More Neoconservative Hogwash on Faith
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Jun 24, 2007 at 09:37:45 AM EST
A segment on Tucker Carlson's cable television show caught the attention of several Institute for Progressive Christianity members, including me. Carlson's guest was Weekly Standard senior editor Andrew Ferguson.

Carlson: Can you imagine a scenario, though, where the Democrat gets religious voters? Or is abortion is still the stumbling block?"

Ferguson: Only in -- religious in the way that Hillary Clinton is religious, which is to say of a very liberal Protestant sort of view, in which they believe in everything but God.

The neoconservative war on moderation and mainstream religion continues full blast.

A few weeks back I wrote about neoconservative David Brooks' similar attempt to belittle the progressive faithful.  I noted how in his piece The Catholic Boom,, when it seemed that Brooks was complimenting moderate and progressive Catholics he was actually denigrating them. His description of them being "quasi-religious" was nothing more than an esoteric way of characterizing them as less faithful than more orthodox adherents.

Now comes Andrew Ferguson, of the neoconservative Weekly Standard. Mr. Ferguson seems to have fallen into the familiar claim that anything but the self-proclaimed orthodox are insufficiently faithful.

As of late, fecklessly skewering liberals with falsehoods has been Andrew Ferguson's calling card. In his June 10, 2007 hatchet job review of Al Gore's recent book The Assault on Reason, Ferguson started off his diatribe with this little dandy:

You can't really blame Al Gore for not using footnotes in his new book, "The Assault on Reason." It's a sprawling, untidy blast of indignation, and annotating it with footnotes would be like trying to slip rubber bands around a puddle of quicksilver. Still, I'd love to know where he found the scary quote from Abraham Lincoln that he uses on page 88.

As the Daily Howler's Bob Somerby observed, all Ferguson had to do was look in the back of the book to find twenty pages worth of end-notes. Somerby astutely noted, "The quotation comes from The Lincoln Encyclopedia, a 1950 Mcmillan compilation, edited by Archer Shaw. Yes, readers, that's where Gore "found the quote." It says so right in his book."

Here Ferguson was demonizing Gore by playing upon the urban legend created by a foppish media that the former Vice President is somewhat dishonest. And by what seems to be too much of a coincidence, both Messrs. Brooks and Ferguson have both decided to take on the progressive nature of the mainstream religious as well as Al Gore.

But Ferguson is blunter than the ever-esoteric Brooks. Instead of using back-handed compliments, (then on mainstream Catholics), Ferguson goes right for the Social Gospel jugular. He denounces progressive Protestants as basically godless; absent proper explanation equating difference with deficiency. Folks, meet Ann Coulter's newest bomb throwing dance partner, Andrew Ferguson.

This neoconservative cornucopia of cheap shots is, in fact, all about an intolerance of different ideas. Although neoconservatives and their Religious Right allies do not control either society or the mainstream Protestant denominations, they are attempting to do           so. And while they engage in their struggle they are simultaneously attempting to transform society as the go.

In the current state of mainstream Protestantism, arguably it is the Religious Right who is doing the actual dissenting. They are angry about perceived heresy and apostasy, among other things. Their allies are neoconservative Catholics (who are also waging their own scorched Earth policy against mainstream and liberal elements within the Catholic Church), stepped in authoritarian notions of government as well as faith. So as they continue the ongoing seizure of individual denominations they erode the concept of the differing opinion, in anticipation of a time when their morality will be considered mainstream.

It is true that the intolerance of difference is not the same thing as intolerance of dissent. The latter implies inequality of power. But it is equally true that achieving the ability to be intolerant of difference readily leads to the intolerance of dissent: that is the thing to be feared.

To that end, Ferguson's technique (as well as that of Brooks) is designed solely to demonize those Christians who emphasize Social Gospel teachings -- i.e., liberals. It arises directly from neoconservative readings of Plato's Republic that emphasize the character Thrasymicus's assertion that justice is nothing more than helping friends and harming opponents.  Sadly, this simplistic "Enemy/Friend" frame is a highly effective tactic at cutting off all debate on important issues of the day.  After all -- how can reasonable people of God expect to be able to negotiate in good faith with the faithless?

