Friday, April 08, 2005

Friday Theology (cont)

I've suggested a couple of reasons why attempts by the Democratic Party to appeal to Christians on the basis of a shared humanitarian social and economic agenda may not bare fruit. One, the social gospel ranks below the issue of debating whether God exists or not and whether He created the world. Two, today's U.S. Christians are basically materialistic and don't really take the New Testament and its teachings that literally at least to the extent that it would threaten their lifestyle and material aspirations.

A third reason is that the Christian Right's agenda and its following is stimulated by what one of my fellow bloggers (sorry, can't remember where I read this) has identified as an "outrage" quotient (my paraphrase). Terri Schiavo, Ten Commandments, school prayer, abortion, gays, Christian Nation, etc, are all issues that are designed to provoke outrage and fear on the part of the Christian community that they and their existence is threatened by the Secular Left and liberal democratic institutions (see the recent hysteria about the courts). Trying to appeal to most Christians' compassion for others simply doesn't generate the same level of outrage, if it provokes any outrage or concern at all. In the case of corporate abuses, most Christians are not conditioned to see this as a threat against Christianity or themselves, while considerably less substantive issues, like school prayer, do seem more like a threat, and are so framed by members of the religious elite to stoke up their congregants' resentment that they--Christians--are under seige. The need to help the poor doesn't provoke the same kind of reaction.

And among many Christians, there is a not uncommon view that at least in the U.S., the Poor aren't really "poor". And compared to the poor of other countries, there's some truth to this view.

But in any event, the conservative symbolic issues that have gained traction among Christians have done so because of their ability to provoke fear on the part of Christians that they can't or soon won't be free to practice their religious beliefs. As a Christian myself, I don't share these fears, and I think the Christian Right's attempts to manipulate church goers this way takes advantage of our relative ignorance of political issues and our naturally inclined self centeredness and desire for self preservation.

So, unfortunately, I suspect appeals to U.S. religious identifiers on the basis of a more humanitarian gospel will not have a great impact. But I'm willing to be convinced wrong.


thatcoloredfella said...

You make a convincing argument Mr. Bulworth, but would like your response on another angle the Dems could take.

You yourself being a tolerant, wise Christian, would sternly distance yourself from any connection with Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell or James Dobson, correct? Therefore, I'd assume there are many more Christians turned off by their hatred and intolerance. So, could a man like Jim Vallis lead you to the Democrats?

Bulworth said...

Ah, TCF, great to have you come by.

I don't have an easy answer to your question. I once favored what I take to be the Wallis approach, and that is, shifting the values debate to one of economic justice and humanitarian policies rather than the sex-gender-exclusive approach of the right wing.

Now, I'm not so sure. I worry that an attempt to make everything about "values" could have unintended consequences, such as encouraging religion to take an even greater role in politics than it has now.

My own denomination is pro separation of church and state, and I'd like to see a return to that position on the part of our political elite. I'd like to see Dems take a stronger stand on securing that separation and highlighting the dangers to liberty posed by the likes of D. James Kennedy, Dobson, and Falwell. I also think Dems would do well to be direct and honest with people about the place of religion in public life, acknowledging its contributions but warning againsts its excesses.

BTW, in addition to Wallis, Tony Campolo is a fellow Christian liberal, quite outspoken about the need to reshape religion's role in politics in a more positive direction. Also see Theresa Whitehurst's columns, which I link to.

Hope I didn't confuse you about my party preference. I'm squarely in the Dem corner, as my links probably attest. I am worried about the influence of the crazy Christians and their attempts to impose a Christian litmus test on politicians and the public.

I would hope other Christians would be bothered by the biases and angry rhetoric of the Christian Right, but I'm disturbed that preachers like D. James Kennedy and Rod Parsley (and if you haven't heard about him, you will soon--I've commented on him some time ago--pretty scary guy).

Anyway, much thanks TCF for stopping by. I'm honored. Be talking to you.