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BILL MOYERS: Just as fifty years ago liberalism was the vital center of our politics, our religious landscape then was dominated by mainline Protestants and a Catholic Church becoming less Roman and more American every year. One of the most symbolic events occurred in 1958 when President Dwight D. Eisenhower laid the cornerstone for the new headquarters of the National Council of Churches here in New York City. Before a crowd of 30,000, Eisenhower quoted George Washington, who described religion as the firm foundation of the country’s moral life.

That was the decade America put God on our paper money and in the Pledge of Allegiance. And though the churchly DNA often fostered racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and Cold War dogmatism, many thought biblical religion, in its various incarnations, was the engine driving the American future.

But then, says my next guest, American Christianity went off the rails – and now threatens to take American society with it. Furthermore, the snake in the garden is not atheism, nor is secular humanism the worm in the apple. Our fall is the work of heresy, as you see in the title of his latest book: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics.

Ross Douthat has tasted widely from the buffet of American Christianity. He was baptized Episcopalian, attended evangelical and Pentecostal churches in his youth, and was converted to Catholicism at age 17. Now he’s widely considered to be one of the country’s most influential conservative voices. He’s the youngest-ever op-ed columnist for The New York Times, and also has written Privilege – about the perils of a Harvard education, and co-authored Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream.

Welcome.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Thank you so much for having me Bill, it’s great to be here.

BILL MOYERS: I found your book fascinating because you seem to me to be carrying on an argument with yourself. And I'm never sure till the last chapter which Ross Douthat is going to win out. Am I right about this?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well, tell no tell me more. What’s kind of argument am I carrying out?

BILL MOYERS: Well, there's the pious Ross Douthat whose faith was delivered to the saints. Historically and traditionally grounded. A believer in the dogma of the essential Christian experience. And the political Ross Douthat who seems, throughout this book, to be unsure about making peace with a Republican party and you are conservative, whose base embraces an absolutist theology.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Ah. I see.

BILL MOYERS: And--

ROSS DOUTHAT: I see. You see, you're trying to tug me. Well, let me--

BILL MOYERS: No, no. There is the suspense of where you're going to come out, is worth the price of the book.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well, that's very kind of you to say. I mean, I think that I do consider myself a political conservative. And I do identify, you know, with religious conservatism broadly speaking. And I identify with, I think, the causes that animate religion conservatives. I'm pro-life and I think that cause is immensely important to American Christianity.

But I also do argue that what's happened on the religious right over the past 30 years is often a sort of captivity of religion to partisanship rather than a religious spirit influencing politics. And I think that's happened though on the religious left as well.

I think in part the story of what happened to American Christianity after the '50s and '60s is sort of a captivity on both sides.

And so you have Billy Graham, this you know, Evangelical preacher, and you have Martin Luther King, a civil rights activist. Both of those figures are religious figures who had political influence. And, you know, both of them were sometimes more partisan. Graham became more partisan in the Nixon presidency. King late in life became somewhat more ideological. But they were never in general thought of as specifically partisan figures.

But then flash forward a few decades to the 1980s and two figures who could have been their successors in a way, Jesse Jackson, a potential heir to Martin Luther King, and Pat Robertson, you know, similarly in a preacher with a wide audience.

When they decide to get involved in politics what do they do? They don't sort of stand outside a little bit and try to influence. They run for president as you know, Pat Robertson and Jesse Jackson ran for president. And imagine how different the history of the 1950s would be if Billy Graham and Martin Luther King had run for president?

And I think in that, in that difference you can see the shift from, again, a faith that I'm arguing that Christian faith always has to be, in some sense, political because Christians are called to be engaged with the world. But, it needs to be political in a way that doesn't just become a sort of expression of a party line. And I think that's happened on the left and the right alike.

BILL MOYERS: But your quarrel is with what you call the heresies?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: Joel Osteen's gospel of prosperity. God wants you to be rich.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Oprah Winfrey's therapeutic religion. You can make yourself feel better.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Right.

BILL MOYERS: Glenn Beck’s messianic nationalism which sees God as the president, the commander-in-chief, so to speak. Your quarrel is with-- you call those the heresies, right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I and try look at sort of popular theology. Right? Where are people where are ordinary Americans actually getting their religious teachings from today. Right?

