Category: culture war

Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism

Mary Barker is a professor of political science at Syracuse University’s campus in Madrid, Spain as well as at the Universidad Pontificia Comillas.  She is also a product of Utah’s Mormon culture, a socio-religious world she understands intimately.

In this piece written for Religion Dispatches she explains how Mitt Romney’s Mormonism shaped his “severe conservatism” but why his faith also provides a foundation for a merciful vision of American community.  The two sides of Mormon spirituality help explain why Utah backed the New Deal and voted Democrat up until the 1950s when the civil rights movement and fear of international communism sparked a retreat into the world of John Birch paranoia that is still evident in the rantings of Glenn Beck.

Mitt, Moochers, and Mormonism’s “Other” Legacy

Growing up with Mormon narratives—a two-part memoir and reflection on the good, the very bad, and a dreamed-for future.

By Mary Barker

There are many stories on which a Mormon is raised: narratives of the elect, America and the Constitution, the latter days, and free agency—all of which play a role in Mitt Romney’s “severe” conservatism. The bombshell release of video in which he trumpets his disdain for moochers, and reveals a remarkably casual approach to Middle East politics, all resonate with the Calvinist heritage of Mormon theology, as well as with principal Mormon narratives. But Mormonism also holds the seeds of a decidedly progressive politics—a possible Mormon liberation theology.

Does Romney’s religion matter? It’s a question that has been asked many times this election season. My answer, below, is in two parts, as I journey from End Times theology (the “latter days”) through Mormonism’s radical social and political past.

I.

I grew up at the end of the world. As a Latter-day Saint, I made my debut just before the final curtain. During my youth, rumors circulated about neighbors and boyfriends whose special “patriarchal blessings” prophesied that they would never taste of death. That fairly clearly set the limit on time. The rebellious Sixties just confirmed what the Cold War had already shown us—that we were in a final showdown with evil that would only get worse until the second coming of Jesus which is now. (more…)

Why Paul Ryan doesn’t have an Ayn Rand problem

By Alan Bean

Now that Paul Ryan is Mitt Romney’s choice for VP, you will be hearing a lot about Ayn Rand, probably not enough to impact the election, but a lot.  Many will ask how a devout Catholic and family man can lionize a woman who despised God, rejected the “altruistic” teaching of Jesus, and called the family an artificial and unnecessary creation.

The easy answer is that Paul Ryan doesn’t really like Ayn Rand at all.  In fact, he is now saying that he rejects her atheistic philosophy without reservation.

For the tiny handful of Christian conservatives who may have been concerned about a potential VP embracing the religion of Antichrist, that should suffice.  There simply aren’t enough voters in our brave new America who know enough about Ayn Rand’s glorification of reason and selfishness, Roman Catholic ethics, or the teaching of Jesus to see a problem.

Ryan’s recent protestations of love for Rand’s economic philosophy were the stuff of romance.  In 2005, Ryan told the Atlas Society:

There is no better place to find the moral case for capitalism and individualism than through Ayn Rand’s writings and works . . . I grew up reading Ayn Rand and it taught me quite a bit about who I am and what my value systems are.  It’s inspired me so much that it’s required reading in my office for all my interns and my staff . . . The reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker, one person, it would be Ayn Rand.

It’s hard to disavow an endorsement like that.  Either he was lying in 2005, or he is lying now.  Fortunately for Ryan, it doesn’t matter.

(more…)

David Barton’s great embarrassment (and why it matters)

By Alan Bean

Therapeutic historian David Barton is looking for another publisher after his publisher, Thomas Nelson, decided to cancel Jefferson Lies.

Barton’s history provides therapy for conservative Americans who have been traumatized by the ugly truth about slavery, native American genocide and the religious deism and unabashed racism of our founding fathers.

It is difficult to confront the bald truth about our nation without experiencing a deep sadness.  To be sure, there is much to admire in the American experiment.  Though we have frequently teetered on the verge of fascism, we have generally been able to pull back from the brink.  Most Americans have been on the wrong side of the big moral issues most of the time, and yet we have learned from our mistakes.

By the standards of history, America is a bastion of freedom–the competition isn’t that strong.

