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None Dare Call it Bigotry: Christian Conservatives and Electoral Politics

In 2005 I published a piece in Christian Research Journal, "None Dare Call It Bigotry: Understanding the Post-Election Rants against Social Conservatives." Given the recent comments by Heather McDonald, Kathleen Parker, and their critics, I thought I would pull it out of mothballs and republish it here. So, here it is.

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None Dare Call It Bigotry:
Understanding the Post-Election Rants against Social Conservatives

Francis J. Beckwith

The re-election of President George W. Bush, according to many pundits, was the result of a larger than normal turnout by socially conservative voters, most of whom are Christians. In the 11 states in which there were marriage protection referenda on the ballots, social conserva tives were provided with an extra incentive to go to the polls. Christianity Today reports that "exit polls show that 22 percent of voters cited 'moral values' as the one issue that mattered most when considering how to vote for President. In what will surely come as a shock to mainstream media, more voters cited moral values than either the economy/jobs (20 percent), terrorism (19 percent), or Iraq (17 percent)." [1]

The Pundits. In the November 4,2004, New York Times, historian Gary Wills asked the rhetorical question, "Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?" After using the term "fundamentalist" to refer to his fellow Americans who disagree with his politics, Wills asserts, "Where else do we find fundamentalist zeal, a rage at secularity, religious intolerance, fear of and hatred for modernity? Not in France or Britain or Germany or Italy or Spain. We find it in the Muslim world, in Al Qaeda, in Saddam Hussein's Sunni loyalists. Americans wonder that the rest of the world thinks us so dangerous, so single-minded, so impervious to international appeals. They fear jihad, no matter whose zeal is being expressed."

Europeans, of course, do not have the best track record in being able to detect and eliminate despots, dictators, and ethnic cleansers. In fact, when given the opportunity—especially in the cases of Germany and Russia in the past century—many Europeans were downright giddy in helping to usher in and defend secular regimes that were hostile to people of faith and committed to philosophical materialism and mass murder. Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler would have passed Wills's litmus test for Enlightenment—they disbelieved in the virgin birth and embraced naturalistic evolution. In the cases of Lenin and Stalin, they had their share of American intellectuals fawning over them, holding them up as models for democratic governance and economic fairness. Fifty million murders later we are now being lectured by Wills and others, the progeny of these American intellectuals, who now cite the "wisdom" of Europeans and ridicule us because we believe in the virgin birth rather than the philosophical foundation of the "promiscuous death."

After all, would you rather have your children, or your neighbor's children, tutored on the racial views of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a believer in the virgin birth, or of Charles Darwin, who passes Wills's Enlightenment litmus test with flying colors? Compare King's "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal"[2] with Darwin's:

At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilized races of man will almost certainly exterminate and replace the savage races throughout the world. At the same time the anthropomorphous apes... will no doubt be exterminated. The break between man and his nearest Allies will then be wider, for it will intervene between man in a more civilized state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as the baboon, instead of as now between the Negro or Australian and the gorilla.[3]
Maureen Dowd, Carl Bernstein, and Sidney Blumenthal were among the many liberal commentators who, with Wills, bemoaned the election results and the growing influence of social conservatives in American politics, issuing harsh judgments against them. Without argu ment, these commentators ridiculed the beliefs of their fellow citizens, comparing them to the worst the human race has to offer: Al Qaeda, Jihadists, the Taliban, and so on. If issuing the most outrageous post-election religious slur were a reality-show competition, however, the prize would go to Jane Smiley:
Here is how ignorance works: First, they put the fear of God into you—if you don't believe in the literal word of the Bible, you will burn in hell. Of course, the literal word of the Bible is tremendously contradictory, and so you must abdicate all critical thinking, and accept a simple but logical system of belief that is dangerous to question. A corollary to this point is that they make sure you understand that Satan resides in the toils and snares of complex thought and so it is best not try it. [4]

The Crime. What is the crime for which social conservatives deserve these harsh judgments? They advocate protection of the unborn from unjust killing, the preservation of traditional marriage in order to advance the public good and permission to expose public school children to the weaknesses of philosophical materialism, which has become the unquestioned orthodoxy of an intellectual elite whose intolerance to heresy is so strong that to publicly entertain doubts about the dogma will result in being labeled a "creationist" even if you are not a creationist. Social conservatives have the temerity to apply the 1960s slogan "question authority" to those who invented the slogan and who are now in authority; therefore, they are marginalized as ideological heretics, described as irrational, simple-minded, unthinking, Bible-thumpers, no different in kind from the murderous religious fanatics of Islam who forbid women to read and write, execute and torture heretics, and support the 9/11 terrorists attacks.

