Using religion to mask a conservative agenda

Book Review Toxic Faith: Liberal Cure By Daniel C. Bruch and Thomas W. Strieter Xlibris Corporation, 2006 Softcover, 152 pp., $20.99

Daniel C. Bruch and Thomas W. Strieter are retired Christian pastors who have spent their lifetimes serving people. They have been moved by the extremist rhetoric and actions of fundamentalist conservatism to write this analysis of the Christian Right.

They have two purposes in mind for writing this book: the first is to answer rightist critics who “claim that liberalism is immoral and is somehow destroying the values of this country.” Second, they seek “to carefully and rationally deal with many of the most vocalized and current issues in a specifically Judeo-Christian liberal context.”

Bruch and Strieter accuse the fundamentalists of commandeering a “perversion of the Judeo-Christian belief,” and they hope to “restore and energize a more informed Judeo-Christian faith.”

The authors adopt 20th-century social thinker and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s view that “We cannot take biblical, particularly Old Testament, laws and demand that secular society be bound by them.” They strongly take issue with those in the Judeo-Christian community who would convert our secular republic into a theocracy — “a rule dominated by religious precepts” — and they note that the very title of their work, “Toxic Faith,” describes fundamentalist conservatism as toxic, something that is poisoning the environment. It is a movement “characterized by rigid adherence to selected principles, intolerance of other views, and by opposition to secularism.”

Bruch and Strieter note that the 1980 election of right-wing President Ronald Reagan enabled the fundamentalists to gain substantial power. Mostly led by preachers, political strategists and self-appointed religious “experts,” the religious rightists have worked tirelessly to seize control over all facets of U.S. society. These fundamentalist conservatives are using religion as a cover to seizing political power, and the authors accuse them of “weaving together the flag and the cross in a form of commingling that has broken and segmented the heart of America.”

The writers describe how fundamentalist conservatives have used their distorted religious views as a weapon in a variety of areas in public life, and seek to move public policy in the direction of their theocratic beliefs. For example, fundamentalist conservatives have attempted to force their biblical views on children in public schools by pressuring school systems into teaching the biblical view of creation and development of life on this planet. By hiding the religious-sounding nature of their teachings, the fundamentalist term “creationism” has been replaced by the more neutral words “intelligent design.” The intent is to undermine science as well as Darwin’s theory of evolution upon which all biological sciences are firmly based.

Fundamentalist conservatives have also declared war on legalized abortions and a woman’s right to reproductive choice, wrongly arguing, as the authors point out, that the Bible justifies a ban on abortions. In addition, the authors add that Christian teachings “do not offer absolute clarity about the status of a fetus as a human being.”

Fundamentalists have reserved their worst vehemence for gays. They use an extremely narrow interpretation of Biblical passages to justify their homophobic reactions. The authors explain that the same scripture “also seems to endorse slavery, rule out divorce, affirm the subordination of women, and call for obedience to any government, even though it is corrupt or tyrannical.”

Bruch and Strieter point out that in contrast, current, mainstream gospel interpretation “frees us from the necessity of being fundamentalists.”

Finally, the authors criticize how fundamentalists have conveniently ignored the issues of poverty and social justice. For people of faith, poverty “is first and foremost a moral issue.” They explain how “there are over 300 verses in the Christian scriptures that speak about poverty and injustice as compared with hardly a handful that even conceivably address abortion or homosexuality.”

In addition, the Old Testament prophets “constantly advocated for the care of the poor.” Likewise, they continue, “Throughout the gospels, Jesus showed his compassion for the poor and his impatience with those who oppressed people living in poverty.”

The authors have written an informative study of the fundamentalist distortion and misuse of Judeo-Christian beliefs. The Christian right has used religion as a cover to mask a right-wing political agenda that is a threat to long-standing American democratic and secular institutions.

To a great extent, this work might especially resonate with faith-oriented readers, but all should read it. It exposes the dire consequences of believing and following a literal interpretation of the Bible. Persons of Christian-Judeo faith should have a strong interest in exposing and opposing this malign interpretation of their faith. Readers might also have a friend or relative who has fallen for this rigid and intolerant variant of Christianity, and may be doing that person a great favor by calling his or her attention to this book. This writer intends to do so.