Saturday, June 11, 2005

# Posted 10:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT EXPERTS SAY ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT: Haynes Johnson, now retired, was a Pulitzer Prize-winning correspondent for the Washington Star and Washington Post. In 1991, he published Sleepwalking Through History: America in the Reagan Years, a bestseller that was re-issued in 1992 and then again in 2003.

For the moment, I will withhold my general thoughts about the book and its portrayal of the Reagan White House. Instead, I will reproduce some of Johnson's comments about Christian conservatives, which struck me as astoundingly narrow-minded for someone who supposedly knows so much about politics. The following is from Page 206 of the 1992 edition:
The rise of the Moral Majority had been foreseen nearly thirty years earlier [i.e. in the 1950s] by a California longshoreman named Eric Hoffer. His small book The True Believer became one of the most important and provocative of a generation. In examining "the true believer" mentality and its impact on mass movements, Hoffer said:
All mass movements...irrespective of the doctrines they teach and the programs they project, breed fanaticism, enthusiasm, fervent hope, hatred, and intolerance; all of them are capable of releasing a powerful flow of activity in certain departments of life; all of them demand blind faith and single-hearted allegiance. All movements, however different in doctrine and aspiration, draw their early adherents from the same type of humanity; they all appeal to the same types of minds.

Though there are obvious differences between the fanatical Christian, the fanatical Mohammedan, the fanatical nationalist, the fanatical Communist, and the fanatical Nazi, it is yet that the fanaticism which animates them may be viewed and treated as one.
Without realizing it, Hoffer had described the elements that made up the Moral Majority, or Christian Right, thirty years later [i.e. in the 1980s]. They were America's new old-fashioned zealots. And they were a misnomer. They were more accurately the Militant Minority, and they were created by the same kind of true believer frustrations that Hoffer spoke of in general: "Faith in a holy cause is to a considerable extent a substitute for lost faith in ourselves." In the eighties, the Moral Majority demonstrated how such a militant and intolerant minority can take control when zealously motivated.
Although American liberalism prizes few things above tolerance, that tolerance does not seem to extend to those who take their with utmost seriousness. I may disagree with many, many of the positions advocated by the Christian Right, but when I criticize them, I try to offer more than pseudo-psychiatry and crude condescension.

I also find Johnson's endorsement of Hoffer's denigration of mass movements to be extremely ironic, given that Johnson won his Pulizter for coverage of the civil rights movement. In addition, a wave of democratic mass movements sprang to life across Eastern Europe in the years just before Johnson sat down to write his book.

Now, it is fair to ask why I am bothering to criticize in such great detail a book that came out fourteen years ago. One answer is that I just read the book and was so offended that I felt compelled to write about it. Another answer is that it is important to establish that there is a long tradition in the United States of highly-educated liberals displaying contempt toward people of faith.

It is important to establish the length of this tradition not just because OxBlog enjoys exposing the hypocrisy of the mainstream media, but because Democrats with an interest in winning elections need to recognize just how profoundly liberals have failed to understand American Christians. It is simply not possible to reach out to a constituency that one believes to be inherently ignorant and delusional.

In light how close the elections were in 2000 and 2004, the Democrats may prevail in 2008 without changing their attitudes toward religion. But in a close race, the last thing you want to do is assume that millions of voters are lost when in fact they might be found.
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