Seriously, Damon Linker?

Damon Linker has written some truly baffling things about religion and politics, but his latest column in The Week really leaves me shaking my head. He actually argues, entirely seriously, that the current push for gay rights is the result of — wait for it — Christianity.

But things aren’t quite so simple. Just flip through the opening pages of everyone’s favorite work of secular prophesy — Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835–1840) — and you’ll find a provocative alternative interpretation of Christianity’s indispensable role in the creation of the revolutionary ideal of human equality. The stunningly rapid rise of support for gay marriage over the past two decades is just the latest in a very long line of victories for that consummately Christian ideal — and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Tocqueville begins the introduction to his two-volume study of American democracy by noting that “a great democratic revolution is taking place among us.” The 700-page book is his attempt to make sense of this revolution, which was transforming life across the European continent during his lifetime, but which was already far more advanced in the United States by the time of his famous visit in 1831.

For Tocqueville, the march of equality was upending age-old institutions and moral habits “in all the Christian world.” It was a “providential fact,” by which he meant that there was nothing anybody could do to stop it.

The ultimate source of the democratic revolution — the motor behind its inexorable unfolding — is the figure of Jesus Christ, who taught the equal dignity of all persons, and declared in the Sermon on the Mount that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.

These are among the most subversive teachings ever uttered — and according to Tocqueville, Western civilization has been working out their logic for the better part of two millennia, as political communities have applied Christ’s egalitarian teachings in stricter and stricter terms.

*headdesk* First of all, the notion that egalitarianism is the “consummately Christian ideal” is profoundly a-historical. Does he really think that no other religious tradition has thought of the idea of equality? You can certainly find the same thing in the other great religions, though this ideal is usually ignored in favor of hierarchy, division and authoritarianism.

Secondly, every single fight for equality in this nation’s history has been fought almost exclusively against the institutional Christian church. It was from the traditional churches that nearly all of the opposition came to separation of church and state, ending slavery, giving women the right to vote, ending segregation and legal discrimination, and the current fight for gay rights. Jesus’ pretty words have done nothing to prevent the weight of the institutional church that claims to follow him from fighting against equality at every single turn.

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  • http://artk.typepad.com ArtK

    Usually they wait a few years before trying to rewrite history — I guess in our modern, fast-paced era, they can’t wait. Open the memory hole!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    is the figure of Jesus Christ, who taught the equal dignity of all persons

    Matthew 15:21-28

    [22] And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.

    [26] But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.

    [27] And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.

    [28] Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

  • D. C. Sessions

    It’s not like we haven’t been predicting this for quite a while, after all. Once they lose the battle, they claim to have been leading the winning side.

    As (IIRC) Ed himself has been telling us, twenty years from now it’ll be the Christian Right that led the fight for LGBT rights, just as they did for women and racial minorities.

  • k_machine

    AFAIK, the equality in the Christian faith was traditionally a “vertical” equality, meaning that rich and poor could both get into heaven, not that rich and poor should share their wealth or power.

  • dingojack

    “….everyone’s favorite work of secular prophesy — Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America …”

    Really, the favourite of all 7 billion of us? Really? How do you know this Damon? Taken a survey have we?

    “Tocqueville begins the introduction to his two-volume study of American democracy by noting that “a great democratic revolution is taking place among us.” The 700-page book is his attempt to make sense of this revolution, which was transforming life across the European continent during his lifetime, but which was already far more advanced in the United States by the time of his famous visit in 1831.”*

    Well, except for that whole slavery thing. A minor point right Damon?

    “…Jesus Christ, who taught the equal dignity of all persons, and declared in the Sermon on the Mount that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.”

    ‘I say, does anyone know who this Greek Cheese-maker is’?

    @@

    Dingo

    ——–

    * Hate to break it to you Damon, Tocqueville made much use of sarcasm and irony (Oh, he knew all the tricks). So not only a logic fail but also a reading comprehension fail. Well done, you’ve almost completely mastered two of the core skills of Christian Apologetics.

  • Randomfactor

    Christianity possibly DOES have a lot to do with the acceptance of gays, just as it did in the abolition of slavery.

    Once Christians stopped supporting the evil side, things got better rapidly.

  • sc_72717b0d8dc4053e632b6512091cef73

    Egalitarianism is certainly a Christian ideal, in the sense that is explicit in the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Lapses such as the one recorded in Matthew 15, were par for course for most of the world in that era. Tribalism is part of our nature. What was unique about Jesus in his time was when preached about rising above tribalism.

    Of course we cant know much of anything about the historical Jesus or how well he syncs up with the Jesus recorded in the gospels, but what has made this idealized Jesus and his teachings so compelling throughout western history is the emphasis on the question “Who is my brother?” That is the ideal of Christianity. Just because it is rarely practiced and just because the institutional church has always been about hierarchy and domination doesn’t change the ideal. I think this is what many skeptics don’t understand about why Christianity still exists. That ideal of inclusiveness and the ideal of grace…these effect people, change people’s lives. Unfortunately, it comes bound with a lot of doctrines and superstitions that have nothing to do with these ideals, but religious institutions have a vested interest in keeping them intertwined.

