Search Results for: Fundamentalist, AP

Is there a ghost in "The Incredibles"?

Menu_03OK, do the math. Let’s say that a president wins a second ticket to the White House with the help of a “values vote” coalition built, in part, on people that have very old-fashioned beliefs on issues of morality, family, marriage and the existence of eternal, transcendent moral truths.

Then, before you can say KAPOW!, WHAM! and NEOCON!, there is a movie in multiplexes in which characters are heard claiming that the demise of a marriage is a fate worse than death and that “doubt is a luxury that we cannot afford anymore.”

The Bush army praises strength, marriage and family values. This hit movie praises strength, marriage and family values. Oh my. Could it be?

That’s right. There are people out there in medialand that are quietly worried that “The Incredibles” is a right-wing recruiting device. I mean, the folks at Focus on the Family even like this movie.

Pixar can’t seem to make even a single mistake when it comes to elevating the artistry of animation. Likewise, while illustrating the value of an intact family or the beauty of individuality or the negative results of pride, The Incredibles is, well, incredible.

Needless to say, this is not going to fly over in the pages of The Nation, where Stuart Klawans is not amused by the political — theological? — implications of the Parr family. Part of the problem is that, according to writer-director Brad Bird:

… (The) Parrs’ strange talents are rooted in normal family traits. Fathers are supposed to be strong, so Bob can bench-press a freight engine. Mothers are always being pulled ten ways at once, so Helen is elastic. Young Violet can become invisible, as teenage girls sometimes want to do, and Dash is just a wonderfully energetic little boy, ratcheted up to 200 mph.

Bird’s biggest achievement in The Incredibles is to have inflated family stereotypes to parade-balloon size. His failing is that, in so doing, he also confirmed these stereotypes, and worse. Helen mouths one or two semi-feminist wisecracks but readily gives up her career for a house and kids; women are like that. Bob’s buddy Frozone, the main nonwhite character in the movie, can instantly create ice; black people are cool. The superheroes are in hiding because greedy trial lawyers sued them into retirement; and, while concealed, they chafe at their confinement, like Ayn Rand railing against enforced mediocrity.

The family is the foundation of our society. Freedom is on the march.

And that just cannot be good for America and the world, now can it? Things get even more complex over at the New York Observer, where writers Suzy Hansen and Sheelah Kolhatkar let loose under the cheerfully paranoid headline, “It’s Super Bush!” While it’s clear that they like the film quite a bit and believe that it might even cheer up gloomy blue-zone liberals, they conclude:

While The Incredibles’ battle against conformity and mediocrity screams anti-oppression to some, it’s obviously Randian to others. In that sense, the film is being touted as the latest proof that, on top of everything else, the right wing has even wit and creativity on its side these days: This is a world turned upside-down!

And even as James Carville threw in the white towel in The New York Times on Nov. 9, admitting that he’d finally got the message that the Democrats were nothing but an opposition party, the conservatives were raking in millions of potential philosophical converts at the movies, the way the liberals used to during the Easy Rider-Graduate days of the 1960s, when the right wing couldn’t catch a break in the culture. … It’s very much in the eye of the beholder, but at the moment, to the butt-kicked, discouraged liberal team, the Pixar-built shiny, muscle-bound cartoon characters seem to come very much from the other team.

Ah, but as we like to note from time to time here at GetReligion.org, not all political conservatives are moral and cultural conservates and, for sure, the tensions between the Libertarians and the religious right are only going to increase in the months ahead.

So, is there a “religion” ghost in this blockbuster hit or not? Is the mere fact that a film promotes a traditional view of marriage and family now evidence that its creators are in-the-closet Christian neo-fundamentalists?

What about it? Has anyone out there in readerland seen any reviews or articles about “The Incredibles” directly linking the film to theocrats? Was the Iron Giant a Christ symbol?

