Andrew Sullivan’s scary bedtime stories

AndrewSullivanLike any journalist who has worked for an opinion journal, Andrew Sullivan is entitled to some favorite themes. One of his favorites for the past few years is the insidious threat of what he calls Christianism, or theoconservatism. In his 7,400-word New Republic takedown of Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book, The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, that theme is so prevalent that it calls to mind one of those outrageously large American flags favored by car dealerships (at least in the Deep South), popping defiantly in the wind.

That D’Souza’s book attracts sharp criticism should be no surprise. As Sullivan points out, many conservatives have taken issue with this book, which frankly discusses what cultural and social concerns Christians have in common with Muslims (which has widely been read as sharing those concerns with terrorists).

What I find most striking in Sullivan’s critique are two things: his apparently not knowing what D’Souza believes about God, and his rush to conclusions about what conservative ex-Episcopalians must believe because of their affiliation with Archbishop Peter Akinola of the Church of Nigeria, Anglican Communion.

First to D’Souza’s faith, about which Sullivan writes:

D’Souza is rehearsing the mainstream view of the religious right with respect to the notion of separating church and state. They oppose it, and so does he. But with what a twist! Where he differs from the religious right is in his willingness to find the proper political authority, the proper models of political virtue, in Islam. Islam and Christianity together: that is D’Souza’s dream. He does not seem especially interested in God. He writes nothing about his own faith, whatever it is. His interest is not in the metaphysics or the mysteries of religion, but in the uses of religion for social control. (Somewhere Machiavelli is smiling.) In the goal of maintaining patriarchy, banning divorce, outlawing homosexuality, and policing blasphemy, any orthodoxy will do. D’Souza’s religion, in a sense, is social conservatism. He is not going to let a minor matter such as the meanings of God get in the way of his religion.

As the most basic Internet search will reveal, D’Souza’s faith is Roman Catholic. For several years he edited a magazine — well known among both conservative and liberal Catholics — known as Crisis. He appeared on EWTN’s The World Over recently (Real Media), where he was both mistaken for a Muslim by a caller and engaged in a feisty discussion with host Raymond Arroyo.

As for the ex-Episcopalians in northern Virginia, Sullivan sees them as a test case for taking theoconservatism global:

D’Souza believes that his side is losing the culture war at home, and may soon be losing the political one as well. The 2006 elections proved the severe fragility of a political strategy dependent on a base of evangelical believers corralled into supporting a theoconservative social policy and a neo-conservative foreign policy. D’Souza runs the numbers at home and, with the war in Iraq coming undone, senses he cannot win. So what to do? As with many generals who find themselves losing a war, D’Souza has decided to widen it.

Widen it how? By globalizing theoconservatism. This is the central argument of D’Souza’s book: that cultural globalization is the last chance for theoconservatism in its death match with liberal modernity. If a majority of Americans do not support a system of government resting on an external and divine moral order, then the obvious next move is to enlist the billions of fundamentalist believers in the developing world to forge a global alliance. If you combine the premodern patriarchs among the Christians of Africa and Asia and the Muslims of the Middle East and pit them against the degenerate, declining individualists in the West, a global theoconservative victory is possible.

That is D’Souza’s vision, and he is not shy about it. The test case for this strategy can be seen most graphically in the Anglican Church. Theoconservative Episcopalians in Northern Virginia have sought protection under a Nigerian prelate who believes that even speech about homosexuality should be criminalized. If theoconservatism cannot work as a governing majority in the First World, then it is time to forge an alliance between half of America with the Third World.

Oh well, so much for a global alliance of Anglicans that has been building for more than a decade (and, arguably, since the Lambeth Conference of 1988). Andrew Sullivan has determined — from the collective unconscious? from an across-the-Beltway soul scan? — that the Episcopalians of northern Virginia are theoconservatives, and that’s all we need to know. Oh, and they’re invariably Republicans, as Sullivan concedes that even they may not be ready to sign on to D’Souza’s full vision: “Even the Republican Episcopalians in Falls Church eager to be run by Nigerians draw the line at Nigerian Muslims (with whom Nigerian Christians are actually at war).”

For what it’s worth, I’ve known many of these Episcopalians for more than a decade, and in past years worked with some of them on projects of shared concerns. Never once did we discuss how we voted. Nor did we exchange misty-eyed glances at the mere mention of Ronald Reagan.

