Friday, June 24, 2011

The "religious left" - do we really have such a thing?

Peter Laarman has an article with the provocative title, Why Liberal Religious Arguments Fail Religion Dispatches 06/20/2011.

Unfortunately, it turns out to be a length exposition of the saying, attributed apocryphally or not to Robert Frost, that a liberal is someone who's so open-minded they can't take their own side in an argument.

Because that what his whole point comes down to: what's the use in making arguments from what is still called the Christian left because you won't convince anybody anyway?

He's referring to making political arguments from a religious perspective.

So, leaving aside theological questions over preferable interpretations of the Christian faith itself, why do political liberals need to counter Christian Right claims with arguments?

Laarman doesn't distinguish well between hardcore Christian Right partisans and those who can be persuaded or heavily influenced by some of those Christian Right arguments and positions. The former group, particularly the more fanatical among them, are not going to be dissuaded of their beliefs by hearing an argument against them. On the other hand, if they are not met by counter-arguments, they will assume that their liberal opponents are weak and unwilling to defend their own positions and that will encourage them to escalate their rhetoric and advocate more extreme positions. Effective counter-arguments won't change their minds; they can help prevent them from proceeding on an uninhibited course of radicalization.

But there is some proportion of the people who can be influenced by Christian Right pitches without being automatically convinced that what comes out of the mouth of Pat Robertson of Tony Perkins is the inerrant voice of God. And arguments matter with them.

Let's start with the fact that Republicans and radical-right militia sorts use Christian claims to incite fear and hatred toward Democrats and liberals (not to mention those more to the left). They aren't always so crass as this Missouri Congressman Todd Akin in saying that liberals hate God in the video at the top of this post.

But it's a kind of malicious posturing and smearing that certainly candidates for public office can't ignore.

Apart from such blatant hate-mongering, Republicans today frame a large part of their marketing appeals in religious or quasi-religious terms, e.g., "family values," "respecting people of faith," concern for the innocent lives of unborn babies, etc. It's difficult to address those arguments without engaging the religion/values elements in some explicit way.

There are also elements of the expressed religious convictions of some politicians that relate obviously and directly to their public duties. Whether a member of Congress believes in the Virgin Birth of Jesus, or the Immaculate Conception of Mary, is unlikely to have any direct effect on their attitudes toward public policy. If they express an endorsement of the idea that the US Constitution is founded on Christian religious law and that the government should enforce Christian religious law, that directly relates to their approach to governance. If a candidate affiliates herself - as Sarah Palin has - with a religious movement like the Pentecostal New Apostolic Restoration which includes the idea that people should follow religious "apostles" who speak authoritatively for God on all aspects of life, then it's entirely legitimate for her to be asked to clarify her views on that matter.

And if the religious left can speak out unambiguously against torture and against the assassination of abortion providers and against rank xenophobia, what use are they anyway? To God or to honest democrats?

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