Political Piety Panned: We Don't Need A 'God's Party'
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Tue May 17, 2016 at 12:28:24 PM EST

Every few years, a political pundit comes along and proclaims that the Religious Right is dead or on the verge of dying. I started working at Americans United in 1987 and have heard it proclaimed many times over nearly three decades.

The latest theory goes like this: Donald Trump is such a divisive figure that he has split the Religious Right. The movement won't recover from his candidacy.

I disagree. From where I'm sitting, it looks like the Religious Right is lining up behind Trump. Some groups and leaders may not be happy about it, but the thought of Hillary Clinton, whom they loathe, occupying the White House has sealed right-wing evangelicals' fealty to the real estate mogul and reality TV figure.

Sure, there have been a few defections (Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention), but groups like the American Family Association that had backed U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) are already swinging over to Trump. One group, the American Pastors Network, has issued a stream of press releases arguing the "lesser of two evils" line.

Writing for Slate, Ruth Graham takes the argument a step beyond: The demise of the Religious Right, she opines, opens the door for progressive Christians, the "Religious Left," if you will, to become a powerful force in the Democratic Party.

The subtitle of Graham's article is "How Democrats could become the party of God." I realize that writers usually don't pen their own headlines, and this one has the feel of an editor well-versed in clickbait. It's provocative, but is it accurate? More to the point, would it be helpful to American politics if the Democrats became that kind of party?

"Liberal Christians today can be found in those who use Jesus' inspiration to advocate for criminal justice reform, in feminists who view him as a disrupter of the patriarchy, and in the everyday churchgoers who see their values better reflected by the economic and social agenda of the mainstream left," Graham writes. "They are mainline Protestants, Catholics, and evangelicals. And if they are ever going to reinsert themselves into the heartbeat of American culture, this just might be their moment."

Much of Graham's article is a historical overview of progressive Christianity's former influence and a lament for its decline. She says some things I find valuable. Few would dispute, for example, that progressive Christians ought to be involved in politics (just as all civic-minded people should) and that they played a key role in securing civil rights and ending other forms of injustice.

The concern I have is the explicit tying of political issues to someone's understanding of the Scripture. I'm against that for two reasons: One, we've had enough proof-texting contests in the halls of government lately. A liberal argues that Jesus wants us to help the poor. A conservative comes along and says no, Jesus was actually for self-reliance. We're left with another edition of Dueling Bible Passages.  

It's tiresome. When it comes to public policy, I don't think the words of Jesus, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, L. Ron Hubbard, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, etc. are relevant. If you want the American people to help or ignore the poor, enact strict or lax gun control, support or oppose the death penalty, etc. give us some secular reasons (and perhaps even some public policy recommendations based on - gasp! - empirical data, scientific research and peer-reviewed studies). Otherwise we're just back to the same old arguments over what meaning (if any) sprawling ancient texts, many of which were cobbled together over hundreds of year by pre-scientific people, hold for modern life.

As I noted in my 2014 book Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn't Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do, politicians aren't even arguing about the Bible or any other holy book. They are arguing about their interpretation of that book. That's quite a different thing.

So should the Democrats become the party of God? I say no - because no political party can ever be the party of God. It can only be the party of what fallible human politicians perceive God to be. And isn't it funny how the political views of that god always mirror those held by political leaders and their clergy allies?

What I want instead are political parties that don't presume to speak for God. I want political parties that welcome all comers, people of faith and people of no faith. I want political parties that tell people to use moral persuasion, not government power, if they want to change the way people live.

I also want political parties and politicians that stop consulting holy texts when seeking to make laws for everyone to follow. I want them to consult another document instead. It's called the U.S. Constitution.

I'm past tired of people telling me how to live and how to be... dominionists, fundamentalist Christians, militant LIBERAL Christians, militant Muslims (I've met a couple who HATED Jews and Israel and were trying to proselytize), militant atheists (they can be as offensive and ready to proselytize as a virulent dominionist), militant new-agers (they exist and can be a real headache), and militant vegetarians/vegans (there are jokes about them and their proselytizing/insulting/offending).

The problem is, they are all trying to make people like themselves or so that they can shove people into pigeonholes.  I don't do pigeonholes, and I find it offensive when people try to define me according to their standards - and insist, for instance, that I can't be a scientist (which I am) and NOT be atheist - that only atheists can be REAL scientists.  I am NOT atheist, and I'm a "real scientist" (presently receiving further training).  What I "am" (talking from a spiritual/ideological standpoint) is personal and there is only one other person who has any right to know.  (Stating this to local Good Christians throws them into a righteous tizzy/rage!  They think they have a RIGHT to know everyone's religion!)

