Category: abortion

The marriage of Christ and anti-Christ

XXX TED CRUZ 2016 HDB327.JPG A  HKO USA VAWhen Ted Cruz launched his presidential campaign at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University reaction on the left was predictable.  Some suggested that Liberty students were only in their seats because attendance at chapel is mandatory at Liberty. Liberals don’t like Ted and the feeling is mutual.

Libertarian response was mixed.  Ted’s political career is funded by billionaire libertarians Charles and David Koch, he despises Obamacare, and he wants to abolish the IRS.

Libertarians haven’t forgotten that Cruz’s famous filibuster speech against Obamacare was studded with Ayn Rand quotations.

Who could ask for anything more?

But hard core, “objectivist” libertarians are baffled by Ted’s fervent embrace of the religious right, in general, and his staunch opposition to abortion, in particular.  Why, for instance, did a lifelong admirer of Ayn Rand announce his candidacy at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University?

Ayn Rand hated philosophical compromise as much as she hated Jesus; and she hated Jesus very, very much.  Consider this oft-quoted line from her novel, The Fountainhead:

The man who attempts to live for others is a dependent.  He is a parasite in motive and makes parasites of those he serves . . . this is the essence of altruism.

Jesus and Ayn share one quality: consistency.

Rand asserted that nothing beyond the demands of the detached and independent ego really matters.  Altruism, living in response to the needs of others, was thus the worst kind of heresy.  When we live in service to others, she taught, we become slaves.

Randian objectivists wish Ted would lose his religion so they wouldn’t have to qualify for their support.  But everyone, even libertarians, appreciate that Ted’s career arc would plummet to earth if he trampled on the cross.  In America, we are free to disagree with Jesus on every important point, so long as we’re singing “Oh How I Love Jesus”.

A cynic would assert that Ted Cruz embraces both Christ and anti-Christ because he is a pragmatic politician. But you can’t understand the Junior Senator from Texas apart from the culture that shaped him.  Religious superstars from Dwight L. Moody to Billy Graham embraced Wall Street for the same reason Ted Cruz courts the Koch brothers–publicity is expensive.

Ayn Rand
Ayn Rand

The best way to impress the wealthy is to tell them how wonderful they are, and Ayn Rand made a comfortable living singing paeans to the powerful.  They were the only people that mattered to her; everybody else she called ‘looters’, ‘moochers,’ and (when she was feeling kind) ‘parasites’.

Not all wealthy people enjoy praise and adulation, of course, but most of them do. Charles and David Koch love Ayn Rand and Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter because they speak rapturously of the wealthy and contemptuously of everyone else.  No surprises there.

Ted Cruz grew up in a religious subculture in which Christianity and laissez-faire capitalism dovetailed neatly.  Mainstream evangelical Christianity soft-pedals Jesus’ teaching on money, greed and solidarity with the poor because, while no one was watching, we became a wholly-owned subsidiary of corporate America.  If you think this is overly-harsh, check out the Sermon on the Mount and you will see the problem.

But this marriage of Christ and anti-Christ goes deeper than political pragmatism and the lure of mammon.  Ted Cruz isn’t just a conservative Southern Baptist who occasionally shows up at Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas; he is also an enthusiastic Dominionist.

This stealth enterprise goes by a variety of names: the Reconstructionist Movement, Dominionism or, more recently, the New Apostolic Reformation (I have written extensively on this subject).

Dominionism is rooted in the “presuppositional” theology of Cornelius Van Til and the political-religious musings of Rousas John Rushdoony.  (If you are unfamiliar with Cornelius and Rousas, this primer will come in handy.)

Think of it as the Reformed doctrine of election on steroids.  Rushdoony put it like this:

“The purpose of Christ’s coming was in terms of the creation mandate… The redeemed are called to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, to be covenant-keepers, and to fulfill “the righteousness of the law” (Rom. 8:4) . . . Man is summoned to create the society God requires.”

The theological category of “election” makes the marriage of Christ and anti-Christ possible.

Both Randian objectivists and Christian dominionists contrast the glories of “us” with the depravity of “them”.

