I must say that I was a bit annoyed some months ago when I was routinely criticized by those who supported the President despite their reservations about his religious agenda, because I dared to suggest that he was using religion as a political and cultural weapon for the re-making of the modern world. When I wrote my essay about the alarming growth in evangelical Christianity as a mainstream cultural force, I knew that such growth would have vast political implications. These critics kept telling me that I was"overdoing" it. In my view, the election results yesterday are much too clear to ignore.
So to all my critics: You voted for this man. Do not be surprised by the long-term political consequences, which, unfortunately, will affect all of us.
Of course, the liberal NY Times has been talking about this rise of religion for a while. It has published essays by Ron Suskind, Russell Shorto, and, today, Garry Wills, all of which speak of an ongoing religious revival.
Ironically, yesterday, in his victory speech, Bush himself thanked the gay-baiting Karl Rove as"the architect" (with apologies to Howard Roark). That fact is not lost on Wills, who writes:
This election confirms the brilliance of Karl Rove as a political strategist. He calculated that the religious conservatives, if they could be turned out, would be the deciding factor. The success of the plan was registered not only in the presidential results but also in all 11 of the state votes to ban same-sex marriage. Mr. Rove understands what surveys have shown, that many more Americans believe in the Virgin Birth than in Darwin's theory of evolution.
This might be called Bryan's revenge for the Scopes trial of 1925, in which William Jennings Bryan's fundamentalist assault on the concept of evolution was discredited. Disillusionment with that decision led many evangelicals to withdraw from direct engagement in politics. But they came roaring back into the arena out of anger at other court decisions - on prayer in school, abortion, protection of the flag and, now, gay marriage. Mr. Rove felt that the appeal to this large bloc was worth getting President Bush to endorse a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage (though he had opposed it earlier).
It's interesting that some commentators think of this Bush victory as the re-emergence of an even purer"Reagan revolution." I find nothing pure in Bush's complete abandonment of Reagan's libertarian rhetoric. Say what you will about the Gipper; at least, he hadlibertarian rhetoric, even if his legacy was terribly mixed. Wills himself argues, in essence, that however much Reagan might be viewed as the John the Baptist to Bush-as-Jesus, Reagan was"amiably and ecumenically pious. He could address more secular audiences, here and abroad, with real respect."
In the end, Wills asks a legitimate question:"Can a people that believes more fervently in the Virgin Birth than in evolution still be called an Enlightened nation?" I do think he overstates his case, however. Yesterday was not"The Day the Enlightenment Went Out." But it was a warning shot in a much wider cultural war. And it is a cultural war that we are ultimately fighting... not only against the religious zealots at home, but also against the religious zealots abroad, who would bring death and destruction to our shores.
It is now up to those men and women of goodwill, who hold Enlightenment values, to stand tall, and to fight zealotry, of whatever stripe, every step of the way.