The religious right is losing much of its political capital as its old fiscal conservative allies in the Republican Party have made a sharp turn to the left on cultural issues, reports The New Republic magazine (May 14). Writer Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig writes that Mike Huckabee’s recent entry into the Republican presidential race has already shown how religious and social conservative issues have been marginalized by business-friendly Republicans. Huckabee’s opposition to overhauling social security and other criticisms of big business has turned many conservative leaders and media against his campaign. She adds that “What the conservative media machine’s destruction of Huckabee demonstrates is that the free market, anti-egalitarian wing of the GOP establishment has less patience for the Christian wing than it used to…” This is nowhere clearer than on the issue of gay marriage. To sway the impending gay marriage decision by the Supreme Court, 379 businesses signed an amicus brief urging the court to legalize the practice, including such major corporations as Coca-Cola, Amazon, Goldman Sachs, Google, Apple, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson, and a large number of banks.
In the conservative magazine First Things (June/July), Patrick Deneen of the University of Notre Dame writes that the recent controversy over Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act is another unmistakable sign of the religious-economic conservative breakup. He writes that “Having concluded that the culture war was lost, conservative Christians retreated to the castle keep of American political order: the right to the free exercise of religion.” But the widespread opposition to Indiana’s RFRA from corporate leaders as they joined with gay activists in calling for boycotts against the state, not to mention the public vilification of the Christian family-owned Memories Pizza restaurant in rural Indiana for one of its employees saying that they would not cater a gay wedding, served as a shocking wake-up call for conservative Christians far beyond the precincts of the religious right. Deneen adds that “What this means is that today’s cultural power elite is entirely aligned with the economic power elite, and they’re ready to steamroll anyone in their way. In the case of Indiana’s RFRA, corporate and gay activists combined to bring to heel conservative Christians in a rural, Rust Belt state that struggles at the margins of America’s global economy…With the imprimatur of American elites, which was clearly given in the furor over Indiana’s RFRA, religiously based opposition to gay marriage is now more than ever likely to be treated as a hate crime.”
In writing about the Indiana episode on his blog Religion and Other Curiosities (May 20), sociologist Peter Berger agrees that a “new configuration is coming into shape: The cultural elite and the business elite are in process of merging. It is probably misleading to think of this in terms of ‘co-optation’—if anything, the two cultures are co-opting each other. Looked at from the viewpoints of progressive and conservative ideologues, one or the other co-optation can be viewed as ‘corruption’: The cultural elite (a.k.a. intelligentsia) has been ‘corrupted’ by giving up its socialist ideals, thinking of itself as a hereditary aristocracy entitled to rule (like all aristocrats they seek to pass their privileges on to their children), and accepting greed and snobbery as acceptable personal values. Conversely, the business elite has been ‘corrupted’ by opening itself up to previously excluded ethnic and racial groups, combining its old Protestant work ethic with a very un-Protestant liberality in all matters south of the navel.” Berger concludes that “evangelical Protestants, conservative Catholics and Orthodox Jews generally come out on the side of ‘traditional family values,’ but these issues have lost their traction with the penetration of the business world by progressive values (it seems that the Republican party in Indiana has very quickly drawn this lesson from what one might call “pizza-gate.” Mainline Protestants have lined up behind the progressive ideology long ago).”
(First Things, 35 E. 21st St., 6th Fl., New York, NY 10010)