It’s an anti-Christian species of Calvinism.  The wealthy and the powerful have the right to dictate to the poor and the powerless because, well, they’re so super.  Dominionists associate this authority with God (from whom all blessings flow).  For Randian objectivists it’s the law of the jungle: If the makers don’t rule the takers, the takers will rule the makers, and we can’t have that.  Both conservative Christians and anti-Christ objectivists dream of that great day when the elect will triumph and the unworthy will get a richly-deserved comeuppance.

I am not suggesting that everyone associated with the religious right thinks this way. They don’t.  But culture war logic ensures that conservative critics of this marriage of Christ and anti-Christ will be consigned to the outer darkness.

Liberals, for their part, don’t know enough about Ayn Rand or Christian Reconstructionism to discern the elephant in the room.  Besides, it’s too easy to lampoon politicians like Ted Cruz if you’re working with a liberal audience.  You can make jokes about Liberty University students compulsory attendance at the Cruz announcement speech in twenty quick seconds flat.  Liberty students wearing Rand Paul T-shifts is a great five-second sight gag.  So why do the hard work of answering hard questions that no one is asking?

Mainstream analysis, desperate to sustain the illusion of objectivity, eschews in-depth analysis of anything.  Cruz kicked off his campaign at Liberty University in an attempt to court religious conservatives.  End of story.  The marriage of Christ and anti-Christ rarely gets a mention on CNN or CBS.  It sounds mean-spirited and it smacks of liberal bias.  We don’t want to lose more conservative viewers to FOX.

But our silence comes with a price.  Ted Cruz holds this marriage of convenience together by pretending that neither Jesus nor Ayn Rand were serious.

They were; and they are.

Homosexuality, Abortion, and Political Ideology

By Charles Kiker

July, 2013

Before the 2012 presidential election I was asked by a fellow minister, “How can a Christian vote for someone who is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage?” I sought to answer his question, which was asked on Facebook, in private correspondence. With the current ado over the abortion issue in Texas and other red states, I think it is time to make my private answer public. I have edited my previous answer, but here is the gist of it.

An easy answer would have been to to say that some Christians take into consideration more than one or two issues in making their political choice(s). That would be true, but it would be too easy and it would be sidestepping the specificity of the question.

So I’m going to tackle it head on, from my own perspective. I will not claim it is the Christian perspective, but the perspective of one who who seeks to follow in the Way of Jesus.  (more…)

Expanding the Dead-End Debate over Abortion

By Alan Bean

When debates devolve into entrenched camps lobbing insults and talking points we need independent insight.  Robert Jensen, a journalism professor at the University of Texas, thinks for himself and is transparent about his presuppositions.  He writes as a feminist, but disagrees with many feminists.  He is a harsh critic of the liberal mainstream.  He wants to bring radical ideas to the moderate middle when he thinks they are the best ideas.

The abortion debate is stalled, largely because fundraisers on both sides of the culture war divide make a great deal of money banging the drum for pro-life or pro-choice dogma.  Abortion has become a tool for rallying the troops, and that makes clear-headed thinking on the subject almost impossible.

Jensen strikes a delicate-but-necessary balance between sexual freedom and sexual sanity.  He is concerned about the unborn and women who become pregnant in the midst of painful circumstances.  His essential argument is that adherents of both positions on the abortion issue need to listen to the valid concerns of the other side.  I agree.

Expanding the Dead-End Debate over Abortion

By Robert Jensen

The abortion debate in Texas—and throughout the country—has dead-ended: pro-life v. pro-choice, saving the unborn child v. protecting the rights of the mother, responsibility v. freedom. Every encounter leaves each side more dug in. (more…)

How NOT to build a progressive coalition in Texas

By Alan Bean

Scott Henson thinks direct action is rarely a strategic tactic, but every once in a while it works.  Scott acknowledges that the tactic was highly successful during the civil rights movement but argues that the authorities quickly learned to avoid brutal and public acts of oppression.   Demonstrations may be therapeutic for those involved, he says, but they rarely accomplish strategic ends.

Occupy Wall Street is offered as Exhibit A.

I am temperamentally inclined to endorse Scott’s position.  Demonstrations have always made me uncomfortable.  When I participate it is usually because, as in Jena, the folks on the receiving end of injustice sometimes take strength from public displays of shared resolve.  The Occupy Wall Street folks brought needed attention to the growing wealth disparity in our country and its baleful influence on the political process, but when I talked to them I got the uneasy feeling that they were engaged in a form of therapeutic ritual with little strategic content.

