My Take: Culture war overtakes budget battle
An antiabortion ran in several publications on Thursday.
April 8th, 2011
09:15 AM ET

My Take: Culture war overtakes budget battle

Editor's Note: Stephen Prothero, a Boston University religion scholar and author of "God is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World," is a regular CNN Belief Blog contributor.

By Stephen Prothero, Special to CNN

Anyone who still believes that the Tea Party is about economics is not paying attention to what Tea Party partisans are drinking.

When it comes to money, the difference between the budgets that Democrats and Republicans want are miniscule - a few billion or so in a budget that will eventually come in at roughly $3.8 trillion. So why is this tiny difference worth shutting down the government? Because this game of chicken is not about money.

The old Religious Right put its cultural agenda front and center. It staked its identity on resisting the sexual libertinism of the 1960s. So it opposed abortion and homosexuality and stem-cell research.

Tea Party partisans have the same cultural agenda, but this incarnation of the Religious Right proceeds by stealth, in this case with riders to a budget bill - riders they know no Democratic president or Senate can ever accept.

So the current stalemate isn’t about the money. It’s about the determination of Republicans to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, National Public Radio and the Environmental Protection Agency - efforts that have absolutely nothing to do with the deficit.

Of all these hot button issues, the hottest concerns Planned Parenthood, a network of approximately 800 women’s health centers.  Some of these centers (fewer than half) offer abortion services, but none actually uses federal funds to perform abortions, since using those funds for that purpose is already illegal.

All told, Planned Parenthood receives $330 million annually from the federal government. Assuming a budget of $3.8 trillion, cutting Planned Parenthood loose would reduce the federal budget by a whopping .0087%. To put that figure in perspective, A proportionate cut in the annual budget of the median American household would save each family a whopping 45 cents per year.

So we are not talking real money here. The ad that ran yesterday in Politico, Roll Call, The Hill and other publications calling for the "privatization" of Planned Parenthood and attacking its founder Margaret Sanger has nothing to do with money. It has everything to do with an effort to revive the culture wars - to return to the bedroom politics of the old Religious Right.

I have no objection to cutting the budget. I am not sure this is the time to do it, given how precarious the economy is. And I do find it hard to take budget cutters seriously when they refuse to consider raising revenues, since when my household budget comes under strain I always try both to cut back on spending and to find a little more income.

But that is not my complaint here. My complaint is that the people the American people have sent to the Capitol to pass a budget are not focusing on that task. They are not following the money to be budgeted for 2011. They are following a script written by social conservatives in the early 1980s.

As the Bible says, there is a time and a place for everything: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Regardless of what you think about the abortion question, you have to admit that this is not the time to revisit that question. It is not the time to debate Planned Parenthood. And it is not the time for an 11th-hour effort to prohibit the District of Columbia from using Medicaid funds to pay for abortions—something all states are permitted to do.

So please don't tell me that the Tea Party is focused like a laser beam on lowering taxes and cutting the budget. And if the government shuts down tonight, please don’t tell me it’s about the money. It’s not the economy, stupid.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Stephen Prothero.

- CNN Belief Blog contributor

Filed under: Abortion • Culture wars • Economy • Opinion • Politics • Tea Party • United States

soundoff (274 Responses)
  1. joe

    Planned parenthood means using a condom.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  2. dean

    To those who think that pp should not be funded, should we fund churches through faith based initiatives?

    April 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Kay

      NO. Churches should NOT be funded through faith-based initiatives. That is not the job of the Federal Government. Churches need to wake up and realize that when you accept favors from the government, that the government is also going to tell you what you can and cannot do – thus the hazards of incorporation and 501(c) 3 issues. If you (as a church) are really who you say you are, you will have no problems thriving no matter what is going on in the economy. God takes care of His own. The sad thing is that there are so many churches who have become nothing more than businesses run by people void of anything resembling God.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:59 pm |
  3. JustSaying

    The point of it all isn't even PP and abortions really – it's about subsidizing businesses the federal government shouldn't even be involved to begin with. Moneys to this organization is disgusting to start with – their primary business isn't women's health, it's about profit. Selling birth control pills and condoms aren't going to cut it.

