Wonder-working power: the roots and the reach of the religious right.In Defense of the Religious Right: Why Conservative Christians Are the Lifeblood of the Republican Party and Why That Terrifies the Democrats, by Patrick Hynes, Nashville: Nelson Current, 288 pages, $24.99
The Theocons : Secular America Under Siege, by Damon Linker, New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : Doubleday, 304 pages, $26
THE CHRISTIAN Coalition Christian Coalition, organization founded to advance the agenda of political and social conservatives, mostly comprised of evangelical Protestant Republicans, and to preserve what it deems traditional American values. was instrumental in the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, but before long its power seemed to be waning. In 1996 Bill Clinton--the draft-dodging, pot-smoking, abortion-rights-supporting womanizer wom·an·ize
v. woman·ized, woman·iz·ing, woman·iz·es
To pursue women lecherously.
To give female characteristics to; feminize. who embodied everything Christian conservatives abhorred--handily won re-election against Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Two years later, Republicans lost ground in Congress as they prepared to impeach To accuse; to charge a liability upon; to sue. To dispute, disparage, deny, or contradict; as in to impeach a judgment or decree, or impeach a witness; or as used in the rule that a jury cannot impeach its verdict. Clinton, and Paul Weyrich, the man who had first suggested to Jerry Falwell the name "Moral Majority," adapted a phrase from Timothy Leary: It was time, he told Christian conservatives, to "turn off," "tune out," and "drop out."
Weyrich wasn't the only influential Christian conservative driven to rethink his movement's prospects in the late '90s. In the year of Clinton's re-election, a federal district court ruling to permit physician-assisted suicide shook the editors of the Catholic journal First Things so violently that they began to ask whether judicial tyranny had destroyed democracy itself. This led to the magazine's November 1996 symposium, "The End of Democracy?," in which contributors concluded that civil disobedience civil disobedience, refusal to obey a law or follow a policy believed to be unjust. Practitioners of civil disobediance basing their actions on moral right and usually employ the nonviolent technique of passive resistance in order to bring wider attention to the , even revolution, might soon be justified. "America is not and, please God, will never become Nazi Germany," editor Richard John Neuhaus Richard John Neuhaus (born May 21, 1936) is a prominent Catholic priest and writer born in Canada and living in the United States, where he is a naturalized citizen. He is the founder and editor of the monthly journal First Things wrote, "but it is only blind hubris Hubris
An arrogance due to excessive pride and an insolence toward others. A classic character flaw of a trader or investor. that denies it can happen here and, in peculiarly American ways, may be happening here."
Times have changed. You won't find much sympathy at First Things for those who today use such language in the context of President Bush's war on civil liberties. And Christian conservatives no longer feel so despondent about democracy. The president has assiduously as·sid·u·ous
1. Constant in application or attention; diligent: an assiduous worker who strove for perfection. See Synonyms at busy.
2. cultivated their support, an effort rewarded in 2004 when nearly 80 percent of evangelical Protestant voters and 52 percent of Catholics voters cast their ballots for Bush.
In the wake of that election we've seen an avalanche of literature purporting to explain the revival of the religious right and its implications for the country. Patrick Hynes' In Defense of the Religious Right celebrates Christian conservatives' power, even while claiming Christian conservatives are harried and besieged be·siege
tr.v. be·sieged, be·sieg·ing, be·sieg·es
1. To surround with hostile forces.
2. To crowd around; hem in.
3. , ever on the defensive against an encroaching liberalism. Damon Linker, on the other hand, argues in The Theocons that it's the religious right, and the First Things coterie in particular, that's doing the encroaching. Each gets only half the story right. Hynes fails to prove that Christian conservatives are the persecuted majority he thinks they are, while Linker is persuasive about the aggressive agenda of the religious right. But Hynes better explains where Christian conservatives' real power lies--not with a Catholic elite, as Linker would have it, but with the mass of evangelical voters loyal to the party of Lincoln.
