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December 19, 2006


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Along the lines of the current discussion you might be interested in a recent article by Gary Wills at the New York Review of Books:


He makes many of the same claims about the Christian right that you do, with the added benefit of lots of examples. I really think it quite insightful and terrifying.


Jodi, in case you do not have time to look at the article I linked to above here is a small sampling:

Faith-Based War

The deputy undersecretary for defense intelligence, General William (Jerry) Boykin—a man leading the search for bin Laden—made headlines during the Iraq war with a slide- show lecture he gave in churches. He appeared there not in his dress uniform but in combat gear. He asked audiences (this was after the 2000 election and before the 2004 one):

Ask yourself this: why is this man in the White House? The majority of Americans did not vote for him. Why is he there?... I tell you this morning he's in the White House because God put him there for such a time as this. God put him there to lead not only this nation but to lead the world, in such a time as this.
Then he asked the congregation who the enemy is. He showed slides of Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Kim Jong Il, and Taliban leaders, asking of each, "Is this man the enemy?" He gave a resounding no to each question, and then revealed the foe's true identity:

The battle this nation is in is a spiritual battle, it's a battle for our soul. And the enemy is a guy called Satan.... Satan wants to destroy this nation. He wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.[35]

Adam Kotsko

(This is an empirical question that is kind of off-topic: Was Gingrich always talking about this Christian stuff? I got the impression that that was never really his "thing," and this current campaign strikes me as a johnny-come-lately kind of thing.)

First of all, I agree with you completely that the religious right's vision of society is terrible and to be opposed.

Currently, though, I think the more fundamental threat to our current state-form is in things like executive power -- I'm much more worried about Alito's belief in the theory of the Unitary Executive than in his beliefs on abortion, probably because I believe (perhaps naively) that the powers that be wouldn't be so fucking stupid as to actually outlaw abortion. Don't you see how the continued existence of abortion is essential to the alliance between the neoconservatives and the religious right?

We need to discern between showmanship and the main agenda -- as far as I can tell, the current main agenda is looting the treasury, creating a dictatorial presidency, and fomenting continual war. I'm not saying that abortion and gay rights are not serious issues -- I am fully pro-choice and pro-gay. I'm just worried that the same distraction tactics that allow the Republicans to fleece the religious right are also simultaneously allowing them to fleece the social liberals.


Absolutely, unbelievably, marvellous post Jodi! The analysis of religion as a supplement in relation to the non-existence of the big Other or antagonism and the split subject is especially salient. I was posting on the "secularism" perjorative over at Larval Subjects, but not nearly so eloquently.

Adam, I think you suggest a false alternative. There's no reason one can't be concerned with both and actively struggle against both.

Adam Kotsko

Certainly we oppose both -- but where's the libidinal charge? I suspect that for most liberals, the gay rights or abortion issues are closer to the "gut level" than torture and executive power. It's a matter of remaining clear-headed and discerning exactly where the threats are most real.

On gay rights, for example, we see a lot of action in getting people riled up for election years, but no action aside from gestural stuff once the religious right has done its job of getting out there and blindly voting. And abortion is still, de facto, a part of the constitution unless Roe v. Wade falls -- the most likely route by which it would be struck down was the South Dakota abortion ban, which the voters of that state themselves repealed.

But I'm not saying not to be vigilant.

Adam Kotsko

We also have to take into account the many people on the religious right are extremely politically naive and, in more than a few cases, basically insane. On a certain level, that is their greatest strength -- but it does carry with it certain disadvantages.

Also, due to the existence of a small group of major leaders, major shifts in direction are possible -- for instance, if Dobson were to carry through on his threat to abandon the Republican party if he didn't start seeing results, that could lead the fundamentalists to return to the political quietism that characterized the movement pre-Goldwater. Maybe that was just an empty threat, but at least it's on the table now.

N. Pepperell

I've actually tended to describe myself as a secularist for some time - I hadn't been aware that the term was pejorative... ;-) Interesting about the Texas connection, by the way, as I grew up there too, and my views were also shaped by early exposure to the social movements you mention - it was quite a surreal time, watching this unfold...

Although I agree with your observations about the class alignments of certainly the elite end of the US fundamentalist movement, historically these movements don't always have this class basis - and resonate beyond a specific class affiliation (although this doesn't necessarily contradict your point, as a movement can benefit members of a specific class, regardless of the class identity of its supporters).

