08/11/2005: Judeo-Christians only when it suits their purposes?
Max Sawicky asks the fascinating question, Why are any meshuganahs surprized when, after upholding the chauvinist ideal of a "Judeo-Christian" cultural monopoly in the U.S., they find themselves excluded by their erstwhile co-religionists?
Why, does it seem, that some of us don't get it? The Christian rightists who want greater visibility for "Judeo-Christian values" are not, in spite of their whining to the contrary, interested in just getting their fair share of exposure. They intend to dominate. At best, if they don't push for a blatant theocracy (see Dominionism, aka "Christian Reconstructionism, if you think I'm being more than usually paranoid), they want it understood, preferably in the laws of our land, that Christianity (not just a bland "Judeo-Christianity"; their courtship of Jews, and in some recent cases Muslims, is merely an attempted marriage of convenience, to be dissolved once they are close enough to achieving their goals that the marriage doesn't matter any more) has a privileged, "top-dog" status. Michelle Goldberg, in a well reasoned review of Noah Feldman's Divided by God over at Salon (ad view or subscription required) made this perceptive observation:
The trouble with "Divided by God" is that Feldman seems to accept McConnell's legal argument as the actual political motivation of the Christian right. Values evangelicals, in his telling, just want to be heard along with everybody else. "In its most sophisticated and attractive form, values evangelicism is actually a type of mutliculturalist pluralism, professing respect for faith as faith and for cultural tradition as tradition," Feldman writes. "This inclusive vision of a society in which one can partake in the common American project by the very act of worshipping as one chooses is more than broad enough to accommodate new religious diversity that has come about as a result of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist immigration."And further, noting the recent controversy over overt evangelical oppression of non-evangelicals (not just the irreligious, but of Jews and non-evangelical Christians as well) at the U.S. Air Force Academy:
If this is what "values evangelicism" is, then the term is almost meaningless, since it doesn't apply to any of the leadership of the Christian right, the group that's actually fighting the culture wars that Feldman is trying to mediate. Consider, for example, how the Family Research Council -- the Washington spinoff of James Dobson's enormously powerful Focus on the Family -- reacted in 2000 when Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala became the first Hindu priest to offer an invocation before Congress. "While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage," the group said in an apoplectic statement. "Our Founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference."
This was not an isolated outburst -- it wouldn't be hard to find enough similar quotes to fill a volume larger than Feldman's entire book. Sure, the Christian right may invite a token rabbi -- often the South African ultraconservative Daniel Lapin -- to its functions to promote an image of ecumenism, but that cannot hide the motivating belief in Christian supremacy, spiritual and political, at the movement's core.
Consider what happened this spring during the scandal over religious harassment at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. According to numerous reports, a climate of evangelical intimidation and bigotry saturated the academy. Students who refused to attend chapel during basic cadet training were marched back to their dormitories in what was called a "heathen flight." Some faculty members introduced themselves to their classes as born-again Christians and encouraged their charges to find Jesus. There were numerous reports of upperclassmen using their authority over undergraduates to proselytize and insulting those who wouldn't convert; one Jewish cadet was slurred as a Christ killer.Be afraid. Be very afraid.
Secularists were alarmed and demanded that something be done. Note, though, that they did not object to the presence of state-funded evangelical chaplains, only to the pervasive discrimination against nonevangelicals. This did not stop the religious right from declaring born-again Christians the victims. When Democratic Rep. David Obey proposed an amendment to a defense appropriations bill calling for an investigation into religious bias at the academy, Republican Rep. John Hostettler stood up on the House floor and said, "The long war on Christianity in America continues today on the floor of the House of Representatives," later adding, "Democrats can't help denigrating and demonizing Christians."
A week later, Dobson hosted Hostettler on his radio show. Dobson began the segment by announcing, "Liberal forces in this country want to squelch the freedoms of evangelical Christians throughout the culture, but now it's popped up at the Air Force Academy." He praised Hostettler for having "the courage to stand up and be counted."
These fights are not about the right of values evangelicals to be heard. They are about their right to rule. As a secularist myself, I wish to God that Feldman were correct about the possibility of finding common ground and ending America's divisions, but I don't have much faith.
I've noted from time to time, that a distinguishing characteristic of many evangelicals of my acquaintance is their tendency to prey too much. The more I write that, the less of my tongue is in my cheek as I do.
Len on 08.11.05 @ 10:12 AM CST