And I think the places that they're getting it from are places like The Oprah Winfrey Show. There're writers like, you know, Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love which I think is a fas - actually a theologically fascinating book. Writers like Deepak Chopra, Eckhart Tolle and so on.

And then, as you said, preachers of sort of a religion of prosperity like Joel Osteen who argue that, you know, God wants you to have that big house on the corner. That, you know, you need if you aren't rich now it's just 'cause you aren't praying hard enough. And I think that those-those aren't necessarily, you know, you could argue that Osteen is sort of right wing and Oprah is sort of left wing, but they aren't really political, they aren't really political figures.

BILL MOYERS: They're not Jesse Jackson.

ROSS DOUTHAT: They're not Jesse Jackson.

BILL MOYERS: Right, right.

ROSS DOUTHAT: But they are some of the, what I call in the book, heretics. And I use the word heretics because I think that - what is religion in America like right now? Are we a traditionally Christian country? I don't think so. But are we a secular country? Well, surely not. I mean if you look at public opinion polls on belief in God, experience of miracles, people claiming personal encounters with the divine, we're probably just as a religious as ever.

So we-- I think we occupy this interesting middle ground between sort of traditional Christian orthodoxy and sort of secularism or something more post-Christian where we're deeply influenced by Christianity but sort of flying off in all kinds of directions. And I think heresy, it is obviously a loaded word, but I think it's the right word.

BILL MOYERS: But the premise of your book it, to me is that once upon a time, 50 years ago, 60 years ago religion was the - it was a robust center.

ROSS DOUTHAT: There was, there was-

BILL MOYERS: And it was broad-

ROSS DOUTHAT: There was a Christian center, yes.

BILL MOYERS: And heresies can be even more robust, can they not?

ROSS DOUTHAT: They can.

BILL MOYERS: Than the institutions from which they split off?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Absolutely. And the book is very critical of a lot of the religion trends I'm describing. But it’s also…

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, you call it bad religion.

ROSS DOUTHAT: But it's bad, but it's also what I do try and do as well is take them I think more seriously, theologically seriously, because you're right. They can be deeply robust. And I think, take the example of prosperity preaching. Right? I think a lot of people, especially our fellow journalists, turn on a prosperity preacher, whether it's somebody smooth like Osteen or one of the more ridiculous figures in their garish suits. And they say, "This is absurd. This is just something to be made fun of."

But the point I make in the book is that, no, there's actually a real core theological appeal to that idea. And the same is true, the same is true when I talk about sort of what I call the god within and sort of therapeutic religion and Eat, Pray, Love. I think that these are-- these theologies have an appeal for a reason. They answer people's questions about God and the universe.

BILL MOYERS: Well, they're writing theology irrespective of what the faith of our fathers and the old time religion might have believed.

ROSS DOUTHAT: What's different about our era is not the presence of, as you say, people writing their own theology. There's nothing more American than that.

What's different is the absence of a sort of institutional Christian response. I think there's been this, one of the points in the book is that we're used to thinking that orthodoxy without heresy is dangerous. Right? And that's absolutely true.

But the era we're living in now is a landscape were we have heresy without orthodoxy. That, you know, when Emerson stands up in the eight, I think the 1830s and gives this famous Harvard Divinity School address and says, "I can no longer agree with this, this and this Christian doctrine," that's a fascinating and intellectually important moment because the people in his audience disagreed with him because there were people though there who did believe in those traditional doctrines and you had that clash.

If Emerson - if an Emerson stood up and said that at Harvard Divinity School today people would say, "Well, sure. We don't, you know, we don't believe in that either." And it's that, it's that tension between orthodoxy and heresy I think that's been lost as the traditional mainline denominations have declined and as my own Catholic church has weakened as well.

BILL MOYERS: The charged word in the title of your book is not, to me, heresies, because I think the faith is a long narrative of heresies and many fights over them. The charged word is "bad religion."

ROSS DOUTHAT: Bad religion.

BILL MOYERS: Are you saying that fundamentalism, along with the gospel of prosperity, the cult of therapy with Oprah and the chauvinist, nationalist, god-soaked patriotism of a Glenn Beck are bad religion?

