelicalism on his sleeve. However,

While Carter was the right candidate for the new politics of values, his party was rapidly moving in the other direction. Educated élites, particularly on the left, increasingly placed their faith in the tangible power of political action rather than the unfathomable might of a divine being. And they misread the direction of the country. Far from becoming less religious in a postmodern age, Americans remained strongly devout, with 80% or more consistently reporting that religion was an “important” part of their lives. A schism widened between the people who ran the Democratic Party and many religious believers.

In Sullivan’s history, Democrats deliberately snubbed evangelical Christians while Reagan et al. courted them. She admits that Bill Clinton has a “personal comfort” with religion, but the Democratic Party was disinterested “in changing their approach on abortion to reflect his ‘safe, legal and rare’ mantra.” And if I ever meet Amy Sullivan, I promise to ask her to explain how the Dem “approach to abortion” does not reflect the “safe, legal and rare” mantra, because I don’t see how the hell it doesn’t, but for now I want to focus on Sullivan’s main point: Democrats had better get faith-friendly or risk alienating religious voters.

Granted, whenever one writes a thumbnail history one must leave out great chunks of stuff, but this leaves out way too much, to the point of gross distortion. And because she doesn’t grasp what has happened to American religion, vis à vis politics and otherwise, Sullivan doesn’t grasp the true nature of the religion problem. It is not the Democratic Party that has changed, but religion, and catering to the nation’s spiritual pathologies is hardly the way to effect a cure.

Here’s an alternative thumbnail history, based mostly on historian Richard Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Vintage Books, 1962) , which the author said was a response to “the political and intellectual conditions of the 1950s.” A large section of this book deals with religion, and reviewing all of it would make a very long post even by my standards. Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version:

Through the latter part of the 19th century into the beginning of the 20th, evangelical Christianity became increasingly militant. Hofstadter explains,

As evangelicals made increasingly impressive gains from 1795 to 1835, and as Deism lapsed into relative quiescence, the battle between pietism and rationalism fell into the background. There was much more concern among evangelicals with rescuing the vast American interior from the twin evils of Romanism and religious apathy than there was with dispelling the rather faint afterglow of the Enlightenment.

After the Civil War, all this changed and rationalism once more took an important place among the foes of the evangelical mind. The coming of Darwinism, with its widespread and pervasive influence upon every area of thinking, put orthodox Christianity on the defensive, and the impact of Darwinism was heightened by modern scholarly Biblical criticism among the learned ministry and among educated laymen. Finally, toward the end of the century, the problems of industrialism and the urban churches gave rise to a widespread movement for a social gospel, another modernist tendency. Ministers and laymen alike now had to choose between fundamentalism and modernism; between conservative Christianity and the social gospel. [pp. 120-121]

Hofstadter uses the words evangelical and fundamentalist interchangeably without making a clear distinction between the two, and that’s something I want to deal with in another Wisdom of Doubt post. For the sake of not writing a book-length blog post let’s let the distinction slide for now.

The “social gospel” was a movement embraced by the more liberal denominations of mainstream Protestantism. Quoting Wikipedia:

In the early 20th century, many Americans were disgusted by the poverty level and the low quality of living in the slums. The social gospel movement provided a religious rationale for action to remove those evils. Activists in the Social Gospel movement hoped that by public health measures as well as enforced schooling so the poor could develop talents and skills, the quality of their moral lives would begin to improve. Important concerns of the Social Gospel movement were labor reforms, such as abolishing child labor and regulating the hours of work by mothers. By 1920 they were crusading against the 12-hour day for men at U.S. Steel. Many reformers inspired by the movement opened settlement houses, most notably Hull House in Chicago operated by Jane Addams. They helped the poor and immigrants improve their lives. Settlement houses offered services such as daycare, education, and health care to needy people in slum neighborhoods.

