Friday, January 21, 2005
( 10:47 AM )
On the Right Road?
There have been several voices coming out lately that are beginning to chip away at the false wall the Religious Right has built up after the election. You know the one: it divides the truly GOOD people from the truly GODLESS people. For instance, you are GOOD if you believe that SpongeBob Squarepants is an evil, manipulative corrupter of children, spreading the "gay agenda" and poisoning their minds. You are GODLESS if you, oh say, think making science political is ridiculous. Anyway, the lucid voices are now getting some airtime. Which is good. Since, as the Christian Science Monitor reported this week, while the U.S. may be now known as an incredibly religious country, it is terribly illiterate about its religion.
Things are different in Europe, and not just in Sweden. The Dutch are only a fourth as likely as Americans to believe in miracles, hell, and biblical inerrancy. The euro does not trust in God. But here is the paradox: Although Americans are far more religious than Europeans, they know far less about religion.
In Europe, religious education is the rule from the elementary grades on. So Austrians, Norwegians, and the Irish can tell you about the seven deadly sins or the five pillars of Islam. But, according to a 1997 poll, only 1 out of 3 US citizens is able to name the most basic of Christian texts - the four Gospels - and 12 percent think Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. That paints a picture of a nation that believes God speaks in Scripture but that can't be bothered to read what he has to say.
Jim Wallis of the Sojourners has a new option for those who are motivated by faith to do social justice and work for good, but do not at all associate with the Religious Right.
After the 2002 mid-term elections, I attended a private dinner for Harvard Fellows in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our speaker was a Republican political strategist who had just won all the major senatorial and gubernatorial election campaigns in which he was involved. Needless to say, he was full of his success and eager to tell us about it. This very smart political operative said that Republicans won middle-class and even working-class people on the "social" issues, those moral and cultural issues that Democrats don’t seem to understand or appreciate. He even suggested that passion on the social issues can cause people to vote against their economic self-interest. Since the rich are already with us, he said, we win elections.
I raised my hand and asked the following question. "What would you do if you faced a candidate that took a traditional moral stance on the social and cultural issues? They would not be mean-spirited and, for example, blame gay people for the breakdown of the family, nor would they criminalize the choices of desperate women backed into difficult and dangerous corners. But the candidate would be decidedly pro-family, pro-life (meaning they really want to lower the abortion rate), strong on personal responsibility and moral values, and outspoken against the moral pollution throughout popular culture that makes raising children in America a countercultural activity. And what if that candidate was also an economic populist, pro-poor in social policy, tough on corporate corruption and power, clear in supporting middle-class and working families in health care and education, an environmentalist, and committed to a foreign policy that emphasized international law and multilateral cooperation over pre-emptive and unilateral war? What would you do?" I asked. The Republican strategist paused for a long time, and then said, "We would panic!"
The Religious Right's name is a misnomer. They aren't right. They are wrong and they do wrong. They count on people's ignorance and their self-centeredness to gain their grandstanding power. They do not value human beings. They are not "pro-life", they are pro-birth - they only want the kid to be born, then they don't care what happens to it. Caring about the lives and health of children, wanting to provide for their health care, nutrition and education, wanting them to grow up in a world where their country leads by example in cooperation, conflict resolution and caring about those less fortunate - those are what I call values. There is no mandate for the anti-values Religious Right. They will crumble under their own hubris, of that I am certain. What I'm concerned about is whether those of us who do have real values will be able to offer Americans a leader or group of leaders who can communicate the cogent and excellent alternative to these monsters.