ROSS DOUTHAT: And you've left out the "Yes, we can" utopianism of certain Obama supporters, which I do throw in there as well. But I’m--

BILL MOYERS: That, oh, it seems to me that's political rhetoric. What, every president--- "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." Maybe that's theology, but it's political.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think, I think--

BILL MOYERS: Are you equating Obama with Osteen and--

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that, I'm not equating Obama himself with those figures. I think in some of the enthusiasm for Obama in 2008, if you go back and look at some of the things that were written, there was this famous column in The San Francisco Chronicle where you know, a writer said, "I think Obama is the light bringer. He's this great soul." And you had all the endless sort of religious iconography and magazine covers.

And or you go watch that famous Will.i.Am video where, you know, everybody's singing about Obama. I think there, yes, you do see a sort of, a liberal, a liberal form-- I think the investment of partisan causes with sort of religious enthusiasm is part of what I call heresy. And I yeah, I think--

BILL MOYERS: All right. But--

ROSS DOUTHAT: Yeah, I think it happened with Obama supporters too. I think there’s a mirror.

BILL MOYERS: You're too young to remember how people sang for John F. Kennedy and--

ROSS DOUTHAT: I, but I-- well, I--

BILL MOYERS: And even Lyndon Johnson before the fall. And at the rhetoric, how did the rhetoric of Barack Obama differ from the rhetoric of Ronald Reagan in terms of its- -

ROSS DOUTHAT: Oh, no. I think, all but what I'm saying is that-- I mean I talk about Reagan a bit in the book too.

BILL MOYERS: You do.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think there are mirroring-- I just think there's a mirroring on the left and right where on both sides you've had this sort of you know, as institutional religion weakens, but people remain religious. Right? They still have religious enthusiasm, because man is naturally a religious animal, it becomes easier and easier to invest partisan causes with religious enthusiasm.

And I agree. You see that in sort of the Republican cult of Reagan sometimes. Sort of, you know, "Morning in America, city on the hill." I'm just saying-- I think you saw it in the 2008 campaign a little bit too. But I haven't answered your question about badness.

I think the badness comes from the fact that they have the field to themselves. And it's the absence of this, this creative tension between, between some of these heretical forms of faith and stronger institutional churches, you know, I think you can draw a bright line between certain forms of prosperity, theology and the housing bubble.

I think you can draw a bright line between some of the cult of the god within and the fact that Americans seem to have harder and harder-- a harder and harder time living in community with one another. Our, you know, we marry less, we have more children out of wedlock, our community organizations are weakening. And some of that I think does have to do with a kind of narcissistic form of spirituality. So, so, yes okay. I will own up to the badness. I just want to emphasize that I'm a believer in that tension between heresy and orthodoxy.

BILL MOYERS: Let me come back to what was going through my mind as I read this book. It seems to me you're just not all that comfortable with the conservative religious sanction of politics that has turned the Republican party into a church of capitalism. Is that right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think it’s, you know, what - part of what makes me a political conservative today, is that I think that that synthesis of Christianity and the welfare state isn't always as easy as people thought it was in the '40s and '50s. And it isn't always as easy, in part because I think people in those eras were often a little bit over-optimistic about what centralized planning could accomplish in an economy.

And also I think a little bit, a little bit naive about the extent to which original sin, right, which works itself out in the marketplace all the time, can also work itself out in, you know, corrupt bureaucracies and administrations just as easily.

And at the same time, I mean I think there has to be a distinction that Christians have to be willing to draw between saying we as a society need to be open to caring for the poor, but we as a society don't necessarily need to feel a Christian obligation to maintain, let's say, middle class entitlements as they are now indefinitely into the future. Right? There's no New Testament passage where he says, you know, "Remember the middle class and their Medicare, now and forever, world without end."

So again, I am a political conservative overall. And my broader sympathies at the moment are with sort of having some sort of limiting factor on government. That being said, I think you're absolutely right to see in my writing a discomfort with sort of an easy valorization of sort of anything that capitalists want to do.

BILL MOYERS: Jesus was hard on the money changers. Right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: But conservative Christians today seem quite at ease in the service of wealth and power. Quite uncritical. Quite unquestioning. In fact I think if they read this book they'll be harder on you for your judgments about the heresy of worshipping mammon and those who produce it than they will be you calling them heresies. But I think all of those Christians out there who think that the free market was set up in Genesis 1:1 will have a real quarrel with you. As you do with them.

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that there are conservative Christians who think that way. I also, though I spend a lot of times with conservative Christians. And I think that what you also have from a lot of them, younger Evangelicals especially and then also Catholics and so on, is a, I think an agreement with the point I make in the book. Right? And that you just expressed. That the New Testament is very critical of great wealth and so on.