In the United States prior to World War I, the Social Gospel was the religious wing of the progressive movement which had the aim of combating injustice, suffering and poverty in society. During the New Deal of the 1930s Social Gospel themes could be seen in the work of Harry Hopkins, Will Alexander and Mary McLeod Bethune, who added a new concern with African Americans. After 1940, the movement withered, but was invigorated in the 1950s by black leaders like Baptist minister Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. After 1980 it weakened again as a major force inside mainstream churches; indeed those churches were losing strength. Examples of its continued existence can still be found, notably the organization known as the Call to Renewal.

So, in the late 19th and early 20th century a sharp division arose between progressive, “modern” Christians and conservative Christians who rebelled against modernism. Let’s go back to Hofstadter:

The 1920’s proved to be the focal decade in the Kulturkampf of American Protestantism. Advertising, radio, the mass magazines, the advance of popular education, threw the old mentality into a direct and unavoidable conflict with the new. The older, rural and small-town America, now fully embattled against the encroachments of modern life, made its most determined stand against cosmopolitanism, Romanism, and the skepticism and moral experimentalism of the intelligentsia. In the Ku Klux Klan movement, the rigid defense of Prohibition, the Scopes evolution trial, and the campaign against Al Smith in 1928, the older America tried vainly to reassert its authority; but its only victory was the defeat of Smith, and even that was tarnished by his success in reshaping the Democratic Party as an urban and cosmopolitan force, a success that laid the ground work for subsequent Democratic victories. [p. 123]

Over the next several pages Hofstadter describes the conservative Christians in retreat. By the 1930s the more hard-core fundamentalists were isolated even from mainstream evangelicalism, which was becoming more liberal. Now it gets interesting:

Their heightened sense of isolation and impotence helped to bring many of the dwindling but still numerically significant fundamentalists into the ranks of a fanatical right-wing opposition to the New Deal. The fundamentalism of the cross was now supplemented by a fundamentalism of the flag. Since the 1930’s, fundamentalism has been a significant component in the extreme right in American politics, whose cast of thought often shows strong fundamentalist filiations.

Hofstadter elaborates on this theme, describing many ties between right-wing political groups and fundamentalists. He documents how the Cold War crusade against “Godless communism” invigorated fundamentalist militarism. And he describes the right-wing political-religious mindset that emerged:

The fundamentalist mind … is essentially Manichean; it looks upon the world as an arena for conflict between absolute good and absolute evil, and accordingly it scorns compromises (who would compromise with Satan?) and can tolerate no ambiguities. It cannot find serious importance in what it believes trifling degrees of difference: liberals support measures that are for all practical purposes socialistic, and socialism is nothing more than a variant of Communism, which, as everyone knows, is atheism. … [T]he secularized fundamentalist mind begins with a definition of that which is absolutely right, and looks upon politics as an arena in which that right must be realized. … It is not concerned with the realities of power — with the fact, say, that the Soviets have the bomb — but with the spiritual battle with the Communist, preferably the domestic Communist, whose reality does not consist in what he does, or even in the fact that he exists, but who represents, rather, an archetypal opponent in a spiritual wrestling match. [p. 135]

Hofstadter published this 45 years ago, remember. But does this not nail our contemporary wingnuts dead on? Even the part about not being concerned with the realities of power could be updated and applied to neocons and other Iraq War supporters.

This week at the Faith and Public Life web site, Pastor Dan Schultz of Street Prophets comments on the Amy Sullivan column:

I think we can’t let the vision of history put forward in these Time articles go unchallenged. Nowhere in Amy Sullivan’s column was there a mention of the role race played in bringing together the Religious Right, for example. Were it not for the Carter administration’s challenge to the tax-exempt status of segregated “Christian Academies” throughout the South, it’s unlikely that the Religious Right would even exist in the form we recognize it today.

Nor is there a mention of the decades-long work of the Institute on Religion and Democracy to undermine the governing structures of mainline denominations. The point of this operation – fueled by cash donated by ultra-conservative philanthropists – was to neutralize the social witness of denominations like the UCC, the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, to pave the way for secular Republican political gains. The Democratic “loss” of religious voters had a lot more behind it than simply not wanting to talk about abortion, in other words. I would like to have seen that reflected in these pieces.

