Let's make our voices heard. There is no way that President Bush's nominee for surgeon general, James Holinger, should be approved by the US Senate.
From the Human Rights Campaign:
How can we trust Holsinger to be America's top doctor, when his resume looks like this:
>In 1991 used basic plumbing analogies to write a "scientific and medical" paper arguing that homosexuality is unnatural and dangerous.
>Founded the Hope Springs Community Church, which reportedly has a special program to "cure" gays from "that lifestyle."
>Past writings indicate that he views sexual orientation as a "lifestyle choice." This could not be further from the view held by mainstream medical or scientific organizations.
James Holsinger's record seems to demonstrate that he is uninterested in the best scientific information available; instead, he allows his anti-gay bias to inform his medical judgments.
The Surgeon General is charged with protecting America's health. That doesn't mean some Americans, or not those Americans. It means all Americans.
"Supreme Court nixes suit over faith-based plan." Not good for religious liberty and the high principle of the separation of Church and State deemed vital by our republic's founders. Now religious organizations can impose themselves on America's public children. A Supreme Court decsion has just barred taxpayers from challenging faith-based initiatives, at least if they spring from the Executive Branch. The decision was 5-4. (How many more of those will be forthcoming? Many, thanks to Senate Democrats' ineffective resistance of the Alito and Roberts nominations. Roe v. Wade is in their sights.)
One in six hate crimes are motivated by the victim's sexual orientation. Yet Federal laws don't protect these people. Please tell your Senators to support the Matthew Shepard Act.
Terry Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, wonders why religious liberals don't get more media coverage. He cites the recent Media Matters for America study, "Left Behind: The Skewed Representation of Religion in Major News Media," which included the finding "conservative religious leaders were quoted, mentioned, or interviewed in news stories 2.8 times as often as were progressive religious leaders." (Executive summary)
Mattingly offers some possible reasons why this is, but in doing so, he seems to breeze by the most likely explanation: that journalists write about and interview leaders of religious movements that demonstrably affect electoral politics.
He writes that
Journalists...focus on trends that they consider strange, bizarre and even disturbing. Certainly, one of the hottest news stories in the past quarter century of American life has been the rise of the religious right and its political union with the Republican Party. For many elite journalists, this story has resembled the vandals arriving to sack Rome.
The claim that for "elite journalists" the rise of the Religious Right has resembled the vandals arriving to sack Rome is unconvincing to me, since I have not encountered coverage dire or alarmist about the Religious Right's threat to the republic on, say, a major broadcast network's nightly news program or Sunday morning political analysis program or in the pages of The New York Times. The threat of Religious Right is spelled out by journalists on Talk To Action, and academics or political insiders like the contributors to TheocracyWatch.org or Kevin Phillips, author of American Theocracy. But, with respect, the people behind those research and journalistic efforts are not "elite journalists," by any common meaning of the term that Mattingly leaves otherwise undefined.
Also, somewhat confusingly to me, Mattingly sounds the dismissive note of journalistic proclivity for the "strange" and "bizarre" (the proverbial "Man Bites Dog" headline comes to mind), but also acknowledges the existence of "the rise of the religious right and its political union with the Republican Party," and writes that the story has been one of the "hottest" for 25 years. Again: It hasn't necessarily been all that hot; the mainstream media have not covered it as much as have more specialist writers or journalists with relatively small readerships or viewerships. (Also, how could the topic be bizarre for so long--unless it's not all that bizarre or hasn't really been all that hot or covered as "hot" for quite so long? Over 25 years of coverage of something bizarre, might the topic become the norm?)
Mattingly may be missing the obvious implication for a reporter of the religious right as a voting block. He writes that
leaders on the religious right have drawn more than their share of news coverage during recent decades of American political life. However this raises a crucial question, which is whether religious movements should be judged by the political maneuvers of a handful of outspoken leaders. Should politics trump doctrine?
I found that question very strange. Yes, politics trumps doctrine for a journalist...covering politics! Mattingly misses the point that the religious right is a political movement: it seeks to affect government and governance. And that's what the journalists I assume Mattingly has in mind do, and they do it for a living: they cover significant political news. And because the Religious Right is a political movement, its doctrines matter, too, and from time to time are, in fact, covered by journalists.
