The “War on Religion” and the Importance of the Religious Left
Almost every speaker at CPAC so far has railed against President Obama’s “War on Religion.” The feeling in the air is that Obama has awakened a sleeping giant of outrage among religious people of all denominations by revealing his long-hidden animosity toward religion in general and Christianity in particular. The enthusiasm for this dramatic language, and the speed with which it’s spread throughout the conservative community, speaks to a larger belief about the role of faith in politics on the right.
One of yesterday morning’s panelists summed it up well. Speaking at the ”Do ‘We Still Hold These Truths?’: The Future of the Conservative Movement” panel, Jeffrey Bell, Policy Director of the American Principles Project, suggested to the crowd that the popular conservative focus on the left’s commitment to “socialism,” while important, misses the larger threat. In reality, liberals’ embrace of socialism is merely a means to the greater end of destroying the Church and the traditional family.
In this fantasy world, the HHS decision on contraception coverage wasn’t a tough call between competing sets of interests and rights, it was proof of Obama’s determination to destroy religion. Rick Santorum explained today that this decision puts America on the path to literally executing people of faith. I have no reason to question that people actually believe him.
This conspiracy theory depends on the presumptions that faith is the exclusive property of the right and the left is animated by godless moral relativism. The very existence of the religious left, and even the fact that sometime-allies like the Catholic bishops often oppose the right’s agenda, threaten to expose the whole charade.
That’s why, rather than acknowledge ideological diversity within the faith community or admit when they disagree with their own faith traditions, conservatives so often tie themselves into knots trying to explain the contradictions away or resort to demeaning,discrediting and dismissing religious progressives as heretical or marginal voices.
“War on Religion” language is a symptom of this larger narrative, and it’s incredibly important for the religious left to counter it by speaking loudly and prophetically about its values.