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THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICAWhat Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match!
By RICHARD LAND
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2007 Richard Land
All right reserved.
Chapter OneWhat's God Got to Do with America?
It is imperative that we begin speaking plainly about the absurdity of most of our religious beliefs. -Sam Harris
With God officially expunged from America's public life, can guns be far behind? ... Without guts, guns become museum pieces, and God becomes a nostalgic memory. In other words, lose one and you lose all three. -Chuck Baldwin
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Rolling down one side of America's cultural highway is a Lexus RX hybrid with a "Love Your Mother (Earth)" decal discreetly placed in the lower left of the rear window. Below, a bumper sticker features an illustration of Rodin's famous sculpture The Thinker, next to the quotation, "I think; therefore I am a liberal." Headed in the opposite direction across the double yellow line is a Dodge Ram Hemi pickup truck with a gun rack mounted in the cab, a Confederate flag pasted across the back window, and a bumper sticker proclaiming, "God, Guns, 'n' Guts Made America Free!"
On their way home to Blue andRed America, these two road warriors are unwitting adversaries in a titanic clash of conflicting worldviews-often called the culture wars.
What's God got to do with America? The woman in the Lexus behind designer prescription sunglasses thinks God has nothing to do with America-past, present, or future. The dude in the Dodge wearing a Skoal ball cap thinks God has a lot-if not everything-to do with America.
Could they both be wrong? God may very well have more to do with America than liberals may think and less than conservatives often assume.
THROWING "RABBIT PUNCHES" AND LOW BLOWS LEFT AND RIGHT
America's political divide has generated plenty of heat and hot air, and voices on both sides have been needlessly strident. The nonfiction best-seller lists in the last decade chart the partisan pendulum swings. Ten years ago liberal comedian Al Franken threw down the gauntlet with his crass-as-you-can Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot (Delacorte, 1996). Conservative television host Bill O'Reilly hit the list a few years later with his pull-no-punches diatribe The O'Reilly Factor: The Good, the Bad, and the Completely Ridiculous in American Life (Broadway, 2000). Emmy-winning reporter Bernard Goldberg turned up the volume by blowing his shrill whistle Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News (Regnery, 2001), recounting tale after tale of liberal censorship in the way the media control and shape the news.
Leftist muckraker Michael Moore-best known for his "documentaries," such as Roger and Me and Fahrenheit 9/11-grabbed the book-shaped megaphone with Stupid White Men ... and Other Sorry Excuses for the State of the Nation! (ReganBooks, 2002), a screed about how "Thief-in-Chief" George W. Bush and his Republican power elite allegedly stole the 2000 election from Al Gore and the Democrats. Authors David Hardy and Jason Clarke countered with Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man (ReganBooks, 2004), which drew praise from conservatives (and not a few liberals who confessed they couldn't stand Moore either).
Ann Coulter further lowered the level of "discourse" with Slander: Liberal Lies about the American Right (Crown, 2002). Franken hit it big again with Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right (Dutton, 2003). Not to be outdone, Bernard Goldberg encored on the bestseller list with 100 People Who Are Screwing Up America (and Al Franken Is #37) (HarperCollins, 2005), which featured Michael Moore on the front cover, among other "America Bashers," "Hollywood Blowhards," "TV Schlockmeisters," and "Intellectual Thugs." Meanwhile, Ann Coulter kept up her best-selling attacks on the Left, including How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must) (Crown, 2004) and Godless: The Church of Liberalism (Crown, 2006), swinging verbal punches in her books and in interviews with the articulate, yet no-holds-barred, abandon of a roller-derby queen. Talk show host Michael Savage continued to live down to his name with best-selling tirades, such as Liberalism Is a Mental Disorder: Savage Solutions (Nelson, 2005).
A little book that never made the best-seller lists employed a compendium of liberal pundits to take down all the voices on the Right in one volume, one target per chapter, in The I Hate Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Sean Hannity ... Reader: The Hideous Truth about America's Ugliest Conservatives. The back-cover copy hits the sneering tone of the political culture wars with pitch-perfect prose.
