Saturday, July 14, 2007

More on religion and American politics

A reader writes:

What's really interesting about those "17 rules" is that they reflect the "traditional" stance of fundamentalist Christians in the United States. Prior to the Roe v. Wade (or the Civil Rights Movement, depending on who you ask), fundamentalists were essentially disengaged from American politics. This is partly a function of Jesus' admonition to be separate from the world, and it's partly a function of the fundamentalist eschatological viewpoint, regardless, it's certainly nothing new and I think it is another example of a growing fissure in the Christian Right, which is nowhere near as monolithic as it is made out to be.
I agree on nearly every account, with a few qualifications. The Christian Right is certainly not any single entity. It is an umbrella term, which comprises many denominations, all with their own traditions and theological tenets. I generally like to avoid the term Christian Right (as we are seeing more religious rhetoric among the left and because it leaves out those who are not Christians, but nonetheless adhere to a similar world view) favoring instead, fundamentalism. Research done by the University of Chicago's Fundamentalism Project points out five ideological characteristics of Christian fundamentalists:

1. Fundamentalists are concerned "first" with the erosion of religion and its proper role in society;

2. Fundamentalism is selective of their tradition and what part of modernity they accept or choose to react against;

3. Fundamentalists embrace some form of Manicheanism;

4. Fundamentalists stress absolutism and inerrancy in their sources of revelation; and

5. Fundamentalists opt for some form of Millennialism or Messianism.

I also agree that similar forms of religiosity have been found throughout American history. The influence of religious fervor in American politics ebbs and flows, generally in connection to the historical and social context of any given era. We saw this in the past with both the First and Second Great Awakening.

President Bush, among many others, have called this current wave a "Third Awakening". The first two lasted only roughly thirty years, so one could hope that this relatively recent surge in fundamentalist involvement in politics will soon run its course.

What concerns me about this movement is that for the first time religious fundamentalists occupy high positions in all three branches of government, including the Presidency, and have wide reaching influence ranging from foreign policy to Supreme Court nominations.

1 comment:

Jamelle Bouie said...

I actually like the term "Christian Right" even though it doesn't include conservative Jews and tends to exclude Catholics. It still is a very accurate way to identify conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists. Besides, I don't think that there should be the same degree of concern over the rise of a "Christian Left." For one, liberal Christians are nowhere near as organized as conservative Christians and tend to focus their efforts on nonpolitical activity: poverty relief, humanitarian work, etc.