Secular Right | Reality & Reason



Mythical heroes

There’s a new evangelical Christian college in New York, the King’s College. You can read a somewhat quizzical article in The New York Times about it. This part caught my attention:

Clues about the college’s philosophical underpinnings reveal themselves here and there. One bulletin board recently listed the activities of the various houses, the King’s College version of sororities and fraternities. The houses are named after Christian and conservative heroes (Ronald Reagan, C. S. Lewis and Margaret Thatcher) and historical activists (Susan B. Anthony, Clara Barton and Sojourner Truth).

Anthony and Barton seem strange choices to me, both were single throughout their lives, and religiously they were at most liberals (Unitarian and Universalist), and more honestly simply Freethinkers. The same peculiarity exists within the Susan B. Anthony List. Like many early feminists Anthony was anti-abortion, ergo, the connection to the List which sponsors the political candidacies of anti-abortion women. But Anthony was arguably a moderate radical in her own time. Last year Mr. Bradlaugh mentioned prayers at the meeting of the H. L. Mencken Club, a peculiar juxtaposition indeed! But I’m not one to throw stones on these points, though this weblog attaches to itself as a mascot the skeptical Tory-inclined David Hume, there is no expectation that any of us take Hume’s position necessarily on any given issue. Sometimes it is the spirit which counts.

Rather, I’m curious as to instances of the co-option of figures from the past on the Left which exhibit the disjunctions noted above. Does it occur? It seems to me that over the past generation the Left has purged all sinners from its pantheon. Abraham Lincoln may have freed the slaves, but he was a heterosexist racist, so purged. The Founding Fathers who revolted against British tyranny? Slavers and sexists all! Further back in time, how about Martin Luther who rebelled against the Church? An anti-Semitic polemicist who later gave comfort to the princes of Germany as they crushed the uprisings of the peasants. Voltaire? Manifestly racist.

Of course the above only applies to the radical and academic Left. The mainstream cultural Left and center white-washes exquisitely. Charles Darwin was a political liberal of humanitarian inclination, but what does it mean to a be “liberal” in 19th century England? It certainly does not mean that one condemn on moralistic grounds the eugenical projects of one’s cousin, Francis Galton (though Darwin was skeptical as to its practicality). Leftists like Michael Eric Dyson have pointed out that the mainstream has constructed an image of Martin Luther King Jr. which expurgates all his radical sentiments and sympathies.


  • Don · November 23, 2009 at 6:50 am

    Objectivity? The Shades racism on the Right?

  • Susan · November 23, 2009 at 7:24 am

    Well, the Left hasn’t quite managed to purge Margaret Sanger yet for her eugenicist views. I think the policy is to simply ignore them.

  • j mct · November 23, 2009 at 8:55 am

    I’m not sure about Clara Barton, but Susan B. Anthony would rate a thumbs up from such a crowd because she was anti abortion, and her brand of feminism wasn’t of the ‘a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle’ sort, she was ‘pro family’ as such terms are defined today, she would have been horrified by no fault divorce though that wouldn’t have come up, since no one was for no fault divorce in her day. It wouldn’t have occured to anybody at the time that being pro female suffrage and being like Gloria Steinem were in any way shape or form at odds. Per her singleness, and how that relates to being ‘pro family’, well, nuns.

  • Ross · November 23, 2009 at 9:38 am

    “The houses are named after Christian and conservative heroes (Ronald Reagan, C. S. Lewis and Margaret Thatcher) “

    Is Margaret Thatcher really a Christian heroine? I know she is a Methodist but her religion doesn’t seem to have had a huge impact on her politics, she voted in favour of legalising abortion for example.

  • Tom · November 23, 2009 at 10:04 am

    It’s been quite a while since there was a King’s College on Manhattan.

  • Clark · November 23, 2009 at 10:24 am

    I suspect they like Margaret Thatcher because they see her as Robin to Reagan’s Batman. It doesn’t necessarily make a ton of sense.

  • Susan · November 23, 2009 at 10:38 am

    I wonder, exactly, how happy Christian fundamentalists would be with Ronald Reagan today. My memory could be badly skewed, but I don’t recall him as being a Bible-thumper. My sense of him–and again I could be very wrong–was that while he might have believed in God, he wasn’t particularly religious in the conventional sense, and certainly not in the fundamentalist sense. Like all sensible politicians, he paid lip service to faith. I read somewhere (sorry for the vague citation) that Barack Obama mentions Jesus more than George Bush did. So I guess they all know what side the communion wafer is buttered on, so to speak.

    But certainly the fundies have co-opted Reagan as one of them. Certainly they like to paint him as Sarah Palin’s religious as well as ideological twin.

  • Clark · November 23, 2009 at 11:32 am

    As I recall it was only his AG that was really in the Evangelical camp. I was too young at the time to recall anything about that election campaign. But New Majority they said that Evangelicals didn’t endorse Reagan but Reagan used a kind of interesting technique to “bring them on board.”

  • Author comment by David Hume · November 23, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    new majority’s take is what i remember, he was everything to all people. i think he was nominally a presbyterian, but he wasn’t a regular churchgoer, though what religious beliefs he had were sincere and conventional.

  • Author comment by Doubting Thomasina · November 23, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Thatcher was not only a grocer’s daughter but also a preacher’s daughter. That said, the only book I know of her thumping was The Constitution of Liberty.

  • John · November 23, 2009 at 7:20 pm

    Reagan wasn’t very outwardly religious, and he is best known for his economic and foreign policy views, but he did have strong religious convictions. Soon after he was shot, he wrote that he couldn’t hate the man who shot him because he was “one of God’s children.” He hated nuclear weapons more than is commonly known, in part because he feared a Biblical armageddon. When he realized his daughter, Patti Davis, was having nonmarital sex, he told her that it was wrong since it said so in the Bible. Apparently, one of his greatest regrets was that he hadn’t done more about abortion when he was president.

    I suspect they like Margaret Thatcher because they see her as Robin to Reagan’s Batman.

    Nice analogy 🙂

  • Derek Scruggs · November 23, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    What exactly is the question here? Are you looking for examples of liberals co-opting moderates/conservatives? Is the fact that you can’t think of any indicative of a kind of moral relativism on the part of the religious right?

  • Ethan · November 24, 2009 at 3:14 am

    Does all the recent liberal* praise for Goldwater and Burke (cf Tanenhaus) count? Generally though, don’t you think progressivism is far too forward looking to bother much with co-opting conservatives* except as a thumb in the eye of present opponents? Even goofy use of historical figures requires putting some kind of cachet on the past, at least if such uses are common and invested with significance, as at King’s College (and my alma mater, where there is a “liberty walk” of Churchill, Thatcher, Washington, and soon Jefferson).

    *defined in present American terms naturally.

  • cooliehawk · November 25, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    The homophobia of Che Guevara and Fidel Castro probably falls into this category too.



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