RELIGION & THE DEMOCRATIC PARTYSeptember 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.