Friday, February 13, 2009

What's in a name?

According to Christianity Today, the phrase "Religious Right" is an upsetting moniker for many conservatives these days. Money quote:
"Terminology is fraught with peril," [Senior Fellow at the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, John] Green said. "People associated it with a hard-edge politics and intolerance. Very few people to whom that term now would apply would use that term." ...

Gary Schneeberger, vice president of media and public relations for Focus on the Family, said that when writers include terms like "Religious Right" and "fundamentalist," they can create negative impressions.

"Terms like 'Religious Right' have been traditionally used in a pejorative way to suggest extremism," Schneeberger said. "The phrase 'socially conservative evangelicals' is not very exciting, but that's certainly the way to do it."

To which Right Wing Watch, a blog for People for the American Way, responds:

If the phrase "Religious Right" has negative connotations, it probably stems primarily from the fact that the people who have traditionally represented the Religious Right have caused it to, you know, have negative connotations.

When people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson go on television and blame the 9/11 attacks on "pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, [and] all of them who have tried to secularize America," that is the sort of thing that tends to create negative impressions about the Religious Right.

While true and amusing, that quote accidentally concedes Christianity Today's point: that people to whom the name once applied are either dead or now with the extreme fringes of the party; the name doesn't pertain to a movement anymore. I don't concede that point, so let me take a different track.

While my only beef with the term "Religious Right" was my viceral disagreement with their stances, I never felt the name was inherently negative. On the other hand, part of politics is the art of presentation, and the Right is very good at this messaging. "Liberal" is a tainted symbol, associated with secularism, godlessness, socialism, terrorist appeasement, and anti-patriotism. Nastily, pro-choice becomes pro-abortion. People who oppose war are hippies and Frenchies. A tax on multi-million dollar estates becomes the death tax. Migrant workers become illegal immigrants. We could go on and on. Since being politically aware, many ideas I hold dear have been wrapped into some witty pejoritive, electorally motivating phrase. Unfortunately, it's the nature of the game. Not that it's right, but get over it.


Darren Staley said...

I have been stewing on how to respond to this since you posted it. Several thoughts have came to mind but in the end I have to admit my own bias (or fears).

Any time I hear people talking about a Religious Left, I am immediately taken aback, almost instinctively.

This is not because I am anti-religion. My personal views aside, I hold no ill will toward the faithful.

The more I think about it the more I realize my fear: that the RL may try to hijack my party in the same way that the RR hijacked the GOP.

JCWhite said...

I'm not being very "PC" here, but I prefer the old terms...."bible thumper" etc. (please read as humour, poor or not!)

My views in all seriousness are that religion in general, has no place in politics and politics have no place in religion.