Thursday, December 01, 2005

Who's afraid of the Religious Right?

Over the last couple of decades, but especially since the 2004 election, there has been much trepidation over the "radical agenda of the Religious Right." And not all of the handwringing is from knee-jerk liberals, either. Putting it that way just makes the whole thing seem a great deal more sinister than it really is. For those who really don’t know, the agenda of the Christian Right primarily revolves around a few issues; things like abortion, judicial appointments, pornography, prayer in schools, etc. Furthermore, their position is in the majority of public opinion on some of these issues, the minority on others, but well within the socially acceptable bounds of discourse on all of them.

When you scratch the surface of this anxiety, usually someone volunteers something to the effect of, "I just don’t approve of them imposing their religious views on the rest of us." This is doubly unfortunate and irritating, because this is not only an unfair description of the political activism of the Religious Right, it is the exact opposite of it. The Religious Right does not impose any belief set on anybody, instead they are leveraging their position as citizens of a secular state.

They pursue their poltical ends exactly the way any legitimate actor in a democracy should: they publish op-eds, they recruit candidates to run in primaries, they hold conferences, fundraise, etc., etc. Whatever success they enjoy represents the success of our political process, not the failure.
What’s really behind this discontent, I suspect, is that people find themselves on the opposite side of one political issue or another, combined with the fear that there are more of them than there are of us. But, those who hold these fears have either not thought the matter through to this point, or that they are ashamed to voice their opinion on the matter. To the extent they are ashamed, this is somewhat justified because this view essentially reduces to the proposition that these religious people have somehow lost their right to engage in the political process just like any other Americans.

This view has no legal warrant, of course, and isn’t very charitable towards our neighbors. But more importantly, it ignores what we know about the sort of people that the religiously motivated tend to be. They are, in greater proportion than the rest of America, law-abiding, taxpaying, family-raising, and taxpaying people, and they live disproportionately in the heartland. If the head of a family of five in Tulsa cannot participate in the political process, who can?

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