The Ignorance. These unrestrained admissions, these rare utterances of unvarnished candor, are a gift, for they reveal much about the cast of mind and quality of soul of those who issue such judgments. They show that these commentators are woefully ignorant of the literature published by social conservative intellectuals (most of whom are Christians) who have offered nontheological arguments for the array of positions that inspired the rank-and-file to vote in droves in 2004. Consider the three most divisive issues in the U.S. today: same-sex marriage, abortion, and stem cell research.

Concerning the latter two, social conservative thinkers have offered highly sophisticated, secular arguments for why the unborn from the moment of conception are full-fledged members of the human community and ought to be protected by our laws. Works by Robert P. George, J. P. Moreland, Scott B. Rae, Stephen Schwarz, and Patrick Lee come to mind. In fact, George, a member of the President's Council on Bioethics (PCB), authored, as part of the PCB's report, one of the finest defenses of the embryo's personhood,[5] relying exclusively on philosophical arguments that are nontheological. I recently published articles in two peer-reviewed academic journals, Christian Bioethics[6] and American Journal of Jurisprudence[7] in which I make cases consistent with pro-life understandings of personhood and law and proffer reasons and arguments for my cases that do not appeal to Scripture or the deliverances of biblical theology. I offer what some may call "secular" arguments.

The literature on same-sex marriage is even more impressive given the relatively brief time socially conservative intellectuals have had to wrestle with this issue. The works of Lynn Wardle, David Organ Coolidge, Gerard V. Bradley, Robert P. George, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Richard W. Garnett, J. Budziszewski, William Duncan, Hadley Arkes, and Richard Duncan offer first-rate "secular" defenses of traditional marriage and, in many ways, are more sophisticated and compelling than the works of those who defend same-sex marriage.

The Assumptions. Why haven't Wills, Smiley, et al., dealt with these arguments, or at least informed their readers that such arguments exist and that offering such arguments is consistent with an understanding of the public square that is respectful of those with whom social conservatives disagree? Here's my theory: Wills, Smiley, et al., are not informed on these matters. They are relying on inherited stereotypes and widely held bigotry embraced by most of the people in whose circles they run. It's not that they know the truth and are suppressing it. They just don't know the truth because they don't believe it could in principle exist. They are committed to the proposition that if you don't hold to a liberal, materialist view of the state, then you are ignorant, evil, or incurably religious, or any two or all three. Given that commitment, they can't see the point of looking for something they believe can't be there. Social conservatives offer reasons and arguments, while their opponents, Wills, Smiley, et al., offer name-calling rationalized by entrenched prejudices propped up by false stereotypes, the very technique these "enlightened" citizens typically attribute to social conservatives.

Wills, Smiley, et al., need to get out a little more and exercise the understanding and tolerance they claim that social conservatives lack; for even a cursory reading of the relevant literature will quickly reveal to them that social conservatives are far more conversant with and respectful of the arguments of their opponents than vice versa. In what has to be one of the great ironies of our time, the friends of enlightenment turn out to be the enemies of reason. Their case amounts to a type of political gnosticism to which only a privileged few have access and the benighted many cannot comprehend. If Al Sharpton were writing their talking point, it would read: "It's an Enlightenment-secular-liberal thing, you wouldn't understand." If this isn't bigotry, nothing is.

1. Collin Hansen, "Weblog: 'Moral Values' Carry Bush to Victory," ChristianityToday.com, Novembers, 2004.
2. Martin Luther King, Jr., "I Have a Dream" (speech, Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C., August 28,1963), available at http://www.mecca.org/~crights/dream.html
3. Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man, 2nd ed. (New York: A. L Burt, 1874), 178.
4. Jane Smiley, "Why Americans Hate Democrats— A Dialogue: The Unteachable Ignorance of the Red States," Slate, November 4,2004.
5. Robert P. George (with Alofonso Gomez-Lobo), "Statement of Professor George" in appendix of Human Cloning and Human Dignity: An Ethical Inquiry (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002) (http://www.bioethics.gov/reports/cloningreport/appendix.html/george).
6. Francis J. Beckwith, "The Explanatory Power of the Substance View of Persons," Christian Bioethics 10,1 (2004): 33-54.
7. Francis J. Beckwith, "Thomson's 'Egual Reasonableness' Argument for Abortion Rights: A Critique," American Journal of Jurisprudence 49 (2004).

Comments (1)

...the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., a believer in the virgin birth...

Could you point me to some place that shows that MLK believed in the virgin birth of Jesus?

I asked because King seems to deny the virgin birth in his paper: "What Experiences of Christians Living in the Early Christian Century Led to the Christian Doctrines of the Divine Sonship of Jesus, the Virgin Birth, and the Bodily Resurrection" (Online Source)


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