April 21, 2004

Religion and US leftist politics. Do they mix?

They should, say several bloggers in their reactions to an LA Times column by media critic David Shaw that looked at a full day of programming on the liberal radio network, Air America Radio. Overall, Shaw was unhappy with the network's offerings, calling the programming predicable and not funny, and a disappointment given his high hopes for Air America.

The portion of the column that struck a nerve in some corners of the blogosphere was this:

In a country in which 64% of the public say they attend weekend worship services at least once a month, mocking religion might not be the most effective way to win converts and yet, on Good Friday no less, that's exactly what the various Air America hosts repeatedly did.

Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they're Jewish, and one Marc Maron of the network's "Morning Sedition" program went on to make fun of Easter and Christmas rituals. Then, in a segment he called "morning devotional," Maron began his prayer for divine guidance on behalf of President Bush by saying, "Dear Lord, what the hell is going on up there?"

Another host I think it was Rachel Maddow on "Unfiltered," though I couldn't always distinguish her voice from that of co-host Lizz Winstead called Easter "an odd celebration" and said that a taxi driver had told her that "someone in a Jesus suit" would carry a cross along 42nd Street in New York in a reenactment of the events of Good Friday, "but in this case, he'll stop to buy a fake Louis Vuitton bag."


Over at Just a Bump in the Beltway, Melanie suggests that the US left's myopic view of religion could have serious political consequence in November:

[This] is the kind of stuff which will cost us the next election. A substantial fraction of religious people of any stripe--Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Baha'i, whatever--will be interested in hearing the social justice agenda of the center-left, but not if it includes a substantial dose of religion bashing. I'm much further left than the other poli-bloggers, but this kind of rhetoric offends me. A lot of my politics comes out of my reading of my faith. Don't bash it.

If we truly are a fifty-fifty nation, we are going to need to gather in every possible sympathetic voter. That means making common cause with them rather than making fun of them.

Make sure to read the comments to Melanie's post. Some of them are a good example of the attitudes she's pointing to.

At The Village Gate, Rev. Allen Brill also worries about the way many on the US left deal with religion:

I enjoy religious satire. When the "The Daily Show" does its occasional religion slide show, I think it's funny. But secular progressives who act as if "progressive = secular" are harming the movement and insulting religious progressives who could prove helpful if we are allowed to participate.

As far as Air America Radio goes, Rev. Brill echoes the suggestion of Bill Scher at Liberal Oasis, who thinks suggests [see 1st comment] that the network should start having progressive religious bloggers as guests on its shows (in much the same way as Atrios guests regularly on Janeane Garofalo and Sam Seder's program).

While this magpie isn't particularly religious, and doesn't care much for religious fundamentalism of any stripe, we've noticed that many of our compatriots on the left have exactly the attitude about religion that Melanie, Rev. Brill, and Shaw decry. (To be honest, it's an attitude that we had once, too.) But years of working beside people of faith to fight the wars in Vietnam, Central America, and Iraq, and in the trenches of US community radio have taught us to repsect the commitment, creativity, and persistence that progressive people of faith have brought to that work. Even more importantly, these people showed us that their political work was so good because of their faith, not despite it.

Air America Radio needs to clean up its act. So do US progressives in general.

Posted by Magpie at April 21, 2004 02:44 AM | Faith | Technorati links |

LiberalOasis' role in this is on the verge of being mischaracterized. LO has made no public or private call for more progressive religious bloggers on Air America (not that it would be a bad thing.) LO, who is a regular guest on "The Majority Report", was informally asked to suggest potential bloggers for future guests, and a list was then provided. At least one religious blogger was on that list. No one on that list, of any background, has been on the show as of yet.

Posted by: LiberalOasis at April 21, 2004 04:55 AM


One of the big motivators for starting Bump was the amount of abuse I was taking on the comments threads at Atrios and Kos.

