Respecting the Right to Hold Religious Beliefs You Find Offensive (3)
Chip Berlet printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 02:18:00 PM EST

This coming Friday in Chicago the Yearly Kos conference will feature a track of workshops looking at the Religious Right that slipped into the conference schedule. In preparation, I am posting a series of tips and guidelines for challenging the U.S. Political Right. I will be discussing this next one at the panel on "What to do About the Religious Right. Here is the focus of this week's tip:

Be careful to respect people’s  right to hold opinions and religious beliefs that you may find offensive. Everyone has an absolute right to seek redress of their grievances. This is equally true when those grievances are based on religious beliefs. In an open and democratic society, it is important to listen to the grievances of all members of  society and take them seriously, even when we might be vehemently opposed to them. They do not, however, have a right to impose those beliefs on others.

This advice is from a Political Research Associates (PRA) document titled "Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right." There are three sections--Do Your Homework, Stay Cool in Public, and Keep Organizing--each with several suggestions.

Here are the two workshops in which I am a participant:

Is the Religious Right Really Dead?

Aug 3 2007 - 1:00pm - Aug 3 2007 - 2:15pm

Every election cycle--and in between--pundits have declared that the religious right is dead. This roundtable will discuss the current status of the religious right, its power and points of leverage, its strengths and its weaknesses. Looking historically and into the future, what can we expect to be the future of the religious right?

Presenters will include: Chip Berlet, Talk to Action contributor, and Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates; Frederick Clarkson, co-founder, Talk to Action; Susan Thistlethwaite, President, Chicago Theological Seminary   -- and perhaps a surprise guest!

What to do about the Religious Right

Aug 3 2007 - 2:30pm - Aug 3 2007 - 3:45pm

Let's get over it. The religious right will be around for a long, long time. Why is this, and how shall we get our minds around this stubborn political fact? What to do about the Religious Right? The Religious Right is one of the most successful political and religious movements in American history. What should we be doing differently in response?  

Presenters are the same cast as above: Susan Thistlethwaite, Fred Clarkson, and Chip Berlet.

Fred Clarkson has kindly posted all the workshop information.

Several groups that challenge the Religious Right have developed policies for respectful criticism.

Faith in Public Life envisions a country in which diverse religious voices for justice and the common good consistently impact public policy; and those who use religion as a tool of division and exclusion do not dominate public discourse.

The 2004 elections brought a resurgence in religious advocacy for social and economic justice. Yet the Religious Right continued to dominate public discourse on issues of faith -- primarily targeting issues of abortion and homosexuality -- and virtually ignoring issues of justice and the common good.

Our faith traditions share the call to work tirelessly for justice and the common good, to protect and care for the most vulnerable in our society. Final justice may come only from God, but we share a call to work toward that goal here and now. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children! Our shared call to pursue the common good is rooted in our shared humanity and our equality before God, regardless of religious affiliation

A Resource Center For Justice And The Common Good

Here is another example:

DefCon: Campaign to Defend The Constitution. Because The Religious Right Is Wrong

DefCon: Campaign to Defend The Constitution. Because The Religious Right Is Wrong

DefCon is an online grassroots movement combating the growing power of the religious right. We fight for the separation of church and state, individual freedom, scientific progress, pluralism and tolerance, while respecting people of faith and their right to express their beliefs.

And don't forget Talk to Action that has this policy statement:

Talk to Action is a platform for reporting on, learning about, and analyzing and discussing the religious right -- and what to do about it. It is not a forum for discussion, dialog or debate with those who sympathize with or belong to this movement. There is an editorial framework for this site that is different than you will find on other major blog sites, so please read this carefully: We are pro-religious equality and pro-separation of church and state. We are prochoice, and we support gay and lesbian civil rights -- including marriage equality. Therefore, debates about the validity of abortion and gay rights are off topic. We understand that some people who share our general concern about the politics of the Christian Right may not agree on all of these matters. That's fine. Anyone who agrees with the purpose of this site is welcome to participate -- but bearing this in mind. It is our intention to take the conversation forward, and not let it be held back by debating what, in our view are or should be, settled matters of human, civil and constitutional rights. Similarly, religious debates are off topic, especially debates between theism and atheism. Finally, we are nonpartisan. While political discussions are welcome, -- even central to the purpose of this site -- we do not wish the site itself to be a platform that is necessarily for or opposed to any particular party.

