Religious WrongrnDespite the ocean of ink that has beenrnspilled in the last several months on thern”religious right,” perhaps the most sensiblerncomment about it, or at least aboutrnits journalistic coverage and politicalrnanalysis, was penned by John F. Persinosrnin an article published in the magazinernCampaigns and Elections last September.rn”When examined with a coldlyrnnonpartisan eye,” wrote Mr. Persinos, “itrnturns out that much of the mainstream’srnreportage on the Christian Right is arnhodge-podge of cliches, regurgitatedrnconventional wisdom, and fatuous analysis.”rnOf course, there is hardly any subjectrnthat mainstream political journalismrnin this country touches of which the exactrnsame thing could not be said, butrnthere seems to be something about therncombination of “religious” and “right”rnthat encourages the construction of veritablernmonuments of the very kind ofrn”fatuous analysis” of which Mr. Persinosrnwrote. There are, in my mind, two mainrnreasons why American journalists andrnanalysts so smashingly succeed in makingrnfools of themselves whenever theyrntalk about the “religious right.”rnFirst, with the Clinton administrationrnin office, the political left needs an enemyrnagainst which it can rail for the purposesrnof raising money for its variousrncauses, increasing the subscription levelsrnof its magazines, and rallying the dozingrnvoters to the tattered banners of liberalrncongressional candidates. The prospectrnof Falwell, Robertson, Buchanan, North,rnand Helms snooping into your bedroom,rnburning books in your local library,rnand outlawing lingerie advertisementsrnin your local newspapers is probablyrnenough to elicit a few dollars from evenrnthe most skin-flinted progressives, and,rnjust as people on the political right havernoften resorted to similar tactics of scarernand smear against their friends on thernleft, some liberal activists probably reallyrnbelieve their own propaganda aboutrnthe religious right, a belief that contributesrnto the very kind of fatuity Mr.rnPersinos mentioned.rnThe other reason for the flood ofrnrhetorical cow drop about the religiousrnright is that, for a certain sort of mental-rnPrincipalities & Powersrnby Samuel Francisrnity common on the left, the prospect ofrnbeing persecuted is just too delicious tornpass up. Leftism of all kinds often takesrnits moral energy from its own paranoia,rnits deeply rooted obsession that it standsrnalone against the forces of reaction andrnthat those forces are on the eve of triumph,rnand while the left is invariablyrnthe first to head for the beaches when arnreal triumph of reaction actually takesrnplace, to stand athwart the petty andrnusually harmless despots who try to closerndown local porno stores and to feel thernnearly erotic stimulus that one is aboutrnto go to the stake oneself is always a lot ofrnfun as well as immensely invigorating tornthe leftist ego.rnWe do not, therefore, need to lookrnvery far to find reasons for the yelling andrnscreaming about the sinister emergencernof the religious right to which the nationrnwas obliged to listen last summer. Partrnof the hysteria was deliberately engineeredrnfor political and fund-raising purposes,rnand the engineering was successfulrnprecisely because most adherents ofrnthe left are both credulous enough to believernthat an inquisitorial tide is about tornengulf the country and self-importantrnenough to imagine that they will be thernfirst victims of the reaction. It is not remarkable,rnthen, that the emergence of arnreligious right excites people on the secularrnleft; what is remarkable, however, isrnthat the religious right exists at all.rnIt is remarkable because not onlyrnis the United States today, like mostrneconomically developed societiesrneverywhere, a largely secular culture butrnbecause the American right itself hasrnnot until fairly recently expressed muchrninterest in religion. Prior to Worid WarrnII, hardly any major figure on the Americanrnright was religious at all, and somernwere more or less outspoken enemies ofrnreligion in general and Christianity inrnparticular. H.L. Mencken, Albert JayrnNock, and most of the group that JustinrnRaimondo identifies as the “Old Right”rnof the anti-New Deal, anti-interventionistrnorientation were not in the least concernedrnwith religion except to mock it.rnRobert A. Taft, who generally shared thernpolitical views of this movement as hernled its political efforts, himself seems tornhave lived and died as a thoroughly conventionalrnEpiscopalian, a calling almostrnindistinguishable from outright heathenism.rnThe considerably less libertarianrnpersuasion grouped around thernracialist right, including Lothrop Stoddardrnand Madison Grant, was explicitlyrnanti-Christian, while the “American fascist”rnLawrence Dennis (as well as EzrarnPound) was also either uninterested inrnreligion or hostile to it. Even in thernI950’s, the founder of the John BirchrnSociety, Robert Welch, was a professedrnatheist and admirer of the Transcendentalistrnshaman Ralph Waldo Emerson,rnwhile Welch’s one-time colleague, thernlate and brilliant Revilo P. Oliver, was asrnwell-known for his bitterness towardrnwhat he called “Jesus juice” as he was forrnhis animosity to Jews and their supposedrnconspiracy.rnIt was only in the post-World War IIrnright, the right of William F. Buckley Jr.rnand the late Russell Kirk, that religionrncame to be closely linked with Americanrnconservatism. This development wasrnpartly due to the general revival of religionrnin the postwar era that gave us suchrnmainstream icons of holiness as BillyrnGraham and Norman Vincent Peale andrnthe cult of “civic religion” in the 1950’s,rnbut also partly due to the emergence ofrnanticommunism as a central issue of thernright, as well as a dawning perceptionrnthat what was occurring in the West asrnwell as under communism was not simplyrna violation of the fundamental institutionalrncategories of the civilization ofrnthe West but an implicit abandonmentrnof and an ever more explicit attack onrnthem. It is hardly surprising, given thernvictimization of Christianity and Christiansrnby communists, that Christian clergymenrnand thinkers were in the forefrontrnof anticommunist movements,rnthat they imparted their theologicalrncommitments to their political and socialrncommentary, and that their thoughtrnmainly identified the West and its survivalrnwith Christianity rather than withrnother staples of conservative concernrnsuch as property and the free market,rnconstitutionalism and the rule of law,rnnationality, race, or social hierarchy.rnBut conservative intellectualism,rnwhatever thoughts it entertained aboutrnreligion, had little practical or politicalrnimpact either before or after Worid WarrnII, and the emergence of the religiousrnlO/CHRONICLESrnrnrn