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Friday, May 19, 2006

What do you call a Right Wing Christian, ear-lie in the morning?

According to Peggy Noonan, there’s a large market for books aimed at Christians who want to have their faith debased and destroyed.

Noonan, you may have heard, is in a fluster---well, ok, she’s always in a fluster.  This time she’s flustering over The Da Vinci code.

She’s aghast that that nice Ron Howard and that nice Tom Hanks have collaborated to make a movie that’s so blasphemous, so subversive, and so...so...so insulting!

I do not understand the thinking of a studio that would make, for the amusement of a nation 85% to 90% of whose people identify themselves as Christian, a major movie aimed at attacking the central tenets of that faith, and insulting as poor fools its gulled adherents. Why would Tom Hanks lend his prestige to such a film? Why would Ron Howard?

Beats me, Peg.  As Scott Lemieux says, it’s a puzzle.

I’m guessing Noonan’s heard that the novel The Da Vinci Code’s something of a bestseller.

In fact, it’s an industry.

That she apparently can’t see any connection between its bestseller status and it’s being turned into a movie is just another sign that she needs to get out more and spend less time communing with angels in the form of dolphins.

But her assertion that 85 to 90 percent of Americans are Christians shows that A.) she doesn’t bother to look things up before throwing numbers around and B.) she has the same understanding of math and fractions as Bertie Wooster, who has observed that half the world doesn’t know how the other three-quarters lives.

Surely it should have occured to her that if 85 to 90 percent of Americans are Christians and The Da Vinci Code is selling like...well, like a book that everybody and his brother are buying, then some of those books must be being bought by Christians.

Unless she thinks that the 10 to 15 percent of Americans who are godless Liberals are buying up multiple copies and forcing them on their Christian friends in order to shake their faith in the divinity of Jesus, there must be a lot of Christians who want to be told that Jesus didn’t die on Golgotha that day 1973 years ago.

Because, you know, no one reads potboiler novels just for fun.

Now, there are folks of the Right Wing persuasion who believe that seeing movies about prepubescent children learning magic will inspire a generation of witches and warlocks, and others who believe that movies about gay cowboys will cause their sons to run off to go fishing with their best guy pals, and others who argue that movies about crusading journalists exposing lying demogogues as the liars and demogogues they are will teach us all that Communism is the cat’s meow and way cooler than democracy.

So, if Noonan believes that a movie about the murderous adventures of an albino monk and how Tom Hanks’ physical charms are irresistable to the likes of Audrey Tautou will lead to crises of faith all over God’s Country, she’s simply conforming to a type, and God bless her and save her.

Not much I can do to help her, except point out that generations of kids have grown up quite certain that real mice don’t talk or wear red shorts and white gloves.

The real danger in what she’s saying is in the continuation of two ideas:

A.  America is a Christian nation.

B.  Somehow the great Christian majority is being oppressed by a tiny minority of Liberal elitists.

The truth is that a minority of people who identify themselves as Christians feel themselves to be oppressed by the existence of a majority of people who don’t agree with their idea of what Christianity is or ought to be.

It is true that most Americans are, nominally, Christian.  Something like 5 out of 6. But most of them are not of the type of Evangelicals, Pentecostals, or the various non-denominationalists that make up what goes by the name of Christian in the Media these days.

Most of them are Catholics, Episcopalians---you know, those people with the gay bishop---and the other more established Protestant churches.  (Updated:  This is a bad sentence.  Patrick Nielsen Hayden rightfully takes issue with it in the comments.  I’ll be back later to clarify.  For now, here’s a site that has results from a Gallup survey of religious affiliations.  Most of the numbers seem to be from 1990 though.  If anyone has more up to date numbers, please leave them in the comments.)

In other words, most Christians are of the type of Christian that those who speak for “Christians” in the media these days think aren’t truly Christian or aren’t Christian enough or aren’t Christian in the right way---right as in correct in their religious beliefs and practices and right as in correct in their Right Wing politics.

