It's amazing to me to watch Rich Lowry and Charles Krauthammer begin to panic at the signs of Christianism taking over the Republican party. Where, one wonders, have they been for the past decade? They have long pooh-poohed those of us who have been warning about this for a long time, while cozying up to Christianists for cynical or instrumental reasons. But now they want to draw the line. Alas, it's too late, I think, for Charles to urge an openness toward atheism or non-religion in a party remade on explicitly religious grounds by Bush and Rove. Who was it, after all, who cited Jesus Christ as the most influential "philosopher" in his life as part of his electoral strategy? Who reorganized his party to base it on churches? The man whom Krauthammer eagerly supported in two consecutive elections.
The theocon consensus that front-runners Romney and Huckabee both reflect is that religion is intrinsic to public life and public debate, that it is a necessary component of any political discussion - and that this does not merely mean rote invocations of Nature's God or Providence or the kind of inclusive, vague language that the Founders believed in. It means a very thick, constant and inviolable recourse to religious argument in secular politics. If you haven't noticed this development in the past decade, you have had blinders on.
Charles again refers to a straw man so as not to sound too much like, well, "shrill hysterics" like yours truly:
Imposing religion means the mandating of religious practice. It does not mean the mandating of social policy that some people may have come to support for religious reasons.
But there is a critical distinction here that Charles elides. It may well be that support for a piece of social policy emerges from religious reasons. But in a secular society, it is vital that when making the argument for your position in public, you do not deploy arguments that depend on or invoke religiously-revealed truths. The essential civic discipline in a pluralist democracy is to translate your religious convictions into moral arguments - arguments that can persuade and engage people of all faiths or none. Only a few secularist extremists are saying that people's politics should not be informed in any way by religious faith (an impossibility in any case); most of us anti-Christianists are saying rather that political arguments should not be made on explicitly religious grounds, and political parties should not be allying themselves explicitly with one religion or another.
Let me confess something here. When I examine my conscience, I realize, in fact, that my absolute opposition to the torture of other human beings is, at its root, a religious conviction. It springs from my Catholic faith, which, despite the best efforts of the Catholic hierarchy, endures. The inherent dignity of all human beings is something I believe is a reflection of God's will through the revelation of Jesus Christ. In the end, that is where I stand. But you will notice that my arguments on this matter have very, very rarely depended on my resort to this religious argument. Because I am not addressing fellow members of my church, but others in America, those who are people of faith, and those who are not. So my arguments have been historical, legal, constitutional, moral, strategic, utilitarian. And they have been arguments - about American history, Western civilization, and winning a war. They have not been religious arguments. And I certainly don't believe that opposition to torture depends on a religious base. Many, many atheists and agnostics have been heroes in the long history of outlawing torture. The two most influential on me, over the years, have been Camus and Orwell, two atheists whose sense of morality outshines that of many Christians.
This, to me, is the critical distinction between a Christianist and a mere Christian. One wants to infuse politics with religion; the other wants to respect both, separately, and to keep religion private. I should add I do not want to banish the word "God" from the public square. But I do want that invocation to be as thin and as empty and as formal as the Founders intended. The current Republican party has reinvented itself as a force on opposite grounds. The party of Huckabee and Romney, the party of Hewitt and Dobson, the party of Ponnuru and Neuhaus is emphatically not a secular party.
And that is why part of me, I confess, wants Huckabee to win. So he can lose. So the GOP can lose - as spectacularly and humiliatingly as possible. If we are to rid conservatism of this theocratic cancer, we need to start over. Maybe it has to get worse before it can get better. But it is certainly too late for fellow-traveling Christianists like Lowry and Krauthammer to start whining now. This is their party. And they asked for every last bit of it.