Regardless, my impulse is to want to say something a little bit stronger: my objection to these movements is, I think, not simply because of their implications for other things. I suspect my objection is more intrinsic - that I would be critical of this form of movement, even in the service of the marginalised, because I can't see how a movement founded on fundamentalism could do anything other than reject basic potentials for freedom that have been constituted in the course of modern history... I'm not specifically saying that you would disagree - only that, by pointing your objection back to class, this possibility might remain more open than you intend...

I do agree with the point about a secular state being a precondition for religion in its specifically modern form (as a reflection of the private commitment of an individual) and, I've mentioned previously, am constantly surprised about how often popular political discourse simply omits the religious motives undergirding the creation of the secular state...


N. Pepperell--I took the weaker point because I am unsure. The easy case for me would be a fantasy Jesus of love, from each according to his ability to each according to his need, no heteronormativity or patriarchy, racially inclusive, anti-market, collectivist sort of thing. But, then I start to think, hmmm, as religion that sounds like early seventies Jesus freaks combined with a kind of icky ashram-like atmosphere (the underpinnings of enjoyment that would hold it together). And, then I think of some of the liberation theology movements I admire and the work of Hizbollah--which then starts to involve some of the icky parts of religion as well.

All this mealy mouth blah blah is my way of saying that I'm not completely down with your claim regarding freedom (in part because that's not my primary value and in part because I think there are freedoms that religion can enable) although I recognize the importance of your point.

Thanks, Sinthome!

N. Pepperell

Just a quick clarification: I think there are freedoms religion can enable, as well - it's religions in fundamentalist form to which I attach a more fundamental critique... But yes, I'll cop to freedom as a primary value - in the sense of enabling people to make meaningful choices about the ways in which they would like to organise their individual and collective lives...


I think the right's strategy is to overdetermine their position - so they hit on all fronts: religious appeal, neo-conservative America's power, outright bribery through tax cuts. In every one of these (and others), we can discern a hypocricy, whether its "not really religion", "actually weakening America's power", and "hey, whose tax cut".

Of course we must be vigilant on all fronts, but I do NOT think people of the relgious right are naive - they may be unconscious (possibly insane), but not politcally unsophisticated.

Jodi is on to something here about class being the the hint/mark/stain of antagonism within capitalism and the relation of religion in maintaining/hiding/mystifying the struggle.

While capitalism is truly global, each nation (using the term loosely) has its own characteristic struggle. What we are describing (and experienced) is the class struggle in the US (being the HQ of image & desire), the various formations it takes, and the complete lack of any ethical consideration when appropriating a content for its end, whether religious, moral, financial, etc.

This has to point to a near crisis - since the US position is based on its ability to articulate a vision with some semblance of consistency.

Adam Kotsko

If the religious right is so politically astute, why have they gotten virtually nothing they want?


I just found your site. I'm a fellow reader of Zizek and Agamben. I like what you're doing here.

cynic librarian

You might also consider taking a look at this interview with Damon Linker, political scientist and author of Secular America Under Siege. The interview covers Linker's research on the Theocons, religious cousins to the Neocons.



Adam, I think you make a good point. But it is not quite right to say they have received nothing: the "faith based initiatives" have funneled billions to evangelical organizations, Alito and Roberts will move the court in a very sympathetic direction, Billions of dollars in Aids prevention programs are restricted to abstinence, etc... So it is true that they have not won the big fights (abortion, gay marriage, nationally mandated prayer in school) they have won many of the smaller ones, in addition to significant wins on the local and state level regarding intelligent design and restrictions on abortion.


Whew! Just checked in. Glad to see the discussion of religion is not yet over. Jodi, I think Connolly's is a great book. However, I think there is always a more succinct and powerful Derridean way to understand those of us that resist (at least) the word secular. That is, it is Latin. More specifically, it is Christian, derived from a Christian view of the world "down" here. The word Religion, too, is Latin -- and Christian. One is hard pressed to find a translation for the word in Arabic, to take only one example. The very notion of world religions, too, is Christian, or dependent on a Western Christian divide between the "religious" and the "secular." Therefore, anytime someone says "secular" I get nervous that we talking "Christian" talk -- if unintentionally -- and engaged in the process of Globalatinization (forgot the spelling) Derrida outlined in the nineties. In other words, "Christianity" in quotation marks and secularism work in tandem. The more you push for the latter, the closer you come to the former. Nation states that insist on "secularism", for example, often have an unfortunate and non uncoincidental degree of anti-semitism at the culture level. America is actually quite weird or unique in its constitutional insistence on freedom of -- and from -- religion rather a drive toward we commonly call "secular." Intriguingly, that is in part why the "state" and "state power" so frustrates the Christian right -- a common enemy. You want to fight the Christian right -- I'm with you -- but let's find another "ground" than the secular....a sure way to get reinfected. Happy Holidays!

