How does the religious right manage to say that President Obama is anti-Christian and opposed to religion even though he talks openly about his conversion to Christianity, exhibits a strong family life and thinks out loud about the implications of faith in public policy?
Evidently, it all depends on your “world-view.”
Molly Worthen of the University of Toronto reflects on the current meme that the President is hostile to religion and religious freedom.
This obsession with “worldviews” has been a favorite tactic of the Christian right. In the 1970s, Francis Schaeffer and other activists taught evangelicals to organize against the “secular humanist worldview” that was denaturing America’s Christian values in an acid bath of “humanist religion,” “an exclusivist, closed system which shuts out all contending viewpoints” (that’s the “phony theology” that Santorum was talking about).
Schaeffer’s admirers often note that he defends religious freedom in his 1981 book, “A Christian Manifesto.” But after Schaeffer called for “general religious freedom” for all faiths, he went on to lament the left’s manipulation of the First Amendment to encourage a “new concept of pluralism” in which “there is no right or wrong; it is just a matter of your personal preference.”
To recover America’s biblical foundation, Christians had to “do battle on the entire front:” not just in church, but in the courts, classrooms, outside abortion clinics and everywhere else, Schaeffer wrote. The emerging Christian right asserted that this was the true meaning of “religious freedom” in America: freedom to institutionalize Christian dogma in American society and law. Freedom of religion — a phrase that sounds at first blush like a bipartisan nod to our common political heritage — is a weapon of culture war.
Slogans like this have political power. Voters on both the right and the left have little sympathy for politicians who reason through problems and recognize ambiguity (conservatives won’t forgive Romney for his honest struggles with the abortion issue, and Obama faces liberal wrath for his nuanced approach to economic recovery). Wonkish debates are boring and complicated, and not very good for separating the sheep from the goats. What matters are your “presuppositions,” your “worldview.”
Conservatives’ accusations that Obama disrespects religious freedom have little to do with the White House’s actual policy: his administration has a strong track record in supporting faith-based organizations and ensuring that prisoners have access to religious literature, for example. They have everything to do with resurrecting old challenges to the president’s legitimacy and framing the 2012 campaign as a battle between honest Christian Americans and atheist subversives. “Enemy of religious freedom” is shorthand for a deceiver who is not one of us: in Gingrich’s words, one who “played a wonderful con, as a result of which he is now president.”