Liberals must understand that, in states like Texas, we hold a minority position on almost every issue.  I don’t feel good about the fact that, if the GOP abortion law is passed, only women in the Golden Triangle between Dallas, Austin and Houston would have access to safe abortions.  But most folks in Texas are solidly pro-life and a lot of progressives, myself included, aren’t going to the wall for abortion rights.  I accept the logic of Roe v. Wade, but am too morally conflicted by the issue to get fired up about it.

I was proud of Wendy Davis’s bold filibuster.  But I wish we could get African Americans, Latinos and progressive whites in states like Texas to join hands on issues like hunger, mass incarceration, public education and immigration reform.  Abortion may be a defining issue for white liberal women, but you can’t build a broad-based coalition on pro-choice politics–not in the great state of Texas.  I would drive to Austin to protest mass incarceration, border militarization, and cuts to poverty programs and public education; but if abortion is the issue, I’m staying home and so will the vast majority of African Americans and Latinos.

The gerrymandering of electoral issues in Texas has been used to defeat outspoken progressives like Wendy Davis, but the redrawing of political maps is really about making white political hegemony endure as long as possible before it is washed away by the shifting demographic tides.  (See Wade Goodwyn’s excellent analysis of Texas politics.) Democrats will start winning elections in Texas long before the party is popular with the white electorate.  Smart progressives will understand this and start building a coalition that engages the passions of black and brown Texans.

Southern Republicans will adjust their position on immigration and public education when they need a respectable harvest of minority votes to win.  That day will come, but its a long way off.  It may be hard to win the presidency without minority support, but Southern elections at the national and state levels can still be won with white votes.  Leading with abortion is a bad way to win moderate white support and a sure-fire recipe for alienating Latinos and African Americans.

If it’s all about winning elections, it ain’t moral

Davis filibuster took place in an near empty Senate floor. The bill she was fighting would have banned abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and force many clinics to upgrade their facilities and be classified as ambulatory surgical centers.By Alan Bean

Regardless of your political persuasion, these are the best of times and the worst of times.  The Supreme Court cuts the heart out of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and then nixes the oddly-styled Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional.   Meanwhile, in Texas, Senator Wendy Davis and a gallery crammed with abortion-rights activists kept the Republican majority from passing a law that would have shut down the majority of abortion clinics in the Lone Star State.

Liberals are celebrating in Texas, but Rick Perry has already announced that he call another special legislative session with the specific purpose of undoing what was done last night.

Although the majority decision in the DOMA case turned on arcane legal arguments, the Supreme Court is yielding to a massive shift in public opinion on the gay marriage issue.  Upholding DOMA is a nonstarter in today’s America, so the justices were forced to cobble together a legal justification for a pragmatic decision.

The same cannot be said for the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.  Gay rights has recently gained in popularity in virtually every demographic group–including white evangelicals.   Opposition to the Voting Rights Act is limited to the conservative white voters who control political reality in much of the American South and a fairly large slice of the Midwest.  Support for the Voting Rights Act is rock solid among African American and Latino voters.

Southern states may be insulted by the suggestion that their legislatures continue to discriminate against minority voters, but there can be little doubt that they do.  It is ironic, for instance, that Wendy Davis would have been unable to filibuster the Republicans’ abortion bill in the Texas Senate if proposed electoral maps that deleted thousands of minority voters from her district had not been declared unconstitutional.  Moments after the Supreme Court demolished the significant parts of the Voting Rights Act, Texas Republicans moved to revive a voter ID bill that was patently intended to eliminate as many minority voters as possible.  Election laws that create long lines in minority precincts but not in conservative white precincts can now move forward without opposition.

If reaction to the Voting Rights Act decision split along largely racial lines; the abortion debate breaks across the no-mans-land created by the culture war.  Personally, I am too conflicted on the abortion issue to support Texas Republicans or to hoot and holler for choice in the Senate gallery.  I am reluctantly pro-choice.  There are profound moral issues involved in the abortion debate.  When a woman decides to terminate a pregnancy it is almost always with a heavy heart.  This is appropriate.   Pro-life politics work really well precisely because many progressive people of faith are morally conflicted on the issue.  We understand and feel the arguments on both sides of the debate.

