Thursday, February 01, 2007

# Posted 4:33 AM by Patrick Porter  

POLITICS AND RELIGION: Three cheers for David's post on faith in politics below!

It seems that in their (understandable) distaste for the impact of religious fundamentalism on public life, some secularists fall into the trap of dismissing any and all positive impact that religion can have on inspiring good things in policy and government.

Those prepared to look past the inspirational spiritual drive behind the antislavery and civil rights movements, (or welfare and charity organisations, great art and architecture, universities, hospitals) run the risk of being historically shallow.

Its also clear that ideologies which don't worship supernatural beings can also be abusive and oppressive.There have been many, many victims of those regimes that have replaced god-worship with worship of the Party, the Revolution, or the Great Leader.

As the great socialist blogger Norm Geras once said, any ideology dogmatically applied can cause mischief.

But: the nature of fundamentalist religion has and is being dogmatically applied in ways that have harmed America.

By continually stressing vision and ideals above policy execution, by focusing on faith rather than facts, aspects of Christian fundamentalism have helped to undermine President Bush's policies at home and abroad.

Andrew Sullivan argues it incisively in The Conservative Soul, which I urge Oxblog readers to get:

What you see in the mind-set of President Bush is an absolute commitment to certain, often laudable, goals - helping the poor or lost, protecting the country from harm, preventing evil domestic and foreign - with a commensurate lack of interest in the means of making good on such commitments.

What matters to the fundamentalist is the purity of his motives, not the messy weighing of outcomes, the adherence to cumbersome procedures, the worry about unintended consequences, the irritating follow-up of initiatives launched in a blizzard of optimism and rhetoric.

It is unsurprising, then, that the faith-based charities program, Katrina reconstruction, and many of the complex tasks required to better secure the country from terrorist attacks withered on the government vine in the Bush years. Follow-up was not as important to this president as vision.
(8) opinions -- Add your opinion

"What matters to the fundamentalist is the purity of his motives, not the messy weighing of outcomes, the adherence to cumbersome procedures, the worry about unintended consequences, the irritating follow-up of initiatives launched in a blizzard of optimism and rhetoric."

Interesting that Sullivan should say that, as it *exactly* to my mind encapsulates the left-lib mindset. He has only left out the bit about forcing everyone else to laud the same ideals, and the bit about killing (ethnic cleansing etc.) peopel if they disagree. (You know, the nazi mindset, the stalin mindset, the mao mindset, the pol pot mindset.)...
hi anonymous,

Elsewhere in his book, Sullivan actually acknowledges non-religious fundamentalisms too, of the type you refer to.

He argues that the fundamentalist mindset is a typology common to all of its different manifestations.

So I agree that many people make the error that you identify, but Sullivan isn't one of them.


...as it *exactly* to my mind encapsulates the left-lib mindset.

Sorry, but my rhetoric teacher would have called this a pronoun reference problem. Do you mean by *it* that you interpret Sullivan as left-lib (news to him), that left-libs are a form of fundamentalist akin to Stalinists (news to me), ...?

BTW, the point that Doniger was making is about the presence of religion in government (no place, none) versus its presence in politics (sure, whatever). Its presence in the past (the historical argument) counts for nothing. And yes, even non-home schooled 7th graders can figure this out.
Hi anonymous,

Doniger spoke about the use of religious rhetoric by people participating in politics as well as government:

'the candidate should not use religious rhetoric, which does nothing but harm.'

While the constitutional principle is that government should not use the power of the state to impose or persecute religion, isn't that different from the idea that no-one in government should ever use religious rhetoric?

Didn't the Founding Fathers rhetorically invoke God?

Admittedly, I'm not the greatest expert on the US Constitution, so might be totally wrong on this point.
Yeah, but I suspect Andy Sullivan wouldnt have been too wild about Martin Luther King either, had he had to judge him without benefit of hindsight. His worship of Oakeshottian pragmatism, his disdain for ideology and abstract thinking, got wearing for me back when Sully was still seen as just one more gay Thatcherite New Republic Editor. I dont know that its any better now, and his chip on the shoulder about religion goes beyond christian fundamentalism(despite his own theoretical tortured Catholicism) As a Jew, his disdain for the "old testament" though aimed at fundies, comes across as Christian triumphalism. I just cant read him on religion. come to think of it, i can hardly read him at all anymore.
I have difficulty understanding why you would quote this part of Sullivan's work to support the argument. It is more likely that Sullivan is on another of his rants against Bush.

Sullivan may not like Bush but the suggestion that Bush has high minded goals but does not carry them through is just silly.

Bush went against his party on Medicare prescription reform and immigration reform, two policies I would think qualify as absolute commitment to laudible goals. He has carried through as much as he can.

There are many arguments as to how best to defend the country and because you do not agree with the approach taken does not mean Bush is not following through.
Didn't the Founding Fathers rhetorically invoke God?

This was done briefly in the Declaration of Independence, "the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them," and not at all in the Constitution or the Amendments.

For government purposes, the Establishment Clause is very clear in proscribing religious rhetoric: don't do it. Outside of the government, free speech includes religious rhetoric and is certainly protected: knock yourself out.

The electoral realm bridges these two. Like Doniger, I would look critically at any *candidate* for political office who was using religious rhetoric, an Al Sharpton or Pat Robertson figure. Within their 'religion' they are absolutely correct, but I'm not in their religion.

David thinks this is "exactly the wrong way to talk about religion and politics," ostensibly because of the radical right voting block (hence his Rovian tactical advice). I'll stand on principle with Doniger on this one.
But: the nature of fundamentalist religion has and is being dogmatically applied in ways that have harmed America.


here's another 2-cents:

thesis: it's not the fundamentalists in America, it's the growth of fundamentalist politics, an exploitive and misdirected kind.

There have always been 'fundamentalists' among us, but the question is whether the distortions that they bring to the body politic are worse today than every before and why.

While many prefer to focus on moderating the fundamentalist mindset itself, I'd rather be focused on understanding the leadership and its associated political organization (including satellite hookups and the way that such groups are handled by Ralph-Reed-on-K-Street, etc.)

Also (as if that were not enough), I think that David was more or less right in assessing Doniger's apparent condescension. However, I think that the problem may not be a hardened disrespect for faith, but a mis-specification of the problem.

Doniger's response seems to me an apt recitation of the standard 'party line' for large, multi-cultural, urban centers of the past century which struggled to get past rigid class and religious barriers.

Today, the 'battlefield' is somewhat different. For now, the issue is outside many of the major urban areas and arises because of a perception that Freedom of Religion is being cast as Freedom from Religion (in the public space, at least) and so much does not seem to be increasing people's aggregate liberties of those communities, but diminishing them. Should ten people change their ways because one person feels upset about a school prayer before a football game?
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