In the interest of starting a controversy for no reason, I’d like to talk about religion and politics, especially in regards to Democratic politics. Before we get started on this existential journey, fire up the following track, helpfully embedded from Youtube. Just let it play in the background as you read, it’s important for the punchline.

Now, the role of religion in our politics is hard to understate, particularly in the modern age. The state of Georgia is no exception, particularly in recent days. Religious belief has inspired a bipartisan personhood amendment, similar to the one which just failed in Mississippi. In God We Trust may soon mark the license plate of nearly every Georgia driver, and let’s not forget the recent lining up on opposite sides of the Shorter University controversy. All these things have a decidedly conservative slant, and for many years the Republican party has tried to brand itself as the party of faith in politics. Are they really?

Well, it depends on whether you value rhetoric or results. There are three major policy pushes in the United States among the religious right: the abolition of abortion, the continued prohibition of same-sex marriage, and the use of public funds in private religious schools. How are they doing? Things do not look good for a movement which has allegedly defined American politics for the last 30 years.

Let’s start with the big one. As you all know, in the 1973 court decision Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court ruled that the right to abortion was rooted in a Constitutionally implied right to privacy, and since that time the courts have reached a consensus (along with public opinion) that abortion should be legal with a few restrictions, most of those related to the duration of the pregnancy before termination. Conservatives and pro-life activists like to pretend that Roe was some kind of judicial king-making, but in reality momentum was already swinging in favor of choice advocates. Between 1967 and 1973, 20 states had legalized abortion in some or all cases, and efforts were underway to expand those rights. Interestingly, the deep south was among the regions most light-handed when dealing with the issue of abortion. So, even had the court decided otherwise, it is unlikely the march of abortion rights would have taken a different trajectory. And as the strong, successful opposition by certain groups to the Personhood push in Mississippi shows, the choice movement has only grown stronger. In the unlikely event Roe v. Wade were overturned, I have little doubt that a legislative push in favor of abortion rights would be extremely successful across the country.

On to the issue of same-sex marriage. This, to me, is the biggest brain-dead issue that the religious right has pursued. There isn’t the moral ambiguity of human life that we see in the abortion issue, and there isn’t the murky waters of parental rights when it comes to education. The religious right has decided to oppose the right of two people to enter into a fair and non-coerced contract with another person. This, in addition to painting the libertarian streak of the tea party as insincere, has never been a political winner for the Republicans. Like every other civil rights issue before it, this issue has a timer on it. At a point very soon, people simply will not care anymore, and we are accelerating toward that day. This issue has been taking a very similar trajectory to the abortion debate. Geographically and politically diverse states across the country are now allowing either gay marriages or civil unions, and I see it as very likely that a court decision similar to Roe will soon be reached. Mark another colossal failure for the religious right.

I won’t spend a lot of time on the issue of school choice, except to say that in the case of most conservatives, it’s nothing but a smokescreen. While there are certainly people who are very passionate about their right to home-school their children or send them to schools with a religious bent on the public dime, that has nothing to do with its prominence among mainstream conservatives. Voucher programs for education (a position for which I am not entirely in opposition, if it were realistically handled, which it won’t be) have and always will be a mechanism to destroy public education in the United States. Until conservatives honestly admit it, this will always be tainted by the silliness of the creationism debate, and it will never grow legs. Another failure of both purpose and execution by the religious right.

On the left, we have our own history of religion and politics. It’s called the civil rights movement, and we won. Today, the echoes of that movement can be found in every black church across America, especially those right here in Atlanta. This is why I find the liberal aversion to religion in politics so strange. We have seen nothing but victory after victory when we pair with people of faith, while conservatives have been successful only in delaying progress, and even then they do not succeed for long. I think much of this has to do with the way the two communities handle the issues: the liberal religious movement has always used communities of faith to bring people together, whereas the religious right chooses only to divide.

Which brings us to our soundtrack. Norman Greenbaum has something in common with the Republican party. You see, Norman Greenbaum was a man of Jewish faith. He was using Jesus to sell albums, and not much else. The same way conservatives use Jesus to drive voters, and not much else.

(thanks to Wikipedia for the graphs)


3 Responses to The Intersection of Religion and Politics

  1. Steve Dix says:

    I see it in a different light. The left is not averse to religious involvement in the political process, but it is very much opposed to the imposition of religion into the governing process. Hence, the churches exercised moral authority in the civil rights era, but if you think about it, they could not have cared less which party supported civil rights legislation as long as it was supported. And the civil rights acts have not one whiff of religion about them.
    On the other hand, many conservatives not only embrace religion in the political process, they want legislation to reflect their particular brand of religion. So, for example, you have elected officials who press to outlaw teaching the evolutionary theory, or others who would allow it, but only if creationism were taught alongside – as if creationism were science and not faith.
    At the moment we live in a world very much in flux, which leads to fear, which leads to a demand for simple answers, which in too many cases defers to faith, because some faiths are based on answers, not on questions.
    Those of us on the left are more often than not repelled by simple claims of “truth”. We want to examine and explore to see if there’s a better way to get things done here on Earth. That is why we embrace the label of “Progressive.” And when we think we have a solution to a problem, we tend to want it to be applied universally, regardless of faith, or lack thereof, so our proposed legislation tends to be less loaded with religious based precepts. This leads to us being lableled as “Godless” by our opponents, when the fact is we may be very much in touch with God, but we keep that contact inside our church, synagogue, temple, mosque, etc. . .where we believe it belongs.
    Religion is a powerful third rail. It should provide us with guiding moral principles. But while all religions are based on certain fundamental moral precepts (that, I might add, are shared by every atheist I know), the way they are practiced is not all the same. Accordingly, to my way of thinking, religious practice belongs in the church and in the home, where it can be shared by like minded people. It does not belong in the workplace, in dictating school curriculum, in the court room or in the legislature.
    -Steve Dix-

    • Eddy Galuska says:

      I don’t really have time to address this right now, but I agree with most of your point, Steve. What I disagree on is whether or not you can truly sever faith from policy considerations, since for a great deal of people in this country their general morals are defined by religious teaching. I’d love to see a world where we can define our ethics legislatively completely aside from the personal faith of any one person, but even the separation of church and state is up for interpretation by the courts, and you more than anyone know how political the courts have grown over the past few years. Ignoring the strong link between our politics and people of faith in this country won’t do anything but put us out of touch.

  2. sunkawakan says:

    I’m thinking of offering stickers for 25 cents that say “Dog” for use on GA License plates.