So here are four groups, Faith in Public Life, DefCon: Campaign to Defend The Constitution, Talk to Action, and Political Research Associates (where I work) that are struggling to find language to challenge the Religious Right while at the same time respecting a person’s  right to hold opinions and religious beliefs that many of us find offensive. We will' talk about it more at the Yearly Kos workshop.

Ground Rules and Tips for Challenging the Right

Making Distinctions - Seeing Possibilities (1)
Recognize that the Right is a Complex Movement (2)
Respecting the Right to Hold Religious Beliefs You Find Offensive (3)
Decode the Right's Agenda on Your Issue (4a)
Ideology, Frames, and Narratives in Right-Wing Social Movements (4b)
How do Social Movements Gain Political Power? (4c)

Chip Berlet, Senior Analyst, Political Research Associates
The Public Eye: Website of Political Research Associates--- Chip's Blog

Recognizing that the underlying assumption of this website is "reclaiming citizenship history and faith," you still need to consider the position of many non-believers.

As an American citizen, taxpayer and voter who happens to also be a strong atheist, I respect the right of others to believe in whatever fairy tales they wish. Contrary to popular belief, however, this does not mean that I must respect the fairy tales themselves. The right to hold any given belief and the belief itself are not the same thing at all, although the two are unendingly conflated.

When atheists are accorded the same respect that believers in ludicrous bronze-age hero myths are (including the right to run for the highest office in the land), maybe things will change.

by Len on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 07:41:27 PM EST
On this site, faith, as used in the sub-title, simply means the right to individual conscience, as clearly prescribed in article 6 of the constitution and the first amendment. Atheists, and anyone who shares our concerns are welcome here.

That said, the site guidelines also call for people to treat one another with respect around here. To facilitate this, side-debates between religions; and between religion and no religion are off topic here. Characterizing the beliefs of others as fairy tales or "ludicrous bronze age hero myths" is pretty far from the spirit and the letter of what we clearly intend -- and are franky bannable offenses.  

Atheists are not the only ones who have strong views about the religious views of others,  as you know if you read this site.

Learning how to share information and analysis about the religious right and what to do about it in a respectfulf fashion is part of the purpose of this site. We recognize it is not always easy. We are discussing matters about which people have strong views -- and often even stronger feelings.  Sometimes people also need to learn to get over themselves as well.

That said, people who are unable to participate in a respectful fashion or stay reasonably on topic, eventually find that they are no longer able to post here.

part of showing respect to people on this site, is not to engage in religion baiting.

by Frederick Clarkson on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 04:14:33 PM EST

Respect is all well and good if you are truly dealing as equals. But the "'Religious' Right" is a political party that came out of the success of the civil rights movement that took away their open scapegoating of blacks to make up for their own sorry circumstances. Faux religious leaders decided to copy that success by gloming onto Gay's & woman's rights (they are too successful and may be even having too much fun) and the science underlying such progress. To those at the top of this movement it is political in fact but religious in fiction. The promotion of political goals are beyond mainstream religions who are lacking in customers, currently, and they are probably too rich compared to the religious right miserables, too (although Anton Scalia & his Opus Dei-ilk are rich & right wing). At any rate it is not an equal situation and in my view respect is not capable of bringing about a consensus-- this orange can't be compared to a lemon. Those that don't play fair win against those who do and, as in money, the bad drives out the good. dci
by lackawack on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 08:20:26 PM EST

is a form of behavior. Avoid shouting over them, or otherwise emoting. If they won't let you get a word in edgewise, just excuse yourself politely, saying that the other person apparently doesn't want a conversation, and you don't want a lecture, so let's call it quits. You should avoid name-calling, avoid expressions like "you people", avoid automatically assuming that they have a political or religious position "X" (eg, not all conservative evangelicals are wanting to bring on the end-times by military intervention in the mideast).

