Saturday, April 16, 2005

Past, Present and Future, Part 1

I plan on writing several opinion pieces about the Democratic Party and the role of religion within it. This is how I feel about it. You probably feel quite differently. I'm a Dem so I'm OK with that. I've updated Might makes Left on the sidebar. There's some good stuff there. This first essay talks about when faith went underground.

What We Were and Why

Some forty years back, we hit a fork in the road. Religious and spiritual traditions were associated with sexist, racist, homophobic and class dominated social structures; the liberal and progressive social change movements of the 1960's rejected established religions. Under siege, these groups found their moral authority questioned over their involvement in oppressive political and economic systems favoring elites and social orders, (such as Jim Crow laws and draft exemptions), that were unfair. Many activists in the liberal and progressive movements found themselves waging war against social injustice while in a climate hostile to faith.

It's not like religious and spiritual people didn't bring great things to the progressive movement. They did. Suspicions associated with established religion left progressive leaders wary though. The progressive agenda shaped itself around issues of tolerance, reform, and protection. What wasn't being accepted was the religious implications of these models.

Thus the Democrats divorced their public political persona from faith. We were the kings of the good works. We were awfully busy. Lots of us went to church. Lots of us prayed. None of us mixed the two sides of our belief system. We separated church and state in our souls, put our noses to the grindstone and carried on. Faith became a silent burden.

For those who joined the party after that fateful fork, it appeared as if there was no spiritual side at all. Oh, plenty of good works, but not much spirit. When Dems marginalized the spiritual side of their members, it weakened the movement. Obviously, we gave the Republicans an avenue to exploit. But what we really did was rob ourselves of a necessary tool to combat the results of the ongoing rush and eventual results of thirty years of materialism. self centered goals, and drift from community care and solidarity.

I lay in bed this morning and thought about the neighborhood I grew up in in the 1960's. I remember the names of all the kids on my block and nearly every one of their parents. We had a network of support for each other. In a single generation, we're losing that. People just buy what they think their kids need, or what they think they have to have in order to put some sort of harmony into their lives. In 1968, I played kick the can with neighborhood kids until it was too dark to see and the mosquitoes were thick and vicious. Our parents ate pie, had cocktails or played cards together. It was cheap. The best times often are.

These days, love your neighbor is passé. We look out for number one. Our love, friendship and business relationships are governed by a simple mantra, "What's in it for me?" When we look for the bottom line in both personal and professional relationships, we are no longer focused on tolerance, reform and protection. We need to find our higher purpose again. There's a deprivation of meaning in or lives.

People hunger for something beyond "making it" or maximizing money, power or fame. This is a spiritual crisis not addressed by liberal and progressive leaders. Why? I think it's simply that they don't recognize it as a central reality of modern American life.

A progressive politics of meaning does not require that one believe in a Supreme Being, much less the specific God that has been taught in orthodox versions of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam. But it does require a recognition that many people want more from their lives than an accumulation of comforts, pleasures, and material goodies. We want more than power, more than fame, more than sexual conquest; we actually want to connect our lives to something of transcendent importance the value of which will continue beyond our own individual life.
Counter to the empiricist and scientific reductionism that sometimes gets confused with rational thought, the Politics of Meaning insists that not everything real or important can be quantified or verified through sense-data. The deepest human desires—the desires for loving connection, for transcendent meaning to life, and for justice and peace (not just for ourselves but for others)—are rooted in what we call a spiritual conception of the world. -- Tikkun

Sometimes, taking the wrong fork is a good thing. You get to see something you might otherwise have missed. Dems have a unique opportunity here, if we are ready to understand our history and accept the challenge for change. Returning to traditional Democratic precepts, AND embracing the faith base within our own party will make us stronger as a party, more fulfilled as individuals and more effective as members of our communities. Otherwise, we can look forward to seeing more party leaders standing around post election, sucking on their teeth and wondering which crucial ingredient they're missing.


At April 16, 2005 1:52 PM, Blogger The Biased Reporter said...

I'm a Democrat and I'm not really religious. But I do think that Dems need not be afraid of showing their faith in public.

At April 16, 2005 2:48 PM, Blogger Jet said...

I agree. It's funny how convoluted our party has gotten over this. We can do better.

At April 16, 2005 7:59 PM, Blogger Gun-Toting Liberal said...

Wow, somebody else screaming the same thing I've been SCREAMING... glad to know I'm not alone. Your blog rocks and it's blogmarked :-)

At April 16, 2005 10:30 PM, Blogger windspike said...

Jet, thanks for posting the comment on my blog. I am assuming you found me via Blogexplosion and no matter. I am glad to have found your location. It truly is amazing how the reichwingers have lacerated faith for those who don't follow their brand of it. I read through your prior post on Delay and the like and you are no doubt spot on there. W, Rove and Co are all about screwing the public in a judicial way for as long as they possibly can. And, if they succeed in killing the fillabuster, who how extreme it will get. The folks in the reichwing seem to think that they are going to be in power in perpetuity. What happens when they are no longer the "majority" and they have already killed the rights of the minority?