Atheists for Bush

Hitch_1In his latest Slate dispatch, Christopher Hitchens (in a departure from his pre-election shrug) comes out swinging for George W. Bush. He begins by taking "strong exception" to the charge that one must be a "God-bothering, pulpit-pounding Armageddon-artist, enslaved by ancient texts and prophecies and committed to theocratic rule" to have backed Bush in this go-round.

He takes a swipe at Gary Wills for the historian’s "the Enlightenment is falling" piece in the New York Times. Wills, says Hitchens, "who makes at least one of his many livings by being an Augustinian Roman Catholic," should go and contemplate how much hypocrisy one can fit on the head of a pin.

The setup: "As far as I know, all religions and all churches are equally demented in their belief in divine intervention, in divine intercession, or even the existence of the divine in the first place."

Having asserted his atheist credentials, Hitchens explains that "not all faiths are equally demented in the same way or at the same time." Islam is clearly the greater of two evils. Its more virulent strains are "explicitly totalitarian and wedded to a cult of death." He sees the murder of Theo Van Gogh as "only a warning of what is coming in Madrid, London, Rome, and Paris, let alone Baghdad and Basra."

One political faction in the U.S. makes excuses "for the religious fanaticism that immediately menaces us in the here and now." And that faction, Hitchens is "sorry and furious to say, is the left." "A gallery of psuedointellectuals [Isn't he taking this faux Orwell thing too far? -- ed.] have been willing to represent the worst face of Islam as the voice of the oppressed."

While George Bush may be "subjectively Christian," Hitchens argues that "he — and the U.S. armed forces — have objectively done more for secularism than the whole of the American agnostic community combined and doubled." You see, smashing the Taliban, disrupting al Qaeda, and confronting the "theocratic saboteurs" of Iraq all give a huge boost to "non-fundamentalist forces in many countries."

If liberal secularism is framed as an objection to this project, says Hitchens, "I’ll take a modest, God-fearing, deer-hunting Baptist from Kentucky every time, as long as he didn’t want to impose his principles on me (which our Constitution forbids him to do so)."

GetReligion readers will no doubt have some thoughts and questions about this. Here are a few of mine:

1) Iraq under Saddam Hussein was an essentially secular, if brutal, regime. Now Islam will likely play a large part in the nation’s government. It might be the sort of moderate Islam that Hitchens can live with but at this point I’d bet against it. If I am correct — and I hope I’m not — then Hitchens may have to rethink his support for the war in Iraq.

2) Hitchens is nominally pro-life. How much of a role does this play in his ability to shrug off many criticisms of American religious conservatives?

3) On a tangentially related note, for the mother of all overreactions to what’s being called Jesusland, click here, if you dare.

Gasp: Rod Dreher claims that he is "normal"

Dreher_wills_1(Cue: drum roll) Here is something that seems a bit bizarre to contemplate. GetReligion readers, I bring you the journalistic team of Rod Dreher and Alexander Cockburn. It will take a moment to get to the second half of that equation.

Dreher, as many readers will know, is a conservative Catholic on the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News and a friend of this blog. In the photo he is shown with, of all people, the enlightened historian Garry Wills.

In the wake of the post-11/2 earthquake in the mainstream media, Dreher pounded out a personal column trying to explain to other journalists that, out in flyover country, the election was seen as a whisper of sanity, not the revenge of what he called "Shi’ite Baptists and the Taliban Catholics." A liberal friend even
wrote Dreher to compare the Bush victory with the 1933 burning of the Reichstag in Berlin.

Dreher is not the kind of man who hides what he thinks. He says the left, at the moment, is being tempted to engage in the "same hysteria as the McCarthy-era
right-wing paranoids who saw a crypto-commie inside every liberal." There’s more.

You love to blame us and the Republican leadership for being "divisive."
Yet it wasn’t our side that cheered when the Massachusetts Supreme Court
overturned the ancient and settled definition of marriage in a single moment,
and we were not the partisans who staged illegal and intentionally provocative
gay wedding ceremonies on the steps of city halls.

