Joe Carter has a beautiful post on the religious right that I feel compelled to echo. Joe and I both consider ourselves part of the religious right under a broad reading of that term. We're both political conservative, religious conservative, and evangelical Christians. His post is what follows the 'but' in a "yes, but..." attitude that he frequently finds himself having in response to what many on the religious right have to say.
I especially appreciate his desire to see people on the religious right beginning to recognize that things that are of political importance should not be equated with the primary purpose of Christians, who ought (according to the words of Jesus and several apostles) to consider their primary identity in the kingdom of God, which is the rule of God in the lives of believers in a way that influences society but is not about making people carry the outward trappings of faith without the faith itself. Several ways the religious right leaders express themselves seem to me to contradict the very purpose for God to have believers engaged with non-Christian culture, and sometimes I think actual views (or at least emphasis on certain views and not on others) stands in stark contrast to biblical views or emphases (with homosexuality as the most obvious case, something I wish Joe had said something about, but I'll come back to that at the end).
A couple places I might say things differently (or perhaps you could think of these as my "yes, but ..." back to Joe):
1. The wrongness of torture
The religious right should be firmly against torture in general, but I don't think we should concede it as an absolute. It's rare in this life that torture is morally ok, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's always immoral. It's worth keeping that in mind in case those rare cases do occur. Of course, Christians shouldn't think torture is in itself immoral anyway, at least if they believe in hell. It's just that only a perfectly just and perfectly good being would know for sure when justice requires it, and any time we think it might be ok needs to be considered with the utmost seriousness and recognition that if we get it wrong we're doing something very bad.
2. The definition of 'torture'
It's true that we should figure out how to define 'torture' in a way consistent with human dignity. But I would insist that many of the things that are being called torture admit of degrees of badness, and the kinds that are more extreme admit of fewer exceptions, while those that are less severe will have more instances when they are not wrong but perhaps even the correct moral choice. As with most moral distinctions, torture isn't simply the sort of thing where you can give necessary and sufficient conditions for when something counts as torture. What we might want to do is itemize certain techniques that are inconsistent with human dignity, while suggesting at which kinds of things in general are like that for similar reasons, giving some suggestions as to how to decide hard cases that haven't occurred to us yet. But we really need to be careful not to overstate the case.
My general reaction to most of the debate so far is that those who are critical of the current administration are just assuming that anything that causes pain or distress counts as torture, in which case it's highly question-begging to conclude that it will be automatically wrong to do it. If it's genuinely torture, then most people will say that it's probably wrong to use it except in particularly urgent cases. But some of the techniques under discussion might be borderline cases. No one seems to be arguing for the conclusion that these are torture with anything like a philosophical argument. While I would like the religious right to be very firm that genuine torture is usually very wrong, I don't want it to be at the expense of the ethical discussion that hasn't yet happened about which particular cases are wrong and why.
3. Responding to theocratophobia
I agree that anyone who says the religious right is trying to create a theocracy is thoroughly mistaken. I also agree that it's often a desperate attempt to create a term that has the same silencing effect as charging someone with racism or sexism. I consider such tactics thoroughly immoral when the person doing it knows better, and those who do so out of ignorance really are thoroughly negligent in understanding their ideological opponents. I also agree with Joe that we have wasted far too much time on this. I don't, however, think we should respond by calling such people idiots. I don't think that's likely to do anything other than further the stereotype that the religious right like to call names and assert assumptions instead of engaging in rational argument, thus confirming what they erroneously believe to begin with. A better response would be to show by argument how idiotic such notions are, which will have the effect of demonstrating how people who make those charges are the ones who call names and assert assumptions instead of engaging in rational argument. This is one case when "speaking to the fool according to his folly" seems to me to be more on the end of becoming like him rather than preventing him from being wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 24:4-5).
4. Persuading those who disagree
I especially like Joe's comments at the end about translating. It's one thing to speak what we believe to be true as what we believe to be true. It's quite another to expect them to believe it without going way back into the more fundamental structures in their belief system. It does indeed move in the direction of giving the appearance of theocracy (but I don't think it gets even to the appearance of genuine theocracy) if we think that all we need to say to convince non-Christian people of Christian moral assumptions is to point out that the Bible teaches those assumptions. I don't have as much hope as Joe seems to for the possibility of doing what he suggests on every issue.
For example, I think there is some reason not to consider male-female relations to be absolutely symmetrical and egalitarian (e.g. the general size and strength differences contribute along with social factors from a history of sexist power structures to make issues of consent much less clear for women in sexual matters than it is with men). But I don't think there's much available in natural revelation to argue for the specifically complementarian model of marriage or church leadership that I think scripture teaches.
Similarly, I think that, given certain moral assumptions that are far more common than pro-life views in the general populace, it follows that abortion is wrong far more often than the general populace seems to me to take it to be wrong. Yet I also think the pro-choice view has resources to avoid that conclusion by denying the assumptions that happen to be popular that most people fail to connect up with abortion. In such situations, there isn't a lot of room for convincing someone of something that I think is morally wrong enough to justify laws. Those who resist thinking it's wrong will not be convinced by mere argument, and that shouldn't stop me from pursuing a change in the legal status of abortion or politicians and judicial authorities from doing what seems right to them if they have similar views.
