Where I Kvetch About Dreher’s Religious Freedom Rhetoric

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I have long been a critic of Rod Dreher’s. Initially, I found his criticism of big government and big business interesting. While we will likely always diverge politically and religiously, I used to respect Dreher’s more nuanced approach to religious conservatism. What I have realized over the years is Dreher is not that nuanced. It is only that his rhetoric appears much more nuanced. In reality, Dreher often reinforces the rather shallow critiques of religious (read: Christian) conservatives. Dreher’s main defense of religious freedom against what he perceives to be the success of the sexual revolution (even though queers were not participants in the sexual revolution, but rather that even the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s itself was heteronormative) the trope of “it’s not queer antagonism, it is just religion.”
There have always been several ironies that I have found in Dreher’s thought. Most of them relate to Cornel West’s critique of Alasdair MacIntyre (as representative of communitarianism). West argues that while MacIntyre critiques the liberal focus on individualism, MacIntyre relies on a communitarian argument that presupposes the liberal state because it demands religious freedom for believers. Dreher is no different as far as I can tell.
The mantra of “it’s not queer antagonism, it’s just religion” presumes religion as an apolitical sphere of private activity, an activity outside the discourse of public morality (or ethics). Yet, it’s not that simple because Dreher like most religious conservatives demands that a) there should be a robust civic Christianity but b) like religion in the private sphere, this robust civic Christianity should be above the reproach of ethics or morality. Dreher wants Christianity to be the foundation of the political, yet he doesn’t want the contestation and agonism that comes with politics. I also think Dreher ignores we (he and I as religious outsiders) benefits from the freedom of religion because civic Christianity has often been primarily a Protestant endeavor that sought to exclude religious outsiders (both within and outside Christianity).
Reliance on liberal principles is no surprise because the notion of religious freedom applying to individuals is a liberal reading of the Constitution (the importance of the Incorporation Doctrine of the Fourteenth Amendment, an Amendment often opposed by conservatives, if not de jure, then de facto). Again, this only highlights the fact that while Dreher and other conservatives oppose liberal principles, they often rely on those very principles. The issue is that the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution also allows for equal protection, which directly conflicts with how much religious freedom a person has. Where does religious freedom end and equal protection begin? Dreher’s articulation of this and defense of a more maximalist approach to religious freedom leaves his response underdeveloped.
This leads me to another point in the myopic view of Dreher and other religious conservatives. The religious conservatism of Dreher is myopic because it presumes society would be better if Christianity remains the foundation of morality and politics. Yet, even when Christian discourse maintained (I still think it maintains a very public role despite the kvetching of Dreher and people like Franklin Graham), there was no consensus on what those kind of politics should look like. Of all the political debates that US society has had throughout its existence, there have been Christians on both sides of those debates. We might think of the Civil Rights Movement as the great triumph of Christian morality, but we shouldn’t forget that religious conservatives and moderates often supported Jim Crow. Virtually all moral debates have had Christians on both sides of the issue. Civic Christianity doesn’t change uncertainty. While one might attribute Christians who supported Jim Crow to not practicing an “ideal form of Christianity,” this assertion is a deflection, and it fails to address that Christians throughout history have held morally dubious political, moral, and religious public civic positions.
More to the point, Dreher wants to position his version of religion as the ideal form of civic Christianity. Why should anyone accept this premise given the varieties of civic Christianity? Problematically, Dreher wants to position queerness outside of the Church as akin to the secular. Yet, some of the most vocal supporters of queer inclusion (and same-sex marriage) are themselves Christian religious leaders. Again, this is part of my previous point, but emphasizes that Dreher can only imagine a queer antagonistic form of Christianity as a legitimate form of civic Christianity. But this is a problem because those who support queer inclusive Christianities don’t think they are practicing cafeteria Christianity (and if “cafeteria religion” is a credible analytical category, which I don’t think it is, then Dreher’s form of Christianity is just as much a “cafeteria Christianity” as progressive Christians). Rather, they envision queer inclusion as an extensions of the religious obligation and practice.
To conclude, Dreher’s analysis of religious freedom is dubious. For Dreher, civic Christianity relies on being outside of reproach, problematic because Dreher’s form of civic Christianity deemphasizes equal protection while bolstering religious freedom to an unrealistically high precipice. The issue, of course, is that other forms of morality are displacing some within Christianity. As someone identified with queer politics, I question how much this is really the case (queer antagonism won’t dissipate with Same-Sex Marriage). But Dreher’s complaints strike me like how person A is deemed as suppressing free speech when they criticized the racism/homophobia/sexism/etc. of person B’s speech (or actions). It really is like the whiny teenager who claims they’re being marginalized when really they already have everything.

