Ed Driscoll

Dispatches from the Religious Left

Back in 2010, when Keith Olbermann was still on MSNBC, before he wore out his welcome at yet another cable network, we had a lot of fun comparing his fire and brimstone style to another hypocritical podium thumper,  Sinclair Lewis’ 1920s Elmer Gantry character. But while Keith has since left MSNBC for even lower ratings,  that old-time religion continues to emanate from the GE subsidiary’s studios:

MSNBC’s newest host, leftist professor Melissa Harris-Perry debuts Saturday morning, creating an actual four-hour block for the radicals at The Nation magazine. Harris-Perry is on the cover of this week’s Metro Weekly, a gay D.C. news magazine. At the end of the interview with Chris Geidner, there’s this whopper: her bible is written by Al Sharpton and Rachel Maddow.

“Undoubtedly, a little bit of both. Look, I love Politics Nation with Al Sharpton and The Rachel Maddow Show. And, I can’t think of two shows on the same network that are more different in tone and content.” Then she said: “I see them as my Old Testament and New Testament. I really need them both. I need to smite my enemies, and I need to understand them. And then I need to smite them, and then understand them. I probably will do a little bit of both on my show.”

But how can MSNBC be the Old and New Testament, when there’s the New York Times, and Jill Abramson, its latest editor, who famously said last year:

Ms. Abramson said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like “ascending to Valhalla.”

“In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion,” she said. “If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.”

The paper of “absolute truth” quickly airbrushed out the above uber-embarrassing quote from its then-incoming editor’s press release. But still, as Daniel J. Flynn wrote in 2008′s A Conservative History of the American Left:

Before the religious Right, there was a religious Left. The twentieth-century American Left got ideas from Karl Marx; the nineteenth-century American Left, from Jesus Christ.

“Religious Left” strikes contemporary ears as an oxymoron. Could Michael Moore, Bill Maher, or Susan Sarandon venture inside a church without melting? There are the reverends Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barry Lynn, but they preach politics. The hostility to religion often associated with the Left was not always so pronounced. Indeed, Christianity once served as the primary influence upon American leftists. Its influence on early American leftists was so profound that it put its stamp on their decidedly irreligious offspring. Secular reformers admired the sacrifice and the communal unity of the early religious fanatics but not, generally, the religious beliefs. Religion and politics mixed in the Social Gospel, whose enthusiasts ultimately reached for more social, less gospel. What emerged was a political religion, or, perhaps more accurately, a religious politics. The secular kept the forms without the function. They promised salvation, exalted saints, pursued heretics, revered holy books, enforced dogma, viewed history teleologically, and acted with a self-righteousness generally confined to the elect and an ends-justifies-the-means mentality characteristic of millennial deliverers. They lost faith in God, but not faith itself.

Or to paraphrase Mark Knopfler, two women say their “news” organizations are Jesus. One of them must be wrong.