More Neoconservative Hogwash on Faith
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.
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.
More Neoconservative Hogwash on Faith | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden)
More Neoconservative Hogwash on Faith | 15 comments (15 topical, 0 hidden)