Another Embattled Minority Heard From

Peter Beinart in The New Republic points out that conservatives, long in the habit of sniggering at political correctness and group whining, have found a disrespected minority of their very own: evangelicals. Yeah they have, haven’t they.

Mind you, in the usual obligatory ritual, Beinart hands a little ground back, which he shouldn’t have.

To be fair, occasionally liberals do treat evangelical Christians with condescension and scorn. Conservatives frequently, and justifiably, expressed outrage at a Washington Post news story that called followers of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson “largely poor, uneducated and easy to command.”…On November 4, in The New York Times, Garry Wills suggested that America now resembles the theocracies of the Muslim world more than it resembles Western Europe, which is offensive, not to mention absurd.

Well is it false that followers of Falwell and Robertson are largely uneducated? I don’t know any statistics on the subject, but it seems on the face of it unlikely that F & R would appeal to educated people – unless one has a slightly special definition for ‘educated’. And as for the next part, ‘offensive’ is irrelevant – in fact its irrelevance is part of the point of the article, so it seems absent-minded of Beinart to use the word.

But then once he’s got that ‘to be fair’ stuff out of the way, things pick up.

What these (and most other) liberals are saying is that the Christian Right sees politics through the prism of theology, and there’s something dangerous in that. And they’re right. It’s fine if religion influences your moral values. But, when you make public arguments, you have to ground them–as much as possible–in reason and evidence, things that are accessible to people of different religions, or no religion at all. Otherwise, you can’t persuade other people, and they can’t persuade you. In a diverse democracy, there must be a common political language, and that language can’t be theological.

That’s what I keep saying – and I keep being surprised at how much resistance there is to that idea among some intellectuals (those ‘educated’ people again). But it seems so obvious. If you tell me a given piece of legislation would be a good thing because Moloch says so, why should that carry any weight with me? Why would you expect it to? Why should it make any difference if you substitute the generic word ‘God’ for Moloch? They both mean the same thing, after all – ‘the deity I have decided to believe in’. It’s just not reasonable to expect other people to believe in the supernatural being you have chosen to believe in, therefore that being’s word doesn’t carry any weight in public political discussions. Or rather it shouldn’t. Of course, when people use the word used by the majoritarian religion for its deity, they think they are referring to someone that everybody ought to pay attention to – but that’s a kind of trick of the light, an illusion, caused by familiarity and failure to question. And then that illusion goes on to become resentment and truculence.

What many conservatives are now saying is that, since certain views are part of evangelicals’ identity, harshly criticizing those views represents discrimination…Identity politics is a powerful thing–a way of short-circuiting debate by claiming that your views aren’t merely views; they are an integral part of who you are. And who you are must be respected. But harsh criticism is not disrespect–and to claim it is undermines democratic debate by denying opponents the right to aggressively, even impolitely, disagree. That is what conservatives are doing when they accuse liberals of religious bigotry merely for demanding that the Christian Right defend their viewpoints with facts, not faith.

Just so. That’s that special status for religion thing that I keep mentioning. Harsh criticism is not disrespect, and pretending it is is a way of trying to rule out disagreement. Exactly. Of course, it works, so needless to say conservatives are going to go right on doing it, and accusing atheists and secularists of elitism into the bargain, but at least the rest of us can point out how bogus it all is.

19 Responses to “Another Embattled Minority Heard From”