Weighed in the balance with the kingdom of God, we don’t do so well.  Nobody does.  As a nation, we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (more…)

At war over the culture war: Dionne and Gerson go toe-to-toe

By Alan Bean

When two columnists working for the same newspaper address the same subject (the culture war and the contraception debate) you can learn a lot.  Michael Gerson accuses Barack Obama of sustaining our endless American culture war by forcing a conservative Roman Catholic Church to conform to “the liberal values of equality and choice.”  In Gerson’s view, the Catholic Church is an inherently conservative, indeed ‘illiberal’, institution.  Gerson endorses a pluralistic view of America in which a variety of civic organizations, some liberal and progressive, others illiberal and traditional, co-exist in a free society.  But this dream of a pluralistic America is being thwarted by an inherently intolerant “liberal” view of American life in which every individual and institution is expected to conform to the liberal values of equality and choice.  By forcing illiberal Catholic medical providers to provide free contraceptive services to their clients, Gerson alleges, the Obama administration is rejecting the pluralistic vision of America and stoking the fires of culture war.

Gerson believes it is a mistake to antagonize conservative institutions because, unlike their liberal counterparts, they encourage 

The habits of good citizens — attributes such as self-control, cooperation and respect for the law — don’t emerge spontaneously. They are cultivated in families and religious congregations. The health of liberal political institutions is strengthened by the success of traditional institutions, which often teach values that prepare individuals for the responsible exercise of freedom.

In Gerson’s view, Obama moved to the left on immigration and gay rights because he is an ardent culture warrior who disrespects the views of American conservatives.

Then comes E J Dionne, a progressive columnist who, unlike the evangelical Gerson, happens to be a living, breathing Roman Catholic in good standing.  Dionne agrees that Obama’s initial handling of the contraception issue was ham-handed and out of character.  Dionne’s Obama is no champion of the liberal view of America.  At his core, the president is an even-handed pragmatist who is generally eager to negotiate with his ideological opponents.

In fact, Dionne reminds us, six years ago Obama complained that

There are some liberals who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.

Sounds a lot like Michael Gerson, doesn’t it.  Obama dropped the ball on the contraception issue, Dionne admits, but was able to self-correct by offering a compromise that was joyfully embraced by Catholic medical care providers.   

Unlike Gerson, Dionne refuses to define the Roman Catholic Church as an inherently traditional or illiberal institution.  The Catholic Church is a pragmatic and pluralistic blending of conservative and progressive impulses.  Dionne says he remains in the fold largely because

When it comes to lifting up the poor, healing the sick, assisting immigrants and refugees, educating the young (especially in inner cities), comforting orphaned and abandoned children, and organizing the needy to act in their own interest, the church has been there with resources and an astoundingly committed band of sisters, priests, brothers and lay people. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, the Catholic Health Association, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development and Catholic Relief Services make the words of Jesus come alive every day.

Moderate Catholics appreciate the president’s willingness to meet the Church half way on contraception and Dionne hopes the conservative wing will tone down its opposition to abortion rights and gay marriage because the American Catholic community is as divided on these issues as the rest of society.

Two views of the Roman Catholic Church; two views of the sitting president.  Who wins?

Dionne gets the best of this dust-up.  The culture war doesn’t separate illiberal traditionalists like a monolithic Catholicism from liberal, pluralism denying, culture warriors like Obama.  Obama has been deeply influenced by both secular liberalism and the traditional values sustained by the Christian Church.  Roman Catholics, like most Christian denominations, are split down the middle over culture war issues like gay marriage, abortion and, now, contraception.  Gerson’s neat divisions don’t fit either Obama or American Catholicism.

If the president has moved off the fence on gay marriage and immigration it’s because he sees no point in placating ideological opponents for whom the word ‘compromise’ has become the vilest of profanities.  Any politician on the right willing to meet the president half way on any contentious issue gets his or her (usually his) mouth washed out with soap in full view of the cameras.

Nice try, Michael, but you didn’t nail it this time.

To crucify the culture war

By Alan Bean

Conflict is the heart of drama.  The 20th century could be defined as the century of dramatized conflict.  From suffragettes to union organizers to the religious right, dramatized conflict has been considered the path to power.

For a while, it worked, sometimes to tremendous effect.  But when everyone is dramatizing conflict for political ends you get gridlock.  You get trench warfare.  You get the culture war.

So now comes Jonathan Merritt, the son of a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor, with an audacious statement: “Crucifying the culture war model could be the only hope for resurrecting American Christianity in a new century.”

I have been coming to much the same conclusion.  Actually, I haven’t come to this conclusion; circumstances have driven me to it.

If you are part of a persecuted minority, adversarial drama can work.  But if we are dealing with one large power bloc wrestling with another power bloc of equal size and strength, the tactic falls flat.  Careers may be sustained, and money may roll in, but transformative change doesn’t happen.

