May 19, 2006

"The thing about the left is that they want everybody to feel good."

Said the Rev. Tony Campolo, the liberal Baptist minister (who was once an advisor to President Clinton). Commenting on the Spiritual Activism Conference, he was trying to explain why the religionists on his side aren't as effective as the religionists of the right. "We didn't get on the same page with everyone, and it is about getting on the same page."

You see, the left values pluralism, and this virtue of theirs is what holds them back:
Turnout at the Spiritual Activism Conference is high, but if the gathering is any indication, the biggest barrier for liberals may be their regard for pluralism: for letting people say what they want, how they want to, and for trying to include everyone's priorities, rather than choosing two or three issues that could inspire a movement.
Well, the liberal attitude about religion probably ought to lead you to want to keep religion out of politics, but, as the participants at the conference realize, if you do that, you sacrifice some clout at election time. The other side is using religion, so we're fools if we don't do it too. But liberals tend to notice and be offended by the use of religion for political purposes, so there really is a double bind here.
[Rabbi Michael Lerner of the magazine Tikkun] called on the activists at All Souls Church to define progressive faith, rather than have politicians do it. He said research begun years ago showed that Americans were experiencing a deep spiritual crisis but that only conservative Christians had responded to it, with an agenda that he said "backs the ethos of selfishness and materialism in our society."

"They get away with this because the left isn't even in the relevant ballpark," Rabbi Lerner said. When people on the left "hear talk of a spiritual crisis, they think it's some kind of New Age flakery or a code word for homophobia, sexism and racism," he said.

He urged participants to offer a real alternative to the ideas that many conservative Christian groups promulgate. But identifying those alternatives proved to be the hard part for many at the conference.

Mr. Campolo, the Baptist minister, explained to the participants in a seminar that many people on Capitol Hill were religious, and that to reach them and to establish authority, liberals should rely on the Bible.

"You have no right to be a spiritual leader if you haven't read Scripture," he told the group. "People in Congress respect the Book, even if they don't know what it says. If we don't recognize this, we don't know squat."

A young man with long hair and a tunic challenged Mr. Campolo.

"I thought this was a spiritual progressives' conference," he said. "I don't want to play the game of 'the Bible says this or that,' or that we get validation from something other than ourselves. We should be speaking from our hearts."
This really is a difficult problem for liberals, but it is also a problem for conservatives. I think the key is to respect religion, but not to use it directly in politics. Religion can help individuals and religious groups identify values that motivate them to work in the political sphere, but their political goals should then be framed in a way that will not require them to rely on religious belief to persuade the rest of us to vote with them. I wish both liberals and conservatives would try to do that. I'm severely put off by the grasping after political power that comes in the form of religion.


Simon said...

"I thought this was a spiritual progressives' conference," he said. "I don't want to play the game of 'the Bible says this or that,' or that we get validation from something other than ourselves. We should be speaking from our hearts."

I hesitate to say it, since presumably Christians don't need advice from non-Christians about how to be a Christian, but this just seems so totally wrongheaded. Christianity is not some touchy-feely "speak from your heart" new age mysticism, it's a religion. That religion involves accepting some commands. Religion shouldn't just be a spiritual ratification of your own proclivities; from time to time, religion is going to be tough. It's going to challenge you. I think the Minister is much more on the right track; you start with the belief of Jesus' divinity, and from there, to scripture. As I had understood it, Christianity isn't about speaking from your heart, it's about remaking your heart into something that as closely resembles Jesus' heart as is possible.

Simon said...

Dave said...
"I hate the politicization of religion."

See, this is something that people on the left keep repeating, and with all due respect, I just think it's asinine. Politics rests on morality, and you cannot - cannot - have strong religious beliefs without those beliefs affecting your sense of morality. Even if your political beliefs are basically just untempered pragmatism, a belife in doing what's fair, there is no single, platonic concept of "fair" - there are many different conceptions of "fairness" in any given circumstance, and which you choose is based again on your own sense of moality. To think otherwise is just absurd; if you are a Christian, and a member of the Senate, and you believe that when the bible says "thou shalt not kill", you are obligated to vote for a bill abolishing the death penalty, or to have some coherent explanation why not, even if only for your own private gratification.

As John Kotter has written:
"People change what they do less because they are given an analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truththat influences their feelings . . . [I]f you want to motivate people to alter the way they do things, you can't just rely on numbers, charts and reports to convince them that change is necessary. You have to speak to their emotions."

I'm Full of Soup said...

Simon is correct.

Religion by definition refers to a set of beliefs. The libs have no tolerance for defined beliefs or values unless they are "left" undefined. They tend to sneer at religions. So they can wring their hands all they want but it ain't gonna work.

Beth said...

I'd like to talk about this but I'm too busy preparing for the tsunami Rev. Pat says is coming.

JohnF said...

This is an area where it is important to draw very careful distinctions.

