Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Is it too early to worry about an American theocracy?

Russell Cobb argues in Slate today that Americans may be too quick to view the so-called Christian Right (a.k.a. Christianists) as monolithic. He points out that there are fissures in the movement that are beginning to crack. That is a point presented in this blog (see Christianist crack up).

He uses Michelle Goldberg’s new book, Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, to explain his point:
The specter of an American theocracy, the title of Kevin Phillips'
broadside against the Bush administration, has obscured the signs of dissent in
what can look like a Christian monolith. Michelle Goldberg, a Salon reporter and
the author of Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, misses some of
the signs, too, in her otherwise astute study. It's not just that she blurs the
more fringe personalities, lumping together conspiracy-minded nut jobs (like
theocrat Howard Phillips, who believes that "enemies of Christ in this fallen
world must be conquered") with veteran conservative blowhards like William
Bennett. As she describes how the Christian Right moved from the margins of
acceptability to the Republican mainstream, she also overlooks generational
tensions and large-scale dissatisfaction with the Bush administration among many conservative, white evangelicals (only 34 percent of whom, according to a June 6
Pew research poll, "strongly back" the president).

In her subtitle, Goldberg uses the term Christian nationalism to
describe a "totalistic political ideology" that encompasses a wide variety of
conservative groups—two of the most prominent being the Moral Majority and the Christian Coalition. Goldberg ranges far and wide over the "parallel universe"
of Christian nationalism and argues that, for all its contradictions, a central
ideology motivates all the disparate groups on the Christian right. This
ideology is called "Christian Reconstruction" and it traces its origins to a
little-known but highly prolific thinker named R.J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001.
Rushdoony, the son of Armenian immigrants, taught that the American Revolution was actually a "conservative counterrevolution" against the Enlightenment. He
argued that the Constitution prohibited an establishment of religion because
Christianity was already the de facto religion of individual states. Viewing the
separation of church and state as a myth foisted on Christians by liberal
elitists, Rushdoony made it his lifelong project to reconstruct an imagined
Christian nation. It's a project whose legacy is carried on—in Goldberg's
estimation—by everyone from George W. Bush to Jerry Falwell. Yet Rushdoony plays an outsized role in Kingdom Coming; even ultraconservatives like Ralph Reed have distanced themselves from Christian Reconstruction.

You can read the entire article here.

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