Well, last week Middle America was provoked, and provoked right back. What
did you expect?

This may come as a shock to liberals who don’t peer outside their cultural
cocoon, but believing that marriage is something exclusively between one man and
one woman is … normal. In fact, the opposite is radical by any historical or
social measure. It is also not a bizarre and reactionary act to vote for the presidential
candidate who believes it is immoral to allow a form of abortion that sucks the
brains out of partially born babies, instead of the presidential candidate who
voted to keep that kind of thing legal.

At the moment, many on the left (including more than few voices in the media) have decided that moral and cultural conservatives are not just wrong, but downright evil, the spiritual blood brothers of Osama bin Laden.

Dreher says that what this country needs, right now, is some culturally conservative — Democrats. America needs more politicians who care about old-fashioned progressive values.

Frankly, as a social conservative who worries about what GOP stewardship of the
economy is doing to families and communities, I long for the day when the
Democratic Party speaks to the concerns of people like me without derision and
condescension. You need a Harry S. Truman, an old-style populist Democrat in
sincere touch with small-town values.

Unfortunately for you — and for America — if Harry S. Truman were alive
today, y’all wouldn’t give him the time of day. For that matter, if the 1971
version of Teddy Kennedy walked in the door, those pro-life convictions would
end his career as a Democrat before it got started. Think about
that.

As you might imagine, Dreher has been receiving some email. As you might imagine, his claim that many liberals have demonized cultural conservatives struck a nerve. Here is a sample.

Let’s clear up a few obvious errors in your screed: it is nativist
know-nothing self-righteous christians who  herald America’s dark ages.  Not
Christians of any sort, as in folks who walk the Christ talk with integrity and
meekness, but nominal christians such as yourself who wrap the cross in a flag
and use it as a spear to impale those who disagree with you or threaten your
peace of mind with, oh my, thinking.  … And do I think in your America Jews and other non-Christians will have
their religious and civil liberties curtailed?  I am quite certain of it. 
Why?   Because you are part of a belief system that condemns non-believers and
dissenters to hell.

All of this sounds rather like the thesis of an earlier Dreher piece in Touchstone magazine entitled "The Godless Party." In it, Dreher called attention to what sociologists Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio of Baruch College in the City University of New York call the new "anti-fundamentalist voters." More than anything else, these voters are motivated by a stunning antipathy toward traditional religious believers.

Apparently, the Bolce and De Maio data even reached the desk of one major journalistic voice on the candid left. Check out this reference from Alexander Cockburn on the role of "moral values" in the election. We can debate his reference to America being a "Christian nation." He said it, not me. I happen to disagree. Here’s Cockburn.

… this brings us to the well-known fact (greeted with amazement
on Wednesday morning by the pundits) that the United States is a Christian
nation. Tocqueville noticed this some time ago, and anyone driving today down
any county road or state highway will see a lot of churches, still well ahead of
casinos which are facilities also predicated on a relationship with Providence.
The 2002 edition of the University of Chicago’s regular surveys reported that
the adult population of the homeland is 53 per cent Protestant, 25 per cent
Catholic, 3 per cent Christians of some other stripe, 3 per cent other
religions, 2 per cent Jewish and 14 per cent holding "no religion". Of the
Christians, 25 per cent go to church once a week or more.

Even though the highest reading on any chart of Intolerance is that nourished towards Christians by secular liberals (after all, Christians believe in forgiveness and the possibility of redemption) I suppose we’ll have to put up with much earnest journalism from sensitive liberal writers driving into the Christian heartland to inspect and commune with the natives. I read one patronizing prospectus from a Californian  free-lancer that sounded like an
application by an anthropologist in 1925 for funding to inspect an African tribe.

PERSONAL NOTE: Please excuse some problems with formatting. TypePad has changed many of its editing functions again and it will take some time to get this worked out.

