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Unlikely praise

"Unlikely praise" Continued...

Issue: "Looking for votes," March 11, 2006

KAZIN: The last thing about Bryan that most people on the left would accept is his opposition to Darwinism. They hold a stark image of him as a foe of scientific learning and of free speech in the classroom. Moreover, few if any exponents of either intelligent design or creationism seem to equate Darwinism with Social Darwinism, as Bryan did. And, thankfully, it's rare to hear anyone espouse eugenics today, as many Darwinists did in the 1920s. The result is that supporters and foes of Darwinism now fight more about the facts of evolution and whether intelligent design is science or religion than about the political consequences of either position.

I should add that the position which Bryan took during the 1920s, which culminated in the Scopes trial, was not the same as that which proponents of intelligent design advocate. He argued that public schools should not teach any "hypothesis that links man in blood relationship with the brutes." He didn't support the teaching of an alternative theory about the origins of humankind; Bryan thought the biblical faith of most Americans would take care of that.

WORLD: You conclude that Bryan's popularity stemmed from what "our own era of nonstop satire and twenty-four-hour commerce manifestly lacks: the yearning for a society run by and for ordinary people who lead virtuous lives." You apparently want today's Democratic Party to tap into that, but isn't there a rift between the populist economic goals of the left and the anti-bourgeois cultural goals?

KAZIN: Certainly, Democrats and the left in general are more certain that corporations are unfair to workers and consumers than that one should attack the libertarian or libertine aspects of American culture. Some voters who agree with the former view don't trust Democrats to defend their moral and religious values, and this probably helped defeat both Al Gore in 2000 and John Kerry in 2004. Yet, when it comes to cultural norms, Christian conservatives are not always models of consistency themselves. They steadfastly oppose gay marriage, even though gay men and lesbians who want to get married and have children are behaving in a classically bourgeois fashion. Don't take the word of a liberal like me; a growing number of conservative commentators, such as David Brooks and Andrew Sullivan, also point this out quite forcefully.

WORLD: Your book seems very well-timed, given the attempt by Jim Wallis and others on the religious left to contest GOP dominance among evangelicals. Do you see a trend to do through scholarship what Wallis is attempting to do through agitation?

KAZIN: Yes! More and more liberal historians and social scientists, whether or not they are Christians, have been writing about the religious underpinnings of American politics and American culture and arguing that people of faith have been active as often on the left as on the right. I'd mention such path-breaking works as David Chappell's A Stone of Hope (about the civil-rights movement as a religious revival), Kenneth Fones-Wolf's Trade Union Gospel (about labor and Protestantism in Philadelphia during Bryan's day), and Amy Sullivan's forthcoming Resurrection, about efforts to revive a Christian left in recent years.

If my biography of Bryan helps to inspire more works of this kind, I'll be a happy man.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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