    Either way, this subsidy as well as thousands of more have no business being funded by the any part of the federal budget. The line in the sand is that it's time for everyone's little pet projects to stand on their own or go the way of the dodo bird.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • evensteven

      For example, what about the pet project "War on Drugs?" Why is what I do with my body any concern of the government, as long as I am not infringing on the rights of others?

      April 8, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Kay

      Excellent point - and my point exactly. The tendency of these pet projects to be abused is tremendous... and we all know it happens. No one or corporation should get preferential treatment. Period. The Federal Gov't should not be funding corporations.

      April 8, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
  4. David Johnson


    You said: " God doesn't get His nature from someplace else. God's nature just "is".

    Hmm... But, wouldn't that mean that "good" or "right" is anything that conforms to the nature and will of God and evil or "wrong" is that which does not conform to the nature and will of God?

    Would god ever command evil or wrong doing?

    I will look later this evening for your reply

    April 8, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
  5. Ben Jordan

    It amazes me that the GOP cheerleaders always point out how "liberal" professors are... it's like they enjoy pointing out that if you are educated, you are more likely to be liberal... I think conservatives should pay attention to that fact...

    April 8, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
    • Another Larry

      They believe education is for the weak-minded who can't just use the Force to know everything.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  6. Shane

    Catholics are funding this, that much seems clear. And they are using that money to bribe our legislators, which is illegal even though they now call it "free speech".
    They are trying to distract everyone from their pedo-priest CHURCH by going after stuff that doesn't even exist!
    Burn the Catholics at the stake of legislation today! Tell your congresspeople that Catholics are NOT running this country and they can leave if they want a theocracy.
    Down with the Catholic Church! Destroy the twisted and delusional perverts who do not observe our American rights!
    Jesus damn them all to hell!

    April 8, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  7. joe wilson

    this stephen guy is a total retard. plain and simple. obviously a facked up socialist that sucks the teet of government. i'm perfectly fine watching the bottom 99% of society wallow in their filth. as long as they keep showing up to work in the morning i don't give a deyum what they whine about.

    April 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
  8. Free Thinker Seeking Reason

    Please let this be the beginning of the end that is the white supremist Tea Party bowel movement, conservative Republicans who legally rob from the poor and middle classes to make the rich much richer, and theocratic ideologues who want to police everyone's bedroom to their own narrow, religiously delusional "standards". America sees clearly now the pure evil that you are. Good riddance, and don't bother ever coming back. You have severely overplayed your hand and forfeited your place at the bargaining table. You are an intellectual disgrace to your cause and to this great secular nation.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  9. mike

    I think this is correct. the teaparty has never been anything but a subset of the republican party no matter what they say. In CA we see this kind of battle often – republicans don't have the votes to pass their cultural agenda so time and time again they try to use budget matters to accomplish these goals. Don't believe them about the money, think about the Bush administration – they spent like drunken sailors, turned surplus into deficit and none of these folks made a peep about the deficit. Now that we're trying to pull out from that financial catastropy, all we here from them is "we're broke, we're broke!" But you may have noticed that they aren't complaining about the cost in Afganistan, Iraq or Libya. This puts the lie to their sudden interest in the deficit – it's just a talking point.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
  10. fuyuko

    its more a question for me whether the government should be in the business of funding PP.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
  11. Brenda

    If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a god-given right.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:52 pm |
  12. TheWiz71

    Last week, Stephen Fry was interviewed on Canadian radio, in which he urged people not to read the comments section of any website, just to look at the main article. Most of these comments are case in point as to why.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
  13. Angie

    To all Christians: Look around you. The US has more religions than yours. It is not a Christian theocracy. Do not force your beliefs on others. If you do so, you're no better than those you condemn. Don't believe this? Pray harder and you'll see.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  14. TheFreeThinker

    I am pro choice and have donated to Planned PArenthood in the past, but don't want PP to get federal dollars. It's not the government's job to fund PP.

    April 8, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • KateM

      But we can give Government Welfare money to people who live off the system without trying to even get a job??

