Friday, October 17, 2003

JESUS FREAK. It starts out as one of those the-religious-right-is-not-so-scary thumbsuckers, but Daniel Henninger's latest quickly veers off into Cotton Mather territory, with a sweeping separation of the elect from the unelect that, you will not be surprised to learn, favors the Republican Party.

"In the 1992 election," Goodman Heninger informs us, "Bill Clinton got 75% of the secularist vote." Hang on, now -- what's the secularist vote? According to Henninger's social scientist sources, Bolce and De Maio, "Democratic secularists are defined as agnostics, atheists or people who rarely attend church, if ever."

I'm confused by that last bit -- given the habits of the Bible-beaters Henninger is using as a baseline, "rarely attend" might mean they only go on Sundays.

Not confusing at all, though, is the strategy Henninger employs here: we're not the freaks -- you're the freaks! Henninger is aware of the Religious Right's poor
image in the eyes of us heathen degenerates -- "the Bible-whacking, shotgun-rack stereotype," he calls it (as if a large part of what scares some of us about these guys were their living accomodations). But they're not like that at all, he says: for example, the first ones he'd met were "educated, 30-something, Texas suburbanites who worked in the technology sector and worried about running their kids' sports leagues."

And wanted to outlaw homosexuality, declare America a Christian nation, and turn over the educational system to preachers, one might add, though Henninger does not. He attempts to shift the onus of singularity to the godless Dems. Did you know that "60% of first-time white delegates at the [1992] Democratic convention in New York City either claimed no attachment to religion or displayed the minimal attachment..."? Did you find this statistic as tormented ("white," "first-time") as I did? Never mind, the message is clear -- Democrats ain't right with Jesus!

And, as inevitably happens when God is whispering in a columnist's ear, Henninger starts naming names:

In terms of their size and party loyalty," Messrs. Bolce and De Maio argue, "secularists today are as important to the Democratic party as another key constituency, organized labor." In turn this single self-definition tracks political belief across the entire battlefield of the culture wars--abortion, sexuality, prayer in the schools, judicial nominations. Interesting as that is, what intrigues me more as simple politics is how a Howard Dean, John Kerry or Joe Lieberman can feed these creedal beliefs of the "un-religious left" without in time coming themselves to be known as leaders of the party of non-belief? Or hypocrites. It's a hard river to cross.

The linchpin of this outrageous passage is "self-definition" -- I don't know many folks who step up, shake your hand and declare, "Howdy, I'm a secularist!" and I doubt the folks in Bolce's and De Maio's study would, either. But, as slander and tendentiousness go, the rest ain't bad, either, with Henninger in effect telling some Democratic front-runners (including one known for his religiosity) that they should either declare themselves "leaders of the party of unbelief" or be exposed as hypocrites.

One wonders how they would be thus exposed. Mayhap Henninger will assemble a posse of educated, 30-something, Texas suburbanites who work in the technology sector, and loiter outside Joe Lieberman's temple, chanting stuff like "Take off that yarmulke, you!/You ain't a real live Jew!"

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