The Religious Right’s Slow-Motion Suicide – Michael Tomasky 09.29.14

In fairness, the culture-war right has done less damage than the neocons and the super rich have. But they’re still the ones on the ropes.

I’m not sure what’s come over me and I suppose it’ll pass, but at just this moment I’m feeling a little bit sorry for evangelical conservatives. They were apparently pretty droopy, these proceedings over the weekend at the Values Voter Summit, as my colleague Ben Jacobs described things. Oh, yes, Ted Cruz fired them up, and some of the old stalwarts put in respectable appearances, but they have to know deep down that they’re like the horse-and-buggy lobby after Henry Ford has hit town. It’s only a matter of time.

I refer here chiefly to same-sex marriage, the big issue on which the cultural right now represents a quickly shrinking minority. You know the storm clouds are gathering when even Michele Bachmann is throwing in the towel—she declared same-sex marriage “not an issue” and even “boring” at the meeting.

But it’s not just same-sex marriage. The country has liberalized culturally in a range of ways in the past six or eight years, and it’s not only not going back, it’s charging relentlessly forward. The religious right also has no leaders anymore of the remotest interest. Back in the ’80s, Jerry Falwell was a figure to contend with; to loathe, certainly, but also to fear. Today? Pat Robertson has lost his marbles, seemingly, and after him, who? Tony Perkins? No one even knows his name, or if they do, they inevitably think of the guy who played filmdom’s most famous matricidal cross-dresser and aren’t entirely sure that this Tony Perkins might not be that Tony Perkins, which is not quite the type of association they’re looking for.

It’s a group that is losing power, and I think the leaders and even the rank-and-filers know it. Their vehicle, the Republican Party, is going libertarian on them. Rand Paul, whether he wins the 2016 nomination or not, is clearly enough of a force within the party that he is pushing it away from the culture wars. He is joined in this pursuit by the conservative intellectual class, which knows the culture wars are a dead-bang loser for the GOP and which finds the culture warriors more than a little embarrassing, and by the establishment figures, the Karl Rove types, who stroked them back in 2004 but who now see them as a liability, at least at the presidential level. There are still, of course, many states where these voters come in quite handy in that they elect many Republican representatives and senators.

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Beyond Belief – Chris Lehmann February 5, 2014

Conservative religious thinkers and their intellectual crusades.

Ralph Winter, Vergil Gerber, Donald McGavran and C. Peter Wagner at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. (Wheaton College)

To the “culture war” opponents of American evangelicalism, the movement presents itself, reassuringly, as a towering monolith—if, that is, monoliths can come in the shape of a cross. The anti-clerical left has rehearsed a long and familiar litany of evangelical perfidy: they’re theocrats, anti-intellectual propagandists, political power brokers and fear-driven purveyors of superstitious folly. Such caricatures may hold water in extreme and absurdly shallow cases, such as Michele Bachmann or Pat Robertson. But ascribing this blunt, authoritarian set of motives to a group as vast and diverse as the American evangelical community—which accounts for 25 percent of the country’s adult population—is like saying that Rob Ford is the archetypal Canadian.

In reality, evangelicals run much the same gamut of cultural, political and intellectual passions, reflexes and fixations found in almost any other religious or ethnic subgroup. Yes, they’ve been a solid conservative voting constituency during the past thirty years or so of culture warfare, but to judge by recent electoral results, their ardor for certain crusades, such as the war on gay marriage, has notably cooled. Desperate GOP strategists gambled that a Hail Mary get-out-the-vote effort among the evangelical right could turn the 2012 presidential election for Mitt Romney, but nothing like that came to pass; in states explicitly targeted for such initiatives, such as Iowa and Ohio, Obama prevailed by a comfortable margin.

Another happy sign of evangelical diversity is the remarkable ongoing boom in evangelical history. An impressive range of scholars who have lived and studied within the evangelical tradition, such as Joel Carpenter, Kate Bowler and Mark Noll, have produced sharp analytical treatments of its twentieth-century resurgence, while plumbing the more recondite questions of doctrine, theology and political organizing among the born-again faithful. Now, a pair of historians from this cohort—one a venerable emeritus professor who is a dean of the field, the other an enterprising young scholar—have both produced books taking fresh stock of how evangelical faith has developed into a public philosophy amid the considerable sound and fury of right-wing religious activism.

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