Batter up

Readers of a more traditionalist bent must have winced when they read the subhed of The Economist‘s “Special report” on the future of religious activism in the United States:

Christian America’s political arm is more complex and more dynamic than it first appears. And it will be hard to stop. (Italics added.)

I soldiered on and am happy to report that it’s not all bad. There’s the usual canned history about fundamentalists and the Scopes trial, and there’s the issue of scare quotes around “Congress’s last-minute intervention to ‘save’ the life of Terri Schiavo,” but the piece as a whole is more rigorous and insightful than one had reason to expect.

The author argues that “Religious America’s switch to the right is rooted in two things: liberal over-reach and conservative organization.” On the first point:

The consistent whinge from the Christian right about “liberal activist judges” exceeding their mandate contains a kernel of truth. In the 1960s and 1970s, judges changed America from a country where every school day began with a prayer, and abortion and pornography were frowned on, to a country where school prayer was banned and both abortion and pornography were protected by the constitution.

The fact that the courts were running so far ahead of public opinion in a generally religious country bolstered the religious right in two ways. It provoked white evangelicals to join the political fray. And it persuaded all religious types to bond together. Protestants and Catholics, who used to be at loggerheads, have now found common ground, especially on abortion.

On the organization front, the report finds that religious conservatives have gotten more flexible and improved their batting average when it comes to playing hardball.


[Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission head Richard] Land and [Focus on the Family founder James] Dobson both personally oppose gay civil unions; but their planned federal marriage amendment does not ban them because, in Mr Land’s words, “it could then become a civil-rights issue rather than a marriage issue.”


This year opened with a fairly typical dance. In a pre-inaugural interview in January, Mr Bush, citing political realities, said he would not push a federal gay-marriage amendment (which needs 60 votes in the Senate to pass). The Arlington Group [an umbrella religious right coalition group] then warned the White House that “this defeatist attitude” would make it impossible for the movement to unite on other difficult issues, such as privatizing Social Security. The White House promptly said it was a priority, though it did not appear on a list of ten legislative priorities put forward by Republicans in the Senate.

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  • ceemac

    The article makes reference to the wealth of the religious right.

    That hints at something that that I realized recently. Once you move past the issues related to sexuality many social conservatives are actually libertines (yes libertine not libertarian).

    This never gets discussed in any story.

    I am a liberal who mixes religion and politics. But in so many ways I am more conservative than social conservatives. I describe myself a puritan egalitarian. Most of the things that social conservatives do with their discretionary income seem pretty non christian to me.

  • NateB.

    ceemac, who are these social conservatives you speak of, and what kind of libertine things are they doing?

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Though I’d dare not answer for ceemac, I’ve also noticed that many, certainly not all, social (sic.) conservatives (sic.) tend to have no qualms about profligate private spending habits (“its MY money, I can spend it how I want”), profligate eating habits, profligate recreational habits, and profligate energy consumption habits. This is certainly a kind of libertinism. Though, apparently unlike ceemac, I fail to see how it this failing isn’t merely a personal application of the economic libertarianism that has thoroughly infected what goes by the name of “conservatism” these days.


  • ceemac


    Steve pretty much hit the nail on the head.

    Though as a puritan egalitarian I must admit I really do not make the distinction between libertarian and libertine. It still buying what you want instead of what you ought.

    I do not have hard data. I simply have observations from living in Dallas, a social conservative Mecca.

    That’s why I’d like to see arttilces exploring the libertine social conservative. I could be wrong. Maybe they don’t really exist. Or there are only 12 of them and they all live in the surburbs of Dallas.

    I’d also like to see some articles exploring how not all liberals are libertines. Some of us are pretty conservative in our habits.

    I’d probably even admit to being a theocrat. I am a class warring liberal because I am a puritan.

  • Steve Nicoloso

    Well… just to avoid guilt by association, I want to state emphatically that I’m no Puritan… and would actually prefer that these social conservatives (sic.) take up smoking, occasional drunkeness, moderate cursing, and titty-viewing during Superbowl Halftime Shows. For these simple pagan pleasures seem, at least in terms of their cost to society and future generations, almost virtuous compared to that of an uptight tee-totaler sinking $45k for luxury SUV that gets 12 mi/gal.


  • ceemac


    OK you are not a puritan.

    But you still GOT what I meant when I wrote “Once you move past the issues related to sexuality many social conservatives are actually libertines.” and gave a good answer to NateB.