Monday, January 02, 2006

"Do religious ideas undermine democratic discourse?"

That's the question Ann Althouse asks today, based on an op-ed appearing today in the New York Times that looks askance at Democrats' efforts to dial into the votes of politically-concerned Christians. One commenter, Ron, pointed out that if the Dems were going to engage in "monkey-see, monkey-do" approaches to Christian voters, the strategy would blow up in their faces. I agree and made these comments:
As a Christian intensely interested in politics, I make two points:

(1) I agreee with Ron that mirroring or mimicry on the part of the Democrats won't indicate a genuine understanding of the importance of religious conviction among much of the American electorate. That will simply be pandering.

(2) The Religious Right, in my estimation, is guilty of many things. But worst of all its sins, perhaps, is that the movement renders a cartoon caricature of Christianity for the non-religious public, appearing to boil faith in Christ down to a series of political do's and don't's.

This is salvation by works or performance, precisely the false kind of religion from which Christ came to liberate the human race. There was no group of people Jesus more roundly condemned than religious legalists, people who took the gifts of eternal life, forgiveness, and hope that God freely offered--gifts under God's control--and subjected people to a bunch of rules, agendas, and proscriptions that they could control.

Beware of any Christian, conservative or liberal, who claims that their political agenda comes from the Bible! That includes Pat Robertson, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, James Dobson, and Jerry Fallwell!

Of course, as a Christian, I like to see people in office who bring certain Christian sensibilities to their work. I believe that the country would be better off if authentic Christians were among our prominent officeholders. And though this it's a goal not politically pursued, I believe that the country and everybody would be better off if they enjoyed the kind of relationship with God that's available to all people through Jesus Christ.

But the moment people act as though their political ideology has come straight from Mount Sinai, you know that they're either manipulating voters or that they're suffering from a strain of Jim Jones-like megalomania! The Republicans and their Religious Right buddies have been doing it in recent years. I hope that the Democrats don't make the same mistake.

6 comments:

Charlie said...

Your caution about the claims that some have made that God is on their side is right, of course.

Some on the religious right have gone way too far in their acceptance of the Republican party as the voice of God.

That's just as dangerous as those on the left who believe religious faith should be an absolutely private matter that has no influence on public policy.

I think about this alot, Mark, and I suspect that in dealing with a secular, human invention (politics) for governing outselves, based as it is on the rule of the majority and pluralism, we Christians must on the one hand be willing to fight hard for those issues that we believe are matters of moral truth, but be willing on the other hand to accept the fact that government will not always be responsive to God's truth.

We need to preserve our right to speak freely and openly, even when we use religious language, and we can't become discouraged with politics when our issues fail. Politics can be decent and good, or it can be a weapon for the wielding of raw power. I like to think that people of faith can gentle our self-serving political instincts.

Deborah said...

Democrats are not monkeys...they are human beings and they are Christians, every bit as much as Republicans are not monkeys.

To claim that only members of one political party can have genuine religious faith is arrogance in its highest form.

Those that claim that only Republicans are true Christians, and Democrats are political opportunists and pretenders, apparently missed the joint statement issued in March 2005 and reissued in December 2005 by heads of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), The Episcopal Church, United Methodist Church and United Church of Christ....slamming the Bush 2006 budget and calling for mercy for the poor.

AND calling for all church members to join them in their condemnation of the "values" reflected in that budget.

These are men of great faith, not copycat monkeys to be disrgarded and conveniently dismissed.

Mark Daniels said...

It's interesting that in bygone days, Christian as an adjective in the political realm was used almost exclusively of those with a more liberal or progressive bent. Now, the opposite appears to be true. My argument is that Christian is Christian and that persons of faith ought not allow the Gospel to be subordinated to any human ideology, however laudable.

Thanks, Deborah and Charlie, for your thoughtful comments.

Mark

Deborah said...

That's odd. Perhaps it's a regional difference now. Certainly, that was the pervasive national thinking before the November 2004 elections.

The national polls these days clearly no longer reflect thinking that being conservative and being Christian are synonymous, or even that the two are necessarily related, in practice.

A lot changed in 2005. My understanding is that the clear tipping point was public perception of conservative exploitation of the Terry Schiavo tragedy for political gain. In fact, it backfired badly on Congressional conservatives and on Jeb Bush.

I won't discuss this any further here.....but needless to say, the Dobson/Falwell/Robertson trio have sadly done no favors, and nothing positive in 2005, for the national image of conservatives as genuine followers of Jesus Christ.

Christianity is not now, at the end of 2005, polling nationally as associated with a particular political leaning, or even related to it.

Basketball Is Life said...

http://www.cnn.com/2006/US/01/04/mine.explosion/index.html

if it's megalomania you want...

todays media is smothered in it.

(R) Gov Claims "Miracle"

Kelley Bell said...

"There was no group of people Jesus more roundly condemned than religious legalists"

- I agree with you and JC on this point. Religion and politics do not mix well.

"Beware of any Christian, conservative or liberal, who claims that their political agenda comes from the Bible! That includes Pat Robertson, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, James Dobson, and Jerry Fallwell!"

-I like this statement too. It is comforting to know that not all Christians follow their type of thinking.



"I believe that the country would be better off if authentic Christians were among our prominent officeholders."


- On this topic, I must disent. Having Christians "among" office holders is fine, but currently, I think what we need most is more diversity within the American Political System.

All of our presidents have been old guard, white guy Christians.

How about a Native American or African American Woman as President? I dont forsee the American Dream opening up to these Americans, so long as Christians, with their "This is the only true path" philosophy, represent 80% of the population.

"I believe that the country and everybody would be better off if they enjoyed the kind of relationship with God that's available to all people through Jesus Christ."

- While I am glad that you find comfort in your belief, I don't agree with the theology of Christianity. It implies that this world is less divine than Heaven, and that Humans are "above" other life forms. This premise gives people permission to gobble up resources and destroy the eco system.

I truly believe that the Biblical Armageddon will be a self fufilling prophesy if humanity does not find a way to adjust its cultural mythologies in a way that compells people to create a sustainable balance between humanity and the eco system.

What we need is a religious movement that worships the miracle of the earth, and the gift of life.

Heaven, is right here and now for some of us.