      April 8, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
  15. ifeelsorry4u

    @derek, I suppose you understood what you typed, I didn't. Are you suffering from failed abortion trauma?

    April 8, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Derek Dominoes

      Yes there were some words in there with more than one syllable, so I can see how you had trouble understanding it.

      April 9, 2011 at 3:03 am |
  16. Claude Fleury

    Abortion Condemnation Is Found Nowhere In The Bible.
    Many Church leaders have been preaching against abortion primarily as a fundraising tool for their pet projects and their own use, or to advance their political agenda, contrary to the Word of God, who gave to mankind total authority over procreation when, in Genesis 1:28, He said, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Nowhere in the Bible did He ever condemn abortion. Church leaders are called to preach the truth.

    Some of them, to mislead the public into believing that God has taken back His word, use the following verse which is about Jesus, our innocent Savior, who was killed by evil and powerful men: The Bible says, “Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you.” (James 5:6 KJV), and in modern English “You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous person. He does not resist you.” (James 5:6 ESV).

    “James 5” is a Bible chapter about mistreatments exerted by the greedy and powerful rich against the poor and the weak and not about the unborn. No one should support a lie, which is contradicting the Word of God.

    Can a pregnant woman receive a birth certificate for the unborn? If she were to fraudulently receive one, then she would be guilty of a crime. Does a farmer count his chickens before they hatch? If he were to accept orders for their immediate delivery, then he could feel the heavy hand of the law. According to the Word of God: “These are the days of the years of Abraham's life, 175 years” (Genesis 25:7 ESV) counted from his birth not from conception.

    A woman is free to either use birth control or to become pregnant after she sleeps with a man, she is also free to get in vitro fertilization help from her doctor and abort the process or her pregnancy any time without being guilty of any crime. Then how do legislators believe that they should legislate against her God-given rights?

    April 8, 2011 at 6:41 pm |
    • ifeelsorry4u

      A woman's god-given right's doesn't include a provision for her to get laid, knocked up and kill an unborn child on the public dime. Show me that quote in the bible, would 'ya? I do recall the biggie "thou shalt not murder".

      April 8, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Derek Dominoes

      @ifeelsorryforyou, would you please list all those god-given rights you are referring to? Show us that quote in the bible. I see I hell of a lot of "don't do that" in the bible, but I don't see anything that looks like a right.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:30 pm |
    • Chandler02

      ifeelsorryforyou, you should be aware that 97% of Planned Parenthood's services do NOT include abortion. They are a woman's health facility that provides cancer screenings for women. 1 in 7 women will get breast cancer in her lifetime. Women NEED access to yearly medical exams.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • Another Larry

      ifeelsorry4u: No federal money is used for abortions, even at Planned Parenthood. Thanks for making it clearly you've been duped by the propaganda on the right.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  17. MarcV

    I'm trying to understand why Stephen Prothero belongs on a blog dedicated to religious beliefs? $330 million is not chump change even it pales next to a $3.8 trillion budget. So all cuts make a difference, particularly for programs not essential to the federal government's role.

    Mr. Prothero clearly reveals his liberal politics when he muses whether cutting the federal budget during a recession is a good thing. He also needlessly whines about the beliefs of people who do care about "social" issues like abortion.

    Let him blog elsewhere, not on a site like this.

    April 8, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Nonimus

      You realize he is a Professor of Religion at Boston University, right?

      April 8, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Luke


      We are not in a recession. GDP has risen each of the last six quarters. GDP fell for six straight quarters starting in March of 2008 through June of 2009. Since then, we've had solid and sustained growth. GDP figures, are in fact, where they were at the peak of the economy in 2006 despite enhanced regulation, banking refurm and healthcare reform. I have no idea what you are talking about, speaking as an economist at a major Wall St. firm.

      Mr. Prothero is a professor of religion. And if he has a liberal bias, it has nothing to do with a belief blog. You are not making one shred of sense, Mark.

      April 8, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • James

      "You realize he is a Professor of Religion at Boston University, right?"

      So what? Most professors are partisan liberals, just like this hack.

