Anti-Dominionism is not McCarthyism

Abstract Nonsense regular commenter SLC compared my attacks on Dominionist politicians and pundits to McCarthy’s anti-communist hysteria. He’s not the only one; First Things’ review of Kingdom Coming as well as a few other books with a similar theme compares their vision of Christianity to the John Birch Society’s conspiracy theories, and a review at Slate emphasizes the schismatic nature of Dominionism.

But in reality, the analogy between the two is strained. Communism was never a serious political force in the United States. The only politically heavyweight socialist movement in American history was Debs’ labor movement, and even Debs was a far cry from a communist.

Contrast that with the influence of Dominionism. Jerry Falwell claims there are 70 million Evangelicals in the United States, and implies they’re all willing to support his political goals. I see little reason to doubt that number. Hot-button Dominionist issues, like stripping gays of equal protection, teaching creationism in schools, and banning abortion, get majorities or substantial minorities in American opinion polls. The Christian right has gotten a Supreme Court justice.

The symmetry between left-wing and right-wing extremism is broken when it comes to popular opinion. Among intellectuals and in activist discussion boards, radicals of both kinds flourish. But like conservatism, right-wing radicalism is good at connecting to people’s traditional prejudices, while left-wing radicalism tells them their entire value systems are oppressive. It’s not a coincidence that all communist tyrannies won power by revolution, but some fascist tyrannies won legitimate elections first and destroyed democracy from within.

The two reviews I linked to demonstrate two different strategies of downplaying the threat of Dominionism. The first is to emphasize the importance of the moderates; the second is to talk about intra-Dominionist infighting. Both have a grain of truth, but are too weak to rule out a Dominionist takeover.

First, secularists recognize that there are plenty of moderates in the US. Just because the regular contributors to support Michael Newdow’s lawsuits doesn’t mean they think everyone who opposes them is a radical Christian. On Pharyngula, PZ has praised conservative Christians who stand up for separation of church and state.

But at the same time, they also recognize that the moderates cave in to the Dominionists. Bush is a moderate conservative on social issues; he’s against abortion and gay marriage, but neither is a priority for him, and his first two Supreme Court nominations attracted significant criticism from the religious right. But he had no problem placating it by giving it Alito. Even pro-choice Giuliani had no trouble allying himself with Rick Santorum.

The Democrats are hardly better. Obama’srhetoric about how the Democratic Party needs to be friendlier to Christians, as if it’s now ruled by atheists, is a series of lies, myths, and apologetics. He hasn’t made the same inflammatory comments that Lieberman and Byrd have, but that doesn’t make him moderate – it only makes him a Wojtyla to their Ratzinger. Amy Sullivan wants the Democrats to accommodate Evangelists who care about poverty and the environment more than about gay marriage, but when it comes to vote about gay rights or abortion, there’s little doubt these Evangelists wouldn’t side with liberals.

In contrast, in the early days of the Cold War liberals fell all over themselves to attack communists. Humphrey purged the communists from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party. Americans for Democratic Action was formed to promote a liberal alternative to both fascism and communism. Attacks on McCarthyism even after McCarthy was disgraced focused on the similarities between McCarthyism and communism.

The other criticism of anti-Dominionism, that it fails to take schisms into account, again fails the McCarthy test. The left and the right have roughly equal tendencies toward schism. The success of Dominionism so far has been to avoid the sort of infighting that plagued communism from the original communist-anarchist split till its demise.

Says the Slate review,

Last month, James Dobson, the grandfatherly radio voice of middle-American Christian conservatism, told listeners of his Focus on the Family radio show that the National Association of Evangelicals’ campaign to reduce greenhouse gasses evinced “an underlying hatred for America.” How dare the group imply that global warming was a more important issue than gay marriage? His fellow conservative activist Rev. Richard Cizik, a political liaison for the National Association of Evangelicals—and a self-proclaimed Reagan Republican influential in anti-abortion and anti-gay circles—was not about to turn the other cheek. Cizik fired off a nasty letter calling Dobson’s accusations “outlandish.” On The 700 Club, Pat Robertson joined in, denouncing the evangelical version of environmentalism—”creation care”—and demanding to know why God-fearing conservatives like Cizik were teaming up with “far-left environmentalists.”

As evangelical Christians gain more political clout within the Bush administration, the ideological gaps between the factions of the Christian right are becoming more pronounced. It’s not just environmentalism. Even gay marriage, that touchstone of the religious right, is a source of internecine tensions. Michael Farris, the founder of Patrick Henry College—an elite breeding ground for conservative Christians—opposed the latest constitutional amendment against gay marriage because it didn’t go far enough in stripping gays of their rights. But the strains within the evangelical movement don’t get much play in the secular media. For liberals, there’s little difference between a Dobson, a Robertson, and a Cizik: They’re all wing nuts in flyover states with bad hair and a gay obsession.