Gay Marriage is so Neoliberal

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I felt the need to talk this one out via my blog. It has to do with a combination of Obama’s tacit acceptance of same-sex marriage and a lot of other news events

One thing that occurred was with the United Methodist General Conference. Many of my friends were at the conference or following it closely. The thing that consistently appeared on my facebook feeds were about their disappointment in not including queer people in the church. At the same time, the general conference voting against divestment from companies that build the equipment that help perpetuate Israeli state violence against Palestinians. I am sure that a few words were said on the latter but most of the discussion was about the former issue.  For a Jewish perspective on the failure to end divestment, you can read here.

To be honest, I was angered that more reaction was given on a clause than on divestment from businesses that actively participate in the Israeli government’s oppression of Palestinians. To be fair, I think about Israel a lot as a Jew and I think about Palestine a lot and that the state of Israel really signifies the failure of the Jewish ethical tradition (not only the rabbinic tradition but also the philosophical tradition). I am also not Methodist, so it may not be up to me to judge the internal affairs of a church with which I do not participate (even if their decisions indirectly affect us all). So the human rights abuses by Israelis against Palestinians is something that I follow probably a lot more than most Methodists.

This kind of reaction is perhaps why every time we talk about someone supporting same-sex marriage, I roll my eyes. Or, I get angry even if the people posting the comments are well-intentioned (and they are definitely well intentioned). For some reason, focusing on the same-sex marriage debate got it in our heads that it is the main queer issue. Queer people are everywhere and in every strata of the societies which we live. To be more transparent, queer people’s houses are being bulldozed through the money the United Methodist Church invests in Caterpillar. My point is not to condemn the United Methodist Church, nor my friends who have spoken passionately about including queer people in their church, but really to see the failure of talking about certain issues as somehow meriting the “queer issue” status while other issues are somehow not. I think this is a systemic issue. In reaction to Obama’s approval, one of my friend’s on facebook said, “this is all nice, but where was the community support when CeCe was on trial?”

Marriage has become increasingly important, as neoliberal policies continue to dismantle the already small welfare state and privatize and deregulate our government. Marriage becomes the means of getting healthcare, affording housing, getting a green-card, so on and so forth. In a way, it’s ironic that those most staunchly opposed to same-sex marriage are also the people who supported the policies that helped bring about its genesis. Rather than talking merely about marriage, why are we not also discussing a public option for healthcare? It’s not that radical of a position, considering the majority of American citizens actually support a public option. Why are we not talking about homelessness in queer communities? Or housing discrimination? Or trans rights? Why aren’t we advocating more fiercely for more inclusive immigration policies? Or why aren’t we talking about the fact that the marriage debate is really about notions of respectability (the only way for queer citizens to be respected is to look respectable) and why aren’t we challenging those terms of respectability? Why are we focusing on what Obama has said when our foreign policy  supports the bulldozing of Palestinian housing? Or why aren’t more of us standing in solidarity with CeCe in her unjust imprisonment?

I guess these are the things I think about when I hear news about a politician’s views on same-sex marriage finally “evolving” to support it.

