Gottfried’s Theses

Paul Gottfried has some smart reactions to my TAC cover story on white Evangelical Protestants and their unmatched clout in the GOP. And I particularly like his line that many Evangelicals are functionally “divine-right monarchists” supporting whoever, in Providence, the GOP bossess have selected for them. But the good professor has some criticism for me. Gottfried writes:

My biggest problem with Michael’s interpretation, however, is his attribution of a biblically driven ethic to the Religious Right that defies human reasoning. In this case we are speaking specifically about Evangelicals, as opposed to Catholics and traditional Reformed Protestants, who do not operate from this moral perspective. Unfortunately there is nothing identifiably biblical about the way the Religious Right formulates most of its positions. What in the Old or New Testament requires Sarah Palin to be in favor of lowering taxes or noticing the government’s deficit spending when the Democrats are in office? Are these decisions the result of reading certain biblical passages—or are they driven by partisan considerations and the desire to win office as a member of a party that claims counterfactually to be “getting government off our backs”? Where in the Bible do we discover that the US should wage wars against other countries, not because as in Judges they are idolatrous but because they do not grant women equal rights? Pray tell, how did the war in Iraq help Christian interests in that country, let alone fulfill any biblical precept?

Michael would be on firmer ground if he pointed out that the Religious Right favors a foreign policy that has little to do with the Bible.

Indeed. I didn’t mean to give credence to the idea that the GOP’s foreign policy actually derives from a faithful and reasonable interpretation of the Bible. But many Evangelical Christians do believe that when they are supporting the policies of the GOP, they are applying a “Biblical worldview” to politics. Even most Evangelicals would admit there is no direct Scriptural commands addressed to the American president and his handling of (say) Russia, but they sure can take a few verses from Proverbs or the New Testament and build support for a GOP policy on that very issue. This may not stand up to truly critical exegesis, but Richard Land even tried to tie in his preferred foreign policy to the words of Jesus.

I just didn’t think this particular article was the place for me, a Latin-Mass Bible Believing Catholic, to school Evangelicals on their Scriptures. If one lecture from one of me could deliver Evangelicals from the extra-Biblical doctrine of American Exceptionalism, we’d be halfway to restoring the Holy Roman Empire by next Thursday.

What I wish Prof. Gottfried had picked up was my assertion that today’s Evangelicals and neoconservatives have such similar ideological journeys into the Republic Party in the 1970s and early ’80s- even if they were driven there by different events. Both came to talk almost incessantly about “values”, and saw their enemy as a creeping moral relativism. Neoconservatives saw it in the counter-culture left which heroized Palestinians. Evangelicals saw it in the counter-culture which equated any kind of domestic arrangement as equal in dignity to the family.

Just to return a few volleys. Robertson’s endorsement of Giuliani was an outlier. At the grassroots level, abortion is still the important issue for Evangelicals and it unites them more powerfully than Christian Zionism.

I am familiar with the Great War’s Protestant cheerleaders, who equated Germany government with the anti-Christ and despotism, and democracy with the Savior of our Souls. Writers used to say things like, “Now the complete opposite of the mind of Christ is the Prussian idea of the State, and the quality of individual man thereby required.” ANd this isn’t too far off what some would vis-a-vis Islam today.

The only thing I’d like to add to Gottfried’s analysis is that neoconservatives are able to “drive the discourse” only insofar as their assumptions align with the larger and dominant managerial culture. The only reason talk of “transforming the region” of the Middle East isn’t dismissed out of hand is due to the fact that our educated classes really do believe that all human problems can be managed, so long as the administrators are good-hearted and practical enough. The big lie is one not just of administrative competence, but of outsized human capacity. The neoconservatives appeal to liberals, to progressives, and to Evangelicals because they repeat the comforting untruth that we are good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like us.

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