Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Lasch on American "Conservatives"

"Conservatives" in America stress the importance of religion, but their religion is the familiar American blend of flag waving and personal morality. It centers on the trivial issues of swearing, neatness, gambling, sportsmanship, sexual hygiene, and school prayers. Adherents of the new religious right correctly reject the separation of politics and religion, but they bring no spiritual insights to politics. They campaign for political reforms designed to discourage homosexuality and pornography, say, but they have nothing to tell us about the connection between pornography and the larger consumerist structure of addiction maintenance. Their idea of the proper relation between politics and religion is to invoke religious sanctions for specific political positions, as when they declaim that budget deficits, progressive taxation, and the presence of women in the armed forces are “anti-biblical.” As in their economic views, these "conservatives" advance views of religion and of the political implications of religion that derive from the tradition of liberal individualism. Liberalism, as a Lutheran critic of the religious right points out, “means straining scripture to mandate specific positions on social justice issues, . . . bending the word of God to fit your political ideas.” The religiosity of the American right is self-righteous and idolatrous. It perceives no virtue in its opponents and magnifies its own. In the words of a pamphlet published by the United Methodist Church, “The ‘New Religious Right’ has . . . made the same mistake committed by the social gospeler earlier in the century. They exaggerate the sins of their opponent and negate any original sin of their own. They have become victims of what Reinhold Niebuhr called ‘easy conscience,’ or what the New Testament describes as the self-righteousness of the Pharisees.” The most offensive and dangerous form of this self-righteousness is the attempt to invoke divine sanction for the national self-aggrandizement of the United States in its global struggle against “godless communism,” as if American imperialism were any less godless than Soviet imperialism. In the words of Paul Simmons, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, “Identifying the Judeo-Christian posture with American nationalism is to lose the transcendent and absolute nature of the Christian faith. For Christians and Jews, loyalty to God must transcend any earthly loyalties.”

- Christopher Lasch

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