About the “lifestyle left”

010827allergies insideWhat exactly is your snotty little phrase “lifestyle liberal” supposed to mean?

Posted by Frank at 10:03 am on August 26, 2005

Well, Frank, we live in an age in which the major political divisions are not over the classic left-right issues of economics, labor, environment, peace, education, etc. The dividing lines are all about social and moral issues — lifestyle issues. It’s the age we live in.

Thus, I often refer to “cultural conservatives” in GetReligion posts, even though that number would include some old-line Democrats and populists, when it comes to the old-fashioned issues of liberalism. I also use the term “lifestyle left” to talk about those who are lifestyle Libertarians, even if they are in the GOP.

When the U.S. Supreme Court hearings get rolling, watch carefully and you’ll see this dynamic at work. Then watch how people vote.

For a previous discussion on this topic, click here. Or you might even take a look at my Scripps Howard News Service column this week, which focuses on how this is affecting Democrats and even James “It’s the economy, stupid” Carville.

Does this answer your question?

Memo to Pat Robertson: Please fire yourself

Ah, where to begin on the continuing story of the Rev. Pat Robertson, regent of Virginia Beach?

I would like to flash back, if I may, to an event at the Ethics & Public Policy Center days after the 2000 election. From time to time, Michael Cromartie puts together high-powered panels of speakers who react to trends in the news. In this case, the goal was to do a quick deconstruction of role that religious faith played in the election — only the election was, of course, still twisting slowly in the wind.

The leaders of this particular discussion (click here to see a transcript) were two veteran election commentators — John Green of the University of Akron and John DiIulio of the University of Pennsylvania. The room was full of experienced reporters, including Michael Barone of Fox News, U.S. News & World Report, The Almanac of American Politics and lots of other places. Afterward, several participants lingered to talk about the election stories that the MSM missed as well as the ones that made it into print and video.

It was Barone who made the most interesting point. One of the most important stories that went untold, he said, was the behind-the-scenes efforts made by Bush campaign insiders to keep the old lions of the Religious Right out of the spotlight. This could not have been easy, seeing as how Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and others crave face time with candidates when cameras are near. But someone had cut them out or convinced them to stand down. In their place, some new faces began to emerge — such as Rick Warren and Kirbyjon Caldwell.

Someone — I honestly don’t remember who — summed up the heart of this untold story this way: “I wonder who managed to get Pat Robertson to shut up?”

Righto. That job would require a miracle worker.

This story rolls on and on, which means that the place to go for all of the links is the Christianity Today blog. You have had people leap to make fun of the Rev. Pat (headline: “God Denies Links to Pat Robertson”). Hip evangelicals have been doing this for years (art from The Wittenburg Door). There have even been a few brave religious conservatives who have asked him which part of those 10 Commandments he fails to grasp.

In the MSM, Baltimore Sun reporter Arthur Hirsch has one of the best stories, focusing on a question of substance rather than straw-man destruction. It is the question that Barone and others were discussing back in 2000. What power does Pat Robertson have, anyway, other than serving as the punching bag that liberals love to prop up as the symbolic religious conservative day after day, week after week, world without end, amen? Has he become the lifestyle left’s best friend?

Tim Simpson, director of religious affairs for a new left-leaning group called the Christian Alliance for Progress, said the impact of Robertson’s remarks broadcast Monday on The 700 Club suggests that he cannot be easily dismissed. “One does that at one’s own peril,” said Simpson. “I take him dead seriously.”

(cough, cough) Here is a more constructive quote about the style and clout of the senator’s son:

“He is actually very, very smart and has an impressive set of credentials,” said Laura R. Olson, associate professor of political science at Clemson University and co-author of Religion and Politics in America. “He’s not just a hick from the mountains who came down and decided to talk about politics.”

She argued that if Robertson has lost much of the clout he wielded in the early 1990s, it’s due in part to his success in establishing Christian conservatism as a broad force in American politics. With so many more Christian conservative organizations active in politics, many of them focused on local organizing and local concerns, she said, it is more difficult for any one figure to dominate the national stage.

“I don’t know if I want to go so far as to say that Robertson is irrelevant,” said Olson. She also could not quite fathom the method behind Robertson’s pattern of making public statements that many consider outrageous.

The key is that Robertson has been playing this role for a long, long time, noted veteran scribe Richard N. Ostling of The Associated Press. For example:

Six years ago, Robertson said the U.S. could send agents to kill Osama bin Laden, North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein. “Isn’t it better to do something like that . . . to take out Saddam Hussein, rather than to spend billions of dollars on a war that harms innocent civilians and destroys the infrastructure of a country?”

