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December 03, 2004

The Last Temptation of the Religious Right

I don't believe that the Religious Right is the great power that many people think. Quite frankly, I think their influence is oversold and they take credit for a number of things that happen that have nothing to do with them. Like all moral graspers, like white liberals 'responsible' for black success, their greatness is more testament to their egos than their abilities.

Be that as it may, the Religious Right in all of its manifestations, has something going for it, which is principle. It will be its strength and its weakness. The way I see it, only when the Religious Right is absolutely consistent will it have credibility. Its mistakes will be amplified just as wildly as its successes.

The difference between the Religious Right and Fundamentalism has most everything to do with the supremacy of the Constitution. The difference is between those who are pursuing the 'temporal kingdom' and the 'spiritual kingdom'. A nice illustration could be found in the following analysis:

At the outset of his ministry, after God acknowledged him when he was baptized, Satan tempted him. What temptation would be worthy of divinity? Certainly it was not the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, or the vainglory of life as we have interpreted so trivially. Satan set out to defeat his purpose to seek and to save the lost which would demand the cross. What appeals could Satan offer?

First, he let Jesus feel human need. Lesser men have endured fasting longer even as did the Irish patriots who starved themselves in 1981. There would have been no sin in eating food or for the Creator to turn stones into food.

In this temptation the devil seems to be saying, "Now you know how it feels to be hungry and suffer with humanity. Millions are hungry, sick, cold, homeless, and in various other miseries. You have the power to remedy this. Make bread and earthly supplies to relieve them. Hear their cry. You can make this earth into a paradise." But Jesus is responding, "Man cannot live by the bread of earthly relief alone. He must have spiritual healing which can only come through the cross. A renewed Eden on earth is not the answer."

Then Jesus looked down from the height of the temple upon the people who would be crying out for his crucifixion within three years. He had the power to awe them into obedience by his miraculous demonstrations. In that state of submission, none would have cried out for his death; so, the cross would have been avoided, leaving man in his sin. It would have compromised sin instead of atoning for it.

In the third facet of this one great temptation, after he is shown all the kingdoms of the world in panorama, Satan seems to be saying, "If you will join forces with me with all your infinite power and wisdom, you can easily rule over all mankind. If you resist me, there will be rebellion, suffering, and sorrow in continual alienation from God." Even though an earthly, materialistic kingdom would avoid the cross, it would be a perpetual reign over a world lost in sin.

What I need to establish is some working definition that clarifies the activities of the Religious Right, its organizations and their constituents' activities. But again, I seek to do so because I believe that the association of the re-election of GWBush and the Republican majority in Congress with Evangelical Christianity is too facile. As anyone who thinks a moment could tell you, Jimmy Carter was an Evangelical Christian. Do we have a problem with evangelicals in government? It may not be a question of religious belief at all.

Notice that Satan's temptation of Jesus focuses, in one sense, on the suffering of mankind. Satan offers Jesus what amounts to the position of Philosopher-King. That position is everything that Liberals want for government to accomplish. The elimination of rebellion, suffering, and sorrow. Is that so bad? No. But the point of Jesus life, death and resurrection was to bring people to God and salvation through the acknowledgement of Jesus own grace. It wasn't to convert earthly kingdoms to righteous kingdoms. Jesus' mission was not to reform governments, change laws, elect politicians or set policy, but to be the one and only spiritual redeemer.

So what do Evangelical Christians believe that they are supposed to be doing in politics?

I think we need immediately to distinguish between the top-down and the bottom-up. Because anybody who thinks that Karl Rove is doing Christian things for the sake of Christians needs a bit of public humiliation. There is an enormous difference between spinning the image of GWBush and Republicans in general to appeal to the 'values' of Christians and the bottom-up rhetoric of this being a Christian Nation. Rove doesn't care what kind of nation this is, so long as his man gets to run it. This is the wake-up call that evangelicals in politics need to heed. You may think you have the keys to the kingdom, but it's not the US government.

So we need to try and understand where Dobson and company with their values-centered organizations are headed, or where they think they are headed given the credit they have been overgenerously been given for the re-election of the president. This moderate Republican is not about to stand by idly to give over my earthly kingdom to religious activists of any stripe, nor any other type of special interests who are out to convert the Republic. Anyone on the Religious Right needs to beware of their own ambition, and get right with God. Which way are you trying to go?

Posted by mbowen at December 3, 2004 11:29 AM

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The reason why I am a conservative and not a liberal is because I don't want the government to become a replacement for God. Liberalism does exactly that with all of the programs that liberals think help. A lot of folks think that what evangelicals want is theocratic rule but what we are most after is freedom. Freedom to let God and God alone reign in our individual lives, and the freedom to offer what we believe is the right way to others.

Posted by: Keith Harris at December 6, 2004 08:14 AM