But also a fear that if they - if they spend too much time sort of rhetorically focused on those issues, that they will be essentially giving aid and comfort to a liberalism that they feel is hostile to their basic beliefs.

BILL MOYERS: I wrote down something you said elsewhere. Quote. "If you don't think the government should be responsible for cutting great fortunes down to size that should only heighten your responsibility to issue a moral critique when rich people let greed and hubris get the better of them." Where on the religious right do you find that moral critique of wealth today?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that you've, I mean, I think you sometimes find it from even conservative Catholic bishops. And I think you do find it particularly among a lot of younger Evangelicals who are still sort of identified as conservative.

BILL MOYERS: But is a faith that has made its peace with laissez faire capitalism and that theologically justifies the pursuit of wealth, in your own frame of reference is that truly Christian?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I would distinguish in a way between the two. I think that laissez faire capitalism is, for all its faults, the system you know, it's what Churchill said about democracy, right? It's the worst system except for all the others. And so in that sense, yes, I think Christians do have to make their peace with some form of capitalism.

Having made that peace, though, as in the quote you just read, I think it's important for Christians not to then proceed to make theological justifications for everything that people within the capitalist system do. So that's a distinction I would draw. I am a supporter of capitalism but as a Christian I'm not always a supporter of capitalists, if that distinction makes sense.

BILL MOYERS: Should Christian societies do everything in their power to make the largest possible provision for the poor?

ROSS DOUTHAT: I think that Christian societies have an obligation to do two things. They have an obligation to, one, make a provision for the poor, but they also have an obligation to make sure that that provision doesn't create dependency and sort of rob the poor of their independence and ultimately their ability to rise.

And that the state doesn't become a substitute for institutions that I think Christianity is ultimately more in favor of. So sort of the family, private initiative and so on. Jesus of Nazareth, as you said, incredibly hard on the money changers. Incredibly hard on the rich. But his exhortations are usually focused towards individuals. He doesn't have a specifically political program.

And so there's a danger if you're too political, if you say, "Well, the state is just going to be solely responsible for taking care of the poor," then there'll be no room left for sort of genuine acts of charity. So that's, that's the balancing act. I support a welfare state, but it doesn't mean I support every expansion of the welfare state.

BILL MOYERS: Who is closer to your sense of Christian conservatism, Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Now that's a very good question. And it's a hard one. On the sort of big picture question of how faith should relate to public policy I have a lot of sympathy for the passion that Santorum brings and the fact that, you know, he's-- I mean there are a lot of nominally pro-life politicians in the Republican party.

Rick Santorum actually cares about the issues, that issue. And he's spent a large part of his career in the Senate working on that issue. By the same token, Rick Santorum has also been an example, to some extent, of the kind of thing we were talking about earlier where you want your politicians, your Christian politicians to not just be partisan. I mean Santorum as a senator, he was very conservative, but he was also would reach across the aisle, particularly on issues related to poverty.

BILL MOYERS: Well, on progressive taxation--

ROSS DOUTHAT: He was a tax--

BILL MOYERS: He was to the left of Romney--

ROSS DOUTHAT: He would, he would--

BILL MOYERS: --on progressive taxation.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Right. And he was attacked by Romney for a bill allowing felons to vote and so on. So there is a sort of a secret left wing side of Rick Santorum that was created by his Christian faith. So in that sense I say Santorum not Romney.

But then if you ask me on sort of you know, who, you know, aren't just voting for someone whose sort of overall premises you admire. You're voting for someone on policy positions and on competence. And on those grounds I'm probably closer you know, closer to Romney.

BILL MOYERS: What more do Christians conservatives want from Romney? I just made a list. You know, he's already says he's pro-life and has pledged to de-fund Planned Parenthood. He pledged to appoint an attorney general who will defend the Defense of Marriage Act. And he supports a constitution defining marriage as being between a man and a woman.

He pledged to repeal the healthcare overhaul. He says that Americans are victims of unbounded government appetite. He argues that Obama wants the repress the freedom of conservative Christians. Those are right out of his statements. So what more do Christian conservative want of him?

ROSS DOUTHAT: They want, they want what Americans always want from their politicians. They want to feel like he loves them. They want to identify with him. No, I mean, this is the thing. Politics is not just about sort of reciting the right list of positions.

BILL MOYERS: Yeah, it's not even that.

