How will Democrats campaign against a president whose approval ratings are in the upper 80s? The answer: Steal the war issue from the Republicans by scapegoating the "religious right," presenting conservative Christians as the moral equivalent of the Taliban.
In Newsweek's New Year's issue, Howard Fineman reports that "Democrats are planning a daring assault on the most critical turf in politics: the cultural mainstream.... The GOP is out of the mainstream, some Democrats will argue next year, because it's too dependent upon an intolerant 'religious right.'" As Marvin Olasky notes on page 38, Democrats will use expressions like "reproductive tolerance" to attack pro-life Christians.
"This is an incendiary battle plan," even Mr. Fineman says, "essentially comparing the GOP right with the Taliban." The ploy is "designed to draw an outraged response from the president. Then Democrats would have Bush just where they wanted him: in a fire fight at home."
The Democratic PR machine is denying Mr. Fineman's report, but liberal columnists and pundits are already sounding the theme. Thus, those whose theology motivates them to try to save innocent lives are portrayed as being the same as those whose theology motivates them to kill innocent lives. Those who call for good music are lumped with those who want to abolish music altogether. A religion that has brought freedom wherever it goes is branded as the same as a religion that has brought tyranny. Christians exercising their constitutional liberty to express their convictions in the public square are identified as terrorists.
Such thinking-oblivious to the actual content of beliefs-defies all logic, but logic is not a big part of contemporary thought. In today's intellectual climate, the winner in a debate is not the person who can throw out the most facts and reasonable conclusions, but the one who can most successfully "frame the issues."
The left has successfully framed the abortion controversy as a matter of "women's rights." Euthanasia has to do with "death with dignity." Sexual immorality is framed as an issue of "freedom."
Conservatives, thinking in older terms, to their credit, insist on using facts and logic to advance their arguments. But in doing so they often lose the rhetorical war, finding that their good arguments have little impact on a culture that has adopted the left-wing "paradigms."
The Democrats' "daring assault" on conservative Christians must be framed as religious bigotry. This is genuine religious intolerance. This is secularist extremism.
This plan to reconfigure the war on the terrorists who assaulted our country into a war against religion itself may well blow up in the Democrats' face. But if it succeeds, it lays the groundwork for actual religious persecution.
The new hostility to orthodox Christianity goes beyond just wanting to keep moral considerations out of public policy. It aims at the theological content of Christianity, the very substance of the faith: that salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
What galls the new anti-Christian bigots is evangelism. Even the private conviction that one has been saved by Christ implies that there is something wrong with all of the other ways by which people try to save themselves. The first stage of overt persecution would be "anti-proselytizing laws," which already exist in several countries (including, in particular, Islamic countries).
In the same issue of Newsweek, religion editor Kenneth Woodward defines the kind of religious expression that the cultural elite will allow. "Mere tolerance of other religions is not enough," he says. "Even the acceptance of other religions as valid paths to God is insufficient"! He says that religious people must "develop a deep understanding and appreciation of at least one other religion" in addition to their own.
The ancient Israelites should have been more inclusive in regard to idol worship; those who brought the images of Baal into the Temple were exhibiting interfaith sensitivity. The early Christians should have recognized the spiritual value of Roman paganism; adding emperor worship would have made their faith more tolerant. And today, Christians should indeed affirm the great teachings of Islam, the faith of their terrorist attackers.
Those who think that all religions are essentially the same can, one minute, sound generously affirming, and, the next minute, attack believers in one religion for the evils of another. The left is attacking Christians for two contradictory reasons: both for being too much like Islam and for refusing to agree with Islam.
Christians will have to make the case that they are nothing like the Taliban and that any attempt to link them-either by "interfaith" theologies or political propaganda -is theological terrorism.