Sunday, April 6, 2008

There is no liberal Great Awakening

Over at Reason, there is an article called "The New Age of Reason" that has the small undertitle "Is the Fourth Great Awakening finally coming to a close?"

The short answer, from the article and reality, is yes. Great Awakenings are periods of religious ferment, when faith becomes far more popular an prevalent. While historians only truly recognize the first three, the Fourth is the one in which our current political climate is being formed. The Fourth started with the re-emergence of the Christian Right, reached its greatest political popularity with President Reagan and its greatest political power with President George W. Bush. What I mean by this is that Reagan was elected with the help of the Christian Right, Bush was elected by the Christian Right.

McCain's selection as the republican nominee over Huckabee, a much more religious man, and Romney, who tried to paint himself as a religious true conservative, shows that the political power of the groups that came from the Fourth Great Awakening is fading. True, McCain does support many Christian Right positions on foreign policy but does them out of a secular neoconservative philosophy rather than a religious one.

However the author of the article, Ronald Bailey, speculates that religious sections from the Fourth Great Awakening may find root in the Democratic Party, making a Religious Left. As a writer for a libertarian magazine, Bailey opposes any such move just as he opposed the Right in its religiously-inspired moralizing. Here, Bailey is wrong in a very obvious way. As examples of liberal religious moralizing he cites: "anti-smoking campaigns," "health-related legislation," and "apocalyptic environmentalism." If Bailey actually thinks that liberals support these causes out of religious enthusiasm, he is massively disconnected from reality. The only religious proof he gives on these subjects is that
The contemporary cult of the body [which he sees as responsible for legislation on obesity and smoking], with its obsession with diet and
exercise and its emphasis on beauty and perfection, has roots in the
biblical notion of the body as a “temple of the Holy Spirit.”
This is very weak proof indeed. Just because the movement has metaphorical similarities to religious moralizing does not make it religiously motivated.

There is indeed more religious Democratic enthusiasm than has been seen in some time, and Obama seems more openly religious than the average Democratic candidate [read: John Kerry], but religiously-minded Democrats will never make up the deal-breaking sector of the party the way they did among Republicans. Christian Leftists may be a part of the Democrats from now on, but they will no more control the party than the radical environmentalists. The core of the Democrats will be civil liberties, social justice , economic issues and liberal foreign policy voters.

What happened during the height of the Fourth Great Awakening was a religious imbalance within the parties. The Democrats were quite a-religious in the most religiously active Western country, and the Republicans were heavy-handedly religious in a country of moderates. The current election is showing a realignment towards an equilibrium that makes sense demographically: religious sectors of each party that influence, but do not control, the parties they vote for.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you: To think the cult of the body (obsession with obesity and smoking, "beauty and perfection") is rooted in the biblical "temple of the Holy Spirit," is way off the mark, a gross misreading of our society. One difference I see between many liberals and not all, but many conservatives is this: Too many conservatives wear their religion like campaign buttons, "I AM A RELIGIOUS PERSON AND I DEMAND YOU KNOW IT," implying that those who keep their religion a private and intimate part of their lives are inferior. It is similar to many conservatives who imply questioning political issues like the war in Iraq makes one anti-American. I find nothing but humor in Sean Hannity's phrase, "Hey I'm a great American, you're a great American, too." This greeting is given to people he's just opened up a phone line to and HAS NEVER MET A DAY IN HIS LIFE! The conservative right's implications that they have the upper hand in issues of faith AND patriotism is JUST WRONG.

one patriotic mom