But why this sudden war on mainstream Christians?  Actually, it isn't really sudden -- it has been going on quite awhile through the silent but steady "steeplejacking" of individual mainstream Protestant congregations, and what amounts to covert operations against the major denominations -- to destablize and ultimately divide them .  But with the beginning of  a better organized Christian Left, combined with nonreligious Americans beginning to organize themselves into a more unified force, the tactics of the Religious Right and their neocon cronies are becoming more overtly hostile.

Dissent is a dirty word to those who practice a strident form of faith. It has a similarly foul meaning for neocons who envision their ideal society built upon a three-legged foundation of corporatism, nationalism and orthodoxy. Both of the aforementioned believe that a significant element of orthodoxy means deferring to aristocratic elite on matters of personal morality. Hence, they frown on anything they see as disrupting their view of an ordered society. It follows that those who would dissent on religious questions would also dissent on political questions.

But necessary societal change only comes through open dissent. The veracity of older ideas must be challenged from time to time. If the world were still governed by the traditionalists' unquestioned reliance upon a stilted form of Natural Law, Aristotelian notions of six-legged spiders and seeing the earth to be the center of the universe would still be accepted truths. In the real world, new ideas, not "prior infallible teaching" is usually the corrective force of the truth. To stifle an idea solely because of its difference is static conservatism in its most closed-minded form.

But if neocons ever achieve a dissent-free society they will only be sowing the seeds of their own destruction. History has repeatedly demonstrated that societies that do not tolerate dissent cripple their own means to correct mistakes. More importantly, this "sweep our problems under the rug" approach lets the causes for potential upheavals to fester. Any enterprise that quashes all dissent is brittle and likely to blow apart in the first strong wind.

And as to be expected, the neoconservative wing of the religious right is resorting to its favorite weapon: demonization.   Just like his mendacious charge about Al Gore's lack of footnotes, Andrew Ferguson is dead wrong about liberal Protestants not believing in God. But respect for religious difference is not a value you will hear neocons talk about, but ruthless lies in pursuit of neoconservatism, is a staple of neocon evangelism: the more they are told, the more they are believed, not only by others, but by neocon evangelists.
Neoconservatives and the Religious Right are also dead wrong about those who have a more progressive view of their religion: their faith is not less strong because it does not adhere to the canons of contemporary orthodoxy. For example, it does not take less self-discipline to be non-violent or to question the basis of a given religious doctrine, in fact, it usually requires greater moral courage.  Martin Luther King, Jr., Mahatma Gandhi or Dietrich Bonhoeffer were spiritual dissenters paid with lives because they challenged a status quo.

But I'll bet the ranch that Andrew Ferguson doesn't care much about being about getting his facts straight. Instead, he knows the value of frontal assaults, even without knowing all the facts. The use of such terms such as quasi-religious" or accusing liberal Protestants of believing "in everything but God" are ways of controlling the conversation. It has the same effect as asking a political opponent if "he still beats his wife" when you know he never did.  Innuendo is an incredibly devastating way to demonize opponents.

It is a ruthless game that is designed to keep liberals - religious or otherwise on the defensive. Whenever our side has to respond, neocons like Ferguson and Brooks know that we have us playing catch-up. It only reinforces the need for us to start taking the battle to them for a change. And that is why in my next post I will discuss a possible means to that end.

If we keep taking their bait and try to fight them on their terms we will not win this battle. Our challenge is to break this Enemy/Friend frame. By doing so, we will have begun taking control of the conversation.

There is always a time to stand firm and speak the truth, sometimes in tough terms. There is, however, no need to take cheap shots built upon mendacity.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jun 24, 2007 at 09:42:25 AM EST

Americans turn off their brains when hearing comforting generalities.  I'd go for using specifics to address objections to Christians serving the poor.

"Who do you think was/is more holy - Mother Teresa or Rev. Falwell? Or, for that matter, Dr. Tom Dooley (orphanages in Vietnam) vs. Rev.D. James Kennedy?"

This is a no-brainer for most Americans.

The question I would ask the anti-social gospel types: How do you get middle-class and wealthy white Americans to go into the ghettos and skid rows and  teach GED and vocational ed to high school dropouts, renovate or insulate old folks' homes, convince reluctant drunk or crazy or scared chronically homelss men to come to shelter on a cold night? Do you (the anti-social gospel person) anticipate getting 25% of your congregation to give at least 5 hours a week on point-of-service site, and tithing an additional 10% for social justice out of their large tax cuts? How many do so now? What sort of help or motivation would they need to step up and do their Matthew 25 duty?

by NancyP on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 05:35:13 PM EST

...with a live call into the 'tweety' Matthews show. She called out Coulter for slandering her family and debasing political dialogue in America. This brought a cheer from the young audience and Matthews to agree with Edwards' point . Instant Karma. Very effective. But why does tweety put Coulter on his show in the first place? Let's ask his sponsors.

by justintime on Tue Jun 26, 2007 at 11:57:48 PM EST
This is good and an important step in the right direction.