The Conservative-Liberal Divide as a Red Herring

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So last weekend, I read a blog post about rabid partisanship. I critiqued the article on the basis that it produced the very partisanship that it sought out to critique. Then my friends and I fought over it, reproducing the very partisanship that we (liberals and conservative, and perhaps I as the sole libertarian socialist) seek to argue against. But I thought about it for a week and have come back to the article with the main reasons why I think that rabid partisanship is always a red herring. How it is reproduced by the media and educational institutions but how this doesn’t necessarily point to the inherent liberalism of these institutions (thus reproducing the partisanship). Rather, it points to the neoliberal policies and ideologies that have slowly taken hold of our society in the past 40 years and it is an ideology that most Democrats and Republicans embrace.

As a point, I agree that the media and the education sector tend to enforce the rabid partisanship in our country. However, these institutions are heavily influenced by corporate ideals and policies because not only is the media run by corporations, thus compromising their supposedly objective reporting, but colleges and universities are for-profit institutions that are out to secure business. In other words, they’re business friendly and their pursuit of knowledge is thus compromised. Rabid partisanship appears to me to be a red herring and more than anything it appears to be socially manufactured because both the Democratic and Republican parties advocate this kind of corporatizing of our culture and politics.

A good example is the current debate about whether oil companies should receive tax subsidies. President Obama favored cutting off these subsidies because these companies made millions in profits last year. That is, they don’t need the corporate welfare of the state in order to survive in the free market. Republican, on the other hand, argued for continuing the corporate welfare of these companies, advocating an inherently protectionist or interventionist approach to the market. On this issue, the parties switched: Obama supported a free market measure where Republicans advocated a position that was inherently interventionist (and thus in their own parlance, big government). No one has really noted this change whatsoever. It makes sense, however. It’s like 1984, where Republicans advocated Keynsian growth while Democrats advocated for fiscal conservatism. If both parties are dominated by business interests, then it is just a means of revealing the shifting business interests and needs. This is why I think that the liberal-conservative divide is a red herring because it means we don’t notice the ways in which our party system is united.

To reinforce the point, the term liberal tends to be synonymous with Democrat in our society because the term conservative tends to be synonymous with the Republican party. This ideological nomenclature is quite misleading, however. If one looks at the dominant platform of the Democratic party, they look like moderate Republicans of 30 to 40 years ago. Rachel Maddow, for instance, is one of these so-called moderate Republicans. My parents, in another instance, are moderate Republicans who were ousted from their party because its increasing move to the Right. So my parents look like Democrats and tend to vote Democrat. What this has reveals is a shift in thinking. The term liberal cannot really apply to a leading number of notable Democrats in the contemporary. This is the same for the term conservative, as well. Perhaps the most notable conservative is Barry Goldwater, who was pretty much what might amount to as a libertarian. At the same time, the people who hijacked his ideals were not really conservatives themselves. Most Republicans today do advocate for government intervention all the time, but it is welfare for the corporate sector and redistribution of money upwards. These people are statist and it is misleading to call them conservative. Like Noam Chomsky, I don’t believe real conservatives really exist in the United States or else they would be more adamant in challenging the forms of state authority that most Republicans tend to accept. In the end, “liberal” and “conservative” are simulacra, terms with almost no referent in real life.

Reproduction of the liberal-conservative divide, thus, is a rather misleading trope. Both dominant parties in the United States tend to promote neoliberal policies and ideology. Thus, it might be apt to speak of a neoliberal coalition of Democrats and Republicans. Of course, we cannot because it would mean that the very forms of economic life advocated by Republicans, has led to the necessity of same-sex marriage, for instance. It means that we have to talk about the fact that both the Tea Party and the Occupy movement are influenced by a sense of urgency in our society: the basic quality of life in this country has dropped in the last 30 years. It means having to talk about why a public option for health care is always tabled by both Democrats and Republicans. It also means having to explain why the private sector always talks about how ineffective the public sector is, but when politicians offer public options to anything (like health care or the post office), the private sector opines that it will never be able to complete. People are working harder and longer hours while wages have stagnated. No one wants to address this issue because it means revealing that both parties have contributed to this decline in our economic life. I think that these are things that we ought to be critiquing and talking about, rather than the blame game.

Perhaps this is a good starting point?