Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is FOX News the New Voice of the Religious Right?

Thirty years ago Christian fundamentalists (taking the name "Moral Majority" but loosely known as the "Religious Right") allied with the Republican Party in an effort to "return" America to its "Christian roots." From the beginning the effort was built upon historical myths and ideological-driven lies. America has never been a Christian nation; the "past" the Religious Right has sought for three decades is that of theocratic colonial America. The degree of theocracy that many within the Religious Right wish to force upon the nation is a matter of debate within the movement, ranging from government and judicial favoritism of (the right kind of) Christians to implementation of Old Testament laws requiring death to adulterers and homosexuals.

Fortunately, theocratic ambitions of the Religious Right have not been fully realized. On the other hand, the Religious Right helped create an atmosphere of Christian nationalism that bred a Christian patriot movement (here is one example) that itself is quasi-theocratic (and racist).

Long-time observers of the Religious Right know that the movement's most visible early public figureheads - those persons to whom many conservative/fundamentalist Christians consistently turned to for instructions on what to believe and for "proofs" to buttress religious and political prejudices - are gone or are on the way out the door. No one conservative Christian leader commands the public rhetorical spotlight as did the late Jerry Falwell or the semi-retired Pat Robertson or the retired James Dobson. Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council , while quite influential among fundamentalist Christians, is not a household name along the lines of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson. Al Mohler and Richard Land have loyal followings in fundamentalist Southern Baptist circles, but are not nearly as well known outside Southern Baptist life. Religious Right leaders who today openly advocate theocracy - couched in terms such as "biblical worldview" and "Christian worldview" (see link above) - such as Gary DeMar, Gary North, Rick Scarborough, and David Barton, while popular in many conservative Christian circles (particularly the Christian homeschooling movement), are also far from household names. Tim LaHaye, a co-founder of the Moral Majority, Republican Party insider and famous as the co-author of the popular "Left Behind" novels, is probably the most well-known Religious Right theocratic advocate. Yet even so, his name is associated, publicly, with his novels, rather than his politics and theocratic-leanings.

So who do many conservative/fundamentalist Christians by and large now turn to on an everyday basis for instructions on what to believe and ammunition to support their religious and political prejudices?

Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh (the latter an ally of Fox News): far right political provocateurs with extremist viewpoints who also claim to be Christians.

In other words, while the Religious Right has succeeded in duping many Christians about our nation's history, perhaps the real legacy of the thirty year-old movement is the creation of a culture of Christian lies and myths that in turn produced a news media empire (FOX News) tailored to and targeted at conservative/fundamentalist Christians who are eager to embrace any falsehood that serves their selfish interests or gores their enemies.

The most untruthful and biased news channel on television, FOX News is hands-down the favored news channel of conservative/fundamentalist Christians, mostly Republicans and typically Southerners "who almost completely shut out any news source other than Fox News." (In a similar fashion, religious fundamentalists and many religious conservatives tend to "shut out" any religious views differing from their own.)

Echoing the Religious Right, FOX News is an advocate for the Republican Party and anti-big government Libertarians. Currently, many of the lies about President Obama and the Health Care Reform debate that are circulating by email within the conservative/fundamentalist Christian community, are also propagated by FOX News.

Brian McLaren, addressing the love affair between "conservative Christians" and FOX News, puts it this way:

"My concern is that many of my sisters and brothers, without realizing it, have begun seeing Jesus and the faith through the lens of a neo-conservative political framework, thus reducing their vision of Jesus and his essential message of the kingdom of God. As a result, too many of us are becoming more and more zealous conservatives, but less and less Christ-like Christians, and many don't seem to notice the difference." McLaren goes on to express dismay at the FOX-fueled lies about Obama and Health Care Reform that are dutifully spread through conservative Christian email networks.

Frank Schaeffer offers his own insider observations about the FOX-fueled Religious Right's assault on health care reform, which you can read here.

In short, I cannot help but wonder if the new FOX News-directed Limbaugh/Hannity/O'Reilly/Beck Religious Right is much more dangerous than the "old" Religious Right of Falwell/Robertson/Dobson. Whereas Religious Right version 1.0 (so to speak) wrapped nationalism around conservative Christianity through the use of historical myths and lies in a quasi-theocratic quest destined to ultimately fail in a pluralistic society, version 2.0 wraps conservative/fundamentalist Christianity around political neo-conservatism/nationalism/patriotism (and even facism according to some analysts), a marriage currently expressed in tea parties, angry town hall meetings (more), an endless stream of lies about Obama and his policies, including the claim that Obama is the next Hitler, and talk of secession, all in an effort to eradicate "liberals" from the halls of political power.

If the FOX News-driven Religious Right proves to be a long-term trend, the foreseeable future of American Christianity, and America as a nation, may be one of increasing cultural fragmentation and alienation, social civil warfare, or even a violent movement that seeks to restore so-called "justice" under the belief that it is the "sacred duty" of white patriots "to change the government."

Lest we dismiss the latter possibility, the history of the violent wing of the anti-abortion movement (more) offers a clue as to just how far "Christian" patriots will go if their hatred is left unchecked.

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