A devotion to religious principles is a perfectly sound basis for making political judgments, as is a devotion to, say, making money, making the world green, favoring the right to choose for women, etc., etc. We should not criticize religious zealots for voting their conscience any more than we criticise anyone else for voting his.

Now advance to the next square. What do we say to the person elected to office who holds such views? Of course, the Constitution intrudes here with the Establishment Clause, but short of the office holder violating that provision, how much can his religious views influence his governmental conduct? We don't have a problem with other strongly held belief sets (women's rights, climate issues, etc.) influencing that behavior (I'm not saying we can't disagree on a given policy on the merits, but only that we can't reasonably object to the propriety of the office holder advocating his position).

Many people who disagree on the merits with some religion-based proposition argue the much stronger--and, I think, erroneous--position that the advocate should not be permitted to make his argument, that somehow the ORIGIN of his belief should influence whether he is permitted to advance it. I don't think that is right.

Plainly, these are difficult issues--made no less difficult by the fact that there is a lot to recommend in various religious dogmata, and by the history of politics in this country which was never very far from those principles.

Ann Althouse said...

Scott: Are you trying to disagree with me? Because that sounds the same as the last paragraph of my post.

KCFleming said...

I would suggest that the religionists on the left aren't as effective as those of the right precisely becasue of the influence of Marx. Socialism, whether the globalist type of Stalin, or the softer UK type of the 60s, or India in the 80s, is atheistic in its Marxist roots. "Opiate of the people" and all that.

As a result it is inherently unable to countenance religion in its midst. It barely tolerates those more primitive paganists, i.e. the modern earth-worshippers. Institutional religions are its antithesis, requiring obeisance to a dogma other than socialism.

Therefore, it cannot permit religion to hold sway. Instead, the patronizing nod given to non-atheists is one might give to children still believing in Santa Claus. The left's only concern here is how to use religion politically. Whatever the hell it is, just use it for the benefit of the party.

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that one reason that you can't exclude religion from politics is that our religion is a significant part of who we are.

But I see the left here being stuck between competing theories or theologies. There is a much more progressive theology - and it is not surpising that the clergy of the more traditional Protestant denominations (plus, I think a lot of lower level Catholic clergy) are fairly liberal. And I think a lot come to it from a sympathetic point of view - that our mission should be to help those less fortunate than us. That is something few of us can disagree with.

As to the commandment not to kill (or murder), I would think that the Iraq war might be attacked from this point of view, as elective (which I diagree with, but that is not relevant here). This would also seem to translate into opposition to the death penalty (but the, of course, you have to address abortion).

But I think that one reason that this doesn't resonate with the masses is that it gets mixed in with the other messages on the left, for example, that all sets of values are equivalent. And, I think that the more religious one is, often the less that one believes this. After all, if it doesn't matter what you believe, then why are you spending so much time and energy believing it and practicing your religion? Because it does matter.

Bruce Hayden said...

I will admit being the type of conservative who isn't totally comfortable with the Religious Right. Not that I disagree with them strongly theologicially (though I do disagree somewhat), but rather, that, to me, religion is fairly personal, and shouting it out bothers me.

I don't disagree with trying to proselytizing, but rather, that those shouting their religion the loudest seem often to have clay feet. It is this sanctimony that bother me the most.

I think sanctimony bothers a lot of people. Yes, much of what is said by the Religious Right is not that, but enough is that it turns off a lot of people.

Note that I, and a lot of others I think, get turned off by sanctimony and hypocracy on both sides of the divide. The left is, if anything, even worse here, than the right.

Palladian said...

"I think sanctimony bothers a lot of people.

I think this is a very American characteristic. As you mention I don't think sanctimony is the sole province of religious conservatives either. In fact, it's always been one of the things that most turned me off about the left and "progressivism", the idea that everything in politics and life is a grave moral imperative. I don't want to "think globally and act locally" when I'm ordering a burrito.

I dislike emotionalism and appeals to emotion in politics. All politicals of all stripes play these games, but it's especially bad when religion is thrown into the mix. I used to go to a very liberal Christian church, but eventually it seemed that the religious component was merely a justification for the liberal, social justice component of the group. This is how I feel about religion and politics as it is discussed in this article, and as it is played out among some conservatives as well. It seems to be used as a cynical tool, a way to make your policy beliefs unquestionable by connecting them to the absolutism of a deity's commandments rather than to reason.

Also, avoid people with long hair dressed in tunics unless you're at a Renaissance festival, which is a place you also might want to avoid.

David A. Carlson said...

John is correct -

Mary Ann Glendon said (wrote) it well in discussing the same issue

"That’s what citizens do in a democracy—we propose, we give reasons, we vote. It’s a very strange doctrine that would silence only religiously grounded moral viewpoints"

If you don't like what I say or how I vote, choose differently. Criticise me. But don't tell me I do not have a right to those things I do in the political system.