Finally, no such essay would be complete without a Count Floyd reference to those scary creatures known as James Dobson and Tim LaHaye:

As D’Souza continues his campaign in op-eds, speaking engagements, and television appearances, you can see the coherence of his case. There is a difference only in degree, after all, between Islamism’s view of the role of women and that of James Dobson or Tim LaHaye. Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right. Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan. There is only a difference in degree between Islamism’s view of the relationship between mosque and state and Christianism’s view of the relationship between church and state. … The notion that blasphemy, pornography, or homosexuality should be protected, let alone celebrated, is anathema to Islamists and Christianists alike. D’Souza’s sole sin is to say so publicly in a way no one can misunderstand. He has blown the medievals’ cover.

Theoconservatives, you may now return to flogging or impregnating your wife (or wives, as the case may be).

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  • http://speculative-catholic.blogspot.com Steve

    Didn’t Peter Kreeft do a book on the same theme as D’Souza’s a few years back? Ecumenical Jihad?

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    “Very, very few women control any religious institutions on the religious right. Patriarchy rules there as it rules in Pakistan.”

    He’s right…and D’Souza is a wingnut masqueradiung as a respectable thinker.

  • http://www.therevealer.org Jeff Sharlet

    Sullivan, as a book critic, is responsible for what’s in D’Souza’s book, not D’Souza’s resume. His point was that D’Souza “writes nothing about his own faith.” That’s very relevant, given that D’Souza cites vague theological authority. In fact, it’s the kind of bland non-religion writing Get Religion usually criticizes (rightly) in the liberal press. So why does D’Souza merit a special exemption?

    Also, I think you’re probably making too much of Sullivan’s Republican remark. That’s not a slur coming from him. Isn’t he a Republican himself?

  • Str1977

    “So why does D’Souza merit a special exemption?”

    I don’t see any special exemption.

    D’Souza in authoring a book is free to write this book or that book and hence free to include a discussion of his own personal views or not. The topic certainly doesn’t require it. On the other hand, Sullivan is free to ask what these personal views are or state that he would have liked them included. BUT … to use this lack of information as a basis for claiming that the author “does not seem especially interested in God” is disgusting, especially when one coul have found out about the views from elsewhere (but that would have made throwing the hatchet impossible).

    Note the hidden racism in Sullivan’s article:

    “Even the Republican Episcopalians in Falls Church eager to be run by Nigerians draw the line at Nigerian Muslims (with whom Nigerian Christians are actually at war).”

    You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to grasp that the issue the Episcopalians in Falls Church want their church to remain Christian and therefore turn to Nigerians. But to Sullivan all Nigerians are apparently alike.

    “The notion that blasphemy, pornography, or homosexuality should be protected, let alone celebrated, is anathema to Islamists and Christianists alike: evil.

    Mmh, to me it seems rather absurd that blasphemy and pornography should be protected. But I guess people are not free to disagree. If d’Douza is a theocon, what should we call Sullivan? Is he a liberal fascist or a mere bigot?

  • John

    The sad truth is that Andrew Sullivan has made a career out of projecting the darknesses of his own life on to others.

  • Dale

    Andrew Sullivan engages in a tactic common among liberal critics of traditional religion. Target your writing to an audience that knows little or nothing about the religion(s) that you criticize. Play up a few selected similar characteristics among religious folk because they are contrary to dearly held liberal orthodoxies. For example, conservative Christians and Muslims think that the cultural obsession with sexuality is immoral. Then spin fanciful conspiracy theories about “theocracy”, when, among people who actually live within those religious communities, such conspiracies are unthinkable, and indeed laughable.

    Sullivan depends upon people’s ignorance in order to generate hatred and contempt for his political opponents. In that way he’s a stone’s throw away from Falwell and Tom DeLay.

  • Daniel

    But the Falls Church is well known to be a bastion of the Washington DC power elite, and not those of the Democratic variety. So what’s objectionable about calling Falls Church is Republican church? Nobody would object to claiming that Luther Place is made up of mostly liberals and Democrats…

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    DANIEL:

    There are many old-guard, pro-life Democrats that attend the conservative Episcopal parishes of NoVa. Many. This is one of those stories where it really pays to focus on the doctrine, not the politics.

