A reader writes:
Such a gloomy post! I think there is still reason to be optimistic. The rhetoric of the new Pope suggests religious institutions are not yet completely closed to change. That young evangelicals tend to be less socially conservative is a hopeful situation. It is difficult to see how conflicted countries in the Mideast will build a bridge between fundamentalism and modernity while at the same time transitioning from dictatorships to self government, but the American ills could be corrected with some firm, consistent pushback from rational Republicans to a fundamentalist base. A GOP that sounded more like David Brooks and less like Rush Limbaugh could win. The party is not too far gone to recognize that fact and adjust. A political solution is not yet out of the question, but it can only come from the right.
It would help if the rest of us, not just urban liberals but moderates too, could avoid sounded bigoted when discussing Christianist fundamentalists, but where to begin? When someone is willfully ignorant or cherry-picking history to support their belief system almost any challenge, no matter how carefully worded, can be labeled and dismissed as arrogant or bigoted.
I didn’t mean for the post to be gloomy; just realistic. Any successful resolution will take a generation or two. But we should not underestimate the forces out there. In the US, after being trounced in the last election, the GOP is actually veering even further right in their nihilism and sabotage. There is no figure in that party able to control the forces daily goosed by Ailes et al. It looks as if the fever hasn’t broken but intensified: they are waging war now on every front – from new anti-abortion laws across the country to sabotaging the president’s universal healthcare law, to preventing any functioning executive branch, and to go down screaming on immigration reform. Their bet now is the same bet as 2010: total opposition by all nonviolent means on all fronts, using the midterm elections, where their base turns out more reliably, to ratchet up the effect. It is not getting better. Another reader:
Thinking about your post, I’m struck by how important of a Pope Fransisco Uno may be. Consider his words from a recent Mass:
If we, each doing our own part, if we do good to others, if we meet there, doing good, and we go slowly, gently, little by little, we will make that culture of encounter: we need that so much. We must meet one another doing good. ‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ But do good: we will meet one another there.
That’s such a humbly-but-radically different kind of confrontation than I (a blue atheist but also a student of religions) had ever expected from a Pope. Fransisco so far has spoken with a unique and important voice. I hope it doesn’t fall on deaf ears of the blue or the red.
I really enjoyed your essay for the way it distilled the principal conflict of our time into a fight over the adaption to modernity. We are all Weberians now. I think Hitchens said it most succinctly in concluding Hitch-22 (I’m paraphrasing without the book handy):
It’s quite a task to combat the absolutists and the relativists at the same time: to maintain that there is no totalitarian solution while also insisting that, yes, we on our side also have unalterable convictions and are willing to fight for them.
What I think Hitch meant is that skepticism is the essence of democracy, and that though we must insist upon the abandonment of absolutist pretensions (religious or secular), we must ourselves be unwavering in our commitment to forever question our values and interests.
Between belief and unbelief there is doubt. How we get there, I don’t know.
(Photo: Donna George of Houston, TX, stands and prays during the non-denominational prayer and fasting event, entitled ‘The Response’ at Reliant Stadium August 6, 2011 in Houston, Texas. Thousands attended the event organized by Gov. Rick Perry in order to pray for God to help save ‘a nation in crisis’ referring to America. By Brandon Thibodeaux/Getty Images.)