Written by Paul Penner Tuesday, 24 April 2012 15:47
“I’m a supporter of capitalism, but as a Christian, I’m not always a supporter of capitalists.” —Ross Douthat, on “Moyers & Company” program and author of “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.”
Sunday, like most days on the weekend, is a day for rest, relaxation and for some folks, a time to attend a church gathering of their choice, to reflect on God, to worship and interact with their fellow believers.
As part of my Sunday afternoon routine, I tune in to the radio and television to listen and watch programs like “A Prairie Home Companion” on the radio, “America’s Heartland” and “Moyers & Company” on our local public television station.
This past Sunday’s fare was mostly routine until the last half of “Moyers & Company.” Conservative op-ed columnist Ross Douthat was Moyers’ guest. His recent book put forth a rather intriguing thesis that one rarely reads in current media, let alone from the mouths of contemporary conservative pundits and prominent evangelical Christians.
Douthat candidly states that traditional and institutional Christianity has declined from a vigorous, mainstream and bipartisan force to a polarizing, heretical combatant in the culture war. He goes on to say that a revival of true and basic Christian principles can lead to American renewal.
Though some might argue against the premise that such a culture war is necessary, if not critical for the survival of our nation, there is an emerging counter culture of thought.
Imagine if the opponents of traditional conservative political thought were to lend support to Douthat’s premise from their liberal perspective, that liberals have over-promised and underperformed, that it is time to once again make government credible—a statement supported by liberal author, Eric Alterman earlier on the program.
As shocking as that might seem, that is precisely what has happened. Liberals and conservatives alike are beginning to realize there is something definitely wrong with the current status quo.
According to Douthat, traditional and institutional Christianity has failed to keep in check the “heretics”—polarizing cultural combatants and influencers, including Oprah Winfrey, Joel Osteen and Glenn Beck, moving the religious right from influencing politics to partisanship.
How ironic that he would equate Winfrey and Osteen as heretical from both extremes. However, after listening and reflecting on that thesis, his argument has merit.
Douthat suggests people from all religious views are rewriting their own theology, even ignoring the long-held beliefs of previous generations. He suggests the utopian philosophy of President Obama with the “Yes, you can” campaign, Joel Osteen’s gospel of prosperity (a narcissistic form of spirituality) and Winfrey’s promotion of the “Secret” and “Eat, Pray, Love” philosophy is heresy, even though they reflect opposite political ideologies.
Douthat even suggests former presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan created their own set of heretical values to motivate their audiences in much the same way as Winfrey and Osteen.
He also is perplexed of the religious right’s abandonment of long-held theology that addresses issues like poverty and greed. In their fear of the threat of further expansion of the welfare state, they defend all behaviors of the laissez-faire economy without speaking out against immoral and corrupt activity that accompanies them.
Though Douthat is a firm supporter of capitalism in that there’s no better alternative, his religious and moral upbringing requires a critical review of the system that also has enormous potential for political, social and economic oppression.
Whether or not one agrees with his ideas, we must give him credit for speaking out in a time when political rhetoric from both sides threatens to drown out any challengers.
From where I sit and observe the activity of radicals from both sides, the battle is not only about ideologies, the economy and our burdensome debt load, as staggering as it is. It’s also about the casualties of this war, the people who lose their jobs, their pensions, their health insurance, their dignity, and, yes, even their lives.
How can one argue from either extreme and not focus on the real victims? For me, like Ross Douthat, that’s where a sound theological perspective comes in and moderates the behavior and provides a spiritual and moral basis for better behavior.
Perhaps another way to moderate the rhetoric on both sides is for one to have “skin” in the game. That is, a relative or family of relatives living under the threat of a home foreclosure and eviction, or a family member living with a “pre-existing” condition that pretty much determines the financial outcome for generations to come.
It is not easy to campaign for or against something when one can put names on the faces of the programs to be eliminated. However, once the decision is made, it is an act of the will that one is willing to “die for,” or at least make the sacrifice with the full knowledge of the implications of that choice.
Either way, Ross Douthat’s candid conclusions deserve a fair and proper hearing.