Anyway, I digress. You are right about needing for us to be out about our faith and beliefs, and more so, we need to call those out who hide behind faith to profit from their own immoral and unethical behavior. Like the W, Rove and Co. who have yet to be tried for any crimes, simply because some action is not technically against the law does not mean that it isn't down right unethical and just plain wrong. Isn't that what the bible is all about? Filling in the gaps where there is no law to correct illicit behavior?

At April 17, 2005 2:59 PM, Blogger ~Betsy said...

Hey Jet! As always, great post.

I'm continually amazed at the many smart, respectable people I know who continue to support the GW Regime, regardless of the actions of the Regime.

These people, my Republican friends (with whom I attend church) don't hear or acknowledge the actual truth of what's happening in America through the Bush administration (as detailed in most of your excellent blogs!) They just believe what they are told on FOX News, the cheerleading section for the Religious Right, and then repeat if back to me.

In the end, we must agree to disagree, because we still want to be friends. But I will keep trying, gently.

At April 17, 2005 5:19 PM, Blogger frstlymil said...

This was a freakin' WONDERFUL post, and I am hopeful that many read it - because it needed to be said, and you summed it up quite distinctly. I forget at what point in time it was that my fellow left-leaning friends started to look at me askanse if I happened to mention that I went to church - because to them, their concept of churchgoers were that of close minded, ultra-conservative, bigoted and judgmental people who behaved badly. They had trouble seeing me in that atmosphere, knowing me to be progressive and volunteer-work oriented. I think many of us went into the closet at that point, not wanting to be associated with something that to so many had come to mean quite the opposite of it's origins. I think you're right. We do need to come out of the closet. What the "reichwingers" (love that windspike!) and Oliver Cromwell wannabes have done to pervert faith is no longer okay at any level - . Love Thy Neighbor does not come with the disclaimer of "Only if they are just like me and there's a profit in it."

At April 17, 2005 5:56 PM, Blogger Mags said...

Wow! Great comment! I think you're absolutely right - the Democrats have distanced themselves so much from the concept of "faith" that we're now the "anti-faith" party, it seems. The faith-based angle that the other side takes is one of their strongest ways to mobilize their constituency; Democrats need to embrace that. Maybe not in the same way, but at least acknowledge that Democrats also go to church.

At April 17, 2005 7:47 PM, Blogger Jet said...

Thank you everybody for your kind words and insightful comments. If we can harness our abilites for progessive social change and find a resolution for our religious schism within our party, we will be an unstoppable force for bottom up change in this country.

At April 18, 2005 3:45 AM, Blogger woodenshoe said...

first, thanks for commenting on my blog.
second, i have to thank you.
as of lately, i have found myself becomming more and more black and white when it concerns Christians in America ( Christians here in Europe are infinitely more tolerant, thus completely different ). you have definitely given me a much-needed wake-up call. not every one thinks along those lines, and it was childish of me to throw everyone into one big lump.
thank you!
and, have a nice day!

At April 18, 2005 3:00 PM, Blogger kieran said...

I think the big thing the Dems need to do is just be themselves. Instead of worrying about what might "scare away" the hard-left, anti-establishment party faithful, candidates (and the party in general) needs to get back to allowing their leaders to express themselves publicly in whatever ways they can. This is especially true of a personal faith.

I don't care what the polls said about moral values, the war, the economy, etc. - John Kerry lost the last election because nobody knew who the hell he was. The man was an enigma, and that's partially due to the fact that he was so busy trying be everything to everyone instead of just being John Kerry.

I think the same can be said of a lot of the democratic leaders. Wonder why Obama is going to blow up big time? It's because he's a real person with real convictions. I don't necessarily agree with on a lot of issues, and I may not ever vote for him (should he run for Prez,) but I can respect him a lot more than most politicians.

At April 18, 2005 4:25 PM, Blogger Jet said...

Hi woodenshoe, welcome to God Dem! I'm glad I could do my little part to remind you there's shades of grey in the American religious landscape.

Kieran! Glad you're back. That was my biggest beef with Kerry, he tried to be all things to all Dems. It was painful. I'm hoping we can see some reconcilliation efforts within the party towards religion and the importance it has to many Dems.

I like Obama as well. I sincerely hope his stint as a Senator doesn't turn him away from his convictions and toward a more political approach. Time will tell.

At April 18, 2005 7:28 PM, Blogger ~Betsy said...

I keep thinking about that word religion.

For thousands of years, horrible atrocities were carried out in the name of religion, and are still being perpetuated today.

I don't necessarily think of myself as being religious. I consider myself spiritually centered. It opens the way for acceptance of others' beliefs in a Higher Power, a Universal Being, Buddha, whatever. For some Native Americans, its Mother Earth and Father Sky.

That's what many Republicans are missing. If it's not their way, it's the wrong way. That kind of thinking is very black-and-white.

If we embrace spirituality, we learn acceptance in many shades of gray. And there is no clause in the Constitution calling for separation of Spiritulity and State.

At April 20, 2005 10:17 AM, Blogger Jet said...

Beautiful comment, Betsy! I think that you hit the nail on the head.


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