Jeff Sharlet is right that the "end of the religious right" has been breathlessly predicted many times before, and that evangelical Christians aren't going to cease being an important force in American life just because their supposed "crack-up" was splashed on the cover of the Times Magazine. And Father Neuhaus is certainly right to point out the silliness of liberal mood swings where social conservatism is concerned: As he writes, they "scare themselves by creating the boogeyman of a monolithic theocratic assault and then console themselves that the advancing forces are in disarray." (You can read Sharlet's post, in part, as a furious scream directed at suddenly-complacent liberals: "Don't you get it! The boogeyman's still out there ... homeschooling its children ... telling them not to have sex before marriage ... running crisis pregnancy centers ... trying to convert the heathen overseas - and it'll get us eventually!")
But while the Times article in question didn't deliver anything close to what was promised by its over-the-top advertising and sweeping claims, I think its core points, however modest, were all worthy of note: First, that the close personal identification evangelicals felt with George W. Bush has given way to a certain amount of disillusionment with his Presidency, which feeds into a suspicion of politics in general that's always latent among conservative Christians; second, that the issue matrix, if you will, for religious conservatives may be slowly changing, with concerns about the environment and global poverty rising and the focus on homosexuality, in particular, diminishing; and third, that "none of the 2008 Republican front-runners come close to measuring up to President Bush in the eyes of the evangelical faithful," which is creating significant fault lines and stresses as social conservatives decide where to cast their vote, stresses which didn't really exist over the past eight years.
So yes, as Fr. Neuhaus writes, "there is no evangelical crackup ... there is a normalization of conservative Christian activism in the public square. As on the left, organizations and activists on the right maneuver mightily to direct sometimes contentious constituencies toward their preferred political outcomes." But it's precisely as a look at some of the arguments associated with this maneuvering that - once I tuned out the heavy breathing - I found David Kirkpatrick's article to be an interesting read.
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