November 06, 2004

Religion, Politics, and Justice

The Decembrist has a good question about what's clearly turning into another great revivalist era, hat tip to Electrolite:

...We are clearly in the middle of one of the great periods of Christian revival in American history, the third or fourth of the "Great Awakenings" in American Protestantism. Each such period has begun with a change in the nature of worship itself, essentially a private phase, and moved onto a public phase where it engaged with the political process. These have been significant moments of progress for this country. The Second Great Awakening led in it public phase to the Abolitionist movement. What some historians consider the Third Great Awakening beginning in the 1890s led to the Social Gospel movement, settlement houses, and the beginnings of the progressive era idea of a public responsibility to ameliorate poverty.

The right question, I think, is not whether religion has an undue influence, but why it is that the current flourishing of religious faith has, for the first time ever, virtually no element of social justice? Why is its public phase so exclusively focused on issues of private and personal behavior? Is this caused by trends in the nature of religious worship itself? Is it a displacement of economic or social pressures? Will that change? What are the factors that might cause it to change. ...

Along this line of thought, Common Dreams publishes an article entitled no longer a Christian that's well worth reading in it's entirety. I'll give you an excerpt, but please do click through:

I was told in Sunday school the word "Christian" means to be Christ-like, but the message I hear daily on the airwaves from the “christian ” media are words of war, violence, and aggression. Throughout this article I will spell christian with a small c rather than a capital, since the term (as I usually hear it thrown about) does not refer to the teachings of the one I know as the Christ. I hear church goers call in to radio programs and explain that it was a mistake not to kill every living thing in Fallujah. They quote chapter and verse from the old testament about smiting the enemies of Israel. The fear of fighting the terrorists on our soil rather than across the globe causes the voices to be raised as they justify the latest prison scandal or other accounts of the horrors of war . The words they speak are words of destruction, aggression, dominance, revenge, fear and arrogance. The host and the callers echo the belief in the righteousness of our nation's killing. There are reminders to pray for our “christian” president who is doing the work of the Lord: Right to Life, Second Amendmendment, sanctity of marriage, welfare reform, war, kill, evil liberals. . . so much to fight, so much to destroy.

Let me tell you about the Christ I know. He was conceived by an unmarried woman. He was not born into a family of privilege. He was a radical. He said, “It was said an eye for and eye and a tooth of a tooth, but now I say love your enemies and bless those who curse you.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God.” (Mattew 5: 3-9) He said, “All those who are called by my name will enter the kingdom of heaven." He said, "People will know true believers if they have the fruit of the spirit--love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control.“

...Peace used be the opposite of war, Conservative used to mean the tendency to conserve resources. Liberal used to mean kind and generous, and Christian used to mean like Christ.

So I am no longer a christian but just a person who continues trying to follow the example of Christ. I’ll let him call me what he wants when I see him face to face. Until then, I will pray that someday people like me will be able to reclaim the meaning of Christ’s identity, and the world will see the effects of the radical message of Christ‘s love--the perfect love that casts out fear.

With my own radical conservative religious upbringing, seeing the force for destruction that people like Ralph Reed and Jerry Falwell have made of Christianity, it does me good to remind myself that they're just religious perverts. People who derive a freakish pleasure out of flexing their power over others, twisting 'love thy neighbor' into a phrase that ends outside the narrow circle of your co-religionists. But it's a bad, bad road to allow this group to characterize religion.

This is not the way it's supposed to be. I know there are a lot of Democrats and progressives with deep spiritual beliefs, people who truly believe that their religions are forces for peace and good, and who are horrified at what they're being used to cover up. All I can say is that we have some common ground to share with moderate and progressive citizens of Middle Eastern countries who are repelled by violence done by their governments or fellow citizens in the name of their own religions.

Yet even though it doesn't have to be this way, leaders and political parties can't change the perception of religion as a carte blanche for the 'faithful' to do whatever damage they want and call it good. Politicians can use it, they can sidestep it, they can try to ignore or fight it, but they can't change it.

The message, loud and clear, of every progressive movement in the last couple centuries has been that people have to change first. People have to decide to cry out for justice until it shakes the highest rungs of society, because it will not be passed down from on high.

Allen Brill at the Village Gate suggests it's once again a time to Think Strange Thoughts and Pray Long Prayers.

Posted by natasha at November 6, 2004 02:25 PM | Religion | Technorati links |

The difficult thing to explain to those that get wrapped up in their religion is that the struggle we face in the world today isn't Christian ideals vs. Muslim ideals, but instead, moderation vs. extremism. Middle Eastern countries aren't less progressive than us because of Islam, they're less progressive because they're more extremist. The terrorists goal is to make us into a 'Muslim' country, but that doesn't happen by converting us, it happens by making us as extreme in our religious beliefs as they are. We get 'converted' when we decide that religion is a green light to be able to do whatever we want.

Thanks for the link over to Reload. In a week like this, it's always good to be reminded that 48% of the country is a lot of people, and a lot of very bright people as well.

Posted by: thehim at November 6, 2004 09:37 PM

I agree, you're welcome, and likewise :)

The people that seem most freaked out by the idea of a religious government in Iraq, the likely choice of any real election, are the people who want to write religion into our government also. But I think that people who want to do that lose their standing to complain about an overly strict imposition of Sharia.

Those of us who are more liberal have come to realize over the years that if people want to write religion into law, it's nearly impossible to talk them out of it. You can try to build a bigger coalition than they have, convince more people, all that kind of thing, but sometimes they have to suffer under it before they realize that it's a bad goddam idea. If they ever do. Iran has come to this point, let's see how long it takes the rest of the theocracies to get on enough of their people's nerves.

Posted by: natasha at November 6, 2004 11:15 PM

Yeah, and Iran is particularly frustrating because it was getting to a point where the reform movement had real momentum in 2000, and has now moved backwards somewhat out of the same old fears as before...

Posted by: thehim at November 7, 2004 10:37 AM

I wonder if we're being misled, with all the hype about the Values-Vote phenomenon. It may be a classic media myth.

"Pew Research Center points out, there was no disproportionate surge in the evangelical vote this year. Evangelicals made up the same share of the electorate this year as they did in 2000. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who are pro-life. Sixteen percent of voters said abortions should be illegal in all circumstances. There was no increase in the percentage of voters who say they pray daily..."

(from this weekend's NYT)

"The reality is that this was a broad victory for the president. Bush did better this year than he did in 2000 in 45 out of the 50 states. He did better in New York, Connecticut and, amazingly, Massachusetts. That's hardly the Bible Belt. Bush, on the other hand, did not gain significantly in the 11 states with gay marriage referendums."

My question: Is the "values-vote" thing being overblown? I suspect it's not as big a deal as it's being made to be.

Small comfort, but worth examining futher.

Posted by: Michael at November 7, 2004 12:46 PM

interesting look at religion... i voted for kerry, and if i had been exit polled (i wasn't) i would've said that i was voting for him for reasons of "morality" or because of the "values" he represents. the mistake the media makes is narrowing the definition of these two very trendy words. i was very stirred by the posting on common dreams. i have several very good friends who are strong christians. they also happen to be some of the most loving and accepting people i know. on the other hand, i have had contact with several other self-proclaimed christians who are so narrow minded and bigoted that it is hard to even debate with them. diff'rent strokes, right?

Posted by: kelite at November 8, 2004 10:01 AM