Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Senator Danforth has always struck me -- and still does -- as a serious, thoughtful, and decent person and public servant. I was sorry, then, to learn from Michael that Danforth has joined the chorus of New York Times columnists who see in the Schiavo case and the stem-cell-research debate little more than the ambitions and political agenda of a political party in the grip of "conservative Christians."
Danforth's piece -- as one would expect from him -- lacks the bile and venom of recent pieces by Frank Rich ("It is a full-scale jihad that our government signed onto last weekend"); Maureen Dowd ("Are the Republicans so obsessed with maintaining control over all branches of government . . . that they are willing to turn the nation into a wholly owned subsidiary of the church?"); and Paul Krugman ("The Schiavo case is, indeed, a chance to highlight what's going on in America. One thing that's going on is a climate of fear for those who try to enforce laws that religious extremists oppose.") (As Rob has already discussed, Krugman regards as "extremists" -- as just a few steps removed from the Taliban or those who murder abortion providers -- pharmacists with religious scruples about abortion pills and those who think Democratic senators ought not to filibuster conservative judicial nominees.)
Two quick points: First, Danforth is simply wrong -- not alone, but still wrong -- to assert that opposition to embryonic stem-cell research or to causing Ms. Schiavo's death by ending ANH is to impose a "sectarian agenda." Neither Leon Kass nor Nat Hentoff, for example, are conservative Christians. Second, Danforth states that "[w]hile religions are free to advocate their own sectarian causes, the work of government and those who engage in it is to hold together as one people a very diverse country." "At its best, religion can be a uniting influence, but" -- he worries -- "in practice, nothing is more divisive." I do not believe, though, that the standard according to which "religion" should be judged is whether or not it yields political unity and harmony.