Preview: The Case for Old-School Faith & Politics

April 18, 2012

Two movements once at the vital center of our society, liberal politics and American Christianity have gone astray, says Eric Alterman (from the left) and Ross Douthat (from the right). On this weekend’s Moyers & Company (check local listings) each meets separately with Bill to discuss the implications of this wayward course on American Democracy.

First, Eric Alterman describes the grand aspirations, ambitions, and historical ironies that prompted him to write his new book The Cause: The Fight for American Liberalism from Franklin Roosevelt to Barack Obama. He calls on liberals to regain “the fighting spirit” that characterized Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and to put it in service of new liberal policies for the 2lst century. Liberals, he tells Moyers, have overpromised and underperformed, and it’s time once again to make government credible.

Ross Douthat, the conservative op-ed columnist for The New York Times and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, is just as candid about how traditional and institutional Christianity has declined from a vigorous, mainstream, and bipartisan force to a polarizing, heretical combatant in the culture war. He argues that a revival of true and basic Christian principles can lead to American renewal.

Also, can you imagine Super Grover followed by a super PAC ad? No? Neither can Bill Moyers. In a new essay at the top of the show, Moyers talks about the recent federal appeals court decision to allow political and issue advertising on public TV and radio channels. “Just say no,” Moyers urges station managers across the country — but they need your help.

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  • Bernieman

    How are you going to “revive” Christian principles when so many of us heathens and atheists used to be Christians? I prefer simple liberalism and freedom from theocratic dictatorship.

  • Clint David Samuel

       As a Liberal critic of “our” President, I agreed completely with Eric Alterman’s assessments. I thought he was generous. Obama the man is obviously less of a Liberal than Romney the man.
       Ross Douthat on the other hand. I could see immediately two US Conservative foibles that have become rhetorical fallacies. Firstly Douthat favors false moral equivalences. It is absurd to equate Oprah Winfrey on the Left & TV preachers on the Right. For myself I tend to think of Oprah as the more successful Martha Stewart. I’m unaware of any “heretical” religion in her business empire.
       Douthat also falls completely into line with Karl Rove’s 2008 religious attack script on Any religious overtones to the campaign video “Yes We Can” is simply due to black culture. US blacks tend not to have voter IDs and to vote on black church days. It is natural for them to sing like that when going to vote. Even after achieving massive legislative superiority in 2010 US Conservatives still refuse to account for their own race-baiting that got them there. Religious Conservatives have lost their “orthodoxy” & moral compass in the continued attacks on black and migrant voting rights, but Douthat didn’t put that in his book. Therefore Secondly his book fails the cultural relativism test.

  • Rick

    You asked viewers whether public television should accept campaign ads.  My answer is absolutely not.  My quarrels with these ads is that they are crafted messages telling us what they think we want to hear and are too much about the other candidates in very negative terms.  If public broadcasting wants to become more involved in political campaigns it should provide forums that give us true measures of individual candidates – maybe a number of long interviews of each candidate  like “Moyers and Company” with a balance of interviewers from various elements of the political spectrum.  Political debates in their their current form have been very disappointing in their emphasis on short replies and debating techniques.  I like “Moyers and Company” because there’s follow up on every question, and I even find myself thinking, “Bill, let the interviewee finish her or his answer before you try to ask another one.”  Present the candidates directly to the public with no intermediate spin doctors.  This costs very little compared to the money pouring into current campaigns.  If  candidate refuses to be interviewed, that’s useful information in itself.

  • Jbnortonjr

    Next you need to have the authors of the book “Grace in America”.   This is a great book and the authors have much to say to our times. 

  • Melizabethjoyce

    I enjoyed listening to Ross Douthat’s thoughtful and obviously sincere commentary.  I was struck, though, at his buying into the usual conservative red herring of fearing to create a welfare state that fosters a culture of dependency among the poor.  Nowhere on his radar screen was the culture of predation (the history of which is skillfully documented in Winner Take All Politics by Hacker and Pierson) of plutocrats systematically making it less possible for workers to reap the benefit of their labors and productivity in our economy.  The systematic dismantling of labor rights and the diversion of wealth  to the one percent represents a much more sinister pattern than the welfare dependency conservatives choose to focus on.   Until he explains why robber baronism is less a problem than welfare dependency, I have trouble identifying with his perspective and his sense of justice.   

  • Atillahn

    What foolishness. Arguing about how people believe in non-existant sky daddies. When are people ever going to get over this nonsense.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    You’re correct that the rhetoric about preventing  dependency doesn’t work unless your belief system is Social Darwinism. The primary truth of modern cosmopolitan existence is our interdependency, and the exclusion of the majority from shaping the inevitable comprehensive dependence on large industries and institutions.

  • Kenneth McBride

    Ross Douthat ignores the historic fact that the so called “Traditional” religions were just as polarizing and divisive as the present.  If anything, we need to evolve to a secular humanist attitude, not an “Awakening” of the supposed Christian principles of the past. We have experienced a political primary where the candidates disregarded any belief in evolution or scientific evidence of human climate change!  Douthat proposes a society govern by faith in myths of the past.  All religions are based on myth, misogyny, guilt and fear, they just have different holidays!  All religions have embraced “Faith” and enshrined it as a noble human achievement, blind trust or belief without evidence.  It is compellingly obvious that religious worship has been and still is astronomical and astrological, solar mythology, given a veil of mythical historicity as the story of Jesus Christ, Horus or Krishna, a myth, a fable, a legend woven into tradition. The ancient Greeks certainly had devout faith in Zeus, the Romans in Apollo, Dionysus, and the Egyptians in Isis, Osiris and Horus, yet we now think them as myths. As Emerson said, “Religion of one age is the literary entertainment of the next.”  However, we still are experiencing the blessings of the Desert Religions of Death, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which are essentially the same religion with similar intolerance, bigotry, and hatred. Voltaire stated, “Those who can make you believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities!” Who is more misogynistic, the Roman Catholic Church or the Iranian Mullahs? If not for Science, then everything is a divine mystery like transubstantiation!

  • leftofcenter

    This ruling to allow political ads isn’t surprising. Why? Because look at all of the ads that are now on public TV. Yes, I know that you always say “support comes from” instead of ads. I also know that public TV is a business, just like commercial.

    Having said that, whatever the wording, we’re talking about money that stations and programs need. How then will any station manager be able to turn it down?

  • leftofcenter

    While you’re still entitled to your opinion, have any of these right wingers ever stopped to consider how their views and actions are perceived abroad? If you were a foreigner, would you want to live in or invest in a country that’s wreckless economically, racist and wants to deny same sex couples equal rights?