Intra-Christian Battlegrounds

Regular readers know that one of my pet peeves is the assumption that the Christian Right–or even the conservative evangelicals who with hyper-conservative Catholics like Rick Santorum are the backbone of the Christian Right–are synonymous with “Christians.” This assumption is promoted by the Christian Right itself for obvious reasons of self-interest, but is often echoed by secular MSM political reporters who don’t know much of anything about religion, and by some (though hardly most) progressive atheists or agnostics who would be happy to concede religious sentiments to the opposition entirely.

So it’s with that in mind that I encourage a reading of Deal Hudson’s essay at the Daily Beast today conceding that Paul Ryan is a dangerously controversial figure within American Catholicism.

You have to appreciate that Hudson (a former Southern Baptist minister and Catholic convert who once directed Catholic outreach efforts for the RNC) has adopted as his mission in life the conversion of American Catholics to the Christian Right, which as one of its byproducts involves the demonization and eventual suppression of “liberal” Catholics–i.e., the majority of American Catholics who disagree with the Vatican on contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage. (Hudson also has some issues with allegations he had sex with an eighteen year-old while teaching at Fordham in the 1980s, a controversy that forced him to resign as an advisor to George W. Bush in 2004 and as publisher of the Catholic conservative journal Crisis).

So when Hudson says “the Romney-Ryan campaign must acknowledge the Catholic concerns about the budget as a major obstacle to winning the election,” it’s as someone who understands Ryan raises as many religious problems for the ticket as he may appear to solve. The Christian Right’s agenda, which goes beyond “cultural issues” into economic philosophy and strong beliefs about the role of government, doesn’t pit “Christians” against “secularists,” as its apostles so often proclaim, but sharply divides believers and nonbelievers (e.g., Randian libertarians) alike. Indeed, Ryan’s position within American Catholicism could eventually prove as controversial as Romney’s LDS background, the subject the Romney-Ryan campaign would prefer to avoid entirely. Of all the risks undertaken by Romney with this Veep selection, this could be a real sleeper.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.