Let the eagle bore

Even as disaffected American liberals consider moving to Canada in the wake of the last week’s elections, many Canadian journalists are trying to figure out what the heck happened. Some of the early attempts at deciphering the results are not promising.

Take the Friday edition of CBC Radio’s The Current. The broadcast led off with a parody of Bush "spending" the political capital he’d built up: trading a couple televangelists for a ban on gay marriage and the like; then
there was a clip of John Ashcroft singing "Let the Eagle Soar"; then guest host Catherine Gretzinger introduced listeners to Ester Kaplan, author of With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House.

Kaplan warned that in Bush’s "first administration, we saw tremendous incursions into what has traditionally been the separation of church and state in this country," and that we should expect more of the same in the second go-round.

She nearly despaired that Bush, "running against only the second major party Catholic candidate [What about Al Smith? -- ed. It's so 1920 of you to bring that up.], carved into even the Catholic vote, and that seems to have come on these values issues — the narrow values issues of the Christian right — of abortion and this fight against gay marriage."

The author argued that more moderate Christians have a "values agenda of their own which has to do with valuing life, which has to do with taking care of the poor," but she lamented that they aren’t as good at organizing or articulating this vision as the "Christian right" are at firing up voters and getting them to the polls.

Kaplan reported that "I hear, as I’ve been traveling around lately, a tremendous amount of rage — or maybe depression is a better word — coming from Christians who feel like their religion has been hijacked. It’s very very similar to the kind of language we hear from moderate Muslims that somehow this far right wing within the religion has staked a claim to Christianity that many of them reject."

Fair enough. That’s one point of view of what happened and what comes next. And then Gretzinger turned to a Methodist minister for a rebuttal. The problem is, the minister was Philip Wogaman — Bill Clinton’s former pastor during the presidential years.

Listen to the broadcast. Wogaman clearly catches Gretzinger off guard by agreeing with what has been said thus far. He says that faith can be a good thing for the chief executive to have but we have to wonder, "Is it the kind of faith that is open to others, that embraces diversity, and that seeks justice for the marginalized
people of the world?"

If not — and Wogaman isn’t feeling very charitable toward Bush because of "the narrowness of his values" — then faith can and should work against the president. Wogaman contrasted the narrow way with the accepting way and intoned that Bush is way too crimped for his refined taste.

Freak out II: Invoking the Founders

FoundersLike Garry Wills, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman expresses concern that George W. Bush and “Christian fundamentalists” (those increasingly inseparable and undefined words) are ultimately opposed to the Founding Fathers:

But what troubled me yesterday was my feeling that this election was tipped because of an outpouring of support for George Bush by people who don’t just favor different policies than I do — they favor a whole different kind of America. We don’t just disagree on what America should be doing; we disagree on what America is.

Is it a country that does not intrude into people’s sexual preferences and the marriage unions they want to make? Is it a country that allows a woman to have control over her body? Is it a country where the line between church and state bequeathed to us by our Founding Fathers should be inviolate? Is it a country where religion doesn’t trump science? And, most important, is it a country whose president mobilizes its deep moral energies to unite us — instead of dividing us from one another and from the world

Such a neat trick, framing your questions in a way that forces others to respond with a Scroogelike “No” or to explain how their view has been misrepresented. The same style of rhetorical questions can express the views of Christians who are cultural conservatives:

Is it a country that preserves its historic definition of marriage, just as it did in rejecting polygamy? Is it a country that protects human life? Is it a country that cherishes religious freedom, including free-speech rights? Is it a country that recognizes the importance of both religion and science?

Friedman makes a humorous point about our current cultural divisions:

This was not an election. This was station identification. I’d bet anything that if the election ballots hadn’t had the names Bush and Kerry on them but simply asked instead, “Do you watch Fox TV or read The New York Times?” the Electoral College would have broken the exact same way.

If it’s any comfort, it’s actually possible for a Christian to be conservative, vote for Bush and prefer MSNBC and The Atlantic to Fox News Channel and The New York Times.

