Tuesday, January 24, 2006

RELIGION & THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY

September 7, 2005

When the religious right accuses liberals of being "anti-Christian", the unspoken accusation is that "most liberals are atheists". This is, of course, false. But most atheists *are* liberals - so when atheists speak up on social or political issues, they tend to say the same kinds of things that other liberals say. The *point* of the religious right's accusation is to get Christians to wonder if atheists talk like liberals because liberalism is inherently atheistic.

According to polls, atheists make up 7 to 15% of the population. If most atheists are Democrats, and about half of the voting public are Democrats, then atheists may represent 14 to 30% of all Democrats. Again, *most* Democrats aren't atheists... but atheists make up a very significant chunk of the Democratic vote. Considering how close recent elections have been, the right wing has a very big incentive to see the Democratic party drive atheists away.

The Right Wing's spinmeisters are not stupid. I'm certain they realized that the Democratic party would resspond to such an accusation by playing the, "we're Christians too" card. And I've listened to the Christian Democrats who've stepped forward to make that case. Unfortunately, the way they say it displays no sensitivity whatsoever to atheist Democrats.

Jim Wallis is the main poster-child for Christianizing the Democratic Party. Browsing his name on Alta Vista for 30 seconds, I came up with an interview with him (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/106/54.0.html), which yielded these quotes:

"[I hope] the Democrats can really find a new moral vocabulary and change not just language but the content of some of their positions to speak, to frame, and to envision their agenda in a way that is shaped by faith and values."

Values are fine. Everyone has values. But when Wallis suggests that the Democratic Party's agenda should be "shaped by faith", he is saying that atheists (people who do not operate on "faith") do not have what it takes to contribute to the Party's agenda. What place, then, do atheists have in Jim Wallis' Democratic Party? Here's another quote:

"You don't win by saying, "I'm religious, so my position should prevail." Or, "God spoke to me and gave me the fix for Social Security." No, you say, "I'm motivated by my faith; here's why." You don't have to be apologetic about that. Then you have to persuade your fellow citizens that this is the best thing for the common good, for all of us—not just for religious people, but for all of us."

It is "the best thing for the common good" when a politician is "motivated by faith"? In other words, it's *against* the common good when atheists hold public office. Gee, thanks.

It should be no surprise to hear Christian Democrats say things like that, and I don't think it was a surprise to the religious right. Christianity *by its very nature* is insensitive toward atheists. The Democratic Party risks driving away 14 to 30% of its own members when *this* is its response to the religious right's ridiculous accusation.

Instead, the Democratic party should put atheist Democrats on the air to say, "look, we're only a small part of the Democratic Party, and we support the freedom of all Americans to practice whatever religion they prefer, or none if they prefer not." That response would be direct and to the point, and would not insult a single Christian Democrat.

6 Comments:

At 11:34 PM, Blogger JDM said...

"We're only a small part of the Democratic Party, and we support the freedom of all Americans to practice whatever religion they prefer, or none if they prefer not"

Oh, come on Jeff! A.) you would have a hard time getting anyone to go on the air to admit such a thing. B.) no one would believe them if they did and in response there would probably be a whiplash of athiest conspiracy theories, news on Fox with lurid titles like "The Athiest Agenda of the Democratic Party - What They Don't Want You To Know!!!!"

Why? Because this country is 85% Christian and the Republicans want all 85% of it. The Democrat's postition as a dumping ground for everyone the Republicans will not let into their country clubs only hurts them on this position. I would hate to see it, but maybe it would do the Democrats good to go solidly Christian, although I think it would probably be best to remain mute, especially since the Republicans are currently doing such a fine job of stabbing each other in the back and tripping over their own feet.

One of the reasons I am bothering you with this is because Leo Sandon - home town religion columnist (who I actually like) - wrote today about the "Southernization of the Christian Church," aka the general drift of American Chrisitianity towards a Baptist Bent as well as the unofficial establishment of a state church for the USA - whether it likes it or not.

I think it needs to be said the religion is primarily a form of government that draws its power from superstition and ignorance. How long will it be before we are back in the days of warrior-priests and priest-kings. Just like in Dieties and Demi-Gods :-)

Sorry, I couldn't help myself on that last point.
-J

 
At 9:31 PM, Blogger Dave Gifford said...

Hey Jeff,

Re: "We're only a small part of the Democratic Party, and we support the freedom of all Americans to practice whatever religion they prefer, or none if they prefer not"...

I am wondering what you think of Sam Harris. It seems like atheism is becoming more strident about being rid of religion rather than tolerating it.

Dave Gifford

 
At 10:02 PM, Blogger Dave Gifford said...

I don't think you are fair at all in your reading of Wallis, at least as his quote stands in your post. His point is that it's just as acceptable for a religious person to be passionate about bettering the country and offering solutions that have their origin in a belief system as it is for a non religious person to be passionate about bettering the country and offering solutions based on some other premise.

So, he is arguing, we believers don't need to be apologetic or embarrassed about our religious background. We have as much a right to the table as anyone. But, as he says, we will have to convince everyone else that our ideas and solutions are what is best for all. So his comment is not religious bullying, not by a long shot.

For you to turn his words on their head and say that it's against the common good for atheists to hold public office is just bad logic. His point, turned on its head, would be more like, "It's against the common good when anyone is kept from public office because of what they believe, because everyone's contribution is needed at the table, including that of people whose motivating factor is religious faith."

As for the religious right, the unspoken accusation is not that most liberals are atheists. Their are many liberals who are professing Christians but whose actual view of the Bible, Christianity and religion are such that they can accurately be described by people in the religious right as "anti-Christian" because their views are not faithful to their professed religion and their statements and policies are generally critical of Christianity and detrimental to it.

So again I think you are reading too much into what others say. And that's what worries me. If the people who tout reason as their modus operandi become unreasonable, who will be left to reason with?

 
At 10:54 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

I'm reading Sam Harris' book right now, but I'm only a couple of chapters in.

As far as I can tell, atheists in general are merely growing less timid about expressing our objections to theism.

It strikes me as ironic to hear this kind of complaint from a member of a religion which teaches that atheists deserve to be tortured for all eternity.

 
At 11:09 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

"(Wallis') point is that it's just as acceptable for a religious person to be passionate about bettering the country and offering solutions that have their origin in a belief system as it is for a non religious person to be passionate about bettering the country and offering solutions based on some other premise."

If that's his point, then that is what he should say. What he actually said was:

""[I hope] the Democrats can really find a new moral vocabulary and change not just language but the content of some of their positions to speak, to frame, and to envision their agenda in a way that is shaped by faith and values."

This does not say what you claim it says. He's saying that THE DEMOCRATS (not just the religious ones) OUGHT TO use faith to shape their values.

I am a Democrat. He is talking about *me*. And I am an atheist. So I resent his assertion that my party ought to embrace HIS faith.

Here's what else he said:

"...you have to persuade your fellow citizens that this is the best thing for the common good, for all of us—not just for religious people, but for all of us."

Even if he's only talking to his fellow Christians here, he's speaking in the context of MY political party. And I darn well object when he calls upon his fellow believers to convince my party that HIS religion is good for ME. He's welcome to think that, but when he attempts to use my party to promote his religious agenda then he is way over the line.

 
At 11:15 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

"If the people who tout reason as their modus operandi become unreasonable, who will be left to reason with?"

You're the one with an invisible friend, Dave. And you're the one who couldn't come up with even one sensible reason to believe in him. You are hardly in a position to criticise anyone else's reasoning ability.

 

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