Religious Without Being Morally Serious Vs. Morally Serious Without Being Religious
Since we’ve defended the “religious right,” we suppose we’d better say a word about Pat Robertson’s latest foolishness, as reported by the Associated Press:
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson called on Monday for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, calling him a “terrific danger” to the United States. . . .
“You know, I don’t know about this doctrine of assassination, but if he thinks we’re trying to assassinate him, I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it,” Robertson said. “It’s a whole lot cheaper than starting a war . . . and I don’t think any oil shipments will stop.” . . .
“We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability,” Robertson said.
“We don’t need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator,” he continued. “It’s a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with.”
We agree that Chavez is a menace, but give us a break. Religious conservatives argue (to take an example) that embryonic stem-cell research is wrong because the sanctity of nascent life is absolute and thus outweighs any possible benefits. But Robertson is willing to countenance assassination because it is “easier” and “cheaper” than other ways of bringing about a desired outcome? It goes to show that one can be religious without being morally serious.
Mr. Robertson is indeed lacking in moral seriousness. Shame on him for talking so loosely and inappropriately.
On the other hand, James Taranto’s editorial referenced above and entitled Why I’m Rooting for the Religious Right: Secular liberals show open contempt for traditionalists is a morally serious communication and worthy of further highlighting:
I am not a Christian, or even a religious believer, and my opinions on social issues are decidedly middle-of-the-road. So why do I find myself rooting for the “religious right”? I suppose it is because I am put off by self-righteousness, closed-mindedness, and contempt for democracy and pluralism–all of which characterize the opposition to the religious right.
One can disagree with religious conservatives on abortion, gay rights, school prayer, creationism and any number of other issues, and still recognize that they have good reason to feel disfranchised. This isn’t the same as the oft-heard complaint of “anti-Christian bigotry,” which is at best imprecise, since American Christians are all over the map politically. But those who hold traditionalist views have been shut out of the democratic process by a series of court decisions that, based on constitutional reasoning ranging from plausible to ludicrous, declared the preferred policies of the secular left the law of the land.
For the most part, the religious right has responded in good civic-minded fashion: by organizing, becoming politically active, and supporting like-minded candidates. This has required exquisite discipline and patience, since changing court-imposed policies entails first changing the courts, a process that can take decades…
In the past three elections, the religious right has helped to elect a conservative Republican president and a bigger, and increasingly conservative, Republican Senate majority. This should make it possible to move the courts in a conservative direction. But Senate Democrats, taking their cue from liberal interest groups, have responded by subverting the democratic process, using the filibuster to impose an unprecedented supermajority requirement on the confirmation of judges.
That’s what prompted Christian conservatives to organize “Justice Sunday,” last month’s antifilibuster rally, at a church in Kentucky. After following long-established rules for at least a quarter-century, they can hardly be faulted for objecting when their opponents answer their success by effectively changing those rules.
This procedural high-handedness is of a piece with the arrogant attitude the secular left takes toward the religious right. Last week a Boston Globe columnist wrote that what he called “right-wing crackpots–excuse me, ‘people of faith’ ” were promoting “knuckle-dragging judges.” This contempt expresses itself in more refined ways as well, such as the idea that social conservatism is a form of “working class” false consciousness. Thomas Frank advanced this argument in last year’s bestseller, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”
Liberal politicians have picked up the theme…
…It’s not that [liberal Senator Feingold] sees the issues as unimportant, but that he does not respect the views of those who disagree. His views are thoughtful and enlightened; theirs are, as Mr. Frank describes them, a mindless “backlash.”
This attitude is politically self-defeating, for voters know when politicians are insulting their intelligence…Many voters who aren’t pro-life absolutists have misgivings about abortion on demand and about the death of Terri Schiavo. By refusing to acknowledge the possibility of thoughtful disagreement or ambivalence, Mr. Dean is giving these moderates an excellent reason to vote Republican.
Curiously, while secular liberals underestimate the intellectual seriousness of the religious right, they also overestimate its uniformity and ambition. The hysterical talk about an incipient “theocracy”–as if that is what America was before 1963, when the Supreme Court banned prayer in public schools–is either utterly cynical or staggeringly naive.
Last week an article in The Nation, a left-wing weekly, described the motley collection of religious figures who gathered for Justice Sunday. A black minister stood next to a preacher with a six-degrees-of-separation connection to the Ku Klux Klan. A Catholic shared the stage with a Baptist theologian who had described Roman Catholicism as “a false church.”
These folks may not be your cup of tea, but this was a highly ecumenical group, united on some issues of morality and politics but deeply divided on matters of faith. The thought that they could ever agree enough to impose a theocracy is laughable.
And the religious right includes not only Christians of various stripes but also Orthodox Jews and even conservative Muslims. Far from the sectarian movement its foes portray, it is in truth a manifestation of the religious pluralism that makes America great. Therein lies its strength.