America's National Question Problem: Decaying Protestantism…

[Some readers took marked exception to Scott McConnell's suggestion that America's current immigration impasse is partly due to Jewish immigration enthusiasm.  But hey, VDARE is an Equal Opportunity ethnic slurrer. Now it's the Protestants' turn.]

WASHINGTON (AP) - The new national GOP chairman had held office only a few minutes Thursday before issuing his first directive to members of the Republican National Committee: Go visit leaders of minority communities, and do it soon.

"How many of you have talked to leaders of the African-American community where you live?'' Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore asked Republicans at their winter meeting here. About two-thirds raised their hands. "How many of you have talked to leaders of the Hispanic community where you live?'' About half raised their hands.

"You ought to go see them,'' he told the state Republican chairmen, executive directors and committee members. "We need to understand their concerns... help combat the fear injected by the opposition party ...and listen.'' He asked for written reports on their visits…

-         By Will Lester, January 18, 2001

Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in. - Luke xiii.23

A major reason Republicans continue to jabber about outreach, and are paralyzed in the face of America's developing immigration disaster, is what might be called the politics of guilt. Having just finished a book on this subject – tentatively titled Multiculturalism And The Politics Of Guilt - I am happy to share my intensively researched observations.

The dominant American Protestant culture is mistakenly believed to be secularized and hedonistic. Neither assumption is true except in a very qualified sense. Most Americans are biblically illiterate and addicted to a rising level of consumer comfort. But neither condition contradicts other salient facts: the vast majority of Americans consider themselves to be orthodox Christians and attend church services at least once a month.

The questions that should be engaged are: what do Protestant denominations understand as "Christianity;" and what do worshippers take away from sermons, which since the Reformation have been the centerpiece of Protestant group worship. The answers for the Protestant mainline, as documented by Thomas Reeves and George Marsden are feminism, gay rights, and the need to atone for the Western Christian racist past. Protestant mass publications like Christian Century push the same victimology. The more Protestants become involved with organized Christianity the more likely they are to absorb such concerns.

It is, moreover, misleading to believe that Evangelicals are entirely free of such obsessions. From Southern Baptists conventions apologizing for slavery to the heads of Bible institutes bemoaning their schools' segregationist pasts, social guilt flourishes on the American Protestant Right. Alan Wolfe and Mark Shibley, two sociologists who have done relevant studies, try to relate the cultural overlaps between the Protestant mainline and Evangelicals to the rising socioeconomic status of the latter. Traditionalist Protestant theologian David F. Wells has stressed the loss of Reformation theology as the reason for the straying Evangelicals. But the result is the same in any case: American Protestantism, which most Republicans profess in varying degrees, encourages the compulsive and remorseful outreach that has come to characterize Republican electoral "strategy."

This politics of guilt can be found in Catholic countries as well. But several differences should be pointed out. The farther one gets from Anglophone Protestant countries or from those that most resemble them, the weaker becomes the receptiveness to multiculturalism, Third World immigration and other expressions of guilty conscience.

In Italy, for example, prominent churchmen have warned against the danger of allowing their country to be overrun by Muslims. Such a gesture would be inconceivable not only in the U. S. but also in England. There Anglican and other Protestant leaders vie with each other in expressing support not only for further Third World immigration but also for the successive extensions of the Race Relations Act first passed in 1974. These are restrictions on what the white majority population can say or do lest hostility be aroused toward immigrant minorities. Advocating limits on immigration can be and has been interpreted to violate this periodically-tightened act. 

Unlike religiously collectivist, sacramental Catholic societies, Protestant ones stress individual redemptive experience and giving witness thereto. Confessions take place in American Protestantism, going back to the Puritans and the Great Awakenings in early America. But unlike the Catholic ritual, this Protestant practice is done in public. It is a means of showing the righteousness of the redeemed sinner and underscores the power of divine grace in a fallen world.

The core Calvinist belief is that the world is divided into a multitude of sinners and a small company of the elect. This is also basic to any understanding of American political attitudes. Such beliefs have contributed to both the guilt and righteousness of American moralists - the tendency of American elites to condemn their civilization and heritage while exuding individual moral arrogance; and their identification of goodness with indulgence of non-Westerners and non-Christians. 

Thus Hillary Clinton is not a self-described secular liberal but a widely recognized Methodist, who, like most Americans, regularly attends church services. Her spiritual counselor H. Philip Wogaman, one of America's leading Protestant churchman and a respected Christian ethicist. His autobiography, Eye of the Storm is devoted to his quintessentially left-liberal views on tolerance and social justice. Wogaman praises Hillary and Bill Clinton for putting his "Christian" beliefs into practice. Quite obviously, the Religious Right agenda is not at all necessary to establish one's credentials as a thoughtful, serious Christian. Being politically correct, of course, is. 

This depiction of the politics of guilt and outreach as American Protestant piety explains the development of Republicans into the party of uneasy conscience. They are not simply "stupid," pace Sam Francis's immortal anecdote, but trying to act out religious teachings. If the Presbyterians and Methodists are the Republican Party at prayer, then Republican leaders, though not necessarily all their voters, are contemporary churchgoing Protestants reflecting their religious culture. Like our Constitution, according to liberals, American Protestant culture continues to "grow," i.e. decay.  The question is whether the nation-state that it created must inevitably "grow," i.e. decay, in the wake of its passing.

Paul Gottfried  is Professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College, PA.  He is the author of After Liberalism and Carl Schmitt: Politics and Theory.

 

February 03, 2001