In yet another salvo in a long running debate, a friend sent me this article by Kevin Drum, arguing that there is little threat from the Christian Right.

After six years of following the Bush administration with probably unhealthy intensity, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions. First, as much as the Christian right sets my teeth on edge — and oh man, do they set my teeth on edge — I’ve become less and less convinced that they have as much influence over the Republican Party as we secular humanist types often fear. Sure, they get plenty of symbolic bones tossed their way (abortion funding overseas, Plan B mischief, and so on), but in terms of big, substantive policy changes, they haven’t exactly been winning political battles left and right, have they? Basically, they get bought off with Supreme Court appointments, and since John Paul Stevens has remained improbably hale and hearty and the next president seems likely to be a Democrat, they’re probably never going to reach their Holy Grail: a court willing to overturn Roe v. Wade. Howling about this, along with continuing to fight their losing war against gay people, will probably keep them occupied in impotent (but lucrative) rage for the next decade or so.

For the record, I have no disagreement with this analysis, though I do believe that a number of these political agendas have failed only because other groups have vigorously pushed back. Those “Christianists” who have attempted to enact extremist political reforms have a pretty pathetic track record. However, I do not think the defined set of policy proposals, per se, are the real threat these groups present. It is not a mistake, I think, that these groups began to rise into prominence in the United States about the same time the great labor movements fell into decline. Nor is it difficult to discern that these groups have emerged in response to corrosive social consequences of the dynamics of late Capitalism. This fundamentalist Christianity has been seen as a curative to alienation and all sorts of social trends perceived as negative. The entire problem lies in how these groups, in the United States (I am speaking of a very specific situation here), have voted. That is, these individuals, whose interests lie in the direction of a very different set of political affiliations and in a very different form of activism, are putting people in office who then enact policies that exacerbate the very problems these groups are trying to solve. These problems do not emerge from “liberal Hollywood” or “leftwing intellectuals”, but are part and parcel of the functioning and development of capitalism. Through their votes and activism, these groups help to sustain certain structures of power and capital that then rebound upon them at the level of social relations, family relations, and work. That is the real problem with the Christian right and the reason that Marx so famously said that “religion is the opium of the masses”. Religion has inevitably mystified social relations, transforming, for instance, the social relation between king and peasant into a divine right (thereby obscuring the fact that it’s the serf’s recognition that makes the king the king), and in our own circumstance clouding social issues by making them appear as issues of “individual morality” rather than issues pertaining to dynamics of capital.

Are Christian fundamentalists the only problem or the most serious problem? Absolutely not. But they are certainly a problem that shouldn’t be ignored.