But conservatives cannot protect the unborn without creating major health problems for poor women who, denied access to safe abortions will turn to back alley butchers.  It should also be noted that conservative states like Texas refuse to adequately fund public education and have far more uninsured poor families than the balance of the country.  If Texas Republicans were genuinely concerned about the unborn they would give more thought to the post-birth plight of poor children.

Abortion has become a prized political issue because it allows politicians who oppose gay rights and voting rights to regain the high moral ground.  “We may be doing everything in our power to neutralize minority voters and discriminate against gay Americans,” the logic goes, “but at least we’re fighting to save the unborn.”

But it’s a lie.  They aren’t trying to save the unborn; they’re trying to win elections.  Banging the pro-life drum and minimizing the impact of minority voters are two equally effective strategies for maintaining political control.   If the abortion issue became a political detriment, most conservative politicians would abandon it in a heart beat.  I’m not saying the stalwarts on the front lines of the prolife fight aren’t sincere (they are) but the same cannot be said for their political supporters.

Two fresh takes on the abortion debate

By Alan Bean

The abortion debate has polarized America.  We are in the midst of a seismic shift on the gay rights front, but the battle lines on Roe v. Wade have hardly shifted.  Most Americans are uncomfortable with the moral implications of abortion; most Americans feel that abortion should remain legal, and politicians on both sides of the ideological chasm have learned to exploit the issue for political gain.  On the Red Letter Christians website, Kristin Day paints this unhappy picture: (more…)

Abortion and white evangelicals

By Alan Bean

An article in the Guardian, a British paper, discusses the challenges the rising tide of Latino voters in the United States poses for the Republican Party.  Gary Younge argues that the ill-famed “Southern Strategy” made sense when white Americans comprised 85% of the electorate, but has become problematic in an age when the majority of babies born in the United States are non-white.  These babies are almost two decades from voting age, however, so 74% of voters are still white.  According to today’s Washington Post poll, Mitt Romney holds a commanding twenty-three-point lead among white voters.

This is the major dilemma for the Republican Party: racially loaded messages may appeal to many white voters, but they lose you minority votes.   You can win white votes by railing against the entitlement-addicted 47% and the crime-prone “illegals” who cross the border in search of welfare, but not without giving Latinos and African-Americans a bad name.  White racial resentment remains the greatest single force in American politics.  The economy tops everyone’s list as an election season concern, but these issues are viewed through a racial lens.  Black voters cannot be persuaded that Obama wrecked the American economy; white voters can.

Three-quarters of white evangelicals vote Republican.  If you ask them why, they certainly won’t tell you they feel more comfortable voting for a white man.  They may say that Obama is a free-spending socialist and we need a president who believes in American capitalism.  But most, I suspect, will say it’s all about abortion.  Republicans want to stop the Holocaust and Democrats don’t–simple as that. (more…)

Why Billy Graham is down with a Mormon president

Romney and the Grahams work things out

By Alan Bean

Evangelist Billy Graham has tacitly endorsed Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and his website no longer characterizes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormons) as a cult.  This is just another sign that a major realignment is underway in American religion.

Evangelicals defined themselves in opposition to Roman Catholicism until the late 1970s when activist-preachers like Francis Schaeffer and Jerry Falwell built a new evangelical coalition around an unreconstructed version of Catholic pro-life theology.  This informal evangelical-Catholic coalition was driven by a fear of liberalism in both its secular and religious expressions.

Throughout the 1970s few evangelicals gave much thought to the abortion issue.  In fact, the Southern Baptist Convention essentially endorsed Roe v. Wade at its annual conventions as late as 1976.  A decade later, a thoroughgoing pro-life position had become a litmus test among American evangelicals. (more…)

The ungodly history of Smackdown Jesus

By Alan Bean

Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog is aimed at recovering evangelicals; particularly ex-devotees of the commercially marketed Christianity that hit its stride in the early years of the Reagan revolution.

I always know when Fred links to one of my blog posts, the usual number of hits increases by a factor of five.  Slacktivist posts regularly garner hundreds of comments.  Few mainstream website generate that kind of interest.

There are three reasons for Fred Clark’s success.  First, he writes extremely well.  Second,  his work is carefully researched and edited, he approaches blogging like a full-time job).  Finally, there are a whole lot of recovering evangelicals out there.