Christians really ought to develop a biblically-based worldview that then informs their moral thinking. Moral thinking will inevitably inflence which sorts of political policies one finds most attractive. Many of the moral issues at stake here are just cases where people who disagree on the particular moral acts are coming from very different moral assumptions on a more fundamental, theoretical level (whether they have thought about it on that level or not). Issues such as which beings at which stages in their development have what kind of moral status don't seem to me to be easily argued, because eventually you just get back to fundamental disagreements where neither side really has an argument. It just seems that a certain moral intuition is correct. The other side says the opposite.
Of course a human organism with its own DNA and internal mechanisms for development given the proper environment counts as a human being with moral status. Or of course it doesn't. But that issue goes back to what it is to have moral rights, and you're not going to be presenting evidence for anything having or not having moral status. Despite the contention of many on the left, there is no evientially-based argument for the view that greater complexity is equivalent with moral status, and thus both positions are in the same category with respect to convincing the other side. You can present evidence that a fetus at a certain stage has a certain level of complexity, but the moral status issue is orthogonal to the facts about we learn about fetuses in science. The moral premises can't be argued for with evidence.
That leaves us voting with our conscience on such issues. It leaves political decision-makers or members of legislative bodies doing the same thing. Something that's as wrong as pro-life people think abortion is ought to be prohibited even if 40% of the population thinks it should be allowed. Those who disagree ought to consider what the murder laws should be if 40% of the population thought we should be able to kill anyone under the age of ten with impunity. I think we should still outlaw it, or at least those who know it to be wrong should pursue such laws even if courts continually go against them.
As I said at the outset., I very much agree with what Joe has written on the whole, and I'm glad he said what he had to say. I'm just not sure we should let such statements be taken as concessions on some of these things (and I'm sure he'd agree with at least some of what I've said here).
Concluding note on homosexuality
I do want to come back to the one thing I think Joe's post should have included that he didn't say much about. His one reference to homosexuality was as an example of something rational arguments might establish about the harm of gay marriage on society. I frankly haven't bothered to follow most of those arguments, though I have seen enough to know that there is a debate about whether they show much. The reason I haven't followed them isn't because I think there's little hope for such arguments to show that gay marriage has bad consequences (though I'm not sure at all that they will show much). The real reason I don't tend to bother much with that kind of reasoning is because I don't think this is the kind of issue Christians should be as concerned about, even if it does have some bad consequences on society. That reason isn't because Christians shouldn't be concerned with such consequences. Consequences should inform out political thinking (though they are never the only consideration and are sometimes trumped by more important considerations). It's rather because I think the religious right has turned this issue into something it shouldn't be, and I think that tendency needs to be reversed and rethought before Christians should be saying much else on the issue.
What has happened with this issue is very interesting to me as an observer of social trends. As we were driving home from eating out yesterday, we turned the radio on in the middle of a Selected Shorts piece on NPR. The short story involved a woman who was a doctor, and it sounded as if the setting might have been 100 years ago or so. What suggested that to me was a statement that people would feel more comfortable thinking that her husband was married to a man than they would thinking that a woman was a doctor. Either could be inferred from the statement that he was married to a doctor, though neither is logically implied by it. At least that's what the story was assuming. Now I couldn't imagine someone saying this nowadays or even as far back as the McCarthy era. People would be fired from government jobs for being homosexuals in the 1940s. Today there's such a fierce animus against gay people among the religious right and (at least in many circles of the religious right) no problem at all with women being doctors. Among those who have objections to both, the former is by far the one viewed as more evil.
That made me think the context must have been more like a century ago. Maybe I'm completely wrong about that, but it occurred to me when I heard that statement that 100 years ago there wasn't this kind of irrational hatred of gay people that seems to me to be driving much of the concern to preserve marriage (as if hasn't already been pretty much plundered of all that Christianity had contributed to it that was of spiritual significance). It's always been true that heterosexual men consider the idea of anal sex to be disgusting. That wasn't any different a century ago. But gay people were viewed as eccentric perverts who did something disgusting and even morally wrong. They weren't viewed as the height of all evil. They weren't viewed as trying to take something good away from heterosexual families. They weren't viewed as if their sin were somehow worse than the extremely common sins of fornication, adultery, and divorce that are prevalent enough among heterosexuals on the religious right. (Look at the candidates for the Republican nomination for 2008. The joke that's been going around is that one of the few with only one wife is the Mormon.)
Yet what has happened now is that homosexuality has been elevated to the height of all evil. No one would actually say this out loud, but the venom that comes from the religious right on this issue does not seem to me to be justified by the official views of the people who are spouting it forth. I'm not talking about the "God hates fags" people. I'm talking about those who make gay marriage out to be the end of all that's good in marriage. I'm talking about those who refuse to call a family the only family a kid adopted by a gay couple has ever had. I'm talking about those who say very little about the sins they are tempted toward (or even engage in) but who have a lot to say about homosexuality. I'm talking about those who think they have a right to have the government establish something that is really a Christian covenant, which sounds an awful lot to me like establishment of religion. Yet the religious right seems to prefer to have the government deciding which religious views about marriage we should be holding, and it does so in langage that seems to me to disguise an issue of which policy has the best consequences with language that makes it sound as if the end of civilization itself is at stake. I think that's very much the wrong direction for Christians to be going in.