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Tuesday, March 6, A.D. 2012
The Religious Right as Christianity’s Embarrassing Black Sheep

My friend Andrew initiated me into the cult of Doctor Who fandom years ago. I have seen every preserved broadcast of the original and “regenerated” series at least once. So, I think that I qualify as a Doctor Who nerd, even though my geek cred. level falls well short of my mentor’s and his convention going D.W. pals’. Last week, Andrew sent me a Jesuit Post article by John Shea, S.J. that refers to our beloved British Broadcasting Corporation show: “Doctor Who and Fidelity.” Shea writes lovingly of the show and uses his experience as a fan to illustrate the difference between true commitment and fair weather fandom. The article is not particularly profound, but it is always good to see folks recognize the brilliance of Tom Baker.

However, Shea’s article betrays a mild form of bigotry that I often see, even in people whom I admire. Shea admires the fidelity of various kinds of religious believers, but then he feels compelled to distance himself from fundamentalist Protestants:

But I also see the virtue in staying true to something important, especially when it’s not popular. It’s the same reason I admire the Muslim man kneeling down in the quad to salah at the public university near my community house, and the same reason I respect the Hindu women who prominently display their bindi on the campus of Loyola University of Chicago. It’s the same respect I feel for the Orthodox Jews and the Amish of Northeast Ohio who travel wearing their distinctive clothing. Even the Christian fundamentalist preaching on the street corner in San Francisco shows some courage (albeit coupled with some ignorance regarding what makes for effective evangelization). All of these people remind me that there exists something more important and lasting than current fads and fashions.

Shea makes an overtly inclusive, ecumenical gesture, but then he reins in his open-mindedness when he comes to the person in the list whose religion is closest to his own. I have no idea who Shea is, and I am trying not to let my prejudices about the Jesuits color my interpretation of his words. Does he happily admire “the Other” as a good multiculti leftist Jesuit while finding the street preacher an embarrassment to Christendom? Is his reaction an example of leftists’ blind acceptance of that which is foreign while they hold white, Western Christians to their real standards? Is it that Shea feels comfortable criticizing the Protestant because he finds him so close in the way that kin feel free to be frank about kin? Or does Shea really find the average Protestant preacher’s beliefs more objectionable than the average Mohammedan’s? Disgusted, I replied to Andrew:

Well, it is nice to see “that bloke with the scarf,” but our Jesuit could not resist distancing himself from his avowed respect for the Christian fundamentalist street preacher.

After mentioning Mohammedans, Hindus, Jews, and the Amish whom he admires, he writes, “Even the Christian fundamentalist preaching on the street corner in San Francisco shows some courage (albeit coupled with some ignorance regarding what makes for effective evangelization).”

Even the Christian fundamentalist?

Golly jeepers, he even sees some value in that loud mouthed Bappie preaching repentance.

Am I being petty by being repulsed by such Jesuits?

Andrew naturally responded that I was not being petty—just overly selective. That’s Andrew for you.

In this, I am not praising “bible thumping” Protestants. I find much of their peculiar theology, piety, and practice quite objectionable. My reaction to American Protestant fads like W.W.J.D. bracelets, “Christian music,” and McChurches ranges from annoyance to horror. So, I understand the criticism.

What I do not understand is why so many sensible, insightful writers appear to harbor special revulsion for what the American media have called the “Religious Right,” by which they mostly mean conservative, white, evangelical Protestants. This holds even for conservative, white, Christian writers for whom the “Religious Right” is a natural political and social ally. It seems particularly true for Orthodox Christians, and it perplexes me. I may find conservative Protestantism problematic, but I usually find conservative Protestants quite amiable. I certainly think that they are the foundation of American society, and, in practical terms, their constituency keeps the republic afloat.

National Review‘s John Derbyshire often mentions his “metro-conservative” theory. He suggests that conservatives who live in leftist environments adopt the lifestyle and tastes of their ivory tower liberal neighbors. Politically, these folks align with the heartland, but they would rather not spend any time with the backward hicks of flyover country for whom they have almost as much contempt as East Coast Democrats. I wonder if something similar is at work with religious conservatives who despise the “Religious Right.” Perhaps, the more educated and urbane religious conservatives see the “Religious Right” as too suburban, too bourgeois, too Oklahoma for their tastes. I honestly do not know.

I do not share the feeling. My disposition is decidedly tribal. Conservatives sometime complain that leftists operate “pas d’ennemis à gauche.” The reverse describes me fairly well; deep down, I have a leftist’s psychological state—that of a Manichee. Solzhenitsyn’s sage point aside, “they” are the army of darkness, while “we” are the children of light. Obviously, such is not accurate, but my working emotional assessment in politics regarding in group and out group tends toward coalition building in the face of the enemies’ onslaught. Accordingly, I have a hard time empathizing with conservatives who relish distancing themselves from folks whose values and goals align so closely with their own.

Posted by Joseph on Tuesday, March 6, Anno Domini 2012
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