Slapping religious terminology on liberalism
February 7, 2006
In a memorable scene from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the old professor assisted Peter and Susan with a problem. They wondered why little Lucy had been acting strange, talking about a world existing inside a wardrobe. Either Lucy was lying or she had gone insane, so they thought. In his struggle to reason with the children, the professor said, “Logic! Why don’t they teach logic at these schools?”
Upon finishing the latest book by Bill Press, I can relate to the professor. Don’t they teach logic anymore? Whatever happened to careful reasoning and subtle techniques of persuasion?
How the Republicans Stole Christmas: The Republican Party’s Declared Monopoly on Religion and What Democrats Can Do to Take it Back is a morally repugnant book. Press opens by saying, “I’m mad as hell”, and continues to vent anger for 200 pages. His logical fallacies and harsh tone stifles dialogue with his thought.
Press argues for a smaller stack of values, but loads his own pile high. The seven chapters are the seven hills he would die on, if a liberal like Press still believes in that sort of thing.
What are the moral values of liberalism? What actions would liberal values take?
Radically separate church and state. Repent over an unjust Iraq war. Permanently repeal the death penalty. Keep abortion and stem cell research free of legal restrictions. Reject the homophobic idea that gay sex is sinful sex. Ban intelligent design from schools. Raise taxes. Abolish tax cuts. Increase entitlements.
According to Press, these actions are what Jesus would do if he walked among us.
I fail to be persuaded. In fact, I am radically non-persuaded.
But is Press even attempting persuasion? Is this sincere dialogue on difficult issues? No, it is not. This is a propaganda pep rally for the already-enlisted.
For example, overstatement characterizes nearly every page. It is not enough to say Evangelical Christians lean Republican. Press enlarges this fact beyond reality in stating, “The Republican party has become little more than a subsidiary of the Christian Coalition.” Later, Press says, “Unless you agree with conservatives on gays, guns, and abortion, you are going straight to Hell.” Really? I must have skipped the eternal damnation section of the Republican platform. Overstatement brings no clarity to difficult issues.
Press also creates confusion through misleading arguments. Regarding abortion, he uses the extreme example of rape or incest to prove the morality of legalized abortion. He asks, “What’s moral about forcing a teenage girl impregnated by her own father to have his baby?” Press admits these cases represent only 15,000 of the millions of annual abortions, but the rape mantra continues. He further misleads by implying a ban on partial-birth abortion could force a husband to choose between the life of a mother and child. Press knows these are rare cases. This is not ignorance. It is deceit.
Third, Press employs Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson as the leading voices of conservatism. Throughout the book, he sprinkles every inane comment ever spoken by the duo. Not a single quote comes from conservative intellectuals like George Will or William Buckley. Apparently there is no reason to debate solid arguments when straw men abound.
A fourth example of poor writing is ad hominem argumentation. For example, Bob Jones wrote an open letter to President Bush exhorting him to ignore liberals. Press does not give an intelligent critique of Jones’ letter, but instead strikes below the belt in saying, “How dare that small-time college president – who got his job only because he inherited it – tell me I despise Jesus Christ?”
Press equates conservative Christianity with Osama bin Laden, saying, “We have started to resemble our enemy, with American fundamentalists the mirror image of Islamist extremism.” When have Evangelical-Republicans hijacked airplanes, crashing them into civilians? Such language highlights the shallowness of liberalism. Debase, but don’t debate.
Finally, Press stands on the side of radically liberal Christianity. Every time Press uses and abuses the Biblical text, the heretical influence of John Shelby Spong is felt. Press uses faulty hermeneutics, choosing verses and interpretations to suit his arguments. His lack of respect for the text of Scripture is abrasive. He strips the Bible of divine authorship and authority. He abuses the apostle Paul beyond measure, calling him a misogynistic, homophobic, closet-homosexual.
While sincere Christians do not agree on every issue, the conclusions of Press fall far outside any notion of Biblical Christianity. Press attempts a wedding of liberalism to Christianity, but in the end leaves Christian faith in the dust.
In conclusion, what does Press hope to accomplish? First, Press hopes to energize the liberal core of the Democratic Party. Second, he wants liberals to use moral language, and even encourages them to be sincere in doing so. Third, Press hopes to gain back a percentage of voters who turned Republican because of moral issues.
There is nothing new in the liberalism of Press. Same tired and tried ideas. Slapping some religious terminology on liberalism will not recover votes, nor will it establish the leadership America needs in these trying times. (Scott Lamb is pastor, Providence Baptist Church, St. Louis, and is a regular book reviewer for The Pathway. To interact with others about these reviews, go to www.wisdomofthepages.com)