“Religious Liberty” and The Parallel Society of the Righteous

I did a post yesterday guessing that most Republicans would deal with the Supreme Court leaving in place Circuit Court decisions outlawing same-sex marriage bans via enhanced “dog whistles” about “judicial activism.” After a little more thought, and taking into account the bellows of rage emitted by both Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee, I did a column for TPMCafe examining the delicate balancing act GOPers now face. On the one hand, they’ll be under constant pressure from party elites to avoid the kind of insurrectionary posturing that upsets donors and swing voters, particularly with respect to a “loser” issue like same-sex marriage. On the other hand, the crucial role of the courts at this moment makes it easy for conservatives to modify their existing “dog whistle” rhetoric about “judicial activism” and “religious liberty” to take that issue fully into account.

I’m becoming increasingly intrigued by the broader implications of the “religious liberty” crusade, which seems to aim not at banning “ungodly” behavior but at insulating the Righteous from any contamination thereby. Here’s how I put it at TPMCafe:

[A]s the “religious liberty” movement continues to develop, you could see it morph into the theoretical foundation for a parallel society in which the painful diversity of contemporary life, and its disturbing clatter of demands for “equality” and “non-discrimination” and “rights” (other than religious rights and the Right To Life, of course) is simply excluded, along with “government schools” and secular news and entertainment.

Presumably the Republican Party could thrive as the exclusive political champion of this parallel society — the One Party for the One-Party-State of conservative conformity operating at the margins of the heathenish remainder of the country. There are sunbelt suburbs, in fact, where this is pretty much already a reality. But there’s danger in too much reliance on liberating conservatives from “judicial activism” via an ever-expanding zone of “religious liberty:” opponents of same-sex marriage and abortion/contraception could become complacent and lose the spiritual muscle-tone provided by fighting to restore godly norms for all Americans. There’s a long history of conservative evangelicals retreating into apolitical and interior lives; that’s where they largely existed for many decades prior to the 1970s.

A “retreat” by conservative Christians is precisely what Republicans do not want to occur; they’re too important to the party’s election machinery. They just want the Christian Right to behave and roll over on command. It’s a dangerous game the GOPers are playing here.

UPDATE: On Twitter Brian Beutler drew my attention to a piece he wrote for Salon back in February that discusses the “parallel society” similarly. He adds “Stand Your Ground” laws to the panoply of separation strategies, and views the phenomenon more in secular (“white cultural flight” and “Galtism”) than in religious terms.

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.