Friedman makes his strongest point, I think, in this paragraph:

My problem with the Christian fundamentalists supporting Mr. Bush is not their spiritual energy or the fact that I am of a different faith. It is the way in which he and they have used that religious energy to promote divisions and intolerance at home and abroad. I respect that moral energy, but wish that Democrats could find a way to tap it for different ends.

I think Friedman misconstrues conservative Christians if he believes their goal is to “promote divisions and intolerance.” But I agree with his wish that Democrats would find a way to tap spiritual and moral energy for their ends (Jim Wallis and Sojourners did their part to help the Democrats this year, but to little avail). That would make for a more competitive campaign, and rewarding discussion, in the next presidential campaign.

The great New York Times freak out

Jesusland Judging from today’s reactions to the election, the deep thinkers at the former paper of record need to get a grip. I’m the lead-off hitter — LeBlanc and Mattingly come by later in the day to bat cleanup — but the shrillarity of Gary Wills’ and Maureen Dowd’s slow curve-ball should be enough for at least a lazy double.

Take Dowd’s tirade: She mocks Senator Kerry’s well-delivered call for national unity because President Bush "got re-elected by dividing the country along fault lines of fear, intolerance, ignorance and religious rule."

Dowd accused the president of running "a jihad in America so he can fight one in Iraq — drawing a devoted flock of evangelicals, or ‘values voters,’ as they call themselves, to the polls by opposing abortion, suffocating stem cell research and supporting a constitutional amendment against gay marriage."

The bitter asides were a bit much, even by Dowd’s standards. Between Dick Cheney’s first and last names she inserted the following: "Oh, lordy, is this cuckoo clock still vice president?" Of his post election speech, she opined that only Cheney could "make ‘to serve and to guard’ sound like ‘to rape and to pillage.’"

Then she launched into some of the new conservative senators. She scored some points against Tom Coburn and Jim DeMint before lapsing into lazy Timesian cultural prejudices to damn John Thune, "an anti-abortion Christian conservative – or ‘servant leader,’ as he was hailed in a campaign ad – who supports constitutional amendments banning flag burning and gay marriage."

But you know it’s a bad day for the Gray Lady when Dowd sounds almost reasonable by comparison with historian Garry Wills. In a column titled "The Day the Enlightenment Went Out," Wills worried that Dark Days are ahead in a nation where people believe "more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution."

For about the millionth time, Wills trotted out the Scopes trial of 1925. The gist of his reason for doing this is: Remember those fundamentalists, who skulked away after we mocked them for enforcing a law against teaching evolution in public schools? Theyyyyyy’re baaaaaack.

Where Dowd uses the term "jihad" half-jokingly, Wills is dead serious. He intones that the "secular states of modern Europe do not understand the fundamentalism of the American electorate." In fact, we have come to resemble those European nations "less than we do our putative enemies."

"Where else," Wills asks, as he works up a head of steam, "do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity?" Answer: "We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein’s Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed."

Wills warned darkly that Bush’s "helpers are also his keepers" and predicted that the "moral zealots" will "give some cause for dismay even to nonfundamentalist Republicans."

"Jihads," you see, "are scary things."

Look, I’m hardly a stickler for the narrowest possible use of the English language. And I have once or twice referred to a political movement that I disagree with as a "jihad," but never seriously. So I offer the following advice to NYT editorial page editor Gail Collins:

There was no holy war. There was an election and your side did badly. Sorry about that. That’s how democracy goes sometimes. The candidates appealed to voters on a number of issues, including the war, the economy, and "values" issues, and the values issues seem to have made the difference.

That does not make this election illegitimate, or a jihad, or a referendum on the Enlightenment. American Christians are not fundamentalist Muslims and they aren’t going to turn the nation into a theocratic state. Publishing pieces that seriously argue this only make your op-ed page look silly.