Right Wing Christians refer to themselves as just Christians, naturally, because in their minds they are the true Christians.  It turns out to be useful politically to refer to themselves this way because it blurs the distinctions between themselves and other types of Christians, helping to disguise the differences between themselves and those other Christians so that not just all those other Christians don’t realize what the Right Wingers really are and want, but also so that their non-Christian political enemies fall into the trap of using the term Christian as an insult and an accusation.

When Liberals speak or write dismissively of “Christians” and their reactionary politics and general assaults on reason, science, art, and a democratic, pluralistic culture, other Christians instinctively close ranks, joining their votes with people who are even more contemptuous of their faith than the godless Liberals.

Once upon a time the Media used to identify Right Wing Christians as Fundamentalists or Evangelicals or Born Agains or Right Wing Christians.  But because there are many Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, and Born Agains who are not Right Wingers, either because they are apolitical, liberals, or merely somewhat conservative, the terms have been generally abandoned and replaced with variations on Conservative Christians.

Since most Americans consider themselves Conservative, although surveys of their actual beliefs on most issues show that they aren’t anywheres near as conservative as they think they are, the term Conservative Christian might as well be read as simply Christian, and in fact that’s how it’s often read and abridged, allowing Right Wing Christians to pass themselves off as mainstream and portray opposition to their agenda as attacks on Christianity in general.

It would be nice then if we could come up with a term, and convince the Media to use it, that would strip away the Right Wing Christians’ camouflage.

Lately, Andrew Sullivan has suggested the word Christianist.

David Neiwert points out that he and Tristero sort of came up with the same idea a while ago, but while Tristero still uses it, Neiwert himself decided it’s a poor choice.

I had some reservations about the term, particularly because it seemed ripe for mau-mauing from right-wing pundits—say, Rush Limbaugh or Hugh Hewitt—who would almost certainly twist it into an attack on “ordinary Christians.” I didn’t necessarily think it was an inaccurate coinage, but it was one that lent itself to misinterpretation in the wrong hands.

Neiwert prefers another term, Dominionist.  David’s post is too long for me to summarize here, but as usual for him, it’s thorough and informative and well-worth reading.  In it he lays out the Dominionist agenda, which is, in a nutshell, to make America a Right Wing Christian quasi-theocracy.

I have two objections to the word Dominionist.

One, it’s not punchy.

Go ahead, say it out loud.  You’ll sound all mush-mouthed to yourself.

And two, it’s not going to catch on without lots and lots and lots of repetition and patient explanation.

I don’t think we’ve got the time.

I’ve always liked the phrase Right Wing Fundamentalist.  It’s punchy, it’s got a history, it distinguishes between Fundamentalists who are not Right Wingers and those who are, and it denies the Right Wingers the words conservative and Christian, which is not just useful but accurate, because they are neither.

Its weakness is that it wouldn’t seem to include Right Wing Catholics of the Scalia stripe.

The Media in its currently cowed state will be hard to bring round.  They seem wedded to the idea that the Republican Party is a conservative party.  Conservative is for them a synonym for Republican and Republican is a synonym for small town, Middle American, traditional, flag waving wholesomeness.

Right Wing Christians vote Republican, therefore they are conservative, wholesome, traditional, Middle American.

You know, the mainstream majority.

Cross-posted at my place.

I first heard of Dominionism from Shakespeare’s Sister.

Another way to take the word Christian away from the Right Wing Fundamentalists/Dominionists/What you will may be for Democratic, Liberal, and Progressive Christians to start inisting on their Christianity in the public square too.  Yellow Dog Sammy reports at the American Street that this is going on in Ohio these days, not to everybody’s comfort.

Neddie Jingo doesn’t like the novel The Da Vinci Code, not now, not ever, and probably doesn’t like anybody who does.

Posted by Lance Mannion on 05/19 at 09:51 AM
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