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Having Faith


Over at the Washington Monthly, Amy Sullivan has a very good post about religion and morality, Republicans and Democrats and how you can’t assume one is necessarily the other.
She is urging – and I want to join her – that those of us over here on the Left to stop lumping religious folks together in one big politically conservative stereotype that’s out to set the clock back. It’s condescending. Not to mention inaccurate and wrong.
To be religious is not necessarily to embrace the belief that you must foist it off on others. The teaching and support of religion – proselytizing, using the state to enact laws to hold one set of beliefs as superior to the other, the instruction of those belief in public institutions – is not, by the laws of this country, acceptable. But religion has a place in public life in this country and it always has. The anti-war and civil rights movements started in churches and were led by religious men: William Sloan Coffin and Martin Luther King. The 18th Century Abolition movement was run by northern preachers. Clearly, President George Bush has a conservative Christian’s view of the world and his role in it and I am one of those who believe that his faith reinforces his personal and familial arrogance. That makes him a bad president, not necessarily a bad man. The idea that religion can provide solace and refuge for people in times of trouble — which is how Bush uses it when he campaigns — is not one we should unanimously condemn because it’s not the way we see the world.

I think this is important because we’re going to hear a lot over the next few days about how this was an election decided on moral values which, as Sullivan points out, in Big Media terms automatically means anti-gay and anti-choice. Certainly the presence on a number of state ballots for initiatives defining marriage or banning gay marriage brought out more conservative voters. And just as clearly, they handed George Bush his victory. We had hints of this earlier in the year when Republican strategist — and former head of the Christian Coalition — Ralph Reed happily talked about his mailing list of 6 million names. The Republican party told Democrats what they were going to do months ago; Democrats didn’t listen.
Reed and Bush mobilized those 6 million people using fear, of that there’s little doubt. A few weeks ago, I worried that Ron Suskind’s piece in The New York Times magazine would provide fodder for the “other” side. I was, I’m sorry to say, right. It condescended to believers. It trivialized their faith – their reliance on God to get them through the trials and tribulations of daily life. When Hillary Clinton started babbling on about “The Politics of Meaning” in the Times magazine 10 years ago, you didn’t hear Lefties worrying about the separation of church and state did you? And you watch – Hillary’ll dust this chestnut off just in time to run for Senate Minority Leader.
Right now the polls are talking about “moral values.” I’m not sure that’s the right phrase for what motivated voters. I think this was an election about change and about fear of change and its consequences. The Bush folks invoked fear of that change to win and the Democrats tried to – well, embrace is too strong a word. John Kerry tried to say he was a man of subtle changes – a fresh start who isn’t bothered by Dick Cheney’s Lesbian daughter. The Bush’s administration’s reaction to change is not to embrace it and try to come to terms with how it’s changed the world but to fight it and defend what what it thinks this country represents. In fighting, they reassure those who share their fear. They show them that help and hope are both on the way and it looks like more than a campaign slogan.
In my part of California — San Francisco and Silicon Valley — people thrive on change. It’s their religion. It energizes them. They have prospered – some unbelievably so – by change and it is much easier to cope with fear and change when you’ve got cash in the bank to help you manage. The rest of the world and the rest of the country – particularly those red sections of the electoral map – aren’t as wealthy. They can’t cope economically. So they’re looking for help. Religion is one. They think George Bush is the other. And I’d try not to keep making the mistake that underlies the contempt that many Democrats show for the religious – the contempt that assumes faith and stupidity are companions.
The changes we’re going through right now aren’t without dramatic elements. Falling towers, men kissing men and women kissing women in public, jobs that don’t pay, marriages that don’t work, a war that can’t – not really – be won. That’s the highlight reel. Think now of the little stuff: instant communication is changing everything from dating to the news business. We have more new residents from other nations than we’ve had in about 100 years. As it did at the beginning of the nation’s move from being an agricultural to an industrialized society these people from far-off lands — exotic Africa, India and Asia — frighten those who have lived here for some time. At one level, economically and socially, we are changing from being a society of builders and makers to a society of thinkers and creators. At another level, we are becoming a nation of servers and totters and the economic differences between these two classes are pronounced and likely to become more so. The ways in which we choose to define families is changing. The roles we have assigned to women — sexually, economically and socially — are changing here and overseas.
The U.S. place in the world as an economic powerhouse is falling; so with it is its diplomatic status. 9/11 showed the world – particularly the poor world – that America could be successfully attacked, that it was no better than anyone else. It showed Americans the same thing, too. So George Bush has focused on the one thing he thinks he can undo; it’s a change he thinks he can prevent, that he can fight. And he’s made no bones about the fact that he’s going to ask his God’s help for the job. So many people who are tired of being told they’re dumb because they’re religious or they’re religious because they’re dumb see George Bush as someone they can rely on, someone who will help them cope with change. I’ve said here before that I think the Bush people are afraid; that I think their protests are hollow and their strategy unsound. I think their fear is contagious. But I also think fear of them – and the people who supported them – is just as dangerous.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 9:49 AM | Permalink

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