ROSS DOUTHAT: People want you to support.

BILL MOYERS: You're on the right track. It's not even that.

ROSS DOUTHAT: It's not even that. And Mitt Romney in their hearts, conservative Americans know, it's not just Christians. It's just conservatives across the board. They know Romney isn't really one of them. That he is, he is what, you know, what Gingrich called him. A Massachusetts moderate. Not in the sense of being, you know, really liberal but in the sense of--

BILL MOYERS: That's a real heresy.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Being a sort of technocratic, you know, businessman. And that, it's that sense of identification that has been missing for Romney. Whereas, you know, I mean conservatives want to feel what liberals felt with Barack Obama. Right? And what liberals felt for Barack Obama in 2008. Again, it wasn't just about the policy. Isn't wasn't even about the policy. It was about this almost religious that, I said before, identification. And that's where Romney falls short. But it might also be why he would be a good president. But I tend to think it actually better sometimes when politicians don't inspire that kind of affection from us.

BILL MOYERS: I would challenge you on one point. I don't think the liberals I knew felt that way about Obama. They thought his election would be the apotheosis of 300 years of racism. But I think they wished he-- I wished-- they would like to feel the way they once felt, and my father felt, about Franklin Roosevelt. Which is, I think, the same thing that Ronald Reagan made a certain generation feel.

Look, we have to close. But you quote in your book my friend Bill McKibbon, who says that America is, quote, "simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior." Right?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Well I, but I quote him to disagree with him slightly. I think that in quoting him, I think what – I think that argument does sometimes miss the good that conservative Christians do not by voting for government programs but in their homes and their charities and their overseas missions and so on.

And that if there was one thing I would say to liberals who think that all conservative Christians are sort of hypocrites and so on it's that, you know, look at the way a lot of American Evangelicals in particular live their lives. Look at someone like Michelle Bachmann, right? Who's kind of a hate figure on the American left. Michelle Bachmann really did you know, she really was a foster mother to a lot of children.

And I think that kind of impressive personal behavior is present, I mean it's present on the left and right alike, but I think it's a big - it's a big part of what it means to be Christian. And so as much as I'm critical of conservative religion, I think it does also get part of the Christian story really right.

BILL MOYERS: Can we continue and I'll put this on the web?

ROSS DOUTHAT: Yes.

BILL MOYERS: The book is Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics. Ross Douthat, thank you very much for spending this time with us.

ROSS DOUTHAT: Thank you so much, Bill. It was a pleasure.

BILL MOYERS: You may recall that recently we talked about how the media giants who own your local commercial television and radio stations have been striking like startled rattlesnakes at a simple FCC proposal. It would shed light on who’s bankrolling political attack ads by posting the information online.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the rule April 27th, and this past Monday, its chairman, Julius Genachowski, walked into the lion’s den, the annual get-together of the industry’s lobby, the National Association of Broadcasters. In his speech, he cited a letter from the deans of several leading journalism schools who said quote: “Broadcast news organizations depend on, and consistently call for, robust open-record regimes for the institutions they cover. It seems hypocritical for broadcasters to oppose applying the same principles to themselves." We’ll link you to his entire remarks. In fact, we now have a special area on our website -- Campaign Ad Watch -- dedicated to keeping the story of political advertising and all the big, often secret money pouring into it, front and center. You can share your opinion on the idea of super PAC ads on public television. What do you think? Let me know. I’ll be reading. That’s it for now. See you next time.

Ross Douthat on Modern Christian ‘Heretics’

April 20, 2012

Ross Douthat, the conservative op-ed columnist for The New York Times and author of Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics, talks with Bill Moyers about how traditional and institutional Christianity has failed to keep in check its “heretics” — polarizing cultural combatants and influencers including Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, and Glenn Beck. Douthat argues that as the volume of these “heretics” increases, the influence of traditional denominations declines.

“What’s happened on the religious right over the past 30 years is often a sort of captivity of religion to partisanship rather than a religious spirit influencing politics.  And I think that’s happened though on the religious left as well,” Douthat tells Moyers.

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  • Cornbear

    Douthat (and Alterman, earlier in the hour) both discuss the popularity of Barack Obama without putting his election in the context of eight years of W.  The great excitement of the 2008 election was as much the end of the Bush/Cheney years as it was the arrival of Obama.

