Monday, April 25, 2005

A Clarification

ancientofdays Reaction to the last paragraph of my previous post, both here and elsewhere, has been mostly negative. I fear I may not have made my point clear, and also that many of on the left have become so polarized by religious fanatics, religious abuse, and having a specific brand of a specific religion constantly shoved down their throats that it's made it almost impossible for them to have an empathetic discussion about faith.

This is not only sad, it's dangerous, because it drives away potentially sympathetic allies within the community of faith, and creates a breach out of which extremists will create "proof" of the left's hatred and persecution of religion. We can't walk away from this and wash our hands of the dialogue; the stakes are too high, and there are too many good people of faith. They have as much to gain in fighting extremism as the rest of us, but when they are attacked for simply acknowledging membership in a religion or having a faith (as many have been in comment threads or blog posts), they become defensive and alienated, and do indeed feel persecuted, caught between the madness of the Dobsons on the right side and the knee-jerk intolerance of the left.

If we want to create a truly decent future for ourselves, we need to be inclusive and empathetic, reaching out to others who share our dreams. It doesn't mean we have to give up fighting the encroaching theocracy. Nor does it mean turning a blind eye to the outrages the Dominionists and fundamentalists inflict on the nation and the world. It means recognizing that there is a very real difference between those extremists and the vast majority of churchgoing folks who never wanted the Senate invited into their sanctuaries, and who genuinely fear the ascendancy of a fanatical interpretation of their faith that bears little resemblance to the beliefs they hold. witchfinder_general_145 The state religion that Ted Haggard and Pat Robertson would force into the homes of every American is incompatible with most of those Americans' creeds, and after all, one can be labelled a heretic as easily for holding the wrong views as for rejecting all views entirely. Atheists have a dog in this race as much as Methodists and Presbyterians, and more than abortion or any other divisive issue, it seems this should offer us a place to make common cause. We happily welcome the Friends and their anti-war activities---we are glad to see them and make use of their resources, whether we ourselves are religious or not, because the common goal is valued, and in the course of working toward it, we come to value each other, as well. And the most well-know organization of its kind, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, boasts people of all faiths and no faiths among its members.

It would also behoove us to familiarize ourselves with the internal debates ongoing inside modern religion. Try The Revealer, which identifies its goals as "1. Belief matters, whether or not you believe. Politics, pop culture, high art, NASCAR -- everything in this world is infused with concerns about the next. As journalists, as scholars, and as ordinary folks, we cannot afford to ignore the role of religious belief in shaping our lives. 2. The press all too frequently fails to acknowledge religion, categorizing it as either innocuous spirituality or dangerous fanaticism, when more often it's both and inbetween and just plain other. 3. We deserve and need better coverage of religion. Sharper thinking. Deeper history. Thicker description. Basic theology. Real storytelling." Or The Christian Century, with regular writers like Bill McKibben and Garret Keizer. Or The National Catholic Reporter, which wrote so devastatingly on Joseph Ratzinger in 1999, and describes itself as "supporting a full, honest and open exchange of ideas. It works out of a Roman Catholic tradition and an ecumenical spirit. It emphasizes solidarity with the oppressed and respect for all. It understands that peace, justice and integrity of environment are not only goals but also avenues of life." And certainly you should check out Sojourners Magazine, brainchild of liberal evangelical preacher Jim Wallis, whose headline this week is "Tell Bill Frist to Stop Playing the Faith Card!"

Spituality has many faces. For some, it's found in the radio image of a far nebula, for others in the face of a lover. But we all feel it, and we can all talk about it in a way that creates a community of mutual respect and compassion. And that is our first step toward fighting together against the medieval dragons of the right's inquisitors.

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