Both left and right are prone to spiritual tone-deafness.

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Both left and right are prone to spiritual tone-deafness.

Post by Corlyss_D » Fri May 12, 2006 11:55 am

In Search of the Religious Vote
Both left and right are prone to spiritual tone-deafness.

Friday, May 12, 2006 12:01 a.m.

Tomorrow morning, Sen. John McCain delivers the commencement address at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. Conventional wisdom has it that Mr. McCain is trying to win support from the religious wing of the GOP for a presidential run. The decision to appear at a university founded by the Rev. Jerry Falwell has not gone over well with Mr. McCain's fans on the left. "You're killin' me here," Jon Stewart told the senator when he appeared on the comedian's "Daily Show." "I feel like it's a condoning of Falwell's kind of crazymaking."

Mr. McCain's advisers probably saw this reaction coming but felt it was worth the hassle if it meant getting evangelicals on the "Straight Talk Express." What they didn't consider, but should have, is the evangelicals who cringe when they hear Mr. Falwell's name. It is exhausting to recount the ways in which Mr. Falwell offends many devout Christians, but Mr. McCain should get used to hearing them.

Mr. Falwell was in favor of Southern segregation. He encouraged American Christians to invest in apartheid South Africa. He asserted that AIDS is God's way of punishing homosexuals. More recently, he suggested that the blame for 9/11 lies at least partly with "the pagans," "the abortionists," "the feminists," "the gays" and "People for the American Way." Mr. Falwell has apologized for his segregationist views and has tried to clarify his other statements, but his clarifications are also exhausting. When you go to a place like Wheaton College, the country's foremost evangelical college, the students cannot insist strongly enough that Mr. Falwell doesn't speak for them.

So why doesn't Mr. McCain just go to Wheaton? Or Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago, whose 7,000 members more closely mirror mainstream evangelicals? Or Saddleback, the Southern California church led by Rick Warren, whose "The Purpose Driven Life" has sold more than 20 million copies? Or how about a meeting of World Vision, a Christian relief organization operating in 99 countries?

John C. Green, a pollster and senior fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, tells me that "there are lots of other places that Sen. McCain could go where there wouldn't be the downside" associated with Mr. Falwell. Mr. McCain could still appeal to "the religious right" by talking to what Mr. Green calls the "centrist" evangelicals.

The majority of these centrists, like the traditionalists, oppose gay marriage and abortion on demand. The religious differences between the groups lies, according to Mr. Green, "in emphasis and tactics." Centrist evangelicals are less likely to explicitly proselytize and to announce that non-Christians are going to hell. They've tried to bring greater racial diversity to their churches, believe in a broader role for women in society, and are more likely to view homosexual behavior as a discrete sin rather than to blame homosexuals as a class--for, say, terrorist attacks. Mr. McCain may feel he has to go to Liberty because he has criticized Mr. Falwell in the past, but it's hard not to wonder whether the senator is just digging himself in deeper.

When it comes to religious tone-deafness, of course, Mr. McCain has plenty of competition. A spate of books, including "Thy Kingdom Come: An Evangelical's Lament," "The Left Hand of God" and my favorite, "Jesus Rode a Donkey," explicitly state that Democrats made a mistake by offending religious folks in 2004. Now they want to show how a good Christian should be a good leftist.

"Please help me build an alternative to the Religious Right--before it's too late!" That was the subject line of an email from Rabbi Michael Lerner, the editor of Tikkun magazine and onetime adviser to Hillary Clinton, advertising his new "Network of Spiritual Progressives." Like his colleague Jim Wallis, the evangelical editor of Sojourners magazine, Rabbi Lerner has an agenda that sounds suspiciously identical to that of the Democratic Party. OK, it's actually sillier. Aside from wanting to pull out of Iraq immediately, raise taxes and increase government-funded social services, Rabbi Lerner wants to "seek a New Bottom Line in the Western world so that institutions get judged . . . [by] the extent to which they maximize love and caring."

No doubt there are people who agree with the pacifist-socialist sentiments of Messrs. Lerner and Wallis--even, suggests Mr. Green, a few evangelicals. But they are already voting for Democrats. And so, presumably, are the other spiritual progressives: mainline Protestants, Reform Jews, Buddhists and "humanists." Of the ones who are not, one might wonder: Where do you find them?

Today, it is a mark of the spiritual liberal not to be bound by such conventions as regular attendance at a house of worship. But where do you think Karl Rove went looking for his "moral values" voters in the last election? Here's a hint: He didn't go door to door.

In the past month, we have witnessed the passing of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin and Rabbi Arthur Hertzberg, both men who were not only active in politics but steeped in their faith. In fact, they had pulpits. Today's religious left likes to invoke these names to show that liberalism has an honorable religious history. But it's a long way from the civil-rights movement to the "New Bottom Line." Especially if you're riding a donkey.

Ms. Riley is deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's Taste page.
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Post by Ralph » Fri May 12, 2006 12:48 pm

If only the Lord would lead the "religious tone-deaf" to Dittersdorf!

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein


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