Some of these folks remain in the big-tent evangelical camp but are looking for authentic alternatives to a narrow and increasingly irrational tribalism.  Fred Clark also ministers to a large cadre of atheists and secularists who grew up addicted to with-God-on-our-side religion.

When you grow up born again you never really get over it.  A certain subset of the atheist-agnostic community appreciates Fred Clark’s blog even though he remains a committed Christian.  He  has deep insight into a slice of their experience that genuine secularists can never understand.  The Slacktivist is a form of therapy, an opportunity to work through painful memories and thorny issues.

In a recent post, Clark uses a music video from the 1980s to examine the toxic world of “evangelical tribalism”, the “us-against-them” mindset that has characterized commercial Christianity for the past quarter century.  The video features Carman, a smooth-talking white rapper who always reminded me of the post-Vegas Wayne Newton and Petra, a Christian 80s band that transformed the power chords and vocal hooks of early metal music (think softcore  AC/DC) into a highly marketable form of “Christian contemporary” entertainment.

Here’s the video version of “Our Turn Now”

And here’s Clark’s summary of the contents:

The lyrics begin by lamenting the 1962 Supreme Court decision ending state-sponsored establishment prayers in public schools. Carman, rapping like MC Neil Diamond, offers a litany of post-hoc argumentation, blaming everything he considers bad on the court’s ruling. He calls it “religious apartheid.”

“It’s our turn now” proclaims the chorus — a rallying cry for the tribal rule of sectarian religion. And everyone else, everything outside the tribe, is on the side of the “devil.”

I was introduced to Carman by a member of the ecumenical (nominally American Baptist) congregation I pastored in the early 80s.  The young man who played the song for me (assuming I’d be thrilled) was in his early 20s, a highly intelligent high school band teacher.

The basic idea was that Jesus and Satan are starring in a WWF-style Smack Down main event.  Satan (like every good wrestling heel from that era) enters the ring full of strutting, ranting bravado, but after the Savior gives him the thrashing of his life, Satan’s bold baritone devolves into a whining, emasculated falsetto.

Carman ended the song, as I recall, with an oblique reference to the book of Revelation.  Message: our side wins.

The message of “Our Turn Now” is much the same.  In professional wrestling, “the face” (or crowd favorite) gets slapped, kicked, gouged and mangled for a good twenty minutes before he shakes off the cobwebs and turns the tables to the appreciative roar of the crowd.  “It’s our turn now.”  Carman’s message never transcended the crass world of wrasslin’ melodrama.

But who, in this us-against-them world, is “us” and who is “them”?  In Our Turn Now, the heels, the bad guys, the spawn of Satan, were the justices of the Supreme Court who tossed God out of the classroom, the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, liberal “Christians” (who generally supported the court’s decision), secularists, atheists like Marilyn Murray O’Hair, secularists of every stripe; in short, everyone who is not a card-carrying, washed in the blood evangelical Christian.

As Clark suggests, the mindset was binary, Manichean,  darkness and light .  They took the reins of government and did their worst; well, now it’s our turn now.  Soon evangelical Christians who love Jesus and Carman in equal measure will control Congress and the White House.  Godly laws will be passed.  The glory of Jehovah God will return to the classroom, drugs and sexual promiscuity will be abolished by statute, and national righteousness will be restored.

If you pay careful attention to the Carman video (yes, I know that means having to watch it twice–suck it up, this is important) you will note that although all the primary performers are as white as heavy metal, all kinds of black kids are shaking it to the music, witnessing to white kids, and giving their ultra hip stamp of approval to the ascendancy of Christian America.

In other words, when we talk about “us” we’re not just talking about white people.

Why then, are nine out of ten registered Republicans, by a recent estimate, non-Hispanic whites?

At the 2008 Republican Convention, 92% of the delegates were white while it sometimes appeared that half the folks on stage were people of color. Why are white people so much more excited about Carman’s vision of Christian America than the non-white minority?

Because the “us” celebrated in the video were really the folks who were humiliated by the 1960s–white, primarily southern, evangelicals.

The marketing magic behind Carman was the linking of popular culture (heavy metal rock, professional wrestling, Ramboesque violence) with Southern Baptist piety.  In the 1950s, Elvis was Satan; by 1980 he has joined the choir triumphal.  Young people were free to celebrate the values of the American entertainment machine as long as they were down with a Jesus who palled around with marines, corporate moguls, chamber of commerce presidents and was comfortable in the smoke filled rooms of the Grand Old Party.

