Fighting the Wrong Battle

Don Eberly, a former aide in the Reagan White House, is founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative and director of the Civil Society Project.
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Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Save America? Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson, Zondervan, 282 pp., $19.99

Paul Weyrich, as well as Cal Thomas and Ed Dobson in their recent book Blinded by Might: Can the Religious Right Save America? have done the Christian world a service in pointing out what the wider society discovered years ago—the limits of politics in confronting deep moral and spiritual conditions. Where Weyrich, Thomas, and Ed Dobson are wrong is in assuming that what was done politically over the past several decades was tantamount to seriously engaging the culture, which is where the real crisis is located. Politics hasn't failed: attempts to reform culture through politics have failed.

To be fair, neither Thomas nor Dobson nor Weyrich is calling for a complete retreat. But each has presented an argument that will have that effect when heard by frustrated citizens. Thomas and Dobson essentially present the choice as politics versus pietism; Weyrich presents the choice as politics versus separatism. Weyrich is not calling for a healthy, robust counterculture. When he urges moral and religious conservatives to "quarantine" themselves and to "bypass" cultural institutions, he is recommending a subculture rooted in a self-conscious separatism. Both pietism and separatism represent familiar historical patterns in America, and both come very easily for evangelical believers.

Neither retreat nor the status quo is acceptable. The debate should not focus on methods of retreat, but on new models for engagement and new strategies that focus more on culture than on politics in the decades to come. The issue is not that politics is unimportant. It is that even if one succeeds in building working majorities, the lawmaking process can ...

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