(Courtesy of Arts Journal)
Purgatory Without End: Why Is America Still So Prone to Religious Wars
In the wake of the creationist “Scopes monkey trial” in 1925, the evangelicals (though technically victorious) realised they had lost the PR battle, and retreated from American public life. Now they are popping up all over the place, from the bestseller lists to pop music. In the wake of Scopes, the Bible Belt (H. L. Mencken's tag) was seen as a home of hicks. Now evangelism is the religion of the upwardly mobile, of McMansions and office parks, with evangelicals almost drawing level with (traditionally upper-crust) Episcopalians in terms of wealth and education.
Over the past 25 years, these more confident evangelicals have become the most powerful voting block in the Republican Party. Now they want to redefine the boundaries of church and state to make more room for public displays of religiosity and for faith-based social policy, and to put the “culture of life” back at the heart of the American experiment.
For evangelicals all these positions are as mainstream as it comes. They point out that the banishment of religion from the public square is a recent development. You only have to go back to 1960 to find children praying in schools and Hollywood sentimentalising Christmas. They point out that Roe v Wade (1973), which protects abortion, was a wonky decision, based on a post-modern reading of the constitution; and that the revolution that removed religion from public life has led to social breakdown.
Yet for a growing number of secularists these positions are the very definition of extremism. School prayers are unAmerican. For them, Roe v Wade is up there with Brown v Board of Education in the pantheon of Supreme Court rulings. And they regard the past 40 years as a period of enlightenment, not breakdown. These secularists are as determined to preserve the status quo as the Christian conservatives are to reverse it—and they have made the Democratic Party their shield.
Which all suggests that America's religious wars are only going to intensify.
To Read the Entire Essay