Sunday, August 27, 2006

Neocons Hate Protestantism

Only half-true, but snappier than the sort-of-obvious "neocons hate liberal modernity." Still, it does appear that a Roman Catholic neocon cabal, led by Richard John Neuhaus, has been waging a long war of attrition on mainline Protestantism in America. And winning.

This at least is the argument of a fascinating article at Media Transparency, synopsized at
Political Cortex. The article is well-documented, including some especially damning remarks by Damon Linker, the former assistant editor of Neuhaus's on-paper blog, First Things. The idea is that the board of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (which includes Neuhaus, George Weigel, Mary Anne Glendon, and so forth) has spent decades promoting a pitiless critique of mainline Protestant denominations, while leaving Roman Catholic institutions largely uncritiqued. In theory, this is because the mainline Prots (or at least their national bodies) have leaned consistently left, while the church of John Paul II has been a bastion of traditionalism and conservatism.

In other words, at a point in history when Roman/Prot relations are comparatively warm, this bunch of renegades has been running a private war. Call them the Latin Hezbollah. And like the other "Party of God," they have led their formerly-dominant adversaries into a bad spot. Schisms are breaking out all over, especially in the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, often spearheaded by IRD-trained "renewal" groups.

Obviously, this coup d'eglise is part of a larger sociocultural strategy. The issue isn't merely the transient political tendencies of mainline leaders; it is the historic resistance of their theological traditions to authoritarianism and oversimplification. Linker puts it in the strongest possible terms:

The America toward which Richard John Neuhaus wishes to lead us -- [is] an which moral and theological absolutists demonize the country's political institutions and make nonnegotiable public demands under the threat of sacralized revolutionary violence, in which citizens flee from the inner obligations of freedom and long to subordinate themselves to ecclesiastical authority, and in which traditionalist Christianity thoroughly dominates the nation's public life.

All manner of qualifications are in order here.

First, this bunch is really only as Catholic as they feel like being at the moment. The IRD crowd is often (and rightly) criticized by liberal Catholics for misrepresenting official doctrine on social issues -- they never came to terms with JPII's critique of capitalist materialism, for example; they promoted the Iraq war despite the Pope's strong objections. And I will never forget the issue of First Things in which both Avery Cardinal Dulles and Antonin "The Godfather" Scalia were induced to publish articles declaring that opposition to the death penalty really isn't Catholic doctrine, no matter what the Pope says.

Second, let's not pretend that the mainline Prots aren't out of touch, both with solid doctrine and, more often than not, with their own constituencies. Nor should we pretend that they are anything less than ponderous bureaucracies staffed by pastors who washed out of the parish. They are, and would be suffering the consequences regardless of anything a second-rate think tank wrote about them.

And so forth. But all that said, the animus of the IRD crowd toward the forms of religious life that largely shaped the nation they themselves grew up in is undeniable. The Freudian kill-the-father element is most undeniable in Neuhaus himself, a convert from Lutheranism. But then, that's what's "neo" about neoconservatism: it doesn't actually seek to conserve any traditional institutions or values, so much as to undermine the midcentury political consensus. (That "consensus," of course, included bitter political and ideological enemies, all of them -- from Roosevelt to Goldwater! -- now dismissed as "liberal.")
Here's the good news, such as it is: The pendulum is already swinging. These guys have had their heyday -- it was Iraq, more and more evidently a disastrous box-up. They have had their president -- more and more evidently guilty of LBJ's inept warmongering without any of LBJ's high ideals. Rumsfeld actually makes Macnamara look like a man of wisdom and integrity. And America is beginning to sicken of the petty ideologues whose vitriolic psychodrama has been passed off as "conservative intellectualism" for the past generation.

Today's Democrats may be feckless, and the mainline Protestant denominations irredeemable, but mark old Father A's words: there is a new consensus building. And it is, it will be, in the broadest possible sense, a liberal consensus.

1 comment:

Professor Zero said...

Hey - enjoy your Catullus and vacation (translating Latin verse with good sound and rhythm, as he has, is fun!). Nice blog you have.