What is it about the Christian Right?

datePosted on 18:02, February 24th, 2009 by Anita

In my short time blogging I have discovered that posts which mention the Christian Right get some kind of kneejerk reaction: sometimes someone leaps to the defence of the CR despite the lack of attack in the post, sometimes people leap in to attack the lunacy of the CR despite my lack of opening for the attack.

It’s not just blogging either. When I argue for lowering the MMP threshold one of my arguments is that it will allow the CR representation in Parliament, often people’s immediate reaction is that they’re the kind of lunatics the threshold is intended to exclude. When I talk the history of the family values movement in New Zealand with conservative people (which, you’ll have to trust me, I do respectfully and with interest) someone often leaps in to defend the CR and tell me that they’ve been misrepresented and are far more moderate than they have been painted.

What is it about the Christian Right that polarises views and creates an attack-and-defence dynamic so quickly?

I know many at the socially liberal end of the spectrum will say that the CR is prejudiced and tells them what to do. But so do many other political, religious and community groups.

Many in the CR will say that they’re ridiculed for their religious and moral beliefs and they are, to at least some extent, right. Some of their knee jerk defensiveness is a response to that contempt, some is probably out of a sense of moral certainty.

What is it that makes it ok for the socially progressive to sneer at the CR? We would never allow it to be said of GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women; why do we allow it to be said about this religious minority?

21 Responses to “What is it about the Christian Right?”

  1. Anna on February 24th, 2009 at 18:23

    For me, it depends on the CR in question. Some people hold their beliefs very earnestly, and have the courage of their convictions – I tend to respect them, even though I find their beliefs unpalatable.

    I’ve met a small number of CRs who simply use their beliefs to be objectionable to other people. They claim that saying hateful things about gays is their free speech right, but when other people express their right to free speech by criticising the CR position, said CRs claim persecution. I am completely unapologetic about thinking that’s crap.

  2. Pascal's bookie on February 24th, 2009 at 20:48

    What is it that makes it ok for the socially progressive to sneer at the CR? We would never allow it to be said of GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women; why do we allow it to be said about this religious minority?

    I think it’s quite simple. Those other communities are asking to be allowed to live how they want, and be treated as equal members of a pluralistic society. Parts of the CR are demanding that we live how they want us to, and pluralism can go to hell. There is no equivalence.

    The fact that for example, GLBTQ’s have rights, is taken as an affront and an act of oppression against them. “Christianity under attack” “Forcing it down my throat” and so on. It’s nonsense.

    If CR’s want to not be taken as extremists, then they need to start being a lot more vocal about slapping down the extremists that hold such high positions in their movement. “Bishop” Brian for example, said that the reason we had so many social problems was that we had elected a woman as PM, and God doesn’t like that so post hoc ergo jibba jabba hoc, QED.

    He is far from being a fringe figure in the CR. How hard would it be for these moderate CR’s to point out rather publicly, from the bully pulpit as it were, that the ‘bishop’ had stated as prophesy that he would be in power by now. He is not. I understand that the bible has a few things in it about false prophets bearing large profits. Perhaps some literalists or innerant scripture folk could start talking about that for a while, just as a sign of good faith. As it were.

    But he’s too powerful, or it would be rude, or something.

  3. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 21:13

    Pascal’s Bookie write,

    I think it’s quite simple. Those other communities are asking to be allowed to live how they want, and be treated as equal members of a pluralistic society. Parts of the CR are demanding that we live how they want us to, and pluralism can go to hell. There is no equivalence.

    You are treating pluralism as if it is an absolute good. Pluralism means better for some people and worse for others – why shouldn’t the people for whom it is worse feel distressed and attacked by the shift in power?

    While it’s easy to argue that pluralism does (should?) treat all rights, and all people, as equal and is therefore “fair”, the reality is that it privileges some rights and some people over others. If we accept that then it is completely reasonable to campaign within a pluralist society for our rights to be privileged over others’.

  4. Pascal's bookie on February 24th, 2009 at 21:32

    You are treating pluralism as if it is an absolute good. Pluralism means better for some people and worse for others – why shouldn’t the people for whom it is worse feel distressed and attacked by the shift in power?

    I’m saying that pluralism is something progressives tend to favour, and that the CR opposes pluralism. Within a pluralist society CR types can refrain from doing whatever they think is immoral to their hearts content.

    No one is actually forcing homosexuality down their throats. Abortion isn’t mandatory. Traditional marriages are not only allowed, but very popular. Christians are completely free to live their life according to their beliefs. What is their problem exactly? It seems to be that other people have the same freedom. In other words, their problem is not ‘within pluralism’, but pluralism itself.

    How about we get specific? Civil unions. What right was being privileged over what other right here?

