Monday, February 04, 2008

Evangelicals a Liberal Can Love?

Nicholas Kristoff writes about the liberal leanings of some Evangelicals today, and urges secular liberals to be less scornful of these potential allies in the causes of social justice and saving the planet.

While I agree that open expressions of scorn are probably not polite or politically effective, it is also true that such scorn is entirely deserved, not only for the appalling superstition of these believers but also for the arrogance and belligerence demonstrated by their more numerous right-wing cousins. Even should we agree to set aside the pleasures of ridiculing these people, in the interest of good and worthy causes, let us not forget that even the most "liberal" Evangelicals believe that the rest of us are damned. And most if not all would gladly adopt a government that replaced the Constitution with the Bible - a kind of Western Sharia.

The Evangelical movement is associated with an intrusive and theocratic impulse that is essentially hostile to our traditions, which have emphasized tolerance and a fairly libertarian reluctance to impose too much on the private morals of Americans.

These people feel entitled to impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us - as Mike Chucklebee recently demonstrated with his comments about amending the Constitution to align it more perfectly with an Evangelical take on Scripture. There is such a thing as absolute truth, and they are its keepers.

Evangelical proselytizing in the military has overcome the traditional church-state boundaries, transforming the Air Force Academy into an institution dominated by Evangelical belief and practice where Jews and other non-Evangelicals were harassed and intimidated. In the classrooms of America, these folks want to make sure that kids are taught that the world might only be 6,000 years old, that we were created pretty much as we are today, and that men and dinosaurs lived side-by-side.

I would suggest that it is nonsense to celebrate the Evangelical movement as a political phenomena now that its policy preferences seem to be aligning with those of Democrats. The problem is not only in their policy preferences, but in their anti-American theocratic radicalism. Whether Jim Wallis is for doing something for the poor or not, he is still one of those who thinks it is quite all right to argue public policy questions on the basis of Scripture.

Fundamentally, these people hold beliefs about government that are no different than the beliefs of the mullahs of Iran, or the Taliban. They want to claim America for Jesus, or some such nonsense (substitute Allah for Jesus and you could be in Pakistan). They have misgivings about the equality of women, and are so single-minded about abortion that they willingly gave their political support to a man who launched an unjust war and authorized the torture of prisoners.
They reject the modern sciences of geology and biology, and they would refuse gay couples the dignity of married life. Many of them voted for Bush, believing as we often heard them say, that Bush would bring the Lord into the White House. When Bush nominated Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, Bush empasized her church affiliation in making the case. Many Evangelicals tell pollsters they are unwilling to vote for Romney because he is a Mormon (and therefore a heretic).

In the past 8 years, we have seen how completely the Evangelicals took over the Republican party, driving even John Danforth to speak out in opposition (and not only to the policies of the religious right - he criticized the role of religion in the party, calling the GOP the "political extension of a religious movement"). If you like Hezbollah, Mr Kristoff, I guess it's no problem for you.

Sure, some Evangelicals are compassionate towards the poor, protective of the environment, and opposed to the torture of prisoners - I'm sure Jesus would be impressed by this virtuous minority, and we should work with them to do good. But the problem of Evangelical political ambition doesn't go away when they take our side of the debate on climate change or poverty.

Progress for America requires that we reject the theocratic tendencies of Evangelicalism and revert to traditional values of church-state separation, of a polite self-restraint and broad tolerance, and of privacy of our religious practices. While we are off saving the planet, let's make sure we also protect our most prized liberties from those who think they alone have the truth.

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