Is secularism about to get its groove back?

5 06 2008

Peter Canellos, Washington bureau chief at the Boston Globe, certainly seems to think so. He’s noticed a distinct trend across the 2008 election primary campaign, which started out with candidates wrapping themselves in the Bible, making antidemocratic utterances about freedom “requiring” religion, and generally embracing anyone able to pronounce the words “Gawud” and “Jeebus” with sincerity, but is “ending with candidates rushing to repudiate them. An election cycle that was supposed to usher in the marriage of religion and politics may be hastening its divorce.” Canellos continues:

From the evangelical ministers who questioned the fitness of a Mormon to be president, to the religious-right activists who denounced John McCain as godless, to the McCain-backing radio preacher who said Hitler was fulfilling God’s will, to Barack Obama’s longtime minister who blamed the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to Obama’s Catholic adviser who last week mocked Hillary Clinton, the clergy haven’t just made a bad show of it: They’ve behaved like small-minded bigots.These preachers have managed the amazing feat of making all the politicians involved in the campaign seem, by comparison, more tolerant, more reasonable, and less self-interested.

It hasn’t been all clergy, of course. The vast majority of religious leaders have sensibly stayed out of politics – or, rather, above politics, where spiritual leaders function best. But encouraged by candidates and perhaps envious of the religious right’s influence on the Bush administration, many religious figures have sought to weigh in on the presidential election this year.

What they’ve discovered is that once they turn their pulpits into lecterns, they lose the deference that attaches to men and women of God. The rain of criticism has caught many by surprise, more accustomed as they are to nods and amens.

It ought to go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, that among mature and enlightened citizens, zero deference should attach to people simply because their names are prefixed by “Father,” “Pope,” “Pastor” or “Reverend.” (Or “Imam,” or “Rabbi,” etc.) Perhaps, if Canellos is right, Americans are beginning to realise this, and are finally growing up. And (assuming Canellos is right) you have to wonder where this is coming from. Despite their (at times) mutual antipathy, secularists and religious progressives have for the past several years been pushing back against that noisome and toxic admixture of religion and politics known as the Religious Right. Maybe, even on the religious side (as journalist Christine Wicker argues), the slit in the burqa is widening, to borrow Richard Dawkins’ metaphor.




2 responses

6 06 2008
Christine Wicker

Thank you for referencing my interview and my book, “The Fall of the Evangelical Nation.”

I’m surprised and happy to see such strong statements coming from a Globe reporter. That’s the kind of smart reporting that helps readers figure out what’s really happening.

Evangelicals by the millions are recognizing the same things about political involvement, and they say they’re backing way off. ( See Evangelical Manifesto. Not that I’ve read it all myself. It’s too long.)

They’ve gotten such a bad name that many don’t even want to be called evangelicals anymore.

But changing politics won’t help much. As the last part of “The Fall” documents, there are just too many facts on the ground weighing against That Old Time Religion. And more every day.

6 06 2008

I enjoyed your interview with Mehta, as well as the Dallas Morning News and Huffington Post pieces you mentioned therein.

I wonder if the David Kuo revelations from a couple of years back have had any influence on those evangelicals who have suddenly developed a case of cold feet re: involvement with the Republican Party.

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