25 October 2005

Hey, Brother Christian

I know I'm really late to the party here, but I can't miss an opportunity to comment on Paperwight's outstanding post on religious progressives. I'm basically in complete agreement, but the post, and the ensuing discussion, reminded me of a few tangentially related points. In no particular order:

Religious progressives: truce?
Please? I may be a positive atheist for just about any definition of "god" you might use, but I don't have a problem with other people having religious beliefs as long as they harness them in a productive way and don't force them on me (or anyone else). By "truce" I don't mean stopping disagreement - disagreement and debate are good. So I'll keep saying why I think you're mistaken, and by all means you keep saying why you think I'm mistaken. But can you at least stop accusing me of hostility toward religious people? And I'll continue to refrain from calling all religious people stupid. (However, I reserve the right to call stupidity stupid, like Jesus in a cassarole or the Virgin Mary in a dirty window. Or, for that matter, Lenin in a shower curtain.) Deal?

Delusions of persecution: not just for wingnuts anymore
I don't mean to pick on anyone in particular, but I've noticed a similarity between the accusations of liberal hate from the wingnuts and now the accusations of general anti-religious "bigotry"1 among progressives. For the wingnuts, they can't find politicians or political commentators sufficiently hateful, so they find some guy with a website, or just some random comment somewhere on The Internets™; if they get really lucky, they find an assistant professor of ethnic studies. Now I'm seeing accusations of widespread anti-religious hate by progressives based on a few idiots at dKos. Riiiiiiight... Call me back when you can do better than the wingnuts. AFAIK, there is only one prominent political commentator who is openly hostile to religion, and the drink-soaked former trotskyist popinjay is anything but progressive.

There really is hostility to religion
At least, progressive and moderate religion, and the hostility comes from the fundamentalists (who I stubbornly refuse to call "evangelicals" - the two are not the same). I'd think this is rather obvious, but apparently it needs to be said. To fundamentalists, you're either one of them, or you're against them, and so they've made war with sane religious people. And being the media-savvy con artists that they are, they've managed to get the media to go along with them, shutting out sane religious voices while getting respectful coverage of Jerry Falwell blabbing about how the Rapture is upon us (I really saw that on CNN a couple weeks ago). Unfortunately, I don't know what the solution is, since trying to be just as loud would eliminate some of the things I like most about religious progressives. Specifically, that they don't wear their religion on their sleeve or interject it into every little thing, no matter how unrelated, but instead treat it as a personal choice that they can use to enrich their own lives (not a cudgel to beat others with).

The enemy of secularism is theocracy, not religion
I would hope this is one of the progressive values religious and non-religious progressives could agree on. What ever happened to "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's" (Matthew 22:21)?

Purely religious justifications for government policy are inherently anti-democratic
Look, I have no problem with people basing their positions in part on their religions, or even arguing that those who share their beliefs should come to the same conclusions. I don't even have a problem with religious people saying that there are lessons anyone can learn from their beliefs - there's good stuff (and bad stuff) in just about any religion you care to pick. But using exclusively religious justifications in public policy is theocratic, and purely religious justifications in public debate are antithetical to liberal democracy. Liberal democracy is largely based on informed concensus, which means you should be able to justify your positions in terms anyone can accept even if they don't agree with the conclusions. So feel free to sell your positions as Truth, but also justify them with truth - that is, in terms of common experience that anyone can recognize as a cogent argument without sharing your religious assumptions.

"Religion" is such an incoherent word
Try defining religion. Really, try it. Be sure to include atheistic (godless) religions like Zen Buddhism. You'll also want to exclude non-religious supernatural beliefs. Not so easy, is it? This unstated "I know it when I see it" definition makes it really hard to say much about religion in general, so I won't say religion is inherently irrational. There are, however, a couple lines I draw, beyond which I consider a person's decision-making to be dangerously compromised: And that's about it. There's plenty that rubs me the wrong way, to be sure (claims of "revelation" being a superior source of morality to empathy and claims that religion promotes humility come to mind), but what ever happened to being able to work with people you don't completely agree with on everything? I mean, there is probably only one person in the world who completely agrees with me on everything - me - and I'd bet that's true for everyone who isn't a mindless follower of The Church of the Blessed Codpiece or some similar cult of personality. Movements are formed around areas of agreement and concensus. Is it really that hard?

Does all this make me an "anti-religious bigot"? I don't know, decide for yourself.

1 I actually think this is a category error. Religions are ideas, or perhaps ideologies, so I don't see how one can be "bigoted" against them. It's possible to be an ignorant fuckwit mindlessly opposed to a given religion, just like it's possible to be mindlessly opposed to communism or libertarianism or anything in between. But I think "bigoted" only makes sense when referring to hatred based on immutable or circumstantial properties of an individual.

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