Saturday, June 26, 2004

The religious challenge of "exporting democracy"

Those who missed the Spring 2004 Issue of the Public Interest -- devoted to "Religion in America" -- should take a look at the few articles available online (or order the back issue itself). In the "The Unraveling of Christianity in America", Clifford Orwin shares his trenchant analysis of mainline ("evangelical") Christianity and it's struggle against the "Bobo" -- Bourgeois Bohemian -- faith of the postmodern liberal upper class (coined by David Brooks' amusing Bobos in Paradise).

Mr. Orwin concludes his essay by observing the quandary the Bush administration has placed itself in by its attempt to "export democracy" to far off shores, with the hope that it might take root in other than Judeo-Christian soil:

By its deeds, not merely its words, [The Bush Administration] has exceeded all previous ones in rejecting the dependence of democracy on Christianity. It has adopted the premise that just as Confucianism, historically anything but liberal or democratic, has posed no insuperable obstacle to the democratization of East Asia, so Islam will pose none to that of the Middle East.

This position is so far from that of the Christian Right as to place the administration squarely on the wrong side of the cultural divide. The conservative Christian view is that America has become and remained free only insofar as it has remained Christian, that the Christian backdrop to republicanism is a matter not of historical chance but of vital necessity. . . .

I'm not suggesting that the Christian Right is likely to abandon Bush. On many domestic issues—not least that of "faith-based initiatives"—it has every incentive to continue to collaborate with him. Nor is it likely to overlook that, of all Republican presidents since McKinley, Bush appears to be the most concerned with living a Christian life. All the more ironic, then, that in the most important policy and riskiest gamble of his presidency, Bush has embraced willy-nilly the view that liberal democracy is one thing, Protestant Christianity (or Christianity of any sort, or even Judeo-Christianity) entirely another. He has chosen to present America to the world not as the Christian nation for which his religious supporters take it, but as the universal sponsor of liberal democracy, which as such is impartial in principle as between Christianity and Islam.

Thus must Bush present America not just to the world but to itself. . . . However trying the struggle with Islamism may prove, whatever sacrifices it may demand, he cannot revive Lincoln's appeal to Christianity, no matter how nondenominational that appeal would be. His religious rhetoric must be "inclusive," anodyne, and sterile. His administration must become America's first genuinely Methodist Taoist Native American Quaker Russian Orthodox Buddhist Jewish (and Muslim) one. And so the challenge of Islamic terror will collaborate with other forces to drive official America to ever greater lengths of secularism or syncretism.

For an extensive review of this issue of The Public Interest, see Fr. Neuhaus' column in the June issue of First Things.


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