The Premature Burial of the Religious Right

March 26, 2009

Has better taste in clothes than Jerry Falwell.

In recent months, more than a few social and political commentators have voiced their opinion that the culture wars are over and that the religious right is in full retreat. For example, New York Times columnist, Frank Rich, recently wrote a piece to that effect, observing that the "family-values dinosaurs that once stalked the earth - Falwell, Robertson, Dobson and Reed - are now either dead, retired, or disgraced" and the "pro-forma e-mail blasts" pumped out by their successors achieve little.

The evidence for this claim? Bush is gone, Obama has arrived. Funding of stem cell research has been approved, same-sex unions (if not marriages) are now widely accepted, and polls show the public has far more confidence in science than organized religion.

I hate to ruin the party, but don’t open the champagne bottles just yet. The religious right has been declared dead before, only to prove itself very resilient. One adverse (for them) election result and some shifts in public attitudes do not a permanent coffin make. It will take a lot more to kill the religious right. I’d compare them to vampires, but some would find that insulting - the vampires, I mean. (They are better dressers after all.)

Moreover, the religious right remains very active, especially at the state level, where socially conservative legislators and governors often prove very accommodating. For example, there are initiatives in various states to promote religious activities in public schools, to allow tax dollars to fund parochial schools, and to allow intelligent design to be taught alongside evolutionary biology. At the time of the writing, Texas - not an insignificant state - is embroiled in a battle on this very question and the vote of the state board of education is too close to call. The heirs of the "family-values dinosaurs" that once stalked the earth are still pushing for the view that actual dinosaurs once stalked the earth next to humans.

Moreover, it is difficult to describe a movement as dead when it is awash in cash. Focus on the Family alone recently raised over $120 million (based on the most recently available IRS filing). Without getting into the details of our own finances, or the finances of other secular and humanist organizations, the donor support for just this one religious right organization easily dwarfs that of all secular and humanist organizations combined.

Finally, although the Obama administration is obviously not a vehicle for the religious right, it has accepted as a fait accompli one of the goals of social conservatives, namely the funding of the faith-based organizations by the federal government. Not even in the Reagan years did we have billions of tax dollars being used to prop up religious institutions. If the religious right is in distress, it’s groaning and crying all the way to the bank.

Undeniably, those of us who want to reduce religious influence on public policy are in a better position than we have been in a while. But now is not the time to become complacent.

Leaving aside the status of the religious right, a separate issue is the alleged secularization of the United States, which some have claimed is both discernible and unavoidable. Here again caution is required. But that will be the subject of my next blog post.

 

Comments:

#1 David Roberts (Guest) on Sunday March 29, 2009 at 11:00am

We all tend to think that the people around us reflect the world at large. I can’t remember the name of the film critic who said she didn’t know ANYBODY who voted for Nixon in ‘72. My point.

Yes, the world seems safe for thinking again. But I remember how these people became invisible (at least to me) in the late seventies, and came back with abandon in the late eighties and ninties.

#2 guest (Guest) on Monday March 30, 2009 at 9:48am

its nice how you promote openness and respect and then attack the people that you do not agree with. Without going into our finances? .... what a load of crap. Go into your finances… I don’t believe you. Its this kind of half ass logic that makes both sides look stupid. Make your point but don’t make accusations without supporting evidence.

Consider me right if you will, but I prefer a government with a good opposition to a government that has no opposition.

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#4 MrMylesGuy on Wednesday April 01, 2009 at 11:45am

Looks like someone above doesn’t agree with you. And what a well worded argument they present.  Anyway.  I think this post and David’s comment is right on the money.  We create this bubble around us and tend not to see the big picture.  Even when we attempt to see the bigger picture through the media, we tend to focus on outlets that are speaking to our ideals.

Perhaps CFI, in the interests of it’s members and followers of humanism in general, could put together a page of religious sites and opposing sources of information.  I imagine many of us already have our own sources (at least I do), and we could share them amongst ourselves.  Many of us probably don’t even know where to start.  I have a good friends who are religious, and I grew up in a religious family, and I find they are good sources of information regarding the “other side” (pun intended).

Although we might find such information frustrating and counterintuitive, I think it’s important to at least acknowledge some sources of information counter to humanism.  Here’s one that I visit once in a while… I’v even joined as a member so I could get access to more info on their site: reasonablefaith.org and rzim.org . I can all but gurantee a headache after 20 min on each of those sites… but I don’t think sites like this should be ignored by humanists.

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