Sick to death of the right-wing blowhards and bullies who dominate our media? This collection exposes the hypocrisy and lies of the reactionary jerks, hate-mongers, and sycophants who foul the public's airwaves. Get the goods on hateful hatchet woman Ann Coulter, who disdains facts as much as she does ordinary Americans. Check out the titanic hypocrisy of talk-radio loudmouth Rush "drug users should go to jail-except in my case" Limbaugh. Stand amazed at the antics of pompous, rage-filled bully Bill O'Reilly as he stoops to new lows to serve his corporate masters and his own gigantic ego. Observe lunatic thugs Sean Hannity and Michael Savage as they drag our public discourse through the gutter for their own selfish ends.
The problem with nasty shouting matches is that eventually they get boring for all except the few principals juicing their adrenaline and the followers feeding off the vicarious thrill. The most thoughtful inevitably turn down the volume simply by turning away.
The major media outlets in this country bear a significant responsibility for shaping the debate in these stark, most-extreme-position terms and then labeling it "balanced journalism." Most Americans-unless they have been interviewed for a radio or television program-are not aware of a nefarious practice called the "pre-interview process." In this screening procedure, the media interview potential candidates for their suitability in filling the preordained slots of extreme-Right and extreme-Left positions they have already identified. They often cull out the individuals who have balanced views and who try to discuss the issues in a reasonable way. Instead of bringing on two people with divergent views who are trying to forge some common ground, they feature adversarial opponents and try to maximize the distance between them. This strategy distorts the individual positions while misleading the country into thinking there is greater divisiveness and less common ground than actually exist.
I know this prescreening process like the back of my hand, because I have been culled out hundreds of times. I remember being questioned for an interview in which the producers wanted me, as an Evangelical, to say that Pope John Paul II-one of the greatest historical and religious figures of the twentieth century-was the head of a "false religion." I was not prepared to say such a thing because I don't believe it. Rather, I said, the pope is the head of a doctrinal understanding of the Christian faith with which I disagree-a position that disqualified me from participating.
During another pre-interview I was asked if I, as an Evangelical, believed that Islam was an evil religion. I said, "No, as a Christian, I believe that Islam is a wrong religion-Christianity is right about the truth, and Islam is wrong." I described "evil religion" as somebody doing something evil in the name of religion, whether the Ku Klux Klan burning crosses to terrorize African-Americans in a blasphemous distortion of Christianity or terrorists recruiting children to be suicide bombers in the name of Islam. That response wasn't what they had in mind. It was far too reasonable and not nearly extreme enough. "That's not really what we're looking for," the producer said to me, "but thank you for your time."
One of the primary reasons I am writing this book is to circumvent media prescreeners (and their "adversarial extreme" model of journalism), to penetrate the din generated by societal screamers, and to invite you, the reader, to a conversation concerning these critically important questions: What does God (or religion, if you prefer) have to do with America today? What has God had to do with our past? And what role should God play in our nation's future?
Interestingly, it appears that the media themselves are aware of their tendency to distort religious issues. A Public Agenda study on American attitudes toward religion found that the media admit their coverage of religion is anything but evenhanded: "Of the 219 journalists surveyed-reporters who cover straight news stories, not those who exclusively work the religion beat-35% agree with the statement 'On the whole, the news media do a very good job of covering religion and religion issues.' Almost six in ten (59%) journalists express concern that 'the news media are especially eager to report scandal and sensational news when the subject is religion.'"
Current best-seller lists suggest that the liberal-versus-conservative screeching to the choir seems to be passing its peak of popularity, for which no doubt some of us will be thankful while others fidget impatiently for the next political smack-down contest. As the hot air drains out of the culture-war winds, however, the debate continues to shift over to the new tide of rising interest in religion. After ignoring this elephant in America's living room, mainstream media have finally caught on that religion is a major force in American life, not a fringe curiosity of political fanaticism.
I have been called upon in media interviews as a conservative Christian countervoice to leftist ministry leader Jim Wallis, familiar for decades in Christian social justice networks through his Sojourners magazine and national Call to Renewal movement. Those who followed his antiwar activism during the Vietnam War era know that his critique of American capitalism and free-market economies is long-standing. When Vietnamese refugees fled their country in the 1970s in the wake of the newly victorious Communist regime, Wallis declared, "Many of today's refugees were inoculated with a taste for a Western lifestyle during the war years and are fleeing to support their consumer habit in other lands."
Recently Wallis has become a fixture in mainstream media through his best-selling book God's Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005), which agitates for his left-leaning social and political agendas while critiquing positions espoused by conservative Evangelicals. The degree of regularity with which "God's politics" seem to agree with Wallis's politics is amazing.