    (I won’t be able to reply till tomorrow)

  5. BLiP on February 24th, 2009 at 21:36

    Anita said:

    In my short time blogging I have discovered that posts which mention the Christian Right get some kind of kneejerk reaction: sometimes someone leaps to the defence of the CR despite the lack of attack in the post, sometimes people leap in to attack the lunacy of the CR despite my lack of opening for the attack.

    Hehehehe – Mars Attacks, near the end of the movie, Jack Nicolson in the command control centre, on his knees wailing:”why can’t we all just get along”

    You might as well ask why red heads attract such mocking?

    Anyway, aren’t you being just a litle too cute with this one? 24 hours previously you posted a piece about the CR responding as a dog to the mantra “family values”? And now you ask: why are they picked on?

  6. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 22:10

    Pascal’s Bookie writes,

    No one is actually forcing homosexuality down their throats. Abortion isn’t mandatory. Traditional marriages are not only allowed, but very popular. Christians are completely free to live their life according to their beliefs. What is their problem exactly? It seems to be that other people have the same freedom. In other words, their problem is not ‘within pluralism’, but pluralism itself.

    To risk sounding like Stephen Franks for a moment…

    If we were to make it legal for husbands to beat their wives it would not cause me any direct problems and would not put me at any additional direct risk. Yet I would campaign against the change.

    If we were to make it legal for parents to kill any child under the age of two…

    As a member of society I fee I have a duty to care for the rights and safety of more than just me. If I believed that abortion was wrong I should campaign against it, otherwise I would be standing silently as part of a society that murders.

    If I believed people were harmed by homosexuality (as I happen to believe wives are by being beaten by their husbands) I should campaign to reduce the amount of harm.

    How about we get specific? Civil unions. What right was being privileged over what other right here?

    I once read an argument which was against same sex marriage on equality grounds, it made my eyes bleed and it fell out of my brain again but it was all about special treatment.

    Anyhow, I think one could construct an argument that one of the State’s roles is to signal “good” and “appropriate” and “best” and “healthy” and that we have a right for it to do so accurately and effectively, so if het marriages are “best” then for the state to provide ambiguous signals about the acceptability of other relationships is inconsistent with our right to have the state behave consistently with our best interest.

  7. Anita on February 24th, 2009 at 22:16

    BLiP writes,

    Anyway, aren’t you being just a litle too cute with this one? 24 hours previously you posted a piece about the CR responding as a dog to the mantra “family values”? And now you ask: why are they picked on?

    I wrote a post about how “family values” acts as a bridge between the CR and neoliberal anti-welfarism and people read it as an attack on the CR.

    If I had written a post about how “justice” acts as a bridge between the social, economic and environmental lefts, would people have leapt in to defend the environmentalists from my attack?

    Yes, that was one of the reasons I wrote this post. I’m not sure it’s “cute” though.

  8. Pascal's bookie on February 24th, 2009 at 23:34

    As a member of society I fee I have a duty to care for the rights and safety of more than just me. If I believed that abortion was wrong I should campaign against it, otherwise I would be standing silently as part of a society that murders.

    Quite right. However, when people are considering that argument, they are entitled to ask what else follows from that argument, and whether one consistently follows it. If one does not, then they are quite right to think that the argument is one of convenience. They are also entitled to ask how the law would work. Would it be consistently applied, or would it only affect the poor for example. How would it be policed? And in the background there is the fact that a large number of people genuinely reject the idea that it is murder. Believing that it’s murder isn’t enough, they have to be able to convince others that it is. The fact they haven’t been able to do so doesn’t mean they are being oppressed.

    If I believed people were harmed by homosexuality (as I happen to believe wives are by being beaten by their husbands) I should campaign to reduce the amount of harm.

    Of course. But the latter case is self evident and hardly needs demonstrating, the former not so much. When we already know that a person objects to homosexuality for religious reasons, it makes it even harder for them to make the case.

    Anyhow, I think one could construct an argument that one of the State’s roles is to signal “good” and “appropriate” and “best” and “healthy” and that we have a right for it to do so accurately and effectively, so if het marriages are “best” then for the state to provide ambiguous signals about the acceptability of other relationships is inconsistent with our right to have the state behave consistently with our best interest.

    Sure, but would have to actually establish that het’ marriages are best, including for non het’s wouldn’t you? And you would have to do so in a way that was convincing to people that didn’t already think homosexuality was just evil anyway. Again, they fact that haven’t been able to do so, doesn’t mean they are being oppressed.

    In any case, the asserted right to be protected (from ourselves?) is one that gets subordinated all the time, so it doesn’t sound like a very powerful right. For example, I believe people are harmed by certain types of religious thinking, but that does not drive me to think that it should be illegal, and I would campaign against making it so.

