Monday, June 20, 2005

Religion, Democracy, and the Common Good

Even though I did not attend this workshop I found its topic and the reports of others to be one of the most fascinating of the weekend.

Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock, author and scholar and director on the national boards of the Christian Church and the United Churches of Christ, opened the discussion by saying that progressives need people of faith as equal partners. Progressives and liberals, and by extension the Democratic Party, have been cast as secular by the opposition, and specifically the 'secular left' -- a right-wing frame you hear coming out of the mouths of pastors in pulpits these days -- is considered "weak" in comparison to the conservative, fundamentalist conviction of Christian faith. In order to win the battle of phraseology, progressives need to emphasize the aspects of love in their practice of faith as well as in everyday life, and to contrast it with the "theo-fascists' war against love". Indeed, Brock noted, some secularists tend to feel isolated from the social aspects inherent in the practice of organized religion (in my own Church of Christ upbringing this was called 'fellowship'). In order to mitigate that sense of isolation, they can seek out an "agency" in order to align their associations with their core values; in short, find others who share their beliefs and hang out with them on a regular basis (just as so many of us did this weekend).

Dr. Davidson Loehr had probably the most interesting bio on the panel: Unitarian Universalist minister, author of the forthcoming America, Fascism, and God: Sermons from a Heretical Preacher, former combat photographer in Vietnam, former professional musician. He reminded us again that the left has lost the vocabulary as it relates to nationalism and patriotism, religious conviction, and moral and personal responsibility. His call to action was to reclaim the words like "morals" and phrases like "high ideals" to communicate the goals of progressives. And to likewise use language that casts the opposition unfavorably, just as the Republicans have for so long; for example, the "plutocracy currently being implemented leads to imperialism, and fundamentalism is a natural extension and dangerous ally of the two". Plutocracy, of course, also results in undesirable things like "control of the media, and thereby control of the masses". (Now we just have to dumb this down a bit for the Southerners who haven't gone to college.)

Andy Hernandez, co-author of the Almanac of Latino Politics 2002-2004 and widely respected for his expertise on Latino political strategy, spoke about the fallacy that people cast votes relative to their moral values. We all recall the MSM beating us over the head in the first week of November, 2004 about the 'moral values' voters, right? Well, the statistics are that twenty-two percent of voters in the presidential election indicated they cast their ballot based on 'moral values', and 80% of that 22%, naturally, voted for George W Bush. But in 2000 that number was 35%, and it was 40% in 1996 (and who was elected President in '96, again?). So this choice has actually waned in importance by nearly 50% in two election cycles, at a time when our media is telling us just the opposite. It's important just in terms of one issue -- abortion -- that we begin to say something like this:

"Conservatives aren't pro-life; they're just pro-birth. Liberals are pro-life."

And finally Dr. Paul Woodruff, a professor of ethics at the University of Texas and author of Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue and First Democracy: The Challenge of an Ancient Idea said that when it comes to ethical behavior, winning is way down the list of priorities. Too much winning, in fact, leads to a swollen head. The Greeks had a word for it: hubris. Indeed, as Brittanica conveys, "in classical Greek ethical and religious thought, overweening presumption suggesting impious disregard of the limits governing human action in an orderly universe" was "the sin to which the gifted were most susceptible". The opposite of hubris is reverence; not religion, not the Diety, but reverence in terms of ethical behavior and integrity. Using the word 'reverence' when progressives speak of caring for the elderly (Social Security), the sick (healthcare), and the environment is an important distinction; one can reap moral value -- i.e. strengthening character -- by losing, for example. And we've had more than enough of that ...

(Aside from me: Boy, I want to hear some Democratic Senator who voted for the war say something like, "I revere the sacrifice our men and women of the armed forces have already made in Iraq, and I feel strongly about this: they have sacrificed enough. It's time for us to bring them home.")

The last postulate on this topic was actually forwarded not in this seminar but by Molly Ivins during our lunchtime forum, where she and Jim Hightower and Glen Maxey and Glenn Smith shared Texas political war stories. She made reference to the "red print" Christians to whom the left can and must appeal.

What are "red print" Christians?

Those of you familiar with the 1970's-era King James versions of your Bibles may recall that the words of Jesus in the New Testament always appeared in red. The New Testament, of course, spoke quite a bit of love, compassion for others, especially those less fortunate, and forgiveness (through the Son of God and his apostles). The Old Testament, by contrast, deals in moral absolutes -- an eye for an eye and so on -- and also speaks about smiting one's enemies and plagues and adultery and sodomy and the consequences of these (usually a painful death).

Sound like any grand old political party you know?

Somewhere there's bound to be some statistics on the percentages of "red print" Christians to the whole, and how many of them don't vote GOP. I would hazard a guess that there are several million votes just in that subgroup that the Democratic Party needs to ask for (and receive).

I'll post about "The DeLay Factor" seminar tomorrow.

Update: Jon Lebkowsky, at his creatively-named Weblogsky, has a report on this seminar as well, and he found a few things I missed.


Traveller said...

I'll send you my copy of Paul's reverence book if you're interested...

PDiddie said...

I would be very interested, P. What can I trade for it? Amy Goodman's "Exception ot the Rulers", perhaps?

Traveller said...

I better just lend it -- it's inscribed. But no hurry in returning it and no need to trade anything. Godawful book-overload here.