Tuesday, June 21, 2005
by Wayne Besen
It often seems like the religious left won't realize it has a dog in the fight against fanaticism until the right's pit bulls are lunging at its timid throat. For too long, Christian moderates have been invisible, submissively surrendering and allowing the most destructive elements in America to claim the mantle of God. Fortunately, it appears that people of faith and reason are finally awakening from their long scriptural slumber.
In last week's New York Times, former Missouri Republican Senator and Episcopal minister John C. Danforth wrote an op-ed that was nothing short of a seminal call to action for moderate Christians.
"We reject the notion that religion should present a series of wedge issues useful at election time for energizing a political base," wrote Danforth. "Following a Lord who cited love of God and love of neighbor as encompassing all the Commandments, we reject a political agenda that displaces that love. Christians who hold these convictions ought to add their voice of moderation to the debate on religion in politics."
Less than a week after Danforth's call to arms, the Times published a powerful op-ed by former New York governor Mario Cuomo chastising President George W. Bush on moral grounds for his primitive opposition to embryonic stem cell research. In a rare attempt to knock Bush off his moral pedestal, Cuomo openly challenged Bush's religious hypocrisy.
"Although Mr. Bush believes that destroying an embryo is murder, he refuses to demand legislation to stop commercial interests that are busily destroying embryos in order to obtain stem cells. If their conduct amounts to murder as the president contends, it is hardly satisfactory for him to say he will do nothing to stop the evil act other than to refuse to pay for it."
Cuomo is clearly setting a brilliant values trap by calling Bush's bluff. The president can either act on his professed convictions and block popular scientific research or he can look morally insincere. What is so important about Cuomo's message is that he speaks as a person of faith and reason. The combination of logic and liturgy is a powerful anecdote to the anti-intellectual ramblings of the right.
Fear is a key reason that moderates have been reluctant to speak up. It is no secret that men such as Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph and Osama bin Laden are products of religious fanaticism. Fundamentalism, by its very nature, must rely on bullying, intimidation and violence to quell dissent, if it is to survive. A rational debate is certainly out of the question, because such open spiritual exploration reveals the irrationality and incoherence of their rigid, illogical doctrines.
Nevertheless, a few brave souls are beginning to take-on the Biblical barbarians. A new book by religious scholar John Shelby Spong systematically eviscerates the right's dangerous dogma and exposes the utter hollowness of fundamentalism. In "The Sins of Scripture", Spong shows how the Christian right has historically twisted Scripture to launch appalling campaigns of hate against virtually every minority in existence.
"Religion has so often been the source of the cruelest evil," Spong trenchantly writes. "Its darkest and most brutal side becomes visible at the moment when adherents of any religious system identify their understanding of God with God. The two are never the same."
This is an issue that affects everyone, especially those who are secular, because abusive religious systems create intolerant leaders who make restrictive laws that we all have to live by. This is especially true when it comes acceptance of gay people. A nation that has a dominant religious tradition that rejects evolution is one that most certainly will, in the end, reject gay rights. The key to America surviving as a secular society depends on the nurturing of mainstream religion.
In this vein, I think it is crucial that a new religious television and radio network be launched to compete against today's conservative televangelists. Establishing liberal Air America radio is wonderful, but it only accomplishes half the job. We need to invent CARE America, The Christian Action Revival Entertainment network that caters to the God loving, not the God fearing.
Recently, Dean Hamer published a book, The God Gene, which explains that some people are biologically destined to seek spirituality. This is why, like gay people, religious people exist in even the most hostile environments, such as Christians in China.
Like it or not, religious folks are here to stay. A wise society channels these pious impulses in a way that benefits society, while a shortsighted culture allows profiteering preachers and opportunistic politicians to appropriate these passions for their own hateful and divisive ends.
Events like the invasive Terri Schiavo debacle may be causing the left's passive preachers to finally join secular America at the pulpit of pluralism. If moderate Christians don't fight for their beliefs, they will soon find their faith extinct, with Jesus forever transformed into a judgmental bigot who unfailingly votes Republican and watches Fox news.
RIGHT ON WAYNE!!
I almost don't recognize our country anymore and if I were abroad, would feel ashamed to tell people that I was an American. My father was an agnostic WWII vet, and I'm sure is spinning in his grave at what bush and the ultra right wing are doing to the country that he fought for.
REAL Christians and good people of other faiths have got to grow some gonads and take this country back from the evangelical Taliban that now runs the show!!!!! God help us to overthrow them in the 2006 mid-terms elections!
posted by , at
Like the god gene you mention, in the past two years, Harvard's Dr. Howard Gardner has added existential intelligence to his list of multiple intelligences. Based on brain-based research, Gardner has identified areas of our brain that form our intelligence in nine different ways. We have each intelligence in varying degrees, but each person has a unique profile.
On her web site Lesie Owen Wilson writes , "Existential intelligence can be defined as the ability to be sensitive to, or have the capacity for, conceptualizing or tackling deeper or larger questions about human existence, such as the meaning of life, why are we born, why do we die, what is consciousness, or how did we get here."
