Friday, September 15, 2006


I'm leaving myself a bookmark here. Matthew Yglesias linked me to this American Prospect piece by Peter Steinfels, in which he reviews several books about religion and politics in the U.S.

A couple of these authors, notably Kevin Phillips and Michelle Goldberg, throw around the word "theocracy" quite a bit--to the point of hyperbole. Overhyping the threat of American theocracy is a problem, first because it leads progressives to take their eyes off the ball: corporatism and hard-right ideology. Steinfels writes that it's rather silly to argue that the Bush Administration's policies are driven by Christian fervor. Emotional issues like abortion and gay marriage are wielded as campaign causes to fire up religious-right voters, but once in power in Washington, the GOP has addressed these issues "in cautious, halting, inconsistent, or purely token fashion." Furthermore:

Exaggeration and inaccuracy also matter because they decrease any chance of mobilizing the opposition to the country’s current course, as these writers ardently desire. They draw bold and broad lines between empiricism, science, tolerance, rationality, and democracy, on the one hand, and faith, theology, revelation, persecution, irrationality, and authoritarianism, on the other; and they assign whatever they like or dislike to one side of the divide or the other. This dualism disregards rational dimensions of faith and theology (as well as faith dimensions of science and rationality) and neglects the historical reality that the modern world of empiricism, science, and Enlightenment reason has produced its own irrational nightmares. Treating the moral questions that agitate conservative Christians as obviously settled beyond all reasoned argument does not just target theocrats. It sprays bullets widely into the ranks of moderate evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and even many centrist and liberal believers.

I love that paragraph. I'd like to be like Peter Steinfels when I grow up.

Somewhat related, there was a bit of a fuss last weekend at Echidne of the Snakes and Pandagon. Someone at EotS posted about atheists who make online comments offensive to religious people, and that for the sake of their political fortunes, those atheists should cut that out. Amanda Marcotte protested. I commend the Steinfels quote above to her. I can't quantify how many votes are at stake here, but I'm pretty damn sure that there are no votes to be had via entertaining one's fellow hipsters by calling God "the Sky Fairy." That pisses me off, frankly. So do bloggers who wonder why astrology doesn't get the same legal and cultural respect as Catholicism or Judaism (Atrios). So do writers who describe faith as a mental illness or a form of child abuse (Richard Dawkins). I'm not asking anyone to "adopt religious language," or adjust their views on issues one inch.* Just don't be gratuitously insulting. You think it's funny, I say it's not, it's an abdication of your principles in public debate, and it harms my trust in you as an ally.

(* I feel I should give credit here: Amanda Marcotte has influenced my views on reproductive rights quite a bit. I used to toy with various triangulations on the abortion issue, but Amanda has helped me to see that controlling your own body is an absolute.)

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