Thursday, November 03, 2005

Religious Americans: to tolerate or to not tolerate?

It seems to me that since America's progressive movements largely grew out of socially progressive religious movements in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century England, we would do well to remember this when reaching out to religious voters. Many of them have been manipulated to vote based on empty social issues like abortion or gay marriage or prayer in schools, but that's no reason to openly condemn them. They can be won over to progressivism if we remind them that it's all about treating people decently. Reacting with hostility toward religion and religious people only clouds the issue and causes us to hand control of the debate over to those who work so hard to get the poor to vote against their own interests. How to get this all done without America's progressives sounding like Jim and Tammy Bakker is a challenge. But I have to say, as an agnostic, that when it comes to tolerance and treating people decently, Jesus had the right idea.

Frankly, I'm more comfortable with not discussing religion in the public forum, particularly where politics are concerned. And I think we shouldn't. However, a number of people are doing that, so we've got to find a way to flank them. Hostility toward religion is not healthy, I'm sure we agree. Talking about what religion is supposed to accomplish (decent lives for people, social equality, etc.) is the way we can do it. Focusing on the minutiae (posting of the Ten Commandments, prayer in school, who you ought to marry, etc.) is allowing ourselves to get drawn into their kind of fight, and lets us get distracted from the real issues while those in power turn their eyes heavenward and vote for another upper-income tax cut.

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