Conservative Christians were particularly horrified by a series of U.S. Supreme Court and other federal court rulings on pornography, prayer in schools, the tax status of segregated Christian academies, and abortion.
The country seethed with demands for justice and equality by the Civil Rights movement which spawned the student rights movement, and then the antiwar movement, the women's rights movement, the ecology movement, and the gay rights movement. Conservative religious forces responded with campaigns to clean up the movies and stop smut, restore prayer in public schools, and end abortion.
A critical moment came when a group of parents in Kanawha county West Virginia launched a campaign in 1974 against new textbooks introduced into the public school system. Frank discussions about sexuality and race relations were seen as part of a coordinated attack on the moral values of traditional families. Several national conservative groups including the Heritage Foundation rallied to the side of the parents. In many ways the conservative framing of social issues in terms of "family values" traces back to this campaign against the influence of progressive secular and humanistic ideas. (Berlet and Lyons).
The idea that a coordinated campaign by "secular humanists" was aimed at displacing Christianity as the moral bedrock of America actually traces back to a group of Catholic ideologues in the 1960s (Mason). It was Protestant evangelicals, especially fundamentalists, who brought this concept into the public political arena and developed a plan to mobilize grassroots activists as foot soldiers in what became known as the Culture Wars of the 1980s.
A popular theologian named Francis A. Schaeffer caught the attention of many Protestants in a series of books and essays calling on Christians to directly confront sinful and decadent secular culture with its humanist values. Several other authors picked up this attack on "secular humanism" and extended it (Diamond, Martin, Berlet and Lyons).
George Marsden argues that this new focus on secular humanism "revitalized fundamentalist conspiracy theory." The threats of "Communism and socialism could, of course, be fit right into the humanist picture," Marsden notes, "but so could all the moral and legal changes at home without implausible scenarios of Russian agents infiltrating American schools, government, reform movements, and mainline churches" (Marsden: 109).
Two leading activists of the Christian right, Gary Bauer and James Dobson, called the battle pitting secular humanists against Christians over the moral foundation of America a "great Civil War of Values" (Martin:344).
The idea of a conscious and coordinated conspiracy of secular humanists has been propounded in various ways by a variety of national conservative organizations, including the Christian Coalition (Pat Robertson), the Eagle Forum (Phyllis Schlafly), Concerned Women for America (Beverly LaHaye), American Coalition for Traditional Values (Tim LaHaye), Christian Anti-Communism Crusade (Fred Schwarz), and the John Birch Society (Robert Welch).
By framing this set of claims as a conspiracy to provoke a "Culture War," conservative Christians transform political disagreements into a battle between the Godly and the Godless, between good and evil, and ultimately between those that side with God and those that wittingly or unwittingly side with Satan. This has important implications when merged with neo-Calvinist ideas about the relationship between human nature and proper public social policies; and premillennial expectations about the proper role of Christians in the apocalyptic End Times.
Berlet, Chip, and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America. New York: Guilford.
Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press.
Marsden, George M. 1991. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books
Mason, Carol. 2002. Killing for Life: The Apocalyptic Narrative of Pro-Life Politics. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
God, Calvin, and Social Welfare: A Series
Part One: Coalitions
Part Two: Calvinist Settlers
Part Three: Roots of the Social Welfare Debate
Part Four: Apocalypse and Social Welfare
Part Five: Fundamentals, Prophecies, and Conspiracies
Part Six: Godlessness & Secular Humanism
Ported from Talk to Action
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Based on the Public Eye article "Calvinism, Capitalism, Conversion, and Incarceration"
Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates
The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates