Son of Power, Faith, Fantasy; or Leveling the Praying Field


Princeton Univ. Press recently was kind enough to send me a copy of E. J. Dionne, Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right. Many readers here likely will recognize Dionne as a fine political journalist and frequent talking head and NPR commentator.

My perusal of it has been too brief to comment further except to note this review by Scott Appleby of Souled Out together with Amy Sullivan, Party Faithful: How and Why Democrats are Closing the God Gap (the source of "leveling the praying field" above). Appleby overplays (to my mind) the alleged scorn in which the Democrats formerly held faith, but that's a quibble.
A brief excerpt:

Strikingly, both authors announce the demise of the religious right and proclaim the advent of a new era of religious engagement in the direction of what might be called faith-friendly liberalism. “American politics is at a turning point,” Dionne asserts. “Evangelical Christians are an increasingly diverse group,” broadening their political agenda to include environmental issues and a commitment to international human and religious rights, as well as to economic policies that address poverty. . . . This would indeed be a marked departure from the recent past, when, in Sullivan’s words, “a showdown between the religious left and religious right was like a tricycle going up against a Mack truck.” The disparity reflected a three-decade head start by religious conservatives flush with cash, coupled with the Republicans’ “incredibly sophisticated methods of reaching religious voters.” Meanwhile, according to several veteran Democratic operatives cited by Sullivan, “the only method the party had for identifying Catholics was to guess based on surnames.”

Are Sullivan and Dionne to be believed, or is this the triumph of wishful thinking over political reality? Sullivan admits to setting out to prove her Dem-dissing pastor wrong, and Dionne, burdened by what he poignantly describes as “the agony of liberal Catholicism,” could be forgiven for mistaking the creativity of a few Catholic politicians and the enthusiasms of younger Catholics as benevolent signs of more liberal times to come.

The "decline and fall" narrative here, as well as the "rise of" story, both leave me a little skeptical, perhaps as a result of my location in C. Springs as well as the enormous evangelical turnout for Huck last week. Nonetheless, Dionne appears particularly worthy of further reading and thought because, unlike most of the writing of this genre, he deals seriously with Catholicism. Note especially Chapter 6: "What Happened to the Seamless Garment: The Agony of Liberal Catholicism," a question we've discussed here before in reference to Dorothy Day, the evidently missing Catholic version of Jim Wallis, et al.

I welcome responses from any readers of this latest from Dionne -- feel free to send here.


Art Remillard said…
Random thoughts, largely unrelated to the content of your post. First, I'm curious to know why Dionne published this with a university press. I wouldn't blink if, say, Simon & Schuster published it. Good for Princeton, in any case.

Also, I've seen Dionne frequently on PBS's Washington Week, and from time-to-time on ABC's This Week. On PBS in particular, his partisanship is there, but he’s never abrasive and he’s always thoughtful. Not long ago I saw him on some cable station and was somewhat disappointed. He wasn’t Rush O’Hannity or anything; but he played the game a bit more than usual. Cable must bring this out of people. David Brooks is a PBS regular, and fits well. But on Fox, well, he gets foxy… The Lesson: Pull all public funding from PBS. They make peole think too much and sound reasonable.

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