Is the Christian right really the bogeyman?

Posted: May 28, 2007 12:00 AM

One thing we can generally predict about human behavior is that when people are unhappy, they go on the hunt for someone to blame.

Taking a lot of heat for today's discontents is the so-called "religious right."

Just consider books, some hot sellers, of recent years: Jim Wallis' "God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It"; "How the Republicans Stole Religion: Why the Religious Right is Wrong About Faith & Politics and What We Can Do to Make It Right" by Bill Press; and, more recently, Victor Gold's "Invasion of the Party Snatchers: How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP" and Christopher Hitchens' very subtle "god (CQ) is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."

Take your pick. The religious right is either destroying the Republican Party, the two-party system, the country or, according to Hitchens, by even having the temerity to suggest there is a Creator, and that life has rules, religious people are a danger to life itself.

Hitchens is the least of my concerns. There is no subtlety here that might seduce the uninformed. We just have the newest of a long historical procession of those who claim there is no truth (except, of course, that laid out in Hitchens' book) and that religion and morality and decency have nothing to do with each other.

Hitchens provides his own proof of the dubiousness of the latter claim with his tasteless and impolite screed about Jerry Falwell, published the instant the reverend breathed his last breath, noting that his death had "zero significance" and calling him a "credulous idiot."

What I am concerned about, however, are the more subtle attacks on the religious right, coming from the Christian left, that can have, and may be having, appeal to those who simply don't appreciate the facts.

I am talking about a distorted portrayal of conservative Christians as a detached and fanatic lot, who care only about a couple free-floating issues, abortion and sexual behavior, and who could care less about anything else going on in the country.

"Why this obsession with abortion and sexual behavior?" they ask. "How about poverty? How about the environment?"

Regarding poverty, the Rev. Wallis says, "This is the big issue of God's heart, if we take the Bible seriously." Poverty, according to Wallis, is the "silent tsunami" and "nobody pays attention to it."

Nobody pays attention to it?

Due respects to Wallis, but you just have to wonder where he has been for the last few decades.

In our own country, in the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson declared a "war on poverty." Since then, we have spent something on the order of $10 trillion under the premise that poverty is something that can be eliminated through government largesse.

Yet today, by our own standards of measuring poverty, the rate among blacks is twice the national average, and one in four blacks is poor.

How about overseas? About $3 trillion has been spent in developing countries, Africa, in particular, to fight poverty. Results? None. Virtually no impact.

One does not need to be of any particular ideology or religion to simply read and interpret facts. Rather, it can only be ideology that would cause someone to insist on a view that is inconsistent with the conclusions that facts bear out.

It is too bad that Johnson, in 1965, did not pay closer attention to what he himself understood. This is what he said then:

"The family is the cornerstone of our society. More than any other force, it shapes the attitude, the hopes, the ambitions and the values of the child. And when the family collapses, it is the children that are usually damaged. When it happens on a massive scale, the entire community itself is crippled."

Today, single-parent black families and black out-of-wedlock births are triple what they were when Johnson made these remarks at Howard University. Most sadly, and ironically, this breakdown in black families is largely attributable to the very government programs that Johnson helped put in motion.

There is no correlation that fits closer to the incidence of poverty than family breakdown.

Yet, we hear about the intolerance and mean-spiritedness of the Christian right because of its unwillingness to embrace single parenthood as a norm or sexual lifestyles and family arrangements outside of what is traditional as a norm.

Christians like to stay home and care for their families. Politics is not a natural home for these folks. Conservative Christian activism has never been a move to take over the country.

The takeover of our country has already occurred from the left. Conservative Christians just want to defend the little turf left where truth can be preserved.

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