Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Is Christianity good for American politics?

One of my favorite podcasts is Reasonable Doubts.  This week, the podcast tackles a recent debate between Dinish D'Souza, Christian apologist, and Susan Jacoby, secularist author. Link to podcast.  The topic of the debate was whether Christianity is good for American politics.

D'Souza is one of the better debaters among Christian apologists.  I prefer him, for example, to William Lane Craig.  While D'Souza's arguments are not substantively any better than Craig's, his rhetorical skills are much better (i.e., he is adept at masking his equivocation, straw man arguments, and other logical fallacies).

I'll discuss only two of his most outrageous points.

First, D'Souza argues that Christians are being excluded from the public sphere.  Seriously?  You can't become president of the United States if you are not a Christian.  One of the biggest questions of the presidential primary was whether Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, was also a Christian. Seven states still bar atheists from public office.   North Carolina recently banned gay marriage on purely religious grounds.

D'Souza, as many Christians, has an obvious persecution complex.  Why is this the case when it is clear that, far from being persecuted, Christianity controls much of American political life?

Ed Brayton of Culture Wars Radio, who co-hosted the podcast, provided what I believe to be the answer to this question:  Christians are rightfully afraid that they are losing their cultural hegemony.

The second false and misleading point made by D'Souza is that Christianity is responsible for abolition, civil rights, temperance, women's suffrage, etc.  I'll give D'Souza the temperance movement.  The Women's Christian Temperance Union was largely responsible for prohibition, and we are still feeling the negative effects 80 years later.  To lump temperance with denying civil rights to Blacks or denying women the right to vote is absurd.

While there were many Christians who fought for abolition, civil rights, and suffrage, it was almost always against institutional religion and the legislatures dominated by Christians.  The Bible specifically approves of slavery and does not once condemn slavery, either in the Old or the New Testament. Religion has largely been an obstruction to positive societal change.  However, when religion is brought kicking and screaming into step with advancing societal norms, it actually has the audacity to claim that it orchestrated the change!

As observed in the podcast, D'Souza will probably argue 30 years from now that Christianity was responsible for marriage equality, forgetting that the entire apparatus of the anti-gay movement was founded in religion.  He will point to examples of Christians who favored gay rights and try to make it appear that they were representative of Christianity in 2012.  The ignorance of today's Christians with respect to gay rights is no different than the ignorance of Christians in the 50s and 60s with regard to civil rights, only now, it is in color.

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