You should behave as if a third, neutral person is watching and judging manners of both parties. Remember, losing your cool and getting rude just perpetuates a stereotype of "Liberals just waiting to take away your Bible". You aren't bound to respect the content of their convictions, but you are bound to respect the other person as a person who has the right to convictions, however mistaken you believe those to be.

by NancyP on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 09:20:21 PM EST

don't think, in direct proportion to the degree of perceived threat. If you don't look and sound (tone, not content) like their stereotype of a Crazed Hellbound Liberal, but look and sound like an average neighbor or fellow congregant, they are more likely to hear what you say, and perhaps think about it.

Yes, it is difficult to be heard by many conservative Christians - the radio/TV preachers and their own pastors foster the concept of personal persecution , as does the intensely individualistic theology. The people who take the persecution trope seriously start out defensive and only get worse. Some of these people are likely unreachable. The less panicked may listen if approached with the behaviors of respect.

by NancyP on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 09:29:24 PM EST

I always make this distinction:  Respect(and/or tolerance) is directed at people, not their ideas.

It is helpful to remember this especially when in a discussion that could get heated.  Show respect for the person even when they are espousing a despicable point of view.  I had to do this recently when a co-worker of mine who I admire in many respects expressed his opinion that we need to level the entire Middle East and start over.  He also expressed the opinion that we need to scrap the Constitution, bring in martial law and crack down on 'terrorists' because the current method is not working.  These are his opinions even though he is a retired military officer who took an oath to protect and defend the constitution.

I responded with shock and horror and rebutted his positions as best I could at the same time respecting him as a friend.  We continue to be good friends.

by jjengele on Tue Jul 31, 2007 at 01:46:32 PM EST

What I notice, however, in extremely conservative religious broadcasting, is a complete inability to perceive respect. For many in the Christian dominionist subculture, disagreement equals persecution and results in maximum self-congratulation and high-volume howling.

by nogodsnomasters on Mon Jul 30, 2007 at 05:03:37 PM EST

If a person wishes to believe anything for themselves from kissing cobras to a simple life of no mechanical gadgets, a life of rigid discipline, or a life of daily group sex, and communal farms. I have no problem with any of it, as long as they do not impose their life on mine.

They can kiss all the cobras they want, but if they want them to be free to roam the neighborhood as well, I have a problem. They can live a life of rigid rules for every waking moment, but if they insist that I follow those rules I have a problem.

One thing that society has not dealt with well at all is in defining just what in society is secular and agree that secular be the default for operating the society. We have done this in a sloppy half hearted way because the problems have mostly not been more than a bit of aggravation, but the sharp edge of that thinking has arrived and we must be less sloppy or lose a free and open society totally.

This web site has worked hard to make a distinction between a Christianity that can live well in a secular society, and one (however unchristian it might actually be) that cannot tolerate the presence, or even knowledge of, any alternative ideas.

The difference is not Theological, but a deep threat to the very nature of Society. If you wish to live among free range cobras there are places to do that, but America is not among them. The same is true for totalitarian government. You are entitled to believe anything, but there is a range of things that you can do acting on your beliefs is restrained, if it adversely affects those who do not share your beliefs.

I would very much like to see a document evolve that could define that. Advocating the overthrow of the American government is already a no-no in some directions, yet there are organizations that have that as their central thesis for years without so much as a comment in the MSM anyway, much less in District Attorneys offices.

However even beyond what should be criminal, if for no other reason than to preserve the non-criminality of all other possibilities, the many shades of gray need to be more generally understood and agreed upon in a more formal matter to preserve against such vigorous border shifting as is the agenda of those who would force everything to their totalitarian agenda.

Everyone has more tolerance for what they agree with than what they don't, so landmarks that anyone could recognize would seem to be in order.

by FreeDem on Wed Aug 01, 2007 at 11:32:15 PM EST

It gives me an idea...
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Mon Aug 06, 2007 at 07:20:24 PM EST

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