  • Julogue1

    Mr.Douthat really needs to do some research on Ms. Bachmann’s claim that she “raised” foster children. 

  • joe shoe.

    As The Fairport Convention once sang: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John: come down and tell us once more.

  • Leschreur

    so medicare and social security should not go to the middle class?  then they will be poor, so then do they get it? 

  • Dave

    Douthat’s thoughts might be interesting if he were a spiritual leader, but rather he’s a political weapon for hire with very little admirable life experiences.  His child-like portrayal of a political player was quite obvious in his answers to Moyer’s wise questions.

    Douthat is a perfect example of what has gone wrong in politics.  It is people like him that foster a fantasy-inspired world view based in faux intellectualism.

  • Karl Hoff

    Bill Moyers’s statement that the money changers of today in the conservative party are often those that follow the teaching of Jesus Christ’s teaching of the evil of the money changers in his time was simply brilliant, and so true.

  • Anonymous

    Equating Billy Graham to MLK takes a lot of chutzpah.
    Brings to mind the myriad of cloned rock acts on Christian radio.
    I don’t place MLK on a pedestal, yet, there is a serious
    difference that certain dogmatic types shall never fathom.

  • Justtellthetruth

    Really weary of any talk about economics w/o references to our corrupt monetary system – talking around and around and never getting to the real point of why America is broke; it’s exhausting.  Also, the Bible should have been rewritten ages ago, and all the venom taken out of it since it was obviously also corrupted by malevolent forces.  When Christ said, “By their fruits, you will know them”, he wasn’t just talking about people, but about words themselves.  Really wish a wise man like Bill Moyers would just start talking about the simple truth. The world is ready to perish, and still we have lies on parade, parading around and around and around for generation upon generation.  Can’t we EVER get down to the truth?

  • Anonymous

    Dear Mr. Moyers.Many thanks for the Eric Alterman and Ross Douthat interviews. Presenting them in the same telecast was ingenious. The combination was both extraordinarily informative and I believe a possible key to reconcile many of the country’s cultural differences. “The Case for Old School Faith and Politics” however seems a bit misleading. Alterman clearly calls for a return to a classic form of liberalism but Douthat doesn’t seem to suggest a return to an Old School Faith. On the contrary, Douthat provides a valuable deconstruction of the old school faith. In doing so he uncovers the political heavy-handedness and heresy within western Christian traditions. Douthat brought a very important consideration to the table. He spoke of the ever-present faith component in all our ideologies. Whether western Christianity or classic Enlightenment Reason, faith in the structures of both compel their adherents to fight for their respective ideological causes. Christian ideology clearly depends on faith for its truth claims. Eric Alterman said as much for liberal ideology when he concluded:  “If there’s one challenge that faces liberalism– liberals today, it is to find a way to revive people’s faith in the ability of government to improve their lives.” And when he claimed Liberals, “believe in the enlightenment. It’s because they believe in reason. It’s because they follow their thoughts to their logical conclusion. Now exactly what policies that leads you to is always changing and always open to argument. But they don’t say, “This is what God told me to do.” They don’t say, “This is what the dialectic of history told me to do.” The importance (as well as the irony) of what he says seems integral to coming to terms with the problems of language and communication. Alterman appears to believe his form of reasoning is objective and therefore self-justified, while his counterparts rely entirely on their subjectivity for their justification. I’m not sure he meant to say this but his language certainly pits one faith against the other. It denies the very realty of how faith holds our modern liberalism together. And sadly this denial remains a fundamental reason why liberals see conservatives as wrong at best and evil at worst. (See the Bill Moyers’ interview with Jonathan Haidt.) Both sides and everyone in-between clearly rely on their faith and faith interpretations to support their ideals and causes. Truth, beauty, moral goodness, equality, liberty and justice are the ideas by which we are judged and the ideas we judge everyone else. To this point, history has failed to provide objective consensus and or definitions of these ideas. We only have shared and unshared cultural constructions of the ideas. Political theory and religious doctrine bring interpretations of them but this fact hasn’t slowed both sides from demanding and imposing their moral interpretations of these great ideas. Clearly this is seen in our religious formulations. But for some reason, although just as clearly evident, the subjective impositions of today’s Liberalism seem to go unnoticed by 21st Century liberals. Until they do I suggest the divides in our country will continue to become more hostile. 