Religious moderates, as Mattingly acknowledges, have declined in numbers, while the religious right has grown, has far more successfully organized, and has been able to influence--in part through its vocal leadership, which is duly interviewed by media--millions of votes. Currently, the religious left has not organized as well, and has not had as much influence.
In closing, Mattingly quotes Gary Stern of the Journal News, a religion reporter, who wrote that, "Some progressive religious leaders have told me one theory: that media people are anti-religion, so they trot out angry, self-righteous, conservative voices who make all religion look bad."
Admittedly, Mattingly's article is short; he was no doubt forced to over-simplify, as most writers of opinion pieces are forced to do. But, he was still perhaps too reluctant to examine facts that his commentary skirts the edges of:
1. the Religious Right is a topic for reporters and the Religious Right's leaders are interviewed because the Religious Right is a significant political force, and
2. the Religious Right has not been a focus of the mainstream media consistently, probably because it has been at times undervalued as a political force.
If Mattingly wants religious leaders who are not of the religious right to be interviewed more often (granted, he doesn't explicitly say that this is his wish), then the story of the Religious Right might be instructive: news coverage will come--perhaps reactively and belatedly--once clear influences of moderate religious leaders and their movements are clearly evident on electoral politics. That's not anti-religious bias; that's political reporting. And when one considers recent programs such as the Sojourner's-sponsored candidates debate on CNN, there may be a so-called "religious left" emerging that will influence voters and capture the attention of journalists more frequently.
Only 30% of Republican "believe in" evolution, according to a new poll. The Religious Right is not only alive and well, but still firmly placed as the base of the once-Grand Old Party.
(Ugh--and thanks to Kenneth for catching a major typo in this entry's original title!)
Some observers characterize organizations like Sojorners as representative of the "religious left." (A recent example.)
The problem with that term is that it begs definition The Religious Right is a political movement, and the "religious left" would be to, insofar as we define the "religious left" as being about the business of using politics and government to further their aims.
What are those aims though? For instance, some of what might be called the religious left oppose gay marriage. Some don't. Many are pro-life. Some aren't. The leader most often associated with the "religious left," Jim Wallis, himself dislikes the term. He also embodies something of the examples of the possible contradictions that I cite: he's pro-life, but at the same time he opposes gay marriage bans. (See this review of his book God's Politics. I'm unclear as to whether or not Wallis' objection to gay marriage bans is a technical objection, based on the reading of civil law perhaps, and that he nonetheless thinks same-sex sexual desire, or same-sex marriage, or same-sex cohabitation or same-sex life-long commitments, or anything similarly "gay" is "wrong" or "unnatural" or similarly negative--e.g., "sinful"--based on his theology or cultural conservatism.)
It can be argued that Wallis' chief complains are about our politicians lack of attention towards poverty and economic justice and about secularism. If those are the main characteristics of someone who is a member of the religious left, then it must be noted that we're left with a definition of the "religious left" that includes people variously for and against reproductive rights, the separation of Church and State, same-sex marriage, and other less explicitly economic issues of the day. It may even mean that for a minority withing the religious left, advocacy for the poor is effectively almost a Trojan horse for typical conservative agenda items of the Religious Right.
It will be interesting to watch the evolution of both the term "religious left" and the movement evoked in commentators' minds by Jim Wallis and Sojorners.
American "bookchat land" (Gore Vidal's term) babbles like a brook with comparisons between the United States and the Roman Empire, and from time to time, the banks are flooded, usually for good reason: we need to be paying attention. Currently we have Cullen Murphy's book, Are We Rome? The Fall of an Empire and the Fate of America and Chalmers Johnson's history, Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic.
In addition to similarities between America and Rome seen in foreign and military affairs, there might also be noted the increasing supernaturalism and Christian religiosity on the rise in America--possibly a parallel of the embracing of mystery cults and things "Oriental" in the days of Roman empire. (Previously, I've touched on this, a sort of Orientalism, in light of the Religious Right.)