Bob Allen’s article originally appeared in The Associated Baptist Press

 Author says young Christians tired of culture war

May 7, 2012

By Bob Allen

Three decades of culture war have failed to make America a more moral nation, and younger evangelicals today want to engage the public square in less partisan ways, says the author of a new book on faith and politics.

Jonathan Merritt

Author Jonathan Merritt wrote a USA Today op-ed piece that ran the day before the official May 7 release of his new book, A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars.

The son of former Southern Baptist Convention President James Merritt, who serves on the staff of his father’s Atlanta-area mega church, said coming-of-age Millennials are forging a different path from Christians on both the right and left who have used the Bible as a political tool and reduced Christianity “to little more than a voting bloc.”

Merritt’s previous book, Green Like God, explored the generation of rising evangelicals’ move from concern about just abortion and gay marriage to a broader array of social issues such as creation care.

You can find the rest of the article here . . .

Zimmerman prosecution shows the power of principled protest

 

By Alan Bean

“We prosecute cases based on the relevant facts of each case and on the law of the state of Florida.”  So says State Attorney Angela B. Corey, the special prosecutor assigned to the George Zimmerman case.  It is unlikely that Zimmerman would ever have been charged had it not been for the national outcry that has rivetted attention on this case. 

Law enforcement and district attorneys dislike the Stand Your Ground law because it frustrates their efforts to arrest, investigate and prosecute cases in which the shooter claims self-defense.  But law enforcement was obviously intimidated by Stand Your Ground.  Even though Zimmerman jumped to unwarranted conclusions about Trayvon Martin, even though he defied a police dispatcher’s demand that he remain in his vehicle, even though Zimmerman clearly followed and confronted Martin, the appeal to self-defense worked like magic. 

Like any high-profile narrative, the Trayvon Martin case has revealed a troubling divide in public perception.   On one side of the fault line, people identify with George Zimmerman’s suspicion of young black males wearing hoodies.  On the other side, folks identify with a victim of racial profiling and vigilante justice. 

Those who identify with neither Zimmerman nor Martin generally take a “let the system handle it approach.”  Now that Zimmerman has been arrested it may appear that the dispassionate bystanders who trust established judicial processes called it right.  The Washington Post editorial below suggests, albeit cautiously, that the system is working as it should.  Zimmerman will have his day in court.  Prosecutors will have a hard time working around the prejudicial impact of the Stand Your Ground law.  A plea bargain may settle this thing.  Zimmerman’s mental issues may also surface as a major issue (the man is clearly unstable). 

But none of this would be happening apart from massive national protest. (more…)

Requiem for the culture war

By Alan Bean

Like me, Jonathan Merritt has been engaged in a prolonged love-hate relationship with both ends of the moral spectrum.  Young Christians look at both political parties, Merritt says, and find themselves longing for a third option. 

“Christians are rejecting the polemical, power-hungry and partisan politics of the culture wars.   We need to be involved in politics, but in an independent, civil, embodied way.”

After reading Bob Allen’s excellent review of Merritt’s new book,A Faith of our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars, I found myself thinking that it isn’t just “young Christians” who feel this way. 

There is a lot to like in both the conservative and liberal traditions.  Hard work, sexual fidelity, commitment to family, entrepreneurial spirit, economic realism–hooray for the conservatives!  Inclusion, respect for diversity, compassion, non-violence, equality, fairness–thank God for liberalism!

But there’s a lot to dislike in both camps too, and partisan zealots have constructed a cottage industry out of exploiting the weakness in the other sides’ vision.  These fish-in-a-barrel massacres are easily arranged: Liberal and conservative virtues, considered in isolation from one another, are equally unsustainable. 

Liberals and conservatives need one another and America needs both kinds of people.  Robbed of the insights at the heart of the parallel virtue, zealots on both sides succumb to moral malnutrition.

The culture war is understandable, possibly even inevitable, but that don’t make it pretty.  A focus on hard work and responsibility with no place for compassion and fairness is a recipe for despair.   Focusing on diversity and fairness apart from personal responsibility is a one-way ticket to nowhere. 

Duh!  What could be more obvious?

Tragically, liberal and conservative partisans are consigned to cultural hell by their refusal to recognize the glories of the opposing creed. 

Maybe its only those who lived through the tumult of the 1960s (the kind of folks currently running the show) who feel called to subsist on an impoverished and unbalanced moral diet.  If so, the kids can’t take over soon enough!

Merritt’s book will be available May 6.  In the meantime, I commend Bob Allen’s review.