    The irony is that all the things the fundamentalists hate: equality for women and for gays, economic redistribution, non-violence, etc., are logical extensions of the sermon on the mount, preached by the guy they say is God incarnate.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    That ideal of inclusiveness…

    As when doctrines of other religions are subsumed into Christianity through syncretism.

  • doublereed

    Egalitarianism is not a Christian Ideal. Charity was, but not equality.

    Christianity blatantly espouses Divine Right Theory, and it was rigidly upheld for more than a thousand years after Christianity took over the Western World. It is a primarily authoritarian theory. Nothing egalitarian whatsoever.

  • Artor

    Wow, this is much sooner than I’d been thinking. We all knew that once gay rights became a mainstream idea, Xians would start claiming that they’d been supporting them all along, and were the driving force behind it. Apparently, they aren’t even waiting for the Xian anti-gay hate to fade before making the (completely absurd, obviously false) claim.

  • D. C. Sessions

    The irony is that all the things the fundamentalists hate: equality for women and for gays, economic redistribution, non-violence, etc., are logical extensions of the sermon on the mount, preached by the guy they say is God incarnate.

    A lot of people take that part literally, which is obviously not how it was intended. Unlike, for instance, the part about the “not peace but a sword.”

  • eric

    @4 – I believe there is some indication that some very early congregations (probably not all) did in fact distribute wealth etc. fairly evenly among members. But we’re talking about the 100s-200s AD when it was basically a network of cults meeting in basements. If you think about it, a *lot* of cults in that sort of situation are pretty communistic. Of course once you get to the 300s-1800s, yeah, the religion was not so materially egalitarian (even as they kept up the spiritually egalitarian teaching).

  • Pierce R. Butler

    … this revolution, which was transforming life across the European continent during his lifetime…

    Which “revolution” was intrinsic to Christianism, but somehow had never shown a trace of itself for the over thirteen centuries during which it had been the dominant European ideology. Uh-huh.

  • busterggi

    Any chance that we could somehow get this whack in the same room with the anti-gay Christian Whacks and watch them explode like matter meeting anti-matter?

  • vmanis1

    Actually, you will find declared Christians on both sides of equality issues. In Canada, what used to be called the `social gospel’ was very strongly committed to fairness and equality. (Tommy Douglas, who introduced the first single-payer medical plan in North America, was very strongly influenced by the social gospel.) MLK, of course, was a Baptist minister.

    Going further back in history, you have Martin Luther, who was in some ways a horrible man, an anti-semite and a fawning devotee of wealth. Yet Luther, in his belief that individuals could know the mind of God, rather than being told by a priest, laid the groundwork for notions of individual liberty that led to the Enlightenment, and therefore, yes, the U.S. Constitution (even though Luther himself might have been disgusted by the latter).

    The contribution of Christianity (or any other religion) to our progress in understanding liberty, justice, and equality is mixed. Certainly there have been bigots, charlatans, and grifters who have increased human misery; some of these were even sincere. But there have been others who have used those same principles to fight for equality.

  • freehand

    I’m rather under the impression that those who are inclined (by dint of nature or nurture) to be egalitarian can find it in whatever their local religion is. The Southern Baptist Convention in the US took its name to differentiate themselves from the Northern Baptist abolitionists. Nearly identical doctrines, but nearly opposite social attitudes. Yeats wrote a short essay on how two Irishmen, nearly opposite in attitude and treatment of others*, used their identical Roman Catholic religion to justify it.

    .

    Religion, I think, is improved the more secular it becomes.

    .

    .

    * [You are a degenerate and self-centered animal, and you’re going to Hell!] vs [We’re having a church picnic Sunday afternoon; you’re welcome to come. And being the family!]

  • leonardschneider

    Well…. Shit, I don’t know. I do know you’ve always been able to count on the Congregationalists, Jews, Episcopals, Methodists, and Unitarians being in the Gay Pride March in San Francisco, for decades now. Is it just regionalism, something you’ll only find here ‘cos it’s California? You tell me, I don’t know.

    I do know they ain’t just walking for the exercise, though. Not in my experiences/interactions with them. The churches in question really, honestly, truly, do give a fuck: that’s why they’re there.

  • Ichthyic

    He actually argues, entirely seriously, that the current push for gay rights is the result of — wait for it — Christianity.

    wait… this surprises you?

    this has been the trend in xianity for generations! fight against change until it’s obvious you have lost, then claim you were for it all along, and it never would have happened without christianity!

    hell, it goes all the way back to xians claiming they were responsible for the fucking enlightenment and science itself!

    shameless carpet baggers, the lot of em.

  • Ichthyic

    hell, there’s one of the idiots trying to do it even in this very thread…

    though at least they qualify their ignorance.