Our New Agers have their crystals and pyramids, our Christians--buying 100,000's of copies of the Left Behind series--have had for decades their notions of demonic and angelic forces at work in our daily lives and foreign and domestic affairs. Christianized Rome turned her back on Greek skeptical rationalism only after mystical Orientalism began to chip away first at the influence of ancient thinkers like Epicurus and Democritus, and the earlier Roman republic's own Lucretius. In our own age, fairly stoic-like rationalists from Gore Vidal to Sam Harris point out the danger of the irrational belief that supernatural forces favor America's special world status, while our nation wallows in reckless pre-emptive wars, obsessive watching of the likes of American Idol, tabloid news in lieu of substantive journalism, "documentaries" concerning things like alien abductions, crypto-Creationism taught in public schools, and quixotic, fear-based, irrational legislation like gay marriage bans to put one in mind of the later Christianized Roman Emperor, Justinian, who stated that homosexuality was the cause of earthquakes.
I am troubled by the recent Sojorners/Call to Renewal sponsored Democratic candidates forum on CNN about "God & Politics." It is evidence than the goal of the Religious Right to make Christianity the de facto state religion continues to be realistic.
Sojorners is not usually equated with the Religious Right. Many readers of Sojorners support the separation of Church & State. Yet, the very existence of such a forum--which conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan called a "Faith-Off"--its prominence, and the pandering answers of the candidates themselves at the forum all provide evidence that in United States of America de facto religious tests--that is, religious qualifications or prerequisites--exist for public office...at least for the Religious Right, which is the most powerful segment of the base of the Republican Party, and for many of the so-called "religious left," a term begging definition, but that is beginning to be used to mean Christians, including some evangelicals, who are uncomfortable with secularism, yet whose political actions and organizing are focused primarily around issues traditionally outside of the Religious Right, such as ending poverty or combating global climate change.
Religious tests in general are contrary to the principles of our republic's founders, who enshrined in the Constitution a prohibition against explicit (legally-based) religious tests. Whether voters with their de facto faith-based tests for candidates are of the Religious Right or the "religious left," they are most probably far more religious than most of the nation's founders, including Benjamin Franklin (a deist), Thomas Jefferson (a deist, and a fairly anti-clerical one), John Adams (at best a Unitarian), and George Washington, (a Mason who kept his personal religious beliefs quite private, but was an avid Mason and certainly no evangelical).
When do personal, private religious tests for some citizens--such as the vetting of presidential candidates' religious beliefs through mechanisms such as the Sojorners forum, not to mention the religious or at least conservative evanglical buzzword-based tests implicit in much of the machinery of the Republican Party--become de facto religious tests for the nation as a whole?
The Religious Right is as strong as ever. It is one of the most successful political movements in American history, and it is adapting and evolving in order to continue to thrive. The mainstream media seldom realizes this. A recent Reuters article, "U.S. Religious Right remains a force after Falwell's death," by Ed Stoddard, is an exception.
From the article (via Yahoo! UK & Ireland) -
"National-level leadership is less important than it was in the 1970s and 1980s when Falwell headed the Moral Majority because the movement has matured," said Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University.
"A lot of the focus is at the local community and state legislative level," he told Reuters.
Roughly 60 million Americans consider themselves to be evangelical Christians and they tend to take their religion and related matters more seriously than mainline church goers.
Its influence can be seen in state legislatures in places like Oklahoma, where a law has recently passed to prohibit public funding for most abortions.
In Texas, its legislative agenda has included scuttling pro-gambling bills, while ballot initiatives in several states have banned same-sex marriage -- testimony to the effectiveness of its local activism.
It has also made inroads in the U.S. military, where critics say senior officers are carrying out a campaign to convert peers to evangelical Christianity -- with huge implications for U.S. foreign and defence policy as the United States pursues radical Islam.
"They want to see a spiritually transformed U.S. military with ambassadors for Christ in uniform," said Michael Weinstein, author of "With God on Our Side: One Man's War Against an Evangelical Coup in America's Military.'
(Cartoon by Bill Sanders--click to enlarge.)