Location: United States

Monday, August 08, 2005

For many Americans, I suppose the strident nature of the Religious Right towards the courts is like something out of science fiction. How can they claim that Christianity is being persecuted? How can they say that America should deny a religious plurality? Come to think of it, exactly why are they so worked up anyway?

The answers lie in the history of the American Conservative movement. Early Conservatives built a platform based on three legs - anti-New-Deal, anti-tax and government regulation, and anti-Communism. The New Deal and tax/regulation opposition was based entirely upon the Chicago School of Economics concept of individual liberty as an economic reality. The idea was that, obviously, the more money you have, the more things you are able to do. This amounts to a de facto purchase of freedom and liberty. Taxation - really, over-taxation at the time - was wrong because it necessarily took away the freedom of the people to use their money however they pleased. It didn't matter if it was used for a good purpose or not - it only mattered that the money was being taken away from the people who should rightly possess it.

That was why early Conservatives (and there are still a few around today) opposed the New Deal so strongly. In order for the government to do all of these wonderful things for mankind, it must first over-tax those who had money and redistribute it. This created an economic dis-incentive for work - which simply means that they thought that by taxing people enough to, say, build a school and let people go there for free that it took away the incentive to work hard and save enough money to send your kids to a for-profit school.

Regulation, likewise, curtailed freedom because it simply stopped people from doing what they wanted. If Joe the Shoemaker bought a piece of ground and wanted to rent it out as a dump for toxic waste, then, by God, he should be able to do it. Who is the government, or his neighbors, to tell him what he can do with his own property?

Communism was not simply a matter of economics, though. If it had been, then today's China is proof that a communist nation that doesn't care about abusing human rights or turning massive profits can be a great boon to capitalists. No, Communism was opposed because it was Godless. The term "Godless Commies" was not invented as a punchline, but rather a deadly serious indictment of why Communism had to be stopped.

It was Communism that pushed the Religious Right into the arms of the Republican Party just in time to catch the ascendency of Ronald Reagan. During the Carter Administration, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan and Iran overthrew its pro-US dictatorship. It seemed that we were only two small countries away from slipping into second place behind the Soviets - and everyone knew (even I knew it, and I was still in elementary school) that the Soviets would launch an all-out assault on the US homeland (probably using Nicaraguan and Cuban military as shock-troops). Not only Jerry Falwell, but Billy Graham openly made statements that they feared the worst for the United States if we, as a people, did not repent and turn back to Jesus.

To this foreign relations issue, Ronald Reagan gave the Christian Right a second bone to chew. "Let me worry about the Rooskies," he said (okay, I'm paraphrasing). "You go out and stop abortion." In return for this deputization, evangelicals turned into what was largely known as "Reagan Democrats".

When Reagan nominated Sandra Day O'Connor for the Supreme Court, no less authority than Jerry Falwell opposed the selection. It is reported that it actually took a personal phone call from the Gipper to shut up the Yapper. That must have been a heady day for the Reverend.

Of course, we know now that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the rush of Napoleon to Waterloo. We survived the fall of the Shah and the world's oil supply continues to flow today. But it was the holy alliance of Conservatism with the religious crusade against Communism that led to enough popular support to squelch the outcry when it was discovered that Ronald Reagan had defied Congress and supplied guns and money to the Contras in Central America - because, of course, they were fighting the Communist Sandanistas. Strangely enough, it was not until funding was removed from the Contras that peace returned to Central America and the Communist Sandanistan leader was voted out of office - something that might have happened much earlier without Reagan's meddling.

But if Central America was confusing for Americans with the Contras and Sandanistas and reports of Catholic nuns being raped and murdered and both sides blaming the other, there was no confusion where the Soviet Union was concerned. The internal rot of the Soviet Union became apparent - so morbidly apparent that Ronald Reagan could actually utter his most famous tag line - "Tear down that wall!". The end was not swift or certain, and the Russian states are no where near through their upheaval, but the fall of the Berlin wall was the symbolic triumph of muscular Christianity over the Godless Commies. Jesus had stared down Ivan over the Berlin Wall and Ivan had blinked. The Iron Curtain was rent in half like the Most Holy of Holies on the day of Jesus' death.

Of course, communism still thrives in North Korea, China, Vietnam, and Cuba. But the Great Bear had been brought low and stuffed and mounted.

An interesting geologic aside: three points will always define a plane. An architectural note: a well-defined plane is one of the most stable of constructs. A political note: Conservatism was left reeling from its success. The Reagan Administration had dismantled the tax code and regulatory body of the New Deal and successfully changed the entire culture from Social Democracy to Rabid Self-Interest. These were the days of "Greed is good!" on the big screen.

Conservatism had to find a third leg to shore itself up again. That leg was provided by the Christian Right through their Deputy Dog badges handed out by Ronald Reagan. What began as a bone to be tossed for political support in a close election now became the central piece in a political platform. As successive cuts were made to regulations, social services, and taxes, the only avenue of no progress was abortion.

And that, make no mistake, was due entirely to the Courts.

The Courts had struck down Roe v. Wade and Griswald v. Connecticut to "invent" this concept of a "right to privacy". The Courts had done what the Pope had feared the birth control pill would do - it separated the act of having sex from the natural consequence of pregnancy. This created a crux of cooperation between Conservative Catholics and Conservative Evangelicals. It was eventually understood that it wasn't necessary to have the Deacon of First Baptist on the Supreme Court, it was perfectly fine to pick the "right kind" of Catholic. Since the attacks on Kennedy's Catholicism, any mention of religion impacting governmental duties had become seen as a low blow - which the Right would exagerate into an attack on faith itself.

How much more important does that anti-abortion plank become now that George W. Bush has even further destroyed the New Deal and the tax code? Enough to where there is suddenly a new leg in the opposition to islamo-terrorism. The anti-regulation and tax front can be combined into a single leg and a new plane can be defined. Since it is decidedly Islamic terrorism that is targeted (nothing is said about non-religious based or Christian terrorism), it provides a second leg for that brand of paranoid Christianity to cling to. They hate us because we are Christian - both the Muslims and the pro-abortionists.

Internally, their logic is tight and allows no dissent. To question the Mission is to question God Himself.

It has been a slow ascendency to power for the Religious Right, but they are not likely to give up easily. While George W. Bush seems willing to distance himself from them with a wink and a nod, any politician on the Right who is threatened can run to their embrace for succor - which explains why both Zell Miller and Tom DeLay are speaking at Justice Sunday 2 this week.

For some, it looks like the looney bin just threw the gates out wide. Upon closer examination, it is merely the culmination of a sustained popular movement - just like every other force in American politics. And that means it can be opposed, and defeated, by the same type of popular movement.

If you haven't already, please join the Christian Alliance for Progress or pick up a copy of Soujourners Magazine.


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