In his new book, cleverly titled “Souled Out,” and in an appearance last week at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, liberal columnist E.J. Dionne declared that “the era of the religious right is over.”
“It is a great sellout of religion,” Dionne said, for the right to reduce Christianity to a few conservative political positions. He recalled a debate in which he challenged Ralph Reed, formerly of the Christian Coalition: “You must explain to me where in the New Testament Jesus calls for a cut in the capital gains tax.”
Dionne, a serious Catholic by faith and a liberal by ideology, didn’t try very hard to conceal his glee while consigning the heyday of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell as political power brokers to history’s dustbin.
By “souled out,” Dionne said, he meant that Americans have “grown tired of a religious style of politics that was dogmatic, partisan and reflected a spirit too certain of itself and far too insistent of the depravity of its political adversaries.”
Dionne seemed like a sweet and funny guy preaching to the choir that included such Minnesota liberal icons as Walter Mondale and Don Fraser. But he had some difficulty hiding a sense of triumphalism himself, which may be in the category of turnabout being fair play.
As one who (incessantly and annoyingly) preaches the importance of civil, substantive discourse across the ideological divide, my favorite Dionnian sentence of the afternoon was one that called for religious liberals and conservatives to share their beliefs with open minds and open hearts. The sentence went: “We must all accept the need to both give and receive help on the road to truth.”