Hynes is a campaign consultant--in the words of his dust jacket, "a hack with an impressive record of electing Republicans." According to his book, "the GOP is, perhaps, God's Own Party," not only because religious voters today prefer Republicans but because the party originally arose from the Second Great Awakening The Second Great Awakening (1800–1830s) was the second great religious revival in United States history and consisted of renewed personal salvation experienced in revival meetings. and the abolitionist movement. Abolition itself, he writes, "was the result of Christians imposing their moral values on their fellow Americans." Republican Christians, that is: Hynes emphasizes the typically Democratic affiliation of those Southern Christians who supported the peculiar institution, though he doesn't note that some of the denominations that once defended slavery have since become stalwarts of the GOP. To hear Hynes tell it, the modern religious right doesn't want to impose its values on anyone so much as it wants to defend those values against "a liberal Washington-Hollywood nexus that bookends American civilization." (He doesn't explain how Washington can remain part of that nexus when the party preferred by the Christian conservatives controls every branch of the federal government.)
Hynes is at his best discussing the demographics of the religious right and explaining its place in the Republican Party's base. By his calculations, churchgoing church·go·er
One who attends church.
churchgoing adj. voters are as important to the Republicans as African-Americans and labor voters combined are to the Democrats. In 2004 Bush received "something close to 28 million conservative Christian" votes, almost half his total pull, while by Hynes' estimates approximately 11.8 million African-Americans and 16.7 million union members voted straight-ticket Democratic. (The "straight-ticket" qualification, of course, means Hynes isn't exactly comparing apples to apples.) "John Kerry destroyed Bush among the 15 percent of Americans who never attend church (62 percent for Kerry to 36 percent for Bush)," he writes, "Conversely, Bush (64 percent) beat Kerry (35 percent) by virtually the same margin among the 16 percent of the electorate who attends church more than once a week."
Hynes takes pride in this but doesn't look closely at all it entails. Just as the "gender gap" cuts both ways--men vote disproportionately for Republicans just as women go heavily for Democrats--the growing "God gap" also has two sides. What does it tell us that Americans who attend religious services as infrequently as Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan once did now overwhelmingly vote Democratic? And Hynes is evasive about whether today's Republican leadership is any closer to its followers' degree of devotion. Outraged by Bill Press' claim that President Bush doesn't attend church regularly, the most Hynes can say is, "President Bush reads the Bible and prays every morning at 6:00 AM."
He has other blind spots. Hynes shows that, contrary to stereotype, Christian conservatives are not overwhelmingly poor or Southern, and a majority of them are women. But while he professes surprise that the religious right is typecast as mostly male, his own book offers evidence of why that is: Almost every spokesman and leader Hynes talks to is indeed a spokesman or male leader. In this book, the women of the religious right are a silent majority.
The distaff side distaff side
The female line or maternal branch of a family.
[From the idea that spinning is women's work. gets short shrift in his historical discussion, too. While claiming a common pedigree with abolitionists and even, to a lesser extent, the civil rights movement, Hynes neglects to mention another prominent example of religious involvement in American politics: the Woman's Christian Temperance Union Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), organization that seeks to upgrade moral life, especially through abstinence from alcohol. The National WCTU of the United States was founded (1874) in Cleveland, Ohio, as a result of the Woman's Temperance Crusade that and its prohibitionist pro·hi·bi·tion·ist
1. One in favor of outlawing the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages.
2. often Prohibitionist A member or supporter of the Prohibition Party. progeny. Which if any of these groups is the true forerunner of the modern religious right? A clue might be found in the persistence of "dry counties" in such bastions of the Christian conservative movement as Mississippi, Kansas, and Alabama--though Puritan-era blue laws blue laws, legislation regulating public and private conduct, especially laws relating to Sabbath observance. The term was originally applied to the 17th-century laws of the theocratic New Haven colony, and appears to originate in keep many a heathen municipality in Massachusetts dry as well. As for abolitionism abolitionism
(c. 1783–1888) Movement to end the slave trade and emancipate slaves in western Europe and the Americas. The slave system aroused little protest until the 18th century, when rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment criticized it for violating the , readers might wonder whether doing away with the coercive institution of slavery is really "imposing values" in the same sense as most of the modern religious right's agenda.
