This is the Time
Here at Talk to Action, we have discussed some of the reasons why we have not been as effective in response to the religious right as we might have been, given the stakes. One reason has been the lack of urgency expressed by our leaders; their own lack of knowledge, and their acceptance of bad advice. One example of the latter, has been the dubious tactic of calling the religious right and its constituents nasty names as a substitute for developing a strategy based on gaining actual knowledge about the subject. Instead, we have had leaders for many years denounced, (among other things), "religious political extremists" as if that were appropriate; as if that were enough. History has shown that it didn't work. (Not that anyone would want to admit it, of course.) More recently, it has become fashionable to displace the substance of our concerns with scapegoating "secularists" -- as if these (always unnamed) people had somehow prevented mainstream and progressive "people of faith" from participating in public life and therefore allowed the religious right to seize the limelight. Funny, how no one has ever stepped-up to take any responsibility for failures of vision and leadership in response to the rise of the religious right. Finally, too many people simply dismiss the religious right as a serious problem. In my view, this is mostly born of ignorance and denial in the face of one of the most successful and signficant movements in American history.
I could go on, but I want to get to the point.
In fact, many people have sufficient knowledge about the religious right. They have read some of the basic books. They read The Public Eye or Church & State magazine. Maybe they have attended lectures and conferences or are members of The Interfaith Alliance, Americans United for Separation of Church and State or the ACLU. But at some point, in order for there to be change in our effectiveness in response to the religious right, we have to change ourselves.
Barry Lynn, in his must-read new book Piety & Politics: The Right Wing Assault on Religious Freedom, addresses this point.
Some years ago, after a particulary tough week, I taped John McLaughlin's One on One television show. On it as well was a Religious Right lawyer named Seamus Hasson. At the end of the taping, John said to me, "Barry, your side isn't as passionate as his side." I thought to myself, "That's true, and today even I had run out of it." I've never felt the same way since.
Passionate. We are described as passionate about things we care deeply about. But too often, our friends and family are "passionate" about say, college sports, but not passionate about the survival and advancement of constitutional democracy. People are often "passionate" about a certain television show, but not passionate about the meaning and protection of the first amendment, and its guarantee of the right to individual conscience and separation of church and state. People may be "passionate" about their car, or rock concerts, or certain celebrities, but are not passionate about the errosion of the rights of fellow citizens -- and ultimately their own -- and have no interest in participating in a movement of any power or meaning sufficient to counter the religious right.
We all make choices about what we get passionate about, and about how we allocate our time and committments and resources. Part of the process, of how we choose not to get passionate about doing something about the religious right, is that we screen out information that might disturb our status quo. We have made our choices and we would prefer not to rearrange our lives. This is a situation that is as typical of progressives and liberatrians as it is mainstreamers and non-religious right consevatives. It is also just as typical of religious people as it is non-religious people, in my experience. The problem is that if we acknowledged to ourselves the seriousness of the religious right, in terms of its agenda, its political power and its apparent staying power as a movement, then we probably would want to change our ways. And the more likely it is that we might want to do something, (or something different, or something extra), the more difficult it can be to take-in potentially disruptive information. We unconsciously and in some cases, consciously consider that if we sought to know more about the religious right; we might want to know what can be done; we might be more demanding of our political, religious and academic leaders, as well as the news media; we might change some aspects of who we are in relation to others. And few of us want to do that. We fear change. So do those around us.
Nevertheless, there comes a point when we choose whether we will take the things we are learning to heart, and get passionate. This point may come more than once. But each time we reject or supress our urge to act, the more defensive we may become about the choices we have made in the past. The passion we feel and that animates our life may come from any number of valid sources. It may also be a subtle and quiet kind of passion -- but no less significant than the passion of those who are louder and more demonstrative.
But the reality is that most of us choose not to allow ourselves to become passionate. We would rather not have to change what we read; what we think about; what we say about religion and politics. Most of us are pretty set in our ways and we find it comforting when someone comes along to say that the rise of the religious right and the ugly culture of religious supremacism it is fomenting, is someone else's fault, but not our own.
The good news is that over the past year or two, more and more people are coming to realizations like Barry Lynn's. Even among people who are already concerned and more than well-informed, I am seeing a thirst for knowledge and a hunger for effective action. I think as more such people emerge, it will be easier for more of us to choose to be passionate about our most deeply held values -- instead of choosing fear and complacency. I don't know how the critical mass might form, or when the tipping point might be. All I can do from where I sit, is to say that in order for us to be effective in response to the religious right, we need to become more passionate about the things we say we care deeply about. We need to connect our most deeply held values with our words and our actions. We need to be able to speak with the person-to-person persuasiveness that comes first from authentic feeling and convictions. We need to be able to speak knowledgably, and authoratatively and with far greater force than milquetoasty claims to support separation of church and state or reproductive choice or whatever. Then, we need to connect ourselves to efforts to figure out more effective concerted actions than we have generally seen. We will aggressively seek out examples of effective action and learn and apply the lessons. We will become an effective countervailing force. We will acknowledge and accept that this is a struggle for the long haul.
I will close with another short quote from Barry Lynn's book:
"Pat Buchanan... said in an infamous speech to the Republican National Convention in 1992, "There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will bone day be as was the Cold War itself."
Lynn is right. War has been declared by the religious right against us and much that we hold dear. But like Lynn says, too many of us are pretending that we don't know that war has been declared against us. We dismiss the the language of warfare and the use of military metaphors by religious rightists at all levels as "extremist," and do not take it seriously. We kid ourselves into thinking that no one else could either. Only crazy people, perhaps. Acknowledging to ourselves, and to those we care about, that war has been declared -- is the necessary first step for us to be able to discuss the nature of this war and how best to engage in it.
If you have gotten this far, if you are not already passionate about engaging the religious right, this is the time to find the simple moral clarity and make the choice. It may not be the first time, and it may not be the last. But this is the time.
This is the Time | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)
This is the Time | 10 comments (10 topical, 0 hidden)