Some Interesting Talk About Religion

And no, it’s not faith. It’s called religion. That aside, there’s an interesting internet exchange among Eric Sapp, Rabbi Andy Bachman, and Jameson Foser about the role of religion in the Democratic Party. I found it interesting that the only ordained participant was the most skittish about the embrace of ‘faith’ (italics mine):

In watching the 3 leading Democratic candidates debate their views on religion, I had two conflicting impressions.
One, it’s a good thing that, in response to the ascendancy of the Religious Right in American politics, the Progressive religious community is being heard now as well. Many of us religious leaders have been frustrated by the dominance of one religious voice in the public discourse and it’s refreshing to hear a greater diversity of expression in that regard.
However, as I listened to Edwards, Obama and Clinton articulate themselves quite clearly, I grew increasingly depressed. Because the truth of the matter is that I don’t care whether or not my president goes to church or synagogue on any given Saturday or Sunday. I want my president to execute their job with the best talent they can find, in the most efficient, caring, and ethical way in service to all citizens of the country–believers and non-believers alike.
It matters not to me what the President “believes.” I want a government that works, that cares for the disadvantaged, that defends us when we are under attack as a nation.

That the “debate” was framed under the glare of news and entertainment, with a beautiful cable newscaster smiling her way through questions that were as fitting for a gossip column as they were political-religious discourse. And that juxtaposition was the true source of my despair.
We seem to have lost our way as a nation and have certainly strained that once strong fence of separation between “church and state.”
We liberals have to talk about religion not because we want to but because we’re competing for votes in order to put our man or woman in office over their man or woman.
I understand it as a pragmatic strategic move.
But it strikes me as fundamentally insincere and a dangerous precedent for the future of our country.

I’ve mentioned this before, but having been raised in a covenantal, non-salvationist religion (Judaism), much of the popular discussion of religion (i.e., abortion and homosexuality) seems odd to me. It’s far too focused on individual purity and not enough on society and justice.

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4 Responses to Some Interesting Talk About Religion

  1. Rob Knop says:

    I found it interesting that the only ordained participant was the most skittish about the embrace of ‘faith’ (italics mine):
    Another interesting statistic I saw a couple of years ago is that the fraction of ordained Christian ministers who have no problem with evolution and think that ID is foolish is much larger than the fraction of lay people. We all know prominent exceptions, but this is the overall statistics I’m talking about.
    It does seem that really thinking about religion can, at least sometimes, lead you to understand better its role in the world.

  2. bigTom says:

    I share your concerns (and hopes) in these matters. Our nation had really become politically sidetracked in recent decades.
    Unlike you I think that what the president believes does matter. It might affect what he does, and I want those decisions to be as reality-informed as possible. We’ve seen the damage that can be done when a president only accepts advice from a narrow segment of the population.

  3. G. Williams says:

    It does seem that really thinking about religion can, at least sometimes, lead you to understand better its role in the world.
    The university I work for requires three religion classes as part of its academic distribution (and the equivalent number in math and science, btw). More than one religion professor has commented on having to occasionally explain to a student that an academic course in religion != Bible study, and that they can expect to have their beliefs challenged even in a class about the particular religion to which they adhere. Religion is such a massive social force that I think it behooves people to understand its history and how it works.

  4. I’ve long had a suspicion that the ascent of religion in American political life as of late has been more role-playing and entertainment than anything. America is a largely affluent country and it’s only connection to most foreign affairs is through a television screen. It would seem that popular Christianity, by which I mean megachurches and Left Behind books (among other things), has been born out of the need of middle-class Americans for exhiliaration, titillation and sensationalism. A preacher sputtering about the end times is certainly more exciting than a liberal preacher talking about the pros and cons on some city ordinance or state-law. This would certainly change our concepts of how “religion” interacts with politics, since it isn’t so much “faith” we’re talking about, but the blurring of the distinction between fantasy and reality.

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