That’s not a schism. The comment threads of perfectly mainstream liberal blogs have flamewars much larger in scope than that, even when radical leftists don’t join in. A typical public argument between Amanda and Jessica, who lead one of the most tightly knit communities in the liberal blogosphere, is almost as passionate, though the vitriol is reserved for the comment threads.

The sort of infighting that causes movements to crack down is about far more than an argument over climate change. Trotskyists and Stalinists hated each other more than they did the capitalists. Against Our Will, one of the defining books of radical feminism, attacks liberal feminists more than conservative sexists; meanwhile, in an afterword to The Feminine Mystique written in the 70s, Betty Friedan rants about man-hating radical feminists and approvingly quotes someone who says, “If I were a CIA agent trying to disrupt the movement, this [radical feminist activism] is exactly what I’d do.”

This is present in inter-religion fighting: conservative Christians hate atheists and Muslims equally, conservative Muslims call atheists and Christians alike infidels, and so on. But in intra-religion fighting, it doesn’t. All economically right-wing Dominionists hate secularists first, economic leftists second, and different Dominionist factions a distant third.

Economically left-wing Dominionists are more complicated, but ironically, their split only stengthens them, because they are similarly unified, and seek influence in the Democratic Party. I think it was C. S. Lewis who observed Christians should maximize their political influence by forming significant factions in both large parties. The schisms of the left never had this effect, since no Trotskyist, black nationalist, or radical feminist had any common ground with the mainstream right.

It’s possible to compare anti-Dominionism to McCarthyism, much in the same way it’s possible to compare evolution with creationism. Superficially they might look similar, but in reality they’re so completely different that no analogy can make sense.

10 Responses to Anti-Dominionism is not McCarthyism

  1. SLC says:

    Excuse me, my problem with Mr Levys’ assertions is not that he doesn’t like dominionists but that he accuses people like Joe Lieberman and Barack Obama of being dominionists as blithly as Joe McCarthy accused people like Dean Acheson and George Marshall of being communists or communist symphathizers (com-symp for short). I don’t like dominionists either and have no more use for Falwell, Haggard, Shelton, Dobson, etc. then Mr. Levy does. Let’s concentrate on the real dominionists in the Senate which include such notable whackjobs as Rick Santorum (thankfully sent to the showers by Pennsylvania voters), and Sam Brownback.

  2. mtraven says:

    What SLC said.

    Also, you picked a strange time to argue for the unity of the theocratic faction. Apparently 1/3 of the white evangelical vote went to Democrats, which indicates that there are serious cracks in that block.

    “Left-wing dominionist” is an oxymoron. Lieberman is not on the left in any meaningful sense, nor (despite his god interjections) is he a dominionist in any meaningful sense. Obama is more of a leftist but even less of a dominionist.

    There are serious discussions to be had about the role of religion in politics, but failing to make basic distinctions isn’t a good way to start.

  3. Alon Levy says:

    Left-wing Dominionist is not an oxymoron at all. It’s perfectly possible for someone to want a Christian dominion while supporting left-wing economic policies. The biggest split in the Dominionist movement appears to be about whether to embrace a right-wing agenda and support prosperity theology, or embrace a left-wing economic agenda and support more socioeconomic equality as a Christian commandment.

    Obama doesn’t quite say he wants a dominion, but then again, neither does Brownback. Politicians know too well to say blatant things like “It’s dominion that we want, not equal rights.” It’s like with 1960s racism: Dixiecrats wouldn’t say “I support lynching,” but “These people are all rapists anyway” or “Thank God there’s no lynching in my state [even though there was].” Similarly, Obama only talks about the need to have more religion in politics. So does Amy Sullivan, who goes even further and tells atheists to shut up.

    Lieberman is not a left-wing Dominionist, no. He supports policies that restrict civil liberties and undermine separation of church and state, a perfect recipe for Dominionism. But he’s neither left-wing nor right-wing – while his economic votes are mostly liberal, what passes for liberal economics in the US is actually to the right of what most Americans want, and he lacks the populist and economically progressive streaks of left-wing Dominionism.

    That 1/3 of the white Evangelists voted Democratic proves very little. This election wasn’t about any policy plank they care about; it was about managerial competence and Iraq. Although pure Dominionists are very pro-war, traditional American conservatism is isolationist, so it’s not surprising many Evangelicals voted for the party that might get the US out of Iraq.