That means that conservatives and liberals, queer folk and straight all have some existential leanings in us, some more so than others, which should encourage us to liberate God from the stronghold of a select group of Christians.
posted by Peterson Toscano, at
All to often the leaders of evangelical churches (large & small) use GLBT people as tools to whip their flocks into line, and many of these organizations are quite large (such as Coral Ridge) with millions of dollars in annual revenue. It's time the so-called "liberal media" does some serious dirt-digging as to where this money goes.
posted by , at
The fact that Besen is, apparently, unaware of nor heard about the battles raging within the mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations lo these last 25 years doesn't mean the religious left has been "submissively surrendering" to the rise of the American Taliban. The same vast righ-wing conspiracy that Hillary Clinton named has targeted virtually ever mainline denomination in America pouring lots of money into campaigns led by extremist fringe groups to create turmoil and division. Consider the right-wing reaction to the institution of an openly Gay bishop by the Episcopal church. The corporate media either refuses to cover what's going on or misrepresents it, giving the Fundamentalists the status of real Christians and relegating the rest of us to invisibility. Please don't jump on the propaganda bandwagon. I would encourage you to read Bruce Bower's excellent book STEALING JESUS: HOW FUNDAMENTALISM BETRAYS CHRISTIANITY. (By the way, Bower is a Gay man.) So far none of us have been able to reverse the Neo-con's control of all three branches of our federal government. So, why pick on liberal Christians? Most of us are also up to our ears trying to save our country. We are all battling the same forces. We need your support, understanding, and helping suggestions, not your blame.
posted by Santa Fe Faithful, at
Wayne, I think you've nailed it on the head. If you really want to get inside how the far-right really thinks you should read the NYT piece that appeared on Sunday:
I don't want to think that the religious left is being slammed here. Rather, I really want to believe that it is the religious left and religious moderates that can move us away from the far-right fringe.
posted by , at
What God Has Joined Together? by Myers & Scanzoni contains cutting edge thinking about the religeon problem. As I recall, the thrust of the approach is in marking an end to the two melenium period and creating an opening in a new convenant with God based on Jesus' teachings of love.
The Golden Era lies just before us. Rapture, if you will, comes with the new, not wiith the end of the world (first called in about 40 AD.)
Such an approach feels "right." It deals with the fundamentalist knot, includes Christian, Jewish, and Muselum communities, and calls us to work together in love creating that new convenant.
posted by , at
AMEN! I believe that leaders with evil agendas can gain power and a following by tapping into negative human traits, such as bigotry, racism and fear. People who normally think of themselves as good can rationalize and support these leaders and give them means to grab power. A bigrotry of mine seems to be against people who call themselves Christians. I perceive them as hypocrital and the last 5 years has only reinforced this view. Some kind of instruction through radio or TV based on the teachings of Christianity which focus on peace, love and respect of other humans would be welcome. Other religious viewpoints from Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist beliefs that highlight these charactistics would also be welcome and constructive.
posted by , at
I have been sitting in abject horror reading the filth and hatred people like Stephen Bennett spew in the name of God. He preaches that unless you convert and become heterosexual, you will be going straight to hell, yet he says he does so with an open heart full of love. He has a pretty good game of double talk and rhetoric going on, and he banishes anyone who dares to disagree with him from his blog. (http://stephenbennett.blogspot.com)
I am a Christian woman. I have tried to show him and his narrow minded followers that the hell-fire and damnation of the Old Testament gave way to compassion and love in the New Testament. God sent us Jesus as a new covenant with his people...one of love. Bennett does not see it this way. He has said that he doesn't buy into all that "light and love fluff." Of course he doesn't. If he did, he'd be out of a job, which is the bottom line...the almighty dollar. The notion that anyone should sell their personal testimony for a fee is disgusting. Once a person's entire source of income is based solely on his ability to sell his brand of religion to people, it ceases to be a ministry of love. It then becomes one of greed. I have been ranting about this on my own blog for weeks now.
Bennett and people like him are dangerous to our society. They give people any easy way out of taking any responsibility for their own actions. They can blame all the ills of the world on the homosexual community.
I hope that people understand that not all Christians are zealots and fanatics. It's time that we stood up and exposed the charlatans and modern day snake oil salesmen for what they are.
posted by Jaded&Opinionated, at
You write: For too long, Christian moderates have been invisible, submissively surrendering and allowing the most destructive elements in America to claim the mantle of God.
I think that Christian Moderates haven't spoken up before because of their values.
The values of empathy and fairness call for a cherishing of diversity (especially diversity of thought) and these values have found expression as a desire not to impose ones own ways on others.
Consequently Christian Moderates (and Spiritual Progressives) have chosen a “live and let live” ethos. Honoring diversity of thought precluded them from speaking loudly against conservative thought.
This has been honorable on one level and of course, catastrophic on another. But I believe, as you think, that change is in the air.
Christian Moderates and Spiritual Progressives are beginning to come together and are speaking up about their values and the love ethic that is present in the world's greatest sacred traditions.
There is a new group called Christian Alliance for Progress that recently launched. They are speaking truth to the religious right and saying "not in our name."
posted by , at
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