Compare and constrast Pastor Dan’s comments with what Richard Hofstadter wrote so many years ago. In the 1920s, religious fundamentalism had strong connections to the resurgent Ku Klux Klan; in the 1970s, President Carter’s challenge of whites-only “Christian” academies added fuel to the fire that forged the Religious Right of the 1980s. A century ago, fundamentalists opposed the progressive “social gospel” movement. Today, the Religious Right wants to “neutralize the social witness of denominations like the UCC, the Methodists, Presbyterians, or Episcopalians, to pave the way for secular Republican political gains.”

Let’s look again at the so-called God Gap. I wrote in The Wisdom of Doubt, Part V that when mass media present the “religious” view of social issues, inevitably they call upon the Religious Right, as if extremist right-wing Christianity were the only legitimate religion. “Moderate to liberal religious voices are shouted down, just as they are in the political realm,” I wrote. The Left-Right divide in religion parallels the Left-Right divide in politics, and for many years extremist right-wing religiosity has been crowned “mainstream,” while more liberal religious traditions are treated as an extremist fringe. And please note that many of the more liberal denominations are actually much older than Christian fundamentalism, which was born in the late 19th century.

When Amy Sullivan claims that “Educated elites, particularly on the left, increasingly placed their faith in the tangible power of political action rather than the unfathomable might of a divine being,” she is echoing the same accusations right-wing Christians were making a century ago about religious progressives. But the charge was bogus then, and it is bogus now. The truth is that a large and extreme right-wing faction has redefined “religion” on its terms. This faction has decided that Democrats and liberals — who in fact are no more nor less religious than they ever were — are hostile to religion because they don’t acknowledge the faction’s religion as the only legitimate religion. And since this faction dominates mass media and the nation’s political culture, the faction’s bogus charges are viewed as “conventional wisdom.”

On the Faith and Public Life site linked above, Jeff Sharlet writes,

… nuances get lost in the mythical “God gap.” There’s no such thing. The majority of the Democratic Party is religious, just as is the majority of the GOP; the difference tends to be in the nature of the gods worshiped. There is far more than one Christ in America, a basic theological fact lost on a press that treats God as a single prize to be wrestled over by Democrats and Republicans.

Conventional political wisdom calls for Democrats to display the same religiosity as Republicans in order to win “religious” voters. Although such behavior may win an election here or there, in the long run this advice is exactly wrong. It’s wrong, first, because it supports the Right’s warped view of religion. And second, it’s wrong because that’s a game Democrats cannot win. The Right has defined the Left as being anti-religious. Therefore, displays of religiosity from the Left are viewed as insincere. A commenter to the Faith and Public Life thread writes,

Alongside these kinds of ideas coming from mainstream reporters, you have the explicit attacks on Democrats’ faith coming from conservative media figures. They act as though they’re insulted that progressives — politicians or otherwise — would have the temerity to talk about their faith. “I have never met anybody less sincere than the religious left,” Tucker Carlson said on a recent show. “I mean, you think that Jerry Falwell was cloying and phony, honestly, you haven’t met the religious left.” Cal Thomas issued a blistering theological attack on Hillary Clinton, stopping just short of saying that she is not a real Christian (Hillary’s crime, it appears, is the fact that she’s a Methodist). Similarly, Andrew Ferguson of the Weekly Standard opined that Clinton might be able to appeal to religious voters, but only those who are “religious in the way that Hillary Clinton is religious, which is to say of a very liberal Protestant sort of view, in which they believe in everything but God.” Michael Gerson, former Bush speechwriter and current Washington Post columnist, criticized Barack Obama for speaking at a gathering of his own church: “By speaking at a gathering of the United Church of Christ — among the most excruciatingly progressive of Protestant denominations,” Gerson wrote, “he was preaching to the liberal choir. And he did not effectively reach out to an evangelical movement in transition.”