    SLC, the reason I focus on Obama is that he has a lot more power to promote Dominionism than Brownback. When Brownback opposes stem cell research, he can be dismissed as a lightweight who the Republican establishment doesn’t take seriously. But he can only be so dismissed because Dominionists have nobody to vote for but the Republican Party. If the Democrats bring a significant contingent of them in the way Dean and Obama and Emanuel are trying to, they’ll create a contest between the two parties for the Dominionist vote, which will shift the American center upward on the Political Compass.

  4. mtraven says:

    Nonsense. People who espouse “left-wing economic policies” while also advocating theocratic rule, if there are any such beasts, are not left-wingers at all, unless in the sense in which Hitler was a socialist because he advocated “national socialism”. To be on the left means a certain respect for personal freedom and enlightenment values, or it means nothing.

    Look, don’t get me wrong — I find some of the things Obama and others are saying to be disturbing, and I appreciate you pointing them out (the latest such turd is from Jim Wallis). But none of this is remotely connected to Dominionism, which is a very specific tendency — a scary one to be sure, but American politics is not very kind to rextremist groups in the long run.

  5. SLC says:

    Re Levy

    I would not dismiss Brownback so cavalierly. He imagines himself a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008, and if both McCain and Guliani get in and Romney stays out, he could even win the nomination by winning the born-again votes in early primaries while the other two divide up what remains of the mainstream Republican vote. The precedence for this is McGovern in 1972 who benefited from having both Humphrey and Muskie in the race during some curcial midseason primaries where he won less then 40% of the vote. Mr. Levy might appreciate McGovern these days as the latter has become quite the Israel basher of late.

  6. SLC says:

    The problem with Mr. Levys’ discussion here is his misunderstanding of what is mean by McCarthyism. McCarthyism is not anti-communism, it is hurling accusations of communist affiliation against anyone not considered sufficiently anti-communist. Thus Dean Acheson and George Marshall were no more communists, or communist dupes or communist symphethizers then Joe Lieberman or Baruch Obama are dominionists or dominionist dupes or dominionist symphathizers.

  7. […] Anti-Dominionism is not McCarthyism, by Alon Levy from Abstract Nonsense: rebukes the notion that people like Kevin Phillips and Michelle Goldberg are just hysteric about Dominionism the way McCarthy was about communism. […]

  8. Ngoldwe says:

    No matter how you parse it, a Dominionist is a Dominionist and they are a very real threat to democracy and our way of life. Saying so is not alarmist neither is it being “McCarthyist.”

    We all need to educate ourselves on what is going on here. Let’s call a spade a spade. This major threat to American democracy began with Christian Reconstructionism, founded by Rousas John Rushdoony and his son-in-law Gary North. Dominionists are called such because of their interpretation of Gen. 1:28 in which God gives dominion to man over the earth; most Christians interpret this as being good stewards. Dominionists claim that God has given them the right to be rulers and have dominion in government and in the social realm until Christ returns. They want to dominate American government and American society and spread their poison across the globe.

    Dominionists have been planning to take over our government since the late 70s. Their view is long term, and they have been patient in their takeover of the Republican Party and the establishment of the TEA Party. And they have done this covertly, under the radar. They have gained seats in government at all levels and they have placed themselves as uniformed officers in our military.

    Dominionists have made it clear in their writings that they wish to establish Levitical law from the Bible as American law and call for the death penalty for what they view as major sins: homosexuality, atheism, being of another religion, children being unruly, etc. They have declared non-Christians to be their enemy. They are theocrats and they despise democracy. Dominionists are a major threat to all of us.

    We should not and MUST NOT allow Dominionists to have their way. All American citizens who are of good will and love their country and love their freedoms must unite together, organize, and openly confront these subversives to the U.S. Constitution and American democracy. All government officials who are Dominionists must be outed as such, publicly, and be forced to admit their theocratic leanings. Outcry should be made to force them out of office, either through voter recalls, impeachment, or by force of arms. And after that is successfully done, the next step is to try them as traitors and subversives to be removed from our society, for they will not go away and disappear on their own.

    This threat is very real. We should all take the threat very seriously and deal with it very seriously.

  9. I tend not to leave many responses, however i did some searching and wound up here Anti-Dominionism is
    not McCarthyism | Abstract Nonsense. And I actually do have some questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be simply me or does it look like some of these responses look like they are left by brain dead folks? 😛 And, if you are posting at other online sites, I would like to keep up with anything fresh you have to post. Could you list of every one of your social pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

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