First, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich spoke of values and religion, conflating secularism with an absence of values. He claimed that a faction in the U.S. "which believes thing which are profoundly wrong" is determined to destroy values. At the 19:00 mark, he had this to say.
"I don't think liberty means libertine. I don't think liberty means absence of values. None of the Founding Fathers thought liberty meant that. The pursuit of happiness in the 18th century enlightment meant wisdom and virtue ... The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 to organize Ohio, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin says 'religion, morality, and knowledge being important,' we need schools. It was the Pelosi House that cut off the first three words, and said 'knowledge being important.' None of the founding fathers would have said that education without character is useful. They would have said it is in fact dangerous. Now what you have today is an outgrowth of the French Revolution. Gertrude Himmelfarb brilliant book on three enlightenments captures it perfectly. The French Revolution was an anti-clerical, anti-God rejection of the larger world in favor of secularism. It has dominated our academic world. Our academic world supplies our news media and our courts and Hollywood, and so you have a faction in America today which believes thing which are profoundly wrong. Now that is a fight. That's not a passivity. In a culture in which they know what they're doing and they are determined to destroy our value system, and we are passive or confused, is a world in which America is going to stay in deep trouble."Gingrich, like so many other right-wing commentators, painted the world in black-and-white, binary terms. In this vision of the world, forces of faith and morality struggle against immoral secularism, with little room for gray area or thoughtful analysis.
At the 34:20 mark, Gingrich lashed out at the Occupy movement, caricaturing demonstrators as entitled, lazy protesters who need to bathe. The fact that Occupy demonstrators might have valid grievances, pay taxes, or defy stereotypes was not discussed.
"All the Occupy movements start with the premise that we all owe them everything. They take over a public park they didn't pay for, to go nearby to use bathrooms they didn't pay for, to beg for food from places they don't want to pay for, to obstruct those who are going to work to pay the taxes to sustain the bathrooms and sustain the park so they can self-righteously explain that they are the paragons of virtue to which we owe everything. Now that is a pretty good symptom of how much the left has collapsed as a moral system in this country and why you need to reassert something as simple as saying to them, 'go get a job right after you get a bath.'"Other participants waxed poetic about the "Judeo-Christian" values that supposedly undergird American society. At the 21:19 mark, Texas Governor Rick Perry told the audience that "Judeo-Christian" values need to be the values guiding the issues faced by Congress and the president.
"If you are a pastor, you need to be in the pulpit every Sunday, and frankly every day that you have the opportunity to be in that pulpit, talking about values, because values are going to get decided. Somebody's values are going to decide what the Congress votes on or what the president of the United States is going to deal with, and the question is whose values? And let me tell you, it needs to be our values, values and virtues that this country was based upon in Judeo-Christian founding fathers."Similarly, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann argued that American exceptionalism is grounded in "the Judeo-Christian ethic" and that the Ten Commandments allegedly formed the foundation of American law. These comments were framed in her larger commentary on the "censorship" of Americans pastors, who must abstain from endorsing candidates to maintain their tax-exempt status. At the 24:08 mark, Bachmann had this to say.
"I think probably the the greatest amount of censorship in this country today is in the pulpits of our churches, because we have a law that limits pastors for what they can say about politics in the pulpit. That's not the American way ... That is the First Amendment, allowing pastors to say whatever they want to say in the pulpit, because one thing they recognize is the the whole concept of American exceptionalism, and American exceptionialism is grounded on the Judeo-Christian ethic, which is really based upon the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments were the foundation for our law."By branding restrictions on clergy endorsement of candidates as "censorship," Bachmann fails to consider the role this restriction plays in safeguarding church-state separation. Furthermore, by linking America's alleged exceptionalism with "the Judeo-Christian ethic," Bachmann seems to suggest that Christianity is what makes the U.S. strong and unique. Bachmann's statement should be troubling to those who value church-state separation and religious diversity in the U.S.
The candidates' comments at the Thanksgiving Family Forum troubled me for several reasons. First, several candidates conflated American identity with Christianity -- presumably right-wing Christianity -- thereby excluding Americans of other faiths or no faith. To exclude non-Christians from national identity in a religiously diverse society is to promote division. Second, political rhetoric at the Thanksgiving Family Forum demonized secularism and liberalism, promoting a right-wing Christian vision of the state. Sadly, none of this rhetoric was new, as this batch of candidates has made similar statements in the past. In short, American voters need to take these candidates at their word, and remember their theocratic rhetoric in November 2012.
For additional commentary, visit the following links.
Religion Dispatches: Gingrich’s Anti-Secularism Greatest Hits
Slate: Rule of Lord
Def Shepherd: The GOP Thanksgiving Family Forum Debate: The Giblets