Horatio

Horatio
[Photo by Jacquelyn Griffin)

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Conservative War on Christianity

I actually think Christians, of all denominations, should realize that Glenn Beck is not the only voice of conservatism saying this, just the most unsubtle:
I'm begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them ... are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words 'social justice' or 'economic justice' on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.

Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!
(Full version is here). Code words for what? Nazism and communism. Really.

As the Times shows, this has resulted in a lot of hostile reaction to Beck from churches, mostly liberal, but some conservative in theological orientation, too. But that's the problem; churches, liberal and conservative critics are acting as if Glenn Beck is on his own here--a lusrus naturae of conservatism, well out of the mainstream of conservative thought. But not so fast. As I have previously pointed out, Beck is merely a more obvious tone-deaf version of more respectable conservative voices, such as Robert George, who has successfully lobbied the U.S. Conference of catholic bishops in a strikingly similar manner:
He told them with typical bluntness that they should stop talking so much about the many policy issues they have taken up in the name of social justice. They should concentrate their authority on “the moral social” issues like abortion, embryonic stem-cell research and same-sex marriage, where, he argued, the natural law and Gospel principles were clear. To be sure, he said, he had no objections to bishops' “making utter nuisances of themselves” about poverty and injustice, like the Old Testament prophets, as long as they did not advocate specific remedies. They should stop lobbying for detailed economic policies like progressive tax rates, higher minimum wage and, presumably, the expansion of health care — “matters of public policy upon which Gospel principles by themselves do not resolve differences of opinion among reasonable and well-informed people of good will,” as George put it.
More clever than Beck, George would simply water down the centrality in the Gospels of how we treat the poor, the oppressed, and the stranger to bromides, thereby "freeing" Christianity to focus on important issues, like doctrinal orthodoxy and serving as clerical sex police. And this isn't merely a Catholic phenomenon--in fact, the Catholic Church is unusually rich in its social justice tradition. Similar thought in evangelical churches has led to so-called Christians who believe, with seeming sincerity, in a free market gospel or, worse, the patently heretical prosperity gospel.

And, of course, such thought goes a long way to explaining how professed Christians, including Roman Catholics in public life, and at least one priest, have explicitly defended American use of torture in, among other religious media, Catholic television programs, with only silence from the American bishops. (The latter of whom are much more swift to act against abortion, or gay marriage).

That trenchant old critic of organized religion, Mark Twain, had a good, sardonic chuckle over the result of this sort of thinking, in inaugurating the Twentieth Century. He wrote:
I bring you the stately matron named Christendom, returning bedraggled, besmirched, and dishonored, from pirate raids in Kiaochow, Manchuria, South Africa, and the Philipines, with her soul full of meanness, her pocket full of boodle, and her mouth full of pious hypocrisies. Give her soap and towel, but hide the looking glass.

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