"I was extremely depressed and discouraged and not sure there was anything I could do." This from Dr. Sheryl Fontaine, a professor of English at Cal State Fullerton, when the returns from Ohio made it clear in the early morning of Nov. 3 that the United States of America not only had stomached, excused and tolerated George W. Bush's disastrous war, know-nothing arrogance and stupefying inequitable economic polities, but also wanted four more years of it.
As she learned that Bush's victory was due largely to the evangelical Christian Right's embrace of "moral values"—which, from all indications, means killing Iraqis, an intolerance of gay love and a searing disgust of women who choose not to take their pregnancies to term, even if they've been raped or if pregnancy puts their lives in danger—Fontaine, a member of Claremont's United Church of Christ Congregational, felt alienated and betrayed.
Though her moral values are recognizably New Testament—compassion, tolerance, inclusive-ness in personal relationships, social and economic justice in the public realm—with a smidge of Zen Buddhism thrown in, "there's a sense," she says, "that names that I have given myself—I'm a Christian—have been usurped, taken away from me, co-opted, and I don't know how to get it back."
I asked her if there were any way for progressive or even mainstream Christians to engage in some kind of dialogue with the Christian Right. "At this point, I feel a little too injured to know what the conversation would be. I want to believe there's a way to be part of the conversation, I want to believe that I am a part of this country again, but I don't necessarily feel that right now."
Why is finding common ground with people who identify themselves with the same religious figure so damnably difficult?
"The most charitable way I can understand it is that the [Christian Right] are stuck in stage two of [psychologist] Lawrence Kohlberg's scale of intellectual and moral development," she says. "Things are either black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, and there are no gray areas. And that's what Bush presents—the Axis of Evil vs. Us."
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She can see the attraction of such thinking, however.
"There are moments when I say life would be a lot simpler if I believed in this way, and in this time when things are so complicated and frightening, when that fear level has increased, it's interesting that so has the number of evangelical Christians."
Though Fontaine is too hardscrabble a fighter to give up on her country or those who've hijacked the name of her faith—"we just have to work harder, to make our voices louder"—in the election's aftermath, she's none too sanguine.
"Personally, I'm dreading the next four years. All the things that the Bush administration stands for are in direct opposition to who I am. To that extent, I find myself taking a deep breath and saying I have to go forward and to find a way to get through this and not lose myself and what I believe in. It's an interesting moment because I don't want [progressives] moving more to the center so they can grab more from the right, but I don't want people moving farther to the left, either, because there's a way in which the extremes have a similarity—they can both get totalitarian. We have to step carefully at this point. I'm really pleased, though, there's been a lot in the papers asking what's the next step for liberals, and for mainstream Christians, that there's been a lot of thought about it all. Bush may call it waffling, but I call it thinking."