Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Just Can’t Kill the Beast

Susan Jacoby warns that the Religious Reich is not going away.

We are hearing a great deal about the emergence of America into a “post-Christian right” era—meaning, essentially, that liberal religious believers are going to take back the rubric of religion from ultra-conservative fundamentalists. I am all for that. I prefer liberal Baptists like former President Jimmy Carter, who believes in the separation of church and state, to anti-secular Baptist fundamentalists like Mike Huckabee. But it is a dangerous delusion, based on wishful thinking, to underestimate the organized, well-financed strength of Christian fundamentalism and its profound anti-rational influence on every aspect of American culture.

If the candidacy of Mike Huckabee does nothing else, it proves that Ms. Jacoby is indeed right. Never before has an unapologetic Christian conservative who believes in the literal interpretation of the bible, who has doubts about evolution, and who actively campaigns on the platform of adding the Human Life amendment, which would ban abortion, and the Federal Marriage Amendment, which would ban same-sex marriage, into the Constitution, which would bring our foundation of laws into alignment with what he says is “God’s law,” gotten this far in the presidential nominating process. Thankfully the odds look long for him, but the last time a religious zealot like Mr. Huckabee ran — Pat Robertson in 1988 — he didn’t make it past New Hampshire. (Gary Bauer tried in 2000 and shared the same results as Ron Paul is getting today but without the arduous supporters who show up to defend their hero every time his name is mentioned on a blog but never bother to vote.) The Christianists and the Dominionists are out there, and they are not going to go away just because their candidate loses an election or two. It didn’t happen when Bill Clinton won in 1992; if anything, his election energized them even more, and if Hillary Clinton should win the election, you can be sure that the Religious Reich will be back in full force and voice.

So if they’re not going to go away, how do we counteract them?

I am disturbed not by the efforts of liberal evangelicals to reclaim the good name of religion but by their suggestion that all liberal political candidates justify their policies in terms of faith.

To overcome the political power of the Christian right, what is needed today is not a “return to religion” on the left but an alliance of moderate religious believers with unapologetic secularists on the most important social issues of our day. Together, we can restrain the harmful political influence of the religious right. But if liberal religious believers try to marginalize secularists, particularly within the Democratic Party, the religious right will be the real winner.