Recently I participated in a comment thread where Christianity was described as being "a stone in the bottom of a bucket of feces." Actually, all religions were described as being a worthless object covered in several gallons of, to be blunt, shit. Islam was declared the very worst, with Christianity a close second.
I'll admit, it's hard to be a believer right now. Ted Haggard is on all the news channels. Tom DeLay, when he resigned, effectively told us that he was just too Christian for Congress, and that was the source of his problems, not that he was utterly, thoroughly corrupt. Churches and parachurch organizations such as Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America and so many others are focusing millions of dollars and their sizable influence upon getting laws - constitutional amendments if possible - passed in all 50 states that very narrowly define marriage. One funny thing about it is how this definition is narrower than that of the Old Testament, but never mind. The gap between rich and poor grows every day, there are over 40 million people in this country without health insurance, the poor line our streets, die in the summer from the heat and in the winter from the cold, and millions of Christians spend far more time worrying about homosexual marriage or teaching evolution in public schools than any of this.
And that's just Christianity. Islam is having its own problems, as we are all aware. Hindus in India have grown quite violent as well. Even Buddhists, the good ones of the religious world, are not exempt from violence. When my family lived in Korea there were a couple of Buddhist groups that attacked each other's members and vandalized their temples.
But even with all that, I didn't like to see all religion being characterized as buckets full of feces. And when I expressed my complaint at that type of thinking, I didn't like that the only response to my complaint was to list various atrocities committed by Christians.
People, I have a Master's of Divinity degree. It's 90 hours for that degree, about the same as an MD or JD. My Christian History professor is an authority on Medieval Spanish Christianity. Anyone remember the things that went on during this period, especially in Spain? I think I know pretty well how bad Christians can be to other people. I mean, jeez, there's a Christian college in the southern USA that used to have a scholarship set up for, I kid you not, whatever girl was most recently raped by one of the sponsoring denomination's leaders in that area. Lists of atrocities just don't impress me; mine are longer.
Aside from my irritation at being told stuff I already know, there's the fact that all this is beside the point. The issue that we really need to engage is the essence of belief itself and what that means for our behavior. As progressives, we need to try and find a common ground for those for whom belief in a deity is foundational and those for whom belief that there is no deity is foundational.
Because as much as Amy Sullivan, Barak Obama and all the other naggers about religion irritate me, the hostility toward religion that is on display from many of the grassroots of the progressive movement just isn't helping. We are at a critical point in American politics, a place where some cracking of the GOP business/religious coalition might be able to take place. There are believers who will be searching for a new political home, a place that emphasizes their other concerns, the concerns for the poor and sick that have been so ignored these last 20 years in the Religious Right.
The good news is that I think it is possible for us to work together. I firmly believe that believers and non-believers of all sorts can be a part of the Democratic coalition, and further that to accomplish it needs only a little work. But we have to be willing to work at it, and we have to be willing, all of us, to own up to the shortcomings of our beliefs and the "sins" committed in their name.
So that's what we're going to work on during the next few posts.