"The Christian Right has done nothing to force its value on a helpless and unwitting public" Hynes insists. "The exact opposite is true." In support of his contention that "secular leftists are determined to remake American culture and society in their own warped image, to tear down to demolish violently; to pull or pluck down.
See also: Tear traditional pillars of America's moral strength," Hynes cites a litany of court cases, legislative acts Statutes passed by lawmakers, as opposed to court-made laws. , and instances of civil disobedience: Griswold v. Connecticut Griswold v. Connecticut, case decided in 1965 by the U.S. Supreme Court, establishing a right to privacy in striking down a Connecticut ban on the sale of contraceptives. The Court, through Justice William O. (which effectively legalized contraception nationwide), the Stonewall riots (which launched the modern gay rights movement), 1960s New York and California laws legalizing abortion (the California law was signed by Gov. Reagan), and more.
Notably, Hynes is not making a states' rights states' rights, in U.S. history, doctrine based on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. or federalist argument. He sees Culture War aggression both when states pass laws he dislikes and when federal courts strike down laws he does support. He also blurs the difference between persuasion and coercion: Most of his examples of secular leftist left·ism also Left·ism
1. The ideology of the political left.
2. Belief in or support of the tenets of the political left.
left aggression involve loosening legal restraints. When he writes of "the radical Left's assault on longstanding and long-accepted cultural norms" what he means is that too much moral legislation is being repealed, overturned, or voided void·ed
Having the central area cut out or left vacant, leaving an outline or narrow border: a voided lozenge. . Presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. Hynes and company would like to bring those laws back. If that isn't "imposing values" on people, what is?
A few of his examples strike home. It indeed is ridiculous to, say, ban a schoolgirl from singing "The First Noel" at a Christmas pageant. But even if the left is as bad as he says, that doesn't mean the religious right is any better. It would be interesting to see a forthright defense of the religious right's views on everything from regulating gambling to kicking competent people out of the armed forces for being homosexual. It would be interesting, too, to see a defense of the religious right's foreign-policy enthusiasms, from evangelical Christian support for the Iraq War ("evangelicals are among the only voter subgroups left in the country to still support the president's foreign policy," Hynes notes) to the drive by such Christian conservatives as Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) to intervene in Darfur. But little of this is in Hynes' book.
For Damon Linker, a former editor of First Things turned critic of that journal's political project, the danger of the religious right does not lie primarily with the evangelical Protestants Hynes describes but with a select group of Roman Catholic intellectuals whom Linker calls "theoconservatives." What these men lack in numbers they make up for in influence: "the overtly religious policies and rhetoric of the Bush administration have been inspired by an ideology derived from Roman Catholicism," Linker contends.
Who are these theocons? Three receive close scrutiny in Linker's first chapter--George Weigel, biographer of Pope John Paul II Pope John Paul II (Latin: Ioannes Paulus PP. II, Italian: Giovanni Paolo II, Polish: Jan Paweł II) born and expositor of a take on Catholic "just war" theory tailored to support Bush's foreign policy; Michael Novak, the Catholic radical turned outspoken champion of "democratic capitalism"; and Linker's bete noire and former boss (for whom he insists he has no ill will), Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. If Neuhaus commands more of Linker's attention than the other two, it isn't just because he knows him better. Even Novak's transformation from advocate of a "revolution in consciousness" and "religionless Christianity" to thoroughly bourgeois democratic capitalist can hardly compare with Neuhaus' political odyssey.
