July 08, 2004

The rise of the religious left (v.1)

One of the most consequential victories of the American right wing over the past three decades has been their virtually complete capture of the rhetoric of religion.

Their victory has been so complete that the phrase "religious right" seems redundant. Just consider how confusing the phrase "religious left" sounds.

The right wing has made devastatingly effective use of their religious rhetorical dominance. Without the close association that the right wing has managed to cement in the minds of most Americans between "religion" and "conservative," the electoral support for the right would collapse. In virtually every substantive policy arena, the Democrats champion the more centrist, moderate, and mainstream position, when compared with the Republicans' hard-right agenda. If policy was all that mattered, the right wing couldn't have amassed the impressive track record that it has without moderating its approach. Call it a gut feeling, but I don't think America has drifted to the right; I think it's been dragged by extremist right-wing politicians.

But policy, of course, is not all that matters. The politicians may have dragged the country to the right on policy, but the people have willingly followed when it comes to values. As someone who finds doctrinaire religions, churches, and religious writings distasteful, it's a bit difficult for me to get emotionally upset by the absence of the left from the rhetorical field of values. For me, policies embody values; a policy position is a way of expressing a value. I don't want a bunch of pandering politicians to start preaching to me about "family" and "patriotism" and "God." I don't think politicians should be in the preaching business. If I think their policy positions are humane, sensible, fair, and honest, I'll support them. If not, I won't.

But I also have to realize that my opinions aren't shared by everyone. Many people want to hear elected officials talk about values, and affirm religious faith, which undergirds so many of those values. The worst thing that a politician can do in the eyes of many people is not to profess a faith that differs from their own, but to fail to profess any faith at all. That's why I think so many people vote Republican. It isn't that they agree with the Republicans' agenda, it's that they'll vote for the candidate that seems to favor "religion" over the one that doesn't. And the left, since it has no religious vocabulary to speak of, can't win this person's vote.

We need a religious left. I don't think it has to be created. It just needs to speak up.

Posted by Carey at July 8, 2004 11:29 PM
Comments

The religious left is out there. It's less visible than it was in the early 80s, when tiny aged nuns used to chain themselves to fences at missile-production factories, though.

http://www.sojo.net/index.cfm?action=sojomail.display&issue=040630#3

Posted by: Sarah at July 9, 2004 10:39 AM

Well, there's Bill Moyers and the many people who agree with him. Also, many of the African American churches are left of center.

BTW Carey, where have you been hiding yourself? I never see you anymore. You should come to the party at my place Saturday night. My housemates are throwing it. It's at 428 Cross St., if any other readers are interested.

Posted by: Larry at July 9, 2004 07:10 PM

Speak up, religious left!

We're trying. We have a few disadvantages in making our case, though.

First - and this is just my opinion, not based upon empirical research - we religious lefties are not AS religious as the religious righties. We have our doubts about our religion, which is why we are less likely to want to impose our views on others. We're just not as flat-out positive that we are RIGHT about EVERYTHING. We tend not to take the Bible literally. We're more into the gray area.

Second - you know how Jesus said all those things like "Feed my sheep" and "It's harder for a rich man to enter heaven than for a camel to go through the eye of a needle"? That's a tough sell in America. It sounds a little pinko. Try telling the religious right that Jesus, and later his apostles, were sort of commies. They hate that.

Posted by: Laura at July 14, 2004 10:31 AM