Saturday, March 17, 2007

Senator Brownback's beliefs...

Senator Brownback has come under increased scrutiny since his defense of General Pace's comments about the immorality of homosexuality as laid out in an open letter on his website. Of particular interest to all should be the concluding paragraph of the Senator's letter:

"The question is whether personal moral beliefs should disqualify an individual from positions of leadership in the U.S. military? We think not. General Pace's recent remarks do not deserve the criticism they have received. In fact, we applaud General Pace for maintaining a personal commitment to moral principles."

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I wonder what the Senator would say if the General had said that "homophobia" was immoral?

Be that as it may the whole issue has obscured a deeper issue about Senator Brownback's beliefs and commitment to liberal Democracy as practiced in America. There is a very interesting article on Talk to Action about Brownback's beliefs, which if accurate, paint a picture of some one not fit to lead a modern secular society such as the United States. The article attempts to link the Senator with other conservative Catholics which according to another article in Media Transparency have targeted mainstream protestant denominations through an organization called the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD).

The Media Transparency article has this to say about the IRD:

"Michael Novak is a co-founder of IRD and has been a well-paid activist at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) for more than two decades. Other power players at AEI include, Lynne Cheney, wife of Richard Cheney, and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House (AEI, 2006). Between 1985 and 2004, AEI received a whopping $42,342,101, mostly from right-wing funders; while Novak was given $1,527,397 in support from the Olin and Bradley foundations between 1985 and 2004 (Media Transparency, 2006c). With this funding Novak has worked to create moral and theological justification for unfettered corporate avarice, which according to some Catholic observers looks more like the teachings of Machiavelli than those of Jesus Christ (Zwick and Zwick, 1999)."

The IRD's home page says that the organization is committed to Church renewal and is ecumenical. James Tonkowich, the President of IRD says:

"the IRD has found it necessary to be a prophetic voice in the churches. We propose a turning back to the Gospel of Christ crucified. In the words of theologian and IRD board member Thomas Oden, we "are not presuming to create new doctrine but hold firmly to apostolic teaching in ways especially pertinent to current circumstances. The theology is orthodox, reliable, stable, beautiful, familiar, and glorious. By it the church has been blessed by God for two thousand years." And by it God blesses the church today and into the future."

Tonkowich, by the way is not Catholic, but Presbyterian and is associated with, which was founded by Chuck Colson. So it is probably a bit simplistic of Talk to Action and Media Transparency to focus on the role of conservative Catholics.

Clearly there is a growing alliance between conservative Catholics and some Evangelicals.
So what is this alliance based on? According to Talk to Action it is based on renewed interest in natural law theology, specifically Thomism, developed by St. Thomas Aquinas. The article claims that Thomism takes a hierarchical and paternalistic view of society and that:

" This paternalistic attitude of superiors wanting to tell the masses what their personal morality must be is part and parcel of much of today's Catholic Right. And just as royalty once justified their power by divine right, these nefarious actors seek to justify non-meritorious, non-commutative privilege via the very same distorted reasoning."

Personally, I don't know whether or not Brownback's beliefs are really of this type but take a look at what he says on his website:

"Religion, once an integral part of our society, is today being eradicated from nearly every aspect of public life. The First Amendment protects the freedom to practice the religion of one’s choice. That freedom is under attack by groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, who profit financially from lawsuits brought against cities and towns that display religious symbols. The ACLU and others have collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees from suits brought against local cities and towns. Now they are using those victories to threaten other local jurisdictions. I introduced the Public Expression of Religion Act last year to prevent groups like the ACLU from collecting attorneys’ fees in religious freedom cases. Our country was founded on the idea that its citizens should be free to express their religious beliefs without government interference. I will continue the fight to protect that freedom."

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If you analyze this closely what he seems to be saying is that governments (local municipalities etc) have the right to promote religion and that somehow this is the same thing as citizens being free to express their religious beliefs without government interference and government must step in to stop the evil ACLU from winning more victories against these local governments. Victories in the courts by the way but hey they must be victories in front of liberal activist judges.

As Brownback says:

"The role of a judge is to interpret the law, not to create it. Too many judges fail to remember the importance of this distinction. In recent years, activist judges around the country have been sidestepping state legislatures and the will of the voters, nullifying laws based not on the Constitution, but rather their own political agenda. The Senate must act to help prevent more activists from taking the bench. Government functions best when it is most accountable to the people. That is why I believe laws should be made by elected officials, and not by the federal judiciary. I will continue to support judges who adopt this philosophy."

Jeff Sharlet hit what's happening with the religious right and Brownback very well in a recent Rolling Stone article:

Brownback is the beneficiary of a strategy known as co-belligerency -- a united front between conservative Catholics and evangelicals in the culture war. Pat Robertson has tapped the "outstanding senator from Kansas" as his man for president. David Barton, the Christian right's all-but-official presidential historian, calls Brownback "uncompromising" -- the highest praise in a movement that considers intransigence next to godliness. And James Dobson, the movement's strongest chieftain, can find no fault in Brownback. "He has fulfilled every expectation," Dobson says."

Brownback can talk the talk of non sectarianism as in this article from the Des Moines Register:

Brownback, asked if he felt religious convictions and beliefs have become too important in today's political arena, was quick to counter such a concern. "No. I'd say look at the Founding Fathers, and did they have too much religion?" he said. "Abraham Lincoln? Martin Luther King? I don't support a theocracy. It's bad for government. It's bad for religion."

But then he immediately backtracks:

""By the same token," Brownback said, "the country is built as a faith-based experiment country. 'In God We Trust' is our national motto. I don't think it requires you remove your faith from the public square, but rather accept that it's there, and it's to be shared with active involvement in a positive way. Faith is not a bad thing. It's something that should be celebrated and encouraged."

Somebody should remind the Senator that the original motto was "e pluribus unum" which is part of our National Seal and that in "God We Trust" was proposed after the Civil War. I also seem to have this idea that America was founded out of the sort of non sectarian faith of the enlightenment. Silly me, I should stop reading that stuff about Adams, Jefferson and Franklin. See this list of the religious beliefs of the founders of the United States. They were really quite a diverse lot religiously. If Brownback's critics are to believed, then Brownback harkens back to a sort of medieval pre-enlightenment philosophy at odds with the liberal philosophy espoused by the founders of this Country.

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