Adam Kotsko

Alain, Did you read that Newsweek article a while back written by the person in charge of the faith-based initiative program? He said that very little money has actually been distributed and that the majority of the Bush administration thinks of the program as a joke.

Anthony Paul Smith

Not to mention all the churches that won't partcipate because they have to then be open to certain amounts of equal oppurtunity employment (they worry mostly about atheists and homosexuals).


Ken--thanks for joining in--your point is an excellent one, a much better way of supporting my unease about the term than my bsimply adopting it.

Chris--glad you found the site.

Adam--the religious right have gotten a voice and people to listen to them. This is far removed from the years in the desert where fundamentalists thought they had to abstain from earthly things as well as the years when evangelicals were considered a kind of lunatic fringe. These days they regularly get covered in the media--their opinions count. Evangelical mega-churches are a major force in the US west and southwest.

The attention to matters of Christian belief in the sphere of politics has changed mightily since the 70s--I have an article about this, one that traces the use of the word of the 'evil' in presidential speeches.

As aspect of political success is changing the terms of discussion, creating the vocabulary of politics, producing the terrain within which politics as a practice is carried out. Here the Christian right has been quite successful--news networks cover bullshit issues like the 'war on Christmas,' politicians find themselves compelled to take a stand on an issue that was decided over 40 years ago by the Supreme Court (abortion), they have to claim to be church goers. Etc, etc, etc. Frankly, I don't get what your stake is--why do you want to deny the impact that the religious right has on American politics?

Adam Kotsko

My only stake is the attempt to be accurate. You're really loading the question and making it personal by claiming that I'm "denying" it and have some kind of "stake" that makes me want to do so.


umm...how can you not see the influence/impact of the Christian right on politics in this country? the president endorsing intelligent design, denying global warming, staffing science funding offices with people who say that abortion causes breast cancer, Bill Frist saying that tears transmit AIDS?

Because the 'attempt to be accurate' seems so misplaced--analogous to something like, 'well, why do you think capitalism has such an impact on people's lives?' it seems like a denial of what is before one's eyes, what is plain as day. And, so then I wonder why.

And, yes, it was personal because I addressed you directly.

cynic librarian

Adam makes a decent point. You can see this from several vantage points. First, there is no theocracy. One theocon has pointed this out in response to Keven Phillips' book on how the religious right has taken over the Republican party. Second, they have not gotten a marriage amendment added to the constitution. Third, abortion has not been banned. Fourth, little if any headway has been made on getting prayer in the classroom. Fifth, evolution is still taught in the schools.

What gains the religious right have made include the following: electing a President who believes in and tries to implement their goals. Since the President can only directly affect those things under his control, the effects of his actions have been directed mostly on the foreign policy front.

Yet, gains have also been made domestically. Bush has blocked stem-cell research. Stem cell research is a subset of the abortion issue. By blocking the research he's set a template for further bureaucratic action.

He's successfully passed huge tax breaks. This is important to the Christian right because many believe that taxation is an ungodly intrusion of government into people's lives.

Bush has further dismantled the welfare state. To a religious conservative, big government ameliorates a person's sense of personal responsibility for their actions. By further cutting back on the welfare state, Bush has effectively implemented the Christian right's notion of making the individual more responsible for their actions.

But the largest impact that the religious right has gained by getting Bush elected is in foreign policy. The so-called war against terror gives Bush a chance to propagate the notion that the US is a Christian nation. It is fighting ungodly forces abroad.

This provides Christians a central rallying point that they can use to proselytize. Pointing to this war, they can contend that the final days are here and that repentance and concerted effort against the forces of Satan are required.

The Iraq war, in other words, is a confirmation of a central tenet of evangelical dispensationalist Christianity: we are experiencing the end times and the war only proves it.



This is a great holiday, I mean Christmas, discussion, thanks for putting it together.

