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Morality and Political Ideology in America

ED GORDON, host:

Here to continue the conversation is Melissa Harris Lacewell. She's an assistant professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the author of the book "Barbershops, Bibles, and BET."

Melissa, good to have you with us.

Ms. MELISSA HARRIS LACEWELL (University of Chicago): Nice to be here.

GORDON: You heard what the president had to say there. Do you agree that fundamentalism to a great degree has taken over political reasoning?

Ms. LACEWELL: Well, I certainly think that what his new text does is point out the fundamental lie that's underlying an administration which uses a rhetoric of a culture of life while perpetuating policies of death. In other words, he really calls into question, what are true Christian values? Where is the concept of humility? Where is the idea of service? This notion that religiosity means is to be somehow absolutely sure of one's own moral righteousness rather than recognizing that what true religiosity is is not that kind of fundamentalism but a fundamental adherence to the kind of, again, humility that has always marked President Carter's career.

GORDON: Faith and religion have always played a huge role in politics, particularly in the African-American community. Can you have it both ways? Don't you have to take the good and the bad if you're going to walk that fine line?

Ms. LACEWELL: Well, I think we always have to take the good and the bad in both politics and religion. It's why no one should talk about either one of these topics over Thanksgiving dinner. But that said, I think it's really important for us to recognize that just like there are is good and bad information about, for example, going to war, there is good and bad theology. One cannot simply read the Gospel of Jesus Christ any way that you want to. There are underlying messages there about love, about peace, about support for those who have less than us. And in fact, many of the evangelical Christians, which are currently politicized on the Republicans right, will find themselves in conflict with their own religious values in ways that I think over the next 10 years, are going to challenge the Republican Party's current coalition. These people are actually deeply egalitarian. They do understand this notion of good news to the poor and the brokenhearted. And eventually, if the Democratic Party can redefine moral values as being about peace, human rights, poverty and the environment, these are exactly the voters that will jump ship.

GORDON: Melissa, with about a minute left, we do see a growing arm of black fundamentalists, many of them conservative. Is this a good thing or a bad thing in terms of just diversity within the black community?

Ms. LACEWELL: Well, black fundamentalism has normally meant actually a pretty liberationist reading of the Bible. What we see now is prosperity Gospel, which is not quite the same thing as fundamentalism, and that looks more to me actually like careerism on the part of individual powerful ministers. And it's up to black church-goers to keep that in check.

GORDON: All right. Melissa Harris Lacewell teaches political science at the University of Chicago. She also the author of the book "Barbershops, Bibles, and BET."

Melissa, always good to have you with us. Appreciate it.

Ms. LACEWELL: Thank you.

GORDON: All right.

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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