  • Anonymous

    When I hear the word “heresy”, it reminds me of the Christian Churches, beginning with the Catholic Church and continuing with the Evangelicals of today, who wish to destroy any ideas or opinions which may challenge the total and complete acceptance of their views by their followers.
    Ross Douthat seems to be using his views of religion, as a way of pushing Republican political thought on American voters. He said that if the government takes care of the poor, it will deprive Christians of doing charity. Can anyone imagine such a situation? What a ridiculous ”excuse” or rationale, to explain the Republican Party view that the Government should cut programs that help the poor! Every Church I know is struggling to raise funds, just for survival. Nobody has been deprived of helping the poor- if they wish to.
    Thank God for heretics like Martin Luther, Calvin, Wesley and many others who opened the Christian Church to all thinkers, and unshackled it from the bondage and abuses of the Catholic Church of their time, and possibly, of today. Naturally, Douthat calls Joel Osteen, Oprah Winfrey, and Deepak Chopra as “heretics”, and imputes the success of President Obama to a form of heresy. H
    How ridiculous of this Republican “Inquisitor”!

  • Jborgans

    Douthat’s ideas are crazy.  He acts likes he thinks he’s the Pope when he so certainly defines all the dogmas he brings up.  Christianity has gotten so far from what we think Jesus was telling us – at least if we can trust the best translations of the Bible – the entire modern thing from almost every viewpoint has become a joke.  The only reason why it may be good for Bill Moyers to put things like this on his otherwise remarkable show is to show us the rate our collective stupidity is increasing.

  • MDC

    Because it was Moyers’ show, and he usually gets good guests, I was willing to give Douthat the benefit of the doubt. I was quite disappointed in his intellectual abilities and his understanding of Christian teaching. He also mixes apples and oranges and stretches and pinches to force the facts to sort of, kind of, if you squint a little fit into his preconceived opinions. His ideas are far more heretical than those of some of the people he is accusing of being heretical. Or, if he prefers, at most we can say that, from the beginning of Christianity, there has consistently been different and opposing ideas on how religious beliefs mesh with political ideology. On economic issues, it is doubtful that the early Christians, who were communal, would find Douthat a kindred spirit. On cultural issues, it would be horrendous for us not to have evolved from those times. There are many centuries separating us from them. Douthat is doing a lot of projection, and some of what he claims about Christian orthodoxy is, frankly, silly and easily disproved.

  • Vvi201

    I like very much Moyers’ show and I follow him for a long time. It is the only thing real , in today’s  life. Douthat is talking about heretics , giving more example  from the other side of the life. Where was he when his  Christian president was starting two wars and was giving and still giving money for the rich with tax cuts? Was not he an eretic? And speaking about M Bachman , Douthat mentioned that she was a foster mother, but he forgot to mention that  M B received money from the government  ( the discussion about it was mentioned in the presidential election last year)   that he wanted to cut ( to make it smaller).

  • Mark

    I wish I lived in a post-Christian, post-Islam, post-deist world where smart people talked about with gravity about things that were real. That would be awesome…

  • GradyLeeHoward

    I hope you live long enough to struggle for that vision.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    It’s gonna be so great when Fatha-Doooagain returns from the dead and reorganizes America as Boystown. Ross will be his special pal.

  • Forcefit

    Jesse Jackson has always been a political figure – Douthat asserting to the contrary.  When people proclaim they are pro-life why aren’t they asked if they use birth control?

  • Berry Hickman

    Douthat claimed that he was for laissez-faire capitalism.  Didn’t we just go through an experiment with it that blew up the world in 13 years?

  • Guest

    Douthat made a lot of very strange claims that have little basis in reality. People get their religion from Oprah? Really? Who does this guy hang around with that he has such a crazy vision of the present? The fact that he doesn’t even see the world in front of him very clearly tells you all you need to know about his qualifications for determining what is or is not heretical.

  • guest

    Mr. Douthat. You sound ready to jump ship from the party of mean spirits and follow the dictates of the Eight Beatitudes.

  • GradyLeeHoward

    Douthat fails to understand that many dangers of radical politicized religion would be lessened if we simply upheld the separation of church and state. Meanwhile he carries a rock around a tree and wears a ditch in the ground. If that tree is the Catholic Church he is killing it.

  • Anonymous

    I always find it amazing how commentators, “intellectuals” and the vast punditry on the right never cease attempting to “temper” their own faction’s vitriolic fanaticism by claiming that the left simply cannot see the fundamentalist emperor’s “new and improved” clothing.  The problem is that pesky child named “Reality” that announces full-throated and unabashedly that the emperor is, in fact, NAKED.   