Can anyone really say that the right has not gotten what they want? Just because the 'religious' right doesn't get everything they want (in which case Jodi's blog would have been shut down a while ago), doesn't mean the RIGHT hasn't gotten a very great deal indeed.

Does anyone remember Tom Sawyer and whitewashing the fence? He really didn't want to paint the fence, and he got what he wanted.

But the discussion has clarified a lot for me - I am now a diest, once I figure out what that is exactly, and I agree more with Sinthome than I did when this whole thing started.

An early Xmas present!!

And since Jodi has clarified the relation of 'religion' and the state with respect to the parallax class struggle, I also see that those who 'seriously' adopt religion have a particular ethical dilemma with regard to the religious right.

When someone appropriates what is dear to you (i.e., steals from you), perverts it, then and holds it up as the way the truth and the light, what is your response? Is it not an ethical lapse to fail to vigorously defend your faith?

In the Middle East, people are willing to die for that (that, and $1 trillion+ of oil under their feet). Over hear, it's the secularists and atheists (and diests) who are to blame for the religious right's subversion of the true core of religious-iness.

Something is wrong here - I can't take anyone who calls themselves religious seriously unless they are either: 1) actively involved in good acts (e.g., urban churches), 2) actively involved in opposing the religious right - fighting those who claim their territory.

Which does not equate to dumping on philosophical/political blogs.

Adam Kotsko

The neoconservatives don't care about this apocalyptic nonsense, though! Do you think that Fukayama's daily routine includes Bible reading?

Jodi, You implied that there was something other than the facts themselves that was compelling me to "deny" something that you take to be self-evident. It's simple question-begging, accompanied by personal insinuations -- not this lame thing where "yes, it's personal because I addressed you." I was thinking more ad hominem, in the classical sense.

The religious right has had a real impact, but far smaller than they want and than the media coverage would have us believe. They don't seem to me to be the primary danger here, although they are definitely an important part of the alliance that undergirds the most dangerous agendas. It would be easier to combat the religious right if the default mode wasn't panic -- it's important not to exaggerate.

I think that you're exaggerating their impact and are not taking adequately into account the specific ways in which they are instrumentalized by other agendas that have little or nothing to do with religious-right talking points. Claiming that the Iraq War is somehow an "end times" venture is just fucking stupid, for example. You think Cheney gives a fuck about religion? Also, I love how the narrative shifts depending on the purpose -- sometimes Bush is just a useful idiot, the public front for the "real power," but then when it serves your argumentative purpose, suddenly he's the primary force behind the policies. Did the religious right come up with the idea for the Project for a New American Century?


Thanks, PE Bird! I should also say thanks for your list of quotes on the other thread--I think those are important for challenging views of American history. I also think that you are right about the multiplicity of strategies at work here--the overdetermination.

I have also found these discussions useful--they've pushed me to think more about religion and the defect in/as subject/state.

I continue to be mystified, though, by some of our friends' reactions. I think that this might have more to do with other arguments/debates.

Happy holidays!


Adam--you might be confusing my comments with those of other people. I didn't claim that the Iraq war is a specific policy designed to bring about the apocalypse. It is true, however, that some in Christian circles connect the two:


Also, where are you getting this business about Bush? I've criticized the Bush as idiot narrative. And, how can you say I'm exaggerating the impact? I made a specific post about Gingrich. I've provided empirical examples. I've also suggested a change in the nature of political debate/discussion since the 60s-70s. Really, you seem to be conflating my view with a bunch of other views.

Question begging? Ad hominem? Hardly--it was, and remains, a real question. It's hardly an attack.

cynic librarian

Adam: Claiming that the Iraq War is somehow an "end times" venture is just fucking stupid, for example. You think Cheney gives a fuck about religion?

Adam, You must be ignorant of the stated alliance between the neocons and theocons. William Kristol has stated that the neocons share the same goals and objectives as the religious right. If we assume that the war in Iraq is a neocon brainchild, and we see theocons and the religious right hopping on that bandwagon, then I think that there's plenty of circumstantial evidence from which we can infer that the war in Iraq is not just a neocon affair.

I do doubt that Cheney could give a shit about religious sentiments on the personal level. I do believe, though, that he and the neocons see religion as an ideological framework in which to mobilize the masses. Few are willing, it seems to go to war for such a mercenary reason as oil--which just seems too immoral--but they are more willing to support this war if it is characterized as a moral battle in a larger good vs. evil battle.

