Saturday, November 13, 2004

The Religious Problem

Over the past couple of weeks I have heard a lot of Democrats and Republicans alike arguing that the Democratic disdain for religion is wrong and arrogant. There is, I believe, another factor involved here, which may outweigh even the need to win votes.

Prior to 9/11, I was a defender of religion. Watching the towers burn and hearing that Falwell and Robertson were trying to spin it to incite hatred of liberals and homosexuals, I washed my hands of it forever--though the language and ideals of my Catholic upbringing will always be part of me. I suspect that many people have come to the same conclusion. There is simply no place for fanatacism and magical thinking in a world where human beings have the capacity for destruction that we have now.

As much as one might like to claim that fanatics do not represent the true spirit of Islam, Christianity, or any of the other of most prevalent religions, passages exist in both the Bible and the Koran that can be used to justify atrocities. And all attempts to reclaim them from within are just battles of opinion, the emphasis of one part of the faith over the other. The moderation of Christian fanaticism came from outside, from the Enlightenment, which informed most of our modern institutions, especially the separation of Church and State. Rational-empiricism and the scientific method continue to weigh against fanaticism, by discouraging any claim to absolute certainty and demanding evidence and sound reasoning. The true enemy of Al Qaeda is not Christianity, but modernity.

The Democrats' dislike for religion may have the same roots. Wooing religious voters with religious appeals seems too much like sleeping with the enemy--the very enemy that struck on 9/11. What the rest of the world is seeing when they look at George Bush and Osama bin Laden are two opponents of the same basic kind, both in agreement that this is a Holy Crusade. Hardly a reassuring thought, because these are precisely the terms that Political Islam would like to use in the discussion. They're still angry about the medieval Crusades, and they want to fight them all over again.

Also troubling are the 'values' embraced by the Religious Right. Notice that nearly all of them are focussed on sex: homosexuality, abortion, promiscuity, and sexual content in the media. Other conservative values, relating to self-reliance, hard work, etc, are neither unique to the Religious Right nor indispensable to them. These prurient values are peripheral to Christianity at best, their importance justified by isolated passages in the Bible--and indeed, are often countered by other passages. They are, in fact, 'tabloid' values, whose primary motivation lies in titilation. Next time you go to the supermarket, grab one of the tabloids, and read what's in it. You will see articles decrying the decline of moral values right next to the latest paparazi pics of semi-nude celebrities. What better way to hide your arousal, even from yourself, than to protest loudly about the morals of the object of your lust? This is the time honoured strategy of religious hypocrites since time immemorial. Thus, the bhurka, the hijab, the Muslim extremist rape squads, honour killings, and the excesses of the Taliban.

It is hard to embrace values which have so much in common with those of the very people who have sworn to destroy you and everything you hold dear. Can you give a nod and a wink to the very tendencies that conspired to create that enemy? If Christianity descends again into the abyss that has claimed Islam, can you, in all good conscience, make a deal with the devil? Or do you fight it, knowing it will cost you.

The choice that Democrats are facing, though no one has phrased it as such, is between power and salvation. Do you fight for America's votes, or do you fight for America's soul?