Define evangelical: give three examples before Nov. 2

Pk_dc1That sound you hear right now on the Religious Right is stunned silence about the president’s change of heart on same-sex unions.

The rank and file are trying to figure out why President Bush did one of the only things he could possibly do to drown the enthusiasm of his base a few days before the election. Not only did he go Sister Souljah on them, he didn’t seem aware — surprise — of the reality-based details of the issue at hand. Frankly, I have also been amazed at the low-key media response. Everyone knows that Bush needs a massive pew-gap turn out from religious conservatives to win, or his strategists sure seem to think so.

Thus, we have seen some coverage of the complexity — which is real, by the way — that is found among voters on the evangelical, “born again” and culturally conservative side of the aisle. It’s time to start reminding people that it is immature, or even bad theology, to go into the voting booth and pull that lever based on one or two religious issues, such as abortion. It’s time for religious conservatives to be more mature and nuanced. Here is a sample from a Christianity Today editorial along these lines.

The dark side of single-issue politics is that it has forced evangelicals to become ever more shrill and ever less imaginative. Dominant-issue politics shows greater promise in addressing our society amid all the pressing issues our society faces, including terrorism, economic justice, church-state relations, gay marriage, embryonic stem-cell research, and so on.

Abortion is a monstrous tragedy for the nation, but our Christian commitment to a culture of life does not permit us the luxury of abandoning other important issues. While single-mindedness in following Christ is always wise, single-issue voting may not be.

This is the kind of language that makes Republicans have nightmares and lash out. Take my word for it. I’ve got people writing me angry emails right now saying that I tried to take Bush down a notch or two in my Scripps Howard column this week.

There is no way to know the motives of journalists involved in writing these stories, so don’t even try to go there. But this is a real story. The bottom line is that the world of evangelicalism is more complex than people in some newsrooms (and many pulpits) want to admit. Thus, there is no one “evangelical” view on Bush.

For starters, it is hard to know what any of the old religious labels mean, anymore. It might help some reporters to glance through materials posted at the home page of George Barna, one of America’s most influential pollsters on all things “evangelical.”

It is important to note that Barna separates “evangelicals” from the “born again” and he says that a mere 8 percent of the nation qualifies as “evangelical.” Here is how he defines this flock:

We categorize an evangelical based upon their answers to nine questions about faith matters. Those included in this segment meet the criteria for being born again; say their faith is very important in their life today; believe they have a personal responsibility to share their religious beliefs about Christ with non-Christians; believe that Satan exists; believe that the eternal salvation is possible only through grace, not works; believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life on earth; and describe God as the all-knowing , all-powerful, perfect deity who created the universe and still rules it today. Thus, evangelicals are a subset of the born again population.

In other words, Barna uses doctrinal standards to define this term — a kind of free-church Protestant creed. This is a frightening concept to many low-church Protestants, especially Baptists. Barna’s definition of “born again” is different. It is experiential. “Born again” believers are people who say that they have been “born again” and have some kind of ongoing relationship with the Christian faith, however they choose to define this. According to Barna, 33 percent of the nation is “born again,” but not truly “evangelical.”

Meanwhile, another 44 percent of the population gets any even foggier label — “notional Christians.” Notional Christians are people who say they are Christians — period. And what does the term “Christian” mean in this context? Who knows. For a look at the rest of Barna’s labels and definitions, click here.

Please remember that this is one merely set of definitions. I once asked Billy Graham if he could define “evangelical” and he said he had no idea what the word meant. One person’s evangelical is another’s fundamentalist. Ask the New York Times. Another person’s “moderate” evangelical is another’s heretic. Ask Bill Clinton, or Tony Campolo, or the theology departments at many Baptist schools.

