Monday, September 12, 2005

To Those Who Think It Can't Happen Here

I've been hearing the same, "The pendulum swings both ways and finds its way back to the middle" arguments from moderates discounting the threat of theocracy in America that I used to hear from moderates about the threat of fundamentalists taking over the SBC. Mainstream Baptists know how inaccurate that mindset proved to be in the SBC.

The same methods and tactics that were used to takeover the SBC have been used to takeover the GOP. Many of the leaders of the SBC takeover helped lead the GOP takeover. Chief among them are Paul Pressler, Paige Patterson and other SBC leaders who have been members of the Council for National Policy.

The Religious Right now controls the GOP, many of them even more extreme than Pressler, and the GOP now controls the White House and both houses of Congress. Judge Pressler announced at Southwestern last Friday that he was on a conference call last week with national GOP leadership discussing the next Supreme Court nominee and indicated that his strong support for Edith Jones was favorably received.

If you liked the quality of leadership Pressler secured for the SBC, you'll love the leadership he's working to secure for the highest court in the country.

Bill Moyers' speech at Union Theological Seminary last Friday ought to be read by everyone who still thinks there is no danger that the U.S. could become a theocracy. Here are a few pertinent excerpts from Moyers' speech:
True, people of faith have always tried to bring their interpretation of the Bible to bear on American laws and morals - this very seminary is part of that tradition; it's the American way, encouraged and protected by the First Amendment. But what is unique today is that the radical religious right has succeeded in taking over one of America's great political parties - the country is not yet a theocracy but the Republican Party is - and they are driving American politics, using God as a a battering ram on almost every issue: crime and punishment, foreign policy, health care, taxation, energy, regulation, social services and so on.

What's also unique is the intensity, organization, and anger they have brought to the public square. Listen to their preachers, evangelists, and homegrown ayatollahs: Their viral intolerance - their loathing of other people's beliefs, of America's secular and liberal values, of an independent press, of the courts, of reason, science and the search for objective knowledge - has become an unprecedented sectarian crusade for state power. They use the language of faith to demonize political opponents, mislead and misinform voters, censor writers and artists, ostracize dissenters, and marginalize the poor. These are the foot soldiers in a political holy war financed by wealthy economic interests and guided by savvy partisan operatives who know that couching political ambition in religious rhetoric can ignite the passion of followers as ferociously as when Constantine painted the Sign of Christ (the "Christograph") on the shields of his soldiers and on the banners of his legions and routed his rivals in Rome. Never mind that the Emperor himself was never baptized into the faith; it served him well enough to make the God worshipped by Christians his most important ally and turn the Sign of Christ into the one imperial symbol most widely recognized and feared from east to west.

. . .

This is the crux of the matter: To these fundamentalist radicals there is only one legitimate religion and only one particular brand of that religion that is right; all others who call on God are immoral or wrong. They believe the Bible to be literally true and that they alone know what it means. Behind their malicious attacks on the courts ("vermin in black robes," as one of their talk show allies recently put it,) is a fierce longing to hold judges accountable for interpreting the Constitution according to standards of biblical revelation as fundamentalists define it. To get those judges they needed a party beholden to them. So the Grand Old Party - the GOP - has become God's Own Party, its ranks made up of God's Own People "marching as to war."
. . .

It has to be said that their success has come in no small part because of our acquiescence and timidity. Our democratic values are imperiled because too many people of reason are willing to appease irrational people just because they are pious. Republican moderates tried appeasement and survive today only in gulags set aside for them by the Karl Roves, Bill Frists and Tom DeLays. Democrats are divided and paralyzed, afraid that if they take on the organized radical right they will lose what little power they have. Trying to learn to talk about God as Republicans do, they're talking gobbledygook, compromising the strongest thing going for them - the case for a moral economy and the moral argument for the secular checks and balances that have made America "a safe haven for the cause of conscience."

As I look back on the conflicts and clamor of our boisterous past, one lesson about democracy stands above all others: Bullies - political bullies, economic bullies and religious bullies - cannot be appeased; they have to be opposed with a stubbornness to match their own. This is never easy; these guys don't fight fair; "Robert's Rules of Order" is not one of their holy texts. But freedom on any front - and especially freedom of conscience - never comes to those who rock and wait, hoping someone else will do the heavy lifting. Christian realism requires us to see the world as it is, without illusions, and then take it on.


Jack Boyte said...

I am SO glad you'v put Moyer's speech on your blog. I wish it was on the front page of the NYT.

Progressives should take his admonition about dealing with bullies to heart and quit trying to find common ground with obscene compromises.

Keep up the good work.

Greek Shadow said...

Harry Truman (Plain Speaking) said you can always count on the American public to spot a phoney, and that is what be based his campaign on in 1948. I's a sad day that phoneys like Robertson, Presseler, Patterson, Falwell, ad infenitum and ad nausium still weild so much power and influence.

TheGreenKnight said...

The "pendulum" analogy is typically used by people, often well-meaning ones, who are under the impression that both sides in an argument are playing fair. When one side doesn't do so (and the theocratic right does not), then the analogy really has no meaning at all.

Scott Slayton said...

I have an interesting take on this. I am a conservative Southern Baptist who has absolutely no desire whatsoever to be affiliated with the Religious Right. I despise many of the tactics that they use. With that being said, I think that it is wrong to act as if the only political bullies are on the right. They are on both sides. None of us can act like our political party is innocent.

Xpatriated Texan said...

The pendulum only swings if someone pushes it. Christian Liberals and Moderates have to speak up, or we will be as shut out of our political system as we are out of the Baptist churches of my youth.


Traveller said...

I've been taking some time off from blogging at my place and may continue to do so -- partly as the result of having ten whole hours yesterday in my car with my own thoughts interrupted only by some spectacular landscape. What hit me was the extent to which violence/aggression is increasingly associated with moral righteousness. Crusade-like.

We have a problem with violence in this country -- violence of all kinds, not excluding sexual and religious. I don't think we're going to understand, much less put a stop to, what's happening unless we come to terms with our acceptance of violence as somehow acceptable and righteous. The sights and sounds of the Democratic party leadership caving in to (scrambling to find justification for) a variety of forms of violence has been very disturbing to me. The justifications for shooting at "looters" (some were, some weren't) was another horror.

Thanks for the Moyers, Bruce!