RELIGIONrnLiberals RediscoverrnReligion—^Againrnby Alan Pell CrawfordrnThose earnest “neoliberals” at thernWashington Monthly have againrngotten religion, which, every few years,rnseems to be their wont. The putativernconvert this time is Amy Waldman, whornwrites that the left (her term) has needlesslyrnneglected to “draw on a religiousrntradition” when trying to persuade othersrnto support its political program. Thernrest of Ms. Waldman’s argument, howeverrnbanal, reveals a lust for power asrnfrightful as anything that the dreadedrnChristian right has put forth.rnLiberals, neoliberals, and leftists havernlong reeled aghast at the tactics of thernMoral Majority and Christian Coalitionrnbut failed to realize that they might profitablyrnemploy such tactics themselves,rnshe argues. Since many of “liberalism’srncore values—whether help for the downtroddenrnor support for peace—derivernfrom the Judeo-Christian tradition,”rnliberals should use religious imagery inrntheir lobbying efforts, quote Scripture inrnfundraising letters, and even trot out presentablernparsons or pliant rabbis to pleadrntheir case. Mere quibbles over matters ofrnbelief need not prevent liberals fromrndrawing on the rich historical and culturalrntradition of religious faith. “Forrnwhether or not you believe Jesus Christrnwas resurrected, He still offers a modelrnfor a life of radical social justice,” she remindsrnher fellow lefties. “Whether yournbelieve God or men wrote the Bible, itrntoo speaks to how we live.” (No kidding.)rnIf Ms. Waldman were in less of a rushrnfor liberals to impose their values on thernrest of society—as the Christian right isrnaccused of doing—she might considerrnthis possibility: some liberals might “disdainrnreligion,” as she puts it, for a veryrngood reason. If they happen to be self-respectingrnatheists, agnostics, or “secularrnhumanists,” they may not wish to panderrnto churchgoers in so cynical a manner asrnrecommended here.rnAs remarkable as it may seem, therernare still some people, believers and nonbelieversrnalike, who regard the Resurrection,rnfor example, as a weighty matterrnthat cannot be dismissed as airily as Ms.rnWaldman would have them do. “Sornwhat if Jesus wasn’t raised from therndead?” she seems to sav- “If it will helprnus defeat the teachers’ unions, let’s actrnlike He did!”rnBut there is another reason why personsrnon the left might be reluctant to apernPat Robertson. As serious in their Christianityrnor Judaism as their colleagues onrnthe religious right, many devout leftiesrnwould deem it a violation of their faithrnto presume that it gives them a keenerrngrasp of monetarv policy than theirrnunchurched neighbors. After all, manyrnChristians and Jews disagree about therntemporal consequences of cutting therncapital gains tax. Humbled by theirrnfaith, they would not dare claim thatrnGod has disclosed His view of minorityrnset-asides to them.rnThere is nothing neo- in Ms. Waldman’srnneoliberal case for religion, ofrncourse. Every few vears secular intellectualsrn”rediscover” religion, almost alwaysrnconcluding that it must be a good thingrnbecause it seems to make better citizensrnof the faithful—better liberal Democrats,rnin this case. The neoliberals at thernMonthly seem to believe that the imitationrnof Christ is important because it willrnmake us all more like Bobby Kennedy.rnSusan Sontag—no right-winger she—rnonce derided the attitude of suchrnphilosophes as “religious fellow-traveling.”rnWhat intellectuals always want,rnSontag wrote in the early 60’s, is the personal,rnpolitical, and societal advantagesrnof religious faith without actually havingrnto believe in anything. They are for “religion”rnin a general sense, which, Sontagrnnoted, is of course meaningless. Yourncannot practice “religion” in general anyrnmore than you can speak “language” inrngeneral; you speak English, French, orrnFarsi; you practice Catholicism, Buddhism,rnor Santeria. You’re either a snakernhandler or you ain’t.rnTaking matters a step further, liberalsrnlike Ms. Waldman seem less “for” religionrnthan for what it can do for her andrnher fellow neoliberals in their quest forrnpolitical power. The left, she writes,rn”seems to have forgotten how powerful arnforce religion is.” The “proof of the powerrnis in history.” Religion’s “power torntransform American society” has beenrnestablished throughout our history.rnTo harness this power, liberals shouldrnlearn from Martin Luther King, Jr.,rnwhose significance lies not in his moralrnauthority, grounded in his Christianrnfaith, but in his considerable facility as arnrabble-rouser, “The power of religion, asrnanyone who has heard King’s speechesrncan testify, is that it touches not reasonrnbut emotion—which is exactly why liberalism,rnwith its Enlightenment roots,rnis so skeptical of it,” Ms. Waldman writesrnin this blueprint for manipulation.rn”Emotion has power—real, raw power—rnto change hearts and minds in a way thatrnfacts do not. Which is exactly why liberalsrnshould use it, not fear it.” (Italicsrnadded.)rnThis is a call to demagoguery, plain asrnday. It is more than that, however. It isrnalso a heresy, to dust off a word that doesrnnot get sufficient use nowadays. Devoutrnpersons of the left or right do not andrncannot treat their faith as Ms. Waldmanrnsuggests. They are unable or unwillingrnto regard their most deeply held beliefsrnand practices as mere weapons in somernfar more awesome undertaking, like thernbattle to ensure funding of Americorpsrnor to discredit Steve Forbes’ flat tax.rnHalf a century ago, the now-forgottenrntheologian J. Gresham Machen, a Baltimoreanrnand friend of H.L. Mencken’s,rnbelabored the civic-minded men andrnwomen of his own day for an attitude towardrnreligion identical to Ms. Waldman’srn—and to that of neoliberals andrnmany neoconservatives today. “Evenrnhard-headed businessmen and politiciansrnhave become convinced that religionrnis needed,” he wrote. “But it isrnthought to be needed merely as a meansrnto an end. We have tried to get alongrnwithout religion, it is said, but the experimentrnwas a failure, and now religionrnmust be called in to help.” Religion isrn”discovered after all to be a useful thing.rnBut the trouble is that in being utilizedrnreligion is also being degraded and destroyed.rnReligion is being regarded morernand more as a means to a higher end.”rnMachen, as a Christian, found such anrnattitude appalling—and heretical.rnHowever noble these ends might be,rn”it is perfectly plain that the Christianrnreligion cannot be treated in any suchrnway. The moment it is so treated it ceasesrnto be Christian. For if one thing isrnplain it is that Christianity refuses to bernregarded as a mere means to a higherrnend.” Human relationships—that ofrnman and wife, parent and child, or citizenrnand state—”exist for the sake ofrn44/CHRONICLESrnrnrn