So there are evangelicals who are pro-life, but oppose Bush on all kinds of justice and peace issues. There are evangelicals whose “sola scriptura” approach to the Bible has led them to swing left on issues of sexual morality. There are lots of evangelicals who love “Will & Grace” and “Oprah” and think it’s just time for everybody to get along. Maybe their voices are hard to hear in the barrage of media coverage of the Christian right, but these progressive evangelicals are out there and they plan to vote for Kerry. Take that, Jerry Falwell.

For a glimpse into this world, click here and listen in as Chicago Sun-Times religion writer Cathleen Falsani visits with five of her Wheaton College roommates. Here is her survey of this evangelical landscape:

Moderate evangelicals, who hold more-or-less traditional Christian beliefs but are slightly less active in church than those who better fit the “religious right” stereotype, make up about 10 percent of the electorate, according to John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron.

Then there are the liberal evangelicals, more theologically liberal than their moderate brethren but still firmly encamped inside evangelical denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. This most curious minority, which makes up about 2.5 percent of voters, could end up swinging the election in Sen. John Kerry’s favor, Green and other pol watchers say.

Reporter Peter Wallsten of the Los Angeles Times recently ventured into the same corner of the electorate in a story entitled: “Conflicted Evangelicals Could Cost Bush Votes.” You can almost hear the copy desk cheering as that headline went to the press.

Once again, the emphasis is on the “freestyle evangelicals” who, more than anything else, abhor the Religious Right. Many are pro-life Democrats who have been locked out of their own party’s halls of power. Some are Catholic Republicans who wish they could get Republicans to read Vatican documents on war and peace, social justice, health care, labor and other non-conservative concerns. Every now and then, these concerns bubble into public view. Wallsten notes one major example:

Within the evangelical community, the complicated fabric of politics was underscored this month when the board of the National Assn. of Evangelicals unanimously approved a document laying out a new “Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility.” The document embraces traditional opposition to abortion, gay marriage and embryonic stem cell research. But it also mirrors aspects of the Democratic Party platform, quoting scripture to endorse policies that encourage racial and economic equity and promote a cleaner environment.

“You can’t shoehorn the Bible into one political party’s ideology,” said Richard Cizik, a vice president of the association and an author of the report.

This affects ordinary people as well as policy documents.

Here is one sample, from a Wallsten interview with a frustrated evangelical named Wendy Skroch in the battleground state of Wisconsin. She is not alone and, in a race this tight, her voice matters. Is she a Democrat from the age before Roe v. Wade? Is she a Republican who has been mugged by economic realities? Listen.

A speech pathologist who works part time at a senior care center and has three children, Skroch said she sees firsthand the problems of the healthcare system. Her family’s insurance plan doesn’t cover their needs. Bush did nothing to fix the system, she said.

One day Kerry showed up at her office for a campaign visit. A woman asked the Democrat why he voted against the ban on what critics call partial-birth abortion. To Skroch’s dismay, she said, he didn’t have an answer.

“I feel disenfranchised,” she said. “Sometimes I think the best thing for me to do if I can’t make up my mind is to just not vote.”

Bush: The New Age candidate of the Christian Right?

BushprayingIt’s been almost a week since Ron Suskind did his best to electrify the anti-evangelical voter base on behalf of the New York Times Sunday Magazine and, thus, the Democratic Party. His “Without a Doubt” essay was a rock, thrown into the pond of elite media opinion shortly before the battle to save civilization. The ripples should continue until the election. Once again, here is his lead:

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that “if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3.” The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

You may as well have added a few more pairings to that list — the smart and the stupid, the sane and the almost insane or, in the terminology of sociologist James Davison Hunter, the progressive and the orthodox. The bottom line was crystal clear: President Bush and his supporters are dangerous fundamentalists and linked at the theological hip with the very Al Qaeda fanatics they say they oppose. They are spiritual blood brothers.

It was no surprise Jeff “The Hulk” Sharlet at TheRevealer.org posted an essay in response to the Suskind opus. It was also not surprising that Sharlet caught the serious flaw in Suskind’s fundamental charge against the president — that he is a fundamentalist.