In the minds of wingnuts, religion is intrinsic to being a “conservative” and foreign to being a “liberal.” Therefore, “religious liberal” is an oxymoron to them. Even a devoutly religious liberal is assumed to be hostile to religion, no matter what he says or does, whereas a conservative is assumed to be a Friend of Jesus without having to so much as lift a finger to demonstrate his sincerity. You can’t argue with The Narrative.

This was never more apparent than when Ann Coulter was promoting her book Godless: The Church of Liberalism. If Coulter has an ounce of religious devotion in her anywhere, I’m Mother Teresa. Yet she was all over news media smearing the devotion of liberals, and I saw not one interviewer challenge Coulter’s religiousness.

Whatever the Dems do, buying into the perception that right-wing Christian evangelicalism is the only legitimate religion is not the answer; it’s dancing to the Right’s tune. And catering to the Right’s demand for religious correctness (on their terms) as a prerequisite for public office is just wrong.

The fact is, right-wing “religion” isn’t necessarily religious. I want to refer back to the Bill Moyers quote from Part V:

For a quarter of a century now a ferocious campaign has been conducted to dismantle the political institutions, the legal and statutory canons, and the intellectual, cultural, and religious frameworks that sustained America’s social contract. The corporate, political, and religious right converged in a movement that for a long time only they understood because they are its advocates, its architects, and its beneficiaries. …

…Their religious strategy was to fuse ideology and theology into a worldview freed of the impurities of compromise, claim for America the status of God’s favored among nations (and therefore beyond political critique or challenge), and demonize their opponents as ungodly and immoral.

The last thing religion in America needs right now is capitulation to the Right’s definition of religion. I’d rather see us rescue Jesus (so to speak) from the wingnuts who hold him hostage. Let Jesus be Jesus, not the GOP team mascot. At the same time, we must reaffirm separation of church and state. As I argued in Part V, this separation is good for religion as well as government.

This topic calls our for a much more substantive treatment than I can give on a blog. I have in hand a book by Gary Wills (Under God: Religion and American Politics) published in 1990 that provides wonderful insight into the state of American politics in the 1980s, when according to Amy Sullivan the “educated elites” were turning their backs on religion. And this is the same time period, note, between the administrations of two evangelical Democrats, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. What Really Happened was, as always, not nearly so black-and-white.

In a nutshell, the Right was able to use mass media to indoctrinate the nation with The Narrative about alleged liberal hostility to religion. This happened at the same time the word liberal was being demonized. Liberals and Democrats generally were asleep at the switch, so to speak, and failed to fight back. Thus it was that by the time of the Dukakis-Bush election campaign in 1988, the electorate was primed to run screaming from the dreaded “L” word. And, of course, in the right-wing mind liberals are socialists are communists are atheists. Michael Dukakis was a thoroughly secular candidate, but what did he do or say to demonstrate hostility to religion? What did any Democrat do or say? Anything? Nothing that I’m aware of. Nothing that Amy Sullivan can document, I suspect. She’s just buying into The Narrative.

Although I want to delve into fundamentalism more thoroughly at another time, I do want to close with a nod to Karen Armstrong. In her book The Battle for God: A History of Fundamentalism, Armstrong argues that fundamentalism arose in response to modernity, especially to scientific rationalism. “Fear is at the heart of fundamentalism,” she writes. “The fear of losing yourself.” This is true of Islamic fundamentalists like Osama bin Laden as well as our homegrown types. Liberals cherish tolerance, democracy, pluralism, and civil liberties; fundamentalists fear these values as weapons of (their) annihilation.