    Meanwhile, anyone who covers the right knows that old Alpha Males totter at the top, while women dominate the daily work of the organization. It’s an interesting paradox.

  • Michael

    There are many old-guard, pro-life Democrats that attend the conservative Episcopal parishes of NoVa. Many.

    Many? Do you have anything beyond anecdotals to prove that out? I realize you are very closely entangled in the Anglican dissident movement, so you probably have reliable information. But it would be nice to have some actual evidence from someone who isn’t on the inside.

    And how are you defining “old guard” Are these the inafamous Reagan Democrats who haven’t supported a Democrat in 30 years?

  • Dan

    Sullivan’s politics are what used to be called “Country Club Republicanism” — low taxes, small government, not too much of the church stuff, and a free and easy attitude toward all things sexual. He shares the Rockerfelleresque disdain for Bible thumpers. Beyond translating Country Club Republicanism into the idiom of the 21st Century (it’s not just wife swapping anymore; gay sex also has a place at the table), he has nothing original to say.

  • Dan

    I would add though that Sullivan is a very talented provocateur. His website is aptly named — he is good at dishing out.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Liberals are doing everything possible to demonize the “Religious Right.” and then make it appear religious people have far more power in the Republican Party than they really do. They throw around words like “theocracy,”
    “theocons,” even “religious fascists.” It reminds one of the McCarthy era in the late 1950′s and early sixties when words like “Pinkos,” “Reds,” “fellow travelers,” and “Commies” were labels thrown around by conservatives to demonize liberals and those on the left politically.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    What is this garbage about “wingnuts” anyway? Would YOU want to fly in a plane whose wings did not have any nuts holding them on?

  • http://altreligion.about.com Jennifer Emick

    To be honesty, I’d prefer rivets. ;-D

  • http://theodsseyblogger.typepad.com/theodyssey/ Bryan McKenzie

    Sullivan is someone who is known for his opinions, he’s an editorialist. In that business it is not very wise to have a moderate, “see-both-sides-in-an-issue viewpoint. Think Ann Coulter or Michael Moore This is just another opertunity for him to make his opinions known.

  • Martha

    “… that cultural globalization is the last chance for theoconservatism in its death match with liberal modernity. If a majority of Americans do not support a system of government resting on an external and divine moral order, then the obvious next move is to enlist the billions of fundamentalist believers in the developing world to forge a global alliance. If you combine the premodern patriarchs among the Christians of Africa and Asia and the Muslims of the Middle East and pit them against the degenerate, declining individualists in the West, a global theoconservative victory is possible.”

    But where are the Reptiloids in all this? How could you leave them out, Andrew? Don’t you realise the magnitude of the threat posed by these dimension-hopping baby eaters? Forget pawns such as D’Souza and concentrate on the real threat, man!

    (I know, I know: not enough exclamation marks and completely lacking in random capitalisation of letters in the above, but I think Andrew more than makes up for it.)

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  • Dan

    http://andrewsullivan.theatlantic.com/the_daily_dish/2007/03/the_core_conser.html

    At first I thought Sullivan’s theory of “Christianists” allying with radical Islam was not something Sullivan really believes but, rather, was just a means of venting his desire to sling mud at orthodox Christians. However, he has set forth this theory more than once — which indicates that he really believes it. The above link is to a March 16 Sullivan post in which Sullivan agreed with one of his readers who asserted that, as a result of the “religious right” losing the culture war, we are likely to see “a self-styled ‘Stonewall Jackson Brigade’ of Christofascist terrorists perhaps, secretly liaising with (the successors of) Al-Qaeda.”

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    MICHAEL:

    I am referring to people that I know in journalism and, primarily, in higher education. Also, the whole world of progressive evangelicalism — the Creation Care folks, for example — would have a strong presence in the NoVa Anglican parishes. If there was a DC list of Evangelicals for Social Action, about a third or more of the members would be in those parishes.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Oh, and “old guard” means Democrats from the day when there would be 40, 50 pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House. We’re talking people like Ron Sider, Os Guinness, etc.

  • http://opine-editorials.blogspot.com/index.html Fitz

    “. . . that cultural globalization is the last chance for theoconservatism in its death match with liberal modernity.”