Posted by: Melanie at April 21, 2004 03:43 PM

You know, I kind of found the stuff on Air America refreshing and funny. But then, I don't have any kind of religion and have little if any understanding of those who do. As far as I'm concerned, Christianity, Buddhism, what-have-you is all right up there with Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I can understand why people embrace it, because I've felt the urge myself to cling to some reassuring belief, but that urge doesn't make any of the dozens of conflicting, contradictory beliefs true. So I realize that even though I have the urge and sometimes even the desire to believe, the universe isn't here to reassure me and doesn't give a damn whether I'm comfortable.

I extend that realization to everyone else. I really consider religion to be childish. I understand that pretty much every religious person who reads that will be insulted by it, but them's the breaks. It's exactly the same kind of thing as a child believing in Santa Claus, it's reassuring and magical for the child but that doesn't make it true, and when the child grows up she will discover that the world just doesn't work that way. Unless, of course, he decides to falsify his perception of reality with the babblings of the deluded.

In this situation, I sometimes feel that I'm a minority of one. So one may be able to understand that, while you decry the attitude toward religion on Air America, I found it delightfully refreshing. Of course, it's certainly true that it is a viewpoint that is unpopular, particularly in this country, to the point that G.H.W. Bush exclaimed that he considered people like me not even to be citizens. (And I'm sure that his son shares that sentiment.) So, to gain listeners, should those running the show at Air America compromise their principles?

According to you and to Melanie, yes.

Posted by: Frank at April 22, 2004 04:13 AM


First, full disclosure- I'm a "Christian progressive."

OK, now that we've gotten that out of the way-

Precisely what principles would have been "compromised" if Air America had not spoofed religion on its Good Friday show? Is it somehow "anti-progressive" to show courtesy and respect for someone else's religious beliefs, or at least not go out of your way to ridicule them?

I realize that some Fundocrat antics are just too bizarre not to lampoon, but lampooners should make sure that the baby isn't tossed out the window with the bathwater. There are people who call themselves Christians that do such a lousy job "imitating Christ" that they invite ridicule (and some of the ridicule is, I confess, downright hilarious), but there are many who--rightly, I think--see faith and concern for others as opposite sides of the same coin. So, to paraphrase Peggy Noonan, "Don't be dissing us religious progressives (unless we deserve it)!" I don't think showing a little sensitivity to people of faith would hurt any of Air America's principles in any way.


Posted by: Fred Woolsey at April 22, 2004 09:51 PM

Er, Fred, I can't speak for Air America, but it seems to me that backing off from a clear disdain for religion just because it offends a few people would quite clearly be a compromise of principles. Certainly "showing a little sensitivity to people of faith" isn't too terribly much to ask, but in point of fact you're asking very much the wrong person. For essentially all of my adult life I've heard nothing but condemnation (or at best intolerance) of those of us who have the temerity to disagree with the dominant view. What I want is for you "people of faith" (who are in the majority, both in the United States and in the world) to "show a little sensitivity" to those who, like me, don't suffer from that particular set of delusions.

So when I hear religion being made fun of, I laugh and find it refreshing. Since you mention that it was "Good Friday," I have more reason to suspect that the comments were made quite deliberately and may have been, as Magpie says, intended to reflect some view of the religious by "the left" as buffoons. Perhaps. Of course, it was one day. Would you have objected had they made jokes about Buddhism on, say, January 22 of this year? How about a joke about Islam during Ramadan? (Certainly the right-wing bunch doesn't mind that one!)

(And while I don't consider the religious to be "buffoons," I do consider them to be deluded. That it is a common delusion doesn't make their belief any more valid.)

Someone making a joke at your expense doesn't hurt you. And you'll pardon me if I fail to take up your condemnation of Air America, particularly when you have not taken up my (and others') condemnation of those who denigrate and insult those who happen not to share any kind of belief in the supernatural. Which denigration and insult continues pretty much without ceasing in the United States and is considered to be insignificant.

Or you can not pardon me. Personally, I don't care one way or the other.

Posted by: Frank at April 23, 2004 03:20 AM

Sean Hannity is a miserable failure


Posted by: Miserable Failure at April 24, 2004 04:31 AM