Culture Wars: Winning the Peace

According to cultural critic Frank Rich, the culture wars are over. Between the economic crisis and the election of a President who has bridged the red-state/blue-state divide, and the accompanying splintering of the religious right, Rich argues, we have no time for the “divisive moral scolds” that haunted us in the Bush era.  Stem-cell research is back in business, federally-funded international family-planning NGOs are no longer barred from mentioning abortion, and one would hope, should another Terry Schiavo appear on the scene, her private suffering would no longer be grist for Congressional pontification. All of these represent the victory of pragmatism over dogma, and they should be celebrated. But if we learned anything in Iraq, it’s that “winning the peace” is just as important as winning the war.  It’s very easy to ostracize those who believed that dogma from the post-war landscape, a sort of cultural de-Baathification if you’ll pardon the metaphor.  Rich writes that Obama’s quiet victories over misdirected moralism parallel those of Roosevelt, who immediately after passing a giant New Deal “stimulus” bill, swiftly overturned Prohibition, which, along with the movement against teaching evolution in the public schools, were the biggest moral hot-button issues of their day.  Fundamentalists disappointed over Prohibition and embarrassed in the 1925 Scopes “monkey” trial, felt themselves exiled from the public sphere, according to the excellent analysis of anthropologist Susan Harding in The Book of Jerry Falwell.  Indeed the religious right stayed off the public stage for nearly fifty years, and when they came back, with Falwell and Dobson and others, they came back with a vengeance.  This time around, however, there are signs of a more lasting reconciliation between conservative Christian and secular or religious liberals, or at any rate religious groups who are interested in tamping down the high-strung rhetoric over abortion and gun control and focusing on the long-term problems of housing and health care.  The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Frances Fitzgerald has been patiently charting the greying of this formerly black-and-white territory, in her 2006 New Yorker article “Holy Toledo” on the waning power of fundamentalism in Ohio, and in her 2008 “The New Evangelicals” which formed the basis for a recent three-part lectures series at the New York Public Library, and will arrive in book form soon. Judging from the audience questions at the NYPL lecture, which were numerous and along the lines of “Was it difficult to interview so many people who believe such crazy things?”, the book can’t come soon enough.  I’d like to believe there’s a place for “mythography” in the Obama era of reconciliation. It’s about getting beyond the stalemate of religious-secular rhetoric. It’s not about whether or not God did or didn’t say that stem cells shouldn’t be used for research purposes (of course, He didn’t weigh on in this specifically). It’s about letting science be science, and religion be religion.  That said, there’s still room for intelligent gray area in the stem-cell issue.  The Slate writer William Saletan is still uncomfortable with the idea in his article taglined “You’ve just won the stem-cell war.  Don’t lose your soul.”

One Response to Culture Wars: Winning the Peace

  1. […] this.) He articulates a third path, science with its own forms of wisdom.  The Mythographer is all about the third path. « The Zombie’s in the […]

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