Thursday, May 8, 2008

Useful Idiots

I came across this amazing web site about the Evangelical Manifesto. They are PDF files to download and probably too long for most people to read it all, but I did find some good stuff:
First, we repudiate two equal and opposite errors into which many Christians have fallen. One error is to privatize faith, applying it to the personal and spiritual realm only. Such dualism falsely divorces the spiritual from the secular and causes faith to lose its integrity. The other error, made by both the religious left and the religious right, is to politicize faith, using faith to express essentially political points that have lost touch with biblical truth. That way faith loses its independence, Christians become the “useful idiots” for one political party oranother, and the Christian faith becomes an ideology. Christian beliefs become the weapons of political factions.

Useful Idiots is such a great term, it's one I will definitely use in the future. I'm amazed that some Evangelicals were actually able to see this, they tend to be blinded by their ideology. The Republicans have lured them in with social issues such as abortion and gay rights and they vote on those thing while destroying themselves financially.
Second, we repudiate the two extremes that define the present culture wars in the
United States. On one side, we repudiate the partisans of a sacred public square, those who would continue to give one religion a preferred place in public life.
In a diverse society, it will always be unjust and unworkable to privilege one
religion. We are committed to religious liberty for people of all faiths. We are firmly opposed to theocracy. And we have no desire to coerce anyone or to impose beliefs and behavior on anyone. We believe in persuasion.

Now this is truly astonishing for an Evangelical. Their MO over the years has been to attack other religions, like that one group in Oregon that tried to keep out a Buddhist Temple from their town because it was devil worship. Or Bob Barr being outraged when he heard that Wiccans were able to hold ceremonies on a military base. So I'm very happy to see this development, it shows real rationality and a sense of fairness, although that word "persuasion" gives me pause. The Inquisition could be called "persuasion."
On the other side, we repudiate the partisans of a naked public square, those who would make all religious expression inviolably private and keep the public square inviolably secular. This position is even less just and workable because it excludes the overwhelming majority of citizens, who are still profoundly religious. Nothing is more illiberal than to invite people into the public square but insist that they be stripped of the faith that makes them who they are. We are committed to a civil public square – a vision of public life in which citizens of all faiths are free to enter and engage the public square on the basis of their faith, but within a framework of what is agreed to be just and free for other faiths as well. Every right we assert for ourselves as Christians is a right we defend for all others.

Now here they have it wrong but I think it's just ignorance on their part, but then I think most atheists get it wrong, too. The Separation of Church and State is most important to the religious because it protects them from religious persecution, or of being in that "Useful Idiots" role as they say above. Religion tied to government is no longer free. But the real bottom line of it all is that the government should not be in the religion business, period. It sounds nice to give everyone their say but the government has to stay away from religion in any way. Besides, adding religion into the public square is no way to promote civility, it's a way to destroy it.
Third, we are concerned that a generation of culture warring, reinforced by understandable reactions to religious extremism around the world, has created a powerful backlash against all religion in public life among many educated people. If this hardens into something like the European animosity toward religion in public life, the result would be disastrous for the American republic and would severely constrict liberty for people of all faiths. The striking intolerance shown by the new atheists is a warning sign. We call on all citizens of goodwill and believers of all faiths and none to join us in working for a civil public square and the restoration of a tough-minded civility that is in the interests of all.

Now this one cracks me up. Probably comes from that Barna survey a few months ago that said people had a more negative perception of Evangelicals than just about anybody else. What they call intolerance by atheists is just a question of us calling it like we see it. Most religion is evil and causes evil things to happen. Like the T-shirt that said "Imagine No Religion" and had a picture of the New York skyline with the Twin Towers still there.

I read something a while back that showed that certain Evangelicals, Hispanics and blacks primarily, do not understand other Evangelicals obsession with such issues as abortion and gays while completely ignoring Jesus' message to help the poor and needy. Wow! And here I thought Jesus said to make a lot of money and let the poor fend for themselves, I mean, that's what right wingnuts are all about. Did Jesus actually say to help the less fortunate and that it's not good to be rich? You'd hardly know that from the behavior of most Evangelicals.


vjack said...

Good one, and yes, that "useful idiots" phrase really is perfect. I wonder if the evangelicals will finally wake up to the fact that they have been used by right-wing (and now maybe left-wing) politicians.

KevinBBG said...

This manifesto is evidence that as least some of them are waking up. But I heard it wasn't signed by any of the well known right wing clergy. After all, for most their current jobs depend on being tied to the Republicans. Not many people would choose "God's Work" over a seven figure income.

Monte said...

I believe it was Barna whose analyses suggested that for 90% of younger evangelicals, the most important religious issue was poverty.

The religious right is a dinosaur on the brink.

KevinBBG said...

Let's hope so. I really have no problem with what people believe unless they are ruining the country by bringing those beliefs into politics.

And Barna is a Christian group so no one can accuse them of an anti-Christian bias. I've also heard that among none-Evangelicals poverty is the number one concern as well.

mike rucker said...

good thoughts; thanks for posting them, and for letting us add a few comments.

i had some hesitations and misgivings before reading the document, but was actually quite impressed and invigorated after taking in the whole of what it addressed.

one of the things i like about the document is that the authors choose not to say that creationism and inerrancy are non-negotiables. for the first, there’s very little biblical justification anymore behind whatever the latest flavor of anti-natural-selection dessert is being served up; for the latter, somehow we can admit that we can’t prove the existence of God, but goshdarnit we have a golden egg this unprovable God laid right here. there’s simply too much of a tendency to add items to the ever-increasing laundry list of ideas and doctrines to which we have to pledge allegiance before we’re allowed into the room marked “Christian.”

more than anything, i found myself motivated and energized by the very positive nature of the piece - that it isn’t yet another “here’s everything we’re against” rant but an effort to make the gospel again a message of good news. imagine that - the gospel being good news. American Christianity has lost this defining characteristic that once served it well.

there are a few things i question, but nothing is going to please everyone, i suppose. for instance, i’m not sure i agree with this statement: We Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially, or culturally. Jesus’ message uses “action” verbs: teach them to DO as I have commanded you, LOVE God and LOVE your neighbor, by this will all men know … if you LOVE one another. any theology that defines us must have feet.

i did, however, like these words:
We are also troubled by the fact that the advance of globalization and the emergence of a global public square finds no matching vision of how we are to live freely, justly, and peacefully with our deepest differences on the global stage.

somehow we've got to figure out how we we're going to happily share the same bathroom over the next few decades in our ever-shrinking world.

one interesting thing: maybe i missed it, but there doesn’t seem to be a great emphasis on evangelism in this Evangelical Manifesto. was that intentional? i didn’t see a single chick tract referenced in the bibliography…

perhaps one unintended benefit of the proposal is a clear opportunity to take this EM (Evangelical Manifesto) and align it with the other EM (Emergent Manifesto) and finally have all our EM & EMs in a row without demonizing the other side.

one can only hope…

mike rucker
fairburn, georgia, usa

PhillyChief said...

Unfortunately it's just the religious left and moderates signing on to this, which are the ones I don't mind being involved in the voting process. Hell, they may even be needed. This only works if they all step back, and the right wing ones won't.

I fear this could be more harm than good, at least initially until the idea cracks the right wing.

KevinBBG said...

The left wing evangelicals are trying to take back their religion from the right wing nut jobs. I wish them well.