It is important to recognize that these theologies and ideologies are rooted in fear. The desire to define doctrines, erect barriers, establish borders, and segregate the faithful in a sacred enclave where the law is stringently observed springs from that terror of extinction which has made all fundamentalists, at once time or another, believe that the secularists were about to wipe them out. The modern world, which seems so exciting to a liberal, seems Godless, drained of meaning and even satanic to a fundamentalist. [Armstrong, The Battle for God (Ballantine, 2000), p. 368]

The Religious Right has an irrational fear of everything and everyone who isn’t Them. The perception that liberals and Democrats are hostile to religion grew out of their own fevered imaginations, not reality. Amy Sullivan wants to cater to their delusions. I say the nation needs to be freed from the grip of right-wing insanity.

29 thoughts on “The Wisdom of Doubt, Part VII

  1. Outstandinging writing, even for you, Barbara. Hofstadter especially has long been a favorite of mine, recommended long ago by a high school history teacher.
    I only wish you had been writing in Time, instead of Amy Sullivan. I don’t know her background, but contemplation of the history of this country doesn’t seem to be part of it.

  2. Good stuff. Karen Armstrong is right. It’s about fear. Somebody once said, ( I can’t remember who) that people’s gods always end up hating the same people as they do. I see it all around me. People want gods that will crush what they hate and won’t understand. I think that’s why the wingnuts are really convinced we’re in a global war with Islam, although they are careful to say “radical Islam”.

  3. This is truly excellent. I agree with everything you say here, and your insights that Liberals must not accept the right-wing definition of religion, and that the religious right (e.g. Ann Coulter) is not necessarily religious at all, are particularly valuable, since they are so often overlooked.
    However, there is a shadow side to the whole situation, in that, aside from those who confuse right-wing religion with religion full stop, there are to be found on the left people who ARE genuinely hostile to religion, and there are forces within liberal relgion that, in their this-worldy concerns, are operating on a political-moralistic, pseudo-theological rather than theological dimension.
    I would suggest that all of this, in the world of American Protestantism, traces DIRECTLY back to the controversy that culminated in the Synod of Dort, 1618, and the polarization represented there. Those excluded by the orthodox Calvinists were (a) liberal Protestants (Arminians) , such as Grotius, and people whose religious views were far more unorthodox, even heretical (Socinians).
    It is worth adding that, in Great Britain at least, the established church had normalized Socinianism by the end of the 17th century, and the whole Fundmentalist tradition derives, at several removes, from the Nonconformist, rather than the established, British churches. (In America, the equivalent to the established church is of course the Episcopalians, but the other so-called mainline Protestant churches like Presbyterians and Methodists also went through a process of liberalization. Today’s fundies are completely consistent in their hostility and suspicion to such churches.

    Rhetorically, it’s difficult to present a balanced picture to an audience as polarized as one finds today in America. Yet even today, I believe most Americans are relatively liberal in their views, and also basically religious. It’s the people on the fringes that will use every opportunity to polarize. Among them are the usual psychopaths and sociopaths, but under today’s conditions, they seem to find a more conducive atmosphere on the right. But in the 1920-1960s, they were very much at home on the left as well.
    To sum up, I agree with everything you have said, but the situation, as I’m sure you realize, is somewhat more complicated. God truly is NOT a Republican but He is not a Democrat either. There is a certain degree of validity to the religious right’s fears, but their whole response is idiotic and counterproductive, due to their Manichean world view and the assumption that faith covers everything, including the vast fields of human endeavor that are not simple matters of faith but require observation and judgment.
    God gave us a brain and He expects us to use it. In the pursuit of what they regard as good, they are supporting a great deal of evil. They have distorted many religious messages — all religious messages, if you consider how unsavory they appear to everyone but themselves.

  4. I think you may find the work of psychologist Robert Altemeyer useful in understanding the mindset of “conservatives”. He has defined what he calls the “right wing authoritarian” personality type. This is a person who believes in a hierarchical social structure and prefers to follow a strong leader. This type of person also has a high correlation with conservative social values.

    Altemeyer has written a free, online book explaining his 40+ years of research into this area. You can read it for yourself here:

    It is best to understand the worldview of those you are trying to deal with if you wish to be effective.

