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Steeplejacking

Why didn’t I hear about this before? Why is it not in the media? On blogs?

Lindsay reports on the new book “Steeplejacking” that documents how the Religious Right, hand-in-hand with the hawkish conservative Democrats, systematically, over the past couple of decades, performed hostile take-overs of liberal churches. Whenever a pastor/priest/whatever preached peace (and tolerance, equality, need to fight the environmental problems and problems of poverty, etc), the “Institute on Religion and Democracy” would move in and, using various heavy-handed tactics, including lawsuits, remove such clergy and replace them with conservative warmongers. Read the entire post for details and links and spread the word! Lindsay concludes in the end:

Secular Democrats are often blamed for marginalizing the religious left. As I’m constantly trying to tell people, that blame is misplaced. It’s not secular Democrats who are driving liberal pastors out of their churches and replacing them with hardline Republican-friendly conservatives!

If the central claims of Steeplejacking are correct, it seems as if the main reason we don’t have a more powerful religious left in this country is because of sabotage by the religious right, not hostility from the secular left.

OK, this is something I am quite conflicted about: the whole Democratic Party “outreach” to the people of “faith”.

One part of me, the atheist part, wants to see religion completely left out of politics (and governing). If Religious Right takes over all of organized religion in the country – let them have it: that will just make religion more unpalatable to more people and marginalize religion even more.

The other part of me, the liberal part, is more pragmatic. Yes, the non-religious (under various names) are the fastest growing category according to many censuses and polls. But it is still not big enough number for the US to join the civilized world in its complacent ignoring of religion in politics altogether. I understand that running as openly atheist is a political suicide at any level, and particularly at the Presidential level. I am hopeful that this will change in the near future, but it will not just yet. And it is quite imperative that GOP gets booted out of governance ASAP, hopefully in 2008. Let them reform or disappear – I don’t care which, it’s up to them.

This means that I want to see a Dem elected to the White House as well as to see the Dems win a greater majority in both houses of Congress, more governorships, more state legislatures, more mayors of major cities. Once that happens, on the day after the election, the God-talk will miraculously stop as there is a lot of work to do, rolling back the immense damage that Repubs have inflicted on the country and the world over the last 27 (and especially the last 6) years. There will be just no time for faith-based platitudes.

I am also aware that many religious folks are liberal, keep their beliefs out of their pragmatic lives, and want to fight for equality, tolerance and peace and to fight the environmental problems and problems of poverty and such. I may not agree with their personal beliefs, but those beliefs are completely irrelevant to the bigger effort of changing the country and the world for the better. They are natural allies. In a political fight I don’t care or need to know what the religious views of my co-fighters are.

Thus, I understand why the Sojourners wanted to make a little TV spectacle of interviewing leading Democratic contenders. This was a way for them to start regaining the foothold in the popular view of religion, to try to snatch it back from the Religious Right, to try to sway some mid-grade religious voters to support Democrats by showcasing that the Dems are not anti-religion as the Right Wing noise machine keeps telling them.

So, why did they pick Soledad O’Brian to referee? She thinks only abortion and homosexuality are religious issues, although the Sojourners explicitely care about poverty and environment? Did she drink the Rightwing frames or what?

Anyway, as an atheist, I am perfectly OK with the idea of voting for a religious person (as well as anyone pretending to be so for political reasons). Otherwise, there would be nobody to vote for. But I want to be sure that the candidate’s personal faith has no play in his or her decision-making processes once in office. I want to see pragmatic decisions based on best available information.

Thus, watching the 10 GOP candidates crawl over each other trying to show off who is more pious (including the silly non-belief in evolution!) is such a disgusting experience. I don’t want their religious ideology guiding their decisions when in office. Just look at the Dominionist in the White House now to see how tragic such a mix can be.

But watching the Sojourners’ interview of the top three Dem candidates did not make me as sick as I expected (and hell I was surprised with that). Here is one of the detailed descriptions of the event.

First, as expected, all three had to speak about the way they were raised in church and how that affected them and how important that is for them, etc., etc., OK, I get it. But all three were equally quick to point out that their personal faith will have no negative effect on the pragmatism of their decisions in office. They were not afraid to say that evolution is good science and that alternatives have no place in public schools. And they addressed the issues that Sojourners (and not Soledad) thought were important: poverty and environment.

Mike links to an interesting discussion of the event and, as conflicted I am on this issue, I tended to agree with every commenter, one at a time. One of the participants, a rabbi, wrote:

One, it’s a good thing that, in response to the ascendancy of the Religious Right in American politics, the Progressive religious community is being heard now as well. Many of us religious leaders have been frustrated by the dominance of one religious voice in the public discourse and it’s refreshing to hear a greater diversity of expression in that regard.

However, as I listened to Edwards, Obama and Clinton articulate themselves quite clearly, I grew increasingly depressed. Because the truth of the matter is that I don’t care whether or not my president goes to church or synagogue on any given Saturday or Sunday. I want my president to execute their job with the best talent they can find, in the most efficient, caring, and ethical way in service to all citizens of the country–believers and non-believers alike.

It matters not to me what the President “believes.” I want a government that works, that cares for the disadvantaged, that defends us when we are under attack as a nation.

But, that is exactly what Edwards, Obama and Clinton were saying: their faith is personal and they are running for office because they think they can institute a government that works. Fine with me.

Of the three main candidates, Obama is the one who most uses God-talk in his speaches. But, what he says is so ambiguous that people of all religious persuasions equally agree with him:

Although Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) is a Christian, he “embodies the basic ideals and values of most Hindus,” said Prianka S., a Hindu from Chicago.
Obama’s “love for Israel” is “evident not just in his work, but also in his heart,” said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), an Orthodox Jew.
Obama “represents true faith,” said the Rev. Bertha Perkins, a Baptist minister in New Hampshire.

Well, that is how Obama talks about everything, not just religion, so everyone who likes Obama reads into his speeches whatever he/she wishes for it to mean anyway. He has not said anything specific that could possibly alienate anyone yet. But if he becomes the President, I am not afraid that his religion will take a precedence over smart governing. Actually, of the eight current Dem candidates, the only one who actually mixes religion (some kind of New Age crap) and politics in a way I dislike is Dennis Kucinich. As Markos noted:

Here’s the difference — Kucinich is using his “faith” as the basis of his “Department of Peace”. In other words, he’s trying to inject his faith into the public sphere.
And that’s not something I’m willing to tolerate, whether it comes from the Religious Right or from our side.
People are free to talk about the source of their values. But I believe strongly in the wall between church and state.

Comments

  1. #1 afarensis
    June 9, 2007

    Something similar happened in Missouri, although I do not know if conservative democrats were behind it.

  2. #2 Bill
    June 9, 2007

    I don’t share Kucinich’s religious/whatever beliefs either, but I see no ethical or epistemological difference between those and Obama’s, or Edwards’, more mainstream beliefs. You’ll have to do more than quote that idiot Kos to convince me that Kucinich’s faith has more impact on his policies than Edwards’ or Obama’s faith(s) do on theirs. (For instance: compare those three on gay marriage.)

  3. #3 greensmile
    June 10, 2007

    The “media” have no guts, or perhaps some gland is missing: They would not dare rile the righteous wingers. Lindsay covered the event, announced beforehand and got a moderately active comment thread. Dead silence elsewhere, like it didn’t happen it you weren’t there. This should be repeated in places beside NYC…which the righteous wing write off as an overgrown suburb of soddom and gomorah. If there is a fight, THEN the media can at least be goaded into providing a few garbled sound bites.

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