Wednesday, April 26, 2006

On J. Hart's Selective Fulminations against Religious Influence in Politics

Jeffery Hart's year-old attack on Republican evangelicals, The Evangelical Effect is notable first for both Hart's direct analysis of evangelical religious belief as such, and second for his evasion of Catholic-Evangelical co-operation on certain policy issues he dislikes but attributes to Evangelical influence alone.

Hart, himself a Catholic albeit one of libertarian sympathies, makes much ado about nothing--that nothing being, in his opinion, Evangelical ecclesiology:

Because Evangelicalism is sustained by no structure of ideas, and, beyond that, has no institutional support in a continuing church, it flares up in repeated "Awakenings," and then subsides as the emotion dissipates. Because it is populist and homemade, its assertions tend often to be ridiculous, the easy targets for the latest version of H.L. Mencken.

If we recall Leo Strauss's formulation that "Athens and Jerusalem" -- science and spiritual aspiration -- are the core of Western civilization, American Evangelicalism is a threat to both, through ignorance of both.

Hart sees malign Evangelical influence in Bush's embryonic stem cell research funding decision and several government agencies' chariness towards sex education and emergency contraception. By some misjudgement of proportion, he also denounces a certain book in the Grand Canyon National Park bookstore attributing the canyon's creation to Noah's flood.

With the exception of that last, very minor creationist-friendly point, all the policies he contemns were likewise instated due in part to vocal Catholic campaigns--policies which even many Evangelical Republicans found ill-conceived, such as the stem cell decision.

It is said that in American politics conservative Catholics provide the intellectual heft while Evangelicals provide their electoral muscle. Should any Evangelical readers wish to play the brawn to my (alleged) brains, I am more than willing to consider volunteers.

Snideness aside, Catholics did indeed provide significant intellectual and political motivations for Bush's decisions. Hart's derogation of low-to-no-church Christian ecclesiology and his apparent favoring of ecclesial hierarchy and tradition, to state the obvious, do not cohere well with his advocating positions quite at odds with the living tradition of the Catholic faith. Considering the recent and remarkable chumminess between Evangelicals and Catholics, I should like to know why he is only griping at Evangelicals and not Catholics as well.

No comments: