Monday, April 13, 2009

The Religious Right Wasn't Winning in the Eighties Either

James Dobson has gotten a lot of belated attention for saying that the religious right had lost the culture wars in his farewell address to the staff of Focus on the Family.

James Dobson, 72, who resigned recently as head of Focus on the Family - one of the largest Christian groups in the country - and once denounced the Harry Potter books as witchcraft, acknowledged the dramatic reverse for the religious Right in a farewell speech to staff.

“We tried to defend the unborn child, the dignity of the family, but it was a holding action,” he said.
“We are awash in evil and the battle is still to be waged. We are right now in the most discouraging period of that long conflict. Humanly speaking, we can say we have lost all those battles.”

The religious right definitely knows losing. Having been born in the lost battle of Southern white evangelicals against racial integration, the religious right has lost its battles over school prayer, abortion rights, popular culture, and gay civil rights. They're still fighting a rearguard actions against gay marriage rights and teaching evolutionary theory to high school students. However, people like Dobson sense that they're failing there as well.

And they are.

That's why Dobson claims we're "awash in evil." He thinks that the ability of women and gay people to live freely, the fact that kids can go to school without being forced into religious exercises, and the teaching of contemporary science are all manifest evils. It's hard to see much difference between Dobson's opinion of America and Osama bin Laden's. They both think we're a decadent, evil country.

But Dobson consoles himself that the religious right did make progress during the 1980's.
The battles that we fought in the Eighties now, we were victorious in many of those conflicts with the culture, trying to defend righteousness, trying to defend the unborn child, trying to preserve the dignity of the family and the definition of marriage. We fought all those battles and really it was a holding action.
But that's nonsense. The religious right wasn't winning in the 1980's either. Yes, Ronald Reagan got elected, but the religious right wasn't able to "preserve the dignity of the family" against pre-marital sex, divorce, drug use, rebellious children, or any of the other phenomena of sixties cultural turmoil. College students didn't have any problem getting high, getting laid, and then going out and campaigning for Reagan. Moreover, the right of American women to get abortions was just as broad at the end of the eighties as it was at the beginning.

Kids weren't praying very much in public schools either.

But the real defeat for the religious right was on the issue of gay rights. After the initial panic over AIDS and the founding of gay advocacy groups, American society began a long, steady march toward fully recognizing the civil rights of gay people.

As was the case with the civil rights movement, bigots like James Dobson made it an ugly, vindictive, and often brutal battle. But the progress has been steady. People can now live openly as gay people who would have once felt constrained to remain closeted. Gay people can work in a lot of professions from which they were previously excluded and gay people are able to live much more openly in places like Morehead, KY or my home town of Waverly, NY.

That doesn't mean that there isn't a lot of homophobia, discrimination, and violence for gay people out there. I recently heard a terrifying and heartbreaking story about a young woman whose mother attacked her with a knife when she came out.

But more than enough progress has been made that even James Dobson can see that the side of bigotry, discrimination, and unprovoked violence is going to lose.

It's just that religious right was losing in the 80's as well as the 50's, 60's, 70's, 90's, and 00's. They've just always been losing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Conservatives are ALWAYS on the losing side of history.