Like 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).