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Wayne Bessen

The Right’s crisis in confidence

Rick Warren, author of the best seller ‘The Purpose Driven Life:’ is he the next logical successor to the
‘Moral Majority?’
In sports, it is known that confidence is the main ingredient that separates great players from those who are merely good. A legend, such as Michael Jordan, could miss 10 shots in a row, but he would still expect the 11th shot to fall. The average player, on the other hand, would start having doubts after a few missed baskets, even if he has the same physical talents as the star.

After tossing a generous number of political bricks, the religious right is in the midst of a crisis in confidence that will determine whether it will be remembered as a great movement or merely an ugly historical footnote. The death of Rev. Jerry Falwell, combined with the upcoming presidential election and the implosion of Bush’s legacy has left the Right rudderless.

Much of the malaise comes from the embarrassing fact that Evangelicals lined up behind Bush for years and spoke of him as if he were a prophet. Now that Bush has transformed from Baby Jesus to idiot child, social conservatives are deservedly getting most of the blame for the Bush debacle.

Things are so bad for Bush that Jimmy Carter — a man who knows a little something about failed presidencies — has said Bush is the “worst” in history. Finally, Carter got something right, but Evangelicals were also reminded by his outburst that they backed Carter’s presidency because he was outspokenly Born Again.

Looking at the Bush/Carter messes they have made, some fundamentalists are disillusioned with politics. They also see that shifting public opinion has nixed aims at absolute dominion and their political domination is dangerously sliding into alienation. The once fearless now seems rather feckless and the Jesus Juggernaut is looking like the Little Engine that couldn’t.
The passing of Rev. Falwell must have been quite jarring. Instead of being lionized as a conqueror he was largely ridiculed as a cartoon, because his controversies outweigh his accomplishments. Only the groveling Republican presidential candidates seemed to have anything nice to say, and we all know most of them didn’t mean it.

As the Right eulogized Falwell, geriatric televangelist D. James Kennedy was recovering from a heart attack. But his political sword, The Center for Reclaiming America for Christ, could not recover from failure and recently closed its doors. The ultimate collapse of Kennedy’s sinister Center and Falwell’s Moral Majority — as well as Pat Robertson’s ailing Christian Coalition — suggests these groups may be little more than wildly successful cults of personality. Too, one wonders the fate of James Dobson’s Focus on the Family when the Lord finally calls him home.

While the religious right is down, they certainly are not out. Falwell, for example, built Liberty University and the Liberty Counsel, his legal arm, to train activists to carry on his shameful legacy.

Surprisingly, Liberty has one of the top-ranked debate teams in the nation, where students learn apologetics so they can effectively argue, rather than apologize, when they offend others.
The media is busy anointing new religious leaders to supposedly take the place of the outgoing Falwell-Robertson-Dobson-Kennedy Axis of Ignorance. They seem to think Rick Warren, the author of the best seller “The Purpose Driven Life,” is the logical successor.

Warren, who gives sermons in tacky Hawaiian shirts, is portrayed as dripping with compassion because he and his wife minister to AIDS victims.

While they deserve credit for helping the sick, they are far from moderate on social issues. In fact, Warren supports the “ex-gay” message, which heaps shame on gay men, leading to more HIV cases. I guess (after he breaks down their self-esteem, leading to reckless sexual behavior) he’ll take care of them too.

It is a measure of how far to the right Falwell and others of his ilk have moved society that troglodytes like Warren are considered “moderate.” This is hardly a record to be proud of, and in their hearts, many social conservatives know their movement has harmed this nation.

The truth is, the religious right’s power will only be waning if they keep whining and complaining. The GOP will put on a full court press to get social conservatives to the polls, but a Republican victory in the next election will be anything but a slam-dunk.

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