    I’m certainly not suggesting that the CR shouldn’t be allowed to make their case. Of course they can. They are free to say all sorts of things about people, and they do. Those people are free to say things back.

    Yes, some Christians get mocked and have their beliefs ridiculed. But look at what the CR says about liberals and atheists.

    According to them, my family isn’t proper enough because we didn’t get a priest or the state involved and that this is the cause of society’s downfall, my son is ‘illegitimate’, and I will spend eternity burning in hell simply because I honestly do not believe in their God, (no matter how much good I try to do, or evil I refrain from). Some of my friends are murderers, others are unnatural mentally deficient perverts because they love the wrong type of person.

    Fair enough, they can say that, and try and convince me that it’s true. But turn about is fair play. I get to call them idiots.

  9. Anita on February 25th, 2009 at 07:13

    Anita writes,

    If I believed people were harmed by homosexuality (as I happen to believe wives are by being beaten by their husbands) I should campaign to reduce the amount of harm.

    Pascal’s Bookie replies

    Of course. But the latter case is self evident and hardly needs demonstrating, the former not so much. When we already know that a person objects to homosexuality for religious reasons, it makes it even harder for them to make the case.

    For a long time it was “self evident” that husbands should physically discipline their wives, servants and children. For a long time it was “self evidence” that homosexuality was wrong.

    Clearly what is “self evident” is defined by the social norms at the time, and is affected by conscious campaigns. Why shouldn’t the CR campaign for the social norms they believe in?

    Sure, but would have to actually establish that het’ marriages are best, including for non het’s wouldn’t you? And you would have to do so in a way that was convincing to people that didn’t already think homosexuality was just evil anyway. Again, they fact that haven’t been able to do so, doesn’t mean they are being oppressed.

    Yes one would, and some of the CR believe that they have established that.

    Once upon a time some women believed they had evidence that suffrage for women would be best for society as a whole. For some time most people disagreed with them and they were oppressed.

    Believing passionately that what you believe is better than what society in general believes and campaigning for it is what brings about social change.

    Just because I happen to disagree with most of the change the CR thinks is right doesn’t mean I don’t think they should campaign for it, or that I think it’s ok for me to call them idiots.

  10. BeShakey on February 25th, 2009 at 09:13

    What is it that makes it ok for the socially progressive to sneer at the CR? We would never allow it to be said of GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women; why do we allow it to be said about this religious minority?

    At the risk of setting off a diatribe from some on the left about how we should never judge other people’s views (and therefore that the Nazis were simply misunderstood), the difference is that the CR are making a range of claims that are factually wrong, and then trying to enforce a set of policies and moral standards based on their false beliefs. GLBTQ don’t generally do that and, I would hope, would be criticised if they did. Certainly groups within the left, such as the Greens, are criticsed when they take a similar stance.

  11. Rich on February 25th, 2009 at 10:38

    GLBTQ communities, or the disabled, or ethnic minorities, or women

    Being a right wing christian is an *ideology*, which none of the groups above are.

    Any set of ideas that people want to hold is subject, in my view, to be disputed and attacked by those that disagree. Ideologies that invoke a deity aren’t privileged over those (like libertarianism or socialism) that don’t.

    Discriminating against people because of their sexuality, gender or race is irrational and wrong. Discriminating against them because they have stupid ideas isn’t.

    (Within limits. Obviously the state and large employers should respect peoples beliefs as far as practical).

  12. BeShakey on February 25th, 2009 at 11:47

    (Within limits. Obviously the state and large employers should respect peoples beliefs as far as practical).

    I think the important thing is to respect people, rather than their beliefs. You might be a really nice person, but I don’t think their is any good reason why I should respect your belief that Hitler was a stand-up fella, simply because you believe it. In your example, the state and large employers can get by by applying two principles – respect for people, and relevance (ie is my flat-earth belief relevant to my job as a check-out clerk, or my entitelment to working for families? For a contrasting case, is it relevant to my job as a climate modeller or oil prospecter?).

  13. George Darroch on February 25th, 2009 at 12:10

    This is something that really pisses me off, actually – the way that Russell Norman attacks the Exclusive Brethren and talks as if they have no right to participate in politics. Apart from distracting from what should be his core message (money in politics), it essentially forms a regular attack on a small christian group.

    Now I’m no fan of the Exclusive Brethren, I find them abhorrent and they have harmed people close to me in real ways, but I’ll defend their right to participate as much as anyone.

  14. George Darroch on February 25th, 2009 at 12:17

    Being a right wing christian is an *ideology*, which none of the groups above are.

