The Religious Right and the Pagan Left

June 15, 1994|By CAL THOMAS NTC

WASHINGTON — Last week was a good one for the forces of bigotry and hate. Those who would never publicly attack any of the protected classes, unsheathed the long knives and went after the so-called ''Religious Right'' with the zeal of Jack the Ripper.

In newspaper commentary, and on television and radio, pundits and politicians characterized those who worship an authority higher than the state as fundamentalist, snake-handling, Bible-thumping, know-nothing bigots, intent on taking over the country and ramming their biblical literalism down everyone's throats.

The ostensible target was Virginia Senate Republican nominee Oliver North, but he was the excuse for the unloading, not the reason.

Frank Rich of the New York Times said the ''radical right'' is dangerous even when it loses. Just believing in God makes one dangerous to those who don't, is that it?

In The New Republic, John Judis betrayed class snobbery by referring to Christians as ''Wal-Mart Republicans.''

Susan Estrich, who managed Michael Dukakis' 1988 presidential campaign, accused ''religious extremists'' of ''coming out of the closet and beating the system.'' That used to be called democracy before what ought to be called the Pagan Left decided that only people who think as they do are entitled to hold office.

Most people have awakened to the fact that something has gone dreadfully wrong in America. We won the Cold War, but we have lost the culture war. More people fear guns and drugs in the schools and on the streets than they do someone who might say a prayer over the public-address system.

A warning to the Pagan Left comes from a CNN-USA Today-Gallup survey, which reports that most Americans prefer a presidentwith strong morals to one with compatible political views.

The Pagan Left smears conservative Christians by conjuring up images of snake handlers and the like because it knows it has lost on the issues. It raises the specter of imposed morality, but can't defend its own imposed immorality, which has produced, according to the Census Bureau, the highest divorce rate in the world, the highest teen pregnancy rate, the most abortions, the highest percentage of children raised in single-parent homes, the highest percentage of violent deaths among the young and a male homicide rate that is five times greater than any other developed country except Mexico.

Is the Pagan Left suggesting that the imposition of some of the Christian Right's morality would be worse than this?

Men and women of strong religious and moral beliefs have often strengthened our nation. Even John Dewey, as irreligious a figure as any modern educator, acknowledged that ''the church-going classes, those who have come under the influence of evangelical Christianity . . . form the backbone of philanthropic and social interest, of social reform through political action . . . of popular education. They embody and express the spirit of kindly good will toward [those] in economic disadvantage.''

Christians have made positive contributions in fighting moral rot and decay in politics. Rev. Charles H. Parkhurst stood against the corruption of Tammany Hall. Told to ''confine his activities to preaching the gospel and keep out of politics,'' Parkhurst produced 284 affidavits, first citing them from the pulpit. He persuaded a grand jury to vote a presentment against the police department, the beginning of the end of Tammany Hall's reign.

Two-thirds of the delegates to the New England Anti-Slavery Society meeting in 1835 were ministers, and about two-thirds of them were Methodists. The civil-rights movement in this century was preacher-driven.

The practice of dueling was outlawed in the 19th century largely because of the influence of churches. A key voice was Timothy Dwight, the influential clergyman-president of Yale, who preached on ''The Folly, Guilt and Mischief of Dueling,'' a message that led other preachers to follow suit. Preachers urged their congregations not to vote for any duelist. It worked and dueling was outlawed.

In the last century, Christians and Jews formed the largest charity army in history and helped the needy before government was ever involved (and did it better than government does now). Religion and religious people have always called the state to be subject to a higher authority. The signs of moral and spiritual revival are building. Virtue, a subject dismissed as irrelevant as recently as the 1992 campaign, now shows up as a Newsweek cover story.

Americans want the moral underpinnings of the nation repaired, and while government and politicians can't do all the rebuilding, they can be kept from further eroding the foundation. That's what this fall's elections are about, and that will be the central issue in the campaign for the White House in two years. The bigots are not only in need of a rude awakening, they may swept aside in a coming Great Awakening.

Cal Thomas is a syndicated columnist. His new book is ''The Things That Matter Most'' (HarperCollins.)

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