Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Habit of Demonization in American Public Life


Religious Right Should End 'Demonization' Of Political Opponents, Seek 'Common Ground,' Opinion Piece Says

September 30, 2009

Since the early 1970s, there has been a "disappearance of an approach to public life in which stark differences could be debated without adversaries slipping into the demonization of one another," David Gushee -- distinguished professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights -- writes in a USA Today opinion piece. According to Gushee, a "number of factors have contributed to a national slide from civility to demonization in the past 40 years," but the "1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision and the ensuing religious mobilization into political combat ... have made the greatest difference." He writes that demonization is "viewing those we disagree with as if they are the embodiment of evil" and "involves a profound loss of perspective on the humanity of our opponents."

Roe "drew the battle lines of our current culture wars" and "became the centerpiece for religious-right organizing," Gushee continues. "Not immediately, but within a few years after Roe, abortion policy became viewed not just as another difficult arena where differences could be debated in good faith, but instead as a life-or-death struggle between good and evil," he writes, adding, "Pro-lifers called abortion-rights supporters 'pro-death.' Pro-choicers called those who reviled Roe 'anti-choice.' You get the point."

According to Gushee, "This response and counter-response to Roe have distorted our culture by creating the habit of demonization in American public life." Although this attitude extends to "everything from gay rights to immigration to energy policy," it "remains most obvious whenever anything related to abortion is under consideration -- as with health care reform, in which abortion has played a supporting role in the debate despite the efforts of most Democratic leaders to keep the legislation abortion-neutral," according to Gushee. He writes that although he is "an evangelical Christian who thinks Roe is bad law," he is "also drawn toward any effort to find common ground, whether on abortion reduction strategies or on other issues." He adds, "For this, I have been demonized."

Gushee continues, "I dare to think that it's still not too late to be the kind of nation in which differences are debated honestly, the votes are cast, the decisions are made and we move forward together as one people." He concludes, "I would like to see Christians contribute to that kind of society, rather than to the demonization that undermines it at its foundations" (Gushee, USA Today, 9/28/2009).

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