Even more offensive is the people who treat others as they think their religion demands.  Whatever happened to "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" or "Don't do to others that which you wouldn't want done to you!"???  (While Christians have claimed that the Christian version of the idea is the first and only one that is proactive (that's doubtful), it also has limitations - a better one would be (I've read it and am not the originator) "Do unto others as THEY would have you do unto them!" (with caveats, of course).  Funny thing is that those ideologies, if followed (like regarding the poor) would also be backed by science.  As an example, the idea of "God helps those who help themselves" actually goes against the very solid and peer-reviewed research in nearly all cases.

There are militant liberal Christians.  A couple of years ago I encountered one... I'd signed up with an employment bureau (state-connected) and went to get some help in trying to find employment.  Long story (and not germane in a way), but religion came into the picture in the beginning and I learned that the case worker assigned to me was a liberal Christian, and rather militant about it.  I thought "Fine", as many of the things she said went along with my ideas (at the time).  Then she started pushing me on an ideological point that was based in her religion.  I rejected the point because I'd learned different in my life, and suddenly she didn't want to have anything to do with me and it was obvious.  That was the last appointment with her.  She set some impossible-to-reach goals for me before she would see me again (goals, I might add, connected to that ideological point).

Oh, and the whole thrust was on "fixing" me instead of helping me look for appropriate employment (which would involve my education and experience, as well as limitations).  That is a common attitude throughout this country - if you have a problem, YOU are the cause of the problem and rather than helping to get past the problem (which often is caused by the greed/bigotry of others), they try to fix you.

Americans are addicted to stereotypes, and like to pigeonhole people.  They encounter someone that doesn't fit one of their cherished categories and suddenly they have BIG problems and don't like it (and usually try to force that individual into a mold that doesn't fit).  Problem is, this is why we have such problems in dealing with, for instance, homeless and poverty.  Like you said, they need to base policy in SCIENCE, not beliefs/ideology (it's separate).  However, we're fighting against something ingrained in American culture, and changing culture can be quite difficult (although worthwhile).

by ArchaeoBob on Tue May 17, 2016 at 01:38:59 PM EST

Such people have no business being in that position.

People can push too hard of any stripe. Even liberal ones. Culture can be hard if not impossible to change if has been modified in large ways over long periods in the first place as it was originally formed. A daunting task we can do individually, but collectively is the only chance of possibly giving an alternate point to the prevailing ethos.

by Nightgaunt on Sat May 21, 2016 at 01:13:52 PM EST

We've reported other militant Christian activities in the past (including the bastards stalking my wife and lying about it), and in this hellhole of a state, usually nothing is done - if you don't catch hell for 'bothering' the authorities.  In fact, as I remember, one of our kitties vanished after I'd complained about the stalking (trying to convert my wife to dominionist Christianity - and she was sick of their harassment and lies).

Our great Sheriff got let off because the people who filed lawsuits against him experienced arson and poisoned pets (the same thing we were put through for supporting the teaching of evolution), and I'm literally scared of making too much waves - they already destroyed my electronics workshop and damaged expensive tools I had in another building (which made life hell during the "great recession" as I COULD have made some income through what they destroyed/damaged) - next time it could be our home (with us and our kitties in it).

by ArchaeoBob on Mon May 23, 2016 at 01:23:41 PM EST

Just kidding. Great piece.

by Bruce Wilson on Tue May 17, 2016 at 01:48:39 PM EST

by trog69 on Tue May 24, 2016 at 01:16:34 AM EST

I do not know why but since the very old times political tools have not been changed much. It concerns not only statements on religious rights being close to death or legislative system being completely wrong. I should pay for essay in a few days on Political science and will ask my writer to describe this problem.

by donaldcarrillo on Fri May 20, 2016 at 10:08:49 AM EST

"As I noted in my 2014 book Taking Liberties: Why Religious Freedom Doesn't Give You The Right To Tell Other People What To Do, politicians aren't even arguing about the Bible or any other holy book. They are arguing about their interpretation of that book. That's quite a different thing." Rob Boston

Just as relevant now with the perverse way those religionists are pushing for negative discrimination against LGBT people under the mantle of "Religious Freedom" which is definitely against the First Amendment. There is no Bill of Rights in the Bible.

But then those who do not allow for secular things want their way. We must fight hard to keep us all free from any tyranny including the religious types.

by Nightgaunt on Sat May 21, 2016 at 01:08:58 PM EST

You there, Political Piety Panned is a mind-blowing article.   gia diamond report verification A dedication of thankfulness is paying little character together for putting the push to post such key information on Religious Rights and politics. Great work, keep it up.

by isabelladom on Thu Jul 21, 2022 at 11:50:11 PM EST

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