Tuesday, March 31, 2009

In his article “The Culture Warriors Get Laid Off”, Frank Rich describes the descending presence of vehement religious right activists and morally extreme Republicans. He uses the recent stem cell legislation Barack Obama signed into law to demonstrate how “family-values dinosaurs” like Falwell and Robertson are no longer in the political arena to cause hysteria about legislation that opposes traditional religious values. Furthermore, after Obama reversed the Bush administration’s restriction on funding organizations offering abortions abroad there was no commotion or protests demonstrating the shift away from Culture wars and into an era focusing on economic and social justice. In an interesting analysis of this phenomenon, Rich compares the current secular trend to a similar trend during the 1930’s. The 1920’s featured a long “moral crusade” for prohibition and the empowerment of the fundamentalist movement but once the stock market crashed and F.D.R was elected president, prohibition was repealed, there was a large expansion of the federal government and the fundamentalists began to retreat from the political arena. Similarly, the past 30 years featured a “moral crusade” led by the Moral Majority against abortion, homosexuals, and even unmarried moms but after the recent financial crisis and economic downturn the Moral Majority retreated and Barack Obama expanded government spending and reversed decisions to withhold funding from stem cell research and organizations abroad offering abortion. Rich contends that people have lost much of their confidence in organized religion and have less patience for the “intrusive and divisive moral scolds” that once pervaded the GOP. Although I agree with Rich that religious extremism has retreated from politics to a certain extent, I do not think this is a trend that will continue for long. The current economic crisis is not nearly as catastrophic as the depression and as a result, the economy should stabilize in a shorter time period and eventually put a greater focus on social issues. Additionally, the current social issues of abortion, homosexuality and stem cell research seem to be more polarizing than prohibition. While the prohibitionists retreated after their defeat, the religious right is not likely to sit back for 40 years and see the government trample over their traditional values. Even though it is unlikely that America will experience another “40 year exodus [from] these ayatollahs”, what will be the effect of the current retreat from politics? Will the Republicans and religious right come back stronger and revive the culture wars?

8 comments:

Melissa F. said...

I agree with both Limor and Rich when they say that religious influences have somewhat retreated from politics, as of late. The recession in the economy has caused people to focus more on decisions that result in individual and national financial success, as opposed to moral success. Despite their current absence, there is no doubt in my mind that the religious right will re-emerge in the political realm. Once the economy rises again, morality will return to being a central concern for many people, especially for the religious right. I think Limor also brings up an interesting point when considering the strength of the religious right in politics when they return from their exodus. Because morality will have taken a back seat for however many years it takes for people to re-identify with religiously influenced politics, I believe that the religious right will have an increased influence. They will have to make up for every policy based on economic wellness that may have threatened the beliefs of the moral majority. Therefore, the consequences of the economically-driven political system we see today could be a morally-driven political system in the future.

Hannah P. said...

I definitely agree with Limor that abortion and gay rights are much more polarizing than drinking ever was. I think Rich makes a mistake in comparing the two periods in the way he does. Drinking, while a definite problem is done in excess, does not have the moral consequences that abortion does, for example. Even if the recession does turn into a real depression, the issues won't go away. And once we get out of economic turmoil, the "fiery invective about family values" will be back. People who write off the Republicans and the strength of the religious right are doing so prematurely.

David W. said...

Rich seems to be on to something when he observes that Americans are ready to do away with the strictures the Religious Right has put on science and social freedom. I agree with Limor that this broadmindedness will not last indefinitely, but I do think it is part of a modernizing process that will continue on and off until we no longer harbor delusions of danger from new social conventions and new methods of scientific exploration.

It is a little risky, however, for Rich to say that people have “lost confidence in organized religion.” After all, Obama, who has contributed to the loosening of conventionally defined moral strictures, was elected to office with a great deal of religious support. Rather, I think the ties that generally bind the Christian vote to the Republican Party were overpowered by stronger pulls—namely, the ones Limor identifies: “the current social issues of abortion, homosexuality and stem cell research.”

Limor B said...

All the comments seem to agree that the religious right has experienced a sufficient decline in political prominence due to the economic crisis but they do not necessarily answer the question of why or how the religious right will come back from this retreat. Will it be a similar grassroots movement to the one in the 70’s or 80’s or will it be one that is spearheaded by a newly elected religious politician? This is all assuming that they will experience a comeback. But what if they don’t? Will abortion and stem cell research fade away into a secular abyss?

Katie N S said...

I think that there is no doubt that the evangelical movement will come back. Based on historical trends, religion is one of those things that is always present to some degree and which will continue to influence us occasionally manifest itself in a more vigorous form. It’s only a matter of time before religion makes a strong stand on controversial issues---maybe those Limor mentioned such as abortion, homosexuality, or stem-cell research, or maybe something completely different. We saw in the ‘70s a collision of grassroots activism and religious political leadership culminating in a strong evangelical movement. It’s hard to say if the next religious upswing will come from the same places, but I would say that something similar is probably in our future.

Adam L said...

I believe the religious charged politics will retreat slightly from the federal government. Much of this is due to the fact that many Americans who consider themselves members of the religious right do not dwell on this as much as some may think. There are radical members who are unfaltering in their opinions but most who support the general platform are willing to surrender their beliefs if they believe something is more important. This is what is occurring with the current economic crisis. After the economy stabilizes they will return to their social politics unless the Republican party abandons them.

Neal M said...

I agree with pretty much everyone who's commented on this in saying that comparing prohibition with issues such as homosexuality, abortion, and stem cell research is very general at best. As many have pointed out, the issues surrounding prohibition are far less controversial than those surrounding homosexuality, abortion, and stem cell research. However, Rich's article and Limor's post seem to point towards a trend that has lasted throughout American history. It seems that, when united in response to a specific problem (the economy, WWI and WWII, etc.) people focus less on differences that seperate us than on the issues that are affecting everyone. This seems to be what is happening currently, as people are putting aside their sexual, religious, and scientific beliefs in response to the growing economic problem. On the other hand, when the country as a whole is functioning quite well, we turn to our inner differences, hoping to "fix" them. Will this trend continue, and to what extent? How long can America continue to stand together in the face of a common problem? It's probably not be as severe an issue as I'm making it out to be, but still, a trend seems apparent.

Vignesh N. said...

I completely agree with the others who say that the Religious Right is on a decline during the current economic crisis. It seems that whenever a crisis affects the United States nationally, people tend to forget their faith based differences, and focus on bipartisan methods of helping the nation persevere through the current crisis. This will last until our economy makes a come-back, at which point people will continue to focus on social politics that tend to divide the population based on their political views.