No, Sharlet had another label to pin on George W. Bush, a much more creative and insightful label. Bush, he says, is in his heart of hearts closely linked to the no facts, just faith school of thought often called “New Age.” Based on what we know about Bush’s faith, and there are very few specifics on the record, Sharlet believes that one of the last things anyone could call Bush is a “fundamentalist.” There is no such thing as a vague fundamentalist. Here is a large chunk of Sharlet’s argument:

A common aspect of many New Age schools of thought (though not all) is a gentle disdain for perceived reality. That’s different from the fundamentalist aversion to worldliness; rather, this approach views the “real world” as that which is within the mind or heart or spirit of the believer. That idea is often dismissed as a modern bastardization of psychology, but many New Agers argue that their beliefs are actually ancient; and, despite the fact that the superficial characteristics are often of a recent vintage, there’s some truth to that assertion. New Age religions are, literally, reactionary, responses to what’s been called the disenchantment of the world. Another word for that process is the Enlightenment, with its claims of empirical accuracy. New Age movements attempt to revive — or create anew — pre-Enlightenment ideas about magic, alchemy, ghosts, and whatever else practitioners can glean from a record for the most part expunged by institutional Christianity.

Christian fundamentalism, meanwhile, is the child of the Enlightenment, a functionalist view of faith that’s metaphorically `scientific.` It’s scripture as read by a cranky engineer who just wants to know how God works. The Bible, for a fundamentalist, isn’t powerful literature demanding our ever-changing discernment; it’s an instruction manual. And fundamentalists think that’s a good thing.

Magic_bush_1You can disagree with Sharlet’s point of view, but he is on to something. Nevertheless, I think he needs to consider another explanation for the phenomenon that bugs him.

Perhaps Bush is vague because his faith is vague. Perhaps he is, in the end, a five-star example of a free-church Protestant whose faith is highly personal, highly individualistic and not linked to a particular creed or set of dogmas. In a strange way, Bill Clinton had the same kind of faith — only it appears that he reached some different conclusions. Truth is, nobody knows. No one knows many of the specifics of Bush’s faith, because he only talks about his beliefs in very general, emotional terms.

And all those pew-sitting Bush supporters? Are they New Agers or fundamentalists?

Sharlet notes that Bush believers long for moral absolutes, but they:

… (Don’t) care about empirical definitions. They’re not literalists, in the sense that they don’t cling to language. In fact, they don’t trust language, which is why they read clunky, soulless translations of scripture, when they read it at all. The Community Bible Study approach to biblical education through which Bush found his faith is not based on intense reading, but on personal meditations built around a sentence or two. Bush himself doesn’t study the Bible; he samples phrases and invokes them like spells.

That may be true of Bush (again, we really don’t know) and it may be true of many people who call themselves “born-again Christians,” but don’t believe in getting much more specific than that. But this distrust of precise language is certainly not true of the president’s many supporters among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, hard-core Baptists, traditional Lutherans, evangelical Presbyterians and a host of other believers who are more than willing to say the Apostles Creed without crossing their fingers.

I wrote Sharlet and asked him if, in effect, he had placed the president on trial and found him guilty of being a perfectly normal, off-the-rack, born again, megachurch, name it-claim it American Protestant.

And one more thing. If some journalists and intellectuals are screaming bloody murder about Bush’s faith being too vague, imagine how much noise they would make if he started getting specific and naming names, doctrinally speaking. In a strange sort of way, John “I was an altar boy” Kerry is in a better position to talk about his faith. Since he is, supposedly, part of a highly doctrinal faith — Roman Catholicism — he can stand up and describe his faith by rejecting the specifics. That works.

Sharlet wrote back, concerning Bush: “I don’t think there’d be a problem if he was doctrinal, so long as he respected separation of church and state. The mistake most pundits make, I think, is in assuming that that separation is simple; it’s not.”

I am sure there is more to come on this subject, as strategists on both sides rally their troops.


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