Wills^ Waynby James B. GravesnUnder God: Religion andnAmerican Politicsnby Garry WillsnNew York City: Simon and Schuster;n445 pp., $24.95nGarry Wills is, of course, the talentednapostate conservative whoseninterpretative political reporting avoidsnthe usual journalistic cliches. No onenwill disagree that Wills penetratesnevents more deeply than do, say, theneditorial writers for the New YorknTimes, any more than he will deny thatnWills’ insight and wit are broadly innservice to the social agenda promotednby the Times.nA charitable (if somewhat patronizing)nimpression shared by certain of hisnfellow Catholic intellectuals who knewnhim when is that Garry Wills is rather anbad boy who writes more to impressnthan to clarify. The consensus seemsnto be: Of course Garry is puckishlynclever, sometimes even outrageous.nBut his heart is finally in the rightnplace, you know. My own impressionnis that heart is what Garry Wills’ latestnbook conspicuously lacks, as do thenbooks of every other solipsist. And this,nI believe, is why the man’s wellexercisedningenuity takes printed shapenlargely as vox et praeterea nihil. Thatnis, an illusion of substance and sense,nthough of a kind with capacity fornmischief, like the voice of Tolkien’snM O V I N G ?nLET US KNOW BEFORE YOU GO!nTo assure uninterrupted delivery ofnChronicles, please notify us in advance.nSend change of address onnthis form with the mailing label fromnyour latest issue of Chronicles to:nSubscription Department, Chronicles,nP.O. Box 800, Mount Morris, Illinoisn61054.nNamenAddressnCitynStaten38/CHRONICLESnSaruman. About which more will follow.nUnder God is a digressive jumblenthat commences with a spanking deliverednto his materialist friends in thennews media, in academe, and especiallynin politics, with specific reference tonthe 1988 presidential campaign. WhatnWills accurately points out to thesentypes is that their purblindness to spiritualnthings is so far out of the Americannmainstream as to be politically costly tonthem. As Wills demonstrates of thenelection that became the Democrats’nmost recent national disaster, MichaelnDukakis really had no chance to ride tonthe White House on the back of thosenbony managerial skills he advertised.n”The Duke’s” absorption in pragmatism,nfor instance, precluded hisnforeseeing — and, in the aftermath, hisnunderstanding — the widespread odiumnprovoked by his confession that henwas a “card carrying member” of thenAmerican Civil Liberties Union. TonMichael Dukakis, the ACLU is merelyna civic group busy securing the goodnthings its name suggests. But to Americansnat large this outfit is the spearheadnof a militantly anti-religious (morennearly, a militantly anti-Christian)nthrust. And that this view is not entirelynwithout reason, Wills acknowledges bynpoindng out how the ACLU “as anwhole has tried to prevent religiousngroups from meeting in schools undernthe provisions of the equal-access billnpassed by Congress in 1985, whichnallows extracurricular clubs, even thosenthat study the Bible, to use the samenfacilities that bird-watchers and hamradionoperators do.” Carping over suchnminutiae is bad politics, Wills hints.n(By the way, someone should tellnGarry Wills about that 8-1 vote, appropriatelynannounced last July Fourth, bynwhich the Supreme Court upheld thenEqual Access Act.)nUnder God isn’t mainly about thenACLU, as I’ve seemed above to indicatenit is. What this book does is takenthe big political players in the 1988nrace, those in the primaries as well asnthe two finalists, and analyze theirnreligious backgrounds (or lack thereof)nas those backgrounds showed up innbehavior on the hustings. The authornlikewise comments on public reactionnto that behavior.nThe book reaches two main conclusions.nWills’ intended coup de grace atnnnthe end of the book draws on passagesnfrom Jefferson and Madison, picked tonshow that the Framers originally intendednto build some more or less solidnbarrier between church and state. Tonbe.sure. Wills includes qualifiers here.nBut readers will notice he shows nonembarrassment in slighting the contrarynevidence, both massive and widelynknown. Garry Wills’ other conclusionnis the hortatory one I’ve alreadynnoted. The thrust is; My secularistnfriends, it’s tactically unsound to surrendernthe religious high-ground to thenright wing. Religion can be co-opted asna real force for Progress, providednyou’re only willing to hold your nosenand pretend to like it. Look at thenabolitionists and the women’s rightsnmovement. Look at religious oppositionnto the Vietnam War and nuclearnweapons. Look at church agitation fornsocial justice. Why, a dab or two of thennot-so-Old Time religion can butternyour political bread quite nicely.nIn Under God Garry Wills twicenrefers to Origen, the learned Christiannwriter and heretic of the third century,nand it occurs to.me that Garry Willsnresembles Origen in some conspicuousnways. Like Origen, Garry Wills is anskilled (indeed, a determined) dialecticiannwith opinions on everything. Withnmany of these he grows so smitten asnrepeatedly to get carried off on wingsnof shiny theory and novelty. Because,nagain like Origen, Wills can’t (at least,nhe too often doesn’t) balance the dialecticalnmode with concern for givens,nhe imagines, insolently, that mere reasonnand some broad reading qualifynhim, as noted above, even to theologize,nsomething he undertakes withnapparent eagerness.nDon’t misunderstand me. I leave itnto Rome and the Romans to determinenwho their Catholic heretics are. But innregard to the ongoing Kulturkampf innAmerica, which Garry Wills blamesnthe so-called Religious Right for provokingnagainst the pro-abortion crowd,nthe pornography lobby, and the rest ofnthe organized anti-family movement,non whose side he makes war with craftynwords, the man is a heresiarch; as thisntissue of half-truths and outright errorsnhe wove as Under God makes so clear.nJames B. Graves is a former classicsnprofessor who lives in Ipswich,nMassachusetts..n