Its the Religion, Stupid
I read, with outrage, the diary by Georgia10 at Daily Kos about the recent travesty in North Carolina. A snippet:
Yesterday, on the National Day of Prayer, we learned that the East Waynesville Baptist Church in North Carolina essentially kicked out its Democratic members. Nine members were "excommunicated" and 40 other members of the 405 member church resigned in protest.
Jerry Meek, Chair of the North Carolina State Democratic Party has a diary on this at MyDD, soliciting comments. So, Jerry, here is my feedback.
Let's start with this quote of Jerry's, captured in the barebones media coverage on this issue:
The head of the North Carolina Democratic Party sharply criticized the pastor Friday, saying Chandler jeopardized his church's tax-free status by openly supporting a candidate for president.
''If these reports are true, this minister is not only acting extremely inappropriately by injecting partisan politics into a house of worship, but he is also potentially breaking the law,'' Chairman Jerry Meek said.
Jerry's response was partly on point but Democrats have to do far better than this. You have to also fight back on religion with religion. You have to fight religious extremists by pointing out that they are charlatans who are distorting their religion. You have to point out that they are deeply un-Christian. If you don't do that, and stick to what is "legal" or "illegal", you can't really engage the attention of people who believe in these kind of extremists. Remember, religion is not fact - it is a matter of belief and faith. It therefore gives you tremendous leeway to define what is morally right and wrong and emphasize at every opportunity why actions like these are not just illegal, but are downright immoral. And also why other actions, like the denial of communion to supporters of gays (as Archbishop Harry Flynn in Minneapolis/St. Paul has decided to do) is immoral, coming from a Church that wouldn't deny it to garden variety criminals, to heterosexuals who practice sexual acts frowned upon by the Church in question or to those who violate many of the other key tenets of the Church (which includes invading countries under false pretenses, without justifiable reasons, and resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands).
In a nutshell, the word immoral is tremendously underused by Democrats. It's time to change that because you can't win on "moral values" if you are unprepared to say what is moral and what is not.
There's another reason why this is important. Democrats, including rank-and-file activists, have a responsibility to protect religion, as much as they have a responsibility to protect secularism, because it is in their interest and in the interest of their children and grandchildren.
As I previously said in the context of a post I wrote about the Christian Right and religion in schools:
Let's talk about religion. My lack of religiosity is not as simple as it may appear at first sight. After all, many of the values that I have today were imbibed during a phase of my life (childhood) when I was religious. These are values that came from a religious *and* spiritual upbringing: honesty, compassion (especially for the poor or downtrodden), tolerance, humility, responsibility, quest for knowledge, hard work, a respect for Nature, you name it. So, this may explain why I am not anti-religious or against religion or God - since it is possible for religion to have a positive influence on a person's life (a lot of great people have demonstrated this over the centuries). At the same time, I have also seen what self-proclaimed religiosity or blind faith can do. Blind faith not in an 'Almighty', but a pretense of faith in an 'Almighty' to mask a faith only in one's own personal ideology. Many of us have seen the repression, the pain, the hurt, and the lies that can result from an exploitation of religion or God for personal benefit.
At the same time, I cannot deny that religion has also done a lot of good in many people's lives. Considering that reality, I think any discussion or teaching of religion (or for that matter, secularism) should explore the issue at reasonable depth and show all sides of the story. This is particularly important in today's media and political climate, where the generally soundbite-laden and trivialized coverage of religion in the U.S. media allows an emphasis largely on superficialities, on the words spoken about faith or religion rather than the faith demonstrated in deeds. As a result, zealots and fake propagandists like the so-called leaders of the Christian Right movement or the Sean Hannity's of the world dominate the religious discourse. Thus, there is a real danger that if religion is not objectively presented to children, only zealots and charlatans may get to speak of it publicly and claim "ownership" of it, and the real picture of religion or God will be woefully distorted.
If you want to influence the next generation positively, you have a responsibility to ensure that religion is taught fairly in schools and portrayed fairly in the media. So, for example, if you are talking to the media, and a faker like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell or anyone else in the GOP starts talking about "moral values" purely for political gain or to give them a license to discriminate - there should be a straightforward response:
[Insert name here], sorry, but that is an immoral value.
It's easy. It must be done. Have no fear. You have religion (and God, if you believe in one) on your side.