  5. I was raised in a fundamentalist church and as I got older I saw a disconnect between the teachings of Jesus and the actions and beliefs of the church members. I saw people who claimed to love God but hated most of His children. I realized that the teachings of Jesus were consistent with “liberal” political positions and diametrically opposed to “conservative” ideology.

  6. “Democrats deliberately snubbed evangelical Christians while Reagan et al. courted them.”

    In fact, evangelicals snubbed democrats. I attended a theological seminary in 1976 where rather than support Carter, an outspoken evangelical, evangelical leaders met together with Gerald Ford specifically to “authenticate” his christian faith so they could tell christians to vote for him and not Carter. Never, until that time had anyone accused Gerald Ford of being even remotely religious, let alone an evangelical. But evangelicals abandoned Carter, one of their own and overtly so, in droves.

  7. For all that the fundies wouldn’t dream of compromising with Satan, a label they place on anything ‘non-them’, they sure get behind compromising our Constitution and Bill of Rights and their own moral behavior.

  8. and then there are the wiccans (et al) among us who watch all this battling over HIS will and whom does HE hate and what would HIS SON have us do with, i have to say, more than a touch of amusement. at least, we’d be amused if our home weren’t being scorched into oblivion.

    ALL religions that place the male aspect of godhead in a position of outright supremacy are a radical departure. truly fundamental, conservative religiosity acknowledges no such supremacy. i mean, there’s sweeps of history and then there’s sweeps of history.

    that’s why, when challenged (and a challenge it increasingly is) i say i’m a fundamentalist druid.

  9. Nothing to add, Maha. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve really enjoyed this whole series and look forward to future installments.

  10. There are so many good points here. This piece really stands on its own. If you’re limited for time at YearlyKos, this could form your entire talk. Bravo!

    There are religious people and irreligious people on both the left and the right.

    The irreligious people on the right learned how to coopt the religious right, enabling the religious right to push their narrative of what being religious means onto the rest of the country. En voila, you have Amy Sullivan writing about “The God Gap” for Time Magazine.

    The left not only was asleep at the switch, but there is something deeper at work here, which the right learned to use to their advantage. You talked about the rise of modernism and how Darwinism and other scientific discoveries challenged the traditional religious narratives.

    It’s this latter conflict that must be resolved in order to defuse this dynamic. This is the crux of the issue. As you said, I don’t want to see the Democratic candidates pander to the right’s narrative, which is what Sullivan advocates. I want to see our leaders be unafraid to talk about spiritual values in a way that resolves this conflict and moves things forward.

    Dems have for too long avoided the tough subjects – abortion, religion – even the Iraq War until it was so massively unpopular that they had litle to lose. In so doing, we cede the debate to those on the right who are not afraid to speak to these issues. At least Amy Sullivan wants us to talk about religion, a first and important step, but she has it all wrong about what to say.

    The problem is that it takes a serious religious commitment, and an understanding of all the viewpoints involved to do this confrontation skillfully, and I don’t really see that our candidates have this to the extent needed to confront the dominant right wing narrative and explain in detail how the religious right has got it wrong. Because they lack this deep internal commitment and understanding, they’re far too willing to go along with the right’s narrative, if they talk about it at all.

    We need some spiritual giants of our own, in other words to disarm the right’s machine. And I am being as precise as I can when I say this is the key to disarming the right’s machine, it’s the moral basis for what they say and do. Pull this issue out, destroy this basis, turn it around and use it to our favor, and the house of cards collapses. These giants exist (I’m thinking of Jim Wallis or Michael Lerner, even Marianne Williamson, and there are many others, you mentioned Karen Armstrong (who is British)) but they’re not front line political candidates.

    I’m reminded of Yeat’s famous saying from “The Second Coming”,

    The best lack all conviction,
    while the worst are full of passionate intensity.

    The ability to deal skillfully and publicly with the passionate emotions surrounding hot issues like this (and abortion as well) is a skill the Democrats have got to get better at. if we ever hope to prevail. Bill Clinton was probably the best we have seen at this sort of thing, but even he did not go after these hot issues.

