Mike the Mad Biologist

The ‘Religious Right’: Cynics for Jesus

A few days ago, I posted an excerpt from Hanna Rosen’s God’s Harvard which is about Patrick Henry College, which can be thought of as theopolitical conservative training facility. Before I get to a mindboggling display of cynicism, I want to make one thing: if someone wants to believe this lunacy, that’s fine, but the moment it becomes a political agenda for governing our country, it’s fair game. Onto the cynicism:

“I read that President Bush is coming to speak for Kilgore.” “Yes, well, that can be a sign that the campaign is in trouble,” Shant pointed out. ”And last time Bush came, Kilgore did not even want to be seen with him.” This did not compute with the freshmen. Not want to be seen with Bush? Who would not want to be seen with Bush?

“The Lord will provide,” Derek said. “The Lord will provide.”

Shant answered with a resigned “yes.” Later, when he was out of the car where the others couldn’t hear him, he seethed. “I wish they would stop with that crap: They’re all like, ‘God is on our side, God is on our side. We can do everything.’ I mean, I know it’s terrible, but I’m just trying to be more realistic. I mean, maybe I’m being cynical or something, but I don’t want to lie.”

At Patrick Henry, campaigns serve as a rite of passage, much like fraternity hazing or basic training. Every campaign gives you more hair on your chest and bragging rights, pushes you from tender young thing into impatient veteran. The kids start at home, working on races for school board or state legislatures, and eventually graduate to senate or presidential campaigns. By the time they get to Patrick Henry, they can compare histories in shorthand: “I did a bunch of lit drops in ’04,” or “I was on GOTV in Ohio.” By junior year, the political junkies of PHC have picked up the habits of Washington insiders, including their irritability.

Shant sported the trademark of a Patrick Henry rebel: the trim goatee, a gentle nod to the demonic. He talked about Derek and the other freshmen the way one imagines George Bush’s advisers talk about James Dobson and the other titans of the Christian right once the microphones are turned off: (“nuts” and “goofy,” David Kuo, second-in-command of Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, wrote in his tell-all book). It’s not that Shant and Derek disagreed about candidates or policy positions or even matters of faith–they didn’t. It’s just that Shant had a checklist to get through and state party professionals to answer to, and only three days to get everything done, so he didn’t have time for the happy-happy praise-the-Lord talk. “I don’t have a problem manipulating them to get them to do what I need them to do for this campaign,” Shant said.

The last sentence says it all I think: little lies for the Big Truth.