...Feldman points out that McConnell pioneered the legal strategy of depicting evangelicals as an oppressed minority in a 1995 case, Rosenberger vs. University of Virginia. The case centered on evangelical students at the university who were denied money from the school's student activities fund for their publication, Wide Awake. Representing the students, McConnell took the case to the Supreme Court. It would become, writes Feldman, "the first case in which evangelicals successfully presented themselves as minorities, discriminated against and in need of judicial protection."
The trouble with "Divided by God" is that Feldman seems to accept McConnell's legal argument as the actual political motivation of the Christian right. Values evangelicals, in his telling, just want to be heard along with everybody else. "In its most sophisticated and attractive form, values evangelicism is actually a type of mutliculturalist pluralism, professing respect for faith as faith and for cultural tradition as tradition," Feldman writes. "This inclusive vision of a society in which one can partake in the common American project by the very act of worshipping as one chooses is more than broad enough to accommodate new religious diversity that has come about as a result of Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist immigration."
If this is what "values evangelicism" is, then the term is almost meaningless, since it doesn't apply to any of the leadership of the Christian right, the group that's actually fighting the culture wars that Feldman is trying to mediate. Consider, for example, how the Family Research Council -- the Washington spinoff of James Dobson's enormously powerful Focus on the Family -- reacted in 2000 when Venkatachalapathi Samuldrala became the first Hindu priest to offer an invocation before Congress. "While it is true that the United States of America was founded on the sacred principle of religious freedom for all, that liberty was never intended to exalt other religions to the level that Christianity holds in our country's heritage," the group said in an apoplectic statement. "Our Founders expected that Christianity -- and no other religion -- would receive support from the government as long as that support did not violate peoples' consciences and their right to worship. They would have found utterly incredible the idea that all religions, including paganism, be treated with equal deference."
This was not an isolated outburst -- it wouldn't be hard to find enough similar quotes to fill a volume larger than Feldman's entire book. Sure, the Christian right may invite a token rabbi -- often the South African ultraconservative Daniel Lapin -- to its functions to promote an image of ecumenism, but that cannot hide the motivating belief in Christian supremacy, spiritual and political, at the movement's core. --continued
Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem -- and What We Should Do About It by Noah Feldman
Michelle recommends the book for the great fund of historical information and perspective even while believing that his suggestions won't really work and that he misunderstands the nature of the divide.
I have to agree, from what she's excerpted in this article. I don't think he completely understands how wrapped up the notion of overall values in this society is to Christian hegemony in the minds of the conservative or evangelical Christians. Any and all threats to this hegemony, seen as either lost or gravely threatened, is terrifying, a leap into the abyss it would seem. From tv shows to freedom of religion being upheld for prison inmates--yes even Satanists--all is seen as a catastrophic threat to the fundamental values of Christianity in this society, with things like (gasp) homosexuality becoming accepted and commonplace. Can human sacrifice be far behind? We laugh, but they seem genuinely afraid that their children are being corrupted and will go to hell in our socially acceptable handbaskets.
How to calm this fear while claiming our right to live by the rules of our--not their--religion or lack thereof? This is what I'm trying to figure out as I read the blogs and magazines of the other side.
But I fear it will take much more than a book to find the solution!