A Convergence to Watch

Article excerpt

Americans have long tended to think of religious or life-stance identification in terms of vertical columns: Catholics, Protestants (Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, Presbyterians, and so on), Jews, Muslims, Hindus, humanists, and the like. This way of looking at the world has always been flawed, but has become especially so in the last 20 years.

It is now more accurate and more useful to recognize that the divisions in our society tend to be horizontal rather than vertical. Thus, since the mid-1970s, we have seen a convergence of religiously and politically conservative Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and even some "unbelievers," who have come together around religio-political agendas typified by those of Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition. (Indeed, Falwell was merely the titular leader or front man for a group conceived and hatched by two Catholics, Paul Weyrich and Richard Viguerie; a Jew, Howard Phillips; and a Baptist, Ed McAteer.) These agendas include opposing freedom of conscience on abortion, promoting tax support for sectarian private schools through vouchers or tuition tax credits, censorship, ipposing gay-rights initiatives, partial or complete takeovers of public schools, and so on.

The latest major development in this convergence of forces on the religious right is the issuance in March 1994 of a statement entitled "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium." While much of the document is aimed at reducing the tensions, if not actually reconciling the differences, between conservative Catholics and evangelicals, its main thrust--however couched in glittering generalities and mollifying, obscure language--is the promotion of a common political agenda: "the right ordering of civil society" (with a heavy emphasis on right). This "right ordering" would entail further weakening the application of the churchstate separation principle, already battered by decades of assaults; ending freedom of choice on abortion, under the transparent guise of "protecting" women from "rampant exploitation by the abortion industry"; tax support for sectarian private schools, under the guise of "parental choice in education" and "simple justice," which the state (that is, taxpayers) must support; using public education facilities to promote particular religious values; and the censorship of "widespread pornography" and of "anti-religious bigotry in the entertainment media. …