January 11, 2004

Dean's new piety poorly timed and insincere

So, Howard Dean has decided to get religion, and just in time, too! With Iowa and New Hampshire Democrats looking increasingly likely to select him as their nominee, Dean is now concerned about the Super Tuesday primaries in the South. The feisty Yankee's understanding of this vast, diverse region often seems drawn entirely from the movie Sweet Home Alabama. Nevertheless, he has somehow deduced that religion¬ómore specifically, Christianity¬óis of no small importance to the bulk of the voters there. For months, Dean talked about things like his discomfort with the fact that Congress opens sessions with an invocation. Now he speaks about a heretofore-unknown spiritual side.

Not only the timing of Dean's new personal revelations, but his other characteristics, lead one to question the sincerity of his new Christian image. First, Howard Dean does not go to church. He quit the Episcopalian Church because it took the side of a homeowner whose land the state of Vermont wanted to seize to make a bike path, renouncing his faith over a petty, secular issue. Second, Dean married a non-Christian, and presumably did not raise his children to be Christian. Third, he staunchly advocates both abortion and

euthanasia, positions that fly in the face of central tenets of Christianity about the sanctity of human life. He worked for Planned Parenthood, and is so rabidly pro-abortion that he fabricated a story about treating a girl who had been raped by her father to help justify his opposition to parental notification for abortions by minors.

These actions and opinions clearly denote Dean as an adherent of a religion some characterize as Cosmopolitan Christianity. To these people, it is not necessary to hold any particular beliefs or practice any specific rituals in order to call oneself Christian, especially if such behavior leads to sticky inconveniences in the secular world. They retain their religious affiliations primarily to give a moral veneer to their fights for politically correct pet causes. This means demanding the ordination of women as Catholic priests, the creation of openly gay bishops in Protestant churches, incorporation of American Indian rituals into the traditional services, and full-throated opposition to President Bush.

Cosmopolitan Christians picture Jesus Christ as a bearded community college philosophy professor who just wanted dolphin-safe tuna nets and single-payer universal health care. The idea that he was the Son of God sent to save people from the fires of eternal hell, dividing communities and families in the process, puts them off. That's not the sort of talk that goes over well in faculty lounges or at NPR fundraisers. Small wonder those establishment Protestant sects that are dominated by these liberals are losing members, drained from both ends by those who find their vague blandishments spiritually worthless, and those willing to renounce them over issues like bike paths.

By drawing attention to the shallowness of his religious belief, Dean can only further alienate those millions of American voters, many of them in the South but not only there, who adhere to more traditional faiths. They will recognize his religious talk for the opportunism that it is, and rightly so.

Dean has not shown that he has any new comprehension of why a majority of Americans believe that abortion is immoral, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that there is something wrong with the ACLU's using activist courts to cleanse every image of Christianity from public view, while leaving non-Christian symbols untouched. Since Dean does not understand devout Americans, he cannot hope to appeal to them. To him their views on abortion and the like are archaic superstitions not important enough to disqualify him from their consideration for president. He arrogantly figures that spouting some pro forma lines about Jesus' being a great guy and God's being swell too will disrupt Republicans' electoral appeal to the devoutly Christian.

If any traditionalist Christians approve of Dean it will be because they are so enamored with his socialism at home, pacifism abroad platform that they vote against the pull of their consciences. These people, contrary to what Dean and his like-minded supporters believe, are not stupid and will recognize him for the secularist that he is. It may be no coincidence that Dean's bizarre attempt to recast himself as a man of strong religious faith followed close after his endorsement by that self-makeover king, Al Gore. Up to that endorsement, Dean has had smooth sailing in this race, but we are now seeing that who Dean is and what he believes are going to pose a serious obstacle to his bid to broaden his support beyond his left-wing, secularist base.