    Right now the Dems are coasting on Bush’s failures – we’ll probably win the White House in 2008 by default, but this victory won’t mean much unless we can absolutely win the moral high ground, by effectively debunking the right’s narrative.

  11. Fantastic column! It’s my first visit here, but if this is the kind of quality I can expect, you’ve absolutely made a reader out of me.

    Just don’t go to easy on the modern brands of evangelicalism. I grew up in them, and attended a conservative “bible college” (this is prior to my becoming a Liberal Democrat, as well as joining the Eastern Orthodox Church), and while they have their roots in the fundamentalism that arose in the late 19th century, they are, most of them, relatively recent inventions. Most of the modern non-denominations arose in the late 70’s and early 80’s.

    It is still frustrating to me to be confronted with incredulity when people find out that I have both a deeply held faith in God as well as being quite liberal politically. It is out of my belief that these two belief systems can deeply enrich and compliment each other that I am supporting Barack Obama. While I don’t doubt in any way the sincerity of the faith of the other candidates, he truly seems comfortable with his faith, he lets it inform his politics, but he also realizes the limits of personal religious beliefs in the political sphere. That is encouraging to someone who is attempting to balance those beliefs in their own life.

  12. An excellent chapter in your continuing series! Your vacation did you good, I think.

    Sullivan’s perspective on politics and religion is not only simplistic and ahistorical, it’s also wrong. Sullivan implies that if Democrats would change their position on abortion and other social issues, they’d attract more Christian voters. She misses the Manichean quality you point to, and their need for Democrats and liberals to represent the oppositional ‘other’. As you say, any ‘liberal’ religiosity is, to them, a priori fraudulent. It’s not just Democrats: ask John McCain how far one gets by donning religious right coloration once they’ve predetermined you as the enemy.

    The ‘conversion’ Sullivan is asking Democrats to make isn’t about religion, it’s about converting to their fear-based, intolerant, black-and-white, anti-rationalist approach to the world. Frankly, we don’t need their votes at such a price.

  13. Posts like this is why I am down with the Mahablogger.

    Fundamentalism is absolutely rooted primarily in FEAR, but not only the kind of fear described in this post. I remember trolling a site (I and reading a post by an ex-fundie that spoke to me. The author related how, for himself and many others, fundamentalism is actually a reaction to a loss of faiththeir apparent certainly is actually a defense mechanism triggered by increasing doubt over the truth of his beliefs. Of course, this doubt scares them because it means (1) either they’ve spent years basing their worldview on a fairytale or (2) they will burn in hell for their lack of faith. Either way they seek refuge in “extreme faith” that is born, not of true faith, but of a desperation to rid themselves of their doubt and return to certainty.

  14. Another excellent post. As I’ve said before: You’ve got a book here. I hope you pursue it.

  15. Global warming, people, please.

    It’s a bit shocking to still see an intelligent serious discussion of future politics without any thought of the growing worldwide disaster, even after New Orleans has been destroyed. That is the environment in which politics will happen for the next hundred or two hundred years. So, how will that environment affect politics and how will politics affect the effort to do something about it?

    Thank you for reading this public service announcement.

  16. that’s what i meant by “our home being scorched into oblivion.” philips’ book is terrific on this, as it quanitifies the pact made between the oil interests and the fundies. the upshot is going to be that our children’s children’s children will, in fact, burn in a hell of our own making.

  17. Global warming, people, please.

    It’s a bit shocking to still see an intelligent serious discussion of future politics without any thought of the growing worldwide disaster……

    It’s definitely shocking to be treated like a child and told what are the allowable range of topics for discussion. Go hijack someone else’s thread, or better, tie global warming to the subject of this posting, adding your own thoughts, or better still, write your own blog.

    I was tempted to engage with you on your question of “how will that environment affect politics” and vice versa, but you’re being rude and you need to know about it.