Early in the 1960s, Neuhaus, then a Lutheran minister, was pastor at Brooklyn's inner city St. John the Evangelist church, which under his leadership was a center for civil rights and antiwar activism. In 1965, he founded Clergy Concerned About Vietnam with Catholic Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (January 11, 1907, Warsaw, then Russian Empire – December 23, 1972) was considered by many to be one of the most significant Jewish theologians of the 20th century. . Neuhaus grew more radical with the times, in one sermon describing the Vietnamese as "God's instruments for bringing the American empire to its knees."
He also, Linker writes, "began to reflect on whether he should advocate an armed insurrection to overthrow the government of the United States," reluctantly concluding that the time was not yet ripe. Thirty years later, he would again entertain the idea of revolution--only by then, he had become a Roman Catholic priest, and the causes stirring his passions were not Vietnam and segregation but abortion, euthanasia, and a lack of religiosity re·li·gi·os·i·ty
1. The quality of being religious.
2. Excessive or affected piety.
Noun 1. religiosity - exaggerated or affected piety and religious zeal
religiousism, pietism, religionism in public life--what Neuhaus terms "the naked public square."
Because of their left-wing backgrounds, Neuhaus and Novak, the latter now ensconced en·sconce
tr.v. en·sconced, en·sconc·ing, en·sconc·es
1. To settle (oneself) securely or comfortably: She ensconced herself in an armchair.
2. at the American Enterprise Institute The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI) is a conservative think tank, founded in 1943. According to the institute its mission "to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism — limited government, and serving as the War Party's semi-official envoy to the Vatican, are often designated Catholic neocons. But Linker points out an important difference between his subjects and neoconservatives like Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz: "In the late 1960s, the men who went on to become the first neocons were moderate liberals who opposed the revolutionary ambitions of the counterculture coun·ter·cul·ture
A culture, especially of young people, with values or lifestyles in opposition to those of the established culture.
coun . The proto-theocons, on the other hand, were leftist revolutionaries who proposed (in the title of one of their books) 'a theology for radical politics.'" Linker understates the radicalism of some of the original neoconservatives--some started their careers as Trotskyists--but he has a point. The theocons were the sort of people the neocons had fled the left to get away from.
In any event, as the theocons tacked right they soon found common interests with the neocons, who indeed became Neuhaus and Novak's patrons. "The theocons piggybacked on [the] neocon ne·o·con
A neoconservative: "The neocons and hard-liners have long felt that no Soviet leader could be trusted" New York Times. network; they also used neocon connections to begin the long and arduous process of building their own independent infrastructure of influence," Linker writes. His second chapter traces the history of this neo-theo alliance, which paved the way for the creation of First Things--the journal in part grew out of an earlier publication, This World, that Irving Kristol turned over to Neuhaus in the 1980s.
Relations with the neoconservatives soured temporarily over First Things' "End of Democracy?" symposium of 1996. Neuhaus' old revolutionary rhetoric and his invocation of the Nazis led neocon eminentos Midge midge, name for any of numerous minute, fragile flies in several families. The family Chironomidae consists of about 2,000 species, most of which are widely distributed. The herbivorous larvae are found in all freshwaters; the larvae of some species live in saltwater. Decter, Gertrude Himmelfarb, and Walter Berns to sever ties with the magazine. Yet "political expediency eventually led that rift to be healed," and whatever strain the "End of Democracy?" placed on Neuhaus' relations with neoconservatives, the brouhaha only boosted his and First Things' standing with the Protestants of the religious right. Focus on the Family's James Dobson lauded the symposium in all its zeal.
But Neuhaus has had his differences with evangelicals as well. Indeed, Linker finds the genesis of Neuhaus' theoconservative project in his belief, formed while still a Lutheran, "that Falwell and his followers were being unrealistic in supposing that their idiosyncratic id·i·o·syn·cra·sy
n. pl. id·i·o·syn·cra·sies
1. A structural or behavioral characteristic peculiar to an individual or group.
2. A physiological or temperamental peculiarity.
3. faith, based on highly subjective 'born again' experiences, could serve as the religiously based public philosophy the country so desperately needed." Catholicism, on the other hand, had the natural law tradition, with its claims to objectivity and rationality. As well, in Linker's words, "there was the Church's long history of theological and political reflection, which made Catholics far more competent than evangelicals and other Protestants to take the lead in pressing religiously based moral arguments in the nation's life."
