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Thursday, February 10, 2005

Faithful Progressive: What is the Religious Right?

I found this very odd post yesterday at Faithful Progressive, a left of center Christian blog.

A friend wrote as follows:

“I think my main point is that what we call ‘conservatism’ or ‘the extreme right’ may be less of a monolithic mentality and more a hodgepodge of not completely compatible worldviews, and our response to it may misfire if we oversimplify and stereotype the character of the opposition. But I don't yet feel like I really know what is going on.”

"I agree in part, but I think a historian, or even a mere Blogger, could find plenty of commonalities. What are the common features of the Religious Right?It is a fundamentalist movement that largely rejects any modern method of Biblical interpretation; it focuses a lot of energy on End Times prophecy, which accounts in part for its ease in ignoring the Gospels, the actual ministry of Jesus; it is anti-intellectual and hostile to science; it either openly embraces or flirts heavily with American Exceptionalism, the idea that brought us Manifest Destiny and the radical idealism of the Neo-Cons; it has great confidence in its own moral judgments, particularly those relating to sexuality and reproduction; it rejects pluralism, moral relativism and is hostile to the moral claims of tolerance; there is often a sincerity that seems rooted in nostalgia, like so many previous movements of the right; finally, while it has ideological cleavages, there are many common cultural, political and financial linkages."

Wow. Where to begin? I'm not sure that I have ever heard such a detailed description of the "Religious Right" monolith. As someone who is both a Christian and conservative (but paradoxically not part of the "Religious Right"), I think that I am pretty qualified to critique this gross misrepresentation.

I'm not going to argue with the use of the term fundamentalism. If believing the Bible to be the inerrant Word of God is fundamentalism, I suppose I'm a fundamentalist. Though that isn't the common use of the term. Whatever.

I guess in light of the whole "Left Behind" series, I can see why someone would think that there is a huge focus on End Times. I've always thought of this as an immature phase that people go through at one point in their lives. I haven't read anything on End Times since I was 14, and quite frankly I have very little interest in the subject. I also don't know a single person that is particularly interested in End Times. Now that I think about it, in my 30-something years of going to evangelical churches (many different denominations), I have probably heard less than 10 sermons on End Times. Contrast that with thousands of sermons focusing on the ministry of Jesus.

I think that there is a point to be made regarding anti-intellectualism. Mark Noll wrote an outstanding book about this called The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. While there has been much truth to this over the past 3 to 4 decades, Noll recently wrote an article in which he said that he is more optimistic about the intellectual health of evangelicals.

The comment about the rejection of pluralism and moral relativism is very strange coming from a Christian. The very nature and essence of Jesus rejects pluralism and relativism.

I guess I am amused at the overall description of the Religious Right. Like any stereotype, there is some truth to it. But this description is so overly simplistic. This description has built up some sort of Fundamentalist bogeyman headed by Pope Jerry Falwell that is bound and determined to mount a modern-day Inquisition that would result in the bounding of loins with chastity belts, require proper prayers in schools three times a day, and throttle all unapproved speech and thought. While I don't doubt that there is a freaky minority (hidden deep in the hills of who-knows-where) that would relish the thought of this vision, the vast majority of the Religious Right is quite normal.

I would argue that it is more often that not the Left that is extremist in nature by pushing provocative ideas on mostly moderate populace.