Wednesday, May 4, 2005

Welcome to Our World

John McCandlish Phillips complains that evangelicals are being picked on by — horrors! — newspaper columnists.

I have been looking at myself, and millions of my brethren, fellow evangelicals along with traditional Catholics, in a ghastly arcade mirror lately — courtesy of this newspaper and the New York Times. Readers have been assured, among other dreadful things, that we are living in “a theocracy” and that this theocratic federal state has reached the dire level of — hold your breath — a “jihad.”

In more than 50 years of direct engagement in and observation of the major news media I have never encountered anything remotely like the fear and loathing lavished on us by opinion mongers in these world-class newspapers in the past 40 days. If I had a $5 bill for every time the word “frightening” and its close lexicographical kin have appeared in the Times and The Post, with an accusatory finger pointed at the Christian right, I could take my stack to the stock market.


The opening salvo of the heavy rhetorical artillery to which I object came in on March 24, when Maureen Dowd started her column in the Times with the declaration “Oh my God, we really are in a theocracy.” While satiric, as always with the ever-so-readable columnist, it was not designed to be taken lightly. (Reading everything Dowd writes, while agreeing with scarcely any of it, is one of life’s guilty pleasures for me. Now and then she sends a short left jab straight to the jaw of a rightist absurdity, as she recently did with regard to a White House press room admittee, the pseudonymous right-wing suck-up styled “Jeff Gannon.”)

Three days later Frank Rich, an often acute, broadly knowledgeable and witty cultural observer, sweepingly informed us that, under the effects of “the God racket” as now pursued in Washington, “government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma.” He went on to tell Times readers that GOP zealots in Congress and the White House have edged our country over into “a full-scale jihad.” If Rich were to have the misfortune to live for one week in a genuine jihad, and the unlikely fortune to survive it, he would temper his categorization of the perceived President Bush-driven jihad by a minimum of 77 percent. If any “emboldened minority” is aiming to “remake America according to its dogma,” it seems to many evangelicals and Catholics that it is the vanguard wanting, say, the compact of marriage to be stretched in its historic definition to include men cohabiting with men and women with women. That is, in terms of the history of this nation, a most pronounced and revolutionary novelty.


Evangelicals are concerned about the frequently advanced and historically untenable secularists’ view of the intent of our non-establishment/free exercise of religion clause: that everything that has its origin in religion must be swept out of federal, and even civil, domains. That view, if militantly enforced, constitutes what seems dangerous to most evangelicals: the strict and entire separation of God from state. This construct, so desired by some, is radically out of sync with much in American history that shows a true regard for the non-establishment of religion while giving space in nearly all contexts to wide and free expressions of faith.

It’s not like the evangelical community hasn’t been doing their part to set the tone for over-the-top demonization and venom towards those who might venture to disagree with their leatherbound dogma and condemnation of an entire class of people such as the gay and lesbian community who are, by the way, not all atheists. In fact, there is a vibrant — one might even say colorful — religious movement in the gay community, including the Metropolitan Community Church. But now that some people are rightly concerned that people like Pat Robertson, who has even the Freepers upset, and James Dobson are going off at full-froth about “people of faith,” demanding religious tests for judges, and drawing in the Senate Majority Leader for their crusade, Mr. Phillips feels threatened. Well, as we say in the gay community, life’s a bitch, honey.