End of an Era?

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MLK Deam.jpgIn yesterday’s Washington Post, E. J. Dionne postulates the end of the era of the Religious Right: R.R. RIP, 1980-2008. I’m inclined to agree, with a bit of caution, inasmuch as liberal journalists have been announcing the Religious Right’s demise ever since the early 1980s. Less persuasive is Dionne’s grand periodization of the political past into secular and religious eras. He wants to see 1930-1980 as a secular time, preoccupied with issues other than religio-cultural ones. And he suggests that we’re entering one of those now.
Such a schema requires scanting some important pieces of history, and how religion played into them. The religious dimension of the early Cold War, with its heavy emphasis on the need to confront Communism spiritually, cannot be underestimated. Nor can the importance of religion in the great moral crusade of that “secular” era–the Civil Rights movement. The JFK moment of cool secularism in governance was short-lived.
As for the present moment, we would do well not to ignore the ongonig impact of political Islam on American consciousness (cf. John McCain). No less important, the religious resources that the Democratic Party seems interested in summoning in this election season may not contribute to culture warring, but they hardly betoken a secular turn. For those interested in a rather more nuanced periodization of religion and national politics over the past half century, I will immodestly call your attention to One Nation, Divisible: How Regional Religious Differences Shape American Politics, by Andrew Walsh and me, due out from Rowman and Littlefield in a few months.