But isn't it obvious what must be done? Break the Enemy/Friend frame. Pundits of Ann Coulter's ilk go personal for one reason and one reason only: they've already lost the argument on the merits.

Perhaps our response should be just to point out this obvious fact?

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Jun 27, 2007 at 07:12:05 AM EST

I almost understand what you mean here, Frank. Is there a good illustration of how to actually do this? I agree, hate mongers resort to slandering their opponents for lack of a convincing argument. We may be successful pointing this out to an audience, but the hate monger will hate us even more for pointing it out to them. They don't want us to be friends. They need us to be their enemy.

by justintime on Wed Jun 27, 2007 at 10:37:29 AM EST
In the piece I will post for Blog Against Theocracy II.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Wed Jun 27, 2007 at 03:13:01 PM EST

It's easy to be tempted to take the low road, and even more so when you are facing people you disagree with who tend to follow in lockstep.  Sadly, the condition of the mainstream media, particularly TV media is such that it lends itself to this sort of demonization. It's a good reason why I don't watch TV news any more, and it's also one reason why Bill Donohue gets the press appearances he does.

I am tired of the likes of Andrew Ferguson telling me what I do or don't believe. I can speak for myself.


by khughes1963 on Sun Jun 24, 2007 at 10:33:12 AM EST

It is time for those of us in the mainstream to refute the likes of Ferguson collectively. As the saying goes, there is stregnth in numbers.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jun 24, 2007 at 01:35:39 PM EST
Are there any effective methods to collectively refute the demonization of Progressive Christians? The best I can come up with is writing letters to the sponsors of Bowtie Boy's teevee show. This tactic was somewhat successful against Ann Coulter's most outrageous comments.

by justintime on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 10:01:48 AM EST
The issue is the framework. I'll be throwing that out for discussion in the next few posts.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 02:25:14 PM EST
It important to have some more extended thoughts and discussion about what to do -- and what not to -- in response to the religious right.

In the past, we have discussed a lot of things, among them, avoidance of demonization and name calling.People who find themselves using terms like American Taliban and Christo-fascist in public, not only sound shrill, but are living up to the stereotype that religious rightists use in seeking to portray liberals as religious bigots. What's worse, is when people actually try to use terms like this in more analytical conversation -- as if they had any meaning beyond cheap epithets.

Moving the conversation forward has meant in part, laying down sufficient common terms and a sufficient base of common knowledge so that we can have coherent, thoughtful conversations about what works, what doesn't, and what else we might do. Certainly, not all such conversations happen here. But it is good for us to have them too.


by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 03:19:17 PM EST
Parent a dirty rotten lie. And we're tired of it. But what to do about it? Demand equal time on the Tucker show to counter the Ferguson slur? Call Ferguson out personally for making slanderous statements? Write a letter to the Weekly Standard, citing slanderous comments about Progressive Christians and demand they print a rebuttal?

by justintime on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 05:32:51 PM EST

I'd deeply offended when people attack liberal religious perspectives. Would MSNBC's management tolerate hate-speech against other religious groups? It's worth asking, as Obama did, "I don't know what Bible they are reading". Jesus' ministry was primarily to the poor and the dispossessed. He didn't come to give the Pharisees tax cuts. He did not establish a theocracy. If the Christian Right believes that Jesus was wrong or failed in his mission (like the owner of the Washington Times says) then let them be honest enough to say so.

by IanR on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 12:29:25 AM EST

is the casual dismissal of Hillary Clinton's faith. I am not a political supporter of hers, but I cannot think of another public figure who has shown evidence of forgiving a loved one "seventy times seven times." Can you?

by nogodsnomasters on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 12:50:54 AM EST
But remember: part of the Enemy/Friend equation is inconsistency and kicking your opponents while their on the ground.

For the leadership of the Religious Right, and more so for their neoconservative allies this is not about the spirituality of faith but its manipulation for political purposes.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Mon Jun 25, 2007 at 07:37:00 AM EST

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