The Immanent Frame is a blog devoted to “secularism, religion, and the public sphere” sponsored by the Social Science Research Council .  This is a theme that interests me (and, I’d imagine, many readers of FT), so I read it from time to time.

But this collection of brief responses to the midterm elections reminds me why I don’t read it more often, more religiously, one might say.  Consider this:

Opinions on religio-political formations have poured out furiously since Tuesday’s elections. While some attend to rhetorical constructions of “religion,” many others—more invested in political transformation—obsess over the degree to which Democrats have failed to close the God gap, or over the possibility of a Lakoffian reformulation of key terms or tropes. What interests me, however, is how the enthusiasms and passions of “religion” take shape. It is simple to say that the ressentiment of wave voters or the Tea Party’s élan constitute some formation of “religion” and help thereby to explain certain modes of rationality that elude left-progressives, or to show how certain citizens supposedly vote against their material interests . . . .

This thing called “religion,” this discrete presence that moves here and there, is what improbably remains opaque to us the more we invoke it in public life. It makes possible the relation between—perhaps the interdependence of—the combustible religiosities that compel and the juridical or procedural dispositions that locate religion outside the political. Maybe it is this collusion or collision of formulations that is the real kindle to what Hume called “the common blaze.”


Or this:


For all of its talk about community organizing and supporting faith-based initiatives, it seems clear that the Obama administration remains tin-eared not only to progressives but also to religious folks who speak truth to power with love. Recalibrating the tone of public discourse toward civility will require Obama to understand that he cannot persist in prioritizing corporate welfare at the expense of everyday people. Many Americans clearly wanted and needed to express their anger and frustration. Paul, Beck, and company were ready to exploit those desires and needs. We are in the midst of a battle over political power but, most assuredly, also over the meaning and language of the prophetic, social justice, freedom, and love. Let us hope that this will be a fair fight, and that the prophetic call from the left and from religious communities can find their way back into the fray.

Or this:
The Tea Party, like Organizing for Obama, is a top-down organizational structure masquerading as grassroots democracy. Its message is that liberty is security from governmental interference . This is the kind of liberty that slaveholders fought for during the Civil War. For the corporate bosses, the fewer laws the better. “Don’t tread on me, even if I am treading on you. But I’ll take that bailout, thank you.”

A president who used to be a law professor could have explained that true liberty can be achieved only in a society with laws that protect the people from domination. But he didn’t. The argument over liberty was never joined.

The corporate bosses will continue to dominate until there are citizens’ organizations that can generate enough counter-power to change the playing field. The reason that Obama used to spend a lot of time in church basements is that ordinary citizens often gather in such places. If he still cares about bottom-up change, he will need an organized citizenry to whom he can say:  “Make me do it!”


Many of my, er, colleagues seem to live in a different world than the one in which I live.  I guess those are the little islands of blue in the sea of red.  I doubt that the political equivalent of global warming will further inundate those blue islands (the redoubtable Jay Cost explains why ), but talking and thinking like this isn’t going to help make the oceans recede.

There is one fellow who actually seems to know something about life outside what my students call the bubble:

The 2010 triumph of the Tea Party Republicans presents some interesting paradoxes. On the one hand, many of the victors tilt to the right on abortion, gay marriage, and church/state issues. Despite the defeat of Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell, the Tea Party freshmen class will include dozens of social conservatives.On the other hand, the election night rhetoric focused almost exclusively on the evils of big government. Ohio Republican John Boehner’s victory speech never mentioned the social issues. When praising “the values that have made America,” he spoke of economic freedom, individual liberty, and personal responsibility. Boehner’s rhetoric matched the campaign literature that flooded our Ozarks mailbox. Though we live in an “ Evangelical Epicenter ,” all but one mailing emphasized economics.

Slowly but surely, the culture wars are being redefined. In The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future , Arthur Brooks notes that “this is not a fight over guns, abortion, religion, and gays.”  Heralding a “new culture war,” Brooks makes a case for the morality of capitalism and free enterprise. The book carries endorsements from William Bennett and Marvin Olasky, stalwarts of the religious right. Last week he visited the campus of Wheaton College .  Before an audience of young evangelicals, Brooks had a respectful debate with Jim Wallis. The topic: “Does Capitalism Have a Soul?”

Meanwhile, the works of atheist Ayn Rand are for sale in Christian bookstores . In The New Holy Wars: Economic Religion Versus Environmental Religion in Contemporary America , Robert Nelson describes free market economics and environmentalism as secular religions. Though the Kentucky campaign included a silly diversion over Rand Paul and “ Aqua Buddha ,” the real religious issue comes down to this: Will Christian conservatives bow to the “ goddess of the market ”?


He poses what I think is an interesting question.  Perhaps it helps that he teaches at an institution in the middle of a solidly conservative and Republican congressional district.  No conservative he (I’m betting), but at least he encounters them in the supermarket (the closest Whole Foods is in suburbs of Kansas City).  Perhaps the folks at SSRC and in the Obama Administration need to speak with David Lodge .

Articles by Joseph Knippenberg

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