Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Who is the "religious right?"

The confluence of a Hugh Hewitt contest on "who is the 'religious right'" (When Maureen Dowd or Christopher Hitchens or Frank Rich or other center-left writers or politicians use the terms "Christian right" or "religious right," who do they think they are talking about and who are they talking to? And how do you define the terms and how large is that group. Statistics count, as do footnotes or sources that can be checked.) and a Carnival of the Godless is just too good to be true, if only to see from where I get the hits.

First of all, when Dowd or Hitchens or Rich says "religious right" or "Christian right" they mean different things. Hitchens is a curmudgeonly atheist who thinks all religion is bunk; I'm not sure about Dowd or Rich, but certainly, unlike Hitchens they've never written a memorable screed against Mother Teresa. But I'm in all of their audiences (although I generally tune out Dowd- I like substance with my snark). So whoever they're talking about might be different. But I'd say it's people who don't think the Bill of Rights was an entirely good idea, and generally want special rights for their group.

There's more...

The Religious Right is actually fairly easy to characterize, both as a movement and as a type of mindset. I'd identify these elements:

  • Projection of their faults on their enemies. E.g., the assumed existence of a "gay agenda" masks an agenda to oppress gays. Religious "persecution" of Christians in the US? How about Christian supremacy and marginalization of minority religious views?

  • The proliferation of groups - often astroturf groups- to ape what are seen "liberal" groups. Thus the ACLJ is the evil twin of the ACLU; CWFA is the alter ego of NOW (or at least once was). Focus on the Family's Dobson was the alternate universe Dr. (Benjamin) Spock with a beard. CFR? CNP. Get it?

  • The confusion of religiousness and spirituality with capitalsim. Focus on the Family has a prime example here:

    H.B. London, Focus on the Family's vice president of Ministry Outreach, said it's just one more method a church can use to reach the un-churched.

    "I think the old scripture that says 'by all means win some' is a very important passage of scripture," he said, citing I Cor. 9:22, "and I ascribe to it."

    London said he's worried some churches are more concerned with numbers than the Gospel.

    "I think the churches, if they would really admit it, are trying to reach the 18 to 49-year-olds—they're trying to reach the same demographic the television and movie industry is trying to reach."

    Jim Mellado, president of the Willow Creek Association, said not all modern churches hold fast to the tenets of the faith, but those that do often see phenomenal results.

    "These are churches that have more than doubled in the last decade," he said, "and they have four times the average attendance of the average church—they have eight times the conversions."

    Market share, yeah, baby!

  • Did I mention they don't like the Bill of Rights? Their leaders often wind up working with unsavory people, such as Robertson (who does get big bucks from his "flock") friends of Mobutu and the guy who ordered the murder of Archbishop Romero. Or Tony Perkins, who bought David Duke's mailing list. Or Ashcroft, who has written for Southern Partisan, put out by people who thought the Confederacy wasn't such a bad idea.

  • Some of their members support terrorism: Randall Terry is one such example. Let's face it, Eric Rudolph was a member. The folks who had the "Run, Rudolph run!" signs were members. But most of all, they seem to hate the idea of religious pluralism (or lack of religion), and freedom of conscience. They recoil at the idea that you can't have freedom of religion without the ability to be free from religion.

  • In terms of actual numbers, they are actually a significant minority of the population, albeit an unusually vocal one: George Barna says that all evangelicals (which he defines as born again Christians who are biblican inerrantists who think of their god as having dominion and a Protestant mindset on faith/works) comprise no more than 7% of the population of the US. Of these, the subset of them who would be Republican activists would be substantially smaller. They are actually not growing very fast, either. But there clearly is much money behind ministries associated with them, as well as with Republican politics. You don't see networks of Unitarians, even though they're growing faster than Baptists. Salem Radio. TBN. The 700 Club. These franchises are worth tens of millions of dollars. That's not chump change.

  • But most of all, I would think, much of what they assert is false, whether because of being misinformed or simply dishonest. Among those untruths I know, which I'll debunk for the record:

    • Cassier Bernall didn't "say yes."

    • Terri Schiavo was effectively brain dead, unlike the tales spun about her "trying to speak."

    • I think the greatest untruth they tell, though, is in claimning an exclusive access to revealed truth, when it is clear that they are personally alienated from the truth most closest to them.

    • "Intelligent" "Design" is not a science, and only a demagogue or an ignorant person or huckster would say othewise.

    • The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:12), as opposed the religious right's version, where said kingdom is realized by establishing a theocracy on earth, or at least judges and politicians who'll pander to division and hatred.

So we can say the "religious right" is a small, well funded subset of American Christians who are bent on overturning what we have traditionally thought of as the American way.

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