Damon Linker: The Christianizing of America





[Review of: Richard John Neuhaus's Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, and the Splendor of Truth (Basic Books).]

Liberal modernity exasperates traditional religion. It fosters a pluralism that denies any one faith the power to organize the whole of social life. It teaches that public authorities must submit to the consent of those over whom they aspire to rule, thereby undermining the legitimacy of all forms of absolutism. It employs the systematic skepticism of the scientific method to settle important questions of public policy. It encourages the growth of the capitalist marketplace, which unleashes human appetites and gives individuals the freedom to choose among an ever-expanding range of ways to satisfy them.

None of this means that modernity necessarily produces "secularization": the persistence of piety in America is a massive stumbling block to anyone wishing to maintain that the modern age is just a long march toward atheism. But if modernity does not lead inexorably to godlessness, the social, political, scientific, and economic dynamism of modern life nonetheless requires that traditionalist believers make a choice. They can adapt to modernity by embracing at least some degree of liberalization--or they can set out to combat the modern dispensation in the name of theological purity. A tension between these alternatives--between liberal religion and anti-liberal religion--runs through the history of nearly every modern nation, including the United States.

A majority of the American founders were deistic Episcopalians, and since the late eighteenth century the country's political culture has been dominated by liberal Protestantism. But that is far from the whole story. From the "Great Awakenings" of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries through the rancorous battle between "modernist" and "fundamentalist" Protestants in the 1920s to today's conflicts over teaching "intelligent design" in the nation's classrooms, the country has repeatedly experienced outbursts of populist religious fervor by those who passionately reject central features of liberal modernity, including the authority of science and the legitimacy of a secular and pluralist political order.

Whether or not the recent prominence of religiosity in the nation's public life signals that America is undergoing a new Great Awakening, it is undeniable that the rise of the Republican Party to electoral dominance in the past generation has been greatly aided by the politicization of culturally alienated traditionalist Christians. Countless press reports in recent years have noted that much of the religious right's political strength derives from the exertions of millions of anti-liberal evangelical Protestants. Much less widely understood is the more fundamental role of a small group of staunchly conservative Catholic intellectuals in providing traditionalist Christians of any and every denomination with a comprehensive ideology to justify their political ambitions. In the political economy of the religious right, Protestants supply the bulk of the bodies, but it is Catholics who supply the ideas. ...


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James Renwick Manship - 10/18/2007

On at least one "evangelical" issue, the Catholics far and away provide the "Bulk of the Bodies", and that is the Pro-Life versus the Pro-Choice to Kill Babies in the Womb national debate.

Yes, some Protestants are active, but the Catholics provide the Lion's share of bodies to protect the bodies of the baby "lambs"...