Semantic Confusion: “The Religious Right” Allies or Antagonists?


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“What You Said Ain’t What They Heard”

I have noticed lately a serious impediment to any real communication across political lines.  It is something that can affect anyone writing or speaking about politics in America today.  The problem lies in the term “Religious Right”.

On the one hand Conservative Christians do not seem to understand that non-Christians, many just as conservative see the term as a negative if not a pejorative.  But on the other hand non-Christians, Moderates, Liberals and Leftists do not seem to “get it” that many sane, un-hypocritical Conservative Christians define themselves with that same term.

It seems that when used by the middle/left the term virtually NEVER seems to mean anything BUT a classic, Right-wing “I’m right because the Bible says so, you can’t be moral without Jesus, this is a Christian Nation and non-Christians should not be allowed to influence schools and government” hypocrite-in-Christian’s-clothing.

To say that this confusion impedes communication, compassion and compromise would be an understatement of monumental proportions.

Because of this confusion we recently saw Chris Mathews of MSNBC using the term in one way and offending NRB Columnist Paul Cooper who uses it in another.  Paul responded by light of his definition which caused me to misunderstand and I started to type a flaming reply.  Then I found out what Paul really meant by it: “those to the Right of middle who are Christian”.

The end result was that we barely missed getting in an argument over nothing.  Both of us would have felt attacked by and embittered toward someone who should be an ally on the subject.

This problem in definitions needs to be resolved in order for NewsReal Blog to have any chance of changing partisans into partners on issues that affect all of us.

The last few days I have been asking everyone I can who THEY think of when they hear the term “Religious Right”.

Overwhelmingly those that did not self describe as Conservative Christians seem to believe the term to mean “the folks who believe being Christian gives them a preferred political status and the right to impose an overtly Christian character on civil society”.

Not one person I talked to that described themselves as moderate or liberal (regardless of their religion) saw the term as referring to any other group.  ONLY the Conservative Christians I spoke with felt that it meant the “Right side of the spectrum of all religious Christians in the U.S.”

It is pretty clear that this confusion cannot be allowed to go on.  As a start I propose a poll. Not a “vote” for one definition by majority rule but simply a poll to make us aware of Whom thinks What means Which.

I self identify as:

a)      Non-religious (Atheist, Agnostic, Don’t Care)

b)      A Nominal Christian

c)       A Devout Christian (Liberal Politics)

d)      A Devout Christian (Conservative Politics)

e)      Jewish (Conservative politics)

f)       Jewish (Liberal politics)

g)      A Conservative Christian or Jewish far to the Right of the ones the public calls conservative. (“They call me Nut-case but Jesus/G*d will bless me for it”)

h)      A Nominal Muslim

i)        A Devout Muslim

j)        A Devout Muslim (“They call me Terrorist but Allah will bless me for it!”)

To me “Religious Right” means:

A)     Conservative Religious persons; i.e. devout religious people of any faith that fall to the Right of Middle in politics

B)      Religious hypocrites that believe the “unquestionable Truth” of their religion gives them a preferred position in the political process. (This description fits not only Christian chauvinists but also Islamic Supremacists etc.)

C)      Conservative Christians who use their religion as a guide in life. Including politics.

D)     Same as B but limited to Christians

E)      Something Else

The information this poll provides may well prove very valuable but we still need to agree on what the term means here at NewsRealblog.

I feel that being understood accurately by the largest number of people is more important than being clear only to compatriots. I cannot see that preaching to the choir is very productive. Therefore I propose this array of definitions:

For (A) I think the term “Religious Conservative” would be less likely to be misunderstood.

The subset of people described by (B) can be called “Religious Radicals” or “Theocrats”.

For (C) I can see no reason not to simply use “Christian Conservative” since it is clear and self-explanatory.

I suggest we try to refer to (D) as “The Religious Right”.

Being clear with these terms may not solve all our differences but it will certainly not hurt our efforts to resolve them.

Human Language is the Beating of Broken Rhythms On a Pot With a Spoon While We Long to Make Music to Stir the Gods

  • Guy DeWhitney

    Gee, they lifted the ban on my stories! Can I comment again too? I guess the editor who never progressed beyond Junior High finally left!