Yesterday, I went back and corrected several typos in my posts on Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion. For some reason I had his name as Russ instead of Ross. I hate it when somebody gets my name wrong, so I feel bad about that. Anyway, the author we are discussing is Ross Douthat.
I have read that Douthat is a political conservative. I have hardly read anything of his except this book. But this book makes me wonder what kind of conservative he could be. He blasts Ronald Reagan as a “a right-wing utopian” (p. 267). He disagrees with both George W. Bush‘s foreign policy and his domestic policy. He identifies several elements of the current conservative coalition as heresies. And he is death on Glenn Beck.
He identifies American nationalism as one of the major kinds of bad religion prominent in today’s America. This is the idea that America is a chosen people like Israel. Conservatives tend to go in an apocalyptic direction with this. They want America to get back to God, assuming that there used to be a special relationship between God and the United States. But things have been getting worse and worse, they think. Conspiracy theories abound. The opposition gets demonized.
He says there is also another kind of American nationalism. The conservative kind tends to be apocalyptic, but the liberal kind tends to be messianic. Religious progressives have seen America as an arena for building the kingdom of God on earth. Progressive politicians from Woodrow Wilson to Barack Obama get promoted as messianic figures.
But, for Douthat, it has all come down to the heresy of American nationalism giving us partisanship without real options.
“In the White House and on Capitol Hill, big government conservatism has given way to big government liberalism, deficit spending justified by supply-side economics has given way to deficit spending justified by Keynesian economics, neoconservative wars of choice have been succeeded by liberal internationalist adventures, and an imperial presidency of the right has given way to an imperial presidency of the left. The only constant has been hubris—the hubris of ‘ending tyranny in the world’ and ‘when someone’s hurting, the government’s got to move’ in the Bush era, succeeded by the hubris of ‘the fierce urgency of now” and ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ under Barack Obama.
“For partisans of the out-of-power party, meanwhile Michael Moore has given way to Glenn Beck, 9/11 trutherism has been succeeded by birth certificate hysteria, cries of “fascism!” have been replaced by cries of ‘socialism!,’ and the government has been transformed from an agent of right-wing tyranny to an agent of Marxist oppression.”(Douthat, Ross (2012-04-17). Bad Religion (p. 268). Simon & Schuster, Inc.. Kindle Edition.)
What makes Douthat a conservative is apparently his opposition to abortion and his critique of the sexual revolution. He resists some major social and cultural trends. But he is an astute observer in seeing that most conservatives are not very successfully resisting those trends. They are heretics too.
A highlight of his chapter on American nationalism for me was his treatment of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address. A politician could speak in a religious way about America without slipping into nationalism. Lincoln spoke about how the nation, polarized into warring states, prayed to the same God. He refused to speak of the Union as God’s servant to punish the supporters of slavery. Amidst the nation’s suffering, Lincoln said “The Almighty has his own purposes…” (p. 254).