Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Building Their Own Left
Fred Clarkson (of Talk To Action, among many other blogs and publications) is an expert on religion and politics and has written a new book Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America. He recently gave an interesting interview about the current state of religion in politics.
Here he talks about Rick Warren:
Bill Berkowitz: Rick Warren, the much celebrated and talked about pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California, interviewed Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain on Saturday, August 16. Before and after the event, Warren's Civic Forum received a lot of media attention. Many in the media have anointed Warren as representing the new face of Christian evangelicals; creating a new movement that not only distances itself from the old timers of the Religious Right, but one that is setting a new agenda for evangelicals. How do you view Warren's work and where does he fit within the broad constellation of religious leaders?
Frederick Clarkson: Four years ago, Rick Warren wrote an inflammatory letter about the presidential contest to thousands of evangelical pastors. This letter revealed him to be a fierce partisan, who epitomized the worst aspects of the Religious Right. He declared five issues to be "non-negotiable" and those they "are not even debatable because God's word is clear on these issues.'" These included abortion, same sex marriage, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning and euthanasia. He later said he regretted the letter but that he had not changed his views.
While he is a skilled showman, he is unable to sustain moderation in style or in substance even before a national television audience. His real self leaks out. At the Civic Forum, Warren highlighted the top two litmus tests of the Religious Right — abortion and same sex marriage, and described abortion as a "holocaust." Following this he called on his audience not to "demonize" people with whom they may disagree — having just compared people who have a different view on abortion to the Nazis. In my view, Warren is an emerging leader of the Religious Right in transition, not of evangelical moderation.
Being different than Falwell and others of the Falwell generation, does not necessarily a moderate make. Warren acknowledges climate change, for example, but he is a fierce proponent of free markets — and so ideologically rigid that it is difficult to imagine him getting behind the kinds of solutions that could address what needs to be done. Similarly, he is so fiercely antigay, and supports African political and religious leaders who advocate criminalization of homosexuality, that it is difficult to imagine that the HIV/AIDS work for which he receives such plaudits can ever be successful as gay people are driven underground due to an atmosphere of persecution and fear — and out of reach of programs that might help.
As for how he fits in the wider constellation of religious leaders, as a disciple of the late guru of modern corporate management Peter Drucker (who taught at Fuller Theological Seminary) he is more about building a religio-corporate empire than preceding leaders of the Religious Right. Drucker was the theorist of the megachurch, applying business principles to the creation of religious empires. Meanwhile, Warren's books read more like self-help books than dire warnings of Satanic or Muslim hordes that drive the work of say, John Hagee, and his ideology is about free market fundamentalism more than it is about overt religious and political triumphalism. This, along with an avuncular personality gives him an image of moderation that will fit more comfortably with the corporate wings of both major parties. Only a few years ago John McCain denounced Falwell and Robertson as "agents of intolerance" while Warren claims both McCain and Obama as "friends" and both immediately agreed to participate in Warren's event. I think that they so willingly allowed Warren to function as a broker epitomizes the mainstreaming of the Religious Right in American public life.
Exactly. And it was enabled by a group of alleged liberals in the Religion Industrial Complex who snowed Democrats into believing that Warren was some kind of bridge, when he is actually a Trojan horse.
Clarkson makes a very interesting observation about what this is really all about, that I hadn't thought of before:
BB: Organizers for the presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama are putting a lot of time, energy and money into wooing evangelical voters. Obama has also met with a number of Christian evangelical leaders. Why such an accelerated focus on evangelicals?
FC: There is a theory based on some polling that the white evangelical vote is in flux and that it might be possible for Democrats to peel off some votes, especially among younger evangelicals. Other polls, however, suggest that this is wishful thinking. (There is evidence that the litmus test issues of abortion and marriage equality will keep few socially conservative voters from switching sides.)
I think for the Obama campaign, this flurry of activity is more about depolarizing the debate and reducing the demonization of the Democratic Party and its presidential candidate. Changing the tone of politics is good. On the other hand, I think this is also about marginalizing the role and voice of religious progressives, which is to say those who in past decades played decisive roles in stopping the war in Vietnam, pushing for African American and women's rights, and much more. The Beltway Insiders would prefer not to have a resurgent Religious Left complicating things by making conservative evangelicals uncomfortable and perhaps more importantly, compelling significant changes in the way the politics and public policy industry does business. So I think a faux Religious Left is being manufactured as an official counterweight to the Religious Right in the media and as a sop to the actual stirrings among religious progressives.
The real religious left, you see, is quite unabashedly liberal. They care about thing like .... Peace. Equality. Justice. Things that don't go down well with the parochial aristocracy of the Village.
The Religious Right is a creature of the village and now that the conservative movement is on the decline, they've decided to manufacture a "liberal" version for the same purposes. They can't allow the real religious left to have any influence, but they have fetishized religion in politics to such an extent that it's going to be hard to keep them out unless they create a useful substitute.
This battle isn't just happening in politics. Clarkson and other have documented the assault on the religious left from the religious community itself. This is a full-on campaign to delegitimize any religious belief that isn't socially conservative. And the consequences of thatare becoming clear.
Update: Here's an interview with a member of the real religious left:
The Temple in Jerusalem was in a sense the national bank of Israel in Jesus' time; it was a powerful national treasury that did not let its great wealth sit idle. The bank lent the money it collected at very high interest rates. These unjust lending practices drove many residents into extreme poverty and created the vast slum dwellers of Jerusalem. The Jewish historian Josephus wrote an account of the huge debts owed by the poor to the rich in the Jerusalem around the same period.
Yes, credit and debt are religious issues! Jesus plainly thought so, to the point where he physically disrupted the largest national bank in Israel during the height of its Passover practices of ripping off poor and even more affluent pilgrims. Temple practices that hooked the poor on high interest credit and drove them into debt were the target of Jesus' anger.
The practice of exploiting the poor and the middle class is not new; what is new today, however, is that we have abandoned everything we learned in this country about how to control the worst of these banking abuses. In the mid-twentieth century in this country we had figured out that the markets needed to be regulated and had introduced practices to oversee lending practices and reign in at least the worst of the sinful human impulse to greed and exploitation. The Great Depression of the 1930's was in part a result of Herbert Hoover's over-confidence that business would regulate itself. After the Depression, regulations were put in place to restrain the most extreme and risky practices of financial markets.
That is, these regulations were in place until the "Reagan Revolution" and the tide of free market economics that is now drowning the American economy. James K. Galbraith, the Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr. Professor of Government/Business Relations at the University of Texas in Austin, places the blame for today's market meltdown squarely on deregulation. "Revolutions devour their children. Deregulation has been the public faith of the financial sector since Reagan. Under Bush II, waves of predatory finance in housing were aggressively promoted by Alan Greenspan, by McCain's closest economic adviser Phil Gramm, and by so-called regulators who systematically subvert the public interest." Paul Krugman of Princeton University today said that, as chairman of the Banking Committee, Phil Gramm bears responsibility for the current credit crisis. "We could have another Great Depression if we really work at it and Phil Gramm is the guy to do it."
You can see why the country's owners want to keep the religious discussion limited to stem cells and blastocysts.
digby 9/17/2008 03:00:00 PM