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Kingdom Of Heaven

I saw Kingdom of Heaven last weekend. Ridley Scott gave us a movie with great action and a lot to think about. Scott’s Jerusalem is described as a place where people are judged by their abilities, not by what they are. It’s a kingdom at peace, governed by compassionate Christian men with the wisdom to keep religion separate from politics. The snake in this Garden of Eden comes in the form of religious zealots of both the Christian and Islamic persuasions.

It was pretty obvious to me that Scott's Kingdom of Heaven is a parable of America and the dangers it faces from fundamentalist Christianity within, and fundamentalist Islam without.

The next day, in one of those wacky synchronistic moments that happen when everybody is thinking about the same subject, I ran across Andrew Sullivan's brilliant essay on the religion vs. politics division within the Republican Party,

Conservatism isn't over. But it has rarely been as confused. Today's conservatives support limited government. But they believe the federal government can intervene in a state court's decisions in a single family's struggle over life and death. They believe in restraining government spending. But they have increased such spending by a mind-boggling 33 percent in a mere four years.

They believe in self-reliance. But they have just passed the most expensive new entitlement since the heyday of Great Society liberalism: the Medicare prescription-drug benefit. They believe that foreign policy is about the pursuit of national interest and that the military should be used only to fight and win wars. Yet they have embarked on an extraordinarily ambitious program of military-led nation-building in the Middle East.

They believe in states' rights, but they want to amend the Constitution to forbid any state from allowing civil marriage or equivalent civil unions for gay couples. They believe in free trade. But they have imposed tariffs on a number of industries, most famously steel. They believe in balanced budgets. But they have abandoned fiscal discipline and added a cool trillion dollars to the national debt in one presidential term.

That's a dichotomy that I've pondered piecemeal many times myself. Sullivan's take is that real conservatives have given "conservatives of faith" free rein. They've done this because "the Republican Party has regularly preferred the promise of power to the satisfaction of schism," and by nature, moderates "are not particularly aggressive politicians." Which explains the quiet restraint of Christine Todd Whitman's conservative counterrevolution.

From where I sit, radical politicians like DeLay, Frist, and Hastert look like nothing less than Christian Crusaders. Crusaders who, by nature, will choose spectacular martyrdom and failure over quiet compromise, and in fact, consider compromise on religious issues like abortion, stem cell research, and gay marriage to be heresy and a mortal sin. That's why I have to laugh every time my Senator Feinstein gets burned trying to make a deal with them. She just doesn't get it.

The idea that there can be prudential compromises on issues like the right to die, or same-sex marriage, or stem-cell research is a difficult one for fundamentalists. Since there is no higher authority than God, and, since there can be no higher priority than obeying him, the entire notion of separating politics and religion is inherently troublesome to the fundamentalist mind. Whereas for older types of faith-conservatives, religion informed their view of the world and shaped the way they entered civil discourse, the new conservatives of faith bring their religious tenets, unmediated, into the public square.

Just like their Islamic brethren, Christian "conservatives of faith" believe it is heresy to put man-made law before God's law. Where the United States Constitution protects freedoms that conflict with Biblical morals, it is the Constitution that must be amended.

Now, neither I nor Sullivan is arguing for the exclusion of devoutly religious Christians from politics. But Sullivan writes,

It means filtering religious faith through the skeptical and moderate strands of conservative thought. It means replacing zeal with religious humility; it means accepting that trading compromise of religious principles for political compromise is an ineluctable and vital democratic task. It means a lower temperature within conservative circles on issues like abortion, stem-cell research, and gay rights. And it means a renewed commitment to restraining government from its democratic instinct to act too often, too quickly, and too expensively.

Sullivan sounds like he believes that's possible - and it may be for the GOP as an organization - but for zealous Christian politicians individually, compromise and moderate stands amount to heresy before God.

This also isn't a Democrat versus Republican issue. There are some good Christian men and women in the Republican Party, like John McCain and Olympia Snowe. I don't agree with them on every issue, but I believe they are honestly working on behalf of ALL their constituents and on behalf of America as a nation.

It's the legislators who are acting solely to advance the agenda of a relatively small faction of intolerant Americans in the name of God that are the problem, but I guarantee Republicans aren't going have an epiphany and suddenly decide to vote for a Democrat as an alternative. This particular battle will be waged within the Republican Party. And that's why grass roots organizations like Whitman's PAC are so important.

The Republican Party's radical Christian Crusader leadership is purging the party of its conservative candidates. Just look at how they ran that wacko Toomey against Specter in Pennsylvania. It didn't matter to the GOP leadership if they divided the Republican vote and lost the election, the important thing to them was to unseat Specter because he isn't enough of a Christian Crusader.

The fact that Specter won (barely) gives me hope that Republicans, when given a palatable alternative, will choose candidates who are not out to caustically divide this nation, but who are dedicated to building consensus and representing ALL of their constituents.

Just like Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven, the divisive politics of zealots like DeLay, Hastert, and Frist will tear our New Jerusalem - and the GOP - apart, unless they are restrained by an informed electorate.

Posted by American Pundit at May 12, 2005 6:42 AM