Ostling then serves up the must-have feature of the day, a kind of “greatest hits” collection from the mouth of the near South. There really isn’t time to cover them all, of course. But who among us God-fearing newspaper readers can forget:

And in launching a 21-day “prayer offensive” in 2003 to pray for three justices to leave the U.S. Supreme Court after it had decriminalized sodomy, Robertson said: “We ask for miracles in regard to the Supreme Court.” One justice was 83 years old and two others had serious ailments, he noted.

And the hits (so to speak) just keep on coming.

It is, of course, impossible to make a wealthy religious broadcaster vanish from the airwaves since he can pay his own bills. The 700 Club also retains a niche audience. Would Pat Robertson have the guts to fire Pat Robertson? Right now, there are more people on the cultural right yearning for that outcome than there are on the left.

Methinks something is missing here

Perhaps this miffed me a bit, since I wrote my column this week on a related topic (hooked to an amazing document [10-page PDF] from a trinity of Democratic Party strategists). But read this new Los Angeles Times story by reporter Maura Reynolds and see if you can think of one or two specific words, or issues, that have been omitted.

OK, it refers to one of the big missing words in an indirect way. I’ll grant that. But the Democrats are trying to find ways to avoid speaking certain words. This article is cut from that set of talking points.

The Times speaks: “No miracles allowed”

“The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.”

This is, of course, the famous credo used time and time again by the late Dr. Carl Sagan. What has always fascinated me about this statement is its open use of religious — even creedal — form and its willingness to launch beyond the rules of science and into a kind of anti-theology.

How, in a lab, can one prove under the rules of science that the material world is all there is? How does one run scientific experiments in the past? And how in the world does one claim to be able to test the future?

Sagan knew what he was doing, of course. I had a chance to ask him about it. He knew his famous Cosmos series was making an argument that the scientific evidence backed up these sweeping truth claims that carried him far outside the rules of research. He believed he had the facts on his side and, thus, he was willing to make a leap of faith from facts to a larger philosophy. Then he became an evangelist for this philosophical point of view.

I was reminded of Sagan while reading the massive New York Times series on how the priesthood of modern science is responding to the rebels gathered under the banner of Intelligent Design. Click here to go to a clearinghouse page for all of the Gray Lady’s efforts on this issue in the recent past.

Clearly we are in the midst of a blitz. Cages have been rattled.

As I have stated before, I try to stay on the fringes of this issue because I have so many close friends who are at the heart of it. So take what I say here with a grain of salt. It should also be noted that the scope of this Times series is so large that it would take days to respond to it point by point.

On the whole, I think it is a rather mixed bag. There is some give and take by the most intelligent voices on each side of the debate and that is a good thing. I am sure the powers that be in the newsroom believe it is a totally balanced package. For example, the reports do stress that the ID leaders are, if anything, trying to increase the amount of attention evolution is given in the classroom, not ban the theory. They simply want students exposed to the debates that are already taking place within the scientific community. They also do not think the religious implications of these debates — on either side of the table — should be included in public classrooms. The ID leaders want this to be a scientific discussion. However, this would apply to Darwinian philosophy as well as to deism or theism.

I digress. There are times in the Times, however, when it is clear that the scientific arguments at the heart of the story simply cannot be covered in depth in a newspaper series. When this happens, the Times uses this formula: The controversial religious people make this claim. The real scientists make this response, based on facts. That’s that. There is no need to let the critics respond to their critics.

At one key moment, reporter Jodi Wilgoren even slips into the old “fundamentalist” trap, violating logic, the facts and The Associated Press Stylebook all at the same time. Here is the context, speaking of the ID leaders:

Their credentials — advanced degrees from Stanford, Columbia, Yale, the University of Texas, the University of California — are impressive, but their ideas are often ridiculed in the academic world.

“They’re interested in the same things I’m interested in — no one else is,” Guillermo Gonzalez, 41, an astronomer at the University of Iowa, said of his colleagues at Discovery. “What I’m doing, frankly, is frowned upon by most of my colleagues. It’s not something a ‘scientist’ is supposed to do.” Other than Dr. Berlinski, most fellows, like their financiers, are fundamentalist Christians, though they insist their work is serious science, not closet creationism.

