Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

(Anti-) Theocracy in America

Ross Douthat offers a very nice tour of the horizon, reviewing a number of books aimed at striking fear in the hearts of secularists everywhere. A sample paragraph:

[T]he rise of the Religious Right, and the growing “religion gap” that Phillips describes but fails to understand, aren’t new things in American history but a reaction to a new thing: to an old political party newly dependent on a bloc of voters who reject the role that religion has traditionally played in American political life. The hysteria over theocracy, in turn, represents an attempt to rewrite the history of the United States to suit these voters’ prejudices, by setting a year zero somewhere around 1970 and casting everything that’s happened since as a battle between progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip:
Jon Schaff.

Discussions - 8 Comments

The last sentence in the quotation is spot-on.

I do have to say that while I found the article well-written, the substance was lacking, not because of Douthat’s limitations but because of the targets chosen by the progressives and secularists. I certainly didn’t recognize myself in anyone they talked about. The main issues between the intellectual sophisticated or credible figures on the right and those of the candid and responsible left still awaits a good airing.


You are of course an unusual member of the "religious right," and hence ought not to recognize yourself in the caricatures discussed by Douthat.

One of Michelle Goldberg’s slightly telling points is that Republicans haven’t always distanced themselves from Rushdoony-style "Reconstructionists," even if everyone she calls a Reconstructionist isn’t actually one. I’d love to see both parties have a principled core unafraid to say "no" to extremists on the right and on the left.

Let me be a member of the core: I find Ann Coulter insufferable and the Reconstructionists are wack-jobs, theologically, historically, intellectually, culturally, and politically.

BTW: I recently read a good treatment of Catholic Rightists (Catholics United for the Faith)-and-far Rightists (e.g., Society of Pius X) penned by two self-proclaimed Catholic liberals, Scott Applebee and a Ms. Weaver (self-proclaimed Catholic liberal- feminist). The book appeared in 1995 and included pieces by George Weigel (ably defending the Catholic neocons!) and James Hitchcock, among others. The liberal academics honorably reported the views and thinking of people they very much disagree with. It can be done. Just not by the people Russ reviews, or Damon Linker.

I skimmed Ross’s review this morning and one of the things that I picked up on and thought spot on was how these sorts of books actually contribute to the problem, to the degree there is one.

What I mean is this: there are, of course, wacky theocrats out there and there are not-so-wacky folks who, while not theocrats, are probably injudicious in their thinking about how to relate their religious faith and politics. (James Kennedy and the Wallbuilders folks might fit in here). I think that part of the reason that these folks can get as much traction as they do - and carry along some pseudo-theocratic ideas with them - is that their political and ideological opponents are *so* committed to the idea that democratic politics was, is, and always has been resolutely secular that some religious believers think they have two choices: D. James Kennedy or Americans United for the Destruction of the Faith.

"Spot on" is invading, it seems. I fear that soon we’ll be talking about knickers.

I may have used it first, but I’m (intentionally) no trend-setter. It is a bit more elevated than "right on," don’t you think?

At the end of the day, those buggers who rattle on about knickers can sod off.

I don’t have the time to defend anything outrageous that I could say... but I believe that the source of Anti-theocracy in america is due in large part to the war on terror. If the ennemy is radical Islam then why did we attack Iraq instead of Iran?(assuming as now seems to be the case that we couldn’t go after both?). George W. Bush’s nation building proposition assumed that a muslim nation could become not just a democracy...but a "liberal" democracy...and perhaps in part we went after Iraq because it was less Muslim and thus more open to "liberal" democracy. This is all very rough along the edges...and I think that looking for an overt conspiracy in general is foolish. I am not supposing that there is any conspiracy...what I am supposing is that to a very large extent...for better or for worse...the consequences of ideas, or the idea that ideas can have consequences has taken a deeper hold upon the american public in general. In addition to this war rhetoric and discussion of the middle east in general has brought to light violent distinctions which seem to cast the United States and Israel against the Arab world...searching for the an easy answer to the main point of contention between the two we have in essence seen ourselves in a battle between "progress and atavism, reason and fundamentalism, the Enlightenment and the medieval dark." But with such stark concepts in place parallels that may not exist are more easily traced. We believe things often times because we want to believe they are true...or because we fear they are.

With the prospect of more disturbances, problems and perhaps even full blown war in the is impossible not to ponder how our ideas and answers to big questions clash. With the runaway sales of the "Left behind" has to think that Armageddon itself can’t be too far off the mind of Joe Six pack. Certainly in the Arab world some of those inciting violence do so because they believe it will hasten the return of the 12th Imam. In the United States the largest supporters of Israel are evangelical christians...(Of course the atheist Objectivists also support Israel...but this is due in large part because they Universally oppose the idea that peace can be gainned by concessions...and also because they see Israel as PRE (Progress Reason Enlightenment) vs. AFM (Atavism, Fundamentalism, Medival Dark)

More than any fiction (or book) the truth which is much stronger if stranger manifests itself in current events...the more instability that grows out of the middle east and other regions of the world...ceteris paribus...the more the minds of both the religious and the irreligious are going to see or look for a conspiracy or some sort of story line dealing loosely with beliefs about Eschatology...and the consequences of those no particular/discernable causal patern.

In short because of world events since September 11th everything having anything even remotely do with religion...including even Hurricanes and Tsunamis...have gainned new political dimensions. So forget trying to set something as old as 1970 for your a large extent one could say that Sept 11 2001 is the setting for that zero...the growing "religion gap" is but an indication of how how people have according to inclination and persuasion reconceptualized things from there.

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