13 November 2004

Evangelicals, secularists and self-criticism

In the wake of the recent US election, the pundits are predictably calling attention to the large turnout of evangelical protestants which helped to put George W. Bush back in the White House. Needless to say, they are not pleased. Some indeed are likening such "fundamentalists" to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Nonsense, says Paul Marshall in "Fundamentalists & Other Fun People."

In claiming that monotheism and reliance on revelation are necessarily terroristic, these secular pundits condemn Christians, Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses, Unitarians, Sabeans, and Bahais, to name a few, along with George Washington, James Madison, and a host of other Founding Fathers, as inherently violent. Notice, however, that the condemnation extends also to the revealed monotheistic religion of Islam--and no one objects. Yet when Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham said that violence is inherent in Islam, they were pilloried by respectable opinion. These days, religious intolerance and theological illiteracy are far more conspicuous in the pages of the New York Times than among most southern fundamentalists.

There is also hypocrisy and self-contradiction. [Thomas] Friedman seems blissfully unaware that, even as he condemns others for holding out their particular faith as supreme, he is asserting the supremacy of his own passionately held view. His secularist critique attempts the miraculous combination of denouncing others' faith while attacking those who denounce others' faith. Do not try this trick at home. It should be attempted only by seasoned professionals who lack any capacity for self-criticism or even self-awareness.

Indeed, as Timothy Sherratt argues in the latest Capital Commentary from the Center for Public Justice, there is reason for self-criticism on both sides of the partisan divide:

As for confronting their own limitations, Democrats may need little urging. For despite unprecedented unity, strong organization, and an able candidate, the party suffered a clear defeat in the popular vote. Will Democrats be willing to ask the hard questions, however? Will they ask how the party reconciles responsible environmental stewardship with reckless individualism on marriage and life issues? Will they question why liberalism should be the foe rather than the friend of faith-based social services or of parents' primary responsibility for their children's education?

Self-reflection is also long overdue among evangelical Christians who now enjoy unprecedented influence in Republican ranks. Despite their strong defense of a biblical view of marriage, many are unreconstructed individualists who equate stewardship of the environment with liberal elitism and believe that unilateralism in foreign policy is justified because America is God's chosen nation. It is a Christian axiom that all communities, institutions, and persons are broken, reflecting the sinfulness of humanity. But communities, institutions and persons can, by the grace of God, experience transformation. The conditions for such transformation are humility, repentance and forgiveness. In the end, political humiliation rather than political triumph may make for easier transit through this particular needle's eye.

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