Saturday, November 10, 2007

Evangelical "End of Days"? For political partisanship, maybe


The October 28, 2007 New York Times Magazine has an interesting piece by David Kirkpatrick, p. 38, “The Evangelical Crackup.” The magazine cover has “End Times for Evangelicals,” and the article itself has a yellow banner page that effectively says that Evangelicals thought they had it made after the 2004 elections.

After the 2006 midterms, they were clearly in retreat, partly because of voter anger at some of their scandals (including Mark Foley, but also regarding Bush’s lack of credibility with his handling of Iraq, with the huge budget deficits built up over the war). Now, “dem Republicans” don’t have a strong evangelical candidate, and have to court Rudy Giuliani -- which is OK for voters who want someone who will be fiscally responsible but a relative liberal on matters of personal privacy and social values. Indeed, 2008 could become a subway world series kind of presidential election.

The link is here.

I can recall the rise of the televangelists after I moved to Texas at the beginning of 1979. The Moral Majority and pastors like James Robison and Pat Robertson became visible very quickly as Reagan won the 1980 election, although Reagan was hardly very religious himself. (I wonder the same thing about Bush.) That’s in spite of the fact that Reagan used to say that he could be stranded like “Cast Away” with Wilson and a Holy Bible. The idea that evangelical Christianity should get involved with politics was novel then, and the idea that it may become disengaged with partisanship seems novel but relentless now.

For the LGBT community, even before AIDS, the televangelists implied direct hostility. They seemed, on the surface, to be providing religious rationalizations for others to hate LGBT people. There remains, of course, the question, what do people who listen to their rhetoric really want? They have psychic and material needs that go unmet.

It’s easy to blame this attitude (“homophobia”) on “bigotry” or on fear of that which is different from the self. That may be some of it, but it goes deeper than that. Many people become socialized into the family, connecting sexuality, marriage, and commitment in such a way that they believe that getting married and having a family gives them a right to the absolute social and biological loyalty of their children and other family members. To them, that implies that people who do not have their own children should serve the interests of family members who do. In past generations, that wasn’t questioned; but it started to change in the 60s, and what seemed like a moral postulate (loyalty to blood) became weaker in comparison to other ideas (individual sovereignty) as to how it operated in the legal and economic system. People with heavy “voluntary” family responsibilities found themselves competing with people with much less “responsibility” and this played on the new power of women in the workplace (and outside the home). These changes did not sit well with people whose whole lives have been primed for a system built on patriarchal values.

The actual moral and legal values, now, are a subject deserving of serious public debate, but they seem to remain hidden. One point that seems interesting is that the evangelical obsession with Roe v. Wade and abortion as an affront to the value of human life seems, in their psychological mindset, underinclusive. It's as if they sincerely believe that openness to procreation is itself intrinsic to respect to human life (a Vatican belief), and from an ideological (though not practical) point of view, could try to overturn Griswold (let alone Lawrence v Texas). Hopefully those are not likely to happen.

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