David A. Carlson said...

Jim said...
"Mary Magdalene, former prostitute"?

Huh? Where's the Bible say that?

That would be nowhere.

David A. Carlson said...

Tony Campolo - a "liberal" baptist minister?

Depends on how you define liberal. Compared to your average Unitarian Universalist, he is anything but. Compared to your average uber IFB sockpuppet, liberal. But that is definately a description which really says nothing about TC.

Dwight said...

"But liberals tend to notice and be offended by the use of religion for political purposes."

They do tend to find their way to the pulpits just before elections, however.

Although I guess that isn't using religion, it's pandering to it.

sean said...

What's interesting to me is that there is a substantial correlation between what are called liberal (i.e., not strongly orthodox or supernaturalist) and liberal (i.e., leftist) political beliefs, and similarly on the conservative side. (Thus the liberal religious groups are meeting in a Unitarian church.) Yet there isn't, to me, any logically necessary correlation between religious and political views of this nature, and there are certainly individual exceptions. So why is there such a strong overall correlation?

I'm Full of Soup said...

That was an absolutely excellent dissection of whites who dominate MSM and other elitist white libs.

Their common trait is a superior attitude that can not believe how dumb, racist whatever others are.

Bissage said...

What Brendan said!

Yet again.


Simon said...

"I don't think politics should have anything to do with morality. I don't have space to present my fully fleshed set of principles for law making, but the most important is protecting the freedom of individuals to make decisions, balanced against the needs of the community as a whole"

And what is it that leads you to the conclusion that "protecting the freedom of individuals to make decisions, balanced against the needs of the community as a whole" are the most important principles of governance?

I don't think that your general statement of principles is totally at odds with the idea of politics being based on morality, I think it confirms it. I have serious doubts that you can answer my question above without eventually drilling down to what you presumably think is bedrock: fairness. And I have already addressed the relationship of fairness to morality.

I don't have to make it "seem' self-evident: it IS self-evident - to anyone who, frankly, isn't entirely deluding themselves - that you can't separate politics from morality.

Beth said...

Elizabeth's seemingly gut reaction is typical of the left: Pat Robertson is a fool, therefore God sucks.

Johnny, Pat Robertson is an idiot; is that point even in dispute? However, you have no clue as to my religious beliefs, because they are not expressed in my comment.

I am, however, very concerned by your comment linking making fun of Pat Robertson with making fun of God.

Beth said...

Johnny, you are wrong.

First: "Your point is clear: Because there are religious wackos, religion is wacko." How do you plan to demonstrate that I've made such a point. It's illogical. Why would religion be whacko because some public religious figures are whacko? Nonsense. You're simply projecting your own stereotypes here.

Second, you get one thing right in your biography of me. I went to college. That's it. Sure, I studied history, including of religions. Very little Marx; I've never read Das Kaptital, for instance. I'm not a Marxist. If you've actually studies Eastern religions you could not come to the conclusion that they're any less problematic than Western ones. And if you've studies religion of any type, you'd be able to make the distinction between criticizing a religious figure and criticizing a deity, or the concept of religion.

You'd do well to figure that out. Calling Robertson a gassy asshat says nothing, nothing whatsoever, about religion.

Beth said...

"studies" should be "studied"--my d key is sticking.

Beth said...

Johnny, are you kidding? You're making all sorts of assumptions about my religious faith, which is not your business, based on my calling Robertson an idiot. You built up some ridiculous biography out of your fevered imagination about liberals, and I'm telling you, you're offbase. That's it. I won't explain, defend, or make a testimony to you about my religion. I will assert that jumping from "Pat Robertson is a jerk" to "God is a jerk" is illogical. Your interpretation wouldn't be any more or less logical if I were Jewish, Christian or Scientologist.

Simon said...

" I studied history, including of religions. Very little Marx; I've never read Das Kaptital, for instance. I'm not a Marxist."

I would be willing to bet that MOST people who are Marxists (or adherents of any other Marx-derived left wing philosophy) have never read Das Kapital either. And if they have then they certainly haven't compared it to The Wealth of Nations, because if they had, of course, they wouldn't be Marxists.

Beth said...

Johnny: "Rightly or wrongly, I was attibuting the non-logic to you." That would be wrongly. I offered Pat Roberton up as an example of those who use religion as a way of grasping for power. You've gone off on a tear, unrelated to my comment, about how leftists, represented by me argue that because a religious figure is a wacko, God is dumb and religion is bad.

You're out of your mind. I did not argue any such thing. I am not interested in the rest of your wild theories on the religious paths of people on political left, and in particular my own. I don't find it uncomfortable to talk about faith. I'm just not going to talk to you about it for two reasons: first, my faith or lack of faith has nothing to do with the meaning or vailidity of my comment on Robertson, and two, because you have no purpose other than to pounce on and misinterpret what I say. Go, and sin no more.