Rock and roll, pro wrestling, and romantic violence got a pass because the Right needed a really big army to fight liberalism, particularly the brand of liberalism shaped by the civil rights movement.  In the South and the great American heartland, white evangelicals had grown accustomed to being in control, calling the shots and dictating moral standards.  Suddenly, and quite without warning, white evangelicals were being pilloried as nasty Jim Crow racists determined to deprive the Negroes of their civil and constitutional rights.

Evangelicals still haven’t recovered from the shock.  In the South, evangelicals (with Southern Baptists leading the way) climbed out onto the segregation limb until the civil rights movement, to the surprise of everyone, sawed it off.

The routine popular association of conservative religion and blatant racism was deeply humiliating.  By the mid-1970s it was no longer possible to defend the old Jim Crow system, but white hot racial resentment was creating rich opportunities for a resurgence of some kind.

The key was to rebrand the 1960s.  The big issues weren’t civil rights and Vietnam, the new argument went, it was all about two Supreme Court decisions: driving God out of the schools (1962) and Roe v. Wade (1973).  These two liberal decisions, the argument went, paved the way for violence in the streets, the drug culture, sexual promiscuity, perversion and every other evil imaginable.

But it’s Our Turn Now.

Why have African Americans and Hispanics been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon?  Because it’s too awkward.  The GOP is the unofficial Party of White and the Christian Right, though officially Neapolitan, is vanilla clear through.  Check out the crowd at the next Romney rally and see if you can find any people of color in the crowd.  If you got $5 for every one you couldn’t gain admission to a ticket to a $100 a plate fundraiser.

This didn’t happen overnight.  In 1973, most prominent southern evangelicals were big supporters of the separation of church and state and evangelical views on abortion tracked national opinion.  The big opportunity was raging white resentment, but neither leading evangelicals nor GOP strategists couldn’t admit as much.

Abortion was, and remains, a legitimate moral issue, but a particularly thorny one.  As the current tug-of-war between supporters and detractors of Todd (“shut that thing down”) Akin suggests, banning abortion for rape and incest survivors is about as popular as back alley abortions.  Hence, most Americans are unwilling to go all the way with the pro-life movement.

This is precisely why true believers, as defined by opinion leaders within the Religious Right, can tolerate no compassionate exceptions to pro-life orthodoxy.  Go down that road very far and pretty soon most Democrats will be agreeing with you.  The goal has never been to make abortion safe, legal and rare.  From a culture war perspective, the more abortions the better.  The tragic statistics feed an effective wedge issue.

The goal was to get rank and file evangelicals (mad as hell about being branded as racists but lukewarm on abortion) to stop talking race and start screaming about abortion, abortionists and the horrors of the sexual revolution.

At the same time, the Religious Right launched a campaign to convince southern preachers that the separation of church and state was a liberal abomination.

W.A. Criswell was pastor of First Baptist Church Dallas, in its heyday the largest congregation in Protestant America.  In 1960, Criswell used traditional southern support for the separation of church and state  to argue that John F. Kennedy, a Roman Catholic who was sure to take his marching orders from the Vatican, was unworthy to be president:

It is written in our country’s constitution that church and state must be, in this nation, forever separate and free.  In the very nature of the case, there can be no proper union of church and state.

But in 1980, with the nuptials between Southern Baptists and Reagan’s GOP a done deal, Criswell opined thus:

I believe this notion of the separation of church and state was the figment of some infidel’s imagination.

How do we account for this amazing transformation?  Criswell got the memo.

By 2012 David Barton was arguing that Thomas Jefferson, the father of church-state separation, was an orthodox evangelical who dreamed of Christian theocracy.  Only when a holy host of conservative historians cried foul did Barton’s publisher pull the Jefferson book.  Not surprisingly, Barton’s good buddy Glenn Beck has agreed to publish the Jefferson manuscript.

As the Barton episode demonstrates, it has become painfully difficult for thinking conservatives to stick with the Religious Right or the GOP.  For the moment, few malcontents will leap into the reluctant arms of either the Democrats or liberal Christianity.

