the face of religion

Dan Darling chastized me for my statement in the last post that Fallwell and Robertson are probably the "most visible face of Christian America". I'd like to clarify. Note that I was careful not to say that they are representative of Christian Americans. Rather, the point I am making is that there are clear and non-coincidental parallels between the mullah-sympathizers who openly call for Shari'a (ie, their interpretation of such) to be made the law of the land with the theocratic movement on the political right. The insertion of the phrase "under God" into the Pledge by Congress in the 1950s, the cyclical controversies over the installation of the 10 Commandments in various federal and state public institutions, the attempts to legislate morality at the expense of privacy and liberty (such as on abortion rights), and the twisting of religious arguments to justify blatantly ant-religious causes such as tax cuts for the rich at the expense of the poor, all are part of a broad campaign that could be characterized as a Cultural War.

I greatly admire politicians like Republican Alabama Governor Bob Riley, who invoked Christian arguments to try and enact social justice in his state. The defeat of his tax reform plan proved the truth to Howard Dean's assertions that southerners vote against their economic self-interest, because of the Cultural War propaganda[1]

The theocratic movement won that battle in the Culture War. And it's an ongoing struggle. I heard a caller to the radio talk show (Hannity, I think) state that the freedom of religion to which the Founders spoke was meant to make no distinction between various Christian sects, because back then "all religion was Christianity". And thus do the polemicists divine the Founders' intent. This kind of blatant historical revisionism is being taught in schools, repeated on the media, and publicly endorsed by the ostensibly religion-neutral government.

Let me be clear. If Alabama as a state decides to abolish it's Legislature and enact a theocratic government structure, where the Electoral College delegates are simply appointed by the Pope of Alabama or somesuch equivalent, I think that would probably be constitutionally valid[2] But the agenda at the national level causes me much more concern. I don't think even the most hardened theocrat thinks a Pope of America structure is feasible, but it is possible (and in fact, ongoing) to stack the deck of the judiciary with those who interpret law according to Bible first, Constitution second (or third, behind the GOP charter). And it's hard to see any fuure GOP presidential candidate being viable after George W. Bush who isn't an evangelical sympathizer. That sympathy has been explicitly underscored in the media image of the President.

Theocrats like Falwell and Robertson are the most visible face of Christianity because Christianity as a mass political movement has been co-opted by the Culture War. The vast majority of Christian adherents have no rol ein this war, though they do get drawn in peripherally by the theocrats at times. For example, when the threat to remove "under God" from the Pledge was made, the theocrats knew how to frame the issue as an attack upon Christianity itself - which drew a visceral response from ordinary Christian Americans who would be appalled at a theocratic state being enacted in Alabama. Draw your own parallels with Islam.

The point is that the most visible face is almost defined as non-representative. And yet it's that visibility that allows even more extreme strains to flourish.

UPDATE: realized that I forgot to mention that the most public face of Christianity as a whole is probably the Pope, who single-handedly justifies the qualifier "almost" in the sentence above. But my discussion was centered on American Christianity's public face, and speaking as someone who feels a great deal of solidarity with Dan, that face is hijacked in this country.

[1]People are rational actors. But they base their decision-making process on the facts at hand, and in a conservative state with a negligent media and political dominance by the religious right, people make highly rational but factually wrong and anti-self-interested decisions.
[2] as long as the new Church didn't try to cross the 14th Amendment. If so, send in the tanks.

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