What does the word “fundamentalist” mean in this context, when speaking of a group that includes Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and a dozen other faith traditions? Why use this word? Is the goal to underline a basic assumption that one side uses faith and the other intellect?

Let me conclude by returning to Sagan. The various Times writers seem to glimpse, every now and then, the larger fact that Darwinian orthodoxy makes truth claims that are based on claims of logic as well as laboratory results. What they seem to miss is that the Intelligent Design people want to use the same sequence as Sagan. They believe that laboratory evidence and logic point to an unknown designer — something that cannot be tested in a lab by science. But what they also want people to note is that the ultimate claim made by many in the Darwinian priesthood also cannot be tested.

In academic circles, evolution has been defined as an “unsupervised, impersonal, unpredictable, and natural process . . . that is affected by natural selection, chance, historical contingencies and changing environments.”

The controversy centers on the words “unsupervised” and “impersonal.” That is the heart of this story. These are the words that Sagan and others cannot test in a laboratory, yet many still believe they are at the heart of all legitimate science. For, you see, any involvement whatsoever by a Divine Person — any meaningful role for a Creator — is called a miracle. That is bad. Millions and millions of taxpayers, representing (cue: Sagan voice) billions and billions of tax dollars, must be shown the light.

Thus, the Times notes:

. . . (M)ainstream scientists say that the claims of intelligent design run counter to a century of research supporting the explanatory and predictive power of Darwinian evolution, and that the design approach suffers from fundamental problems that place it outside the realm of science. For one thing, these scientists say, invoking a higher being as an explanation is unscientific.

“One of the rules of science is, no miracles allowed,” said Douglas H. Erwin, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution. “That’s a fundamental presumption of what we do.”

That does not mean that scientists do not believe in God. Many do. But they see science as an effort to find out how the material world works, with nothing to say about why we are here or how we should live. And in that quest, they say, there is no need to resort to otherworldly explanations.

Thus, one side gets to use the equation — science, logic, philosophy — but the other side does not. One side gets to make leaps of faith in the public square, but the other side does not. Rules are rules.

Dr. Sagan would be proud.

P.S. For a lively discussion of the terms that journalists are tossing about in this coverage, click here for a visit with William Safire.

Attention Dobson, Colson, et al.

OK, I am confused and I predict that my confusion is shared by many other Christians, Jews, moderate Muslims, freedom-loving secularists and who knows who else.

Here is the crunch section of a Washington Post story today on Islam-and-oil battles in Iraq right now as the new constitution comes down to the wire and then over the wire into double overtime.

The draft constitution submitted Monday stipulates that Iraq is an Islamic state and that no law can contradict the principles of Islam, negotiators confirmed. Opponents have charged that the latter provision would subject Iraqis to rule by religious edicts of individual clerics or sects.

The opponents also said women would lose gains they made during Hussein’s rule, when they were guaranteed equal rights under civil law in matters including marriage, divorce and inheritance. The draft constitution says individuals can choose to have family matters decided by either religious or civil law.

Supporters say a separate bill of rights would protect women, and provisions of the constitution say no law can contradict democracy or that bill of rights.

So laws cannot contradict Islam, or democracy (I assume this means strict majority rule) or the new bill of rights (another product of democracy and majority rule). So in this majority-rule equation, what happens to the legal rights of women and religious minorities? I have not seen, in the MSM coverage, any mention of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Check out Article 18 if you want to see some really controversial, old-fashioned liberal language.

So I have questions:

What are the conservative Christian supporters of this White House thinking right now? What are they thinking about the war and this possible outcome? Are they getting angry? Have I missed an update on that? Check out this thread over at Open Book. Also, shouldn’t we be hearing more about this issue from human-rights activists on the left?

This could be one of those times when the sanctuaries in the red and the blue zip codes have just cause to be mad about the same thing at the same time. Meanwhile, keep one eye on the old-fashioned liberals — that often makes them conservatives today — at Freedom House.

Flying the flag at World Youth Day

050821 WYD2005 09 sOne of our favorite topics to whine about here at GetReligion is the shameful job that some American newspapers do of displaying the work of their religion-beat specialists.

All over the place — think Denver, Chicago and Orlando for starters — there are talented and committed Godbeat scribes whose editors do next to nothing to help WWW-era readers find their work. Want to find fashion, autos, health or weather? That’s easy. Religion coverage? That is often next to impossible. The Los Angeles Times recently seemed to go out of its way to make it harder to find this beat. You think I am joking? Check this out.

