October 25, 2004
Religious strife in AmericaBy Thomas Lifson
Why are we being treated to a public meltdown of the left?
From Lawrence O'Donnell screaming variants of the word 'liar' 46 times in a ten minute span, as Swift Boat Vets leader John O'Neill was being interviewed on MSNBC, to a Guardian columnist wishing for a modern day John Wilkes Booth to cut down President Bush, media figures are embarrassing themselves almost daily with unhinged vitriol. Among the ordinary citizenry, there is a shocking wave of violence against Bush—Cheney campaign offices, intimidation of early voters waiting in line, and harassment of those wearing pro—Bush garb in the wrong neighborhoods.
The first and most obvious explanation is that the left senses that they are not winning and doesn't like it. T. Bevan of Real Clear Politics expressed it well:
The fact is Democrats are angry, desperate, and absolutely beside themselves at facing the prospect of another four years with George W. Bush as President. Frankly, I don' t blame them.
With so much invested emotionally, it will be a crushing psychological blow for liberals to see Bush reelected a week from this Tuesday. Furthermore, if Bush wins big it could be a defeat that threatens the very foundations of the liberal movement itself.
There is much merit to this argument. After continuously controlling the House of Representatives for half a century, the Democrats have spent the last decade out of power there, and have few obvious prospects for regaining control. Population shifts steadily erode the political clout of liberal—bastion blue states like New York, while enhancing that of red state redoubts like Texas and Idaho. The extraordinarily—skilled politician Bill Clinton aside, few Democratic national figures are able to exercise much sway over a significant slice of the national electorate.
The fact that John F. Kerry, a haughty and unappealing candidate at best, was able to capture the nomination for president in a year when the party sensed a vulnerable incumbent, demonstrates their desperate straits in terms of bench strength. Confirmation of the thesis is provided by the ecstatic reception given to state legislator Barack Obama, now running for the U.S. Senate in Illinois. Articulate, intelligent, and black, Obama is certainly a promising figure. But he is already a power player among Democrats, demonstrating the pathetic lack of appealing candidates more experienced and of higher standing.
But the loss of an election, and with it political power, cannot alone explain the extremely personal way in which so many committed Democrats are behaving. There is something more at work.
The political divide in America has become a religious divide. Ideology has morphed into theology, and the most doctrinal adherents are those fanatics on the left who demand a high wall of separation of church and state.
It is first necessary to understand that for the committed American left, a group which probably comprises 20 to 30 percent of the adult population, 'progressivism' provides not just a guide to political action, but also functions as a religion of personal redemption. They deeply and sincerely believe that only through a benign state—run system of social organization can mankind achieve perfection. That perfection on this mortal plane is their shining paradise, the cause for which any sacrifice is made, and in support of which any tactic is permitted.
Their designated victim groups — racial minorities, illegal immigrants, drug abusers...the list expands almost daily — are the martyrs to their cause. It is in their name that they struggle, and it is stories of their suffering which comprise the mental Passion Plays reinforcing their faith in times of doubt.
The domestic political enemies of the left therefore become the persecutors of their martyrs. This is why they see conservatives as not just mistaken, but evil.
At the individual level, we all struggle with the question of our own shortcomings. Aside from the comparatively few sociopaths among us, we all want to think of ourselves as good people. Our 'self—concept' relies on some bedrock belief that, despite our lapses of selfishness, greed, stubbornness, and other shortcomings, we are basically a positive force in this world.
For American leftists, the ultimate redemption of their sins lies in their ideology. They may pay their housekeepers poorly, leave measly tips in restaurants, or engage in activities their still small voice condemns, however softly. But because they support the politics which will bring about a good society and save the helpless victims they see everywhere, they know that they are a positive force, no matter their own shortcomings in the sphere of personal conduct.
Their opponents on the right, however, deny all of this comfort to them. Worst of all, the rising tide of religious conservatism threatens them at their core. In their minds, modernity requires movement away from the primitive and simplistic religions of the past, and toward an updated understanding of mankind, one where Biblical certainties are understood to be archaic remnants of the age of superstition which preceded the rise of science.
The debate over embryonic stem cell research is the perfect crystallization of this mentality. Never mind that embryonic stem cells have proven far less promising than adult stem cells. President Bush, a dangerous religious fanatic (he actually prays and believes that God guides him in response), is standing athwart science and calling a halt, despite actually being the first to provide federal funding for embryonic stem cell research. Facts do not matter, for they are in pursuit of a higher "truth."
Their messianic vision of perfection on earth is nowhere more vividly demonstrated than in the outlandish claims of Senator Edwards that people like Christopher Reeve will rise from their wheelchairs, if only voters pick John F. Kerry to be their president. Normally skeptical elite media outlets have so far restrained their usual impulse to mock the outlandish pronouncements of Southerners promising to heal the afflicted, in this instance.
Precisely because President Bush turned to Christ as an adult, and found thereby personal redemption, he is the worst possible bogeyman in the eyes of 'progressives.' A man who enjoyed an Ivy League education, who was born to wealth and position, and yet who openly and sincerely declares his adherence to the religious substance and style they deride as primitive and evil, is clearly a heretic of the worst sort. Perhaps if he spoke with the eloquence of a Bishop Sheen, or wrote with the elegance of a C.S. Lewis, they could cut him some slack. But by being distinctly Texan in word and bearing, he plays to their worst stereotypes of retrograde reactionary religious primitives, the vestigial remains of a society not yet fully of the Twentieth Century, much less the Twenty—First.
A pending Bush victory is thus not simply a political defeat, but a spiritual crisis. Religious folk who find their beliefs mocked and refuted typically respond with blind rage.
That is precisely what we are seeing. If President Bush is able to make good on his personal certainty of re—election, expect an escalation of religious violence from the left.
Thomas Lifson is the editor and publisher of The American Thinker.