OPEN UNIVERSITY SEPTEMBER 16, 2006
by David A. Bell I agree with most of what Alan Wolfe and David Greenberg have written here (and elsewhere) about religion and politics. But I think that in terms of political strategy, this is simply not a fight that liberals can win, and instead of getting into it, they should try to avoid it as much as possible. It's true that most Americans are, for now, content with the politico-religious status quo, as David puts it. But the ingenious thing about phony issues like the "War on Christmas" is that it energizes the theocons' base, and gives many other religious people the impression that they must choose between the god-fearing and the godless-but it pushes very few people in the other direction. I wish I could agree with David that much of the broad middle will get disgusted with the Christian Right for inventing such issues, but so far, at least, most of the people in this middle either aren't paying attention, or just don't care enough. So the net result is an shift in the status quo, and an electoral move to the right. Is there a way for Democrats to avoid the trap of having to choose between looking like atheist elitists or phonies? (for instance, Howard Dean, when he memorably called Job his favorite book of the New Testament?) With all due respect to Mike Kazin, who wrote a memorable piece several years ago calling on liberals to take religion seriously, I'm not sure there is. In today's degenerate public sphere, it is all too easy for the Christian Right to boil down any serious debate over religion into the crude question of who is more religious. Democrats can't win this, and so maybe they shouldn't bother trying. Better to change the subject as rapidly as possible, and get to the same voters some other way. And if pushed to the wall, they can always repeat the words of the Scripture: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16).