    These seem insufficent options!

    The 1820′s were Modern, as were the 1920, 40, & 50′s. They weild “modernity” like an axe. Any inovation is deemed “modern” and any refusal to submit, stoneage fundementalism.

  • Jeff Sharlet

    I’m no fan of Sullivan’s stuff — he was a Bushie at the beginning, I wasn’t; he’s a conservative, I’m not; he’s a Republican, I’m a Wobbly; etc. My comment above was simply to suggest that LeBlanc may have been guided by his own religious beliefs — nothing wrong with that — in challenging Sullivan, given that Sullivan was pointing out the kind of rhetoric in D’Souza that, were it deployed for liberal ends, would be rightly denounced here on Get Religion.

    But what is Get Religion all about? The discussion that followed strikes me as for the most part a “circle the wagons” routine, with Sullivan, once an honored conservative, now cast as a liberal, and a racist to boot — both absurd charges for this guy (and remember, I disagree with about 90% of what he writes).

    So is the goal here media criticism? Or is it “liberal bias hunting”? And if it’s the latter, is the writing of a conservative arguing with another conservative really the place to look?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JEFF: My point was that the Anglican NoVa parishes defy POLITICAL stereotypes.

    Sullivan, meanwhile, is what the GOP will look like if the Libertarians win. You know that. He is not a “conservative” when it comes to religious issues, doctrine, what have you (yes, I know his abortion views are complex).

    BTW, please send us all of her examples of conservative media bias in MSM coverage of religious and moral issues. We will gladly run them and debate them. Cheers.

  • Dale

    Jeff:

    The discussion that followed strikes me as for the most part a “circle the wagons” routine, with Sullivan, once an honored conservative, now cast as a liberal

    Sullivan is a liberal, in the classic political meaning. He views individual autonomy and private property as the ultimate political/public values, and traditional religion as something that threatens those values with a rival claim to ultimate value. If you’re a “Wobbly” (I didn’t even know that people were still using that term), that would make you a socialist, not a liberal. True?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Oh, and Michael:

    Are you saying that the pro-life Democrats who were just elected to Congress are not Democrats and, thus, should caucus with the GOP?

    I think the Democratic Party’s leadership would disagree with you.

  • Michael

    Are you saying that the pro-life Democrats who were just elected to Congress are not Democrats and, thus, should caucus with the GOP?

    Of course not. Democrats, however, have a much smaller gap when it comes to beliefs on abortion. There is general agreement within the party. The recent Pew studies bear that out.

    In contrast, despite there being more differences of opinion on abortion in the GOP, the GOP is as rigidly pro-life as the Democrats are pro-choice. Look at the vetting of the nominee based on abortion. You don’t see fights about abortion in 2007 among Democrats because there is a consensus now. That consensus, btw, is consistent with the mainstream of public opinion.

    The other truth is there aren’t a lot of pro-life Democrats, and the ones that are there are working on compromise issues with pro-choice Democrats. You’d never see that kind of compromise in the GOP.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Actually, you’re wrong.

    Read the Pew studies carefully. Call John Green and interview him.

    The Democrats — OUTSIDE THE LEADERSHIP are very divided on abortion. They want compromises that are not possible under Roe. We — meaning Democrats — want compromise but do not, says Green, want to admit that the very compromises that a majority of Democrats want cannot occur under Roe and related rulings.

    See the following and call Green. Or just read the Pew data:

    http://tmatt.gospelcom.net/column/2006/08/16/

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Read to the end, to the final quote. I know that will be hard, but that’s where one of Green’s main points is to be found.

    Democrats, faith and Roe

    Talk to Democrats at church and you will usually find citizens who yearn to find middle ground on America’s most painful social issue, to find ways to restrict or even ban most abortions.

    Talk to Democrats as they exit voting booths and you will almost always find voters who pulled levers to elect candidates who oppose these compromises.

    The vast majority of Democrats want change on abortion. That’s one of messages in a new study on politics, faith and social issues produced by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Yet harsh political realities make it almost impossible to find middle ground.

    “If you ask Democrats, ‘Would you like to see some compromises on abortion?’, you will see high numbers” of people saying “yes,” said veteran researcher John C. Green of the University of Akron, who is working at the Pew Forum during this election year. “But if you ask them if they want to see Roe v. Wade overturned, you will get a totally different set of numbers.”