For Linker, these qualities make the theocon ideology more potent than that of the rest of the religious right. He points to the current or recent presence of several theocons on the President's Council on Bioethics bioethics, in philosophy, a branch of ethics concerned with issues surrounding health care and the biological sciences. These issues include the morality of abortion, euthanasia, in vitro fertilization, and organ transplants (see transplantation, medical). as evidence of how respectable theocon arguments--against human cloning and embryonic stem-cell research Noun 1. embryonic stem-cell research - biological research on stem cells derived from embryos and on their use in medicine
stem-cell research - research on stem cells and their use in medicine , for example--are becoming. But Linker may be overestimating Neuhaus' success at shaping policy by shaping the world of ideas. The President's Council on Bioethics has had so little influence on the stem-cell debate, for example, that theocon arguments failed even to keep the Senate majority leader from the president's own party (Bill Frist, a bona fide [Latin, In good faith.] Honest; genuine; actual; authentic; acting without the intention of defrauding.
A bona fide purchaser is one who purchases property for a valuable consideration that is inducement for entering into a contract and without suspicion of being religious rightist right·ism also Right·ism
1. The ideology of the political right.
2. Belief in or support of the tenets of the political right.
right himself) from approving federal funding of stem-cell research. And Bush's use of vaguely Catholic rhetoric did not stop him from approving the "morning after" contraceptive pill (and potential abortifacient abortifacient /abor·ti·fa·cient/ (ah-bor?ti-fa´shent)
1. causing abortion.
2. an agent that induces abortion.
Causing or inducing abortion. ) Plan B for over-the-counter sale in the face of theocon objections. On the electoral level: Rick Santorum, the theocons' poster child on Capitol Hill, is the Senate's most endangered incumbent this year. Linker's book is an engaging and invaluably informative account of the roots of theoconservatism, but its author could stand to borrow some of Patrick Hynes' political acumen.
All that is not to say the theocons have had no effect on the nation's politics. Perhaps ironically, considering Neuhaus' background, where they have been most successful is in shoring up conservative Catholic support for President Bush's foreign policy. Linker devotes a chapter to the "distinctive theocon approach to just war reasoning--ridiculing antiwar clerics for having forgotten the Catholic tradition and praising Republican administrations for keeping it alive." After the initial success of the Iraq invasion, Neuhaus wondered in print whether in the future it might be possible to consider "military action in terms not of the last resort but of the best resort." There's a curiously Jacobin streak in this now-conservative priest. In the '60s, in the '90s, and in Iraq today, Neuhaus has called for uprooting the established order in the name of justice and democracy. The results, as far as the rest of us can see, have not been encouraging.
So long as Catholics and Protestants were at odds, Linker concludes, both sides had a vested interest Vested Interest
A financial or personal stake one entity has in an asset, security, or transaction.
For example, if you have a mortgage, your bank has a vested interest on the sale of your house.
See also: Right in minimizing the mixture of doctrine and state power. But now, "to the extent that they come to consider each other allies and to recognize their potential combined political clout, they will be tempted to view the separation of church and state
The religious right's ecumenical unity might not be as great as Linker, or Hynes, imagines. Bush lost the Catholic vote in 2000, and while much has been made of the fact that he won it in 2004--against a Catholic opponent--he did little better among Catholics than among the population at large. Churchgoing evangelicals are an overwhelmingly Republican bloc, but Catholics are only gradually being co-opted, beginning with those who attend services most often.
By themselves, the theocons may not be much of a threat to Americans' liberties. But together with the organized power of evangelical Protestants, they're a mighty force for the Republican Party, even if what they get in policy terms is not more morality in public life but merely more war.
Daniel McCarthy (email@example.com) is literary editor of The American Conservative.