One of the best of the hidden talents is Ann Rodgers in Pittsburgh. In the midst of the waves of “Catholic Woodstock” and “Is Benedict XVI as charismatic as that John Paul II man that we admire now that he is gone?” coverage, she files this highly symbolic lead — local angle, even — with a World Youth Day dateline:

After nearly a week of being very low-key about their nationality, a group of young Catholics from the South Hills began flying the stars and stripes yesterday. . . .

All pilgrims from the United States had been warned not to display their flag because it might make them targets of political hatred. Many carried state flags — the bear of California was everywhere. The South Hills group had carried a Steelers pennant to help them find each other in crowds where they could easily become separated.

But all week they had seen thousands of people from lands as diverse as Tahiti and Sweden proudly displaying their national colors. They had spotted a few American groups also flying large flags, with no apparent ill effects.

We could wish this story wasn’t timely, but it is.

Any other overlooked World Youth Day stories out there that GetReligion readers want to nominate for special attention?

tmatt, the Kurds and secularism

kurdflag2I guess anything can happen in the age of the WWW. Take a look at this Kurdish essay and tell me: Am I on the side of a more secular approach to Islam or not? Or am I being quoted to back the Islamists?

The decline of secularism can be seen as a global phenomenon, more than an Arab one, because the Arab world has refused all secular aspects, whether in religion or customs. When Samuel Huntington talked about the “clash of civilizations”, he gave priority to factors of culture and religion over secularist ones in reshaping relations among different nations. Today, secularism doesn’t sell in the marketplace. As American religious affairs columnist Terry Mattingly noted, “people hunger for spirituality, miracles and a sense of mystery . . . but the core question remains: should believers defend eternal truths or follow their hearts?”

At least the Kurdistan Regional Government quoted one of my more symbolic columns. Click here to see the context for the quote in my 10th anniversary column.

Yet another painful Calvary Chapel story

When I first saw this story, I blanked out and said to myself, “Surely this must be a follow-up story on that San Bernardino Sun item that Ted Olsen at the Christianity Today blog wrote up. It must be strange for the Los Angeles Times to have to chase a story like that.”

Then I noticed that the names were all different, even though some of the facts and themes about the Calvary Chapel world seemed somewhat similar. This is, in fact, a whole new story full of all kinds of painful twists and turns for the charismatic superstar Chuck Smith and the 1,100 or so independent congregations that grew out of his Jesus People revivals so long ago in the late 1960s and early ’70s.

So is there is some kind of virus making the rounds these days in the world of hyper-independent charismatic superchurches in Southern California? What is the bigger story here, something deeper than all the painful human details of “he said,” “they said,” “he denied”?

Here is where reporters Roy Rivenburg (a friend of mine, I should note) and Donna Horowitz begin to focus on a larger question: What kind of oversight exists in all of these independent congregations, which operate from sea to shining sea as one of the most powerful change elements in modern American Protestantism? Who is supposed to come to the aid of Pastor Joe Sabolick and his estranged older brother, Pastor George Sabolick, and all of the sheep who are loyal to one or the other? Who is in charge?

That would seem to be the police, the lawyers and, like it or not, Chuck Smith. Is that the reality woven into this sad tale?

. . . Smith didn’t let his protege entirely off the hook. Sabolick showed “perhaps a carelessness in finances,” Smith said. He cited two examples: In one, Sabolick used a church credit card to buy boots and clothes for a visiting Australian singer whose shoes were held together with duct tape.

In another, while trying to help a young girl, he “gave her things and it was misinterpreted as a romantic gesture. Joe is a very giving person, but you’ve got to keep better records on spending.”

Sabolick’s touchy-feely manner didn’t help, Smith said. When asked if he advised Sabolick to curb displays of physical affection, Smith replied: “Oh my, yes. Billy Graham says don’t touch the money and don’t touch the girls.”

But Smith saw no reason to bar Sabolick from the ministry. In recent weeks, the Calvary patriarch has tried to broker a settlement of the lawsuit. The only sticking point Smith sees is calculating how much the Laguna church owes Sabolick for severance pay and unreturned personal items versus how much Joe owes the church for funds borrowed for “some projects,” Smith said.

But hammering out a compromise might not be so simple, despite Smith’s hopes.

Millions of Americans love their totally independent congregations that form around charismatic leaders who can unleash fire in the pulpit. But if things go wrong, what then? This is the upside-down, mirror-image story to the Roman Catholic scandals, where people are turning up the heat — rightly so — on the bishops. Well, what do you do when you have no bishops?


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