Getting The Giggles When The Right Eats Its Own genre: Hip-Gnosis & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

The Right Eats Its Own

While I readily admit that my parents taught me not to laugh at the misfortune of others, I have to admit that I get the giggles when I read about schisms in the religious right. In truth, it should come as no surprise that different religious groups can't agree on a number of issues...after all, they spent years believing that people of other religious persuasions were destined to be dining with the devil. Despite the recent interdenominational love fest sparked by the taste of political power under "Brother Bush", the truce may be about to unwind.

There are new indications that groups may be beginning to scramble for the doctrinal high ground...also known as the best place from which to pass the pastoral pledge plate. In leaner times, one thing all high profile profligates want to avoid is the proverbial "last supper". I'm perfectly content to sit back and allow them to bask in the bounty of their bellicose banter.

The Washington Post is reporting that the recent Supreme Court ruling on partial birth abortions may have opened a Pandora's Box that could fragment what had appeared to be a force to fear in the practice of fractional politics. Pardon me while I cross my faith bating finders.

In a highly visible rift in the anti-abortion movement, a coalition of evangelical Protestant and Roman Catholic groups is attacking a longtime ally, Focus on the Family founder James C. Dobson.

Using rhetoric that they have reserved in the past for abortion clinics, some of the coalition's leaders accuse Dobson and other national antiabortion leaders of building an "industry" around relentless fundraising and misleading information.

Dobson and many other antiabortion leaders hailed the 5 to 4 ruling as a victory; abortion-rights organizations saw it as a defeat. But six weeks later, its consequences have been, in part, the reverse.

"The Supreme Court decision totally galvanized our supporters" by raising the prospect that the court could soon overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 opinion that established a woman's right to choose an abortion, said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Both our direct-mail and online giving got a serious bump," she said.

Among antiabortion activists, meanwhile, the decision in Gonzales v. Carhart has reopened an old split between incrementalists who support piecemeal restrictions and purists who seek a wholesale prohibition on abortions.

In an open letter to Dobson that was published as a full-page ad May 23 in the Colorado Springs Gazette, Focus on the Family's hometown newspaper, and May 30 in the Washington Times, the heads of five small but vocal groups called the Carhart decision "wicked," and accused Dobson of misleading Christians by applauding it.

Carhart is even "more wicked than Roe" because it is "not a ban, but a partial-birth abortion manual" that affirms the legality of late-term abortions "as long as you follow its guidelines," the ads said. "Yet, for many years you have misled the Body of Christ about the ban, and now about the ruling itself."

I've long argued that men like Dobson are first and foremost about large egos and the need for sustained notoriety and national attention...and the cash raising niche it has become. As we move towards the 2008 election, I'm convinced that Dobson and his ilk will gladly concede the presidency if it can be used to galvanize their hold on the holy hoards.

Here's the equation. By and large, people like Dobson are selling an absolutist rationale to their followers...which assures them of their rightness...they are the good people. Anything that undermines that the loss of influence or the inability to decide an election...serves to diminish and damage the draw found in this type of dogma. Sacrificing an election to prove a point to the politicians they seek to influence allows zealots like Dobson to sit out an election in order to avoid defeat while reassuring the flock that they are still doing god's work.

In essence, they tell their followers that they are simply sending the necessary message to politicians that have wavered...and allowing these elected officials to suffer defeat for their failure to perform is the appropriate punishment meted out by the righteous. Doing so preserves the authority of men like Dobson and allows them to enter the political arena when it is advantageous and to exit the political arena when it isn't.

A Focus on the Family spokesman said that Dobson would not comment. But the organization's vice president, Tom Minnery, said that Dobson rejoiced over the ruling "because we, and most pro-lifers, are sophisticated enough to know we're not going to win a total victory all at once. We're going to win piece by piece."

Brian Rohrbough, president of Colorado Right to Life and a signer of the ads, disagreed.
"All you have to do is read the ruling, and you will find that this will never save a single child, because even though the justices say this one technique is mostly banned -- not completely banned -- there are lots of other techniques, and they even encourage abortionists to find less shocking means to kill late-term babies," he said.

Another signer, the Rev. Bob Enyart, a Christian talk radio host and pastor of the Denver Bible Church, said the real issue is fundraising.

"Over the past seven years, the partial-birth abortion ban as a fundraising technique has brought in over a quarter of a billion dollars" for major antiabortion groups, "but the ban has no authority to prevent a single abortion, and pro-life donors were never told that," he said. "That's why we call it the pro-life industry."

In Rohrbough's view, partisan politics is also involved.

"What happened in the abortion world is that groups like National Right to Life, they're really a wing of the Republican Party, and they're not geared to push for personhood for an unborn child -- they're geared to getting Republicans elected," he said. "So we're seeing these ridiculous laws like the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban put forward, and then we're deceived about what they really do."

Chuck Donovan, executive vice president of the Family Research Council, a Washington advocacy group allied with Dobson, said the dispute is the most visible rift in the antiabortion movement in at least a decade. He called the ads "a bit bizarre" and said they "might be an attention-getting device" for some of the signers, which also included the heads of the American Life League, Operation Rescue/Operation Save America and the Catholic group Human Life International.

While I'm critical of Dobson, I'm also no fan of Rohrbough, Enyart, and other players on the religious right. It just so happens that Rohrbough and Enyart are exposing something I have believed for a number of years...opposition to Roe v. Wade is primarily a mechanism for the GOP to raise cash and assemble a voter coalition that Karl Rove thought would be the means to generational GOP dominance. What Rove lost sight of was that far too many of the leaders within the religious right are equally star struck by power and the desire to dictate rather than dialogue.

Note the remarks of Chuck Donovan in the final excerpted paragraph where he suggests that the ad "might be an attention-getting device" for the sponsors. Can you say "Kettle meet pot?" Who would better understand the need for attention and the associated benefits...all code words for send me your nickels, your dimes, your hard earned cash yearning to be fleeced.

When testing sincerity, I like to look for examples where the rubber meets the road. I'll offer an extreme comparison to make my point. We've all heard about Saddam Hussein and Hezbollah giving money to the families of suicide bombers who carry out their jihadist beliefs...a practice one could equate with putting your money where your mouth is. On the other hand, given the huge amounts of cash that is being raised under the guise of a pro-life mentality, why don't we hear of any groups offering financial support for women that have become pregnant and lack the means to support a child? Couldn't they provide the funds needed for infertile couples to adopt unwanted children?

The point is that all too often opposition to abortion serves to bolster the goodness quotient of those opposed to abstract notion that requires little more than speaking the appropriate words...never transitioning into tangible actions that will facilitate fewer abortions and more births. The fact that so many children are living in poverty without access to health care supports my argument and suggests that far too many people see religion as a useful tool in their quest for salvation while failing to become the living tools that cultivate the precepts of those beliefs.

Being right becomes associated with winning elections and imposing rules in what I would call nothing more than a circle jerk mentality. Those in the circle obtain the necessary satisfaction and affirmation while those outside the circle are seemingly inconsequential.

To be fair, I'm sure that many followers of these religious leaders are sincere in their beliefs and their objection to Roe v. Wade and the practice of abortion. They are simply being misled and manipulated. Suffice it to say that I don't begrudge them their right to forego the termination of a pregnancy...but I do object when they seek to prevent others from electing otherwise. Lastly, and most importantly, isn't it time that followers evaluate their objectives and priorities and think beyond the status quo...the status quo that stirs the pot but never serves the soup?

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Daniel DiRito | June 4, 2007 | 11:48 AM
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