Two books illumine the influence of the religious right that under the Bush administration has undermined the separation of state and religion in the US
By Ludwig Watzal
[This article published in: Freitag 40, 10/7/2005 is translated from the German on the World Wide Web, http://www.freitag.de/2005/40/05401401.php.]
Germany, it seems, is largely Americanized. Coca-Cola, popcorn, Hollywood, hippy- and student movements, McDonalds, Levis, gym shoes and CNN were accepted uncritically. They stand for the “American way of life” – at least superficially. However under this thin veneer, they are products of an ideology, namely religion. The US is a deeply religious and bigoted country; Europe in contrast is on the way to a religious nirvana.
The revival of religion has completely seized the US along with the Islamic countries. Here and there fundamentalism displays strange fruits. Through the events of September 11, 2001, it reached its temporary high point with fatal consequences for international politics. A praying US president who in his appearances often gives the impression of a sect preacher is more than irritating to his European colleagues. To the authors of the two books, this is the real basis of the deep rift between Europe and the US. Invoking a community of values of the West is like the mantra of Tibetan prayer wheels on the background of the religious fundamentalism in the US. In its religiosity, the US is more like an Islamic country than a western European country. Europe has passed through a long way of secularization. These two books help to better understand this bizarre religious phenomenon in the US.
In his compact volume, Josef Braml says: “The growing political influence of the Christian right and the increasing Christian rightwing legitimation of the Bush administration have contributed to transatlantic estrangement.” This is a provocative thesis. The author, a coworker at the Science and Politics foundation, is one of the best experts of US domestic policy. He repeatedly recommends to the European elites to take the religious right seriously since it isn’t a temporary phenomenon. Furthermore the power difference between Europe and the US is the cause of the transatlantic tensions. Braml lucidly analyzes the strengthening of conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist-religious movements since the beginning of the eighties. These movements increasingly determine the agenda of US policy and champion a strong America and the unlimited protection of Israel.
The Christian right follows a Manichean worldview that only knows “good” and “evil”. Bush’s “crusade” and Huntington’s “culture war” rhetoric are seamlessly joined. This polarization contributes to the disgruntlement between the US and Europe, the author says. His book is filled with facts. Surveys and interviews support his well-founded analysis and prognosis. Braml cannot be reproached for alarmism or “anti-Americanism”. Former leftist sectarians who call themselves anti-German level this grotesque criticism against those who dare grapple realistically with the expansionist- and neo-colonialist policy of the Bush administration. Criticism of this neo-imperialism is slandered as “anti-Semitism”.
Braml does not see the future of German-American relations as very rosy. Even without Bush, the organization network and worldview of the Christian right would be effective. Europeans should recognize these facts so misjudgments are avoided. Should Europeans uncritically join the next American crusade? Whoever wants to be informed quickly about the rightwing Christian lobby's influence, power and danger for world peace will be helped by this book.
The anthology by Manfred Brocker, visiting professor at the Catholic University in Eichstatt, is also exciting. With twelve US experts, a differentiated picture of the religious composition of Americans and their influence on US foreign and domestic policy was presented. Religion plays a decisive role despite a strict constitutional separation of church and state. The constitutional principle was interpreted more strictly after the Second World War since the number of religions increased. This strict separation leads to absolute freedom for an obscure school of faith as long as it does not violate laws. With the help of Christian fundamentalism, president Bush is now turning back the wheel of history to the musty-grumpy narrow-minded years of the Eisenhower era and weakens or annuls the separation between state and religion.
Enlightenment about the intellectual schools defining US politics is necessary on account of the overwhelming dominance of the US. This volume makes an important contribution. Its texts illumine the different aspects of the ambiguous relation of politics and religion in the US. Several large religious communities are outlined and their faith themes analyzed in their political relevance. One central question is whether the US president is autonomous in his foreign policy and domestic policy decisions or heeds the desires of his evangelical-fundamentalist, Jewish or Catholic voter clientele. The article by Clyde Wilox and Carin Larson on American evangelicals and their cultural struggle shows the structure of this school and its association with controversial political questions like abortion, school prayer and the theory of evolution.
The articles in this anthology are all marked by stringency and great competence. Unfortunately the relation of the Christian right to rightwing extremism was not thematicized. Although there is no connection between both tendencies, the representatives of Christian fundamentalism cannot do without violence including violence in language. Terms like “freedom, “justice” and “evil” are distorted and mystified in an Orwellian way for demagogic purposes and thereby elude rational criticism. Despite this deficit, the book contributes to enlighten a religious worldview that has already brought great disaster into the Middle East region.
Josef Braml: America, God and the World: George W. Bush’s Foreign Policy on the Basis of Rightwing Christianity, 2005
Manfred Brocke (ed): God Bless America: Politics and Religion in the US, 2005