    For millions of Americans it is “impossible to reconcile their emotional attachment to Roe with what they believe about finding middle ground on abortion,” he said.

    The Pew report provides plenty of evidence that Americans are hard to pin down. They lean right on gay marriage, but are beginning to lean left on embryonic stem cell research. On abortion, small camps of true believers dominate both parties, while millions of average Americans say they want compromise.

    “Abortion continues to split the country nearly down the middle,” according to the Pew team. Still, “majorities of Republicans (62%), Democrats (70%) and political independents (66%) favor a compromise. So do majorities of liberals, moderates and conservatives. More than six-in-ten white evangelicals also support compromise, as do 62% of white, non-Hispanic Catholics.”

    It’s hard to define “compromise” in terms of legislation, said Green. Study participants were asked if abortion should be “generally available,” “allowed, but more limited,” “illegal, with few exceptions” or “never permitted.” As expected, Republicans were more conservative than Democrats.

    Nevertheless, 10 percent of “liberal” Democrats chose the most anti-abortion option and 13 percent said abortion should be illegal, except in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother’s life. Then, 14 percent said abortion rights should be restricted with new laws, which Green said might include a “partial-birth” abortion ban, parental-notification laws, mandatory waiting periods and even a ban on late-term abortions.

    “Many of those liberals are black Democrats who are frequent church goers,” said Green. “But those Democrats are still out there.”

    Meanwhile, 12 percent of “moderate” and “conservative” Democrats backed a complete abortion ban, while another 39 percent said abortion should be “illegal, with few exceptions,” the choice that Green called a “modern pro-life stance.” Another 20 percent backed legalized abortion, with more restrictions. Once again, church attendance seemed to influence these views.

    In all, 37 percent of liberals and 71 percent of centrist Democrats said they supported policies that would not be allowed by the U.S. Supreme Court under current interpretations of Roe v. Wade and other decisions defining abortion rights.

    However, the modern Democratic Party is led by liberals who lean left on abortion and hot social issues, according to Peter Steinfels, the veteran religion columnist of the New York Times. But this creates a problem, since the centrists make up 67 percent of the party and the liberals only 31 percent. “The ideologically dominant group — certainly on abortion, less so on same-sex marriage — is the numerical minority,” he noted.

    The Republican Party has internal rifts of its own on religious and cultural issues. For example, 44 percent of white evangelicals now support embryonic stem-cell research, which is a 12-point increase over the past year alone. Democrats are split over whether to push gay marriage, but Republicans are split over the issue of whether to amend the U.S. Constitution to ban it.

    Green stressed that most Americans, especially those who frequent pews, want to affirm what they believe are “traditional,” even conservative, positions on these kinds of moral issues.

    “But they also want to affirm personal freedom and the right of individuals to make their own choices,” he said. “So they are not so sure how to put all that together, when it comes to deciding what to do about an issue like abortion.”

  • Michael

    I have read the most recent PEW date, have you? This is the CURRENT Pew analysis of the Data, realeased yesterday

    There is a sizable partisan gap on this question as well, with 53% of Republicans favoring making it harder to get an abortion, while just 24% of Democrats agree. There is a very large intra-party gap among Republicans, with fully 63% of conservative Republicans wanting to make abortions harder to get, compared with only 37% of moderate and liberal Republicans; moderate and conservative Democrats (30% favor) differ from liberal Democrats (15% favor) on this question as well, but the gap is not as large as among Republicans.

    This data shows that Republcans are more divided on the issue of abortion than Democrats. Which is the point I made in my original point.

    I didn’t say that there are pro-life Democrats–although the number who want to see Roe eliminated is very small–but the differences within the party weren’t as pronounced. Green is saying the same thing.

    There is general agreement within the Party on abortion with Democrats. A majority of moderate and liberal Democrats agree with the party position supporting Roe. In contrast, moderate and liberal Republicans are left in the wilderness in a party position that opposes Roe.

  • http://www.ecben.net Will

    If the Libertarians win, it will most likely be because the Republican party has been overrun.

    Write a hundred times “Libertarian is the name of a political party; libertarian is not.”


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