The use of religion to legitimize wars and oppression is nothing new. It's a major theme in Marx's critique of religion. The purported godfather of the neoconservatives, Leo Strauss, made this tactic very clear in his writings.

I don't know how much theocon writing you get a chance to read, but there's plenty of evidence to support the view that they support the war in Iraq as a Christian undertaking because the war will protect Christian civilization, ie, European-American culture.

Adam Kotsko

Perhaps I am confusing you with other commenters, Jodi. In your posts about the religious right, however, I often see you link to something or quote it, then vent about how angry it makes you. There are exceptions, such as your one asking how the left could make use of the techniques that have made mega-churches successful, but broadly, your posts on the religion issue fall into the broad genre of "the religious right did something, let's get hysterical." Sinthome's recent post is the same type of thing.

We can do better, is what I'm saying. I need to do better, too. There are a lot of things we need to analyze here. It's undoubtedly the case that the terms of the debate have changed since the 60s and 70s -- but what is the precise significance of this? What's the relation between this and political economy? We never get that in blog discussions. We always get "the religious right is influential! AAAAAAAAARGH! Let's tear out our hair!" It's like you can point out that something has "religion" in it, and: end of story. It's bad. Fine, but in what specific way is it bad? What specific strategies can we use aside from hand-wringing?

cynic librarian

Jodi, I am very sympathetic to your views on secularism. I think you've identified an aspect of that notion that resonates not only with atheist secularists but religious secularists as well. It says something that atheists and religionists can agree on this.

Secularism, of course, means many things to many people. The genealogy of secularism to a religious fundamentalist (strangely enough, Hindu, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic fundamentalists often explicate the same points) is different than what an atheist might describe.

When Shirin Abadi, the Iranian feminist and human rights activist, calls for more secularism in her country, it's obvious that she's not calling for an a-religious solution to the Iranian socio-political situation. Her own religious beliefs are Traditionally Shiite in that they emphasize a form of pietism that values a personal relationship with the divine. This pietism sees the political and social world as being sinful and therefore prone to political abuses. In such a context, the only solution is to allow and enable political debate that strives to reach some form of social and democratic solutions.

Another aspect of secularism--the one that religious fundamentalists appear to attack most and perhaps conflate with the former--is the dissolution of social, ethical, and cultural norms that traditional societies have built up over the millennia. Religionists see this dissolution as a threat to the very core of their belief systems and the diverse structural safeguards that (in theory at least) have kept at bay the forces of chaos and social disintegration.

All of this is probably too obvious, yet I hope it puts some of following comments in proper perspective.

The difficulty I see with the religionist's opposition to secularization borrows from comments made by Kierkegaard. His work exhibits a growing awareness of how deeply the betrayal of what he considered to be the true Christian message was. That is, Kierkegaard began a critique not only of the Christian church but broadened his attack to include the very system that that church had come to support. There are plenty of places in his later work to see that this attack included a growing critique of the material--social, political, and cultural--bases of that "corruption."

In many ways, Kierkegaard's attack on Christendom is analogous to Marx's, though Kierkegaard uses psychological and theological terms to formulate this critique.

For Kierkegaard, the very possibility of a religious life had become impossible. The impossibility referred to the various historical accretions that capitalism was bringing about.

In this regard, therefore, Kierkegaard was not opposed to secularization either in the terms that Adadi states it nor as an atheist might. This perhaps seems contradictory, but it's one pole of a dialectical analysis of the spiritual condition of the present age as he sees it.

Much in the way that a Hardt and Negri say that neoliberalism will provide the circumstances for a new and lasting revolution, Kierkegaard saw that secularism must continue since it will level all to a condition of nothingness wherein the possibility of a true religiosity might once again come to birth.

I imagine that these comments will once again elicit silence from you and the list members since the assumptions it makes are somewhat outlandish, Be that as it may, I did want to register a religious view on secularism that often gets little airplay--from either the left or right poles of the political and religious spectrums.

Perversely enough, perhaps, I think that much of this informs some of Zizek's writings on religion, especially Christianity. I have noted in several essays Zizek's seemingly positive allusions to Kierkegaard. But then I have not read enough to declare a definitive link here.


Cyn Lib--your comment is very interesting. I don't know enough about Kierkegaard to say anything in response. But, I find your reference to Shirin Abadi helpful in this discussion.

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