      Of course, CNN will only let a screaming liberal make his views known. Typical of CNN's relentless bias.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
    • James

      "You are not making one shred of sense, Mark."

      Actually, he is making plenty of sense. What makes no sense is your statement that this particular liberal partisan also happens to be a professor. So what? So is Paul "Mindless Partisan" Krugman.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Chandler02

      MarcV said, "Mr. Prothero clearly reveals his liberal politics when he muses whether cutting the federal budget during a recession is a good thing". Those are liberal politics, that is common sense. Look at the UK, and ask them how making massive budget cuts in a struggling economy is working out for them. It leads to a double dip. Government should be there during emergency times. Because Bush ran up the deficit when the economy was strong, and as a result our emergency resources are greatly depleted.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:45 pm |
    • DanielM

      Prothero describes himself as "religiously confused".

      April 8, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Another Larry

      The "government's role" is to facilitate the best society possible. As Planned Parenthood provides services benefitting millions of women, supporting it falls under that mandate.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Luke


      Why in the world are you attacking me? I didn't even take a stance. I just stated facts. Do facts get in the way of your argument?

      April 8, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
  18. sh

    Hypocrats?? you must mean "hypocrites"?

    April 8, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
  19. Robert

    As I read some of your comments I have realized that our elected officials truly mirror the diversity and dysfunction of our fellow citizens.

    This is actually very simple ....... This is last years budget ....... It could have been ratified by the Democrats unilaterally before the elections. They did not do this for perceived political benefit. Thus they opened the door to the Republicans to debate and debase the budget.

    This is about leadership or in reality the lack of it. Obama and company pulled no punches when it came to health care reform when they should have applied it to the budget process which should come before anything else.

    We lack leaders in this country to help make the tough decisions happens and sadly I see none on the horizon.

    President Obama please pay attention .......... tough decisions and leadership come before campaigning and philanthropy.

    April 8, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • Mikey

      Not sure that they could have passed it unilaterally as they would not have been able to cut off a Republican filibuster.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Another Larry

      "As I read some of your comments I have realized that our elected officials truly mirror the diversity and dysfunction of our fellow citizens."

      Of course. Who do you think will reelect them?

      The point about the Democrats not passing a budget last year is valid, but at this point that's water under the bridge. At this point Republicans are trying to use the deficit to push their social agenda. They want to punish Planned Parenthood because it uses 2-3% of its resources to perform abortions.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  20. David Johnson


    You said, "I would gladly burn in hell, rather than praise a pathetic god."

    Hmm... Given the choice, praising even a pathetic god, would beat burning for all eternity.

    Be of good cheer! God doesn't exist. Even, a pathetic one.


    April 8, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Artist

      David, heaven appears to be so boring and the ruler a hypocrite I would end up killing myself (attempt to at least) or rebell against the pathetic god.

      April 8, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • W247

      I guess the definition of boredom is really left up to ones own perspective then. What one person would find thrilling, another person would find boring. I hope you always find what thrills you. However, what if heaven was about the things that you did find thrilling? Wouldn't you want to experience that? Not to be heretical,but what if heaven was like the biggest, most awesome thrill park ever created? That would be kinda cool!

      April 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • Artist

      W247, even if heaven was cool, I still could not worship nor respect a god who is not worthy of it. Which means I would be kicked out anyway lol.

      April 8, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • W247


      So if you did find a god that was worthy to your standards, you would worship him? I find that odd since I know my nature is very fickle depending on my "Mood" of the day. I would rather worship a God that was constant and unchangeable – a stable force that wasn't making decisions "on a whim."

      April 8, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • ScottK

      "I would rather worship a God that was constant and unchangeable – a stable force that wasn't making decisions "on a whim."

      Problem is, the only God you know is one other people told you about. They told you heaven would be someplace you would love to be, without even finding out what it is you like, they just say "Its Heaven!" That is unless you have what no one else has which is the ability to actually HEAR your God speaking to you telling you all about heaven. And if that is the case, please seek some help soon.

      April 8, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • asdf

      How dare you insult my sky fairy. Don't you know mine is the correct one and the other 6 billion people are all wrong and going to hell.

      April 8, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.