Free To Be

By: - October 8, 2007 4:37 pm

Hope everyone saw this great NYT op-ed by my friend Jon.  Probably being the editor of Newsweek gets one in the  Times a little sooner than just being my friend, but that's neither here nor there.  It's so nice to see a thoughtful, historical approach to the question of our nation's Christian underpinnings.  He concludes that we're not a Christian nation, never have been and, Inshallah, never will be. 

The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation — that all men are created equal — in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry."

This beats the God Is Dead/God Is Not Great/God's A Charlatan perspective the left too often trots(kys) out.  When our rhetoric consistently spurns what may be the highest of man's impulses, to understand the divine, we drive off a lot of good people.  This is a problem on two levels.  One is that bigotry against a powerful majority is still bigotry, the other is that church/temple/mosque/Wiccan coven is one of the last great places to reach people.

One reason the Christian Right was so successful at mobilizing people was that they tied their agenda to the best part of so many people's lives, their spirituality.  Granted, the agenda was hypocritical, self-serving, and fundamentally anti-Christian in many respects, but it was powerful because it made people feel they were serving a larger purpose.  A creepy, straight, white higher purpose.  I'm reluctant to quote Woody Allen these days (because, ewww), but he really hit it with, "If Jesus came back, and saw what's going on in his name, he'd never stop throwing up."  Still, you can't tar everyone with the Moral Majority brush.

I don't happen to like my politics and religion mixed up, but I wonder if we go overboard sometimes, rejecting religion altogether.  I'm talking about real lefties here, not Democrats per se.  When admitting you believe in God is just the first step in recovery from belief in God, we're not offering much.  Many people with progressive ideals believe in God and worship God.  Indeed, for many their religious beliefs are the wellspring of their commitment to doing what's right for their brothers and sisters.  They're alienated from the progressive movement because of its anti-Christian rhetoric.  Let's focus less on how-could-you-be-smart-and-still-believe in that fairy-tale? and more on we-have-a-lot-of-ideas-and-ideals-in-common,-how-can-we achieve-them-together?  Let's be a little more big tent and a little less Darwin eating a Jesus fish car decal.

The other factor in the mixing of religion and politics is that Americans barely associate in large numbers anymore, at least not in ways that make political sense.  Church is the only place where many people feel they can still identify with others who have the same interests.  With the political parties in a loooong, slooooow decline, and the general fading of labor unions (as anyone who's watched "The Wire" season 2 can attest), not to mention job mobility, there aren't a lot of ways for large numbers of people to come together over time for common social and political ends.  I don't want to get all Robert Putnam on your asses, but we're bowling alone out here, and look where divided has gotten us.  Virtual communities will never be as powerful as real communities, because humans need to actually be together to solidify social bonds.  I think the 2004 exit polls demonstrate that a lot of people will do one thing and then say another.  Feeling beholden to faceless strangers makes that even easier.  Easing up on some of the more important links in people's lives can't be wrong.  Can it?  

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