When Bill Clinton threw the unions under the bus in the 1990s he knew they would stay loyal.  “Where would they go?” he asked.  The same applies to conservative evangelicals who can’t abide the irrational excesses of their coreligionists.  They will stay with the GOP and the Christian Right because they have nowhere else to go.

The culture war has advanced to the point where the tiny strip of middle ground separating conservatives from liberals has become a barbed wire infested minefield.  The corporate interests that funded Carman and Petra like it that way.  So long as the American  melodrama is conceived as a pay-per-view Smackdown between Christ and Antichrist nobody has the luxury of genuine thought.   As the secular left screams in protest (“You can’t do that!  You can’t believe that!  You can’t say that!”) the easier it becomes for the Christian Right to define itself as a tiny island of godliness in a vast Satanic sea.

At war over the culture war: Dionne and Gerson go toe-to-toe

By Alan Bean

When two columnists working for the same newspaper address the same subject (the culture war and the contraception debate) you can learn a lot.  Michael Gerson accuses Barack Obama of sustaining our endless American culture war by forcing a conservative Roman Catholic Church to conform to “the liberal values of equality and choice.”  In Gerson’s view, the Catholic Church is an inherently conservative, indeed ‘illiberal’, institution.  Gerson endorses a pluralistic view of America in which a variety of civic organizations, some liberal and progressive, others illiberal and traditional, co-exist in a free society.  But this dream of a pluralistic America is being thwarted by an inherently intolerant “liberal” view of American life in which every individual and institution is expected to conform to the liberal values of equality and choice.  By forcing illiberal Catholic medical providers to provide free contraceptive services to their clients, Gerson alleges, the Obama administration is rejecting the pluralistic vision of America and stoking the fires of culture war.

Gerson believes it is a mistake to antagonize conservative institutions because, unlike their liberal counterparts, they encourage 

The habits of good citizens — attributes such as self-control, cooperation and respect for the law — don’t emerge spontaneously. They are cultivated in families and religious congregations. The health of liberal political institutions is strengthened by the success of traditional institutions, which often teach values that prepare individuals for the responsible exercise of freedom.

In Gerson’s view, Obama moved to the left on immigration and gay rights because he is an ardent culture warrior who disrespects the views of American conservatives.

Then comes E J Dionne, a progressive columnist who, unlike the evangelical Gerson, happens to be a living, breathing Roman Catholic in good standing.  Dionne agrees that Obama’s initial handling of the contraception issue was ham-handed and out of character.  Dionne’s Obama is no champion of the liberal view of America.  At his core, the president is an even-handed pragmatist who is generally eager to negotiate with his ideological opponents.

In fact, Dionne reminds us, six years ago Obama complained that

There are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.

Sounds a lot like Michael Gerson, doesn’t it.  Obama dropped the ball on the contraception issue, Dionne admits, but was able to self-correct by offering a compromise that was joyfully embraced by Catholic medical care providers.   

Unlike Gerson, Dionne refuses to define the Roman Catholic Church as an inherently traditional or illiberal institution.  The Catholic Church is a pragmatic and pluralistic blending of conservative and progressive impulses.  Dionne says he remains in the fold largely because

When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young (especially in inner cities), comforting orphaned and abandoned children, and organizing the needy to act in their own interest, the church has been there with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services make the words of Jesus come alive every day.

Moderate Catholics appreciate the president’s willingness to meet the Church half way on contraception and Dionne hopes the conservative wing will tone down its opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage because the American Catholic community is as divided on these issues as the rest of society.

Two views of the Roman Catholic Church; two views of the sitting president.  Who wins?

Dionne gets the best of this dust-up.  The culture war doesn’t separate illiberal traditionalists like a monolithic Catholicism from liberal, pluralism denying, culture warriors like Obama.  Obama has been deeply influenced by both secular liberalism and the traditional values sustained by the Christian Church.  Roman Catholics, like most Christian denominations, are split down the middle over culture war issues like gay marriage, abortion and, now, contraception.  Gerson’s neat divisions don’t fit either Obama or American Catholicism.

If the president has moved off the fence on gay marriage and immigration it’s because he sees no point in placating ideological opponents for whom the word ‘compromise’ has become the vilest of profanities.  Any politician on the right willing to meet the president half way on any contentious issue gets his or her (usually his) mouth washed out with soap in full view of the cameras.

Nice try, Michael, but you didn’t nail it this time.