  18. The biggest reason we can’t as a nation make rational decisions or even have rational discussions about global warming and health care and Iraq and a whole lot of other stuff is the fundamentalist mindset. Stone Riley can bitch about global warming all he likes; until we address the fundie problem, not much will happen.

  19. I have a notion that there are some significant differences between the kool-aid drinkers and the kool-aid mixers. The mixers frame the threat driven conflict and serve it up in impassioned doses of the sticky sweet dualism of “us and them”. Emphasizing what a group is against helps to strengthen the group’s identity and energize those inside the boundary that separates. But I wonder if they are as personally serious about the theology as they are about the money and power?

    I agree with you that the drinkers are truly at the pre-modern level of consciousness and not disposed to questioning authority or the “givens” of cultural and theological identity. I think they also more easily tend towards super-naturalism that buffers the duress of mundane lives.

  20. maha, i have little different slant on these evangelical moombats. i own a day spa and do pedicures. last year my customer claire said how much christians are persecuted, she mentioned abortion, etc. i told her that was not persecution. persecution would be if all people with ugly feet had to have them amputated. that was persecution. she always seemed to be down and depressed, unhappy, no smiles. i figured this year i would not see her because of my treatment of her last year. this she came in all smiles, happy, satisfied. she said her husband has forbidden her to go to church except on sunday. someone else in the shop mentioned viagra. claire chirps “it really works” “it’s great”. i told her “claire you little tart you are getting laid”. she said yes and life was wonderful!!!!!!!! so, i think these moonbats need to get laid,

  21. Re your comment mamemeow, sign me up. I will do my part.

    Seriously, it is a great series. If I was sitting across the table, I would ask your opinion on the thinking of the founding fathers in instituting the separation of Church & State. What were they trying to do? Have we allowed what the founding fathers feared? Is there any way of remining people that the separation was not the brainchild of religion?

  22. Wonderful essay. Amy Sullivan is an educated elite, & she writes & thinks like one. She’s inside the Washington Beltway, her sensibility is K Street & Think Tank. But in a sense, she’s a creation of the post-Reagan protestant right & is unable to get outside that “box.” She’s certainly not a visionary.

  23. Comment 21, mamameow – that’s the best story I’ve heard in a long time. Good for your customer claire and for all of us who have to endure (former) neurotics like her.

  24. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Wisdom of Doubt, Part IX

  25. “The Religious Right has an irrational fear of everything and everyone who isn’t Them. The perception that liberals and Democrats are hostile to religion grew out of their own fevered imaginations, not reality. Amy Sullivan wants to cater to their delusions. I say the nation needs to be freed from the grip of right-wing insanity. ”

    There is a cultural war, but one largely waged by one side. To understand this better along with the apparent perception of persecution a sober assessment of a host of anxieties is in order.

    Frank Benedetti, a Unitarian, observes:

    “Our fears include escalating crime rates, drug addictions, natural disasters, runaway asteroids, genocides and new fatal diseases. A lot of us try to medicate ourselves from our past, present and future with drugs and alcohol. Because we are wary of our neighbors, we distance ourselves and live alone with no shared experiences. We are plugged into our IPods, afraid even to be alone with our own thoughts. In our self-service economy, we pump our own overpriced gas, check out our own groceries and hastily retreat back to the comfort of our SUVs which serve as mobile fortresses. When trying to reach companies on the phone, we traverse through an endless chain of punching in numbers so we can listen to recorded voices in various languages. On the computer, even sex has become available without human contact.

    Is it any wonder that people find solace in religions that provide a packaged set of beliefs designed to create a sense of family, comfort and stability?”

    …and what reduces one’s cognitive dissonance more than seeking out an external cause for the anxiety?

    You don’t have to be fundamentalist to share these concerns. However, there are marked differences in the ways that fundamentlists and others address them. While some engage themselves in society, others withdraw from it and circle round the wagons as protection from those who might dilute the strength of religious conviction.

  26. Pingback: The Mahablog » The Wisdom of Doubt: The Series

  27. Pingback: The Mahablog » Over Rove

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