Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Christian America?

Finished reading Smith's Christian America? what evangelicals really want. Interesting challenge to mainstream liberal and left criticisms of American evangelicals. Smith argues that focus group and in depth interviews show that evangelicals are much less dogmatic and bombastic than the leaders of the 'Christian right'. In particular their focus on personal salvation makes them suspicious of politics and hostile to any suggestion that the state enforce particular religious values. We can see that this suspicion of government makes evangelicalism compatible with economic conservatism. Smith shows that even public opinion questionnaires show that in many aspects evangelicals are less prejudiced than the mainstream, i.e. towards African-Americans and Jews. Smith says:
As it stands, American evangelicals remain one of the last social groups in the United states that people can speak disparagingly about in public and get away with...most of those who disparage evangelicals...don't have significant personal relationships with enough ordinary evangelicals to inform their view of what evangelicals are actually like (p.195).
Largely I am in sympathy with Smith's argument, and there has been much rubbish in Australia on Christianity and politics . But he never explains the dichotomy he sees between the 'Christian right' and ordinary evangelicals. Political leadership and political outcomes don't simply reflect public opinion. Michael Mann argues correctly that if Hitler had promised world war and genocide he would have been lucky to get 5% of the vote. Most German conservatives were not genocidal anti-Semites but there were elements in their belief system that could be exploited for evil. The refugee policies of successive Australian governments don't reflect public opinion, but they take up and develop elements of public opinion, ditto for Stalinism and Marxism. Progressive political strategies require more than just listing every horror quote from members of a group we fear, but they also require harder political analysis than simple expressions of good will. Smith made me think again whether liberals and the left can find common ground with evangelicals, at the least liberalism has responded to religious belief poorly.


At 9:40 AM, Anonymous Bring Back EP at LP said...

Amen to That ( pun intended).

There was a stupid book written about Howard and the christian right which was devoid of any facts or understanding in that regard.

i might add the secular left and right do have a problem in understanding this topic as any thread at LP on this type of topic would show


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