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20 September 2004

Democrats and the Devil

Over the weekend, the Boston Globe ran an article, written by BC professor Alan Wolfe, on the religion gap in American politics right now

But God’s not dead as a partisan player in American politics.  At least not in Minnesota
Or in many other fora.  I was brought up in a church where I was
told that you can’t be a Christian and be a Democrat, because all the
things that the Democratic party believe are contrary to the
Bible.  Well, that mindset may seem simplistic, but much of the
Republican campaigning this year has attempted to appeal to religious
believers and the fearful on just such a basis.  Dick Cheney’s
comment that voting for Kerry will increase the terror attacks (or at
least their chances) on the country is simply par for this
course.  But many of the believers in the church to which I belong
now almost seem to believe the opposite, that you can’t be a Republican
and be a Christian.

I’m willing to bet that God wouldn’t be more or less happy or upset
with either party, but with both in equal measure.  Just a hunch.

As to Wolfe’s article, I think that one of the strengths of it is that
it points out the religious war being played out in the Republican
party, even if he didn’t discuss that at length.  If the
socio-religious conservatives continue to hold sway in the party, I
think that the fragmentation of the party is a likely outcome; not in
the sense that the party will split up formally but that it will become
a rickety coalition, much like the Democrats present at the current
time. (All RNC speakers aside, the platform and the nominees are highly
conservative, and it’s in those two sites that the signal of power and
the power itself lie.)

The Democrats are working to acknowledge their religious roots, to show
“people of faith” that they are necessary to the party’s and
liberalism’s future.  Now sure, the Right dominates religious
discourse in this country right now, but that has seemed to me more a
matter of tactic and personality than of theological support for either
party’s particular positions.  But the religious believers provide
the party one of the appeals that it probably needs to win in electoral

Americans seem much more worried — at least in some political arenas
— about the place of morality in their politics.  That is,
Americans want certain moral appeals made by their politicians before
the voters will reward them with office.  (Whether or not that
action itself is a moral one is a good and, I think, highly contended
matter.)  Candidates who can convincingly speak a language of
ethics — even if it is one that the voter may not agree with — will
probably speak more convincingly to voters.  But to be convincing,
the candidate will have to have an actual grounding in some sort of
moral and ethical system.  Religious affiliation and profession
provide a signal, a cue, to the voters that the candidate may have such
a grounding. 

Somehow, for Democrats, this hasn’t worked out.  All the
successful Democrats of the last 30 years (all two of them) were men
steeped in being Southern Baptists.  But Clinton’s Christianity
was not perceived to have made a difference, and the same has proven
the case with John Kerry, so far.  Kerry, in fact, has suffered
somewhat for being seen not to be in lockstep with every one of the
teachings of his church (i.e., he doesn’t share the abortion position
with the bishops, but most of his others line up), while the same has
not proven true with Bush.  Bush has agreed with almost none of
the major social teachings of his church, the United Methodist Church,
but he hasn’t suffered for it.  I imagine it’s because he
professes the sort of militant 19th-century triumphal Christianity that
proves continuingly popular among evangelicals today.

In the end, however, the Democrats have a difficulty to overcome that
the Republicans do not.  Since 90 percent of American believe in a
deity of some sort, there’s only a few who don’t align with a religion,
and I’d wager that most of them are Democrats.  (If you’re an
atheist who votes Republican, there’s a good bet that — like gay
Republicans — you’ve had to make some sort of peace with the fact that
you are an oddly fitting minority in your choice of political
associates.)  The Democrats have a more diverse religious
underpinning than the Republicans (as I’d also wager that you’ll find a
wider range among the stances of religious believers in the Democratic
party), and so their median religious belief is likely more to the
middle, where the Republicans’ is further right.  As such, they
can make fewer pronouncements from the point of view of faith. 
Combined with a more uneasy stance toward authority, this all makes it
harder for the Democrats to make convincing an argument that when they
argue from faith that they really are doing so.  But some of the
most significant social changes in the history of this country have
come as a result of religion — as well as some of the most significant
opposition to those changes.

But, as I have noted earlier,
they are trying in this cycle.  And I think that whether Kerry
wins or not, the Democrats can continue to lay a foundation among faith
communities, reclaiming the idea that the Deity belongs to any of us or
all uf us.

Posted in Rayleejun on 20 September 2004 at 10:45 pm by Nate

Problems at my church

My church, one of the largest in the city, with a great big landmark
has recently lost one of our clergy.  This priest was
the only ethnic or sexual minority on the clerical staff of the
church.  He was also one of out best liturgists and homileticists
(sermon-giver).  We lost a lot of talent in the loss of him. 
Now, all of our people are straight, white, liberals.  I’m a bit
disappointed, to say the least.  What does it say to the minority
people in the pews (for we have lots of gay people, Nigerian people,
hispanic people, and so forth)?

We were recently profiled for our building project
in the Times.  Our building project has sort of developed a life
of its own, and sometimes the connection to our ministry is
unclear.  Sometimes we seem to forget that the building is a
National Landmark because we have used it to do the work of the church,
rather than the other way around.

I’m not sure that we’re on the right track right now, and it worries me a bit.

Posted in Rayleejun on 20 September 2004 at 10:38 pm by Nate

Miscellaneous at the beginning of the semester

It’s been quite busy this last week and weekend — more so than I thought it would be.

But here’s a variety of thoughts.

First, the new PBS series on Freud and C.S. Lewis.  The Revealer
points out that the Harvard academic running the course seems
predisposed to a bellicose and militant Jesus
.  Which isn’t very surprising, considering the ways Americans have viewed Jesus
over the years.  I was in a big bookstore in the downtown area
over the weekend, and C.S. Lewis books were on the table of books that
they were pushing.  No Freud, however, and I wonder if it’s
because he’s “too hard”, especially compared to Lewis.  I admit, I
like Lewis quite a bit, as he’s a very good intellectual, but much of
his popular writing — fiction and non-fiction — is not highly
rigorous.  (What’s funny, even in the anti-intellectual atmosphere
of the churches I grew up in, C.S. Lewis was highly regarded, and it
was reading him that led me to understand that Christians could have
intelligent thought about God.  Using one’s mind was not only good
but necessary.  Funnily enough, for the fact that American
evangelicals love Lewis, he remained a devoted Anglo-Catholic all his
life, a worship and theology that many latter-day American Protestants
would find great discomfort in.)  But I find it odd that the
popularity of the series and Nicholi’s course only lead one to Lewis,
because Lewis proves more accessible and less offensive to the majority
of Americans.  And ultimately, I think the course, the book, and
the show prove to be more evangelism than comparative theology or
philosophy.  And that strikes me as disingenuous.  Were these
thinkers selected specifically to favor Lewis?

Other news.  Classes start here this week.  Lots of advising,
and lots of other sorts of work to be done.  Our students ask some
strange questions, and some of them need to learn to relax a bit
more.  There’s no need to walk into the advising office on the
first day of one’s frosh year and decide that you need to be an
political science and economics major, especially when you haven’t
taken any poli sci or econ classes yet.

Posted in Rayleejun on 20 September 2004 at 2:55 pm by Nate