1. Keep an Eye Out for the Dude on the White Horse.
From the Christian right's vantage point, Holy Week had a decidedly apocalyptic tone. While abroad, President Barack Obama proclaimed that we are not a "Christian nation." Newsweek editor Jon Meacham pondered the possibility that we're living in a post-Christian America. Gay and lesbian couples can now get hitched in Iowa and Vermont. Outgoing Focus on the Family chief James Dobson threw in the towel. And tireless pastor Rick Warren was too exhausted for television sit-downs with George Stephanopoulos and Mike Huckabee.
Is the end just around the corner for a country that might be -- gasp -- losing its religion?
Apocalyptic visions abound inside the world of the increasingly paranoid conservative elites. The anti-LGBT National Organization for Marriage (NOM) launched an advertising campaign called the "Gathering Storm." Meanwhile, this week's "tea parties," calling for nothing short of a revolutionary coup, are not at their core about taxes but about socialism -- the hottest dog-whistle word of Armageddon-seekers.
Many of the right's most delusional end-of-days fantasies were consolidated in the conservative scandal sheet Newsmax's Easter issue, which devoted a lengthy feature to the second coming.
"What we see going on in the world is just like Jesus said -- in the last days, perilous times will come," religious-right architect and Left Behind author Tim LaHaye told Newsmax. "Socialism is sweeping the world. ? World socialism is the forerunner to the Antichrist kind of government that [the Antichrist] is going to run during the Tribulation period."
Huckabee, though, urged caution, saying that no one but God knows when the end is coming. (Surely it won't happen before he has a chance to run for president again.) His Fox News colleague Glenn Beck also weighed in, agreeing that mere mortals cannot predict God's timing. But that doesn't mean Beck doesn't see an important role for himself in God's plan.
2. Fox News: Heralding the End.
In his Newsmax apocalypse interview, Beck worried aloud that he's not quite ready to survive the Tribulation period, which he described as "very, very ugly" and (in a telling moment of un-Christian crudeness) likened it to seeing Helen Thomas naked. But any pre-millennial dispensationalist worth his salt knows that true Christians are raptured up to heaven and don't have to endure the Tribulation period. Might Beck be left behind to, er, preach the gospel on Fox News?
Beck's attempt at prophecy seemed to be influenced, at least in part, by his 2007 interview of John Hagee, the televangelist who -- according to Beck -- some "say is a crazy man."
That didn't stop Beck from channeling Hagee to Newsmax. "Some of the things that have caught my eye as far as end times: The fact that, for the first time, Russia and Iran have alliances -- something that has to happen for end-times prophecy to be fulfilled," he said, echoing the central thesis of Hagee's Jerusalem Countdown, a manifesto for an American invasion of Iran.
In the 2007 interview, Beck called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel "brilliant," based, in part, on an earlier sit-down with the leader in which Netanyahu evoked the spirit of 1938 and compared Iran's nuclear ambitions to the Holocaust. Both George W. Bush and John McCain also likened themselves to Churchill, defending Israel against a world of terrorist-appeasing Chamberlains.
Hagee, who claims close ties with Netanyahu's right-wing Likud Party, informed Beck that the Israeli leader "told me that, when he was prime minister [in the late 1990s], that he carried pictorial proof to the intelligence agencies of the United States that the Russians were in Iran helping the Iranians put together missiles that had the ability to hit London, the eastern seaboard of the United States, and Jerusalem."
In 2006, Beck advocated "blowing up" Iran, adding, "I say we nuke the bastards." Since launching his über-patriot 912 Project, Beck has promoted Netanyahu's message to Obama, delivered via The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg: "Stop Iran -- or I will."
3. The Persecution Complex Canard of the "Gathering Storm" Campaign.
The central, flawed tenet of NOM and its allies is that granting the same rights to LGBT couples would necessarily require taking away the religious freedom of anti-LGBT Christians.
Conservative religious activists have tried to use the court system to advance this "conscience" argument, but to little avail. Courts have been ruling against them in cases charging their "conscience" rights are violated by gay couples seeking nonreligious services such as event photography or facility rental.
But it doesn't even take legalized same-sex marriage for these activists to claim persecution. One New Mexico case involved a lesbian couple who won a lawsuit against a photographer under the state's human-rights law, which prohibits discrimination by private vendors on the basis of sexual orientation, for refusing to photograph their commitment ceremony.
Religious-right group the Alliance Defense Fund is appealing the case. Its spokesperson, Greg Scott, told me recently that ADF "will be deeply involved in defending the rights of religious organizations who face the sort of coercion and submission demanded in these lawsuits and others like them."
But same-sex marriage is not legal in New Mexico. Its legalization would not have changed the case's outcome -- the couple would have still had a cause of action under the anti-discrimination law. So how does same-sex marriage change the equation? It doesn't.
4. The Religion Industrial Complex Feud, Continued.
At Religion Dispatches, Trinity College scholar Mark Silk weighed in on the ongoing war of words between self-described "religious progressives" and the religious left. The "progressives," often aligned with the Democratic-leaning centrist groups Third Way and Faith in Public Life, have been under fire by religious-left activists who object to what they call the "Religion Industrial Complex's" centrism and compromise on core justice issues.
Silk seems to take at face value the claim that Democrats are cultivating relationships with the religious center-right because that's where the votes are. But as Frederick Clarkson, editor of the essay collection Dispatches from the Religious Left, shows, the holy grail of center-right religious voters is hardly fertile ground for Democratic votes, and certainly not worth pursuing at the cost of reproductive-health and LGBT rights, among other issues.
5. Yet Another Religious Rift: Center and Left Disagree on Economic Justice .
While the rift between the center and left religious worlds has focused on abortion and LGBT rights, there is also a distinction in how they approach economic-justice issues. The centrists tend to adopt rhetoric that the budget is a "moral document" that reflects the government's commitment, or lack thereof, to ensuring a social safety net for the poor.
It's hard to disagree with demands to help our neediest citizens, but the religious left is pushing harder. It seeks systemic accountability and transformative change to the economic system -- even if it means confronting the Democratic Party about its ties to Wall Street, something the "religious progressives" in Washington have avoided. It is not interested in ceremonial appointments to faith-based councils or hosting photo opportunities for vote-seeking politicians. And it is especially not interested in ceding core convictions in the interest of illusory common ground. Real common ground, sure. Common ground to drag the Democratic Party rightward, not so much.
Religious-left visionary Daniel Schultz called last week "for a thorough investigation into what caused the collapse of the American financial system." Schultz argued that rooting out the "cancer" that caused that collapse would create a system that is more just and fair and would solve many of the problems Obama claims to be addressing through his Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, like abortion reduction and poverty relief.
As to his call for investigations, Schultz went on, "If that results in criminal charges being handed down, so be it. If it results in resignations or charges against people in the Obama administration, so be it. Let the chips fall."
Let the chips fall on some real, meaningful common ground: shining the bright light of justice on robber banks.
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