The popularity of Wallis's book has coincided with a rising tide of media attention to the greatly increased interest in religion in America. The attacks on our country on 9/11 were part of this impetus, thrusting questions about religious fanaticism and extremism into public consciousness. Added to such flash-point issues as abortion and same-sex marriage, already laden with religious content, have been controversies that pose the question in the most direct possible way of what role God should play in American public life: not just school prayer, but references to God in our Pledge of Allegiance, on our currency, in our public assemblies, and in the self-expressed faith convictions of candidates for public office.
Everywhere, it seems, the question is being raised, What's God got to do with America? The question of whether, how, and why God is-or isn't-involved with this country has been on the lips of our leaders and citizens since the very beginning of English settlement on this continent. However, the most recent versions of this question have roots in the enormous transformations that have taken place in this country since the cultural sea changes of the 1960s.
HOW THE REPUBLICAN PARTY GOT RELIGION (AGAIN)
Our political system is based on two major parties. Third parties formed around particular issues or individuals inevitably rise and fall as tangential to the two that are dominant. If a crisis occurs in which neither party will accommodate itself to a social movement that has reached critical mass, history shows we will not get a third party. Rather, what will happen is that the weaker of the two major parties will die, and it will be replaced by a new party. That has already occurred once before in our history, when both the Whig Party and the Democratic Party tried to be pro-choice on slavery. The antislavery movement had reached critical mass, and the weaker party-the Whigs-died and was replaced by the Republican Party, which became the party of the antislavery movement.
In the latter third of the twentieth century, the social issue reaching critical mass was the pro-life movement. On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision changed our social, political, and moral landscape by declaring almost all restrictions on abortion unconstitutional. I am convinced that if the Republican Party-critically weakened in the wake of the Watergate scandals of the Nixon administration-had not accommodated itself to the pro-life movement (which was reaching critical mass in the period between 1976 and 1980) and had not adopted a pro-life plank in its platform, it would have died and been replaced by a new party, formed in large part around the burgeoning resistance to abortion.
What happened in the period between Roe v. Wade and 1980 that contributed to the Republican Party's revitalization? One of the things that happened was that an odd-looking little man named Francis Schaeffer began writing and speaking against abortion-on-demand. He became arguably the most influential conservative, religious activist of the modern era. He wielded enormous influence in getting Evangelical Christians involved in the political system, especially in response to Roe v. Wade.
Schaeffer believed in truth with a capital T-"true truth," he called it. That meant it was true not just on Sunday, but also on Monday. It was true not just at home, but also at school and at work and in the public arena. Christians had an obligation to be "salt" and "light" as the Bible says (Matthew 5:13-16). Schaeffer helped Evangelicals jettison a deep strain of pietism that had misled them to believe they shouldn't be involved in politics and other "worldly" activities. He helped an entire generation of Christians to understand their biblical responsibility to be salt and light in society-and, of course, salt has to touch what it preserves; light has to be close enough to the darkness that it can be seen. Among the questions that Schaeffer repeatedly posed (usually in the context of the abortion issue) in his books, such as How Shall We Then Live?, The God Who Is There, and A Christian Manifesto, were these: If not you, who? If not now, when? If not this, what?
Resistance to abortion is what brought about the phenomenal and unprecedented alliance between Evangelicals and Roman Catholics that marked the 1980s and beyond. This ecumenical cooperation did not happen just at the national level; it happened at the local level as well, in neighborhoods as Protestants and Catholics worked together in crisis pregnancy centers and walked side by side on protest lines. They began to get to know each other in new ways and discovered more common ground than differences in their worldviews on social issues.
Foundational to the common ground that Protestants and Catholics were discovering in each other was the belief that human beings are accountable to a transcendent moral authority. Therefore, individual choices are limited by divinely ordained moral imperatives regarding the beginning and end of life. There has always been a strong religious element in the conservative movement in the United States, and in the late 1970s the religious core of the Republican Party was galvanized in large part by the abortion issue. At the same time, the Democratic Party was becoming the party that believed in the Ten Suggestions rather than the Ten Commandments.
Excerpted from THE DIVIDED STATES OF AMERICA by RICHARD LAND Copyright © 2007 by Richard Land. Excerpted by permission.
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