Monday, March 21, 2005

The Religious Left

There has been a lot of discussion since the presidential election about the role of religion in the Democratic party, due in large part to a belief that values determined the lection (despite the fact that the empiical evidence does not support this belief). On one side, people like Amy Sullivan have been arguing that the secular left should do more to embrace the religious left. On the other side, people like PZ Myers have argued that the religious left has been so impotent that embracing them would be counterproductive. Then there's a third position, voiced well by Mike the Mad Biologist (link via Siris) which argues that they're both wrong, because they focus exclusively on the Christian left, and thus ignore the other major religious group that has been important to the Democratic party, the Jewish left.

While I think that the third position makes a very valid and important point which could be made about virtually every discussion of religion and politics, on both the left an the right, namely that the discussants tend to ignore the many differences between various religious groups on both sides, I ultimately don't understand the purpose of the discussion. How, exactly, should we go about embracing the religious left, be it the Christian or Jewish left? Should we make policy concessions, for instance? On the question of abortion, perhaps? Or gay marriage? Or religion in the public sphere (schools, courthouses, etc.)? The answer to this has to be no. We shouldn't compromise our values simply to make the members of religious groups who agree with us on other issues happy.

Thankfully, this doesn't seem to be what Sullivan, at least, is arguing for. She wants the Democratic party to do more than simply give a nod to the religious. And with this, I have no problem, as long as it doesn't involve compromising the values of the secular left. I have no problem with highlighting the fact that there are plenty of Christians who believe that the positions of the religious right are, in fact, anti-Christian, or at least inconsistent with Christian values. I have no problem with a political candidate who is Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim, or Wicca, for all I care) openly stating this, and making it part of his or her campaign. It would be nice if the religious left, particularly the Christian left, got off its ass and started calling the religious right on its backwards, intolerant, and often inhuman bullshit. If the Democratic party paying attention to the religious left helps them to do this, and thereby gets many Christians who don't vote Democrat to see that they actually hold the values that the religious and secular left share, that's a good thing.


Mike the Mad Biologist said...

I have two ways to reach out to the religious left:

1) don't needlessly denigrate religion. I will attack biblical literalism and other theological nonsense with the best of them. But some non-religious people say really stupid things (by stupid I mean offensive and inaccurate). One of the points of my post was to point out that 'religious' isn't synonymous with Falwell et al.

2) Having been educated both religiously and as a scientist, I find the language that the two groups use sometimes results in pointless alienation. I'm seeing it now with the Schiavo situation: many of the 'pull-the-pluggers' are making the argument that the government should butt out of these decisions (for the record, I agree wholeheartedly). Unfortunately, the moral arguments have been made far less often (e.g., it's cruel to her husband, offering false hope, elevating an intolerant ideology above basic decency, etc.). Many 'religious' people respond to the moral arguments, and some (many?) secular people either feel uncomfortable or aren't fluent in making these arguments in a 'religious' tone (the opposite of this inadequacy was Martin Luther King, for example).

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