Ross Douthat thoughtfully explores (sub. req’d) the accomplishments and failures of religious conservatism and its place within the larger movement today. No longer is it the alienating fire-and-brimstone version of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. They want to change culture at a deeper, yet subtler level:
More broadly, it means finding a rhetorical mode that is moral without being moralistic, religious without being sectarian — and finding a new generation of leaders who are more articulate and less polarizing than the last. More Sam Brownbacks, for instance, whose vision encompasses Third World poverty, prostitution and prison reform without sacrificing any urgency on issues of life and death — and fewer Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells, jowly bigots who seem to think that shaking their fists at America is the best way to persuade it to repent. More artists like Mel Gibson or investors like Philip Anschutz, the Christian billionaire behind “The Chronicles of Narnia,” who are comfortable advancing religious ideas within the confines of the cultural mainstream, and fewer culture warriors who sneer at Hollywood and then churn out dreck like “The Omega Code.” And more women, above all — as speakers, as writers and as candidates for office, so that the next time a president signs a piece of pro-life legislation, he (or she) won’t need to do so on a platform filled with middle-aged men.
This is progress, and it’s not just superficial. The most challenging part of the “culture war” is fought at the cultural, not strictly political, level. Once you reach a point where the fight demands political action, you’ve likely lost in the cultural arena. These changes are significant and bode well for long-term success.