    The rightwing Christian theocratic machine has done irreparable damage to this nation over the course of the past three decades, and with the newest “all male” panels on “women’s health” (codewords: repress women’s sexuality), seems to be going strong in the same retro-medieval direction.

    The larger “heresy” that Douthat ignores is that few, if any, on the right OR left will stand up to the growing religious zealotry that makes American Christian theocrats (as well as various rightwing Christian communities) start looking like the very Muslim terrorists they claim to be guarding us against.   I recall very clearly in 2002 hearing that if the US did not attack Saddam Hussein and Iraq that “women in the US would be forced to wear burqas and have their right to drive revoked” in some imaginary Muslim dystopia.  Yet, circa 2012 I watched, with horror, as five men sat on a panel discussing whether birth control should be sanctioned for coverage by insurance.  

    I watch as the US sucks deeper and deeper into the bog of theocratic corporate feudalism yet there is nothing to show for all of the religious fervor that would indicate even a basic understanding of the wisdom put forth by any historical religious figure.  No amount of explanation, rationalization or amelioration will suffice to excuse the hellbent lust for greed, power and war that has typified the radical right in my lifetime.

    If the Christian community really desires to undo the damage those in power have done in their name, they should reject the conservative parties (Republican and Tea Party) and support more radically progressive policies, much like their communistically inclined namesake, Jesus.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ELV6J3TR5VKCQSHPLTLIS2ANLE Bob

    Romney, Damon Corporation and a $119 Million Medicare Fraud Settlement
    Seeded on Mon Jan 30, 2012 1:10 PM EST
    According to a cited Forbes report, in 1989, Bain Capital purchased controlling interest in Damon Clinical Laboratories Corporation, a medical testing company located in Needham, Massachusetts.

    In 1996, Damon admitted that from 1988 to 1993 it had shored up its earnings by submitting fals
    e claims to Medicare and other federal programs, and had agreed to pay , after being found guilty, a $35.3 million criminal fine — one of the largest corporate fines in U.S. history — and an additional $83.7 million to settle the lawsuits..

    The company, then owned by Corning, ended the scheme after it had acquired Damon from Bain Capital in 1993, according to company and prosecutors’ statements.

    Mitt Romney claimed Bain Capital never worked with any company that worked with the government—like Medicare or Medicaid. Even when asked directly by Newt Gingrich at one debate, Romney responded, “We didn’t do any work with the government. I didn’t have an office on K Street. I didn’t—had never worked—I’ve never worked in Washington.”

    Let’s look at the facts:

    In 1993, Romney claimed he was unaware of any investigation — quoted in the Boston Globe on Oct. 10, 1993. When the Globe revisited the case during Romney’s run for governor in 1992, his story was different. Romney’s story changed about his knowledge of the investigation.

    The Globe, disclosing that Romney had earned $473,000 from the sale, reported on Oct. 10, 2002:

    “Romney said yesterday he was a proactive board member who helped to uncover the fraud. Romney said the board used its New York law firm to investigate, and as a result, the board took ‘corrective action’ months before Damon was sold to Corning.”

    But as the Globe reported, court records — including statements from prosecutors and Damon’s own admissions — told a different story, and reveal that the fraudulent activity occurred right up until the time Bain and other owners sold the company to Corning. Prosecutors also gave sole credit to Corning for cleaning up the fraud after it purchased the company from Bain and other owners.

    Romney later admitted that the board did not report to federal investigators any findings from the alleged internal inquiry.

    Romney was never charged with any wrongdoing. The fraud apparently began in 1988, one year before Bain Capital invested in the company. In the end, four Damon officials were charged with Medicare fraud, including President Joseph Isola, who pleaded no contest to fraud charges and was placed on three years’ probation.

    The Damon case is certainly a valid subject for scrutiny of Romney’s business record. This is not about questioning ‘free market’ or ‘capitalism’; this is about questioning fraud and truthfulness of a Presidential candidate.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/ELV6J3TR5VKCQSHPLTLIS2ANLE Bob

    Social conservatism is shameful, immoral and UNGODLY. Fiscal conservatism is “penny-wise” and pound foolish. This is the Republican party which uses this philosophy of degrading people and shrinking societies.