    I think you’ll find that all of the groups above participate in ways that are ‘ideological’ (insomuch as they deal with worldviews and ideas that are essentially contested). As is their right.

    I think that perhaps because NZ is seen to have a political sphere which is “beyond ideology”, where most political concepts are not disputed, their presence disrupts the consensus. Certain concepts are allowed to be debated in serious ways, but all others are to be left aside.

  15. Rich on February 25th, 2009 at 12:50

    George, I don’t believe that Russell Norman denies the right of the EB to participate in politics. OTOH, I’m sure he has attacked their unfair participation by using their wealth to spread anonymous propaganda in an election campaign. If they play by the rules (which have of course been ripped up by a National government that *wants* the rich to be able to buy elections) then they have every right to speak, advertise and run or support candidates.

    Being gay, female or from an ethnic minority is an entirely different thing to being a christian (or any other religious/political view) – a state of being, not a belief. Sure, people from these groups will often take a political stance that defends their rights (but often not, see female National party members, for instance).

    Of course, religious people don’t see it that way – they see their beliefs as ordained by a deity and privileged over the beliefs of others. They’re wrong, but are entitled to hold that opinion.

  16. George Darroch on February 26th, 2009 at 00:23

    Of course, religious people don’t see it that way – they see their beliefs as ordained by a deity and privileged over the beliefs of others. They’re wrong, but are entitled to hold that opinion.

    I think you’re missing what I’ve said. Christians in NZ do participate in politics in ways that are no different to ‘women in National’ to use your analogy, and participate (often invisibly) in ways that are seen as unthreatening to the consensus. It is only when they assert their otherness and their challenging ideology that they are rebuffed by the political sphere.

    As someone with a few ideologies that I’d like to see in public, the monoculture of NZ politics and limited range of issues available for debate is immediately obvious. I see open Christian political engagement through the same lens – as I would any other minority or disadvantaged group whose views threaten the consensus position.

  17. BLiP on February 26th, 2009 at 09:20

    George says:

    This is something that really pisses me off, actually – the way that Russell Norman attacks the Exclusive Brethren and talks as if they have no right to participate in politics. Apart from distracting from what should be his core message (money in politics), it essentially forms a regular attack on a small christian group.

    I also disagree. Norman, from what I’ve seen, points out the hypocrisy of the Exclusive Brethren in that it instructed members to NOT be involved in politics – and then, when it did involve itself, it did so in a devilishly devious manner. One wonders what other hypocrisy the Exclusive Brethren practise.

  18. jcuknz on February 26th, 2009 at 20:54

    Christian religion and the zealots it breeds have been the cause of so much strife and suffering in the past two millenium that I wonder than anybody intelligent bothers with it… a shame as I was brought up a christian, took it as a school cert subject, tutored by an aunt with her Bishops Licence to preach in COE churches .. and try to be a christian but really abhor the ‘church’ and its leaders.

    This apprears to be a problem with every religion unless the zealots are strongly suppressed.

  19. George Darroch on February 27th, 2009 at 01:12

    I also disagree. Norman, from what I’ve seen, points out the hypocrisy of the Exclusive Brethren in that it instructed members to NOT be involved in politics – and then, when it did involve itself, it did so in a devilishly devious manner. One wonders what other hypocrisy the Exclusive Brethren practise.

    Which is an attack on them. A deserved one, of course.

    What he’s trying to say is that they were scummy hypocrites who broke their own rules, spent hundreds of thousands in a secret campaign with National, and then lied about it when caught. But it is very easily seen as an attack on them because they chose to get involved in politics and thus an assertion that conservative christians have no right to get involved in politics.

    And the second perception works to a large extent because there is a default position in NZ politics that conservative christians have been marginalised deliberately and shut out, which is true, as is the point of Anita’s post.

  20. Rich on February 27th, 2009 at 08:53

    I don’t see how you can possibly think conservative christians are marginalised.

    They have a huge amount of influence in NZ politics out of proportion to their actual support. Every time the last government proposed progressive legislation, Maxim, Family First, Destiny and the rest were all over the media.

    I’d say that the few decent progressive christians *are* marginalised by the bigoted ones.

  21. Ari on February 27th, 2009 at 13:58

    I’d say that the few decent progressive christians *are* marginalised by the bigoted ones.

    Indeed. When was the last time you saw a newspaper devote more than a sentence to progressive religious values? They’re talked about so little that it could actually be a really good interest story- but it contradicts the newspaper narratives that religion is inherently conservative and complicates news stories, which is a recipe for “paying for our news”, so they don’t do it because they’re struggling financially. (Not to mention there’s like three even marginally progressive editorialists in the entire country, including Chris “Labour forever!” Trotter.) Yum. =/

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