Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The Timeless Word Of God

In his important, though questionable, essay, Emmett Rensin writes

Suffice it to say, by the 1990s the better part of the working class wanted nothing to do with the word liberal. What remained of the American progressive elite was left to puzzle: What happened to our coalition?

Why did they abandon us?

What's the matter with Kansas?

The smug style arose to answer these questions. It provided an answer so simple and so emotionally satisfying that its success was perhaps inevitable: the theory that conservatism, and particularly the kind embraced by those out there in the country, was not a political ideology at all.

The trouble is that stupid hicks don't know what's good for them. They're getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that've made them so wrong. They don't know any better. That's why they're voting against their own self-interest.

"Many forces" (especially The Daily Show), Rensin maintained, "advanced the idea that liberal orthodoxy was a kind of educated savvy and that its opponents were, before anything else, stupid."

Slate's Jamelle Bouie takes Remsin on and argues "to suggest" that liberal smugness toward the working-class

is a prime mover in their alienation from the party is to ignore the actual dynamics at work. The driving reason working-class whites abandoned the Democratic Party is race. The New Deal coalition Rensin describes was devoured by its own contradictions, chiefly, the racism needed to secure white allegiance even as the party tried to appeal to blacks.

Pressed by those blacks, Democrats tried to make good on their commitments, and when they did, whites bolted. The Democratic Party’s alliance with nonwhites is what drove those whites away, not the sniffing of comedians on cable television. And,looking at the politics of the last seven years, it’s still keeping them away.

Remsin believes that the culture in which liberals wallow includes "The knowing that police reform, that abortion rights, that labor unions are important, but go no further: What is important, after all, is to signal that you know these things. "

It turns out, inconveniently for Remsin, that on at least one matter (oh, there are others) conservatives themselves simply know certain things. And it turns out, conveniently for Mr. Bouie, that he realized this well before Remsin's piece, when two years ago he recalled of the 1960s

In his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics, Jonathan Dudley notes that most evangelicals held far more liberal views at the time. “God does not regard the fetus as a soul no matter how far gestation has progressed,” wrote professor Bruce Waltke of Dallas Theological Seminary in a 1968 issue of Christianity Today on contraception and abortion, edited by Harold Lindsell, a then-famous champion of biblical “inerrancy.” His argument rested on the Hebrew Bible, “[A]ccording to Exodus 21:22–24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.”

This was't anyone from a United Church of Christ, or even United Presbyterian (now Presbyterian Church in the USA), seminary, but from the famed Southern Baptist Convention seminary in Dallas.

A few years later, Bouie adds, the SBC called

for “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”

As most evangelicals will assert, the Bible is enduring, Jesus Christ immortal, and the word of God infallible. Evidently, they hadn't accurately discerned God's mind because

By 1982, however, the SBC—along with most American evangelicals—had switched gears entirely. During that year’s convention, delegates held that “human life begins at conception” and that they would work for “appropriate” legislation or a constitutional amendment to “prohibit abortions except to save the physical life of the mother.”

Bouie asked

What happened to cause this sea change in attitudes toward fetal life and abortion among evangelicals? In short, politics, and in particular, the successful coalition-building of Jerry Falwell, Paul Weyrich, and other Christian conservatives in the wake of Roe v. Wade. Conservative Catholics were quick to mobilize against the court’s ruling, but many Protestant evangelicals were relatively apathetic. At that point, “culture war” issues such as abortion, feminism, and homosexuality weren’t on their radar (hence Jimmy Carter’s successful appeal to them in the 1976 presidential election).

It took the organizational might of Falwell and his “Moral Majority”—as well as evangelical anti-abortion figures such as Francis Schaeffer—to galvanize evangelicals around other “culture war” issues such as feminism, homosexuality, and school prayer. This in turn led to alliances with largely Catholic organizations like the National Right to Life Committee.

Belief tends to follow behavior, and working in political alliance with Catholics—a significant shift from earlier periods of evangelical political activism—led conservative evangelicals to adopt “pro-life” positions on abortion. Likewise, there was a shift in evangelical media—via books, magazines, radio, and television—toward anti-abortion beliefs. In 1980 Falwell declared, “The Bible clearly states life begins at conception.” Four years later, notes Dudley, InterVarsity Press—an evangelical imprint—was forced to withdraw a book that restated the earlier consensus around abortion.

Christian cultural conservatives are informed by their belief that Scripture confirms life begins at conception and abortion is thus "murder" (by which they mean "killing"; accuracy optional). They just know life begins at conception. Unlike those "smug" liberals, however, it is insufficient to let it go at that. The belief must be memorialized (a long word used by smug liberals, no doubt) in law. They're not "stupid hicks"-  most aren't hicks, and being derogatory is primarily a right-wing trait, anyway.

They also aren't necessarily "stupid," with approximately as many stupid conservatives as stupid liberals, "stupid" not being synonymous with ill-informed (and certainly not terrorists, unlike the guy shown below).  But prior to the 1980s, those "tent revivalists" were unconvinced that God condemned all abortion. Fortunately for conservatives and GOP fundraisers, the word of God proved quite flexible.

"Ask most (white) evangelicals about the morality of abortion these days," Bouie summarized two years ago, "and you’re certain to hear about its absolute immorality in most, if not all, circumstances. But this is a recent innovation in the history of evangelical belief, a product of political forces as well as new theological insight." Lacking smugness, Bouie even now would be too polite to answer the question (posed as a charge by Rensin) as to whether politically conservative evangelicals are "getting conned by right-wingers and tent revivalists until they believe all the lies that've made them so wrong." We don't need Bouie's response.  History can answer that.

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