Thursday, May 05, 2005


Jonah Goldberg responds to my defense of Andrew Sullivan:

I think I should clarify something myself, particularly in response to the pissy post Andrew links to refute me (interesting where Andrew finds allies these days). When I wrote,

"Christian fundamentalism gave birth to the Protestant reformation, individual liberty, the American nation, the modern American university, and the like. This is not a minor distinction either."

I should have been more precise. I was in my own mind referring to the sorts of things Andrew calls Christian fundamentalism -- i.e. conservatism of faith, politics of faith, using faith to reach policy conclusions etc. I was not trying to discuss the historical concept in and of itself. I do understand that what we call Christian fundamentalism has gone through some changes over the years. Though there is no denying that a politics of faith was behind, for example, the founding of most of our leading universities and liberal arts colleges. And if this Duss guy is a stickler for precision when it comes to use of the term, I assume he'll be taking a hatchet to Sullivan's prose any day now. I'd respond more in depth, but Cosmo awaits the park.

Yes, as it happens I am a stickler for precision. I don't think, however, that my taking issue with Goldberg's claims about the supposed historical benefits of "Christian fundamentalism" was being a stickler as much as it was just pointing out stone nonsense. Less to do with precision, more with Goldberg simply not knowing what he's talking about. It's true that some of the Founding Fathers were men of Christian faith (though some of the most prominent of them openly rejected orthodox Christian doctrine), but this does not mean that the United States of America was founded as a "Christian" nation in any sense, let alone a "fundamentalist" Christian nation as Goldberg suggested. The ancient Egyptians were people of faith, but that doesn't mean the Amish built the pyramids. These are not minor distinctions.

As for my "taking a hatchet to Sullivan's prose," I've been very critical of Sullivan in this blog quite a few times in the past, but I think his writing on the ongoing takeover of the GOP by a Christian fundamentalist faction has been right on target, and he's sadly one of the few conservatives who seems willing to recognize and grapple with this. The fact is that, contra Goldberg, Sullivan has consistently been very careful and precise in marking the difference between Christian fundamentalism and Christianity in general. Indeed, as a man of Christian faith himself, it stands to reason that Sullivan would do so.

The distinction which Sullivan has repeatedly made between politics of faith and politics of doubt, a distinction which Goldberg and others continue to elide, is the difference between government through revelation and government through reason. The Santorum-Dobson faction which is increasingly in control of the Republican Party has not been shy about declaring their belief in government through revelation. They believe that their God's truth as revealed in their Bible is sufficient for creating legislation; they believe that the government can and should show preference not only to Christianity, but to their particular and very tendentious interpretation of Christianity.

As I've written before, I'm not someone who argues for religion being prohibited from the public square, and I believe that religious faith plays an important part in American political life. Religious faith, of various traditions, is a source of comfort and guidance for a a majority of Americans, and I respect that. It's perfectly appropriate for me or Rick Santorum or James Dobson or Andrew Sullivan to let our faith inform our political views, indeed it would be silly to think it wouldn't, but when it comes time to translate those views into legislation, those views need to be defended with reason. This is where I see the politics of faith and the politics of doubt parting ways. Santorum, Dobson, and their ilk really see no need to defend their beliefs according to reason, for them revelation is enough. There is no debate to be had, only prayers to be said, God's guidance to be sought, and laws to be written accordingly and rammed through. A politics of doubt recognizes that various interpretations of religion and morality may have equal validity.

Thankfully, the American founders gave us a system designed to interrogate that validity, as well as to frustrate the efforts of extremist religious factions to legislate their particular faith. The extremists recognize this, which is why they have mounted an attack on the branch of that system, the judicial, which they rightly view as the most significant impediment to their agenda. I'm reasonably confident, though, that our system will withstand their shenanigans.

I'd respond more in depth, but I have to take my fish for a haircut.

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